The Small Lebowski:
Uncanny X-Men #132-135
Issue(s): Uncanny X-Men #132, Uncanny X-Men #133, Uncanny X-Men #134, Uncanny X-Men #135
...in part because they (correctly) suspect that the X-Mansion might be bugged. Angel thinks that they're crazy for thinking the Hellfire Club are bad guys; he's actually a member of the club and doesn't know about the Inner Circle. Angel and Xavier stay behind as a reserve team; Xavier is both frustrated about being sidelined and feeling guilty for second-guessing Cyclops in the last arc.
We finally get to meet the remaining members of the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle:
Sebastian Shaw, the Black King, absorbs kinetic energy and translates it into super-strength. So the harder you hit him, the stronger he gets.
Donald Pierce, the White Bishop, is a cyborg. When Wolverine faces off against Donald Pierce, he says "Yeah, I know all about cyborgs -- I almost became one myself!". I'm sure that stirred the interest in Wolverine's past.
Harry Leland, the Black Bishop, increases a person's gravity.
Tessa, Shaw's assistant
And we get the revelation (spoiled for me by the Classic X-Men filler) that Jason Wyngarde is in fact Mastermind, from the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The White Queen gave him the ability to project his illusions directly into someone's head. He triggers his corruption of Jean Grey, turning her into the Black Queen.
The X-Men don't do so good in their assault. All are defeated and captured except Wolverine, who Leland pushed through the floor into the sewers and was presumed dead.
The last panel of issue #132 and the following issue, which was entitled "Wolverine: Alone!", did a lot to raise the profile of an already popular character, as he sliced his way through the Hellfire Club goons to rescue his teammates.
Wolverine even blatantly does a little Dirty Harry bit.
When Wolverine finally breaks into the Club's inner circle, it's the distraction that Jean - who became free of Mastermind's control thanks to her psychic rapport with Scott - needs to free Cyclops. The X-Men do much better in the rematch. Cyclops shoots the floor out from under Shaw instead of engaging him directly.
As Erik notes in the comments, Cyclops demonstrates his strengths as a tactical leader.
Of course Wolverine is acting as a lone wolf, separate from the other X-Men. When Wolverine jumps at Leland from above, Leland instinctively uses his gravity increasing power on him, but that just makes the impact that much worse.
And Phoenix goes after Mastermind, leaving him a whimpering vegetable.
The Beast, on monitor duty at the Avengers' Mansion, gets a report that the X-Men are on a rampage down the street. The protocol is for him to summon his teammates, but instead he deletes the tape and heads off on his own.
He arrives in time to find his ex (ha ha!) teammates trounced by the Dark Phoenix...
...who has flown off into space.
We get a scene with Mr. Fantastic and the Thing, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the Silver Surfer all reacting to the Dark Phoenix's power. None actually show up to investigate, though.
In deep space, Phoenix consumes the sun of the D'Bari solar system. We've seen a D'Bari before, in Avengers #4. They are affectionately known as the Asparagus Heads. They're all dead now. She also destroys an investigating Shi'ar warship.
During the Dark Phoenix battle, Sebastian Shaw converses with a Senator Kelly, a
Investigating Phoenix's power levels, Moira coins the term "cosmic".
Before the X-Men's assault, there is a very nice scene with Jean and Scott on a butte near the Angel's desert home. She uses her powers to hold back his optic beam, and they have a good conversation and spend some quality time together.
It's a little abbreviated, though, and it would have been a decent use of the back-up in the Classic X-Men reprint to expand upon it. Instead we get a stupid story about Dazzler trapped in an elevator with a psycho.
I guess if Ann Nocenti were writing my proposed back-up story instead, i wouldn't have liked it any better, so i suppose it's for the best.
Nocenti's next back-up is even worse, with Storm acting totally out of character towards an out-of-luck mutant, thinking "How annoying... who does he think he is?" when he approaches her asking to talk, and getting all flirty with some arrogant rich guy who punches the mutant.
From this story, here's the guy that Max_Spider notes in the comments looks a lot like Diablo in his civilian disguise from Fantastic Four #232.
