[Jason Powell works on his musical in NYC, and his posts about Claremont's X-Men go up here, every Tuesday. He may be in town for the final one at this rate. Jason, below, discusses reading this issue in the winter. Please keep in mind that the winter in Wisconsin is the best eight months of the year, as Newsradio taught us.]
For the conclusion to his final complete multi-issue arc on Uncanny X-Men, Chris Claremont pulls out all the stops. With artistic collaborators Jim Lee and Scott Williams at the top of their game, Claremont is able to go full-out here, delivering one applause-worthy moment after another.
The somewhat rote premise of this storyline was discussed in the previous blog entry: Heroes are being replaced by Skrulls. There is a twist to the typical Skrull concept here – these are “Warskrulls,” who not only can make themselves look like someone or something else: they actually “imprint” the powers and personalities of the people they impersonate. Two questions for those who know more about Marvel than me: 1.) Did Claremont make this up, or does the “Warskrull” concept have its origins in an earlier comic? And 2.) Is this the concept that formed the basis of the recent Bendis-helmed crossover, with heroes replaced by Skrulls? (I can’t even remember what that story was called.)
It is still a fairly perfunctory superhero plot, but it works perfectly well here as the hook for a straightforward action story. The appeal here is not in the concept but the execution, which Claremont, Lee and Williams handle masterfully. Some favorite moments:
Gambit’s rescue of Storm and Banshee (foreshadowed in the previous issue by a pair of hands playing solitaire on an upper console of the Starjammer)
Forge’s “Errol Flynn” moment, using a home-made grappling gun to make his way inside an enemy ship.
The Starjammer crashing to the rescue, and the door opening upon the five heroes as Gambit says nonchalantly, “Remember us?”
Gambit taking down Gladiator by using not just “a single [playing] card” as per usual, but instead using his mutant ability to charge up “the WHOLE DECK!” (Gambit gets a lot of the best moments here. Jim Lee was indulging in a bit of Mary Sue-ism around this time.)
The real Xavier at last emerging, tapping his doppelganger on the shoulder, then summarily taking him down in several panels worth of fisticuffs
(Am I forgetting anything? Anyone with as fond memories as I have of this issue, feel free to elucidate in the Comments section.)
Given that he is known primarily for introspection and characterization, a blockbuster-action issue is perhaps not the most appropriate note for Claremont to go out upon. Still, in terms of pure, visceral satisfaction, “Free Charley” is a momentous triumph. I recall reading this as a kid in April of 1991 (nineteen years ago!!!), winter ending, the weather warming up, school winding down … This issue was such a perfect complement: a fresh and exciting finale to an extremely enjoyable sci-fi adventure – with a well-defined and newly minted regular cast (after years of the “wandering the globe” premise) – it felt like the sun coming out. I remember being so optimistic about the future, thinking I was sure to be an X-Men fan for life.
Which kind of turned out to be true, if these blogs are any indication. I didn’t know that the Claremont/Lee dream-team was months from splitting apart, of course. Once that happened, it didn’t take me too terribly long to drop not just this series but the entire franchise.
In any case, that’s hindsight. For all that this issue signaled an end rather than a fresh new beginning, it still stands as an explosive blockbuster of a comic-book – genuinely thrilling, from cover to cover.