[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men.]
“Gonna Be a Revolution”
Neal Adams set down so many rules for how the X-Men should be done – he established an extraordinary number of precedents in his brief tenure on the series in 1969. Speaking of it years later in an interview, he said, “I never thought the X-Men should be a story then a story then a story – it should be this tapestry that goes on and on and on.” Indeed, we see that phenomenon in his and Roy Thomas’ issues. One chapter will conclude, but the next will begin by flashing back to before the previous one ended.
Claremont followed that example for years. Here, in the conclusion to the four-part Genoshan story, the author spends a massive percentage of the available 22 pages dwelling on Madelyne Pryor’s development into something otherworldly – it’s all less to do with Genosha and more to do with the upcoming “Inferno” crossover. But Claremont blends the two concepts rather seamlessly, and ultimately his creative decision doesn’t detract from the Genosha plot, but enhances it in bizarre, occasionally ineffable ways.
Right from the start, Claremont floods the narrative with a wide variety of information and invites the reader to process it: The splash page depicts a little girl in an orange dress and pigtails, and we are told that this is how Madelyne Pryor “perceives herself.” In fact, the image alludes to Page 3, panel one of Avengers Annual #10, which featured – apropos of nothing – a little girl, in an orange dress and pigtails, whose only line of dialogue was, “I’m Maddie Pryor. I been sick, but I’m better now.”
By all accounts, this scene originally had no significance – Claremont was simply shouting out to a real-life Maddie Pryor, the lead vocalist of Steeleye Span.
In Uncanny #238’s opening splash, Claremont entwines his old joke with the third Maddie Pryor, tying all three of them together. Part of this can be read as Claremont simply having a new laugh, this time at X-Men readers who’ve learned to obsess over odd details and long-term mysteries in the series. There’s perhaps a bit of fanboy geekery to be read into the exchange:
First speaker: “What’s that song she’s singing?”
Second speaker: “‘Gone to America,’ by a group called Steeleye Span.”
First speaker: “Is that significant?”
Second speaker: “Unknown.”
In fact, there is significance. The opening line of “Gone to America” goes, “Married him in April, lost him in July.” A perfect choice for the estranged wife of Scott Summers. Resonant as well is her line on the following page, “I was sick. But I got better.” An inexact recreation of Maddie’s single line from the 1981 Avengers annual, the sentiment now can be seen as a reference to having recovered – thanks to S’ym – from the psychological toll of the loss of her husband and child.
A lot of information intersects in these opening pages, in classic Claremontian style: allusions to all three Maddie’s, to forgotten inside jokes – even (with Silvestri’s zoom on Maddie’s eye, which in turn contains a flaming Phoenix) to the original Madelyne Pryor story in issues 168-176, which suggested the character might be Phoenix reincarnated. The overall effect as the information sluices through these first four pages is heady and hallucinogenic, and scary as hell. Claremont, Silvestri, Green, et al accomplish with mere pen and ink a level of intensity that many filmmakers fail to do with millions of dollars at their disposal.
Once again, there is a strong parallel here between Madelyne now and Jean Grey during the Byrne/Claremont “Dark Phoenix” epic – the slow seduction; corruption at the hands of villains who didn’t know what they were getting into; and of course, the flame imagery. Interestingly, while “Dark Phoenix” is universally adored by X-Men fans and “Inferno” just as universally reviled, the latter is – at least in terms of thematic coherence – far more accomplished. After all, Jean Grey’s seduction by evil was almost entirely external. Although Claremont’s dialogue occasionally alluded to the notion that Mastermind was simply stoking emotions that Jean already possessed, there was not a huge amount of material to support such an idea. It was all simply manipulation by a villain.
By contrast, Madelyne’s seduction is grounded entirely in pragmatically realistic drama. She’s a spurned lover, an abandoned wife; she’s consumed by grief, rage – and even envy, once she learns that Scott has gone back to Jean. The internal motivation for Madelyne’s dark turn is based in credible, relatable emotional values, which in turn lend her entire character arc a level of pathos that “Dark Phoenix” lacks. Even here, in the last issue before “Inferno” begins, Maddie’s slow corruption feels utterly right, it being a logical – even righteous – reaction to the evils surrounding her.
As for the conclusion of the Genoshan arc, the centerpiece of it all is Phillip Moreau, the idealistic youth who – in this concluding chapter – finally learns the truth about how his country’s mutants are treated. The dialogue in this sequence, as Wolverine and Carol walk Phillip through the “Mutant Settlement Zone,” is marvelously reflexive at several key moments. When Logan mocks Phillips’s naiveté, for example, he condescendingly addresses him as “Boy,” more than once – the same word Phillip used when ordering a mutant around two issues earlier.