The next one has Nightcrawler hanging around with some street urchins.
God, these stories are just so pointless. Make them stop.
Now, the back-up for issue #41, that's got a story by Claremont depicting Scott's time in the orphanage.
He's got a roommate named Nate...
...that is actually Mr. Sinister, keeping an eye on Scott.
This is more like it...
Classic X-Men back-ups aside, this is obviously a momentous arc, and it's also very well written and of course nicely drawn.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This arc ends with the X-Men back in their Mansion and Scott picking up the fact that Phoenix is returning to Earth via the psychic rapport he shares with her, but she won't reappear on Earth directly at the beginning of the next arc. So the X-Men shouldn't appear anywhere else between this arc and issue #136. The Beast is with the X-Men, so that means no Avengers appearances should appear between these X-Men arcs either.
Continuity Insert? P - (Classic X-Men reprints add new material)
My Reprint: Classic X-Men #38, Classic X-Men #39, Classic X-Men #40, Classic X-Men #41
Inbound References (18): show
Mastermind was turned into a baby along with Magneto and the other Brotherhood of Evil Mutants back in Defenders #15(I think). We're supposed to assume he was re-aged by Eric The Red along with the others, but this is never actually referred to or shown anyplace.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 30, 2011 12:26 AM
They were reduced to infancy in Defenders #16, and Champions #17 shows the other members of the Brotherhood were restored along with Magneto - although Mastermind isn't mentioned in that issue.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 30, 2011 1:06 AM
The cover to #135 mimics Neal Adams' cover to X-Men #56.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | September 4, 2011 8:03 PM
Alright, go take a look at Fantastic Four #232.
Now, go and take a look at Classic X-Men #39.
Go look at the scene where all the people are gawking at Storm. Doesn't the guy with the suitcase and trenchcoat, the one thinking "pretty girl" look kinda familar to you?
Posted by: Max_Spider | September 21, 2013 11:24 AM
You wrote: "Tessa, Shaw's assistant who will turn out to be an android, appears in the background but doesn't get a speaking role."
lol! Well, she's not actually an android though she totally does come across like one. She's a mutant with a computer-like brain. Which means that under Claremont's pen equals a Swiss army knife of deus ex machina. (See X-treme X-Men)
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | November 1, 2013 4:28 AM
Thanks, Jay. I take comfort in the fact that my mistake is a common misconception. Also worth noting that as of 1986, the Marvel role playing game was saying that she was most likely an ordinary human with a natural photographic memory. Frankly, it's kind of a letdown to learn that she's "just" a mutant, and i wonder how her slavish devotion to Shaw is explained. But i guess i'll have to read those X-treme X-Men comics eventually.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 1, 2013 9:54 AM
Max_Spider, belatedly responding to your comment. I've put in scans for comparison, and just for fun i've added Diablo as a Character Appearing here to see how it would fit in with his chronology. Although if it really is him i wonder why he's not using his Mr. Olbaid identity.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 1, 2013 10:11 AM
"Frankly, it's kind of a letdown to learn that she's "just" a mutant, and i wonder how her slavish devotion to Shaw is explained."
Uh... you might just flip the table when you discover the answer to that...
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | November 1, 2013 2:54 PM
Worth noting that the Hellfire dudes are based, respectively, on Robert Shaw, Donald Southerland, and (very obviously!) Orson Welles. In fact, the name Harry Leland is an amalgamation of Harry Lime (Welles' great villainous character in "The Third Man") and Jed Leland (Kane's sidekick in the immortal "Citizen Kane").
#132 was the first X-Men issue I picked up off the rack, and the extraordinary final panel made me a fan (at least of the Byrne era) for life.
Posted by: Instantiation | August 14, 2014 1:15 PM
Yes, I've heard numerous people claim they went a 180 on Wolverine the moment they saw that 'now it's my turn' panel.
Posted by: david banes | August 14, 2014 1:55 PM
At the time, I thought it had made me into a Wolverine fan, but with hindsight, I realized it really made me into a John Byrne fan. When he left the X-Men for the FF, so did I (at least until he replaced the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing with She-Hulk . . .).
