[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]
For Cockrum’s swan song, he goes all-out in the action sequence that opens issue 164. The artist eschews all subtlety for straight ahead impact as he steers the reader towards Claremont’s climactic “Binary” explosion, wherein Carol Danvers because a cosmic being. It’s quite well handled, particularly Cockrum’s rare use of skewed, asymmetrical panel layouts, which genuinely convey a sense of chaos and danger just before Danvers saves the day. Claremont juggles the sequence admirably, managing his eight protagonists well and giving each something interesting to do (except the convalescent Kurt).
As for the story value of Carol Danvers’ transformation itself, it’s hard to get particularly worked up about it. Claremont seems to be playing to the Ms. Marvel fans (including himself), giving Carol an exciting destiny to redeem the premature cancellation of her own series. But while the buildup and execution is well handled, the actual dramatic choice seems arbitrary. The reasoning makes more sense when one considers Claremont’s long-term plans – the addition of Rogue to the cast is now only seven months away. If Claremont already has that planned now, then making Carol into a cosmic character plants the seeds for her easy expulsion from the series to clear room for Rogue.
The second part of “Binary Star” pulls off an appropriately gloom-filled atmosphere, with the X-Men adrift in a disabled spaceship, unaware that they’re all about to die. Storm’s angst as her alien embryo plays havoc with her powers is well-handled. There’s a particularly wrenching, horror-movie-esque sequence when she realizes that there is a baby inside her, and for a few moments finds herself intrigued by the notion, before realizing exactly what it is.
On Earth meanwhile, Claremont has – in the space of only two issues – entirely rebuilt the mansion, and the Bermuda Triangle headquarters is abruptly dropped. Considering the rapidity of this reversal in direction, it seems very likely that it was not originally part of Claremont’s plan, but a result of the impending launch of New Mutants. According to “Comics Creators on X-Men,” Tom DeFalco had pitched an X-Men spin-off series to Jim Shooter, but as soon as Claremont – concerned about preserving the franchise’s integrity – got wind of the idea, he moved quickly make sure that no one else could write it. Since the concept he’d go on to develop involved young kids closer in age and experience to the original Lee/Kirby group, the return of the school would have been a must.
Indeed, the seeds for the first arc of New Mutants are seen in issue 164, in a two-page sequence involving Xavier and Illyana. The latter makes some enigmatic references to her mutant power – to be revealed in the Magik miniseries that will in turn feed into the New Mutants title – while the former has had his spirit broken by the kidnapping and presumed death of the X-Men at the hands of Deathbird. Xavier’s resultant dispiritedness will flow into New Mutants as well, as his new protégés help Charles redeem himself.
For the moment, Claremont has a bit of fun writing an apathetic Xavier, who – confronted with the enigma of the mysterious 13-year-old version of Illyana – thinks for a moment about what he could to solve it, then promptly decides not to bother.