[Jason Powell keeps on truckin with every issue of Claremont's X-Men. People in the comments have been disagreeing with him, which is cool, as long as you remember two things: 1. that you are wrong and 2. that Jason is right.]
“The Shattered Star”
Compared to other multiple-of-fifty anniversary issues that comic-book creators love to make a big deal out of – Claremont being no exception – Uncanny X-Men #250 arrives with little fanfare. A caption reminds us that it is the 250th issue, but apart from that it feels much less like a turning point than issues 150 and 200. Though there is one subtle acknowledgement of history: The story sees Lorna Dane placed into a giant plot device that magically strips her of her magnetic powers, a moment dramatized on the cover. This makes it a bookend with the 50th issue of Uncanny X-Men, which saw Lorna placed into a similar device to activate those powers in the first place (a moment also chosen for dramatization on that issue’s cover).
Apart from that, however, “The Shattered Star” is no landmark. Indeed, it seems rather hastily thrown together. Both regular inker Dan Green and steadfast letterer Tom Orzechowski sit the issue out. The former is replaced by guest Steve Leiloha, who never fails to overpower the pencillers he embellishes, even in the best of times. Here he seems to have been called in last-minute, throwing some carelessly harsh lines over everything with little sense of balance or composition. Joe Rosen (who passed away on Oct. 12 of this year) was a fantastic and consistent letterer for decades, but the high incidence of typos and errors in this issue suggest he did the entire thing fairly quickly – it’s not his most solid work. Also, note the disconnect in the presentation of the title between this issue and the last. First, the Savage Land arc was supposed to be a two-part “prelude” to a presumably much longer sequence with the banner title “The Shattered Star.” Here, however, we are told that “The Shattered Star” is only the name of this particular story. It’s another example of sloppiness that mars issue 250. What the heck was going on behind the scenes?
Claremont’s story, meanwhile, is very much in the classic mode: Villains get the better of the heroes in Act One, but they rally in Act Two. That structure was a staple of the Claremont/Byrne run, and it almost works here. What muddles the proceedings are, first of all, the timing – the tide turns so abruptly here, one almost misses it. Also, the entire story hinges on Lorna Dane’s spontaneously acquiring new powers. Granted, this was not meant as a deus ex machina, but rather the start of an ongoing mystery. But it is so very odd, and suffers in retrospect for the fact that Claremont never did get around to explaining it. (This is a common symptom of Claremont’s final era on the series, his abrupt departure having cut several threads short.)
Finally, Claremont’s “kitchen sink” storytelling makes “The Shattered Star” feel overcrowded. The sudden appearance of Ka-Zar, Shanna, Nereel and Peter is perhaps another token attempt to give this “anniversary” issue a sense of occasion, but Silvestri and Leialoha seem to struggle under the sheer weight of major characters. As for the ending, it is too open-ended to be completely satisfying (although here, at least, there is comfort in knowing that the Zaladane arc does get a powerful conclusion – in Uncanny #275, the next “anniversary” issue, and Claremont’s last).
Individual moments work well. A prime example: The plot mechanics leading to Colossus nearly killing Peter -- the child that he doesn’t realize is his own son – are cannily worked out, making for an especially satisfying slice of Claremontian melodrama.
Claremont’s use of Gateway is growing increasingly obscure by this point as well. The character seemed so promising at the start, and was a hearteningly unique addition to the X-canon. As recently as the previous issue, Claremont even provocatively hinted at his plans to make Gateway the new mentor figure. Yet, as Michael pointed out in the comments section for earlier entries, all of Gateway’s dream appearances (Uncanny 234, 248 and now 250) have a sinister undercurrent to them. This is not a bad thing necessarily, presuming a suitable explanation was on the agenda. However, again, an adequate resolution to this thread never materialized. Meanwhile, Gateway’s presence here does little to redeem the dreadful premonitory hallucination that Claremont writes for Psylocke. The sequence intends to bring a sense of impending dread, yet it is abstracted to the point of dilution.
As one link in Claremont’s long narrative chain, Uncanny X-Men #250 is not without entertainment value. Yet it suffers in its attempt to be both a conclusion and a prologue, not really getting either job done satisfactorily. Nowhere is this sense of compromise more depressingly keen than on the final page, which ends with one of the most banal cliffhangers in the X-Men canon.