X-Men #108 (1977, December)
I just remembered that I’d planned on doing a Best of 2012 post on the weekend. I totally forgot. Well, next weekend, then. I don’t care if it’s late. This isn’t exactly a high-brow blog I’m running. Anyway, today’s story is “Armageddon Now!” With new artist John Byrne!
After a quick recap, and Corbeau telling the president and a few others that the universe is on the verge of ceasing to exist, and Jean thinking about how similar Scott and Corsair are, we get into the story proper. We meet Jahf, the diminutive guardian of the M’Kraan Crsytal. Wolverine threatens Jahf, and hits escape velocity as Corsair tells Waldo, on the Starjammer, to retrieve him. Jahf continues to beat around the X-Men. Phoenix telekinetically grabs a passing meteor, and brings it down on Jahf. It doesn’t work. Banshee finally beats him with a powerful, point-blank sonic scream to scramble his circuits.
Of course, that only lets out Modt, the second guardian, and a giant. His power is a thousand times greater than Jahf’s, and even if Modt’s defeated, that will only spawn another guardian a thousand times stronger again. D’Ken gloats, which pisses off Raza enough that he grabs D’Ken and throws him into the Crystal. Reality blinks again.
The X-Men and Starjammers are teleported somewhere else. A huge, empty city. Phoenix realizes they’re all inside the Crystal, and inside is the heart of it all. She starts to fade, and everyone is hit with beams from the sphere. They’re all forced to live through their greatest nightmares – we only see D’Ken (his Soul-Drinker), Nightcrawler (being attacked by his friends), Corsair (seeing his wife murdered) and Phoenix, whose nightmare is death, but because she already died, it holds no fear for her any more. Scott’s nightmare, of course, is losing control of his optic blasts. Phoenix gets hit with a beam, but it passes through her. She uses her telepathy to stun him, but he’s already damaged the sphere. Which is evidently a Bad Thing.
So, already, this is a cool issue. If Jean just slapped some glue on the cracks to keep the thing together, the story would still be a memorable one. Instead, the story goes from great to brilliant, as Jean enters the sphere as the Phoenix, descending into the neutron galaxy at the heart of M’Kraan Crystal. She senses power in the geodesic latticework of anti-energy (the best words and concepts she can come up with to describe what she sees and senses). It’s alive, but it’s dying. And if the lattice dies, then the galaxy will be freed, and the universe will die. Eventually, the universe and the neutron galaxy would explode, creating a brand-new universe. And, eventually, new life. Very high-concept stuff.
Jean tries to fix the lattice. But she doesn’t have the strength. The neutron galaxy absorbs energy, which is what the Phoenix is, and it’s already pulled her so far from reality that it’s like she doesn’t exist. That’s when Storm arrives to offer Jean her own strength, even if it means her own life. Jean says it still wouldn’t be enough, but she borrows some more from Corsair, who she calls Major Summers. This shocks him into helping. Jean dives into the sphere after telling Corsair that Cyclops is his son.
She strives to fix the lattice, losing herself in the process, until she realizes she still can’t do it alone. The rest of the X-Men give her their strength. She ultimately fixes it. Then she collapses from exhaustion.
We see the X-Men return home (Wolverine carried by Nightcrawler), to be confronted by Firelord, who says things have been explained to him. Lilandra passes through next, and the Star-Gate collapses on itself. She tells Xavier that D’Ken’s been left catatonic by all that happened, and that by law, she should succeed him. But because she led a rebellion, she was condemned a traitor. Basically, there’s some legal stuff to work out before she can return home.
The book ends with a dedication to Dave Cockrum, who adds a post-script that he’s not dead.
This is an amazing comic Byrne hits the ground running, as far as the art goes, and he only gets better. But the story is really special. Claremont had a very wordy writing style, but it works here, as his words paint a picture as vivid as the art. There’s at least another five splash pages, and three or four pages of normal-sized panels, in his descriptions. The one complaint I have is that the page with Corbeau could’ve been cut to make room for one more page of Jean fixing the lattice. There are two panels that would’ve been really, really nice to see: Jean getting strength from her friends, and Jean seeing the Mystic Tree of Life. The book needed one page, with those two panels. Other than that, it’s well-written, well-drawn, memorable, even inspiring. I wonder how many kids read this issue and immediately decided to dedicate their lives to studying and understanding the universe.
The letters include John Byrne, talking about how much pressure is on him, and begging the readers for patience. He need not have worried – his work on the book is considered to be one of the definitive periods.
It almost feels wrong to talk about crossovers after an issue like this, but it can’t be helped. From November, Champions #16 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall finishes the story from Super-Villain Team-Up #14. Magneto beats around the Champions for a bit, then he and Beast head to DC, where Doom is to be greeted as the new king of the US. Doom is annoyed at the political posturing. The Hulk is summoned by Doom, and arrives right before Magneto and Doom. The Champions arrive behind them. Big fight time! Hulk and Hercules start fighting, and Ghost Rider is shocked to see the Champions follow Doom’s orders. Apparently, since he doesn’t breathe, he never succumbed to the neuro-gas. While the fight goes on, Magneto confronts Doom. Ultimately, Ghost Rider blasts Doom’s mask with Hellfire, and Doom rips his mask off, and inhales his own neuro-gas, which messes up his mind, and releases everyone else from his control. The day is saved. Aside from the neuro-gas still being in the atmosphere, and everyone under Doom’s control should he ever remember that fact. Which he apparently never does. Maybe Reed Richards figured it out and releases an antidote or something. It was all a rather silly story anyway.
Magneto also appears in Captain America Annual #4, by Jack Kirby. Frankly, I’m not even going to talk about it, because it was such an incredibly awful story. Seriously, Jack Kirby may have been the single worst comic writer I have ever read, and I read Chuck Austen’s UXM run! To repeat, I am saying Jack Kirby was worse than Chuck Austen. And his art in the ’70s was painful to look at. I honestly cannot understand how anyone could read his stuff. The Annual is notable only for introducing Peeper, as part of Magneto’s new Brotherhood (which also includes new characters Burner, Slither, Lifter and Shocker, all of whom are terrible, stupid characters). You should avoid anything Kirby wrote.