Posted by: Instantiation | August 14, 2014 11:39 PM
It always bugged me that Leland said he was increasing someone's mass when it looked like he was really just increasing their weight. This is comics, so anything's possible. Maybe Leland was pulling subatomic particles from another dimension, or something. But I think Claremont just believed "mass" was a more scientific-sounding way of saying "weight."
Posted by: Andrew | January 4, 2015 2:04 PM
You don't show much of it, but these issues are really what made me such a hardcore fan of Cyclops. Jean frees him and then, almost single-handedly, he takes out the Hellfire Club with some brilliant tactical planning.
Posted by: Erik Beck | April 19, 2015 12:35 PM
Claremont hinted at Sage being Greek in addition to Afghani which most fans thought confusing but it's pretty obvious he was tributing Rudyard Kipling's "Man Who Would Be King" which was set in Kafirstan.
This was the cultural territory in Afghanistan of the Kalasha. The Kalasha are a non-Moslem people who dwell in isolated valleys in the Hindu-Kush mountains, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They are believed by many to be descended from members of Alexander the Great's army. The question is a matter of some debate in the real world - but the Greek government believes it, and provides aid to the Kalashas, who dwell in circumstances of extreme poverty. Which would explain why Tessa revealed she had been a harem slave for a time.
So I'd suggest this is how he intended to explain the Afghani/ Greek background. It fits neatly.
Posted by: Nathan Adler | April 19, 2015 8:37 PM
Surprised a little you disliked the backup story with Storm. I loved seeing Storm having to choose between Colossus and Wolvie because of her poor reaction. Jim Lee was new on the scene when he drew this but it sure caught my eye.
Posted by: Grom | November 11, 2015 8:23 AM
The Storm back-up story seems to me to be a urban horror story. "What happens if a stalker follows you home and puts you in a no-win situation with your roommates?" It's clever, but not a X-Men story.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | March 19, 2016 3:54 AM
It has been interesting to read various comments on this site about Chris Claremont's looooong run on Uncanny X-Men and how his various plans for the series were altered, if not completely derailed, due to a variety of factors.
I have been thinking about this for a while now, and what I'm saying here is very much written with the benefit of 35 years of hindsight. I have come to the opinion that even though Claremont wrote Uncanny X-Men until 1991, his long term plans for the book became irreparably damaged with Uncanny X-Men #135, and he spent the next 11 years performing various types of damage control.
What happened in #135 that caused such massive damage? Well, if things had gone as planned, originally there would not have been anything. The original plot that Claremont and John Byrne agreed upon was that Dark Phoenix would destroy an uninhabited planet, the Shi'ar would see this, panic, and attack her, and that would eventually lead to the original ending of the storyline, with jean Grey having her powers removed.
Unfortunately, after they worked out the plot, Byrne changed his mind and, apparently without consulting Claremont, penciled the issue to include Dark Phoenix destroying the D'Bari planet...
"[Claremont] kept making Jean more and more powerful. Even when I took pains not to draw it that way, we'd get the whole 'her power is a song within her' stuff. The X-Men were fast becoming fifth wheels in their own book...[writer Steven Grant] suggested that we just make [Phoenix] a villain. I wasn't at all crazy about the idea - Jean was a favorite - but it seemed very much a case of the good of the many outweighing the few: If the X-Men were ever to get their own book back, Jean could not continue in her present form...all the 'bits' that Chris came up with for the first rampage of Dark Phoenix amounted to pretty harmless stuff or acts of self-defense - so I had her nuke the Asparagus People, and everything snowballed from there."
Byrne transformed Dark Phoenix into a genocidal monster, and that resulted in Jim Shooter demanding that the ending of the storyline be radically altered, the result of which was that Claremont & Byrne decided to kill Jean Grey. That put a huge monkey wrench in their long-term plans, and eventually caused Byrne to depart the series a few months later.
