[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's initial X-Men run. He requires no riches for this gift to the world. Such things are beneath him. He does it for the glory that is Greece and the grandeur that is Marvel Comics.]
“All New, All Different – Here We Go Again”
As of the previous issue, Claremont has dissolved the idea of the X-Men as a team. Yet this issue’s cover and title play games with reader expectations, teasing at the idea of a new iteration of X-Men. Obviously the main point of reference here is Giant Sized X-Men #1, but the use of the original Kirby uniforms hearkens as well to the formation of the New Mutants, the first team spin-off X-book (and the only one for years). Claremont has jokingly riffed on the idea before, in X-Men Annual #10, whose Giant-Sized-X-Men homage cover (drawn by Art Adams) suggested that the New Mutants would become the new “new X-Men.” (Or perhaps the “new” “new X-Men” …?)
Issue 254’s cover is modeled on Cockrum’s cover to Giant-Sized #1 as well – albeit fairly loosely. Jim Lee – an avowed fan of the original Kirby uniforms – makes the most of his obscure subjects (some of whom are genuinely unrecognizable until one reads the actual comic). That dynamic opening image alone almost sells us on this new team. Why not? The Australian team was a departure that worked; this one could too. The blurb completes the effect: “A New Legend Is Born!”
Without that cover, the contents of this issue would seem profoundly unfocused. The attention given to minor characters like Amanda Sefton and Alysande Stuart; the appearance of new blue-and-yellow suits from nowhere; the inclusion of Alan Davis’ “Warpies” from his Captain Britain series … but the cover provides the lens through which we are meant to view these proceedings: This is a gathering-of-forces issue – the new team comes together to face a villainous threat that the characters would not have been able to handle individually.
And yet, perversely, it is all a feint. It will become clearer in a couple months’ time, but in fact, right from the very start, Claremont is sabotaging this supposed “Legend.” Lorna Dane’s never-to-be-explained new powers are making half the cast behave wrongly; Legion – identified on the cover as a member of the “new” team – is betraying his teammates for the fun of it; Sunder – also part of the cover image – is killed; and before the issue even ends, government superheroes have been called in to bail the X-Men out.
There is more meta-commentary at work here as well, with Claremont again using the Reavers (unintentionally, perhaps) as a stand-in for the increasingly intrusive X-Men editor, Bob Harras. There are visual signifiers of past greatness: The costumes allude to Lee/Kirby; the opening splash page riffs on Byrne/Austin’s opening splash of Uncanny #125. Yet it is all being turned into something cheap and tawdry -- the lines of the blue-and-yellow costumes are more sexual, an effect increased by Amanda’s miscast spell; the splash page sees Moira dressed like a hooker, rather than in her traditional jumpsuit. And then when the Reavers arrive, they steamroll over everyone, dismantling the group before it can even truly cohere. (The following issue will depict a Reaver weapon that seems to magically liquefy the ground – literally turning the foundation of this team into quicksand.) There is a parallel here with Harras, who pulled the rug out from Claremont during this era, partly out of a nostalgic desire to see the X-Men comic book returned to the “classic” model.
(Morrison did something similar, with his “Planet X” arc. The penultimate storyline of Morrison’s run, it was used quite deliberately as a commentary on the depressingly cyclical nature of mainstream superhero comics, the X-Men in particular. No matter how wild things get, everything has to come around to how it started. Both Claremont and Morrison used the content of the series to comment on the creative wheel-spinning that they could not prevent. Uncanny #254, with its blatantly self-contradictory title, is the most explicit Claremont example, and yet another predictor of what Morrison would do.)
“All New, All Different – Here We Go Again” is also a very prescient harbinger of the 90s, particularly Image Comics, co-founded by Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri (among others). As the name suggested, Image was predicated on the notion that cool pictures – such as the cover to Uncanny #254 -- would be enough to create and sustain reader interest in new characters. So it’s utterly appropriate, in this context, that Silvestri drew this issue’s contents, and Lee its cover. The failure of the Muir Island-based X-Men to last beyond two issues is a rather brilliant predictor of Image’s early publishing history – littered with false starts and failures. (Among those false starts: Chris Claremont’s Huntsman, who appeared in four issues of Lee’s “WildCATs” and three of Silvestri’s “Cyberforce” before quietly dying.)