[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's major X-Men run. Some very good points about Havok here, I think.]
Act Two, scene 1 of “X-Tinction Agenda” begins here, as – quite excitingly -- the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee triad arrive in Genosha. The first page duplicates the structure of the previous issue’s opening: The “Dramatis Personae” on the top and bottom tiers, bracketing an expository news report. In a nice bit of economy, the news report serves a double-purpose dramatically, explaining how Logan et al knew to come to Genosha in the first place.
As noted last week, “X-Tinction Agenda” feels a lot like “Secret Wars” – basically just a big fight between a score of superheroes and a bunch of villains, with the story’s length stretched mainly through clever manipulation of individual factions. There is a lot of “let’s split up into smaller teams” maneuvering. In that sense, “Flashpoint” (part 4 of a nine-part arc) is not terribly remarkable, in that it mainly serves just to add three new pieces to the chessboard.
Still, Claremont is quite shrewd in how he executes the beats, so that every maneuver feels significant beyond its place in the crossover’s logistics game. For one, the introduction of the Wolverine faction is given added weight by its position in terms of Claremont’s much larger “Dissolution” arc. I.e., Logan, Betsy and Jubilee are finally – after nearly two years – linking up with the other X-factions. That fact alone infuses this issue with a particularly explosive sense of energy.
Indeed, “Flashpoint” is as much about paying off the long-term Seige Perilous arc as it is about the main Genoshan plot – it’s a rather thrilling moment when Psylocke and Wolverine come face-to-face with the post-Seige Havok, for example. Alex seems to have gotten the worst karmic fate of any of the Seige X-Men – the willing servant of an apartheid state. Presumably this is a payoff to Claremont’s arc for Alex begun as far back as Uncanny 222, when Alex tried to kill Lorna. Starting there, the character was on a slow path of self-loathing that dovetailed with a steep change in his moral attitude. By the time he passed through the Seige portal, he was blaming himself for the fates of both Lorna and Maddie, and had no compunctions about killing his enemies. That lack of any kind of moral compass, and his increasing certainty that he bore responsibility in the death or corruption of his loved ones, all culminated with the accidental death of Storm. From that moment, Alex Summers became a character for whom nothing mattered, and life was meaningless. That’s clearly not a worldview with which Claremont sympathizes, as he rewards Alex’s nihilism by making him a villain. The point seems to be that to believe in nothing is dangerous, leaving a void which is too easily filled by immoral, if not downright evil, belief systems.
“Flashpoint” is noteworthy as well for its blatant exploitation of Wolverine’s place as the alpha male in the X-mythos. The previous three chapters of the story showed a lot of mutants being captured or killed by the villains, and surely the calculation here is that when Logan shows up, the fans will react much like Rictor does on-panel: “Now we’ll see who kicks whose butt!”
It doesn’t work out that way – Logan and Betsy are duly captured by the end of the issue, faring no better than the other characters. It would be nice to think that this is another example of Claremont undermining Logan’s hyper-masculinity (as discussed by Neil Shyminsky on his own blog and in earlier comments sections of this one) – but in this case it’s more likely that he is just bowing to the greater needs of the over-arching plot.
Still, the force of Wolverine’s personality – and those of his two female companions – is enough to fill this issue, allowing Claremont to ignore some of the more banal goings-on from Simonson’s previous chapter. Thus not a single member of X-Factor shows up here, and only a couple of the New Mutants. Claremont very cannily makes this issue all about the X-Men, despite its status as part of a crossover.
Issue 271 is also the first appearance of Psylocke’s “psychic knife” since the Mandarin trilogy. I seem to recall when I first read this issue being surprised that she retained that ability, as I thought it was a function of the rings she was wearing at the time. For some reason, it struck me as odd that it just comes out of her hand. Anyway, this is also the debut of the phrase “focused totality of my telepathic powers,” which soon became an emblem for Claremont’s idiosyncratic writing style – which is to say, his wrought language and tendency towards over-exposition. Indeed, the phrase “focused totality” is used twice in “Flashpoint,” which compounds its ridiculousness. (Although I’d argue that the phrase’s double-appearance in issue 271 falls more under the purview of the editor than the writer. It’s one of those things that should’ve been caught at the production stage, surely.)
Claremont will only use the phrase “focused totality” three other times before he quits in 1991. Yet it has become, amusingly, an easy thing for Claremont haters to “focus” on as an example of his excess. Because goodness knows, five instances of the same phrase -- in a run that spans 17 years and hundreds of thousands of words – is just unconscionable.
[Jason -- did other writers use the phrase after Claremont?]