So what happens next? Well, at the time it must have seemed to Claremont that Jean Grey was absolutely, positively, permanently dead, no ifs, ands or buts. And back in the early 1980s that was an understandable assumption to make, since lots of marvel characters had died and remained dead. Of course, as we now know from three and a half subsequent decades, NO ONE stays dead at Marvel. So for the moment that Jean was killed, it was inevitable that eventually someone would bring her back.
Claremont, really believing she was gone forever, eventually introduced Madelyne "Maddy" Prior to give Cyclops the happy ending that he was denied having with Jean. And, yes, editor Louise Simonson should probably have tried to talk him out of making Maddy a dead ringer for Jean. I suppose Simonson didn't think it mattered since she was probably also under the belief that Jean would never come back. But a few years later Jean did come back. So now Cyclops' marriage to Maddy was editorially undone, and he was written to abandon his wife & newborn son to run back to his miraculously resurrected girlfriend.
Granted, even if Scott had married a character who didn't look like Jean this probably would have happened. But that aspect just made it even more weird & creepy how it played out.
As I've commented elsewhere, I really think that Claremont never quite regained his footing after Shooter ordered Jean to be brought back, and this affected the last few years of his run to various degrees.
Of course, none of this would have ever happened if Byrne hadn't decided to have Dark Phoenix destroy the Asparagus People. It really makes you wonder just how different the next decade of Claremont's X-Men stories would have been if Byrne hadn't deviated from the plot.
Posted by: Ben Herman | July 15, 2016 1:26 PM
If Shooter hadn't gotten involved, the story would've ended with an absolute wimper with the Watcher (yet another character completely irrelevant to the X-Men) showing up and fixing everything by removing her powers. Jean Grey doesn't overcome anything, the X-Men don't defeat the evil, no, just a Fantastic Four character shows up and resets things. We wouldn't've had one of the most iconic deaths in comics with her sacrificing herself or the character's humanity winning out with her love for Cyclops overruling the Phoenix. Claremont just wanted to wave it all away with no sensible resolution to any of the characters. And without that, it would've been a pile of narrative mess. It would not in a million years be considered one of the most iconic comic book stories ever. One of the nicest drawn ones maybe. Claremont was going nowhere, Byrne knew it and Shooter had to school him on how to properly end a story.
Posted by: AF | July 15, 2016 1:53 PM
@AF: The published ending of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" is amazing... if you ignore the fact that Uncanny X-Men is a monthly comic book series that has continued to be published monthly for the next three and a half decades, that the changed ending seriously impacted the storytelling engine of the series, and that because of this various major aspects of it were eventually retconned away in a very awkward, artificial manner. Now if Marvel had suddenly gone belly-up a year or so later, the last issue of X-Men was #150, and we never saw any of these characters again, then I would say "Dark Phoenix" ended perfectly. But that obviously did not happen.
It is *really* difficult to successfully execute something like "The Dark Phoenix Saga" in corporate-owned comics, because inevitably someone else is going to come along and screw with it. How do you tell incredibly innovative stories that drastically change the characters without completely altering the dynamics of the book, much less pissing off the corporate heads who stand to make a ton of $$$ from licensing the characters?
That's why I prefer creator-owned comic books. Erik Larsen can do whatever the hell he wants to on Savage Dragon because he owns it. He doesn't have to ever worry about a storyline getting axed or rewritten because Grant Morrison wants to be able to use the characters in a book that he's writing, or because Image Comics doesn't want to lose all the money they make from Savage Dragon underoos.
Posted by: Ben Herman | July 15, 2016 2:21 PM
So you'd prefer to see a terrible lame duck of an ending to Dark Phoenix Saga, just so that you couldn't continue to complain about everyone but Claremont ruining his awful stories afterwards?
Posted by: AF | July 15, 2016 4:17 PM
AF, I don't know why you think that the original ending to the story was going to have the Watcher popping up to pull out a deus ex machine. Here's how Byrne says it was originally intended to go down...
"As Chris and I had worked out the details for the original shape of what came to be known as the Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean (Phoenix was still Jean then, turned evil by Mastermind) flew off into space, had an encounter with a Shi'ar ship, blew it up, and then returned to Earth. The Shi'ar pursued her, and, in the original version, captured and "psychically lobotomized" her. In this way, Dark Phoenix would be set up to become a recurring villain in the series."
