[Jason Powell continues his look at every issue of Claremont's X-Men run. He continues to rehearse his musical in New York City, and would probably love it if, instead of buying a ticket because you do not live in New York, you just sent him some cash in an envelope.]
“Endgame” (Parts 1-4)
The summer and fall of 1991 saw a full-scale overhaul of the “X” franchise, overseen by editor Bob Harras. The New Mutants was discontinued with issue 100, to be replaced with X-Force. Meanwhile, the five original Silver Age X-Men were moved out of the X-Factor series, rejoining the parent team, whose adventures would now be chronicled in a pair of series – the long-running original, Uncanny X-Men, and a brand-new comic, simply titled X-Men (which actually was the official title of the Silver Age series, at first; the adjective wasn’t added until the Claremont/Byrne run). The void left in X-Factor was filled with a new team of “B-list” mutants, to be written with characteristic quirk by Peter David.
These sorts of reshuffles are actually SOP at Marvel now, particularly with the mutant comics. At the time, though, this was something rather novel. It truly did feel like the start of a new era – and, with Chris Claremont’s departure three months in to the new status quo, it very much was.
Before this new beginning took place, however, the various X-titles had to supply some endings. The story running through X-Factor 65-68, appropriately titled “Endgame,” is clearly designed to bring some closure to the first unofficial volume of X-Factor, just before the “Muir Island” crossover that would spin the characters back into the parent title. Plotted by Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio (the latter of whom also supplies pencils), the story is successful in all the important ways: There is a “final” showdown with Apocalypse, the major villain of the series; we are shown the death of a major character and the loss of another; and Cyclops, whose unheroic actions are – in fact – the very foundation of the X-Factor series – is finally given a reasonably convincing redemption.
Also noteworthy about the plot are its deliberate resonances with the twin-crown storylines of the X-franchise, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” Thirty years old now, these two stories still influence the X-franchise more than any others. Back in 1991, when they were barely over a decade old, their influence rang that much louder. Only logical then that the scripter of both those classics should be called in to supply the text for “Endgame.”
If Chris Claremont was at all bored by working from someone else’s plot – particularly one that drew so much from his own, decade-old works – it doesn’t show at all in the finished product. The story reads beautifully, and is littered throughout with characteristic touches that seem very much the writer’s own. The montage in Part One, with each member of the team spending time with his romantic partner (Scott and Jean being each other’s, of course) is very much in keeping with Claremont’s style, for example. In particular the bit with the Beast, as he watches reporter Trish Tilby covering the Iraq War (that’s the 1991 iteration, for all you young’uns) appears to be informed by Claremont’s own personal life. “That’s a war out there,” Hank says, “So be careful.” (One of Claremont’s best friends at the time was a woman who works as a war correspondent.)
I recall reading some idiot online saying that Claremont would have been “better off writing romance novels” instead of X-Men, but such a suggestion stupidly ignores Claremont’s affinity for fantasy and sci-fi. In this story – particularly the first two chapters – the author seems particularly inspired by Portacio’s love for images of complex and esoteric technology. This results in some of the writer’s finest ever sci-fi poetry, e.g. the Beast’s climactic, frantic commands to the team’s sentient Ship at the end of issue 66: “Access please, ship … to all core memory and systems nexii. …. Strike that routing … no use to us … hold it, reference that file again! Try a sidereal shunt … There, Ship! Hold and lock that circuit structure! … Systems initialized, Ship! Enable and execute – NOW!”
Meanwhile, if Lee and Portacio’s desire was for Claremont’s text to add to the resonances with the material that inspired them, they certainly had no cause for disappointment. Claremont’s assured mastery of the X-Men’s storied past – “Dark Phoenix” and “Days” in particular – lets him create some brilliant allusions, the most striking being Scott’s narration during the final, astral-plane sequence: “Once, a long time ago, I fought on the astral plane to save [Jean]. That duel, I lost.” Then, as his sword strikes through the heart of Apocalypse’s psychic avatar -- “This one, I won’t!” The result is exactly as desired. “Endgame” reads as the triumphant capstone to a truly epic myth.
As for the rehabilitation of Cyclops, one cannot turn an entirely blind eye to the commercial considerations at work: It is such a cheat to have Cyclops give his infant son up to a nebulous future-timeline. Granted, it’s a clever way to bring the series full circle, given that X-Factor began with Scott’s abandonment of Nathan. But ultimately this is the creators giving Scott a “get out of jail free” card, freeing him up to be a commercially viable superhero again while absolving him of all guilt.
Here, too, it’s up to Claremont to cover the façade with his text. And here, too, it works, as the writer is canny enough to give Scott’s interior monologue the appropriate sense of guilt, and an acknowledgement of his failures. There is lovely pathos in his line referring to him, Jean and Nathan as “the family I’ve always dreamed of. The one I know I’ll never have.” In context, this is not self-pity on the character’s part. Rather, it is a gentle acceptance that through his own failures, he has lost his chance to achieve that particular dream; he must accept that and move on. This feeds directly into his final narration, wherein he tells us that his “ghosts [have been] put finally to rest.”
One last brilliant turn occurs in the final page of the “Endgame” four-parter, as Lee and Portacio bring in The Watcher – again, to strike a resonance with “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” Claremont, shrewdly aware of what’s required, provides a lovely Greek-chorus-style epilogue, which perfectly dovetails with Oatu’s epilogue from Uncanny 137. It is an ingenious bookend, and a worthy companion to arguably the finest single issue of Claremont’s entire run.
Although not plotted by him nor contained in Uncanny X-Men itself, “Endgame” is – title and all – a genuinely moving capstone to his 17 years of writing these characters. But it wasn’t quite over yet …