"To Save the Savage Land"
In a Nutshell
The X-Men fight Garokk
Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Roger Stern
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Ka-Zar leads the X-Men to a snowy peak overlooking the domed City of the Sun God, which is using all of the energy that usually keeps the Savage Land warm and verdant. As they plan their next move, the group is attacked by Garokk's Pterasaur riders who capture Cyclops, Colossus, Banshee and Ka-Zar. Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Storm head into the city after their teammates. Approaching the edge of the city, Wolverine slays a sentry. Making their way through the tunnels beneath the city and then up into the higher levels, they come across a vast arena, at the center of which are the captured X-Men, awaiting execution.
Nightcrawler teleports to Cyclops and uncovers his visor, allowing him to free Colossus and Banshee. Garokk, weakened after using his power to build the city, flees as the X-Men battle his guards. Cyclops breaks off and chases after Garokk, pursuing him to the top of the city's dome. As Garokk recharges himself via the energy coming from the geothermal heat sink over which the city is built, he and Cyclops lock eye blasts. As the energy from their battle shakes the city, the X-Men evacuate the inhabitants just as the city collapses and Cyclops and Garokk fall from the crumbling dome. Banshee swoops in and saves Cyclops, though Storm is struck by debris trying to save Garokk and is unable to stop the villain from falling down the deep thermal shaft. Two weeks later, with the Savage Land returned to normal and the water passage out thawed, the X-Men say goodbye to Karl Lykos and Ka-Zar, then depart on a small boat. Unfortunately, they emerge into one of the worst winter storms to ever hit Drake's Passage...
Firsts and Other Notables
This is a big issue for Wolverine, as the first indication of his mutant healing ability is given (he tells Storm he "heals fast"), the first hint that his skeleton is laced with adamantium (he says "the beast ain't been born that can break my bones"), it's suggested that he has a greater-than-normal rapport with animals (he seems to communicate directly with Zabu, Ka-Zar's sabretooth tiger) and it's heavily implied that he kills one of Garokk's guards, making it clear for the first time that Wolverine is willing to kill an enemy under the right circumstances.
A Work in Progress
In Cyclops' absence, Wolverine takes charge, leading Storm and Nightcrawler into Garokk's fortress to rescue their teammates.
In a nice bit of characterization, when asked if he can teleport from his vantage point overlooking Garokk's dais to Cyclops' side, Nightcrawler worries to himself that he's never tried teleporting across that large a distance, and that the strain of doing so would likely leave him weak, before flippantly responding, "watch me".
Colossus, tied up over a magma pit, wonders, should he get hot enough, if he'll melt.
Following the defeat of Garokk, the X-Men spend an additional two weeks in the Savage Land, waiting for the passage out to thaw, meaning by the end of the issue, it's been over a month since their battle with Magneto.
Storm's strong belief in the sanctity of all life is affirmed again, as she's horrified by Wolverine's killing of a guard and ashamed that she couldn't save Garokk, despite the villain threatening the entire Savage Land.
That 70s Comic
Ka-Zar, being the badass jungle warrior that he is, continues to trudge through the snow wearing only boots and a loincloth (not that the X-Men's costumes likely provide much more in the ways of warmth in the midst of a blizzard).
The arena in which Garokk intends to sacrifice the captured X-Men and Ka-Zar is compared to the SuperDome.
It's made clear that vibranium bonds are being used to keep Colossus imprisoned, but it's not made clear how Cyclops and Banshee's powers are being held in check. You'd think their respective blindfolds/gags would pose little problem.
Storm is horrified by Wolverine's apparent killing of a guard, and later is wracked with shame over her inability to save Garokk, but no one seems too concerned when a red-hot, near-molten, super-strong Colossus starts decking Garokk's otherwise-ordinary soldiers.
More examples of Claremont's ability to come up with new and clever uses of characters' powers are on display in this issue, such as Storm using headwinds to make things difficult for Garokk's "air force".
