[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's X-Men run. In a note attached to this one he worried people are going to think he is phoning it in because it is so short, but I am here to tell everyone -- he just got the last Claremont post into me, and he is not phoning it in. He is reserving strength for the final push, which is now done, even though, like the light from a distant star, it will not reach you for weeks.
I also want to do a comment pull quote here. In the comments to last week's post Jason quoted a Doug M, who described Forge as "mutant cyborg millionaire genius inventor Native American sorceror Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress issues." Powell retorted, "And if Grant Morrison had created him, the above sentence would be used by bloggers everywhere as proof of how AWESOME he is." Well played, Powell, well played.]
“The Lower Depths”
Fill-in art this month comes from Bill Jaaska, an artist whose figure-work is wildly distorted but still consistent and expressive, and whose skills as a storyteller are considerable. Very similar in several ways to Rick Leonardi, Jaaska was never going to get a regular assignment on X-Men, whose fans were used to a sense of weight and realism. Still, compared to Michael Collins, with whom he plays fill-in artist leapfrog over the course of the next few issues, Jaaska is quite dynamic indeed.
Jaaska’s energy helps to lift the latter half of the Morlock two-parter into something rather above the expectations set up by Part One. His interpretation of the tentacled Jean Grey is particularly strong, making a goofy story point into something genuinely disconcerting. The story acquires some additional narrative crackle from Claremont’s delightful use of Colossus – who uses his mutant power here without ever realizing it. This and other deftly applied details (like the Morlock “Bliss,” amusingly derived from John Joseph Miller’s “Ti Malice” character in the Wild Cards novels) make “The Lower Depths” a surprisingly fun adventure story – and signals that Claremont’s wheel-spinning is, again, only temporary. (See the similar floundering following immediately after John Byrne’s departure ten years earlier.)
Meanwhile, Uncanny 263 is given some genuine psychological heft through Forge’s first-person narration. The action in the Morlock tunnels is counterpointed with his flashbacks to Vietnam, effectively making this the “origin issue” for Forge. The parallel narrative tracks are laid simply but effectively, winding into a strong sense of redemption in the story’s final pages. A feeling of triumph suffuses the ending, similar to what Claremont accomplished with Dazzler in Uncanny 260. With Claremont’s run so close now to wrapping up, it is stories such as these -- with their effervescent moments of hard-won, well-deserved victory – that ring the most true.