In any case, we shall just have to agree to disagree about Claremont and "his awful stories afterwards."
Posted by: Ben Herman | July 15, 2016 4:36 PM
Again, were Claremont and Byrne trying to recreate the Norman Osborn/Green Goblin amnesia bit in this comic book? If so, it's a little tacky and disrespectful to do this to a hero.
Posted by: D09 | July 15, 2016 5:29 PM
Posted by: AF | July 15, 2016 5:39 PM
The original ending to X-Men #137 was printed in Phoenix:the Untold Story. The Watcher wasn't in it.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 15, 2016 5:59 PM
I don't believe you can really blame Byrne for the Broccoli head people and therefore Shooter's response. Comics is a collaborative medium with many people involved - and that is only ONE panel. Lots of comics were doctored at the last minute in order to make editorially mandated corrections.
It would have been very easy for that one panel to be replaced at any point in time, whether by the editor (who was it then, Roger Stern?), Shooter, or even Claremont objecting. Byrne could have been told to redraw the panel, or even gotten someone else to do it. Phoenix had already destroyed a Shi'Ar ship, so her villain status was established.
They allowed it because they probably thought it was cool. Only afterwards did the moral repercussions sink in. The decision to kill the character was best. Any other ending would created its own problems. Either Jean escaped punishment, the Green Goblin amnesia dynamic kicked in, or the character becomes permanently evil which would really scar the remaining characters (particularly Scot).
The decision to resurrect her was a mistake, and only happened at a relatively last minute in Bob Layton's X-Factor pitch when OTHERS decided it would be a good time to bring Jean using an idea by Kurt Busiek. It wasn't done by greed, but normal creative thinking.
The character of Madelyne was also a mistake. Fine to give Scott a new love interest, and even have her be the one he marries. Very bad to make it a dead ringer for Jean.
Posted by: Chris | July 15, 2016 10:29 PM
Well that's game, set and match. Is Byrne personally responsible for Phoenix killing the Asparagus People? Technically, yes. Is Claremont responsible for creating a dead ringer for Jean Grey that Scott would love and marry and have kids with and retire? Absolutely, but Paul Smith didn't draw her as Jean Grey. Even with the red hair, I'd bet a lot of readers were going 'huh?' I know I was, and I only read this stuff in back issues, knowing how it would work out. Marc Silvestri's Maddie looks a lot more like Mark Silvestri's Jean Grey and both of them look a lot more like John Byrne's Phoenix than any of Paul Smith's stuff.
Why couldn't Scott have fallen for some hot brunette? She can become a ninja mutant and all, but that would have made things a lot easier for everybody.
Posted by: ChrisW | July 16, 2016 1:08 AM
Better yet, a techno-ninja mutant, and she has a hidden secret. Something about a medallion. And her mother. I smell box office gold!!!
Posted by: ChrisW | July 16, 2016 1:21 AM
I only want to mention that the kids on Stranger Things (Dustin and Will) view #134 with particular reverence.
Posted by: Mark Black | July 18, 2016 7:03 PM
One reason for the later confusion about Donald Pierce's Hellfire Club rank -- is he White Bishop or White King -- is that none of the male Inner Circle members is referred to by chess piece nomenclature in this story. Or in their next few appearances, from what I can tell. They're just called the Inner Circle and Shaw is referred to as the "chairman." And in their first appearances in shadow, the men of the Inner Circle are seated behind symbols from a deck of cards, which doesn't make much sense if they're supposed to be using chess titles.
It looks to me as if Claremont only intended the two queens to use color/chess titles at first. I'm not sure when that changes: when is Shaw first referred to in one of the books by the title "Black King"? Shaw seems like primus inter pares in this story -- Leland and Pierce, and prospectively Wyngarde, are Shawn's peers, but Shaw has more personal authority, which he fears losing to Wyngarde. The White Queen seems to be treated as somewhat subordinate to the men, and she's defeated earlier.
I wonder if it's not until Selene joins that the chess terminology and two-men, two-women setup for the Inner Circle is canonized?
