[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.]
“I’ve Gone to Kill – The Beyonder!”
Forced by Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter to devote this issue and the next to Shooter’s absurdly bloated vanity project Secret Wars II, Claremont still accomplishes enough here to make the issue not seem like a mindless cog in a giant crossover machine. For one, he consolidates Rachel Summers’ convoluted back-story via a brief but helpful flashback. In the days before trade paperbacks were SOP as a means of keeping old issues in print, such reminders of old storylines were necessary – doubly so given Claremont’s penchant for open-ended, elliptical storytelling. The way for a reader to get the most out of Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men -- which by 1985 was not so much a narrative straight line as a huge, ever-widening, two-dimensional field of characters and plot threads – is to constantly keep all these things in his or her head while reading.
Since that aforementioned narrative field largely has to be ignored in Uncanny #202 so that the X-Men can fight the Beyonder, Claremont gets into action-mode. Aided by Romita Jr. and guest-inker Al Williamson (whose rough style fits Romita like a glove), the author produces an extended fight sequence that demonstrates imaginative use of the protagonists’ super-powers. In battle with a Sentinel, Magneto uses his powers to “create a magnetic vortex ... to suck super-cold air from the very top of the atmosphere to sea-level,” which is very fun -- both the idea and the poetically sci-fi diction of Claremont’s description.
More entertaining is the stratagem exercised by Colossus and Shadowcat a few pages on, with Kitty hiding herself inside of Peter so that his strength and her phasing ability can be utilized in tandem. A clever idea in its own right, the image has an added narrative crackle when one considers that the two characters are ex-lovers. The idea of merging bodies can’t help but take on a sexual level, and there is something oddly realistic about the notion. The reader is invited to imagine that the two characters would never have conceived of such an intimate use of their own powers had they not, at one time, been romantically involved.
This is not quite using superheroes as metaphor, but there is definitely a unique energy in what Claremont accomplishes with the oblique sexuality of the Colossus/Shadowcat idea shown here. Like the asymmetry between Xavier’s mutant power and Magneto’s, which Geoff so cannily observed is oddly realistic on some strange level, the Peter/Kitty merger is another intuitive cross-wiring of pure fantasy with psychological realism that, to me at least, seems like something altogether different than what writers like Alan Moore do, with their relentlessly dark take on superheroes. I’m not sure if there’s a name for it, but Claremont is the only mainstream superhero writer I’ve ever known to achieve this peculiarly enjoyable trick.