[Jason Powel, not unlike Beowulf were he doing an analysis of Claremont, forges ahead undaunted by this huge task of covering every issue of Claremont's X-Men run.]
“The Light That Failed”
The previous issue was one of Claremont’s typical “characterization”-heavy issues, with just a few pages of superheroics right at the tail end. Uncanny #247 is given over entirely to full-out action, superbly rendered by penciler Marc Silvestri and inker Dan Green. Indeed, “The Light That Failed” is extraordinary for containing some of the most exhilaratingly rendered superhero violence of the Silvestri/Green era.
The central conceit has an appealing symmetry to it: Mastermold, the very first Sentinel, merges with Nimrod – which previous stories established as the “ultimate” Sentinel. The alpha/omega concept works beautifully, especially given that this would be Claremont’s last Sentinel story before quitting in two years. His resolution to Nimrod’s arc is tidy and quite satisfying, and hearkens back to the classic “robot defeated by logic” trope that also ended Roy Thomas’ and Neal Adams’ Sentinel story 20 years earlier. (In fact, it was Claremont who – as an intern at the Marvel offices in 1969 – suggested the ending to Roy Thomas back then.) Nimrod defeats both himself and Mastermold with a syllogism: Sentinels destroy mutants. Yet Nimrod and Mastermold have evolved beyond machines, to become living organisms. Therefore they have mutated, and therefore they must destroy themselves. Even the delivery – with Nimrod’s dry logic counter-pointed against Silvestri’s visual bombast, recalls the Thomas/Adams “Sentinels fly into the sun” sequence. Both as a new story and as an homage, “The Light That Failed” succeeds admirably.
The issue also marks Claremont’s final use in the original run of longstanding villains Sebastian Shaw and Robert Kelly (both, like Nimrod, original Claremont creations). He ties up their arc with a shrewd bit of O. Henry-esque plotting, as Kelly approves Shaw’s “Nimrod” proposal mere moments after Nimrod is destroyed, thus crafting a time-loop. Nimrod’s murder of Senator Kelly’s wife is the very thing that ensures the robot’s future existence.
The delivery of that final irony is neat and perfectly timed. Closer inspection takes the teeth out of it, though. It requires us to accept that Kelly’s hatred for mutants is so one-sidedly blind that he failed to notice that the actual cause of Sharon’s death was the giant Sentinel – the very thing he believes will “end” the carnage. Granted, the actual involvement of Nimrod was masked, thanks to his having been subsumed within Mastermold. Still, the plot mechanics mottle the clean, thematic irony that Claremont was attempting.
Also, Shaw’s motivations are a bit murky when one considers that he is aware of the ramifications of the “Nimrod” program, having seen fellow members of the Hellfire Club die at Nimrod’s hand. Indeed, follow the tangled chain of continuity and one realizes that Nimrod led to the Magneto/Hellfire alliance, which – in New Mutants 75, published only a couple months before this present issue – led to Shaw being ousted from the Inner Circle entirely. Why would he engage in a course of action guaranteeing this sequence of events?
All that said, the story nonetheless contains moments of genuine emotional power. Sharon Kelly’s death is portrayed with a suitable amount of tragedy, and the X-Men’s reaction is nicely dramatized. Shaw’s manipulation of the outcome of the battle is perfectly in character.
It’s appropriate as well to see three of Claremont’s original villains take their final curtain calls in this manner. Consider this in context with Rogue being disposed of as well: The only current X-Men member created by Claremont himself. To see this happen just before the team is completely dismantled is not without its significance. The author is perhaps already seeing his creative control slipping away. Outside forces are gathering (The Reavers, as cryptically portrayed on the final page), and Claremont needs to shuffle his babies away before they can be slaughtered beneath editorial fiat. (Thus, the “Nanny” character, somehow magically aware of the Reaver threat and determined to save the X-Men from it.) Claremont will eventually toss almost all of his children through the Seige Perilous – a narrative escape pod, essentially – but Rogue, the one he created himself, she’s the most precious and she’s the one who gets out first. That it happens while she is clothed in a costume designed in the 70s by Dave Cockrum (Claremont’s first artistic partner on the X-Men, back when they could do anything they wanted, creatively) is thematic icing.
Sidebar: Thanks go to Neil Shyminsky for helping to inspire some of the above, particularly the Reavers-as-stand-in-for-Marvel Editorial. Whether intended or not, the idea of the X-Men scattering across the globe in order to escape the Reavers is quite attractively read as a metaphor for Claremont trying to keep his characters safe from TPTB. As such, it is awfully appropriate that when Claremont left in 1991, the Reavers stood as the only villains that the X-Men never got to beat in a rematch; the ones whom they consistently fled from rather than fought against.