[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.]
A dramatic scene from Claremont and Bolton in Classic X-Men #1 featured Angel and Wolverine getting into a violent altercation over Jean Grey (both men nursed an unrequited love for her at different periods in the history of the franchise). It ends with Warren passionately denouncing Wolverine as a “lunatic,” noting that he’s “as ready and willing to slaughter us as fight our foes.”
Besides being a strong scene in its own right, it also retroactively gives some helpful context to an early scene in “Rage,” in which Angel tells Professor X that he has a problem with Wolverine. Originally, this complaint must have seemed to readers to come completely out of nowhere, and only become more arbitrary when, eight issues later, Warren quits the team in disgust at Wolverine’s behavior – and all of this in spite of there never being a confrontation between the two characters in an issue of Uncanny. (The most likely explanation is that Claremont – not as big a fan of the Silver Age team as Byrne was – simply didn’t like Angel very much, and sought the most expedient excuse to make Warren leave the series soon after Byrne did.) Thanks to Claremont’s revisions via the Classic X-Men series, Angel’s characterization here at least doesn’t feel quite so randomly ascribed.
Storm, meanwhile, has some decidedly more interesting characterization going on in this arc. She’d been feeling a maternal affection for Kitty ever since they first met, but finds herself unexpectedly envious when Kitty finds another potential mother-figure in dance teacher Stevie Hunter. Since Claremont’s style of writing a serialized comic book tends to mirror the rhythms of real life (possibly by design, possibly by accident, but more likely a combination of both), Ororo’s irrational jealousy never explodes into any kind of confrontation. The feelings simply linger for a while and are eventually suppressed. They do, however -- in a very oblique way -- inform the “punk Storm” reveal of Uncanny X-Men #173.
The rest of “Rage” is given over to Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Alpha Flight fighting the Wendigo in Canada. Thanks to John Byrne and Terry Austin, it is a visually engaging fight, but as will become more and more the case as Claremont’s sensibility evolves, the best bits of the comic have nothing to do with the action. An intriguing flashback, for example, reveals for the first time that Wolverine had been found by James and Heather Hudson years ago in the Canadian Rockies, and the couple had nursed him back to health. (Writer Bill Mantlo will go on to show this sequence, adding some clever new wrinkles to it, in Alpha Flight #’s 33 and 34.)
Curiously, the same flashback also implies that it was the Canadian Secret Service that gave Wolverine his adamantium claws and skeleton, and Wolverine knows it. Over time, this idea will be tacitly ret-conned, but here it is given as Wolverine’s main reason for abandoning the Secret Service when Xavier “offered him a way out” in Giant Sized X-Men #1. (Again, in the above-mentioned Alpha Flight issues, Mantlo will offer a different, more relatable motivation.)
The climax of the issue, with Alpha Flight member Snowbird using her shape-changing power to become an actual wolverine to take down the Wendigo, is neat – but when it then becomes incumbent upon Wolverine to talk her down from her berserker rage, we see an example of a new Claremontian tic that will become more problematic as time goes by: his desire to continually tie stories back to Dark Phoenix. (There’s a shade of this in the previous issue, with Nightcrawler being reminded of Jean by the Canadian sunset -- a use of interior monologue that made John Byrne cringe when he saw it.)
Here, Wolverine tells himself that he must appeal to Snowbird in the same way that Scott reached Jean (in Uncanny #136, as a footnote reminds). Here, the parallel works, and it is even rather touching that Logan – who at one point had contemplated killing Scott so that he could have Jean to himself – eventually has come to respect, and has actually learned from, the way the couple once related to each other. As time goes on, the narrative device of characters having learned from the Dark Phoenix tragedy will become increasingly less effective.
The revelation in X-Men Annual #4 that Nightcrawler is a Christian feeds into a final well-constructed character bit in “Rage,” as Kurt confronts Logan about the latter’s cavalier attitude towards killing. The conversation is brief, but significant, and goes on to subtly inform – as Marvel historian Peter Sanderson has pointed out – such sequences as the one in Claremont and Frank Miller’s Wolverine mini-series, which depicts Wolverine deliberately dispatching enemies non-lethally when he has the option.