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Friday, April 22, 2011

X-amining X-Men #105

"Phoenix Unleashed!"
June 1977

In a Nutshell
Princess Lilandra arrives on Earth as Phoenix battles Firelord

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
Inker: Bob Layton
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Andy Yanchus
Editor: Archie Goodwin

Plot
Returning to the mansion, the X-Men discover Erik the Red lying in wait and attack him, unaware that he has convinced Firelord, a former herald of Galactus, that the X-Men are villains. Seeing the X-Men attack Erik, Firelord comes to his aid and he swiftly defeats the X-Men. Meanwhile, Shi'ar Princess Lilandra Neramani teleports from her ship to Earth just as her vehicle is destroyed by a pursuing craft. Professor X is visiting Jean at her New York apartment when Lilandra appears, and Xavier recognizes her from his visions.


Just then, Firelord, at Erik the Red's urgings, arrives to confront Xavier, but is blocked by Phoenix. The two fight their way across the city, leaving Xavier and Lilandra to be captured by Erik the Red. Erik quickly constructs a stargate, and the X-Men arrive too late to prevent him from escaping through it with Lilandra. Xavier, having read Lilandra's mind and learned of her mission, insists that the X-Men must help her. Phoenix arrives, having defeated Firelord, and is able to use her powers to reactive the stargate, allowing the X-Men to pursue Erik and Lilandra.

Firsts and Other Notables
Shi'ar Princess Lilandra Neramani appears in full for the first time (and her first name is given). We learn that she was once the Grand Admiral of the Shi'ar fleet and is currently leading a rebellion against the emperor, her brother, because she believes he plans to destroy the universe.

We also learn that Erik the Red is Shakari, a Shi'ar Intelligence agent who was exiled to Earth by Lilandra.


Phoenix battles Firelord, one of Marvel's various "cosmic" characters, and a former herald of the world-devouring Galactus.


As is, this issue opens rather abruptly, with X-Men in the midst of attacking Erik the Red at the mansion. Added pages in the Classic X-Men reprint help smooth the transition between issues.

Tom Orzechowski letters this issue; he'll return in a few issues and begin a lengthy run alongside Claremont, creating a lettering style that will become synonymous with X-Men, as well as design the logos for the New Mutants and Wolverine spin-offs.  

Also, in case you're wondering, according to the Shi'ar Earth is an M class planet that registers 4.7 on the Varakis scale. They also have a Prime Directive. And in a bit I've always rather enjoyed, the crew of the Shi'ar ship pursuing Lilandra promptly freak out when they learn that Earth has repelled Galactus four times in recent history.


A Work in Progress
It is established that Nightcrawler can't teleport unless he know exactly where he's going. Later stories will reveal that he can teleport to an unknown destination, but that there are risks involved.


Havok and Polaris appear, still thralls of Erik the Red.

Professor X gives Lilandra a telepathic crash course in English, which is, I believe, the first such use of his power. Along the way, he discovers what it is she's attempting to do, and commits the X-Men to helping her.

The X-Men arrive in New York City via hover jet, which is, of course, promptly destroyed.


More bickering between Wolverine and Cyclops.


Phoenix notes how powerful she's become, and how exhilarated she is by using her powers.


Jean's parents, who are visiting Jean and Misty Knight along with Xavier when Lilandra arrives, witness the full extent of their daughter's abilities for the first time.


That 70s Comic
In another fourth wall-breaking bit, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum appear in the comic, discussing the creation of the comic in which they are appearing, before fleeing from the Phoenix/Firelord battle.


Cyclops apparently knows, offhand, the amount of energy it takes to power an "inter-stellar transporter".


For Sale
Love the title of this one.


Teebore's Take
After simmering in the background, the long-running (going back to issue #97) Erik the Red story comes to a head. Lilandra finally makes contact with Xavier and the X-Men (at least Xavier) learn what it is Lilandra is trying to accomplish (it'll be a couple issues before the rest of the team, and the readers, learn exactly what's going on). But really, this issue is all about showing off Phoenix's abilities. After her transformation in issue #101, Jean has done little besides recuperate in a bed, and so Claremont and Cockrum take an issue to showcase her increased power before sending her off into the climax of their big overarching story.

