In Comics Creators on X-Men, Chris Claremont gives a few opinions on each of his artistic collaborators during his Uncanny X-Men tenure. His feelings on John Romita Jr.’s work for the series seem the least enthused, as he notes that the Romita of Uncanny was not yet the artistic powerhouse he’d become on other titles (e.g., Daredevil). Certainly the first few issues of Romita’s run seem a little clunky. The artist’s gritty, down-to-earth aesthetic (which first emerges in issue 179) is a stark change from the more fanciful, imaginative sensibilities of Smith, Byrne or Cockrum. That will turn out to be a great strength, as Claremont’s writing begins to get darker to match. But what we see here, in issue #177, is a writer and artist still getting a little accustomed to each other, never quite finding each other’s groove.
A 22-page story, “Sanction” wastes a ridiculous 12 pages on a dismally unimaginative scene depicting Mystique in training against Arcade’s X-Men robots. Romita’s choreography is stiff, and Claremont strains, but ultimately fails, to give Mystique a compelling first-person narrative voice. The one intriguing element is the reintroduction of the mysterious connection between Raven and Nightcrawler, yet Claremont doesn’t even bring it up again after this. Why spend so much time playing up that mystery only to drop it? One of the most frustrating loose ends of Claremont’s run.
Claremont will prove to be similarly sloppy with another idea introduced here: the Doug Ramsey character, introduced obliquely as Colossus’ potential rival for Kitty Pryde’s affections. Doug doesn’t even show up here – he is only mentioned. He’ll first appear on panel in forthcoming issues of New Mutants, where the romantic tension between him and Kitty is played up even more – only to be silently dropped from either series with no real payoff (other than a casual dismissal of the entire thing in New Mutants #45, years after the fact).
Ultimately the best thing to emerge from issue 177 is the scene wherein Lilandra, Corsair, et al finally depart Earth; the angst and hand wringing of various X-Men regarding the Starjammers’ eventual departure (“imminent” for 10 months now) had really gone on too long. It’s not surprising that these space-opera characters depart so quickly after Romita Jr.’s arrival, since they are somewhat at odds with his harder, more grounded artistic style. (Note that Romita Jr. also leaves Lockheed, another fantastical element, out of the series for several months – not until issue 181 does Claremont finally write the dragon back in.)
“Sanction” is inked by John Romita Sr., and while the father-son pairing is a fun idea (this is the only time it happens on an Uncanny issue), the older Romita has a very Silver Age sensibility that completely overwhelms the comic. There’s a clear sense at this point that Claremont is anxious to move forward into darker territory, while Romita Sr. is simultaneously brightening things up with a confidently old-school sheen. The cumulative result is 22 pages of material that’s stuck in neutral.