[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men.]
“Twas the Night ...”
After the extraordinary impact of the new, dangerously exotic X-Men of the previous issue, Claremont – somewhat disappointingly (at least at first) – now hedges on that story’s promise in the very next issue. Uncanny X-Men #229 was brilliantly alienating; this one goes for heartwarming. Appropriately, the delicious messiness of regular inker Dan Green is missing here, replaced by the soft innocuousness of Joe Rubinstein.
Inexplicably, Claremont also gives this issue a holiday theme, despite its publication date (June of 1988, which means it was actually published in February of that year, well after Christmas).
Fortunately, Silvestri proves quite adept at accommodating Claremont’s sudden sense of whimsy. Between the two of them, they manage quite a few smile-inducing moments. The scene in which Dazzler cleans her room is rather charming, thanks to Silvestri’s visual flair: not just with Alison’s facial expression and body language but with the slapstick elements, e.g. Colossus smashing through part of the door frame as he charges into Dazzler’s room. It’s also great to see that Havok’s deadpan nonchalance is still intact, as evidenced by the return of his new signature posture: one hand lazily kept in his pocket while the other almost offhandedly tosses off an energy bolt.
Furthermore, Silvestri’s ability to draw women that are both breathtakingly sexy and also rather quaintly charming is impressive. Rogue is absolutely adorable in this issue, in her gawkily shy attempts to win Gateway’s friendship.
So, granted, issue 230 – with its “X-Men become Santa Claus” plot – is saccharine through and through; no denying that. Perhaps Claremont didn’t have faith that his new hardcore X-Men vision would enthrall a fanbase more accustomed to a high-level of emotion-based melodrama; thus, an immediate swerve toward sentimentalism, reminding us all in the most blatant terms possible that the X-Men still have hearts and souls.
An unnecessary swerve, I think, so early on in the new direction. Claremont should’ve waited a bit before softening things up again. Yet, on its own terms, this issue’s unabashed sweetness is rather powerful. The moment in which the nurse in Boston clutches her mother’s necklace to her chest is lovely, for example (Silvestri is a master of expressive body language).
And at the end, any doubts about Claremont’s intentions are erased with the last page, conveying the heart-swellingly simple moment when Gateway at last responds to Rogue’s overtures of friendship. The final two panels – silent, as Claremont again trusts in Silvestri’s expressiveness to sell the scene – are especially beautiful, and quite touching.