[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men.]
“Dawn of Blood”
Fans who were reading X-Men during this time complain that the X-Men lost its heart when Nightcrawler and Kitty were replaced with the likes of Longshot and Psylocke, who weren’t as empathetic or likable – but this was the point: a new, less immediately accessible team whose motivations and internal lives were not as obvious to the reader. Indeed, Claremont’s choice of villain for issues 232-234 even parallels the point: mutants possessed by aliens to take on a team of alienating mutants.
To give the Brood super-powers this second-time around is a canny decision on Claremont’s part, for several reasons. First and most obviously, it ups the stakes from the previous Brood saga (issues 154-167). Second, it’s a logical extrapolation of the Brood’s agenda in that earlier storyline, which was to implant eggs in the X-Men and create enhanced-power versions of themselves. It only makes sense that, having arrived on Earth, they would seek out mutants and attempt a second crack at that plan – and how horrifying it is that, this time, the Brood have succeeded. Finally, and most subtly, this premise allows Claremont to synthesize two different types of X-Men stories: the politically naive Silver Age type, wherein the X-Men fight other mutants to protect humans (thus demonstrating a counter-revolutionary, assimilationist stance, as noted by Neil Shyminsky and others), and the more recent paradigm, with the X-Men working to protect mutants from being victimized. Here, Claremont is able to eat his cake and have it too, offering up villains that are mutants, but ones possessed (or assimilated) by an external force. It’s a shrewd maneuver– a storyline that lets the X-Men exist – for these three issues at least – in a state of perfect, guiltless equilibrium between two contradictory political paradigms.
Also, it’s just great fun. The opening splash drops the X-Men right into the middle of a horror movie, surrounding them with tentacled abominations approaching from all sides (Silvestri has one of them descending from a fire-escape, an ingenious detail). Colorist Glynis Oliver gets in on the fun as well, coloring the X-Men in their appropriate hues but drenching the Brood monsters all in red and the background in complementary orange. The “Night of the Living Dead” vibe is clearly intentional – the title, “Dawn of Blood,” removes any lingering doubt – and it is a clear signal that we’re not meant to take this one TOO terribly seriously. It’s as if Claremont and company have taken the previous Brood story (which stretched out over a year), and boiled away all the fat. The result is a lean, mean trilogy that’s big on thrills and almost entirely devoid of angst (albeit not entirely, as we see on the final page).
Instead, Claremont saves the heavy stuff for the interlude: a five-page dream sequence that’s absolutely horrifying. If the Brood represent b-horror-movie grotesquerie, here is something far darker, more akin to the deeply psychological terrors of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. In what amounts to a chilling symbolic recreation of Cyclops’ abandonment of Madelyne for Jean Grey in X-Factor #1, the scene depicts Scott callously rejecting Maddie for a featureless mannequin, then taking their baby from her as well. Finally, with a ruthless and methodical efficiency, he simply plucks Maddie’s physical features from her head – hair, nose, lips, then finally eyes – and places them all onto the mannequin, which of course becomes Jean.
Throughout this surreally awful process, Scott’s dialogue is emotionless and brusque. “I’m really sorry,” he says. “But I loved someone else first. And best. Her needs take priority. There, that’s better. A few more details ... the finishing touches, pulled from the copy ... and the original will be restored ... good as new.”
There is, of course, a certain degree of meta-narration occurring. Claremont is commenting both on the character assassination of Scott that occurred in X-Factor #1 as well as his own earlier creative ambitions for the Madelyne Pryor character, which involved making her a proxy for the murdered Jean Grey.
The scene works on that level as well, but it’s also creepily effective on the basic textual level. Once again, Silvestri’s phenomenal sense of detail adds to the scene in surprising ways – i.e., Madelyne begins to cry as she is disassembled by Scott, but when Scott takes her eyes and places them on the Jean figure, the tears remain, re-contextualized now as signifiers of joy rather than terror. Note as well the way Cyclops wears his X-Men costume throughout most of the fantasy, but it quietly becomes his X-Factor outfit just before he, Jean and the baby disappear. It’s an utterly stunning sequence, and the true centerpiece of the issue.