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 #135, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 1980. Enjoy!
So many people who read comics have read this issue, I’m not really sure if there’s much to say about this first page. It’s a nice splash page, isn’t it? Claremont begins with his usual hyperbole – “Witness the birth of a god!” – and continues by introducing us to Jean Grey – “a young woman of extraordinary beauty, strength, courage, passion.” It’s telling, I think, that he lists “beauty” first – is he acknowledging that until Phoenix, Jean was just the pretty one of the team and was basically the object of desire of at least five (?) X-Men that I can think of? Is Claremont subtly condemning that characterization, because it’s obvious that Jean is now the most powerful creature on Earth, if not the galaxy? I’d like to think so, but I doubt it. Most female characters in comics (and in fiction generally) are defined first and foremost by their looks. So even though Jean has “strength” and “courage” and is a “super-powered mutant telepath/telekinetic,” all we really care about is whether she’s hot or not. Claremont, however, knows how to begin a story. This makes us curious and then gives us some particulars. That’s not bad.
The page is impressive artistically but for one thing: the X-Men’s “skycraft” is kind of goofy. We see it lengthwise in the previous issue, and it kind of looks like a monorail car, which isn’t terribly dramatic. So as the center of this page, it kind of draws attention to itself as a goofy design. At least Byrne makes its destruction dramatic, but he probably could have designed a better flying machine for the X-Men. Either way, the page is beautiful – Byrne does a nice job incorporating the issue’s title into the explosion, and he doesn’t just show the explosion in some random space, as he shows us very clearly that we’re over Central Park. Byrne does a good job showing that the “skycraft” isn’t necessarily exploding – much of it is still solid – even though it’s shaking apart. It brings some intrigue into the page – what exactly is going on? Claremont’s “witness the birth of a god!” isn’t much help, but it’s a place to start. The fact that it seems like an explosion is lighting up the sky but the object at the center isn’t actually exploding makes us wonder what’s going on. Of course, Jean becoming Phoenix causes a huge release of energy that destroys the “skycraft” without blowing it up, something Byrne shows very well, but we don’t know that just from this page. The mystery should be enough to get us to read on!
Bob Sharen does an excellent job with coloring this page. Byrne did the letters, but Sharen did a fine job incorporating the dark red of Evil Phoenix’s costume into the lettering while keeping the entire page anchored in yellow and blue, which is always a fine contrast in comics. Sharen makes the letters look much more kinetic, too, smearing the colors well so that they seem to flow outward toward the borders. The fact that the buildings are orange implies that it’s nighttime in Manhattan, but also that Phoenix’s energy is affecting the entire cityscape as well. This is also indicated by the rays of light cutting through the green in the park. Sharen’s colors go a long way to creating the effect of energy exploding outward from the center of the page.
Claremont and Byrne only had a few more issue of X-Men to go before their partnership fell apart. We’ll see one more of those, but which one? You’ll have to stop by tomorrow to find out! Ease into it by spending some time in the archives!