[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. Sorry for getting this one out late today, but I got tied up with life off of the computer.]
By 1988, Claremont has been writing Uncanny X-Men for so long that he now is in the position of collaborating on the series with people who originally encountered his work as a fan, rather than as a pro. Indeed, ’88 is the year in which the editorial responsibilities for Uncanny passed to Bob Harras -- an avowed fan of the Claremont/Byrne run of nearly a decade earlier. Harras’ rein was, by all accounts, much tighter than that of Nocenti or Simonson, much to Claremont’s frustration. (Ironically, this quality made Harras professionally akin to Roger Stern, the man who oversaw much of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men issues.)
In “Comics Creators on X-Men,” Harras is explicit about why he and Claremont butted heads almost from the start – the latter’s desire to continually mutate the X-Men concept was firmly at odds with Harras’ traditionalism. (An early manifestation of Harras’ holding the Byrne-era X-Men sacrosanct is notable in Classic X-Men, which ceased -- practically overnight -- to break up any of the Byrne material with interstitial pages once Harras got full control.) Harras seems to have been as stuck under the shadow of Claremont/Byrne as Claremont and Byrne themselves were – during the early half of their run – under that of Neal Adams.
By the same token, Claremont may also have been getting a little nostalgic himself for the “glory days” of his collaborations with John Byrne, having revisited them himself for the sake of the Classic X-Men reprints.
All of which helps to account for the a-side story in X-Men Annual #12, which sees Claremont teaming with Art Adams for a return to the Savage Land. Inked by Bob Wiacek, Adams’ work here is clean, bright and dynamic, very much recalling Byrne and Austin during the “Sun God” story of Uncanny 115-116 (published in 1978, a full decade earlier). The story – despite the disingenuous cover trappings that claim it’s part of Marvel’s 1988 “Evolutionary War” crossover – is an explicit sequel to the Garokk/Sun God material, reprising key story beats (and even specific images) and allowing Claremont to redeem certain moments from that earlier work. Thus, Storm saves Garokk from his fatal fall this time around, and Garokk himself uses his power to save the Savage Land rather than – as was his goal the first time around – to destroy it. This must have immensely gratified whatever part of Harras was still a fanboy for Claremont/Byrne X-Men.
Claremont, meanwhile, clearly enjoys the opportunity to make “Resurrection” also a sequel to his recent John Bolton collaborations. For example, thanks to a cannily deployed sci-fi cliché involving time moving differently in other dimensions, we get to see the long-term ramifications here of Colossus’ sexual liaison with Nereel in Classic #21b – they have a son! We also see the return of M’rin from Classic #22b, with dialogue that suggests there is an as-yet-unrevealed Storm/M’rin story that takes place during Ororo’s “punk” phase. X-Men Annual #12 may revel quite a bit in its nostalgia for the franchise’s creative peak, but Claremont is also, shrewdly, using it to cement his more recent (and far less celebrated) contributions to the canon.
Note also the subtle parallelism at work involving Piotr Rasputin’s son: The boy, also called Peter, has – in a sense – aged artificially, having spent years in another dimension where time moves differently, so that he is already an adolescent even though (in Marvel Time), he should only be one or two years old. This is, of course, very similar to what happened to Illyana in Uncanny #160 and the Magik miniseries; apparently, artificial aging runs in the Rasputin family.
Meanwhile, as a superhero story, “Resurrection” bounces along excitingly from start to finish. Its opening sequence – featuring some nice Claremontian turns of phrase (e.g., “Lightning splits the sky – strobe-splashing midnight brighter than noon”) and some slipped-under-the-Comics-Code allusions to Longshot and Alison having just fucked – sets a thrilling and vigorous tone, which Adams and Wiacek carry breathlessly through to the battle with Terminus.
(The Terminus fight hearkens back to Byrne as well, its “Round 1/Round 2” construction so evocative of the “X-Men vs. Magneto” two-parter in Uncanny 112/113 or the “Proteus” arc in issues 126-128.)
Claremont even slips a bit back under Neal Adams’ shadow too, sneaking in a cameo by Adams’ “Savage Land mutates” (from X-Men #’s 62-63). Claremont will import these creatures into the main series too, a year later, in issues 249-250.
All in all, the Annual sees Claremont working at cross-purposes with the main series, which at this point is still attempting something newer, stranger and more discomfiting with Silvestri and Green. But he gets away with it, because the story itself is so charming – the work of a seasoned veteran of old-school superheroics, brimming with confidence and teamed with a young artist whose style is as sleekly futuristic as Byrne and Austin’s seemed ten years earlier.
(The successful synthesis of this old/new sensibility is given an emblem on the story’s final page: the “X” embedded in an eight-pointed star, which readers saw Madelyne designing in Uncanny #232.)