This is Foggy Ruins of Time, a feature that provides the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the “foggy ruins of time.” To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of "Seinfeld" will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal).
Today, based on a suggestion by reader Matthew J., we add some much-needed context to a scene from Uncanny X-Men #281.
In a recent Remember to Forget, I wrote about how I think that the Upstarts, while an interesting concept at first (young villains try to take over the Hellfire Club from their elders), ended up falling flat in the end due to inconsistent and often just kind of weak characterizations of the Upstarts and their seemingly unending "game" that they kept playing.
In that piece, I wrote a bit about the following sequence from Uncanny X-Men #281 (by While Portacio, Jim Lee, John Byrne and Art Thibert), the issue that really kicked the Upstarts storyline into high gear. Shinobi Shaw is bragging to Trevor Fitzroy about being in the lead of their big contest.
Here is a direct link to the image in case you can't read it so well.
In that other column, I made fun of how Shaw and Fitzroy were talking to each other, with each guy sounding like a next generation Bond villain, each slooooowly making their points to each other to try to come off as more imposing to each other. It is the sort of thing that you can just imagine two childish jerks pursuing. Like, "Can you pass.....the syrup?" "Sure, but could you pass......the juice?" It would drive anyone nuts. They are coming from the William Shatner school of dramatic pauses, which, in turn, reminds me of a few different characters from Giffen and DeMatteis' Justice League International run from the late 1980s/early 1990s where they made fun of speakers like this, like this bit from the introduction of Manga Khan and his servant, L-Ron, making fun of dramatic pauses...
However, while I still think the piece reads amusingly no matter what due to how they are talking, Matthew is almost certainly correct when he wrote in that it the opening of the dialogue was also intended as a a sly reference to the classic Roman slave revolt film starring Kirk Douglas called Spartacus, that originally came out in 1960.
You see, something that I gave Portacio credit for in this scene is that he makes sure that there weren't just females in the background. There are also scantily clad men mixed in there. Even a SLIGHT reference to a character possibly being into men was a rarity for an early 1990s mainstream comic book, especially a title as popular as Uncanny X-Men. However, Portacio, Lee and Byrne were intending to call even more attention to the sexual openness going on in this scene, as noted by the oysters and snails comment, which is meant to be a reference to a then-new home movie VHS release of Spartacus that restored a scene that had been cut from the original version of the film due to its not so subtle inclusion of a gay subplot in the movie.