[Jason Powell continues to cover every issue of Claremont's first X-Men run here. But this is a special one, because this one is being posted while Jason Powell is in New York City -- and I will be meeting him and Mitch, who I also met because of the blog, in Times Square in just a few hours.]
After the previous issue’s tour de force, which ended the Magneto/Rogue arc so brilliantly, this one doesn’t have quite as much to offer in terms of emotional resonance. We are now safely entrenched in action-movie territory, Claremont’s text taking a backseat to Jim Lee’s flair for big melodrama and epic-scale action sequences. Hence a lot of big, violent panels – including the dramatic twist that also dominates Lee’s strikingly stark cover: Wolverine murdering “Professor X.”
Of course, these proceedings are rather silly in their artificiality. It’s clear early on (if it wasn’t by the end of the previous issue) that this is a plot involving doppelgangers. The good guys going evil – whether because they are imposters, evil duplicates, or the genuine characters under some kind of mind-control – is very much a Claremont staple, and has become a cliché in recent years, thanks to too many iterations of it within too small a timeframe. In 1991, this penchant wasn’t quite as over-indulged, but certainly any longtime reader could see what was going on. Thus, there is not a lot of suspense here.
What makes the story interesting beyond its basic internal mechanics are the textual reflections at work here. Uncanny issues 273-277 comprise Claremont’s final, complete multi-issue arc for Uncanny. (His next, begun in 278, would not conclude until after he’d quit the title.) As such, it yields some interesting reflections when compared against Claremont’s first multi-issue arc, the Sentinel trilogy published in issues 98-100. (I’m not counting the Nefaria material, as that was plotted entirely by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum.)
Both stories involve a new team on their first space-faring adventure; thus, in both cases we get to see brand-new character dynamics at work, as recently minted characters interact for almost the firs time: Compare the fraught, combative banter of Jubilee and Gambit in this issue’s opening fight sequence to that of, for example, Nightcrawler and Colossus during their Sentinel battles. This is Harras and Lee trying to return the X-Men to the glory days that they both remember so fondly: the Cockrum/Byrne era. And while Claremont was explicitly uninterested in going backwards, he is still a pro, and proves here and in the next issue that he is more than capable of recreating that sense of youthful excitement. Despite being a decade and a half older, at this point Claremont has lost none of the verve and vigor that characterized his 70s work.
Another shared element between the two arcs is the “evil doppelganger” conceit. In the earlier story, the robot versions of the original X-Men were used to make explicit the tension between the new X-Men and their Silver Age forebears. Here, we see similar tensions play out, as Claremont’s generation (embodied by Storm, Wolverine and Banshee) fights their futuristic replacements. Though in this latter story, the divisions are not quite so clean and neat. Both the “good” and “evil” factions have a mix of the old and the new, a tacit acknowledgement by Claremont – by continuing to script the Jim Lee-plotted adventures – he is more or less working with the enemy, and basically helping to hasten his own obsolescence.
Yet for all of that, the Claremont/Lee chemistry makes for some classic comic-book moments. I will always love Page 18, panel one, in which Lila Cheney and Deathbird re-appear, rendered with shameless sexiness by Lee, the coup de grace being Claremont’s wryly self-aware dialogue for Lila: “We’re baaaaack! Two bad, beautiful babes with REALLY BIG GUNS!”
However contrived it might have been at this point, Claremont’s sense of fun when writing Uncanny X-Men stayed with him right up to the end.