Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Chris Claremont and John Byrne! Today’s page is from Uncanny X-Men #128, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated December 1979. Enjoy!
Claremont goes a bit crazy with the purple prose on this first page if issue #128, but I suppose that compared to some of his writing, this is restrained. The first line is great – “Ever hear a city scream?” – but then he goes on to describe the city screaming, and it’s all right, I guess, but I’m not sure how necessary it is. He could even get away with the second line – “Not just the people, but the city itself” – but his excessive description of Edinburgh robs Byrne’s weird, surreal drawing of a tiny bit of its power. At least we know what Proteus is doing, right? His final caption box is fine, too – we find out we’re in Edinburgh and that the dude’s name is Proteus. I know that criticizing Claremont for excessively florid writing is like criticizing water for being wet, but I still don’t think he needed all of that. Still, he does set the scene pretty well.
Byrne’s drawing is amazing, though. He does a marvelous job making the buildings still look like stone and concrete while making them sickeningly fluid, and the way pieces of them are breaking off is a nice touch, implying that reality is breaking down even more than we thought. Proteus appears to be standing on liquid mercury, which helps make the scene even more alien. Claremont and Orzechowski place the caption boxes in good places, because we’re forced to pass over Proteus as we read, which makes us linger on him, and the final box helps direct our attention to the suddenly fluid ground. The buildings bend in nicely, both framing Proteus and looming threateningly over the people out on the street. Proteus and Moira are the centerpiece of the page, of course, and Byrne does a good job with them. Check out Proteus’ stylish jacket and flared pants – he’s ready for the Scottish disco! Byrne gives him a creepy smile, punctuated beautifully by Wein’s eerie red eyes, and you’ll notice that Austin’s inks are much lighter than DeZuniga’s yesterday – Proteus’ face looks like a “classic Byrne face.” Byrne makes him much taller than Moira – she’s not particularly short, so Byrne is making Proteus’ host larger than “normal,” giving him a more imposing stature. He does a good job with Moira, too – she’s not just a passive hostage, as she’s struggling desperately to get out of Proteus’ grasp. The fact that Proteus needs to possess hosts – in this case, it appears he went with “creepy aging bachelor professor desperate to look younger so he can score with coeds” – allows Byrne to draw “regular” clothes on the villain, which makes him a bit more mundane and therefore scarier. Wein does a nice job on the page, too – she sticks to brighter yellow and orange for the buildings and blue for the ground, which is a classic color scheme, but then she colors the sky a sickly green, making the backdrop of the scene weirder and more disturbing. It’s a good blend of weirdness and standard superhero coloring, foreshadowing the entire issue.
This is really Claremont and Byrne firing on all cylinders (as they would for pretty much the rest of their run), so it’s not surprising it’s an effective first page. A bit verbose, maybe, but very effective!
Tomorrow we’ll check out some more X-Men comics. You know you want it! If you really don’t, you probably should skip the archives, because there are a lot of X-books lurking there!