[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]
In Uncanny X-Men #137, Claremont made canny use of continuity and allusion to give the impression of the story being the culmination of the entire X-Men saga – the final chapter of a single story stretching back to X-Men #1. There is a similar attempt at a capstone feeling in issue 175, which opens with a reminder that it has been 20 years since the publication of X-Men #1 and a glib observation that “a lot has changed since then.” This is a classic trick for writers of these long-running superhero comics, to create a sense of epic scope by alluding to the origins of characters. Claremont pulls the trick in several of his big finale issues: besides #137 and the present story, he attempts this “full circle” effect as well in issues 200 and 242, and in X-Factor# 68 and X-Men (1991 version) #1. Such entries in the canon can be looked on as touchstone issues, or as pillars supporting the overall tapestry of Claremont’s unwieldy canon. These occasional instances of historical perspective are crucial, in a way, to digesting such an ungainly mass of interconnected comic books.
Uncanny #175 is a worthy climax to the “From the Ashes” arc, and noteworthy most especially for its tour-de-force portrayal of Cyclops. Scott is a true dynamo here, a brilliant tactician always one step (if not more) ahead of everyone else, and fearlessly taking on impossible odds in order to win. Much is often made of Chris Claremont’s gratuitous use of thought balloons and interior monologue, but that writing quirk is a huge plus here: When Cyclops’ internal monologue never stops as he executes an elaborate plan to temporarily put the other X-Men out of action, the effect is to make Scott’s mind seem like some insanely brilliant tactical computer, constantly juggling variables and making adjustments as the situation warrants. He’s so unflappable that even when Colossus breaks snaps his ribs, Scott just registers that as “a problem [he] didn’t anticipate.”
This issue represents the apex of Scott Summers as action hero. It’s perhaps appropriate then that he marries at the end and, in the following issue, pretty much retires. He won’t return to the X-franchise (except as an occasional guest) until around the creation of the X-Factor comic, an editorially mandated event that inadvertently completely emasculates him. Ultimately it will require the work of Joss Whedon, an author who unabashedly loved the Paul Smith run – of which Uncanny #175 is the climax – to return Cyclops to the level of pure greatness we see him at here. (Given the nostalgia-drenched tone of Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men project, begun in 2004, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see it open with a caption reading “Twenty years ago, more or less, Chris Claremont and Paul Smith wrote Cyclops as the coolest superhero ever. ... A lot has changed since then.”)
A shrewd plotter, Claremont also smartly weaves in other ongoing arcs into this climactic issue: His use of the recently-added cast-member Rogue is quite clever, as is the fact that Storm’s newfound affinity for “violent weather” becomes a key to the team’s victory.