[Jason continues to look at every issue of Claremont's initial X-Men run. Doesn't everyone think that when Jason is done he should WRITE the X-Men?]
The question of what exactly went on with Ororo after her seeming death in Uncanny 248 had been on a slow burn for a year by the time Claremont got around to this, the first chapter in a three-parter that serves both to answer all the questions and give the character her memory back. Like the recent Mandarin trilogy, Uncanny #’s 265-267 are neatly self-contained (apart from the four-page prologue in this issue, which seeds a separate plot entirely).
Once again, the hand of Bob Harras is detectable. The new “X-Men Forever” series, which gives hints as to Claremont’s actual intentions back in the early 90s, stars a Storm who is still adolescent and amnesiac, suggesting that the author had plans to stretch out Ororo’s situation much longer. Presumably at this point, Harras had a strict timeline for Claremont getting the team reunited – or nearly so – for them to participate properly in the two (!!) upcoming summer crossovers (“Days of Future Present” and “X-Tinction Agenda”).
The upside of Harras’ hardening control is that it forced Claremont to structure his stories more formally -- something he’s always been capable of, despite his natural inclinations not to do so. Thus, the Storm arc begun here has a strong sense of care and control – the plot is focused and direct, the pacing quite solid, the dramatic beats clean and logical. Not even the shifts in artistic style from one chapter to the next (each issue being drawn by a different artist) manage to disrupt Claremont’s confident flow.
The story is built on the tension of a dual-vectored chase, with Storm on the run from both Nanny and Amahl Farouk (The latter character received a new super-villain alias in the previous issue, with relatively little fanfare: “The Shadow King.”) Duality is a motif throughout this three-parter, with characters often explored in terms of their contrast against another: Young Storm vs. Adult Storm; The Shadow King vs. Nanny; the Orphan Maker vs. Ororo; Val Cooper vs. Dr. Shen. Even the opening prologue – with its cosmic doings that exist entirely apart from the rest of the issue – dovetails tonally, its narration focused on the various similarities between humanity and the alien “P!nder” race. With next issue’s introduction of Gambit, more contrasts and parallels are opened up.
Artistic chores are handled here by Bill Jaaska, whose gently cartoonish style turns out to be a lovely complement to Ororo’s innocent exuberance. The artist’s use of body language is quite impressive, particularly in his humorous portrayals of Nanny and the Oprhan-Maker. An air of insouciant silliness hangs over those characters, making for a refreshing contrast against the melodramatic terror associated with the Shadow King.
Meanwhile, Claremont’s introduction of the King’s “hounds” is a bit mischievous, teasing the notion that the villain is a significant presence in the “Days of Future Past” timeline, possibly responsible for the “Hound” program that assimilated Rachel Summers.
After a shaky few months, Uncanny 265 gives an overall sense of Claremont seeming more comfortable in a position of less creative control, and willing (for the time being, at least) to roll with the editorial punches. As such, this issue is a perfect beginning to the writer’s final year on The Uncanny X-Men – a year characterized by much more straightforward storytelling, which nonetheless stays true to Claremont’s unique and inimitable authorial voice.