[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For the rest of the posts in this series click his name in the toolbar on the right. Powell finds a great connection between Grant Morrison and Arnold Drake here].
My Brother, My Enemy
X-Men #97 is the first 100% Claremontian issue of the series, featuring an abundance of characters, an abundance of subplots, and an abundance of elements that won’t make a lot of sense until later issues clear it all up. In this case, X-Men fans wouldn’t get a full explanation for all the goings-on here until X-Men #107. X-Men was bi-monthly back then, so Claremont was keeping fans in the dark for 20 months ... over a year and half.
The premise of the storyline beginning in “My Brother, My Enemy” is that when Xavier used telepathy to repel an alien race in Neal Adams’ and Roy Thomas’ X-Men #65, there was an accidental side effect: His consciousness somehow interfaced with that of an alien princess called Lilandra, who is now on her way to Earth. None of the above is explained in the present issue, but the fact that Claremont’s story is tied into Neal Adams’ final X-Men comic from the ‘60s is significant. In an interview in “Comic Book Artist” #3 in 1998, Neal Adams said this about his own run on X-Men:
“What I did was make the world of the X-Men more complicated; build one thing on top of the other, integrate one thing into the other, so that after a while, you get a whole world populated by these characters, all integrated, so that you started to see a tapestry of characters, all having these different interrelationships. I don't think the X-Men ever should have been a story and then a story and then a story; it should be this tapestry that goes on.”
By tying in his first major X-Men arc to Neal Adams’ last, Claremont here both acknowledges his debt to Adams and makes it clear that the “tapestry” approach will continue. And then he goes even further.
The bulk of issue #97 is a battle between the X-Men and “Eric the Red,” which is another callback to an earlier X-Men story, and a significant one. The original “Eric the Red” was actually Cyclops, going undercover in X-Men #’s 49-52 to infiltrate a group of evil mutants led by Magneto and a mutant hypnotist called Mesmero. That storyline, written by “Doom Patrol” creator Arnold Drake, also involved Magneto falsely claiming to be the father of Lorna Dane, before Iceman exposed the truth at the climax of the story.
Neal Adams and Roy Thomas then went on to reveal (only about six issues later) that the Magneto who worked with Mesmero was a robot duplicate, rendering Drake’s story moot. This is eerily similar to what Marvel editorial recently did to Morrison’s “Xorn”-Magneto, ret-conning him into an imposter so that the “real” Magneto stayed more like the one Claremont used to write. So let this be a lesson to comicbook writers: Don’t fuck with Magneto and expect it to stick – especially if you used to write “Doom Patrol.”
The result of Roy Thomas and Neal Adams’ fiddling is a crazy-quilt cluster of retroactive continuity residing at this point in X-Men history – a daughter of Magneto who isn’t really his daughter, a Magneto who isn’t really Magneto, a villain (Erik the Red) who isn’t real at all, but just a false identity. This odd backwater of X-Men continuity could’ve been ignored, but Claremont instead embraces it, and adds another confusing layer: a “real” Erik the Red who – like Mesmero from the earlier story – has hypnotic powers. Claremont recognizes, perhaps only intuitively, that the weirdest parts of a superhero’s history are also its best, and so he attempts to make everything in X-Men history, even the craziest parts – especially the craziest parts – a significant part of the tapestry.
On the final page of this issue, Dave Cockrum zooms out from the aftermath of the Erik the Red battle to show the X-Men being watched on a monitor by a character who in turn is also being watched. Cockrum’s zoom-out may or may not be another deliberate call-back to the original X-Men run. In X-Men #36, the final shot is of the X-Men at the airport, getting on a plane to go battle with a villain team called Factor Three, unaware that their departure is being watched on a monitor ... by a member of Factor Three. So both X-Men #36 and #97 end with the X-Men at an airport, unknowingly being watched by a villain. If it’s a deliberate call-back by Cockrum, it’s a shrewd one, reminding longtime readers of the Factor Three storyline, another oddly constructed and contradiction-laden story in Silver Age X-Men continuity, that was as protracted and strange as Claremont’s Lilandra/Erik the Red storyline is going to turn out to be.
By adding a second mysterious watcher to the scenario, Cockrum and Claremont are either trying to one-up the previous version, or tacitly admitting that they are not so much building complexity from scratch as they are simply adding to an extant complexity with a new layer.
[GK: A couple of obvious observations: Cockrum is a great artist whose stuff aged really well I think -- his splash page in this issue is a good example of this. Claremont continues his "telling not showing" policy by having Cyclops inform us that Banshee and Wolverine were stolen. And starting off an issue with overused Shakespeare lines -- yikes. But still he continues to grow on me, as I learn to relax a little, appreciate how influential he was and cut him some slack for the era in which he wrote. It would be many years until Moore could do dense stuff with literary sources in League for example].