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Thursday, October 1, 2015

THE UNCANNY X-MEN #137 (1980)



OUT OF THE BACK ISSUE BIN

Views and Reviews of Comic Books from the Past


By
MITCHELL A. HALLOCK
(via special arrangement by John "THE MEGO STRETCH HULK" Cimino)



THE UNCANNY X-MEN #137 (1980)



 Written by: Chris Claremont and John Bryne
Drawn by: John Bryne
Inked by: Terry Austin


"Write about your favorite comic book."

A simple enough request made to me from John Cimino, he of "Mego Stretch Hulk" fame and "the man who could sell brass knuckles to Gandhi" fame. I kept telling him it’s on my list, but when you produce the greatest comic convention known to the Nutmeg State at the lavish Mohegan Sun (known as the TerrifiCon, the State’s TERRIFIC Comic Con) you get a bit busy. Yet, Cimino would not waver in his never-ending, needling for my rarified remembrance of my favorite four-color fable. What would it be? The amazing antics of a certain angst-ridden, arachnid based teenager? The patriotic, pugilist from the greatest generation? The derring-do of the dark knight detective, or even the floundering fables of the forgotten man from Forbush? Nay, I say to thee... As much as I love each and every comic book I have ever had the distinct pleasure of perusing, I had to make my choice; which one would I sit down and transcribe my thoughts regarding a treasured tale? The heart-wrenching, decision of Mitchie’s choice… (I often don’t refer to myself in the third person, but for the sake of padding the word count for this article I would do it, and even indulge myself by referring to myself as "Mitchie").


Ming Chen (from Comic Book Men), John (the Mego Stretch Hulk himself), and me ("Mitchie")

Thus, the Crackle became Kirbyified! Lo There Shall Be An Ending! I made my selection… what comic book do I hold above many others as being my favorite? I would have to say, that though I am a lifelong Spider-Man fan (and if I stop reading it, the Earth will be ripped from its orbit and plunge into the heart of the Sun, thus ending life as we know it – you can all thank me later for preventing annihilation), I chose a book that I can close my eyes and remember the sheer impact it had on my impressionable young mind... The Uncanny X-Men #137 "The Fate of the Phoenix!"


 


Why?

I was not an X-Men fan from day one. I had read the old reprints of the original team, liked the Beast in the Avengers (after he turned furry and blue) and thought Cyclops was cool, but never really got into it. Then in 1975, when I was going to get a Slurpee at the 7-11, I saw the All New, All Different X-Men gracing the cover of Giant-Size X-Men #1. I bought it, I was probably about 9 or 10 years old, and over that summer, sat and sweated on my grandmother’s porch outside of New Haven and read that book until the covers came off. Yet, I never kept up with the ongoing series after that.

It wasn’t until my comic reading pal, Al, started trading his X-Men comics with me. As we smuggled the Marvel’s inside our school workbooks, in valiant efforts to avoid the comic book ripping terrors of the Catholic nuns who taught us at St. Brendan’s school in New Haven, Connecticut (Alma Mater of artist Mike DeCarlo who was a few years ahead of us). I started really staring at the art in the issues around Uncanny X-Men #115-116, and said – WHO IS THIS GUY DRAWING THE BOOK?


A young "Mitchie" A. Hallock bursting at the seams with Kirby Crackle and delusions of comic book grandeur during his Catholic school days.

First the art. I am an unapologetic, unabashed, ultimate fan of MISTER JOHN BYRNE. While I had been drawing since I was 4 years old, and had dreams of being drafted into the drawing circles of the legendary Marvel Bullpen and wanted to be the next John Romita Sr. – who was and is a master of Marvel story-telling, it was Byrne who was on a whole new level for me. I had followed his art from book to book, and would lay on the floor with pen and pencil and recreate the images he filled comic book pages with month after month. NO one could draw the sheer strength of Colossus, capture the tortured features of Cyclops, the reluctant leader of the merry Mutants, the sexiness of Storm, the whimsical weirdness of Nightcrawler, and the ferocity of the feral Wolverine. The framing, the way the panels flowed effortlessly and crafted the visual story-telling blew my pre-teen mind, month after month. John Romita Sr. might have been the Elvis of comic art, but John Byrne was Bruce “Frigging” Springsteen! The God Damned BOSS! You want to be him, but you know you can’t!

