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Uncanny X-Men #160 (1982, August)

August 19, 2013

Ooh. Here’s a pretty big one. Brent Anderson comes in for the pencils on “Chutes and Ladders!”

Chutes and Ladders!

I’m just realizing how little long-range offence this team has.

We start with the X-Men training while someone watches them, wondering if they’re trying to kill each other. Fastball Special Tracker is now at 9. Wolverine slams into Storm, stunning them both and making the others really concerned, as the mysterious guy watching calls for Illyana to come to him. Kitty spots her walking away, and follows. And for some reason, Anderson draws Kitty wearing heels. I’m not sure why. It was never really part of her outfit before this, or after. I’ve always felt heels don’t make much sense for ground-based superheroes. When a person can fly, sure, wear whatever unreasonable footwear you want. I know this is just a silly pet peeve, but dammit, characters should wear costumes that make sense, and heels make sense for very few characters.

Anyway, a circle of light appears below Kitty and she disappears. Outside, the X-Men have finished their training session. Storm’s tired, since it’s only been a day since her encounter with Dracula, and creates a rainstorm to shower herself off. They realize that Kitty and Illyana are missing, and go looking for them, entering the same tunnel the girls did. And circles of light grab them, as well.

We then get back to Kitty, who feels sick. She compares the light to Larry Niven’s “stepping disks” (from his Ringworld stories). She meets Nightcrawler, who gropes her. This clearly isn’t the Nightcrawler we’re used to. She runs away, right into Belasco, sitting on his throne. Yep, Belasco enters the X-Men franchise! You know what that means is coming up soon, right? Colossus and Storm are searching together, and Storm finds an armlet that she puts on. She then gets grabbed by some tentacles. Her lightning has no effect, and Colossus vanishes. But then she takes on the properties of Colossus, Nightcrawler and Wolverine, and gets free.

Back to Kitty, trapped in a crystal. Belasco explains who he is, and his previous appearance back in the Ka-Zar series (which was also drawn by Anderson). Then one of his servants, a muscular demon named S’ym, teleports in. S’ym is a reference to Dave Sim’s Cerebus comic. There had been plans for a crossover between X-Men and Cerebus, but it never happened. (This Comic Book Legends Revealed gives more details.) Anyway, S’ym snaps a claw off a corpse of Wolverine, then Belasco draws out Kitty’s own skeleton. Nightcrawler’s watching the whole scene from the shadows.

Storm wakes up in a glade. She finds it frustratingly familiar. She takes a quick swim to clear her head, dresses in some handy clothes, and flies off. A woman watches her from shadows, wearing an amulet and armband identical to the ones Storm wears. Nightcrawler attacks Nightcrawler, then reports to Belasco, who doesn’t particularly care. Wolverine finds Colossus hanging on a wall with his whole chest caved in, then gets attacked by S’ym, who calls him a hoser. S’ym is Canadian? Anyway, right before S’ym kills him, Wolverine is teleported away. Colossus shows up, and they brawl, but S’ym is too strong for him. Wolverine returns, but his claws can’t hurt S’ym. Colossus kicks him in the back, into a teleport circle. Then the old woman from earlier sends Wolverine and Colossus to help their friends. The four X-Men chase Belasco off.

Then Storm learns what’s happened to Kitty. She’s ready to give chase and kill him, but her winds are stopped, and the old woman shows up. It’s an older version of Storm, of course. Now with white hair – oh, wait. Old Storm says following Belasco was what she did, and it cost her friends their lives, and damned her. She uses her magic, which she learned when her control of the weather waned, to help Kitty. The X-Men try to teleport home, with Old Storm holding off Belasco, but he gets by and grabs Illyana. The X-Men manage to pull her back through . . . but she’s now 13.

Claremont continues to fire on all cylinders, ably assisted here by Anderson. The story, and Limbo itself, is creepy, weird and confusing. There’s a lot of twists and surprises. And then it ends with perhaps the biggest surprise of all – little Illyana aged 7 years in a matter of seconds, with no one entirely sure who she spent that time with – Storm, or Belasco. The 1983-4 Magik mini will explore the time Illyana spent in Limbo. In the meantime, this is a major development for Illyana – she remains a supporting character in UXM for the next couple years (but eventually joins the New Mutants), but she’s a bit more prominent than she had been, if only as Kitty’s best friend. Their friendship, of course, becomes a really notable part of both of them.

Belasco started off in Ka-Zar, and that’s where he’ll next be seen, but he’s become much more associated with the X-Men. As a villain, he’s actually kinda cool. He’s evil, he knows he’s evil, and he rather enjoys it. There’s a charm to him, at least under Claremont – Bruce Jones, the Ka-Zar writer, never really made him particularly interesting. S’ym is kinda cool; he’ll pop up now and then, until his death in Inferno. Uh, spoiler alert. The art here is nothing particularly out of the ordinary; it’s fairly standard early ’80s comic book art. There’s nothing wrong with it, but at the same time, it means it doesn’t really stand out.

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