[Jason Powell. Chris Claremont. X-Men. Every Issue. Seriously. It's like a blog inside the blog.]
“The Dane Curse”
The Savage Land, another classic X-riff, is reprised here. Neal Adams’ Savage Land mutates are brought in as the villains, a development seeded in X-Men Annual #12. There’s something very poetic about the way the classic settings and characters start returning during this phase of Claremont’s run. There is the feeling that everything is coming full circle before Claremont’s story ends. And thanks to Harras’ tight editorial rein (a double-edged sword in many respects), the integration of subplots seems more focused than in earlier eras. It’s nice that the Zaladane subplot from the “Evolutionary War” annual is not being left to languish on the vine for years, as it might have back during the Simonson or Nocenti editorial tenures.
Uncanny X-Men #249 is an issue in two parts. The earlier half sits in a murky psychological darkness, with Alex lamenting recent deaths and the overall unraveling of the team. Both his soliloquy and the accompanying images by Marc Silvestri turn a bit meta. We see Havok slashing red “X”’s through portraits of his lost teammates, which were originally painted – we are told – onto a giant conference table by Madelyne Pryor back before “Inferno” began. This is all rather out of the blue; we were never shown the X-Men using this table, and such a garish chunk of furniture feels like something out of DC’s Silver Age. And crossing the heads off with “X”’s as the corresponding characters leave the series feels like something a fan would do, not an actual character within the story. It is all rather surreal, almost as if this were a dream sequence. It is only compounded by the illogical and/or outlandish plot turns. Some of them are deliberate on Claremont’s part: The computer’s seeming to be alive and able to heal itself is deliberately pointed up as a mystery to be solved. Others seem the result of sloppiness: How did Lorna have the phone number to the X-Men’s secret base in Australia? But the compound effect of so many bizarre twists coming one after the other is kaleidoscopic, and contributes to the issue’s overall tone of psychological turmoil and existential despair.
A particularly poignant indicator of the miasma that now hangs over Claremont’s cast is the brief sequence in which Colossus tosses away his canvas, and the subsequent segue into Deathstrike’s examination of Peter’s recent art, commenting that the imagery bespeaks a tormented soul. The scene is marvelously Claremontian: The villain happens upon artwork painted by the hero, and actually is moved to empathy by it. It’s hard to imagine such a scene written by another mainstream superhero writer. (It’s also another example of Claremont favoring his women. It is no accident that the only Reaver inclined toward sympathy and mercy is the one female member of the team.)
But the true core of the issue’s sense of dread and hopelessness is Alex Summers. Claremont’s take on this character since importing him into the cast in 1987 has been consistently engaging. I quite enjoy that Havok becomes in many ways a converse of his brother. Scott is a rat-bastard who abandons his loved ones at the drop of a hat, yet he gets away with it. Alex, on the other hand, devotes himself entirely to the women in his life, and ends up being stomped on the heart each time. The contrast is very nicely developed over the course of Havok’s two years as a cast-member, and it reaches a natural thematic climax over the course of the next couple issues.
When the action moves from the dusty and desolate Outback to the more colorful locale of Punta Arenas, the narrative tone also shifts. Claremont at the peak of his powers is usually inclined to integrate action and character bits, but “The Dane Curse” is rigidly segmented. The effect is striking and exhilarating. When the Savage Land Mutates – genuinely Silver Age in powers, look, and personality – show up, the story becomes stunningly kinetic, and frenetic. Silvestri and Green rise to the occasion, crafting action sequences that are almost slapstick in their violence. Witness Amphibius’ bouncing Psylocke around like they’re in a Warner Bros. cartoon (“WHAM THAM”), or the hilarious panel in which Barbarus beats on Colossus with his multiple arms (“BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM” …) . Existential angst is swept away by sheer physical insanity. It’s schizophrenic, yet it all rings true thanks to the synergy that the Claremont/Silvestri/Green team had evolved by this point.
If “The Dane Curse” contains a misstep, it is Zaladane’s attempt to justify her acts of generic comic-book villainy with a reference to an oil spill in “Antarctic waters.” The Exxon Valdez disaster had only just occurred when Claremont was scripting this issue, and he must have thought it a nice bit of serendipity that he was able to tie in current events with his story arc. The problem is, it makes little sense in the context of Zala’s overall scheme, and reads as just a token attempt to add real-world relevance to a story that has none – as will be confirmed next issue, which contains no follow up to the “oil spill” allusion made here.