Posted by: Walter Lawson | December 10, 2016 1:08 AM
I'm pretty sure that Shaw's "rank" was first revealed not in continuity but in Marvel Universe 5 (May 1983), where Shaw is titled Black King and Pierce is White Bishop. The way the power structure works is VERY unclear. It's implied that the Blacks and the Whites are like political parties, but also said that when a new king takes over, he chooses the opposite color from the deposed king. "The previous white king threw the inner circles financial and technological support behind Dr. Stephen Lang's attempt to capture superpowered mutants with sentinel robots. Langs' sentinels proved to be highly flawed and his endeavor ended in disaster, which the inner circle blamed on the white king. The white king had also alienated the membership by casting tradition aside, renaming the inner circle the council of the chosen and imposing new costumes on the circle members. As a result Shaw and frost had no difficulty in turning the white king out of office and reinstating the inner circles traditional names and costumes."
Posted by: Andrew | December 10, 2016 6:45 AM
I could be wrong, but I think when Nightcrawler teleports after the ship is destroyed he appears at an angle that directs his momentum horizontally.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | December 10, 2016 6:53 AM
Since the Inner Circle -- once it finally showed up -- was very heavily based on the Hellfire Club as portrayed in the "Touch of Brimstone" episode of the old British spy show The Avengers, it makes sense that the queen characters are the only ones with chess nomenclature and that Shaw is played more as "first among equals." Int he TV show, Emma Peel's persona as "the queen of sin" was that of a subordinate fetish object for the leadership, and the leadership of the Club was an "Assembly of Superiors" led by a "Chief Justice." And they, too,w ere basically a bunch of rich folks trying to take over the world.
It's really only later that the Marvel Universe' Hellfire Club and its Inner Circle start to be played less as people trying to take over the world and more as closeted mutants who benefit from the status quo and insinuate themselves within it, "passing" while exploiting other mutants. The extension of the chess motif and the internal politics of the Inner Circle are signs that the characters are being developed away from the original influence. In this story, they're really more a of an in-joke, a device to set up the Dark Phoenix plot, with the exception of Shaw. He's the only member not portrayed as a disposable villain-- it's not even clear that Leland will survive Wolverine's attack on him, for example -- and he's the one who starts working with Senator Kelly at the end.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | December 10, 2016 7:43 AM
"Senator Kelly, a member of the Hellfire Club"
He's not even that. In dialogue in #133, just before Wolverine climbs out of the dumbwaiter, two of the staff say something like "I didn't know he was a member of the club"/"He's not. He's Shaw's invited guest."
Posted by: Stephen Frug | January 24, 2017 8:20 PM
That actually makes sense. I assume he was the Senator from New York, but regardless, he's someone Shaw would cultivate personally as well as professionally, even setting him up to marry one of the maids.
Posted by: ChrisW | January 24, 2017 10:14 PM
Thanks for the correction, Stephen.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 25, 2017 8:28 AM
Well, fnord, SUPER belatedly responding to your comment, wasn't Diablo complaining that his landlady was forcing him to waste "precious potions" on such disguise spells that would be required for Mr. Olbaid?
Posted by: Max_Spider | April 17, 2017 4:03 PM
133 has always been one of my favorite issues, probably one of the best ever "middle part of an epic storyline" issues in my book.
Does anyone know: Did Beast ever face any consequences for deleting that tape and disappearing from Avengers Mansion while on duty, not returning for several days? (I mean, dude went to the moon...)
Posted by: J-Rod | April 25, 2017 10:18 AM
Did you guys also find it weird that Scott doesn't react whatsoever after seeing Angel and Jean almost making out?
Posted by: Bibs | June 17, 2017 12:46 PM
The title to issue #134 looks to have been swiped from the 1970 film "Too Late the Hero", starring Cliff Robertson as a U.S. Navy interpreter in WW2 who has managed to avoid combat until he is assigned to assist a ragtag British unit (featuring Michael Caine and Harry Andrews) destroy a Japanese communications base in the Philippines.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | July 9, 2017 4:12 PM
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