[Jason Powell. X-Men, Chris Claremont, every issue, this blog, reviews, Unscramble, go.]
“The Battle of Muir Isle”
In looking for a truly satisfying ending for Claremont’s epic run, the most fitting candidates thematically are Uncanny 275 (with the conclusion of Magneto’s story), Uncanny 277 (the ending to the Shi’ar space opera), or X-Men 3 (the death of Magneto, and Claremont’s last issue of any mutant comic for seven years).
But in terms of the actual Uncanny X-Men series, the fact is that his last full issue is the present one, 278, and the last one to which he contributes anything at all is 279 (Claremont writes the first eleven pages out of 22). Neither one seems quite majestic enough, all things considered.
What we have here is the four-part culmination to the Shadow King subplot, which had been on a slow burn for a year and a half. Issue 278 is the opening chapter of the “Muir Island” saga, which then continues into Uncanny 279, then X-Factor 69, then finally Uncanny 280. (X-Factor 70 features a pleasantly reflective epilogue by Peter David.)
In the era before decompression became en vogue, four issues was a perfectly reasonable length for a superhero epic – yet after such a large build-up, the payoff as presented is undeniably scrappy. The concluding chapters, penned by Fabian Nicieza, contain some nice payoffs to some of Claremont’s dangling threads, but the entire affair is nonetheless a bit rough around the edges. After the satisfying conclusions to the recent Savage Land and Shi’ar arcs, one can’t help but wonder how things would have gone had Claremont and Lee stuck around to see it through. But Claremont was avowedly too frustrated at editorial’s restructuring, and Lee was presumably gearing up for the new X-Men #1.
Claremont’s planned conclusion to the Shadow King/Muir Isle story, if it was anything like his typical work, was going to be a rather complicated affair. The most striking thing about “The Battle of Muir Isle” is its utter straightforwardness (title included). Even his “X-Tinction Agenda” contributions, despite being the middle parts of a strictly contained nine-part structure, contained a reasonable share of Claremontian subtleties and complications, but no such complexity exists here.
The X-Men simply fly to Muir Isle to investigate Moira’s strange behavior, and are duly attacked by the island’s possessed mutant population (including, curiously, such characters as Siryn and Madrox, who were not seen at all during any of the Muir Island scenes in earlier Uncanny issues). Six members of the team are beaten, with only Forge left on the loose (so that he can whip up a deus ex machina or three in later chapters).
Xavier, meanwhile, returns to the X-mansion, where he’s attacked by a possessed Colossus. It’s all superhero-by-numbers, basically.
Art comes from Paul Smith, with whom Claremont collaborated on some of the best Uncanny issues in the entire run. While his work here lacks the dynamic imagination of his 80s X-material, his storytelling is still very much on point. There very little to complain about in “The Battle of Muir Isle” – it contains everything it needs to contain. Yet, after the excitement of the previous four issues, Uncanny 278 seems just a bit too placid. After so much build-up, the Muir Isle arc really ought to have quite a bit more spark.