The previous issue, with its exuberant “kitchen-sink” look at the X-Men mythos, was fun, and this one is fairly enjoyable as well, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Claremont is spinning his wheels a bit. Having the current team take on Dr. Doom while a secondary team made up of old members invades Murderworld is certainly a neat idea – but the potential contrast is negated here when Dr. Doom can think of nothing better to do with his captured X-Men then put them in Murderworld-like traps. What’s the point of using Doom if he is going to do the exact same thing Arcade would have done anyway? And Doom turning Storm into a statue is too corny. It feels a bit like something that would have happened to Adam West in the ‘60s.
The Murderworld sequence starring the secondary team is much more fun. Because my first exposure to the X-Men comic was a Murderworld issue, I do have some biased affection for the concept – and there’s something inherently chilling about the idea of a fairground carnival atmosphere with a sinister agenda. But the concept is pretty much defanged in issue 146; the X-Men get through their traps so easily, and nothing ever seems like much of a threat. This could be justified on the grounds that Murderworld is less effective when Arcade isn’t driving it himself – but a premise like Murderworld should be used well, or not at all. As with the Juggernaut, whose boast of being “unstoppable” becomes less easy to take seriously each time he’s defeated, Murderworld’s tagline – “Where nobody ever survives” – loses more and more meaning each time we read a story wherein EVERY SINGLE PERSON survives.
Indeed, even Claremont and Cockrum themselves are mocking it the end of the issue. When Miss Locke says to herself that reaching the control center of Murderworld is not an easy task, it’s followed by a surprisingly foppish image of Havok, who’s just done exactly that. He grins and says, “Want to bet?”
It’s telling perhaps that after this point, Claremont will never again imbue Murderworld with much sense of menace. It always will just be used either as a generator of mindless background action in stories where characterization is foregrounded (e.g., issues 197 and 204) or in comedy stories (as in Excalibur issues 4 and 5).
A somewhat striking moment in this issue is Banshee’s thought-balloon that references “Factor 3.” The Factor Three storyline was a long-running arc during the original X-Men run, first introduced in issue 28 (the same issue that introduced Banshee) and not wrapped up until issue 39 (in which Banshee also appeared). The fact that Claremont never had Banshee discuss this at all while the character was part of the team is evidence that – just as Byrne has said – Claremont hadn’t read most of the original X-Men run when he first came to the series. Presumably, he now has, hence the reference here. In fact, Banshee’s off-handed memory that he was “assigned [to] infiltrate” Factor Three is the first explanation to appear in any X-Men comic as to why he was part of that story. (You’d think it would have been explained at the time, but no – like the sudden appearance of Scott’s brother Alex, many plot points from the Silver Age incarnation of X-Men were just skipped over.)
Meanwhile, Claremont inches along the Cyclops/Lee Forrester romantic relationship in this issue, as Lee learns for the first time about Scott’s optic blasts. Like the material with Colleen Wing, the relationship with Lee gets a big buildup, but – as with all potential girlfriends for Scott who don’t have red hair – Claremont (and Scott) will suddenly grow tired of her, at which point she promptly disappears (Lee’s last appearance as Scott’s girlfriend is also Madeline Pryor’s first). Whether this keeps happening because of Claremont’s tendency to grow tired of concepts and ideas before he’s seen them through, or because it’s a character-point he’s trying to make (i.e., Scott will never get over Jean), is hard to say. Maybe it’s a little of both.
[I have not been making a lot of comments on this series, so I will say something here: Murderworld and Arcade are super-dumb.]