[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.]
A fantastic action story, “Warhunt 2” makes shrewd use of its allusion to issues 94 and 95 (published nearly a decade earlier). As with all such “commemorative” issues, its look to the past invites readers to reflect on how much has changed in the time between then and now – and, for that matter, between now and the very beginning.
The X-Men’s politics continue to evolve into something much more sympathetic and workable. Consider that the very first issue of X-Men saw the mutant Magneto (the revolutionary) attacking a government installation (the establishment), and it was the X-Men who came in to protect the status quo. As Julian Darius – quoted by Neil Shyminski in his essay “Mutant Readers, Reading Mutants” – wrote, the X-Men as originally conceived “were not revolutionary.” “In fact, they were explicitly counter-revolutionary. They were not created to fight for civil rights; rather, they were created to fight against those who did so.”
In “Warhunt 2,” the format of Lee and Kirby’s X-Men #1 is flipped: The heroes are the ones invading a government establishment. They know going in that it’s illegal, but – as Wolverine says – “X-Men look after their own.”
It’s also significant that the Hellions (who first appeared in New Mutants 15-17, for anyone that was wondering) are the ones initiating mutant-on-mutant violence here. With the exception of Thunderbird, who turns out to be a man of honor, the two true villains, Empath and Roulette, are – quite literally -- spoiled, privileged, prep-school kids. The point of view for X-Men has very much shifted: the more privileged the mutant, the more villainous he or she is. Note that in this very same issue, Callisto – the biggest underdog of any character in the story and formerly portrayed as the worst kind of villain – has metamorphosed into a selfless altruist. She’s more sympathetic even than Xavier, one of the comic’s putative heroes. In the early Xavier/Callisto interaction of the scene, Claremont deliberately skews the conversation so that Charles comes off a little worse – a slightly spoiled man who needs to be taken down a few pegs.
Indeed, by the end of the issue, that is possibly exactly what’s happened. Crippled both physically and psychically, Professor X realizes in his final confrontation with James Proudstar, “I’ve only my instincts and intelligence to rely on.” Robbed of his typical ability to gain the intellectual upper hand thanks to his powers, Xavier is forced to speak from the heart. Claremont’s writing is quite skillful in this scene – Charles’ speech comes off as genuine and heartfelt; it’s entirely credible that James, whom we know from earlier in the story is essentially moral, would be convinced by Xavier’s words to throw down his knife.
The final payoff occurs in the story’s denouement, depicting the X-Men treating the defeated Hellions with an unprecedented amount of compassion. More than ever before, the X-Men of these final pages seem genuinely pro-mutant. In the past, villains who’d gone as far as the Hellions would have been turned over to whatever authority was appropriate. The X-Men of “Warhunt 2” however are explicitly anti-establishment in their solutions. In response to Proudstar’s surprise that he and his fellow prep-school mutants are “not to be punished,” Nightcrawler has the key line: “If society forces us to become a law unto ourselves,” Kurt says, “then it will be tempered with mercy.”
On the following page, Xavier adds, “Nothing in Cheyenne Mountain was damaged that was not easily – and immediately repaired. The nation was never in danger, James – and you have enough to cope with without adding a possible lifetime in prison to your burdens. ... This perhaps does not serve the law but to my mind it well serves justice.” In other words: The Establishment has got plenty of money and resources to fix their toys. Why should we mutants throw one of our own to the wolves just to satisfy a legal system that’s never worked in our favor?
This is the most revolutionary incarnation of the X-Men we’ve yet seen – explicitly a “law unto themselves.” This new approach to the team will intensify over the next two years. Indeed, by the end of 1986, the “play nice” Silver Age X-Men will be well and truly dead, replaced with something much more extreme and very, very interesting.