[Jason Powell's final post about Uncanny X-Men. Sheesh. The guy is a Piotr Nikolievitch Rasputin among men.]
“Bad to the Bone”
This is Chris Claremont’s final issue of Uncanny X-Men. Per his Comics Journal interview in 1992, it became so “painful to write” that he stopped halfway through, and writer Fabian Nicieza was brought in to complete the issue (and the remaining two chapters of “The Muir Island Saga,” in X-Factor 69 and Uncanny X-Men 280).
Thus, none of the latter material – featuring Forge, Wolverine and Rogue and a few others on Muir Isle – is Claremont’s. Essentially his 186th and final issue is a single vignette featuring Professor Xavier vs. a possessed Colossus.
It is not the most sonorous note on which to end, although happily Claremont gets to go out on a more tangible high, with X-Men #’s 1-3. And other material from around this time – Uncanny 275 and 277, and X-Factor 65-68 – contains some prouder material. Perhaps it’s best to think of it all as a grand fireworks display, with those other, greater stories the ones that provoke all the “oooh”’s and “aaah”’s, while issues 278 and 279 are the inevitable duds.
Then again, that’s not entirely fair. Uncanny X-Men 279 actually does contribute a unique note to this chorus of endings: one that is dark, and rueful, arguably adding a bit of bluesiness to the brightly colored excitement of “Endgame” or “Mutant Genesis.” Claremont’s pages in Uncanny X-Men 279 are narrated by Xavier, and his running monologue – surely being informed by Claremont’s own feelings at this point – are profoundly depressive in both tone and content. Consider first his early description of Colossus:
“Piotr Nikolievitch Rasputin. I found him in the Siberian collective that had been his home for most of his young life, a farmboy with the soul of a poet. But also – most importantly in my eyes, in my arrogance – a mutant. And so, I made him a warrior.”
Xavier’s chastising himself for recruiting Peter in the first place is quite affecting – it takes us back to Giant Sized X-Men #1, which is, of course, the issue just before Claremont began writing. There is a genuine sense of regret being conveyed here. Xavier questions his actions from 17 years ago; just as, perhaps, Claremont is questioning a decision that he made 17 years ago? It doesn’t seem at all impossible that, with his tenure ending so ingloriously, the author might genuinely be questioning whether writing a comic book was the best way to spend the last 17 years of his life. (Note that this was all happening not long after Claremont had turned 40 years old – prime mid-life crisis time.) It’s a surprising moment from both Xavier and Claremont, not least because it seems so very much from the heart.
The other particularly significant moment in the sequence occurs towards the end, when Xavier uses his telepathy to snap Colossus out of the Shadow King’s mental control. Per the narration, the key to accomplishing this end is by stripping away the “Peter Nicholas” persona that Piotr gained via the Seige Perilous, thus forcing him back into his original, Colossus identity. Considered as metaphor, this is harsh stuff. Only a few pages after lamenting having made Piotr into “a warrior,” Xavier finds himself forced to commit the exact same sin. There is a sense here that Peter’s humanity is being sacrificed to Xavier’s agenda.
As noted earlier, a lot of the tension between Claremont’s aims and Bob Harras’ was to do with Claremont viewing these characters as people first, superheroes second. Harras – representing the view of Marvel shareholders as much as anything else – held the reverse priority. Uncanny X-Men 279 can be persuasively read as Claremont’s final surrender. The character of Colossus is the final battleground, which seems appropriate as he has long been portrayed as, first of all, the artist/creator in the cast (thus well aligned with Claremont), and also the “soul of the team” (and therefore emblematic of Claremont’s humanist outlook).
With Peter’s humanity sacrificed on the altar of editorial fiat, the war is truly over. This is why Claremont can’t write anymore. After one last scene -- a two-page interlude wherein the villain of the story proclaims that his evil influence will now spread beyond Earth and to “the stars!” – Claremont calls it a day on the series that defined him as much as he defined it for the better part of two decades.
As for “The Muir Island Saga,” it is guided over the rest of this issue and the next into a decent – if somewhat anti-climactic – conclusion. Nicieza manages to weave several of Claremont’s subplots into a logical ending that quite cleanly disposes of the Shadow King. The material is all perfectly readable, though from Nicieza’s first page the character voices seem off. It’s astounding how quickly it becomes clear that these really are Claremont’s characters, and anyone else attempting to continue their story will seem like a shadow (so to speak) in comparison.