[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run. Jason Powell will soon be visiting New York City -- not for anything X-Men related, but because his musical as been accepted to the Fringe Festival here, the same Fringe festival that featured our own Mitch Montgomery's Triumph of the Underdog. So the moral of the story is if you want to put on a piece of critically acclaimed New York Theatre, writing blogs for me is the first step.]
And we cut back to the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee faction, seven issues after their previous appearance in the series. (This was, again, presumably to hollow out a chronological gap into which the latest batch of Madripoor-based Wolverine solo adventures could be dropped.) At a surprisingly late stage in the game, Claremont suddenly shows us, via flashback, a large and heretofore unknown section of Logan’s storied past. In what amounts to a massive ret-con, we learn that not only has Wolverine been an adversary of the Hand for 50 years (even though he didn’t know who they were when he met them in the 1982 “Wolverine” miniseries), but also – during one eventful adventure in 1941 – he met Captain America, the Black Widow and Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker.
Baron Strucker had already been linked to the X-Men in the brilliant Uncanny X-Men 161, which revealed that Xavier and Magneto once teamed up against him. Three years later, Claremont created Fenris, a pair of blonde, beautiful mutant twins descended from the Baron. The World War II flashback in Uncanny 268 doesn’t have any connection with the previously established Magneto/Xavier history, though it does allow Claremont to re-establish Andrea and Andreas Strucker as major X-villains in the present day. (Claremont will quit before doing anything significant with them.)
As part of Claremont’s ongoing Frank Miller riff, he has already created a Carrie Kelly stand-in and an Elektra stand-in. Avoiding foolish consistency, Claremont doesn’t bother with an avatar for Miller’s version of the Black Widow – he just brings in the real one, establishing her as yet another in Logan’s apparently long line of young female protégés. (Again, he uses Jubilee to voice likely reader reaction before we can do so ourselves -- thus her rhetorical question, “Is it like my imagination … or is every old buddy Wolvie’s got in the whole world … some incredibly fabulously gorgeous BABE?!!”) Claremont may also have been influenced by a recent issue of “What If” by future Image founders Jim Valentino and Rob Liefeld, depicting Wolverine and Black Widow working together as SHIELD agents.
(As a side-note, it is odd that Nick Fury makes no appearance here, in any capacity, despite his presence as a phantom in issues 252, 257, 258 and 261. It’s strange that he and the Carol Danvers ghost simply disappeared – was this another thread quashed by Bob Harras in order to keep Wolverine both sane and healthy for all his many solo and guest appearances?)
Captain America’s inclusion in “Madripoor Knights” seems less intuitive than that of the other guest stars. This may have been Claremont simply getting a head start on 1991, when Marvel would celebrate the character’s 50th anniversary. Or perhaps Claremont simply had the urge to play with an iconic hero to make the story that much more like 1989’s “The Last Crusade,” a movie he’s clearly channeling here. (Wolverine even paraphrases good old “Indy” on Page 15.)
Indeed, the flashback portions of Uncanny 268 make for a rollicking good time, containing the same sense of grand, high-flying cinematic adventure associated with the Indiana Jones series. It’s fast-paced and very fun, condensing a feature film’s worth of witty dialogue, plots twists and action sequences into less than 20 pages. The issue also contains one of Claremont’s all-time funniest character bits, when Captain America suggests that he and Wolverine become permanent partners, and Logan replies, “[I] don’t need a sidekick.”
The material set in the present is less convincing, and – as part of the ongoing X-Men soap opera – far less complete, but its integration with the 1941 scenes is nonetheless superbly paced and makes for a fine counterpoint.
In contrast to the chaos of recent months -- and after a warm-up in the previous issue – “Madripoor Knights” sees a rejuvenated creative team back on top form. Orzechowski and Oliver are both present and at peak performance, while the now-regular art team of Jim Lee and Scott Williams deliver a tour de force. Claremont says in “Comics Creators on X-Men” that when he first saw the artwork for Uncanny 268, he “thought [he’d] died and gone to heaven.” High praise, entirely warranted. A magnificent issue.