[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's X-Men initial run. Do you SEE how close he is to the END. Crazy. This one is particularly well observed.]
“Too Many Mutants”
“Whose House Is This, Anyway?”
The stars of the three core mutant titles – Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor – all come together in one headquarters for this issue. Thanks to “X-Tinction Agenda,” two of Claremont’s long-running concepts – the “death of the X-Men” hoax from 1987 and the separated-team conceit begun in 1989 -- have come to a decisive end. Presumably neither of these threads has ended quite how Claremont intended, as the editorial dictates of Bob Harras and Tom DeFalco are overriding Claremont’s vision more and more. Meanwhile, the young artists of what would soon be known as the “Image generation” are exerting a greater influence on the future direction of the franchise than any artist since John Byrne. It is, in fact, this tension that informs the central conflict of Uncanny X-Men #273.
Albeit broken up by digressions featuring various other members of this issue’s giant cast, the longest and most key sequence here is the debate amongst the team leaders/elders, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Cable. It is the latter (not yet revealed to be the son of Scott and Jean) who creates the dramatic tension here, both his militant attitude in-story and his status as the representative of the new generation of X-creators. (While Jim Lee was starting to co-plot Uncanny X-Men, Cable creator Rob Liefeld was becoming the dominant creative force on New Mutants, beginning to overshadow longtime scripter Louise Simonson.)
“It is Cable – and the challenge he poses,” Storm tells Cyclops and Jean, “that we must deal with.” Claremont is once again taking his own concerns as a creative artist, and mingling them with those of his own characters. Lee and Liefeld (and new X-Factor artist Whilce Portacio) are a threat to the old guard (Claremont and Simonson)’s creative autonomy. And while Cable’s attitude as expressed in this issue is not entirely dissimilar to the X-Men’s own post-“Massacre” agenda from a few years ago (basically a first-strike philosophy) it is the changing editorial attitude that truly concerns Claremont. What he sees coming is an action-driven franchise that puts commercialism at the top of the priority list and characterization somewhere quite a bit lower. As was pointed out in a comments section to an earlier blog entry, the 90s saw Marvel becoming more and more concerned with codifying and consolidating their characters, the better to market them on trading cards and other collectibles. This was in direct contrast to Claremont’s creative vision, which was to keep the “X” concept mutable.
Claremont knows what’s coming, however, and – in an achingly reflective bit of writing – he explicitly acknowledges that this is the end of his era. “Times have changed since Charles Xavier founded this school and created the X-Men,” says Storm. “Changed even since he brought in myself and my companions to be the team’s second generation. Now there is a third, and we must answer, my friends – are we fit caretakers any longer, for Xavier’s school and his dream? Or has the time come to turn that role over to others … ?” In this brief but moving monologue, the author first casts an eye backwards to the very start of his run on the title (beginning, as it did, with the moment that the Silver Age X-Men quit the team to make way for Storm et al), and then bids that same run a reluctant but courageous farewell. It is as if we are seeing, right there on the page, the exact moment of Claremont’s decision to leave the series.
Meanwhile, the choice – whosever it was – to make this an artistic “jam” issue, with eight different pencillers each contributing only a few pages each, adds to the story’s reflective tone – particularly with the inclusion of “classic” artists like John Byrne and Michael Golden alongside the more recent artists like Rick Leonardi and Marc Silvestri. The future is represented too, by Whilce Portacio and Jim Lee. The issue becomes a view of Claremont’s run in miniature: A multitude of characters drawn by several different artists in a variety of styles, but all tied together by a crucial single authorial voice.
Both visually and textually then, Uncanny X-Men 273 stands in Claremont’s X-canon as the issue with the largest and longest narrative scope, looking back to the start of his incredible 16-year run, acknowledging how far things have come since then, and finally pointing the way toward a future that no longer includes him.