X-Men #111 (1978, June)
Chris Claremont will be at the Ottawa ComicCon in May. Hopefully I’ll be able to go. For today, though, Byrne is back for “Mindgames!”
We start with the Beast in a crowd of people in Sullivan County, Texas, outside a circus. Banshee is a carnival barker, and behind him are posters of the X-Men. He’s not certain of who they are, since he hasn’t had a chance to get to know them, so he pokes around. Then we get a flashback of him going to the Mansion after Lorna called him to tell him Havok was kidnapped (over in Marvel Team-Up, which I’ll talk about after this) and she couldn’t reach the X-Men. The X-Men seemed to leave in the middle of a meal, but there were no signs of a struggle. He used Cerebro to find them, and wound up at the carnival.
He sees Jean doing a trapeze act, and recognizes her telekinetic powers when she saves herself from a fall. He goes to talk to her, but she acts nothing like herself. Scott comes in to get rid of him, and a general panic ensues once they see his face. He hides in the freak show tent, is decked by Colossus, and clearly loses a fight in front of Wolverine. Beast is taken to see the boss, who turns out to be Mesmero.
Meanwhile, seeing the fight has sparked something in Wolverine’s mind, and he breaks his chains and returns to normal. He breaks into Jean’s dressing room, decks Scott, then slaps Jean around to restore her memory. I know you want to see that:
With the X-Men busting everything up, Mesmero’s distracted from his attempt to hypnotize the Beast long enough for Beast to break free. Before he can take Mesmero down, though, he’s knocked out from behind, and Mesmero is shocked at who’s responsible. They enter Mesmero’s trailer to see him standing over the Beast. He quickly collapses, and Magneto stands revealed.
Beast and Wolverine are the stars of this issue. Beast, of course, is the main focus of the story as he tries to figure out what’s going on. But then Wolverine gets some pretty significant use. It’s probably Byrne’s influence – as a Canadian, Byrne really pushed for Wolverine to be relevant. I would argue Byrne is more responsible for Wolverine’s later popularity than Claremont, because I don’t think Claremont would’ve given the character a major focus without Byrne’s influence. Claremont does give Wolverine some good characterization here, though. When giving a carny to the count of five to explain what’s going on: “One. Four. Fi-” It’s a good line. He also gets to bitch-slap Scott and Jean. Always enjoyable.
The carnival idea itself is great. It’s another idea that became hugely popular, though it hasn’t been revisited the way the softball games have been. Wolverine and the X-Men recently homaged it for a three-issue arc, but the Jason Aaron/Nick Bradshaw version simply doesn’t compare to the Claremont/Byrne one. Where WatXM took three issues and made it largely a series of gags, this single issue made it tense and disturbing, and the reactions of the characters when they broke free was much more realistic – they were furious at being used like toys. For a single issue, one-off story, this was impressively memorable. And the Magneto reveal at the end was great – that last-page splash makes him look really imposing.
I mentioned Marvel Team-Up. Well, in MTU #69 from May, by Claremont and Byrne, Alex and Lorna were walking along Muir Isle when they were attacked by guys dressed in Ancient Egyptian garb. Alex recognizes them as servants of the Living Pharaoh. He gets captured, and Lorna’s tossed off a cliff to the water below, and assumed dead. She’s not. She calls the school but gets no answer, so then she calls the Avengers, and gets the Beast. Spider-Man tracks some of the Pharaoh’s men in the US, and finds them unloading Havok from an ambulance. Fight time. Then the Pharaoh shows up and beats them, locks Havok in a case, and starts absorbing cosmic radiation to turn back into the Living Monolith. #70 has Thor show up to fight the Monolith. Thor can’t really hurt him, though. Eventually, Spider-Man frees Havok, the Monolith returns to normal, and Thor promises Havok will be back in Muir Isle soon. Not a bad story, as far as MTU goes. I can’t say that was a great series in general, though. Often, the team-ups felt forced and inorganic.