[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's Uncanny X-Men run. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels at the bottom.]
“The Dark Before the Dawn”
The “Fall of the Mutants” trilogy beginning next month will wrap up several threads at once, decisively enough that – as Patrick has pointed out here – it will almost feel like an ending for the entire Uncanny X-Men series. But Claremont decides to ease us into the narrative tour de force of issues 225-227 with this prologue/character-study.
The prologue bit feels well-and-truly redundant, as Storm once again fights demons on her way to the long-anticipated encounter with Forge, just like in the previous two installments. It ends with a bang, granted, with Ororo realizing – only after she’s stabbed the man she loves – that she’s been manipulated by Naze all along. Still, that twist could have come earlier.
On the other hand, the character bits are lovely all around. Claremont can of course get a little histrionic with his characterizations; melodrama often seems to be the author’s natural state of being. But here, the tone of much of the story is refreshingly subdued. Rogue’s encounter with Mystique has a disarming naturalness to it, for example: an estranged mother and daughter having their first one-on-one conversation in years. (When I read the bit now with Rogue quoting the Mick Jagger lyric “You can’t always get what you want,” I can’t help but think of the series premiere of “House.” And of course, in a bit of Claremontian coincidence, Bryan Singer – director of the first two X-Men films – is the executive producer of that series.)
The dynamic in the Longshot/Havok sequence is also shrewdly handled. Just departing a movie theatre after having viewed a film titled “Raiders of the Lost Temple” (which was also the title of the Conan pastiche in Uncanny X-Men #191), Longshot points out excitedly that according to the end credits, “There was a stuntman in the movie with the same name as me!” This is a reference to the Ann Nocenti/Art Adams miniseries, wherein Longshot did indeed get a job as a stuntman. Of course, as of X-Men Annual #10, he remembers none of the events of the Nocenti mini. The idea that Longshot just happened to see the movie he worked on two years ago is a rather inspired little Easter egg for readers. (The image contained on the movie placard that Longshot leaps over in Uncanny #224 is a miniature version of the cover of Longshot #3.)
Silvestri’s use of body language is again in fine form, contributing as much to the characterization as Claremont’s words. Note how when Havok – still depressed over the way his world has come apart in the wake of the Marauders two-parter -- blasts the getaway car of some generic thugs, his other hand remains tucked lazily in the pocket of his ill-fitting suit. That visual detail, combined with his understated line, “I melted your car,” is laugh-out-loud funny. The way Claremont writes Alex Summers – as introverted and tormented as his older brother, yet handling adversity with a contrastedly deadpan nonchalance – is truly inspired.
An issue like this – with its leisurely biding of time before the story’s true kick-start a month later – probably frustrated readers following the series in real time back in 1987. Now, with the chapters available for immediate consumption one after the other, “The Dark Before the Dawn” stands as a prime example of Claremont at his subtle best, enriching the characters and their world in a few deft strokes to ensure that, when the fiery climax does at last arrive, we care about the outcome that much more.