Claremont gives the X-Men another "unclean" win, as they defeat Garokk and save the Savage Land but the victory is sullied for Storm as she is unable to save Garokk. Though she only spends a page or so feeling ashamed of it in this issue, the Classic X-Men backup story further examines her shame over the failure.
The opening splash page of the issue, in which the title of the story is integrated into the scene, is an intentional Will Eisner homage.
There's a neat depiction of Nightcrawler teleporting, in which his destination is drawn in the foreground of the panel while the puff of smoke and sound effect from his departure can be seen in the background.
Jason Powell suggests that, as much of the plot of this issue mimics X-Men 10, Byrne may be most responsible for it (as Claremont had yet to read those early Lee/Kirby issues).
The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Humorously, Cyclops issues an order for the X-Men to watch the back of the person nearest them just moments before he's taken out from behind.
Cyclops is just about to start up some major angsting when Nightcrawler arrives in the nick of time.
They're not wrong, but "soft, juicy chunks" wouldn't be my preferred ad copy...
"Hey kids! Check out the Fantastic Four cartoon that DOESN'T feature the coolest character of them all!"
Chris Claremont on Wolverine killing
"As originally constructed in the plot, it was specifically set up in such a way that it was a wartime situation. You have Storm, Wolverine and Nightcrawler on the ground. You had the guard. You had an airborne patrol of pterodactyl riders a hundred feet overhead. The slightest outcry would have brought them down and would have defeated the X-Men. The man had to be taken out swiftly, silently, and permanently. They could not afford to tie him ip. Maybe he could wake up and go "mmmm-mhmhhhmmm.:" The point was, Storm would have tried to do something. Storm would have tried to take him alive. Nightcrawler could not teleport to the attack because of the fact that teleporting involves sound, light and smell. They might have heard it, seen it, smelled it. It came down to Wolverine, and for Wolverine it's a killing situation. He has no qualms about it because he knows that the man would have no qualms about killing him if it came to that."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p99
Claremont on Byrne making Wolverine's actions implicit
"I'm talking about the original plot I put down on paper in which I said this is how the scene is structured. John [Byrne] chose not to do it that way. He did not establish the threat - the pterodactyl riders flying guard patrols, who would have been alerted by the man's outcries [Incidentally, added pages in the Classic X-Men reprint of this issue depict those riders as the X-Men approach the city's edge and the sentry - Teebore]. I saw the way John had done it, we had no time to change it...In many cases, when there were artistic conflicts between what I had wanted as the writer and the person who wrote the plot and what John had interpreted from that plot, the change would not, could not, have been done in the two panels that were allowed. It would involved a structural change, it would have affected the rest of the book. Or so it seemed to me. So, I would generally just not do it. In this case, I left out the "snikt". The inference was there; if you were a reader you could infer either Wolverine went up and killed the guy, or went up and just knocked him out real hard. Roger [Stern] and John talked about it and without consulting me, the sound effect was put in...Roger said as editor he overruled me, and I was furious, but there was nothing I could do about it. It was done."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p99-100
As discussed in the comments to last week's post, I'm generally not a huge fan of Savage Land stories, so I'm not exactly sad to see this portion of the Thomas/Adams retrospective tour come to end. That said, Claremont and Byrne end this particular Savage Land story on a high note thanks once again to their ability to weave together dynamic actions sequences with strong characterization. This is the most action packed issue since #113, yet none of that action gets in the way of some significant character development.
Without a doubt, this is the most important issue to Wolverine' development thus far, an important step on the path towards the character's extreme popularity, as some of his most important traits are established for the first time. Additionally, both Storm and Cyclops get a moment in the spotlight, as Storm's valuing of life is highlighted while Cyclops pits his will against the power of the Savage Land. Toss in some neat moments for Nightcrawler and Colossus, and thankfully, this Savage Land story ends better than its meandering, exposition-filled middle chapter suggested it would.