[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
“Legacy of the Lost”
After several months of tossing out plot threads left and right, Claremont surprisingly ties several of them up – at least temporarily – all in one issue. The result is that “Legacy of the Lost” feels pretty packed; much denser with incident than previous episodes, even the double-sized Uncanny #186. With both a resolution of the Forge/Wraith plot in the comic’s first half and then, in the second half, the long-overdue explanation of how Rachel got from “Days of Future Past” to “The Past of Future Days,” Uncanny #188 feels almost like two different issues bolted together.
First, the X-Men’s battle with the mysterious new demons – evocatively dubbed the “Shadowmass” by Claremont – is notable for its powerfully brisk pace as it jumps from one intense sequence to another: a Wraith-possessed Naze is apparently repossessed by an even worse evil (the Adversary, as would be revealed three years later); cut to Nightcrawler’s recruitment/kidnapping of Amanda Sefton in the midst of a blizzard (which the footnotes tell us is something to do with Thor, but that really doesn’t matter); cut to Amanda’s appearance in the building in a well-designed sorceress costume, followed hard upon by the appearance of a second sorceress – Colossus’ sister. It builds and builds, Claremont now able to draw upon the massive universe of characters he’s built over the last eight years. (For the record, Illyana’s new status as an armored, sword-wielding sorceress was established in Claremont’s Magik miniseries and issues 14-21 of New Mutants). Even Forge – who suffered a dismal debut – at last comes alive in his climactic murder of a final Wraith.
Meanwhile, Romita Jr. once again proves himself one of superhero comics’ most dynamically visceral fight artists, such as in the wonderful two-panel sequence of Illyana leaping through the air to strike the Shadowmass with her sword only to be slammed back against a wall so hard that it cracks, spider-web style.
Ultimately, for all the labyrinthine turns Claremont forced readers through in the bizarrely structured Forge/Storm arc, he ends it with a satisfying climax. That he crams the final act into only half an issue turns out to be advantageous; the economy required by such a decision forces Claremont to avoid extemporaneous flourishes and cut right to the heart of the matter. Claremont is occasionally capable of more economy than he usually gets credit for, and the first half of issue 188 is a quintessential example.
What follows is an interlude that would have made little sense to anyone only reading Uncanny: The scene preceding it (Magneto’s Asteroid M being pulverized and Magneto himself falling to Earth) and several that follow it (Lee Forrester and Magneto returning to the latter’s Bermuda Triangle headquarters) all take place in Claremont and Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants. Why this one link in the narrative chain shows up in Uncanny is hard to intuit, although let it be said that Romita draws a particularly sexy Lee Forrester, which alone might be justification enough.
Finally, readers are forced to endure another example of Rachel getting upset over a new discovery in the alternate present (this time, she goes nuts when she learns that in this reality, Jean Grey died). For the record, Rachel never becomes tolerable; she is far and away Claremont’s single most irritating contribution to the X-franchise – a whiny, self-pitying plot device with not a single redeeming character trait.
Still, Rachel’s scene here is better than most, only because Claremont has fun with the other X-Men’s reaction to her description of the dystopia that is her origin. Colossus’ amazement that in Rachel’s future he is married to Kitty is quite a nice touch, as is Rogue’s shock that her foster mother, Mystique, touched off the “Days of Future Past” tragedy with her assassination of Robert Kelly.
Overall, however, the heart of this scene is Nightcrawler. At this point in the series, Kurt has been underused for quite some time. One gets the sense that Claremont couldn’t think of anything new to do with the character – if that’s true, his decision here is rather shrewd: He credits Nightcrawler’s relative underexposure to Kurt’s own ennui. He has a fantastic line about wanting to start living life for himself “instead of some amorphous dream!” This may be self-criticism on Claremont’s part, the recognition that much of his work on the series up to this point has had only a tangential connection to Xavier’s “dream.”
That Rachel’s vision of a horrible future should change Nightcrawler’s mind is not entirely convincing – it’s much more easy to relate to Kurt when he initially opines, “With respect, Rachel, you’ve proved my case.” Rachel’s explanation for why the X-Men are important largely amounts to cleverly phrased rhetoric, the actual substance of which is a little lacking in logic. Still, the very fact that the idealistic Kurt found himself – however briefly – in an existential crisis over the X-Men’s existence is an interesting idea by Claremont. The author will explore this idea again in about a year’s time.