[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels below.]
“The Belly of the Beast”
Silvestri and Green’s X-Men look cooler with each issue. Check out Colossus on Page 2, panel 3; Wolverine on Page 14, panel 6. Geoff, tell me these aren’t “pop sexy” X-Men!
Once again, Claremont dazzles with his constantly discovering new ways not only to exploit the X-Men’s individual powers, but to combine them in crazy ways. Here’s a breakdown of what goes down during the climactic battle of issue 227: The newly re-powered Storm creating hurricane winds around Roma’s citadel in the sky (which looks uncannily similar to Dr. Manhattan’s glass fortress in Watchmen). Those winds capture the hollow-boned Longshot “like the sail of a kite,” and drag him – with the rest of the X-Men behind him – up to meet the Adversary. From there, Rogue is able to absorb the knowledge and skills of the villain’s host body, Naze, which in turn is pulverized by Colossus (described here, delightfully, as Roma’s “ringer”). Rogue then uses her newly acquired shamanistic talent to create a gateway. Storm blasts the Adversary, now in his true form, mostly through the gateway with her elemental powers, and Havok and Dazzler use their energy beams to keep him at the threshold long enough for Forge to create the spell that will send him all the way through.
The whole thing is beautifully choreographed, and Silvestri and Green’s work is so raw and direct that the entire affair feels like it has the force of nature behind it. As climaxes go, this one is truly exciting. At the peak of his powers, Claremont even finds room among the action for further enrichment of character – in this case, Madelyne Pryor’s surprising last words to Scott before sacrificing her life alongside the X-Men: “Scotty – wherever you are, I wish you all the best. Find our son. Keep him safe. Raise him well. I love you. Goodbye.” Patrick identifies this as one of the more touchingly redemptive moments in Claremont’s entire run. I’m not inclined to disagree.
Also, what a perfect illustration of proper dramatic timing when, just after the X-Men’s souls are hurled into the gateway so as to banish the Adversary, we cut to: Muir Isle, where Nightcrawler has just come out of his coma. How utterly perfect. With consummate skill, Claremont, Silvestri and Green have brought everything together.
This leaves us at last with the epilogue, containing a somewhat facile resurrection. Just like that, Roma brings the X-Men back to life. It makes a little more sense if one has read Alan Moore’s Captain Britain, which featured Roma and Merlin engaging in similar “cheats” at certain key dramatic moments. On its own terms, it certainly seems a bit easy, after all of Destiny’s ranting about the X-Men’s “death in Dallas.”
(Trivia: In Uncanny X-Men #225, in the scene set in Scotland, a young boy comments that Colossus can’t possibly be American because he “does na’ sound a bit like J.R. Ewing.” Then in the X-Men’s guest appearance in Incredible Hulk #340, published a month after Uncanny #225 but set just before, Peter David has Dazzler mock Destiny’s prediction, saying that “If we die in Dallas, maybe it’ll be a dream and we’ll come back in someone’s shower.” Coincidence?)
At any rate, it’s great when Claremont kind of makes fun of the story turn himself, via Logan’s dialogue. To wit:
Wolverine: “Strikes me, Ororo, your ‘Plan Omega’ may have worked after all. If everyone figures us dead ...”
Roma: “You did die, my friend. The instant Forge cast his spell ... your lifelines were broken. What you undergo now is a rebirth.”
Wolverine: “Whatever ...”
Logan points out the truth of the situation. In narrative terms, the X-Men didn’t really die, despite whatever contrivances Claremont attempts to dress it up in via Roma’s double-talk.
(And for anyone confused by the esoteric “Plan Omega” reference, the only other time Storm used that code-phrase for the plan to fake the X-Men’s death was in New Mutants #51. Somewhat amusingly, Claremont was so busy juggling subplots at the time, he probably didn’t even realize he’d neglected to keep the code consistent across titles.)
So, the epilogue is an acknowledged cheat. Apart from that, though, “The Belly of the Beast” is a fantastic climax, not only to a strong storyline, but a particularly strong year for the series. If I had to pick a single year of Claremont’s 16-year run during which he was at the very peak of his artistic powers, I’d go with 1987.