Then Carol, after lecturing him about how mutants are viewed in Genosha as “organic machines,” she concludes rhetorically, “And who cares what happens to machines?” The riposte comes from the Chief Magistrate: “Who indeed, young lady?” This alludes to dialogue between Hawkshaw and Pipeline in the story’s inaugural chapter:
Hawkshaw: “Sounds like World War Three down by the bay. Wonder who’s winning?”
Pipeline: “Our guys – the magistrates – who else?”
Hawkshaw: “Who else, indeed?”
Of course, in both cases, the answer to the question is the X-Men, who arrive at last in Uncanny #238 to rescue Logan and Rogue, and to bring about the “revolution” of the issue’s title. Claremont once again demonstrates a clever imagination in finding new uses for his characters’ powers, even after 13 years of writing them. It’s delightfully inventive that Storm uses her rain simply to make Genoshan security forego their protocol of checking IDs at the door (“Give us a break, willya – do that in the squad bay! We’re drownin’ out here!”). Havok, Dazzler and Longshot thus gain entry and begin to blow the place apart from the inside. Brilliantly done.
The climax of the story ends up being a philosophical debate between Phillip and his father. It’s got the typical Claremontian wordiness, though the author leavens the potentially dry sociological debate (which is inherently one-sided anyway) both via one final round of “gratuitous heroics” and through some deft character choices; i.e., it’s lovely that Wolverine began with a condescending attitude toward Phillip, but becomes “proud to stand beside him” when he realizes there is courage backing up the young boy’s ideals. (Happily, Logan remains in character through to the end, wherein he offers up a last twist of cynicism regarding Phillip: “Gotta give the kid credit for guts. Feel sorry for him ... [He] doesn’t deserve ... what’ll happen to him.”)
It’s also heartening to see the X-Men’s righteous fury played through right until the end. Wolverine, appropriately, has been pushed to the farthest extreme. His suggestion for what to do with the magistrates upon their defeat: “Kill ‘em! Tear this slimeball concentration camp country o’ theirs down to the bare rock ... an’ build somethin’ decent from the ashes.” Storm’s solution is more merciful, but no less stern. Ultimately, the X-Men offer Phillip the chance to try – through above-board tactics and official channels – to change conditions in Genoshan for the better; yet they make it clear that should Phillip fail, the X-Men will step in and execute Wolverine’s solution.
To punctuate their point, Havok blasts the Genoshan citadel to powder. This seems a direct precursor to Morrison having the X-Men bomb a facility in China. Morrison’s implication that this level of violence was something new (via Wolverine’s rhetorical, “So we’re allowed to do stuff like this now”) is disingenuous. Claremont had them doing “stuff like this” over a decade earlier.
Compounded among the Genoshan climax is more material involving the new, evil Madelyne. The sequence that sees her facing off against David Moreau while stark naked is sexily disconcerting, and Claremont drops a massive hint about the mystery of her existence when she finds a familiar “resonance” in “the crèche ... where the Genegineer grows his babies.” Finally, when Havok asks where the kidnapped baby is, Madelyne gives the bone-chilling reply, “Not to worry. That’s all been taken care of.” The dominos are all set up for “Inferno” now, just in time for the touch-off in the next issue.
As for the Genoshan four-parter, it pays off its arcs beautifully. The entire affair is sublime from start to finish, pitting the X-Men against a strongly realized enemy faction whose motivations and worldview make them ideal villains for the series. By far, it’s the best “civil rights” X-Men story Claremont ever conceived or executed, making brilliant use not only of the premise’s implicit theme, but of the mythos’ tangled continuity as well (i.e., the computer virus, the X-Men’s “invisibility,” Logan and Carol’s prior relationship as intelligence operatives). It also represents the quintessence of Claremont’s spiraling, complicated writing style, which confounds and compounds storylines by intertwining and overlapping them. (The way the Madelyne arc skates along the edges here, subtly influencing the direction of the Genoshan arc without truly affecting the main story beats, is genius.)
Top to bottom, Uncanny X-Men #s 235-238 are a major high watermark for Claremont’s run – a towering peak of intelligence, intensity, storytelling economy and reflexivity, density of information, social allegory, and dramatic expression. Few X-Men stories can top it, and certainly none published post-1991.