[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the tool bar on the right.]
“Magneto Triumphant” is part one of a two-part story that is considered by a large number of X-Men fans to be the best straight-ahead “X-Men vs. Magneto” story. It is the last one Claremont will do – after this, Claremont begins the deepening of Magneto into a noble character, so the pure, “good vs. evil” intensity seen here will no longer be possible.
Magneto is still the Silver Age version: nasty through and through, with no redeeming qualities. As in the first Claremont Magneto appearance, he wins the fight here. This is another significant aspect of Claremont’s Magneto: The X-Men never definitively beat him in a fair fight. They will come close in next issue’s conclusion, but true to Claremont’s form, it will be a pyrrhic victory. Although the tragic nobility is Claremont’s finest and most important contribution to the character, Magneto’s potency simply as a comic-book super-villain is another significant quality, and it is this story more than any other that put Magneto on the map. (He’s a fun villain in the hands of Lee-Kirby and Adams-Thomas, but nowhere near as cool as he is here.)
The story here is pure, simple and subplot-free action: The heroes attack Magneto one-at-a-time, and Magneto beats each of them in turn. He puts them in a very Silver Age-styled villain trap (albeit one that makes sense with Magneto’s recent history), and the story is to be continued. Next issue, the X-Men will escape and – working as a team this time – do much better in the second round. The simplicity of the plot allow for Claremont, Byrne and Austin to simply cut loose with sheer, super-heroic exuberance. The action scenes are dynamic and well-drawn, the dialogue fun. And Magneto comes off as an unstoppable powerhouse, giving the cliffhanger the appropriately nail-biting quality.
Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch: The two-page sequence in which the circus wagon travels to an Antarctic volcano, then plunges beneath and enters an underground fortress is incredible. Byrne’s eye for dramatic angles and perspective, combined with Austin’s penchant for working extra detail into every nook and cranny of every panel, result in a breathtaking series of images.
Only two other things worth noting:
With the Beast in this issue, we have eight X-Men in the issue, three of whom (Cyclops, Beast and Jean) were members of the original five. This is very possibly Byrne already exerting an influence on Claremont’s plotting. An X-Men fan from the very first Lee-Kirby issue in 1963, Byrne took over as artist with specific agenda to eventually work all five of the originals back into the comic. For various reasons, he never got all the way there, but with the Dark Phoenix Saga, he gets very close.
Also: At one point during the battle, Nightcrawler observes, “[Magneto]’s doing it to us again ... taking our best shots and then smashing us down.” It’s a small thing, but will ultimately reveal itself as a hallmark of Claremont’s style on the comic. Like Neal Adams, Claremont treats the X-Men comic as one single narrative tapestry: Everything happens in context. If the X-Men fight the same villain a second time, they will compare it to how things went the first time. At first, this leads to small, incidental observations like Nightcrawler’s here. Eventually, it is this acknowledgement of the past that will allow Claremont to start taking the X-Men into new directions. With the past informing the present increasingly strongly, there will be less and less motivation for Claremont to ever repeat himself, and thence will spring stranger ideas, higher stakes, and greater and greater changes to the comic’s status quo.
This rarely ever happens on short-term runs on mainstream comics by writers – part of why Claremont’s unbroken 16-year stretch on Uncanny is so groundbreaking.
[Note: The b-side of Classic X-Men #18 is written by Jo Duffy, not Claremont, so it won’t be covered in this series.]