[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. This is a particularly good entry, as we see a lot of stuff coming together here that has been building for a long time.]
One of the advantages of Claremont’s spiraling writing style, wherein storylines are suddenly dropped midway through only to be picked up months or even years later, is that every so often it allows him the advantage of a certain kind of surprise. After the cliffhanger involving S’ym at the end of Uncanny #231, readers surely expected that it would be a good half-year, at least, before he showed up in the series again. Instead, shockingly, he returns after only two issues’ absence, revealed as the manipulator behind Madelyne’s disturbing nightmare of the previous month. What we get now is the birth of the “Goblin Queen” persona, a surprising reversal that was – to some degree – an arbitrary choice by Claremont. Something had to be done to absolve Cyclops, so he – possibly brainstorming with Louise Simonson – decided to turn Maddie into a supervillain.
Yet for all that this narrative swerve happened unnaturally – shaped more by editorial concerns than creative ones – it is crazily brilliant in its own way. First of all, Madelyne’s willingness to trade away integrity in exchange for power has a precedent in Claremont’s long-running X-Men narrative: we saw this character trait before in “X-Men/Alpha Flight: The Gift.” Also, Madelyne’s corruption by S’ym mirrors Phoenix’s by Jason Wyngarde (which occurred almost exactly 100 issues before this one, and which—in an oblique way — was beginning again contemporaneously with the present issue, in the b-side of Classic X-Men #24).
Indeed, when Maddie first appeared, the tease was that she might be Dark Phoenix reincarnated. In that original “From the Ashes” arc, it was all revealed to be a feint by Wyngarde, yet now it turns out to have been true all along. Madelyne is a proxy for Jean Grey, and since Jean was corrupted by evil, it is only natural for her successor to go down that same road. Like the Corsair-and-Kate/Cyclops-and-Jean connection that occurred with Phoenix’s death (another story turn shaped by editorial mandate outside of Claremont’s creative vision), or the Scott-and-Maddie/Alex-and-Lorna parallel from issue 219, this is another wonderful example of a classically elegant parallelism occurring serendipitously over the course of Claremont’s sustained serial narrative.
Meanwhile, a much smaller parallelism is contained in the issue at hand. While Maddie is seduced by a real demon, a preacher named William Conover deludes himself into believing he’s exorcised a fake one -- thanks to a laying-on-of-hands bit with Wolverine that occurs just as the latter’s healing ability neutralizes a Brood egg. Silvestri plays this as a kind of time-lapse-photography version of the first time we saw this, in Cockrum’s Uncanny #162. Then, Wolverine’s battle with the Brood inside him took an entire issue. Now, perhaps because his healing factor has encountered this particular infection already, the whole process transpires over the course of only two pages.
The William Conover character is striking in his own right – Claremont plays with our expectations, giving us another “Reverend William” years after the “God Loves, Man Kills” graphic novel, whose chief antagonist was a violently anti-mutant bigot called Reverend William Stryker. Reversing the typical use of religious figures in mainstream fiction, Claremont now gives us a preacher who is genuinely compassionate. Both in his public persona and behind closed doors, he is explicitly sympathetic to mutant rights. Fascinatingly, the character proves to be – despite his heroic core – utterly susceptible to the sin of pride, convincing himself that he personally is responsible for the affects of Wolverine’s healing factor upon the Brood “demon.” Conover’s naivety even extends toward his wife’s healed arthritis, which he also credits to the grace of God rather than her inhabitation by another Brood embryo.
Finally, on the meta-textual level, it’s rather appropriate that a Brood alien is mistook for a demon just before being excised not only from Logan but from the overall X-Men series. Claremont is thus bringing his extended “Alien”/ “Aliens” homage full circle (the riff having begun with Uncanny X-Men #143, a story titled “Demon”), before ending it.
(Granted, it seems likely this wasn’t meant to be his final Brood story, given that he very pointedly leaves room for a sequel. Yet by the same token, since the whole story functions as a “b-movie” pastiche, the blatant pointing toward a sequel can also be chalked up simply as the concluding beat of the genre exercise.)