Both creators have been quoted as saying their intention was to put her up against someone like Thor as a point of comparison, but that idea was apparently nixed by editorial (Cockrum claims it was because of sexism, of editorial not wanting to see one of Marvel's powerful male characters going toe to toe with a woman). So instead we get Phoenix fighting Firelord, a character who, in his last appearance, battled Thor to a standstill (in this issue, Firelord even thinks that the last person to hit him like Phoenix was Thor). This way, Claremont and Cockrum managed to sidestep editorial and have Phoenix battle Thor by proxy. Firelord is no Thor in terms of character recognition, but by issue's end, Claremont and Cockrum have made their point: Phoenix is hella powerful.

18 comments:

Matt said...

"Also, in case you're wondering, according to the Shi'ar Earth is an M class planet that registers 4.7 on the Varakis scale. They also have a Prime Directive."

And don't forget that the captain sits in his chair posed like William Shatner, and the ship's bridge looks like the Enterprise bridge -- and I believe we learn in a later issue that the captain's name is K'rk!!

Also, I like to imagine the image of Shakari traveling around with a collapsable stargate strapped over his back, like a camper with a tent...

Teebore said...

@Matt: I believe we learn in a later issue that the captain's name is K'rk!!

That we do, sometime during Cockrum's second run, if I remember my Official Marvel Index correctly.

That whole scene aboard the Shi'ar ship is indeed very, very Star Trek. I probably should have pointed that out better.

Also, I like to imagine the image of Shakari traveling around with a collapsable stargate strapped over his back, like a camper with a tent...

Haha! One does have to wonder where he keeps that when it's not in use...

Dr. Bitz said...

If the Shi'ar have a prime directive why are they exiling Erik the Red to Earth?

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

pshaa. Everyone knows stargate command has the only access to a stargate in our galaxy.

Teebore said...

@Dr, Bitz: If the Shi'ar have a prime directive why are they exiling Erik the Red to Earth?

Well, we don't know WHAT their Prime Directive is; maybe it's to interfere as much as possible...

Plus, it will becomes clear that the entire Shi'ar ruling family is a little...off balance. Even Lilandra. So it's possible the Prime Directive is more of a "do as I say, not as I do" kinda rule...

Everyone knows stargate command has the only access to a stargate in our galaxy.

Maybe he took the Russian's...

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

No, there's only one now. The spare one got thrown into the sun or something. I can't quite remember .
Also, i can't remember if i mentioned this before, but i both love and hate the shi'ar. I'm not keen on Xavier love interest plot lines, because chuck is like the last reason i read x-men, but also, i kinda like Lillandra.

Teebore said...

@Sarah: The spare one got thrown into the sun or something.

I know, I saw that one. ;)

but i both love and hate the shi'ar. I'm not keen on Xavier love interest plot lines, because chuck is like the last reason i read x-men, but also, i kinda like Lillandra.

Yeah, the Shi'ar are definitely a contentious point amongst X-Men fans. Some love 'em, some hate 'em. It's something we'll discuss as we go along.

Personally, I'm fairly lukewarm. There's some great stories involving the Shi'ar, and some awful (or worse, boring ones).

But I definitely agree that Chuck's love life is the last thing I care about when it comes to the X-Men.

Matt said...

Also, Shakari wasn't really exiled to Earth, right? He was a deep cover agent who was activated by the emperor when Lilandra fled there, if I recall correctly. I think he viewed his time on Earth like an exile, but it was really just his job...

Teebore said...

@Matt: Also, Shakari wasn't really exiled to Earth, right? He was a deep cover agent who was activated by the emperor when Lilandra fled there, if I recall correctly.

I've always remembered it as him being a deep cover agent activated by D'Ken too, but in this issue he explicitly says he was exiled by Lilandra. So it's either something that gets elaborated on in issues #107-108, or something that gets retconned later. I frankly don't remember offhand...

Matt said...

I just looked, and you're correct -- in this issue Shakari says that he was exiled to Earth by Lilandra, at her brother's command. I don't want to get ahead of you, but it looks like in issue 107, Lilandra explains that Shakari was a Shi'ar "observer" on Earth (he even has human hair when we see him in silhouette).

I think the conclusion I reached way back when was that he was a Shi'ar undercover agent/observer on Earth, who was ordered to go there by Lilandra, but he viewed his posting on this backwater planet as a sort of exile.

(Please feel free to delete this comment if you don't want to discuss issue 107 at this time!)