Over the years there was an epic brewing with Jean Grey, aka Marvel Girl, aka the Phoenix, and it was finally coming to a climax in an epic battle between the X-Men and the Imperial Guard on the Blue Area of the Moon, home to the Watcher. Having had her powers restrained, the Phoenix force was unleashing itself and Jean Grey was powerless to control it.

Al and I had been talking about what would happen, this was the comic book version of Star Wars, or rather The Empire Strikes Back, where we were left with an epic cliffhanger and we tried to create our own versions of how it would all end up. Al and I even wrote and drew our own versions of comic books as we sat in the back of class at St. Brendan’s School. Al was the mastermind behind the unassuming madness of Mr. Smith and Bozzy (his lopsided cat) where I went for the more action-packed adventures of Crusher, a former professionally wrestling pig (you had to be there). We adapted the Dark Phoenix Saga in our own books and each had our own versions of how it would all end. So as the day approached when the epic issue would be hitting the newsstands, we counted down the days.

Thankfully, there was no internet to ruin the ending of issue 137 for us, the term "spoiler alert" meant your Mom saying don’t use the milk on your Cap’n Crunch because it had gone bad the day before. We had no idea how this tale would end.

It was raining out, and Al’s Dad picked us up at school, which was a first. He said he had a surprise for us, and we wondered what it could be. After 30 minutes we figured it out, he had driven all the way to the coolest comic book shops in the area, Dave Armstrong’s SPACE TRAVELER'S TRADING POST in Derby, Connecticut! It was in the basement of a house on the corner and packed floor to ceiling with comics, fanzines, models, posters, artwork, action figures, games and anything relatively close to comics and sci-fi... in other words it was Heaven on Earth! I can remember flying down the street and bursting in the door to get in there, Al and I were shoving each other to see who would be first in the shop. We composed ourselves and asked Dave, if he had the newest X-Men, he reached behind the table and presented us with two, crisp, freshly printed copies. We just stared at it in awe. In our hands was the greatest comic ever produced. We quickly paid and ran back to his Dad’s car, dodging raindrops and covering the sacred four color classic from the elements. As his Dad drove, we were in the backseat turning the pages as fast as we could, absorbing the imagery and devouring every word balloon – it was a Chris Claremont script, needless to say, there was a lot to ingest! 

As the car went down Route 34 and we returned to the Elm City of New Haven, we were reaching the epic conclusion of the fate of Jean Grey. As I turned the page and saw her exchange with our heroic mutant leader and the love of her life, Scott “Cyclops” Summers, my heart dropped. To prevent the Phoenix force from consuming her and wreaking havoc on the universe, the brave Jean Grey did the only thing she could. Using her telekinetic abilities, Jean activated an ancient Kree weapon that had been buried in the moon’s dust for centuries, she pulled the trigger and sacrificed herself. Marvel Girl was dead.




I can remember the rain hitting hard against the car windshield and the wipers valiantly wiping them away. Al’s Dad was quietly humming along with Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” as it came through the dashboard speaker. I looked over at Al as he reached the climatic page. He let out an audible gasp. “Holy . . . .” Al muttered. Together we stared at each other stunned, trying to comprehend the fate of the Phoenix. Yes it was a noble thing she did, but we being Catholic boys, the thought of suicide was one of the “big forbiddens” in our Faith. Trust me, there are a lot of those. Yes, we knew that Jean Grey was fiction, and that characters had gone onto to meet their end in other comics, Uncle Ben, Bucky and we would never forget Gwen Stacy, but this was different, we had lost a friend. This left you with an emptiness in you fanboy soul. The issue gave both of us a LOT to think about. The X-Men would never be the same, nor would we ever look at a comic book as mere distraction, a nerd’s hobby, no this was in some way – REAL!


