[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 first major X-Men crossover, “Mutant Massacre” was the “M-Day” of its day, having been conceived by Chris Claremont as a way of reducing the number of mutants in the underground Morlock community. (In the original Morlock storyline in Uncanny #’s 169-170, Paul Smith drew substantially more Morlocks in the crowd scenes than Claremont had intended.)
Issue 211 is an incredibly strong start for the story, depicting Claremont’s newest and most sadistically cruel group of villains, the Marauders, on a surprisingly violent spree. The X-Men’s reactions, upon entering the tunnels and witnessing the results of the carnage, are realistically handled. Most striking and powerful of all is the Marauders’ ability to deliver genuine damage to the X-Men. True, the fight scenes aren’t as creatively choreographed as that of the recent tour de force in Uncanny #209 – indeed, this issue even reveals some sloppy mistakes if one is inclined to track the action closely. But the story makes up for its deficits through sheer shock value.
The stakes here are so amped up that even familiar X-Men moments -- e.g. Kitty phasing through an attack -- demonstrate a level of directness and brutality we’ve not yet seen in a Claremont comic. The most unshakable image of the issue is that of a massive shotgun barrel pressed right against Kitty’s temple and then fired immediately.
It’s also a monumental moment to see Colossus pushed over the edge for the first time, as the sound of Kitty’s screams ignite a literally homicidal rage. Not even Wolverine manages to achieve any kills during the fight with the Marauders, but Peter does, which is amazing.
The final panel sees Claremont twisting expectations a bit. The previous issue had contained a fairly standard Clarmontian moment: Ororo lecturing Wolverine on his behavior during the Rachel Summers debacle. “The X-Men are a team, Logan” went the familiar refrain from Storm. “And if we are a team, my friend, then I must have your trust. And, when required, your obedience.” In other words, Wolverine was going to have to rein in his impulse to “take care of business” in the most expediently violent way.
But on the last page of “Massacre,” Storm’s talk of “obedience” takes on a strikingly different light, as she orders Wolverine into the alley with a tone that suggest nothing so much as taking a dog off its leash. The memorable final panel is a close-up on Ororo’s eyes as she tells Logan she wants one of the Marauders taken prisoner for interrogation. When Wolverine asks from off-panel, “What about the rest?” her reply is chilling: “One prisoner is sufficient. The remaining Marauders are yours.” In the space of one issue, Storm has reversed her moral stance – she is now all but ordering Logan to use his dubious discretion, the exact thing she’d just tried to curb.
The “Mutant Massacre” will ultimately become bloated, scattered and unfocused (thus setting a precedent for a score more “X” crossovers over the course of as many years) – but Uncanny #211, with its breathtaking ability to wreak huge and frightening changes on both the X-Men’s individual members and their overall world in the space of 22 pages, is a brilliantly effective beginning.