Anne said...

somehow i missed this post- just snuck right by me. and now there's 10 comments and i feel late to the party
wait- i see that a bunch of tehm just happened today, so i guess i'm not TOO late

i'm like Sarah in that i like the Shi'ar well enough, but i'm not sure i like them in X-men books...does that make sense?

I always liked (waaaay later- like when Joe Maduereira was drawing) that Beast mentioned that Shi-ar physiology was closer to avian than mammalian

Teebore said...

@Matt: I think the conclusion I reached way back when was that he was a Shi'ar undercover agent/observer on Earth, who was ordered to go there by Lilandra, but he viewed his posting on this backwater planet as a sort of exile.

That makes sense. I even feel like somewhere along the way, we got a definite sense that Shakari DID feel like his posting was an exile, or that, while it was a needed post, his posting to it was considered something of a punishment (like, he deserved a better job).

But I can't think of where I might have gotten that impression. It isn't like there are tons of Erik the Red stories out there...

@Anne: somehow i missed this post- just snuck right by me.

Well, I did sneak it in on a Friday...

i like the Shi'ar well enough, but i'm not sure i like them in X-men books

It does. "X-Men in space" is one of those problematic topics amongst X-fans.

Beast mentioned that Shi-ar physiology was closer to avian than mammalian

That will actually get brought up in the next issue or two, I believe.

Matt said...

"But I can't think of where I might have gotten that impression. It isn't like there are tons of Erik the Red stories out there..."

Maybe it was the X-Men animated series? I know that was where I first saw the character, and probably a great deal of my impression of him was initially formed from his appearances on that show before being revised by the comics...

Speaking of, I recall that around the time of the "Phoenix Saga" episodes, they produced an Eric the Red action figure, which was one of my favorite of the old Toy Biz Marvel figures. Thanks to that cartoon, we got a toy of what would otherwise have been one of the most obscure X-characters at the time.

And it still holds up quite well for being almost 20 years old, I think -- though it's obviously out of scale with any of the more recent Marvel figures.

Teebore said...

@Matt: Maybe it was the X-Men animated series?

That could be. I'd read the Phoenix sage before seeing the animated version, but that was pretty much my only encounter with the character before the show.

Thanks to that cartoon, we got a toy of what would otherwise have been one of the most obscure X-characters at the time.

I love that the animated series was responsible for a TON of obscure characters getting the action figure treatment (and, unfortunately, a ton of obscure 90s characters too, like Slayback, Krule and Comcast).

Blam said...


Teebore: Professor X gives Lilandra a telepathic crash course in English, which is, I believe, the first such use of his power.

Didn't he do this for the new recruits in Giant-Size #1?

Marvel was still doing that weird thing of having veteran Gaspar Saladino letter the first (splash) pages of its comics back then, which gave us a semi-logo for Phoenix — later used on the Phoenix one-shot — based on one of his standard lettering styles (note the similarity of its letterforms to those in arguably the best-known Batman logo), but it's nice to see Tom Orzechowski lettering after that. He of course came up with his own calligraphic rendering of "Phoenix" that I prefer, as well as an entire font that would be adapted for story titles.

They really went whole hog on the Star Trek references. You have to realize, though, that, while the original Trek had begun to famously thrive in syndicated repeats (as well as fan conventions and some merchandising), it had been off NBC for years at this point and was not some great multimedia franchise; even the first original-cast film was only an inkling. So the references — bald-faced as they seem — are in the context of the times merely in-jokes to fellow fans of the show rather than awkwardly blunt homages. [If I sound overly apologetic, it's because I'm kind-of trying to convince myself; I mean, Claremont et al. were so creative with some of their other tributes.]

Dave (named) and Chris show up on bottom of Pg. 17. The in-joke is that they're talking about a sound effect, and Orz uses "Foom!" — possibly specified by Chris, but he probably couldn't have known that on the very next page there'd be a FOOM ad. FOOM was (for the benefit of you not looking at the issue and with no other knowledge of it) an in-house fan club and magazine, the acronym short for "Friends of Ol' Marvel".

We get one heck of a transition from the bottom of Pg. 22 to the top of Pg. 23, as the caption informs us that Shakari's stun-blast "takes care of everybody in the apartment" and between panels it's been "a fast ten minutes' work" to construct an interstellar portal. So much for "show, don't tell"...

The sound of the stargate — a teleportation device — shutting off just as Nightcrawler goes through it is, cheekily, FMAB.

Anne: i'm like Sarah in that i like the Shi'ar well enough, but i'm not sure i like them in X-men books...does that make sense?

