[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
“How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth ...”
The cliffhanger of the previous issue hinged on a monstrously contrived coincidence: that the Beast would visit Xavier’s mansion at just the right time, prompting Scott to phone Muir Island at literally the same instant that Mutant X (having been stalking around Moira’s lab for weeks) decides to attack Phoenix. But, with that ropey bit of plotting out of the way, the Mutant X story now takes on some fantastic momentum, emerging as a solid and suspenseful thriller.
Claremont, Byrne and Austin are in solid form here, maintaining this issue’s taut pace with consummate skill. Overall, this four-part arc can be understood in terms of the screenplay foundation laid out by Roger McKee in his tutorial book “Story.” Issue 125 ended with Scott hearing Lorna’s scream over the phone: the story’s Inciting Incident, kicking off Act One, which we see here. The cliffhanger for “Serpent’s Tooth” propels us into Act Two (issue 127), and the concluding issue – a wall-to-wall action sequence – is a perfect, slam-bang concluding act.
Meanwhile, this issue itself is further divided into three tight sequence of its own.
sequence i: The X-Men, directed by an intense, driven Scott Summers, invade Muir Island with slickly military precision. (A brief skirmish between Havok and a couple of X-Men occurs, just to provide some action early on.) Every maneuver is executed perfectly, but it’s a wasted effort. Mutant X has already escaped.
sequence ii: The pace slackens a bit, as the X-Men hold a council of war, important exposition is revealed (Mutant X’s power is to possess people), the obligatory soap-opera twist occurs (he is Moira’s son), and the Jason Wyngarde subplot is advanced.
sequence iii: The story pulls taut again, as the X-Men split up into pairs to seek out Mutant X, with Wolverine and Nightcrawler being the team that finds him. This final third is by far the coolest, with Wolverine once again stealing the show when we learn he’s the only one who can track Mutant X. (Even Phoenix can’t, as established earlier.) Since an earlier scene established that Mutant X’s main weakness is metal, it seems as if Wolverine is about to wrap things up, but then the reader is hit with the Act 1 turning point: Mutant X (who calls himself “Proteus”) is more powerful than apparently even Moira realized, possessing the ability to warp reality. Wolverine and Nightcrawler – and Storm, who arrives in short order – all are taken down, and we’re set to move into Act Two.
There was originally going to be another interesting wrinkle to this arc: Not only was Moira the mother of Proteus, but the father was Charles. (So the “X” of “Mutant X” was originally to stand for “Xavier,” which would have been a fantastic twist.) This would have led to a climactic bit in which the X-Men, Charles’ figurative children, defeated his literal child, a creature of pure evil. The symmetry of it – right down to the palindromic chime of “X-Men vs. Mutant X” – would have been quite nice, as well as the redemptive qualities inherent in the idea. But the notion was squashed by Byrne, under the prosaic logic, “I don’t think superheroes have bastard children.” Given what the director of the X-Men films would eventually do with Superman, Byrne’s logic (quoted in “Comics Creators on X-Men”) is not without its irony.
Claremont would just go ahead and give Xavier a bastard son anyway, David, in the first issue of New Mutants. Eventually, in the pages of the revisionary series Ultimate X-Men, writer Mark Millar would bring the whole mess full circle, telescoping David and Proteus into a single character, unknowingly making the story more like what Claremont had intended from the start.