Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: The Uncanny X-Men 114-116 Into the Savage Land

uncanny x-men 115

This week I'm taking a look at the Savage Land story from Uncanny X-Men issues #114-116 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. The X-Men had previously been captured by their archvillain Magneto and imprisoned in his base in Antarctica. They managed to escape and battle him to a standstill, but were forced to flee as the Antarctic stronghold is engulfed in lava from an exploding volcano.In the ensuing chaos the X-Men are separated, with Jean Grey and the Beast escaping into the Antarctic wilderness, where they are rescued by helicopter.

The rest of the X-Men, however, are trapped underground and have to try and blast their way out. They manage to do so, but find themselves coming out into... the Savage Land.

The Savage Land is a prehistoric wonderland nestled in an Antarctic mountain range and kept warm and tropical by alien machinery that was left there eons ago. Sure, whatever. Works for me. So the X-Men find themselves there and have to find a way out. No sooner do they begin to take in the awesome vistas than they are greeted by the local wildlife. A hungry pteranodon shows up and almost kills Banshee, but Wolverine, still an uppity pipsqueak with anger control issues at this early stage of his development, gets to cut loose and wreak a little havoc on the reptile. This earns him a rebuke from Cyclops for being reckless, but Wolvie's like whatever.

Meanwhile Storm and Banshee have spotted a village from the air, so they make their way there. The village belongs to the Fall People (one of the races of people living in the Savage Land) and the X-Men get some much needed rest and relaxation for a few days.

In the meantime we get a glimpse of Jean and Hank back at the X-mansion, grieving for their friends who they believe to be dead. Jean feels lost without Cyclops. Too bad he doesn't feel the same way. Okay, he does, but is just having a hard time realizing it or something. See, the X-Men think Jean and Hank are dead as well. Cyclops mopes around the Fall People village and wonders why he doesn't feel more grief at Jean's demise. Maybe somehow since they're in love he knows on a psychic level she isn't really dead? They don't really suggest this in the comic, I'm just making that up, but why not? Otherwise it's kind of curious the way he feels, but I'm sure Claremont was going for something here. Storm even questions him a bit sharply on it when he mentions it to her. We then get a glimpse of Wolverine mourning Jean as well. Wolverine clearly does feel grief at Jean's loss, and is having a hard time dealing with it.

Storm goes swimming after talking to Cyclops and gets ambushed by Karl Lykos, a mutant who is an energy vampire of sorts. Lykos transforms into a pterodactyl- like creature called Sauron when he absorbs others' life force energy. Lykos senses incredible life force energy within Storm and attempts to drain just a little of it for himself, but the sheer power within her causes him to transform into Sauron. The other X-Men arrive and Sauron is defeated after a pitched battle, during which Sauron mesmerizes Wolverine and uses him against the other mutants. The team is then met by Ka- Zar, the Lord of the Savage Land (Marvel's version of Tarzan, basically), and find out that Lykos and Ka- Zar were coming to the X-Men for help. Turns out Cyclops knows Ka-Zar from way back, so after introductions are made they all go back to the Fall people village to sort things out.

The X-Men learn that Lykos, an enemy of the original X-Men years ago as Sauron, has been living a life of relative peace in the Savage Land until recently, when he came upon a strange scene in the jungle. He witnesses the high priestess Zaladane sacrifice a man to bring Garokk, the manifestation of an ancient sun- god, back to life. Garokk wastes no time in trying to conquer the people of the Savage Land, and Ka-Zar and his allies have not been able to stop him. That's where the X-Men come in.

Problem is, Cyclops says no to Ka-Zar's request for help. Cyke feels that their first responsibility is to Professor Xavier, who he feels will be a target for Magneto now that everyone thinks the X-Men are dead. He says they need to get home first and protect the professor, but he tells Ka-Zar that once they do that they will come back to help. Ka-Zar understands and tries to lead them out of the Savage Land, but before they can leave the entire area is engulfed in a blizzard and they realize that Garokk has tampered with the climate, causing the tropical Savage Land to freeze over. Realizing they have no choice, the X-Men and Ka-Zar set out for Garokk's newly constructed city to confront him.

No sooner do they arrive though then they are accosted by Garokk's sentries riding giant pterasaurs. Several of the X-Men and Ka-Zar are captured, and it's up to Wolverine, Storm and Nightcrawler to rescue them.

The three of them infiltrate Garokk's city and, after finding the massive stadium where Garokk intends to execute them, manage to free the captive X-Men. In the confusion Garokk flees and Cyclops, seeing this, goes after him. They square off atop the domed city as Garokk taps the geothermal heat that keeps the Savage Land warm to replenish his power. In the course of the battle the dome shatters and both Cyke and Garokk fall to their doom- but Banshee and Storm come to the rescue. Banshee catches Cyclops and Storm goes after Garokk down a seemingly bottomless shaft- but something goes wrong and she is not able to save him. Storm, who considers all life sacred, takes this very hard.

This is a super early X-Men story, from the era before everything got convoluted and ridiculous. Claremont and Byrne were golden on this title, it was the absolute best thing Marvel was putting out and the characterizations were top notch.  Previous events from the series flow into this story and this story flows into the next, but this was a time when you could read a three issue story arc and know everything you need to enjoy it. Highly entertaining and recommended.

This story is part of the Marvel Masterworks The Uncanny X-Men Vol. 3.

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