[Jason Powell. Chris Claremont. The epic issue by issue X-Men conversation continues. At the end, only two men will be left standing. Claremont will be one. Jason Powell will be the other. And I guess we will all be standing around and occasionally saying stuff as well. There is a lot to talk about.]
Neil Shyminsky has commented about the cleverness of Claremont’s swerve with Wolverine at this point in the series – essentially taking a character who had evolved into a kind of uber-idealistic notion of extreme masculinity and undercutting him severely, through both plot and dialogue. The process was begun with the previous issue, but “Fever Dream” served more as a final, climactic gasp of the masculine Wolverine. (It’s hard to assign any sort of weakness to Logan’s insane display of machismo as he frees himself from crucifixion through sheer grit, especially as depicted with such idealistic fervor by Marc Silvestri.) It’s not until this issue that we see the character’s hyper-masculinity being undermined. The title is the first clue, and it serves as a bookend with the story’s final bit of dialogue, spoken by Jubilee: “… You gotta do something about this macho attitude. I mean, it is like SO lame…!” Helping to reinforce the point visually is guest penciller Rick Leonardi – a delightfully expressive artist whose cartoonish style is the antithesis of Silvestr’s ultra-sexy-cool – and guest inker Kent Williams, who drew Logan as a pot-bellied slob with un-erect hair in the “Havok/Wolverine” miniseries. (A visual that Claremont seems to have enjoyed enough to jokingly reference not once but twice – see Uncanny X-Men #246 and Excalibur #14.) Even artistically, Logan is being sabotaged. The cover, conversely, features an ultra-slick image by Jim Lee – of the villains.
This was all quite wryly subversive on the part of Claremont, who clearly recognized that Logan, as developed since the 70s, had hit a disheartening creative dead-end – even as the character was peaking commercially, which probably only depressed Claremont more. As the author of what he considered Wolverine’s “parent book,” he no doubt believed that his sabotage of the character’s adolescent wish-fulfillment aspects might curb the level of exploitation that Logan was enduring at this point. If Uncanny portrayed him as weakened and weathered, the other comics would have to follow suit, right?
Unfortunately, to what was surely Claremont’s surprised chagrin, Uncanny X-Men would turn out to be anomalous. The “Wolverine” solo series and other miscellaneous spin-offs, tie-ins and guest appearances just portrayed a healthy, hardy, tough-as-nails Logan regardless. Presumably the logic was that if they ignored Claremont’s characterization long enough, it would go away. And sure enough, in two years’ time, it did – and so did he.
Apart from Claremont’s anti-corporate agenda, “Where’s Wolverine?” also serves as an epilogue to the Outback era, which was brought to a dramatic and ingenious close in Uncanny #251. Just like that previous installment, this one is billed as an adventure of “the last of the Uncanny X-Men.” The whole point is to get Wolverine and Jubilee out of the Outback, thus drawing a final line under Claremont’s most ambitious departure from the X-Men’s traditional status quo. To that end, Claremont crafts essentially a 22-page action film, with deliberate parallels to Uncanny #205 -- from which it copies both its villains and its cat-and-mouse scenario (Jubilee being the stand-in for Katie Power).
The story rollicks along amiably, thanks to Claremont getting into the Reavers’ heads and exploiting the inherent drama and comedy in their odd, multi-origin pedigree. He also makes fun of the whole, fanfiction-esque concept via Jubilee, with her line “Reavers an’ the mall, they gotta lot in common. Both products of the Chinese take-out school of design: Y’know, a bit from column ‘A’ … something else from column ‘B’ … Who cares if the elements don’t match.” Thus, as in any Hollywood blockbuster, events and dialogue unfold by-the-numbers, managing a blend of tense action and witty banter that is almost too slick.
Meanwhile, Kent Williams provides some of the most radical visuals on a Claremont X-comic since Bill Sienkiewicz (who inks this issue’s Jim Lee cover). Williams exaggerates to nigh-grotesqueness both the grittiness of the action-film trappings (see the ink splotches on the cybernetic dingos, Page 22, panel 4) and the cartoonishness of Leonardi’s style (Page 13, panel 5, the Nick Fury and Carol Danvers phantoms). It’s tonally chaotic, adding a sense of wild unpredictability to what would otherwise be a formulaic and perfunctory issue.