[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.]
The last issue’s final panel promised Wolverine solo, going no-holds-barred against the Hellfire Club. Claremont and Byrne aren’t guilty of bait-and-switch – or, for that matter, of delaying gratification. Right away, they let loose with an exciting sequence featuring Wolverine guiltlessly murdering three Hellfire mercenaries. Colorist Glynis Wein (Oliver) executes an appropriately unsubtle choice here, drenching with bright red only the three specific panels containing the kills. An already thrilling sequence is thus given the coloring equivalent of three bold exclamation marks.
(Claremont would later ret-con Byrne’s original intent for this scene, revealing that Wolverine’s three victims survived this skirmish and became cyborgs. But that doesn’t subtract in any way from these pages, which – in their four-color way – absolutely revel in violence.)
The follow-up bit – wherein a fourth, surviving mercenary is psyched out, “Dirty Harry”-style, by Wolverine – holds up not quite as well. Good as Claremont and Byrne are at this point, they can’t out-cool Clint Eastwood. The misstep is corrected later in the issue, with Wolverine’s casual and witty takedown of a soldier with a gun to his head.
Despite the title of this issue, though, Wolverine shares the spotlight with Cyclops, Byrne’s other favorite X-Man. Indeed, after the initial outburst of violence on the first few pages, “Wolverine: Alone” becomes a Cyclops story. Since this is the middle scene of the Dark Phoenix Saga’s middle-act, the issue can’t help but slacken the tension a little – especially as a follow up to the previous issue’s tour-de-force. So, Cyclops engages in a “psychic duel” with Mastermind (who incidentally is so disconnected from his Lee/Kirby incarnation that it’s almost a meaningless coincidence that he is the same character), and while it is engaging and well-drawn, it does not stand out. One of the most interesting things about it, really, is a correction in the dialogue by Claremont to a seeming mistake in Byrne’s art. (Cyclops’ sword suddenly switches from his right to his left hand in two sequential panels, so Mastermind comments on it as a deliberate tactic on Scott’s part.)
This is a fun issue on its own terms, but in the context of the continuing narrative it exists mainly as a placeholder, wherein Claremont and Byrne let readers catch their breath before taking it away again with next issue’s intensely powerful finale.