[Jason Powell keeps this blog afloat with a look at every issue of Claremont's X-Men run. You know. The 17 year one. Seriously.]
Avoiding foolish consistency, Claremont’s third and final contribution to “X-Tinction Agenda” eliminates the “dramatis personae” from Page 1, instead opting for a “man on the street” segment that gives a taste of how the rest of the mainstream Marvel Universe are reacting to reports of the Genoshan war. It’s a fun little bit, featuring cameos by Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, and – surprisingly – The Punisher. (That single panel is the only instance I can call to mind of Claremont writing Frank Castle, by the way. I love that he actually seems to be on Genosha’s side.)
Again, although this issue is mainly just advancing “X-Tinction Agenda” along, it is significant in the larger context of Claremont’s full run, in a number of ways: The X-Men are now a team again, enough members having reunited at this point to constitute a full cast of characters. This thereby marks an end to the “Dissolution” saga begun all the way back in Uncanny 251. Also, since this story makes use of the media – explicitly telling us that these events are being broadcast on American television – we are also looking at the end of an even longer arc: The “X-Men believed dead” conceit begun all the way back in issue 229. Finally, this is the point at which the (somewhat arbitrary) walls separating the three core mutant series – Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor – are dissolved completely. At this point, the X-universe becomes a much more amorphous place, with the X-Men essentially one large team whose story happens to be told in several different series. That’s still pretty much the case today, from what I can tell.
One would expect that such momentous moments in the narrative would have a larger sense of grandeur and glory. Instead, it’s all rather ignominious: The world learns the X-Men are alive by seeing on the news that they’ve been captured; the team is reunited because their separate attacks on the enemy failed. It would be tempting to suggest that this is Claremont subverting reader expectation for a grand finale, but it seems more likely that he is simply following an editorially mandated over-plot (albeit one which he probably had some hand in shaping).
Indeed, Claremont seems a bit annoyed at some of the creative wheel-spinning required of the plot in order to stretch it out to nine issues – hence the commentary from Rictor when he, Boom Boom and Jubilee are finally woven in: “Way to go! ‘Bout time we had something useful to do.”
Although issue 272 is only one link in the chain, Claremont does – whether by luck of the draw or by design – get to write the most exciting part of the crossover’s final act, i.e. the triumphant turnaround that puts the heroes back on top. Granted, the Storm macguffin is a bit pat – apparently the Genegineer programmed no less than THREE deus ex machinas into her “matrix” at the end of Uncanny 271, all in the space of what appears to be roughly 15 seconds or so. Still, the execution is fun, and Claremont gives several other characters some beautifully choreographed cheer-worthy moments as well: Psylocke’s rescue of Anderson and Cyclops’ return to power, for example, are both magnificently handled. (Jim Lee and Scott Williams deserve their share of the credit for the coolness of those moments, of course.)
This issue also contains a fantastically over-the-top bit in which Gambit saves the day through a series of impossible moves. It must be seen to be appreciated; to describe the sequence in cold, hard text does it no justice – which is why even Claremont lets the panels run without any text (a rarity for him at any time, and this era especially). Jim Lee’s choreography truly does speak for itself. Indeed, the Gambit sequence may have been Lee’s invention entirely, although we surely have Claremont to thank for putting the “miraculous-lock-pick” scenario in perspective, as the Beast reminds us that it is a reprise of a sequence from the John Byrne era. (This may have been protestation on Claremont’s part, as he was avowedly against the franchise looking backwards; if so, it backfired, as the nod to continuity simply felt like a reward for longtime readers.)
At this point in the run, each issue of Uncanny takes us farther away from the immensely complicated tapestry that characterized Claremont at his peak. The storytelling here is much less complicated -- more set-‘em-up/knock-‘em-down. Nonetheless, Claremont proves – in all three of his entries in the “X-Tinction” saga – that he can deliver straightforward excitement as well as anyone. What’s more, for people who had been “following the tangled skein” (as Peter David once put it) of the X-Men narrative for years, the adrenalized thrill of these big action-sequences felt hard-earned indeed, and were all the more satisfying because of it.