[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's initial 17 X-Men run. I was going to steal a joke from Newsradio, one of Jason's and my favorite shows, and make fun of Jason for being from Wisconsin ("Must have been quite a hubub when that cow got loose" or "he is from Wisconsin: he thinks artificial light is fascinating"). But I just can't do it. Jason Powell is the nicest guy on the internet.]
“Crash & Burn”
By 1989, it was idiomatic that when Chris Claremont disassembled the X-Men’s status quo, he did so with much fanfare. Consider issue 209, with its amazing multi-vectored fight among the title characters, the Hellfire Club, the Morlocks and Nimrod. Or issue 251, the dazzling finale to the Outback era. The present issue is no exception, as the Muir Island team makes their last stand amidst a fantastically choreographed free-for-all amongst the Reavers and Freedom Force. The joke being that the Muir Island X-Men only just formed one month previously. “Crash and Burn” indeed …
Still, not one to waste an opportunity, Claremont takes advantage of this incoherent status quo, crafting a scenario in which characters are in genuine danger. Since the Muir Island team are newly minted and not at all cohered, there is no commercial property at stake – the readers are implicitly aware of this, and so is Claremont. The situation allows for the incorporation of unusually high levels of violence. Four characters are killed during the course of this story – three of them “good guys.” Sunder and Stonewall are relatively minor, but Destiny dates back to the Byrne days. Given Claremont’s affection for even his most obscure creations, his willingness to kill four of them is downright shocking, and his decision adds a sense of crazed intensity to the proceedings. The Muir Island Team’s farcical false start is suddenly weighted with tragedy – or tragicomedy at the very least.
Presumably the bi-weekly summer schedule got the better of Marc Silvestri and Dan Green at this point: Issue 255 is far and away the most rushed-looking Silvestri/Green issue of the run. Figures are oddly distorted; facial features are perfunctorily simplified; backgrounds virtually non-existent. If the artists weren’t tearing through this issue at a breakneck pace to meet the deadline, then god knows what else could account for it. At times, these dashed-out visuals are a hindrance to the storytelling (the last couple pages, devoted to the Shadow King/Young Storm subplot, are absurdly bad). At other times, the increased cartoonishness is precisely what’s called for (note the sheer comedic perfection of the Blob’s descent from on high – Silvestri always drew a fantastic Blob). Most of the time, the general sense of manic energy is a fitting tonal counterpoint to Claremont’s kitchen-sink script, despite several small storytelling hiccups.
I quite like that Claremont still cannot resist throwing in character bits for minor characters. He has a lovely panel in issue 255 wherein Pyro and Stonewall debate the merits of James Joyce. Pyro argues that the author’s work is “gibberish,” while Stonewall – clearly espousing Claremont’s point of view – suggests that it represents the “ultimate precision of language.” (You see, Geoff, Claremont didn’t just have Banshee reading Joyce because of the Irish connection!) This is rather charming in its own right, but the bit also exists to gird the moment of Stonewall’s death, and Pyro’s reaction, with a bit of emotional resonance.
A few pages later, we learn that Pyro recently published a novel of his own – a surprising, yet characteristic, Claremontian detail. (Anyone who, unlike me, has read beyond Uncanny 280 … do you know, did we ever find out more about that? What was the book called? What was it about?)
Note that this is Claremont’s final use of Freedom Force (except Mystique), and as such it is appropriately climactic: The death of two members, and a bit of respectability for a third. The Muir Island X-Men are ingloriously put to pasture as well (apart from X-Men Annual #13, the only X-Men annual from the 1980s not written by Claremont). Only Banshee and Forge will go on to become part of the series’ now-rotating regular cast; everyone else is thrown on the slow backburner, eventually to be repurposed as the villains in Claremont’s final full issue of Uncanny.
[Editor's note: I am the only person who thinks Jason is the only person qualified to bring Pyro's novel to life?]