[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]
“Professor Xavier Is a Jerk”
The central conflict of this issue is rather trite. Claremont even points out the silliness of the central conflict, playing it up on Page 1 with his jokey title. After all, it really doesn’t matter whether Kitty becomes a New Mutant.
More significant is the change in focus for the series that we see here. Having finally completed a space-opera story that began over a year ago in issue 154, and in which the lead characters were occasionally buried beneath spaceships and aliens, Claremont uses this entire issue to decompress. Genre requirements are entirely placed on the backburner, and almost every scene of the comic deals with the X-Men’s internal lives. There is a level of reflection and introspection far deeper than anything Claremont has attempted with Uncanny X-Men before this point.
Indeed, the scope of the characters’ ruminations and self-scrutiny is so broad that writer Mitch Montgomery, in his essay “X-traordinary People: Mary Tyler Moore and the Mutants Explore Pop Psychology,” was moved to suggest that what we are actually seeing in issue 168 is the X-Men decompressing from ALL the major traumas from Claremont’s run – including the seminal “Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.”
In a way, this and the next eight issues – which will eventually comprise the arc collected in Marvel’s “From the Ashes” trade paperback – demonstrate all of the X-Men reacting in more realistic ways to the month-in, month-out catastrophes of their lives. There is a new sophistication to be found here, as the X-Men at last begin to genuinely change, or mutate, as a result of their adventures. This new freedom to imbue his characters with the capacity to evolve is a crucial turning point in Claremont’s development as writer of Uncanny X-Men – the key to getting past the burden of trying to top “Dark Phoenix” and “Days of Future Past.” He has realized that he can’t – those stories took the stakes as high as they could get for the characters. The only solution is to mutate the characters, broaden their psychologies, so that new possibilities open up.
So, indeed, as Montgomery points out, the X-Men are seen here reacting for the first time to the traumas of stories published two years earlier in the chronology. Claremont even links this first issue of the series’ new incarnation to Byrne’s last: both take place on Christmas, and they both feature Kitty confronting aliens in the X-mansion. It’s almost as if everything published in 1981 and 1982 didn’t happen (a notion reinforced by Marvel Comics, who have seen fit to keep Byrne’s run in print as well as “From the Ashes,” but kept the intervening 24 issues out of print for years).
That Kitty faces off against the Sidri, the same characters whose invasion of the mansion incited over a year of space opera in Uncanny #154, is also significant. The all-out action of that first Sidri battle is a stark contrast against the understated 3-issue battle depicted in “Professor Xavier Is a Jerk.” In the latter case, the physical action is incidental and perfunctory, not nearly as memorable as the character bits, i.e., Storm’s failed attempt to control the weather, Cyclops’ reunion with Lee Forrester, and best of all the one-page montage of Kitty trying convince Xavier that she’s X-Man material (Paul Smith’s most attractively designed page of the entire issue).
Claremont’s sense of humor is also more comfortable here than it’s been in a while. Besides the aforementioned Kitty/Xavier montage, there’s a great payoff at the end of Page 7, wherein Claremont has the guts to undercut one of his own characteristically melodramatic monologues (Lilandra: “But someday, Charles, all will be well once more, all that is wrong put right ... and the happiness we yearn for will at last be ours”). We’re expecting the final caption to maintain the tone, but instead it tells us what Lockheed is thinking: “He still hasn’t fed. He’s beginning to get irritated.” The jarring change in tone is cute in itself, but the extra comic punch comes from Smith’s panel design, which shows Lockheed observing Lilandra and Charles from on high, implying he’s been watching and listening during their entire passionate exchange. But while the two of them, swept up in their own eloquent emotions, embrace, Lockheed is unmoved: He just wants food. That makes me laugh every time.
The final page is a reveal of Madelyne Pryor – a cliffhanger moment because she is the spitting image of Jean Grey, although I’ve never understood how Claremont expected that to come off originally. It would work in a television series, because you’d presumably have the same actress in the role as whoever played Jean Grey. But we’ve never seen Paul Smith’s artistic depiction of Jean, so how are we as readers supposed to know that Madelyne is her twin?