[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.]
“To Save Arcade?!?”
It wasn’t long before the publication of Uncanny #197 that writer-artist John Byrne made a nastily unprofessional point of ret-conning an earlier use of Dr. Doom by Chris Claremont. Fantastic Four #258 stated categorically that the Dr. Doom who appeared in Uncanny X-Men #145-147 was a “Doombot.” That little nose-thumbing explains the bulk of “To Save Arcade?!?”, largely devoted to a giant hoax by Arcade (who also appeared in Uncanny #’s 145-147) involving another Dr. Doom who again turns out to be a fake.
It appears to be a big joke on John Byrne’s petulant possessiveness of Dr. Doom as a Fantastic Four character. (Byrne couldn’t stand seeing the villain appearing in other comics acting “out of character.”) The appearance of X-Men robots (“X-bots”) created by Arcade – and the multiple comments about how they are so much like the “real” X-Men – are presumably part of the same gag. Claremont is jokingly giving himself the same back-door to explain away other writers’ use of the X-Men. If they ever act out of character, Arcade can show up and say they were actually X-bots.
Since so much of the issue is dedicated to a not-terribly-funny inside joke, the only interesting moments to be found here occur on the fringes of the comic. The one-page Scott/Madelyne scene, for example, is very well written. Scott professing his fear at entering a new phase of his life as a “family man” feels very genuine and sympathetic – this being before it turns into something horrible thanks to the miserable early issues of X-Factor (from which we are still roughly six months away).
Colossus’ guilt-ridden dream that opens the issue is similarly affecting. Overall, Claremont is a bit too dependent on dream sequences laden with overwrought imagery. Certainly the Colossus sequence is quite wrought, but it manages not to go too far. It’s a neat bit of symbolism, for example, that the Kitty section of the dream alludes to the Brood saga, when Peter first refused Kitty’s sexual advance. And the Illyana bit that goes all the way back to Giant-Sized X-Men #1 is shrewd as well.
It’s interesting that both Colossus and Cyclops are shown dealing with psychological insecurities related to their masculinity. Colossus laments that he was unable to save “his” women (Kitty, Illyana and the female healer from Secret Wars, Zsaji). Cyclops fears permanently abandoning his role as the X-Men’s alpha male in order to devote himself full-time to being a husband and father. If there is an overarching theme to “To Save Arcade?!?”, it is the examination of male sexual psychology. Within that schema, Arcade’s ridiculous plot – as revealed at the end of the issue – has a strange kind of resonance. Every birthday, he arranges a duel to test whether he’s still as potent as ever. It is always against Miss Locke, his female counterpart – Arcade wants to test whether he is still man enough to beat the woman in his life. And their duels are always explicitly to the death; so the day in which he can’t beat a woman is the day Arcade will die.
Looked at through this lens, even Claremont’s extended joke about John Byrne has its place, demonstrating something about the psychology of the men outside the comics as well. Claremont and Byrne have egos as sensitive as those of Arcade, Cyclops and Colossus, and they treat any misuse or insult to the characters in their custody as an attack on themselves as well.