[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.]
“The Morning After”
Five issues ago, in “Wounded Wolf,” Claremont attempted to heighten the drama by leaving certain crucial plot points to reader imagination. (How did Spiral come into contact with Deathstrike? How did Deathstrike and the mercs manage to mess Wolverine up so badly?) The effect was more alienating than absorbing. Here, however, the same technique is used much more effectively, as the opening sequence introduces us to a Hellfire mercenary and his lover, a young Morlock girl. How it is that two such disparate characters met, much less fell in love, and how they came to move from New York to Los Angeles – those are all stories for the reader to conceive. With readers invited to fill in the blanks left by Claremont, a certain sympathy with these two canon-fodder characters instantaneously exists, and their murder seems all the more cruel and shocking.
The murderers, meanwhile, identified collectively as “Marauders,” are imbued with a sense of menace more pervasive and persuasive than any villain created by Claremont before this issue – this despite the fact that they never appear clearly on panel. The final sound-effect, a “BOOM” rendered in forced perspective and signifying the death of the female Morlock, is melodramatic – but the context imbues it with horrible foreboding.
Meanwhile, in between the “Marauder” sequences that bookend the issue are a series of attractive character bits that consolidate the helter-skelter events of recent issues and also incorporate continuity from other series in the “X” franchise – particularly the most recent addition, X-Factor. Deservedly hated by Claremont and thus to some extent studiously ignored at first, X-Factor was at this point being written by Claremont’s friend and former X-Men editor Louise Simonson. So while Simonson was doing backflips to try and refashion Bob Layton’s brainchild into something workable as a long-term series, Claremont happily helped out, presenting here an X-Factor/Magneto scene that interlocks with the concurrent X-Factor issue. In Uncanny #210, we see the scene from Magneto’s perspective, while in the sister title, Simsonson writes the exact same scene from the POV of her titular team. In Uncanny, Magneto sees X-Factor and wonders, “How could [the original X-Men] have so betrayed their heritage, Xavier’s ideals ...” by becoming mutant-hunters? In the X-Factor version, they wonder how Xavier could have left the school in the hands of their archenemy. Seeing Magneto enter the Hellfire Club’s headquarters, Scott says, “I’m just glad Professor Xavier isn’t here to witness this betrayal!” It’s all a bit ham-fisted.
Magneto’s scene inside the Hellfire Club is lovely. Their surplus members gone, the Lords Cardinal are now down to only a Black King, Black Queen and White Queen. That leaves an opening for a White King, and the chair is offered to Magneto, to accept – if he so desires – on behalf of all the X-Men. “Something deadly is in the wind,” Shaw tells Magnus, “and we mutants can no longer afford any form of internecine warfare.” The very concept is a fascinatingly creative one on Claremont’s part, immediately flagging up questions. It’s one thing for the X-Men to become allies with underprivileged mutants like the Morlocks, or revolutionaries like Magneto. But the Lords Cardinal are somewhere else on the spectrum: they’re mutants, but they’re also rich, privileged and morally bankrupt. On the other hand, as Shaw points out, the X-Men could benefit from sharing Hellfire resources. As readers, we can’t help but consider that Charles Xavier probably would have refused the chair outright if offered. Magneto, however, is a former extremist, who is intimately familiar with the notion of moral compromise. On several levels then, Magneto becoming the White King of the Hellfire Club is a rather ingenious idea. Unfortunately, the follow-through will end up being weak, never quite living up to the dramatic potential implied by this fantastic initial scene.
Hinting slightly at the tragedy soon to befall Nightcrawler and Colossus, Claremont gives both characters a small “full circle” moment in “The Morning After.” First, Peter returns to his classic, Cockrum-designed uniform. (In one of Claremont’s funnier lines, Peter’s explanation to his sister for the bright, primary colors of his original outfit is, “I was ‘new wave’ before my time.” It’s a small joke, but the way it finds an equivalence between superhero costumes and a real-life fashion movement predicts Grant Morrison’s “Bollywood” joke in “New X-Men.”)
Then, Nightcrawler finds himself cornered by an angry mob, and notes to himself that it’s the same predicament in which Professor X first found him, back in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. Thus, Kurt and Peter have come full circle on the narrative wheel – and next issue, they both (along with Kitty) will be mortally injured. Such is the karmic cycle of the serial superhero story.