[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.]
“Run for Your Life”
The first trilogy in the Dark Phoenix Saga concludes here, in a quite conventionally super-heroic way. Claremont and Byrne are still being unapologetically Silver Age in their delivery, the only hint of the “holocaust” promised two issues ago being the further corruption of Jean Grey.
First, to speak to the former: “Run for Your Life” opens with a splash page ringed by headshots of the six X-Men, along with captions saying their names – a classic device, in this case implicitly promising that each character will play his or her part.
And, except maybe for Storm, they do: Cyclops is once again the supreme tactician, spearheading rescues, formulating strategies, and getting to deliver dialogue like, “I’m through tangling with shadows. Mind-scan our prisoners, Jean, and find out who we’re up against.”
For Nightcrawler, Byrne reprises a slick idea from Uncanny X-Men #111: Nightcrawler teleporting so fast that he knocks three villains down in a single panel. While Uncanny #111 had no accompanying dialogue or narration, this time Claremont gets in on the fun, letting Nightcrawler revel in his ability to “deck all these men before the first one even hits the ground!” The panel also contains the most entertaining use of Nightcrawler’s “bamf” sound effect, with a single instance of “BAMF” interpolated one letter at a time amongst the three simultaneous instances of Nightcrawler.
Kitty gets to use her phasing powers to rescue Wolverine, realizing in the process that when she phases through electronic equipment, she short-circuits it. (Byrne and Claremont clearly are already keen to have fun with their brand new creation.) Colossus has his moment in the sun when he takes down a Hellfire soldier and basks in the subsequent adoration from an already crushing Kitty. And Wolverine even gets to kill some people off-panel.
In the funniest gesture towards the Lee/Kirby X-Men, Professor X ends up “holding back and playing observer,” because he wants to see how the X-Men handle themselves in a combat situation. This as opposed to, say, using his telepathic powers to help out here and there. This is the kind of thing he did in the 1960s all the time.
The only unconvincing note is Dazzler. While all the other characters get to do something impressive, Dazzler “creates a lightshow, so intense and beautiful, that the guards’ minds can’t cope with it!” Even Claremont doesn’t sound very convinced by that.
On the other end of the spectrum is Phoenix, who in this issue is more of a powerhouse than all the other X-Men combined. Claremont and Byrne are using her very shrewdly in this issue – on the one hand, she’s so powerful that she lets the X-Men do anything they want. Her telepathic abilities allow her to learn almost all they need to know about the Hellfire Club, for instance, and her powers also get the rescue team into Frost Industries with utter ease. From a plotting standpoint, it’s a huge cheat, giving the good guys the ability to do whatever’s necessary to make the story work.
But all through the issue, Cyclops is expressing his fear and discomfort over the range of Jean’s abilities, thus not only disguising the narrative cheat but also deliberately directing readers’ expectation in the other direction: Rather than looking askance at the convenient nature of Phoenix’s powers, we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop.
This thread culminates in the telepathic battle between Phoenix and the White Queen, a scene that both visually and verbally alludes to the Xavier/Farouk “psi-war” of Uncanny X-Men #117. Cleverly, Claremont and Byrne position the characters so that the White Queen – at a disadvantage and seemingly hopelessly overpowered – reminds us of the hero of that story, Xavier, while Phoenix’s mutation into her giant bird form is reminiscent of Farouk’s transformations in “Psi War.” The visual and verbal cues quite cannily serve a double function, both hinting at Jean’s further corruption and also foreshadowing the upcoming psi-war between Xavier and Jean in Uncanny X-Men #136.
Finally, Storm – the only X-Man who doesn’t get any cool, superheroic bits in “Run for Your Life” – makes another crucial allusion, this time to Uncanny X-Men #108, “Armageddon Now.” That story, the climax of Claremont’s first major X-Men saga and the apotheosis of Phoenix as a cosmic force for creation, featured Phoenix saving the Universe. Classic X-Men #15’s revision of the story added a dark twist, suggesting that the moment in which Phoenix triumphed, she also was set down the path to becoming Dark Phoenix. Storm being reminded of that moment as she sees Jean triumph over the White Queen reinforces this idea. “Armageddon Now” will be alluded to again and again over the next few issues, positioned very clearly as a reflection of this, Claremont’s second major X-Men saga and the apotheosis of Phoenix as a cosmic force of destruction.