[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.]
No one agrees on when the Silver Age of superhero comics ended, or what to call the age that succeeded it. Arguably the Silver Age of the X-Men ended when the original series was cancelled at the end of the 1960s and replaced with a reprint title. But in a lot of significant ways, when the series was revived by Len Wein in 1975 it very much continued the same sensibility that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby began with. Most problematically, the conservative politics of the title characters were still in evidence. As Neil Shyminski illustrates in “Mutant Readers, Reading Mutants,” the X-Men’s counter-revolutionary stance was still in full force even as late as 1983, when the Morlocks first appeared. It’s not until 1984 that we begin to see Claremont grappling with the comic’s skewed sensibility, and in 1985 he finally begins to start realigning the comic’s sensibilities. Issue 199 – wherein the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants sells out to the establishment and the X-Men fight to protect Magneto, the quintessential mutant revolutionary – sees Claremont completely up-ending the comic’s Silver Age roots.
That all takes us to the aptly named “Crossroads,” which draws a line under the Silver Age X-Men and brings their story to a close. Tying in once again with Jim Shooter’s risible mega-crossover “Secret Wars II” (the first of its kind, and unfortunately far from the last), Uncanny #203 sees Rachel Summers, the new Phoenix, returning to the milieu featured at the end of Claremont’s first major X-Men storyline: the planet of the M’Kraan Crystal. In the earlier story (from issues 107-108), the original Phoenix drew spiritual and physical sustenance from the X-Men in order to heal the crystal and “save the Universe.” Here, the inverse occurs. Deliberately stealing life essence – even from members of the X-Men who don’t agree to the idea – Phoenix returns to the M’Kraan world. Unlike her mother, Rachel wants to crack open the crystal and destroy the universe, as a means of killing the omnipotent Beyonder.
But when Rachel’s awareness expands throughout the universe, and the X-Men’s along with it, she recognizes – with prompting from Storm – the magnitude of what she wants to do, and chooses to leave the crystal intact. This is Claremont once again attempting to redeem the infamous moment in X-Men history when Dark Phoenix murdered an entire planet. Here, Jean Grey’s daughter is deliberately placed in the position to murder billions, but intellect and compassion win out. Phoenix is redeemed, and Claremont’s X-Men saga comes full circle.
Loose ends do still exist, of course – the most immediate of which is the reference to the New Mutants having been wiped from existence, a large complication that is smoothed out in the final chapter of Secret Wars II and subsequent New Mutants issues. However, in a lot of key, crucial ways, the story begun in Lee and Kirby’s first issue has been brought to an end. Of the characters who appeared in that original story, Xavier has left the Earth to be with Lilandra (essentially married off and retired). Magneto now believes in Xavier’s “dream,” and has replaced Xavier as headmaster of the School for Gifted Youngsters. Four of the five original students have moved on, to be replaced by a new generation of kids wearing the Kirby-designed school uniforms. The fifth, Jean Grey, is dead, but her daughter lives on and has even succeeded in redeeming Jean’s final mistakes. (Actually, Jean is now alive thanks to John Byrne’s insipid ret-con published a few months earlier in Fantastic Four #286 – but in terms of narrative chronology, that hasn’t happened yet.)
As for the Wein/Cockrum-designed X-Men, well ... if the series did not continue past issue 203, they could have enjoyed a pleasant retirement in San Francisco, a city that we are told on Page 5 is apparently much more tolerant of mutants in general and certainly the X-Men in particular.
(Oddly enough, at the time of this writing, the solicits for Matt Fraction’s first issue of Uncanny X-Men read, in part, “What the hell is going on in San Francisco now that the Uncanny X-Men have relocated there? They’ve got a new Headquarters and a new status quo ...” Once again, a “new” development in the X-Men’s tapestry demonstrably has its seeds in Claremont’s work from decades ago.)
All told, this is where Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men ends happily. Matt Brady teased me a bit when I referred to issue 108 as the end of Claremont’s Act I. He’s right. If one were to apply a “two-act play” paradigm to the whole of Claremont’s entire run, then the end of the first act occurs right here, wherein thematic elements, plot threads and character arcs all come together in a giant cosmic event.
Having thus put everything together, Claremont will begin – in next month’s Uncanny #204 – to pull everything apart.