[For you all this may be just another blog post. But you guys were getting ones in the que for a while -- this one was written in the final moments of 2009, and represents the beginning of Jason's final push toward the end, as he looks at every issue of Claremont's initial X-Men run. I make a brief comment below, but it is not that smart.]
The story cycle from issues 246 to 252 saw Claremont steadily narrowing down his cast of characters, to the point where Wolverine was the only one left. Logan is even referred to as “the last of the Uncanny X-Men” in the opening splash pages of issues 251 and 252, just to drive the sense of finality home. What could possibly come next?
The answer, in issue 253, is surprising yet obvious: He suddenly swings the doors open wide on the massive X-mythology that he spent the last 15 years building. Banshee, Moira MacTaggert, Amanda Sefton, Polaris, Magneto and Forge all return, reminding us with a jolt that the eight X-Men who went to Australia were far from the only characters Claremont has available to him. Muir Island – a staple of the series since the 70s but not seen in Uncanny for almost two years – is suddenly a setting again. Claremont even imports characters and concepts from his concurrent Excalibur series (which were already imports from the Alan Moore/Alan Davis/Jamie Delano Captain Britain comics published in the UK). The scope of the series sweeps outward from one corner of the globe to all of them, an explosion of color and atmosphere that contrasts brightly against the bleak, existential desolation that had settled on the series over the previous three months.
The artwork, too, seems to soften to accommodate Claremont’s departure from the gritty Outback sands. Steve Leialoha returns as a guest inker, seeming much more comfortable than he had in issue 250. His work is still a departure from Green’s, but it feels lighter and more carefully applied.
Story-wise, “Storm Warnings” serves as a prologue to Claremont’s final phase on the X-Men. It is here that he re-conceives the entire comic-book as – in Paul O’Brien’s words – “a globetrotting adventure series which didn't even have an official X-Men team to star in it.” Over the next year or so, the series will become more soap-opera-like in its construction than it ever had before. Just as in a soap, the comic-book will cut back and forth among different groups of characters, each following their own personal threads.
In order to give some sense of coherence and direction to this multi-vectored approach, Claremont settles on a single villain who will sit at the heart of this web of different storylines like a giant spider – Amahl Farouk, from the John Byrne days. A relatively minor addition to the mythos at the time, Farouk suddenly becomes a major player, set up to be the antagonist who will eventually bring all of Claremont’s narrative strands together. (It won’t work out this way in practice, but this was purportedly Claremont’s original intent.) This is why Amahl shows up in Forge’s vision in “Storm Warnings,” putting an important piece in play right at the start.
There is some logic to the use of Farouk as the character who will eventually reunite the team. He was established in his first appearance as the dark reflection of Charles Xavier: a mutant telepath devoted entirely to evil. So, in much the same way Krakoa was responsible for the “all-new” team being formed (by planting the suggestion in Charles’ head), or the Brood Queen was responsible for the creation of the New Mutants (while possessing Charles), once again a villain with close ties to Professor X will be the force that assembles a new cast.
(Claremont does seem to be assuming that anyone reading the comic at this time has pretty much been following all of his mutant titles for years. For anyone only reading Uncanny, Farouk would have seemed like an odd choice. He’d only appeared in one issue of X-Men, over ten years earlier. It was in Claremont’s New Mutants that Amahl played a more substantial role, as the villain in a six-issue arc in 1985.)
Claremont also takes advantage of his expanded narrative playground to indulge in a bit of housecleaning: The scene in which Magneto decides he will “act the part” of a villain in order to be a scapegoat for mutants and thereby take the heat off of the rest of his people, is Claremont attempting to smooth over Magnus’s mischaracterizations in both New Mutants 75 and the upcoming “Acts of Vengeance” crossover. It is a compromise on Claremont’s part, the most awkward scene of the issue (although Magneto’s voice is as strong and assured as ever). Bit it serves as a prelude as well – specifically, to the increased editorial interference that will cause this entire arc to be similarly compromised well before the end. None of what Claremont is setting up in Uncanny #253 will turn out precisely as intended. For better and/or worse, Claremont’s authorial autonomy on X-Men is dying. The Magneto scene in “Storm Warnings” is – appropriately enough – the first warning sign. The domino chain starts here, and will end in almost exactly two years, when Claremont’s final issue of Uncanny run hits the stands.
[One of the reasons Jason started this project was to show me that there was nothing "new" in Morrison's X-Men: Morrison was taking it all from the Claremont days. Farouk as the final villain that never got to play out seemed like something Morrison was trying to revise and undo in his Sublime-Apocalypse-Casandra Nova thing -- Casandra Nova was Xavier's dark side, and Sublime was a relitavly minor villain who turned out to be a much bigger deal in the end.]