[Guest blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
“Even in Death ...”
In defiance of his reputation as an egotist, John Byrne often points out that even though sales on Uncanny X-Men increased steadily during his tenure on the series ... they continued to climb equally steadily, even after he left. The series didn’t achieve a meteoric rise in sales until around 1983, when Paul Smith became the penciller. Byrne tends to trot out this statistic as a counter against the myth, which nonetheless persists, that Byrne and Claremont made the X-Men into an overnight sensation.
Still, apart from the timeless quality of the Byrne/Claremont run itself, there is also anecdotal evidence that runs counter to what the numbers say. Many modern comics professionals – including Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon, arguably the two most important writers of X-Men in the post-Claremont era – testify to having been huge fans of the Claremont/Byrne run issues of X-Men, but then rapidly losing interest after Uncanny X-Men #143, Byrne’s last.
It’s not hard to see why. Claremont was already reeling from Shooter having pulled the rug out from under him with the mandated death of Phoenix (in spite of the fact that Shooter’s ending was far better than the original). But at least in the immediate wake of that conflict, Claremont was buoyed by Byrne’s rigorously rock-solid plotting. (These days, Byrne claims to have plotted virtually all of “Days of Future Past.”)
With Byrne’s departure, however, Claremont seems truly to lose focus. Unsure of what to do now that he’s piloting the ship solo, his first move is to write a story – appropriately enough – about a ship captain, Lee Forrester, who in the previous issue recruited Cyclops to her crew. Called home to her father’s home in the Everglades, she brings Scott – to whom she’s attracted – with her. They soon encounter a villain called D’Spayre and a “quag-beast” known as the “Man-Thing.” (Claremont was writing the Man-Thing comic at the same time he wrote this issue, hence the character’s apropos-of-nothing inclusion here.)
Cyclops is forced to relieve horrible moments from his past, including a recreation of the Neal Adams Sentinel story and, of course, the Dark Phoenix Saga. The last time we saw Cyclops was only six issues ago, and he recapped the entire history of the X-Men then, so seeing more flashbacks here feels horribly redundant.
Furthermore, D’Spayre is a weak sci-fi cliché, a parasite who feeds on a negative emotion (despair, to be precise), and the use of a demon with the arbitrary apostrophe in his name one issue after the N’Garai adds to the story’s lethargic sense of “been there, done that.” Claremont seems to be trying desperately to bide his time until a new idea presents itself.
In the meantime, the issue’s most lively moments occur in the margins. The bit in which Cyclops uses his optic blast to sink a table-full of billiard balls (with the 8-ball obligingly going in last) is cute, and well executed by guest-artist Brent Anderson. Meanwhile, there’s a good character moment for Nightcrawler: He inadvertently hurts Kitty’s feelings with some playful teasing, then wonders if the hurt was more deliberate than he realized. Did he subconsciously want revenge for her blatant fear of his physical appearance? It’s a nicely rendered character bit, and the best thing in the issue.