[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.]
Claremont wrestles with the same problem that Silver Age X-Men writers seem to have had trouble with: What to do with Professor X. He’s such a powerful character, writers were constantly trying to find reasons why he couldn’t just save the day in every story with his telepathy. Stan Lee alternately ignored the problem, or shunted Professor X to another country, or used villains like the Sentinels, Juggernaut and Magneto, who were immune – or very resistant – to Charles’ powers. Roy Thomas eventually killed Professor X, erasing the problem until the character’s resurrection. In his first few issues, Claremont first gave us the “nightmare” plotline, saying it was debilitating Charles. With that story done, we come to the solution seen here: Charles can’t help the X-Men now because he is on vacation with Lilandra. Meanwhile, Magneto is “subtly altering the magnetic field of the earth -- generating an impenetrable wall of psychic static to inhibit any and all long-range telepathic broadcasts.” A few issues from now, there will be an even more extreme (but creative) contrivance: have Professor X go to space.
As mentioned in the previous series, this is the conventional second half to a conventional two-parter. The X-Men rally and work as a team, and take Magneto down. There is a twist at the end. Claremont is very fond of a simple-but-almost-always-effective writing trick: Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. In this case, there is a well-set-up twist: It was established last issue that Magneto’s headquarters was beneath a live volcano – the lava kept out by “a bubble of magnetic force.” So when the X-Men start trashing Magneto and his fortress, the inevitable occurs – the bubble pops, and lava starts pouring in on all sides.
Magneto escapes easily, but the eight X-Men are left in dire straights. Phoenix and Beast are separated from the rest of the team, and are seemingly the only two to escape. After such a conventional story structure up to this point, this twist at the very end is a fantastic narrative sucker-punch.
Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch: The nine-panel grid in which Storm snaps her head-peace off, then uses her tongue to grab one of the lock-picks concealed in it. This is another nice narrative turn, again well set-up in the origin of Storm told in Uncanny #102.
Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch #2: When Magneto is blasted from four sides by Storm’s lightning, Scott’s optic blast, Jean’s telekinesis and Banshee’s sonic scream. The four distinct beams come from four vectors, putting Magneto at the center of a makeshift letter “X.” Brilliant.
The interpolated pages unique to Classic X-Men #19a are illustrated by Keiron Dwyer, and include a long interlude featuring Magneto alone on Asteroid M. The pages, unsurprisingly, layer in Claremont’s latter-day interpretation of Magneto (hence, a reference to Auschwitz, and to his dead daughter, Anya). The introspective tone of the pages work as a nice counterpoint to the Byrne/Austin action-extravaganza, but Claremont goes too far with one of the details: a narrative caption says, “[Magneto] numbers some of the finest minds on earth among his acquaintances,” and Dwyer shows a panel of a letter Magneto is writing to Stephen Hawking! I like the implication that Magneto is a genius on Hawking’s level – but are we to understand that Hawking is corresponding with a known terrorist? And doesn’t Magneto, at this point in his history anyway, despise all humans, even really intelligent ones? I have to smile at the audaciousness of the idea, but in terms of internal logic, that detail doesn’t quite work.