No. I like you, but… No. I've never cared about reading about the Shi'ar or the Starjammers outside of X-Men, myself, and even there a little goest a long way (although I do enjoy them as part of the X-Men mythology).

Teebore: a ton of obscure 90s characters too, like Slayback, Krule and Comcast

Comcast? Seriously? I knew the 1990s had some lousy names — nonsensical compound words and ugly misspellings (all the better to trademark) — but… Comcast? Did he try to monopolize Cable? Is he still around and, if so, is his mortal enemy Verizon FiOS?

Duirng Shakari's exile on Earth, incidentally, he's rumored to have had a daughter in Colombia who later became a bilingual recording artist.

Teebore said...

@Blam: Didn't he do this for the new recruits in Giant-Size #1?

I had to go back and double check, but you're right; on the famous splash page of the new X-Men assembled on the stairway, there's a narrative caption explaining that Xavier telepathically taught them English.

So the references — bald-faced as they seem — are in the context of the times merely in-jokes to fellow fans of the show rather than awkwardly blunt homages

That's actually a great point. To us, reading it now, in a world where Kirk, Spock et al are more or less household names (or at least firmly embedded in the pop culture zeitgeist), references like that seem pretty obvious, but to readers at the time, they were probably much more obscure to all but diehard Trek fans.

So much for "show, don't tell"...

That's almost a Claremontism in and of itself. It's not that Claremont has a tendency to tell instead of show, it's that he insists on showing so much that due to space limitations, he ends up having to use narrative captions to cover huge swaths of story (I'm thinking also of the most recent issue, #126, in which a caption wraps up the X-Men's search for Mutant X on Muir Island). He just gets so many ideas, even within an individual issue, that his artists can't show it all.

The sound of the stargate — a teleportation device — shutting off just as Nightcrawler goes through it is, cheekily, FMAB.


Ha! I never noticed that before. That's pretty awesome.

but… Comcast? Did he try to monopolize Cable? Is he still around and, if so, is his mortal enemy Verizon FiOS?

Yup, Comcast. Sorry, Commcast, two Ms. Behold the 90s, in all their glory. He debuted in a Deadpool limited series and did, humorously enough, have some doings with Cable (I wonder if the writer's tongue was in cheek during those stories?). He eventually changed his name to "Black Box", but I don't think he's around anymore

Duirng Shakari's exile on Earth, incidentally, he's rumored to have had a daughter in Colombia who later became a bilingual recording artist.

Zing!

Harry Sewalski said...

Shi'ar Princess Lilandra Neramani appears in full for the first time (and her first name is given).

I've always wondered whether her name was originally supposed to be Neramani, as she was called once or twice prior, but then someone (Claremont?) decided that Lilandra sounds better, and retconned the change. Sort of like the infamous Bob Banner thing with the Hulk.

Drew said...

I object to the script calling for Cyclops to state Jean used to be the weakest X-Man. Her powers grew during the original run just like the others - she started out only able to manipulate objects she could physically carry, progressed to being able to levitate her own body weight and evolved still further to include telepathy and the ability to affect far heavier beings/objects such as Beast or Sentinels. Before she defeated Magneto single-handed after the boys fell under Lorelei's spell, she was seen catching all of Iceman's snowballs and throwing them at him machine-gun style and saving herself and Angel from a T-Rex by throwing boulders at it. I actually think the original series had pegged Iceman as the 'weakest' due to his immaturity and lack of will, and even he progressed during the series. Perhaps this was a way for the creative team to express how much her powers had grown using shorthand?

In retrospect, the original story behind Jean Grey's powers makes the most sense and wouldn't lead the X-Men into the bland places the Phoenix Force did. It is unfortunate that they didn't stick with it, because at this point in time, secondary mutations have become more common and she was arguably given the most common sensical means of explaining the power boost - the whole, 'cosmic rays boosting her powers to Thor and Silver Surfer levels' involves less gymnastics then the conceit that a cosmic force is constantly going to resurrect her to experience human sensations. The nugget regarding Ms. Marvel and her possible Dark Phoenix storyline really brings the idea together - even her costume seemed primed for that storyline and even though her book was cancelled, she still had references to 'planet destroying power'.

The Phoenix Force used to be my favorite storyline but I do think that it didn't put the X-Men in a good place storyline-wise, and it did little for Jean in the long term.