HERO ENVY REPORT CARD
Story: 5
Art: 4
Action: 5
Flow: 5
Reread Factor: 5
Overall Grade: 5
(grading numbers 1 thru 5, with 5 being the highest)


It’s been more 30 years since that fateful day of reading Uncanny X-Men #137. Al, his Dad’s car, Space Traveler’s Trading Post are all phantoms that haunt my memories. I hear about him every few years but never really kept in touch after high school. I saw Hollywood tell the Phoenix saga on the big screen years ago, but even with millions of dollars in special effects it never had the impact that it did with simple ink and paper. I can still close my eyes and see every panel. The placement of every word balloon. The colors. The smell of the newsprint.  I went on to meet the folks that produced that comic, Chris Claremont at a comic con, John Byrne at an estate sale (of all places), but never stopped to thank them for giving me memories that would last a lifetime. Hopefully, this article is making up for that.

So, now I can get back to work on planning, producing and promoting my “terrific” comic convention so that other fans can find their version of X-Men 137, and fall in love with comic books just like I did.




Agree, disagree? Let's hear it fanboys!


OTHER "OUT OF THE BACK ISSUE BIN" REVIEWS

AVENGERS #164, 165, 166 (1977)
Mitchell Anthony Steven Hallock 
Mitchell was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1966. At a young age he fell in love with comic books, but it was seeing "Star Wars" in 1977 that completely changed his life and led him into the field of graphic design and illustration. During his college years, at Southern Connecticut State University, Hallock was in art classes with future Marvel artist Ron Garney and in play's alongside future Spawn and Black Dynamite actor Michael Jai White. He was also the staff cartoonist for the school newspaper and wrote, edited and appeared on a local television show called "Video Hell" with future TV actor Karl Anderson.
 
Hallock continued his art career becoming an Art Director until eventually moving into Marketing. Still loving film and television, he wrote the comedy "Father Vegas", an "X-Files" script called "Pawns" that was in development for season three. In the 2000s, Hallock became a writer for the Indiana Jones based website Theraider.net, voted the number 1 movie website by Entertainment Weekly in 2008. He also became a regular on the podcast TheIndyCast.com since 2007, and appeared in the films: "Indyfans" (2008), "Made for Each Other" (2010), "Indiana James" (2012) and "Springsteen & I" (2013). Hallock would later appear in season four of AMC's "Comic Book Men" as an Indiana Jones collector. 

Hallock has produced and organized comic book conventions in Connecticut and now runs the TerrifiCon - Connecticut's Terrific Comic Con at the lavish Mohegan Sun. Come check it out!
http://www.ctcomicon.com/


9 comments:

  1. I think the X-Men and Daredevil were the two best comics going at this time. Claremont, Miller and Bryne were all on fire during the 80s. And a shout out to Alan Moore as well.

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  2. Although I was never a big X-Men fan, and I detest the movies, the Dark Phoenix saga was a masterpiece in comic book storytelling. It's influence is still felt throughout the Marvel Universe even today.

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  3. Love old John Byrne X-Men comics. Used to read all the ones my older brother had.

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    1. I think his work on fantastic four was even more detailed, if that's possible. Also one of my favorite superman renditions. You can see where Todd mcfarlane got a lot of his influence.

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    2. I loved Byrne's work when he did the OMAC 4 issue mini series back in the early 90s.

      Great stuff.

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  4. Good write up.............Byrne was awesome but I was only a fan of the original X-Men.

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  5. The article is very cool, the Dark Phoenix is definetely IS one of the bests(if not the best) JeanREY story lines.

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  6. Interesting story about this guy. I'm sure a lot of comic geeks from that time have similar stories with comic books they remember. I might check out the convention next year, anyone good going?

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