[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 Last Run”
After the intense final pages of Uncanny #211, the “Mutant Massacre” storyline wound through issues of New Mutants, X-Factor, Power Pack and Thor. The momentum created by Claremont in Uncanny #211 chafed away almost completely, hitting a nadir during sequences of the Marauders (a team nasty enough to mortally wound two X-Men and one member of X-Factor) being made fools of by the 5-to-10-year-olds comprising Power Pack.
By the time the story returns to Uncanny, a lot of the new villains’ initial intensity has been undercut. So Claremont bucks expectation a bit by leaving all the Marauders out of this chapter, except for one: Sabretooth. A Wolverine-esque villain who’d first appeared years ago in Claremont and Byrne’s Iron Fist series, Sabretooth was revealed as a Marauder by Louise Simonson in X-Factor #10, and here, finally – eight years after the character’s creation – he finally appears in a comic book with Wolverine.
Claremont establishes immediately that the two have a rivalry dating back years -- and thus, another bit of X-Men history is made. The precedent is now set for literally hundreds of derivative “Wolverine vs. Sabretooth” comics over the next 20 years. Indeed, Claremont even predicts what’s to come in a bit of prescient dialogue from Logan after he deliberately cuts this first fight short to save a Morlock’s life. “We’re too evenly matched,” Wolverine observes of him and his archenemy. “We could’ve fought till doomsday, with neither of us winning.” Exactly what happened, in the event.
Arch-enemies turn out to be a theme for “The Last Run,” as Wolverine’s battle with brand-new arch-villain Sabretooth is counterpointed by a final battle between Storm and Callisto. This rematch was teased at for years before this point, ever since their first fight back in 1983. Just as Claremont bucked expectation with the Cyclops/Wolverine explosion during the Byrne days – wherein, after years of antagonism, Scott finally took on Logan to help him, rather than hurt him – the Ororo/Callisto takes on similar dimensions. Callisto challenges Storm not out of animosity, but in order to snap the latter out of a psychological funk. Once again, the underdog – Callisto, originally cast as a villain while the privileged X-Men were heroes -- becomes the champion. More inured to tragedy and hardship than any of the X-Men (all of whom have lived for years in the comfort of a mansion), Callisto shows no signs of cracking in the face of the Morlock massacre, yet Storm – softer and weaker than she realized, despite earlier pretensions – is about to give up. Like all psychological conflicts in superhero comic books, the one between Callisto and Ororo is confronted and resolved via physical violence. This is facile, of course, but the fight rings with a certain amount of dramatic resonance thanks to the sense Claremont gives of the characters having come full circle: They fought nearly to the death when they met and now, at the final turning point of their relationship, they fight once again.
The hero/villain dichotomy is also developed in “The Last Run” through Claremont’s use of Magneto. Having been a force of destruction for so long, here he is able to use his powers to heal, when Colossus collapses as a delayed response to injuries sustained in the same fight that felled Shadowcat and Nightcrawler. Somewhat ironically, Grant Morrison also cast Magneto as a healer during his “New X-Men,” but it was a deliberate ruse – a villain pretending at heroism. Here, years earler, the same motif – destroyer becomes healer – is used by Claremont as an earnest symbol of redemption.
That the attempt fails is fittingly tragic; Magneto cannot redeem his past so easily. This will turn out to be a harbinger for the larger failure that occurs at the very end of Claremont’s Magneto arc (in 1991’s Uncanny X-Men #275 and X-Men #’s 1-3). Thus we see another case where the long-term nature of Claremont’s X-Men yields, intentionally or not, an instance of foreshadowing as shrewd and subtle as what can be found in “proper” literature.
Issue 211 of Uncanny was John Romita Jr.’s last, so the next eight months featured the work of rotating guest artists before Marc Silvestri became the new regular with issue 220. “The Last Run” is pencilled by Rick Leonardi, whose style is both grotesquely distorted and surprisingly expressive. Inked by Dan Green, Leonardi achieves some particularly lovely panels here – e.g., Storm’s grieving over Nightcrawler’s comatose body on the final panel of Page 5.