[Jason Powell is like Hercules, if Hercules wrote blogs about Claremont's X-Men. And was also really nice and smart. He continues his issue by issue look at the greatest X-Men run ever. What will this blog do when he goes? It keeps me up at night.]
“The Cradle Will Fall”
There is a great bit in the documentary that Patrick Meaney is doing on Chris Claremont, wherein the author and Ann Nocenti are recounting a bit of their history on The Uncanny X-Men. When Nocenti mentions that she left her assistant Bob Harras in charge when she went freelance in 1988, Claremont gives her a loaded look and wryly says, “Thanks.”
Continuing the analogy of the Seige Perilous being a safe haven for Claremont’s children against Harras’ ever-expanding reign of editorial terror -- with Rogue going through first because she’s the one Claremont created himself -- what does one make of the unceremonious departure of Longshot in Uncanny X-Men #248? Longshot, of course, is Nocenti’s child, deliberately imported into “Uncanny” during her tenure so that nobody else could touch the character. When Longshot is torn to shreds in this issue’s dream sequence, then dropped from the series permanently in Storm’s blink-and-you-missed-it hallucination, is it a kind of tit-for-tat for the way Nocenti abandoned Claremont to Harras’ tender mercies?
(Footnote 1: Actually, since writing this paragraph, I have since been told that no, it is simply that Nocenti planned on doing a second Longshot miniseries and needed the character freed up for it. Said mini never materialized, however – possibly still Harras’ fault, as he was the head of the X-Office at the time. So my alternate read still kind of appeals to me.)
(Footnote 2: Thanks Patrick for giving me a sneak peak at your footage, by the way. Everyone be sure to buy a DVD of his documentary when it comes out, and also go watch his new webseries “The Third Age.”)
So, as of now, Longshot is abruptly gone. With Rogue and Wolverine written out in the previous two months (as Havok points out in some helpful exposition), the team is down from eight members to five. Some ads and marketing materials created by Marvel promoted these issues of Uncanny at the time as a single storyline entitled “Dissolution and Rebirth.” The first word is apt; the team disintegrates with startling speed, and we even know from the cover – with its clunkily hyperbolized word-balloon -- that a fourth character is being ejected as well. Of course, given the nature of death in superhero comics, fans weren’t inclined to believe the cover/cliffhanger was legit, but the next issue makes it clear that – whether “permanently dead” or not – Storm has indeed been written out of the team along with Rogue and Longshot.
As Scott McDarmont pointed out in the comments recently, this is Claremont’s ambitious attempt not only to disassemble the current X-Men roster, but to abandon the entire concept of the X-Men as a “team” at all. Uncanny X-Men under Claremont has often been described with the buzzphrase “soap opera,” but never would that be truer than over the course of this massive overplot, which would essentially cut between different characters from the x-mythology as they engaged in ongoing adventures that were more or less entirely separate from one another. Very much like contemporary soaps.
It was a potentially un-commercial idea, but – as with everything Claremont did back then – fans continued to be enthralled. The tangled complexity of the series once again proved to be its biggest draw.
Whether Claremont could have sustained this chaotic status quo all the way to Uncanny X-Men #300, which some accounts claim was his plan, is another question. Editor Bob Harras was far more concerned with the commercial viability of the property, and under his hand -- along with penciller Jim Lee, who became Claremont’s “co-plotter” right at the end -- the “team” would be reinstated inside of two years, rather than four. Given the artist’s involvement in cutting the whole concept short, it’s somewhat ironic that Lee’s first issue of X-Men is this one, which began the arc in the first place.
Why did Harras approve this elaborate disassembly of the status quo in the first place? Possibly, as a fan of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men run, Harras was attracted to an attempted reprisal of that era’s sequence in which two X-factions each think the other has died. Indeed, Claremont – in his “X-Men Visionaries” volume – explicitly discusses that very concept, and calls it an idea that he “kept on trying, but never quite got right.” Uncanny #248 begins what would be his most intense attempt to “get it right.”
Or perhaps Harras was simply perfectly happy to see the destruction of the Australian iteration of the team: Claremont’s most outré mutation thus far of the original X-Men setup.
The Reavers get their full reveal in the opening pages of this story, in a classic double-page spread adorned by code-name captions. That device has become a bit of a Claremont cliché, but I’ve always loved it as something that is only truly effective in the comic-book medium.
The Reavers’ actual roster is also classically Claremontian, comprising old villains previously seen in separate stories. Lady Deathstrike became an X-Men villain in a Bill Mantlo Alpha Flight arc, and it was Claremont who mashed her together with the three Hellfire mercenaries in Uncanny 205. The mercs’ most recent appearance before that had been in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 – also the last appearance of Donald Pierce, who is added to the mix here. Finally, the three remaining “original Reavers” from Uncanny 229 round out the team (revealed later to be creations of Pierce that, intriguingly, pre-date the mercenaries). Arguably it is all a bit fanfiction-esque – particularly as it’s portrayed in this issue’s opening sequence -- but Jim Lee’s slick signature style serves perfectly to realize the potential “cool” aesthetic possibilities inherent in the idea of a whole team of cyborgs. (And at least Claremont has the self-awareness to make fun of the entire concept via Jubilee a few issues later.)
The main villains of Uncanny X-Men #248, Nanny and the Orphan-Maker, are rather unremarkable. A recent addition to the X-mythology courtesy of Louise Simonson in X-Factor, the villains boast both a dubious aesthetic appeal (an egg with legs and a man in generic comic-book armor) and an entirely weird M.O. (turn their enemies into babies and then adopt them). Simonson’s inspiration would seem to have been the “Nanny” robot from Claremont and Byrne’s Magneto two-parter (back in Uncanny 112 and 113), though it’s not clear to me whether it is meant to be the same character. Claremont’s use of Nanny is perfunctory and brief, simply a plot device to set up the adolescent-Storm premise -- a seemingly arbitrary development, as it turned out, albeit one that Claremont was so apparently fond of that he would reprise it 20 years later in “X-Men Forever.”