[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]
With another major storyline complete, Claremont (teamed with new regular artist John Romita Jr., who debuted on Page 30 of the previous issue) follows up with a slack-paced interim story, putting a cap on some dangling threads and setting up new ones. The main plot is a lightweight adventure starring Cyclops and Madelyne as they co-pilot a plane toward their honeymoon destination. Fraught with a lot of contrived peril that could charitably be interpreted as a superhero-styled metaphor for post-marital stress – but more likely to be viewed as mere filler – it comes off as a little sloppy. It’s notable chiefly for Madelyne’s dialogue at one point that she “know[s] more than [her] share about death and resurrection – and nightmare ... and miracles,” one last clue that she really is, secretly, Jean/Phoenix returned.
There’s also an interesting juxtaposition between the main thread, featuring Scott and Maddie, and a single scene involving Wolverine and Mariko. The relationship is effectively ended here in a scene with a “negative” (i.e., tragic) value, Claremont deliberately sandwiching the bit in between pages of Scott and Madelyne, whose relationship is, by the end of the issue, positively charged. It’s a screenwriter’s trick delineated in Roger McKee’s “Story”: tempering the energy of a story’s ending by closing out a subplot on the opposite value.
We also get two prologues in Uncanny #176, entirely unrelated to each other in terms of plot, but significant in that they both point toward the future of Claremont’s X-Men. First, we meet Valerie Cooper (who will become a staple of the X-franchise), a member of the national security advisor’s staff with a notion to form a team of mutants loyal specifically to the U.S. government. Later, Claremont cuts to the Morlocks, whose leader, Callisto, has an unspecified plan involving Kitty Pryde.
On the surface, neither plotline cries out as particularly significant – it’s simply more Claremont soap opera, always keeping new plot threads open even as other ones close. But we’re actually seeing the first steps towards the aligning of the X-Men with their putative politics. As Neil Shyminsky’s essay “Mutant Readers, Reading Mutants” points out, the X-Men are meant to be outcasts, yet occupy a place of privilege. Shyminsky also quotes Julian Darius’ observation that the very premise of the X-Men – protecting humans from other mutants – is “explicitly counter revolutionary.” “They were not created to fight for civil rights; rather they were created to fight against those who did so.”
Claremont’s two prologue scenes in “Decisions” each flag up dubious moments from Claremont’s own run: the Valerie Cooper scene gives a detailed recap of Uncanny #150, which featured Magneto attempting to force the countries of the world to disarm – a somewhat noble goal, albeit tyrannical in execution. The X-Men stopped him, effectively allowing the governments of the world to keep on building bombs and weapons. The Morlock scene reminds us of a much more recent adventure, wherein the X-Men encountered a group of underprivileged, disenfranchised, self-loathing mutants and reacted to their plight with no compassion.
Thus, Claremont is deliberately flagging up problematic moments in the story of the X-Men – moments that Claremont himself is responsible for – in order to plant the first seeds of a new kind of X-Men. In the coming years, Claremont will upset the status quo in significant ways. Valerie Cooper will eventually recruit Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants -- ironically rechristened “Freedom Force” -- and THEY, not the X-Men, will be the “counter-revolutionary” force of the series.
Meanwhile, the Morlocks will transform into a much more sympathetic group – often acting in the story as allies of the X-Men rather than enemies. Eventually, the X-Men are forced to seek shelter in the Morlocks’ underground catacombs after a particular catastrophe, and soon after, the X-Men fight to defend/avenge the Morlocks during the ambitious “Mutant Massacre” storyline.
Granted, it will turn out to be a slow transition (the X-Men will still live in a mansion for the next three years plus) but as early as this we see Claremont laying the groundwork for a significant reorientation of the overall premise’s skewed politics.
Not coincidentally, we are also now entering an era of X-Men that was long out of print – and even now has been reprinted only sporadically or in low-budget packages like the Essential volumes – until Jim Lee took over as artist and the book reverted to its Silver Age trappings. Claremont’s complication of the X-Men’s world from 1984-1989, though high-selling when it originally saw print as a monthly serial, turned out to be commercially unfriendly in the long-term.