[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the labels on the bottom or the toolbar on the right.]
At this point in X-Men chronology, Claremont was indulging his penchant for open-ending storytelling in the Uncanny X-Men series to such an extent that, although still capable of pulling off some extraordinary narrative tricks in the mainstream serial narrative, his most coherent X-Men tales – just in terms of possessing a definite beginning, middle and end – would turn up in spin-off material like this.
Albeit the premise is built on a series of credulity-straining coincidences, “Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men” – the final issue of which was published in February of 1987 – is Chris Claremont’s single most heartwarming X-Men story.
To speak first to the coincidences: Readers are asked to accept, first of all, that the X-Men would seek out Reed Richards’ help in curing Shadowcat’s degenerative condition (from the wounds sustained during the Morlock massacre) at the exact same time that Dr. Doom has decided to spy on the X-Men for reasons of his own. Furthermore, that this all would occur at the same time that a psychological trap laid for the Fantastic Four by Doom years earlier happens to be accidentally sprung by Reed’s wife. Almost perversely testing readers’ suspension of disbelief, Claremont also peppers in minor coincidences – i.e., that Magneto would confront the Thing and She-Hulk mere seconds after they happen to get into an argument over whether or not Magnus has truly reformed. As plot mechanics go, this miniseries is built on a structure as insubstantial as Shadowcat herself.
Yet the story works in spite of all that, because intellectual logic is swept aside, at every turn, by the extraordinary force of the story’s emotional momentum. Claremont is relentlessly sentimental here, from beginning to end. He’s teamed with penciller Jon Bogdanove, who “draws the best hugs in the [comics] biz,” as editor Ann Nocenti puts it in her introduction to the trade paperback. Not one to put a talent like that to waste, Claremont loads this story with embraces – between mother and son, husband and wife, lovers, friends, kids, adults ... “FF vs. X-Men” may contain more hugs per page than any other superhero comic ever published.
At the core of the story is the emotional connection that emerges between Franklin Richards – the son of Sue and Reed – and Kitty Pryde in the third and fourth chapters. Redeeming Claremont’s awkward attempts at writing a child in the Wolverine/Katie Power team-up of Uncanny #205, Claremont’s Franklin (illustrated by Bogdanove and inker Terry Austin) is off-the-charts cute ... an adorably wide-eyed avatar of pure goodness, who – in his naively brilliant child-savant manner – saves the day several times over the course of the storyline. To summarize some of the dramatic beats of this mini would be to make them sound absurd – Franklin preventing Kitty from committing suicide, Franklin convincing Dr. Doom to swallow his pride, Franklin reprimanding the feuding FF and X-Men – yet Claremont and Bogdanove force the reader to fall in love with the little guy, and it all makes perfect sense. I defy anyone (who doesn’t thrive on misanthropy) not to grin at the image – Issue 4, Page 23, panel 2 -- of Franklin, mounted atop an airborne Lockheed, his hands on his hips, scolding the Fantastic Four and the X-Men for fighting instead of working together to save Kitty. (“You grown-ups are all a bunch of stupid babies!”)
Although the mainstream Uncanny series continued to grow darker and darker over the course of the late 1980s, “Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men” stands as a towering example of Claremont’s undiminished ability to write with astounding optimism when the occasion called for it. The depth of feeling plumbed by the author in this little piece of four-color fiction is testament not only to his talent, but also his fearlessness in making transparent his own sense of sentimentality and hopefulness. “Love is all you need” may be a naive philosophy, but reading a comic like this, one actually believes – even if only for a few fleeting seconds – that it might actually be true. For that alone, this miniseries is a phenomenal accomplishment. Speaking personally, I’m moved to tears every single time I read it.
[I want to make a personal note about this issue though it is not strictly relevant to Jason's post. My first comic book ever was Uncanny 301. When I began talking about these "X-Men" at school one of my friends brought me two graphic novels from his brother's collection -- Wolverine v Hulk (their first meeting) and X-Men v Fantastic Four. These were the first collections I had ever read -- I did not know there was such a thing as a comic book collection. The only memory I really have of this issue is the ghostly Kitty: but what I remember is that somewhere in this series is an image of Kitty's face that I looked at again and again in what could have been the start of some kind of life-altering Joss Whedon style crush on the character. If only I had thought to invent Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a result.]