[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.]
Reunited with Dave Cockrum, Claremont seems to be experimenting with where to take the X-Men next. Unfortunately, with this issue, his sights seem to be aimed backward rather than forward, as he and Cockrum cannibalize bits from old stories to create something resembling a new one.
The basic premise of the issue is fairly droll – it’s an inverse of Giant-Sized X-Men #1, Cockrum’s first issue. There, the old X-Men needed help and Xavier went around the world recruiting the new team. Here, a problem crops up that the new team can’t handle by themselves, so Xavier goes around the world recruiting old members (including Iceman, the one original who’s never yet seen action in a Claremont-penned story). It’s a cute idea, and Claremont even finds ways to sneak in cameos by Jean (via the extravagantly named “holempathic matrix crystal” from Uncanny #138), Beast and Scott. With Angel already an active member, that means all five originals show up here, as well as Banshee, Havok and Polaris (the latter two suddenly no longer living on Muir Island, but back in Rio Diablo, where Cockrum had placed them during his first tenure). There’s even a cheekily offhand reference to the Toad, one of the Silver Age X-Men’s first villains, and a more menacing allusion to the impending return of Magneto, both references serving to complete the nostalgic effect.
Amusingly, while Cockrum clearly enjoys gathering all the old X-Men members into a single issue, he has absolutely no use for the newest one: Kitty Pryde. Cockrum’s explanation, as given in “Comics Creators on X-Men,” is quite funny. “At the time [I thought], ‘This little girl is in the X-Men? Boy, is that dumb!’ So she had the flu for the first few issues I did.” Given Cockrum’s whimsical sensibilities, the spunky Kitty was actually a perfect fit for him, and he admits that he warmed to the character soon after this arc.
Kitty aside, Claremont throws in everything but the kitchen sink for this issue. Arcade and his henchwoman Miss Locke are the familiar villains of the piece, but they play second fiddle to a new one (at least to the X-Men): Dr. Doom. The archenemy of the Fantastic Four, Doom is generally considered the Marvel Universe’s most perfect villain, though Claremont’s handling of him is not all that convincing. Indeed, John Byrne was so unimpressed by Claremont’s conception of Doom in this storyline that he would later use a scene in Fantastic Four to make painstakingly clear that Claremont’s Doom was a robot imposter.
(Jim Shooter has commented in interviews that Claremont and Byrne became aggressively competitive once Byrne moved from X-Men to Fantastic Four, and that Byrne’s unprofessional ret-conning of Claremont’s story was a manifestation of that rivalry. It’s possible that Claremont’s subsequent ennobling of Magneto was conceived partly as a return-fire in their competition. If so, game, set and match to Claremont: his Magneto is one of the most powerfully conceived characters in superhero fiction. Byrne’s Doom can’t hope to compare.)
With Doom, Arcade, and nine different X-Men crammed into this issue, Claremont and Cockrum still apparently weren’t satisfied. “Kidnapped” also alludes to no less than seven different characters that Miss Locke has taken hostage: Stevie Hunter (who appears on the first page with Storm – the first time an issue of Uncanny X-Men opens with two black characters); Illyana Rasputin; John and Elaine Grey; Amanda Sefton; Candy Southern; and Moira MacTaggert. It’s as if Claremont is a little nervous that longtime readers are going to start dropping the comic now that Byrne is gone, and he’s cramming in as many Easter Eggs for them as he possibly can. It’s not 100% convincing, but it’s diverting enough for the moment.