[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Claremont's X-Men issue by issue. For more in the series see Jason Powell's name on the toolbar on the right.]
We begin with new pages, which convey multiple, numbered prologues. They’re sort of mini-sequels to the multiple cliffhangers of the previous issue. They are arguably redundant (they convey much of the same information already shown at the end of issue 12), but – well, I like them. In its original form, X-Men #105 begins very abruptly, and I think that – while the difference in art styles between the new and old pages is somewhat jarring – the new pages overall make for a better-paced comic book.
This is another part of the long-running Eric the Red story, as Eric unleashes one more superpowered lackey upon the X-Men. The difference is that, while his earlier lackeys were familiar X-Men villains like Juggernaut and Magneto, this time he goes with Firelord, a cosmic character not associated with the X-Men at all.
This may come off, 30 years on, as apropos of nothing, so maybe an explanation is required. Essentially, Claremont and Cockrum wanted Phoenix to fight a hugely powerful superhero to prove that she was in the same league. They wanted her to fight Thor (if I recall correctly) and win. This idea was nixed by Editorial (possibly for sexist reasons), so instead the creators found a B-list character who was theoretically equal to Thor in terms of power levels, and let Phoenix beat him instead. This is why Firelord comments, after being hit by Phoenix, “Only Thor has struck me with such power!”
There’s an unintentionally humorous bit in which Claremont tries to really hammer the point home that Jean is much more powerful than she used to be. Cyclops has a thought balloon in which he observes with amazement the way Jean “powers up an interstellar transporter without batting an eyelash ...” Hmmm, how does Cyclops know how much power it takes to power up an interstellar transporter? Is this something he learned in class? (I’m reminded of my favorite Scott Lobdell joke in an X-Men comic: In X-Men/Wildcats: The Silver Age, Grifter makes a crack that Jean must have gone to “superhero school,” which she doesn’t deny. Later she’s shot down by a super-villain, and just before getting knocked out she exclaims, “A bio-kinetic blast!” Grifter’s riposte: “You can IDENTIFY the type of blast? Wow, that is one thorough school.”)
So, ultimately, this is a showcase for Phoenix. At this point, Phoenix hasn’t done anything since her first appearance but lie around in a hospital room. (If you’re wondering when she was released from the hospital ... that scene took place in an issue of Iron Fist. Go figure.) The creators wanted to have a big cosmic battle to show what Phoenix was capable of, and here it is. It is very well drawn by Cockrum, and contains a particularly great panel of Nightcrawler acrobatically swinging through the city. It also funnels all the characters toward the two-part climax that will appear in Uncanny X-Men #107 and #108. But for all that, I don’t see too much here to be commented on. It’s in the next few issues that the series will start to move forward much more quickly.
The next issue of Classic X-Men, entitled “Where No X-Man Has Gone Before,” will at last start to wrap up the long-running Eric the Red/Lilandra arc. Originally, however, fans had to wait four months between “Phoenix Unleashed” (X-Men #105) and “Where No X-Man Has Gone Before” (X-Men #107) because X-Men #106 was a fill-in issue (to give Cockrum a rest), telling an inconsequential flashback story. Classic X-Men saw fit to skip this story entirely when representing these early comics, so I feel comfortable skipping it too. True, it is scripted by Claremont – but Claremont didn’t actually like it all that much. It was originally written by Bill Mantlo; Claremont just took it upon himself to re-dialogue it because he felt Mantlo’s take on the characters was too far removed from Claremont’s conception of them. So while it’s technically a Claremont issue, it isn’t really one. We’ll just skip right on ahead to the next Cockrum issue.
[...and that answers my questions about why Uncanny X-Men 106 was so random, and why Firelord shows up for no reason. Also worth mentioning is the throwaway meta-moment where the Jean-Firelord fight interrupts Claremont and Cockrum in Washington Square Park discussing creating the issue we are reading. ]