[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.]
“Raiders of the Lost Temple”
Everything written about the previous issue applies to this one as well, so there’s not much else to say about the story or art. I would, however, like to explore the ending, wherein a time-travel gimmick prevents Kulan Gath from ever escaping his amulet in the first place, but also leads to an unexpected side-effect: The arrival in the present day of an advanced Sentinel from Rachel Summers’ alternate future. Called Nimrod, the character is a blatant trope on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character, about whom James Cameron’s original film had just come out only months before the November 1984 release of Uncanny #191. (The final line of the commemorative issue 193 published two months later is Nimrod’s: “The Uncanny X-Men,” he says, “will be terminated.”)
But this entire Kulan Gath arc was already a trope on a different Schwarzenegger film franchise. As Spider-Man puts it on Page 17 of Uncanny #190, “My hometown [has] turned into a giant-sized set from ‘Conan the Barbarian’...” It should be noted that 1984 saw the release of two Schwarzenegger films: both The Terminator and Conan the Destroyer (the latter being the second film of the Conan franchise).
So, much like issue 189 saw Claremont placing two different avatars of Dark Phoenix (Rachel and Selene) in opposition, we now have a story wherein a massive apparent homage to Conan (as embodied most famously by Schwarzenegger) is rendered literally non-existent within the story by a time paradox that also introduces into the X-Men’s world their own version of The Terminator. (I have to thank Geoff for inspiring this observation, which occurred to me not long after I heard him on Comic Geek Speak talking about how Kill Bill pits different avatars of Bruce Lee against each other.)
Claremont didn’t have to do much inventing to explain the existence of Nimrod. He had already teamed with John Byrne four years ago to create the classic X-Men story “Days of Future Past,” which – itself an unintentional rip-off of an old Dr. Who storyline – predicted quite a few elements of the plotline of The Terminator. (As more proof that the idea has seen a myriad iterations, recall that Harlan Ellison sued the makers of The Terminator on the grounds that they had stolen ideas from HIS work.)
So what we’re left with is a strange fantasy story that from the start had nothing to do with the X-Men, and at the end seems to have been all about Arnold Schwarzenegger. A possibly more relevant interpretation is to suggest that Claremont was trying to say something about which genre the X-Men are more appropriate for. To go back to the Neil Shyminski observation I’ve referenced several times already, the X-Men work best as sci-fi characters. So we have an X-Men story wherein fantasy is supplanted by sci-fi -- not just with the Nimrod twist at the end, but in the way both a wizard and a witch are ultimately defeated by Warlock, who (despite the fantasy connotations of his name) is a “techno-organic” alien made out of living circuitry, possibly the most science-fictional character of any in the X-universe at this time. (The X-Men will battle Magus, Warlock’s father, in the very next issue, affirming sci-fi’s ascendancy.)
Whatever the point – be it about genre, pop culture, or something else entirely – this is certainly a circuitous (if you will) way to make it.