[Jason Powell has reached X-Men 1, 2, and 3 in his look at Claremont's X-Men run. Every time he says something about how many issues Claremont did, all I can think of his how many blogs Jason did.]
(Part One of a Three-Part Blog)
Rather than talking about Claremont’s final three issues one at a time over the course of three blogs, I’ve decided it makes more sense to look at the three issues as a single arc, and simply break up the review into three parts.
1991’s X-Men #1 was, at the time, the best-selling comic-book ever. And I believe (someone jump in to correct me if I’m wrong) it still holds that record. Claremont describes this issue and the next two as his “severance package.” Considering how well those issues sold, and Marvel’s royalty system at the time, it must be said that that’s one incredible package.
Still, creatively, Claremont was far from satisfied with the work he turned in here. And indeed, the story is very much an epilogue. Magneto is the central character – appropriate, as Claremont’s version of Magneto qualifies as the writer’s finest single creation – but we saw the tragic, brilliant ending to this character’s journey in Uncanny X-Men 275. That was the true climax. Magneto even says, right in the opening sequence of “Rubicon,” that he has “no more cause.” But he is nonetheless persuaded by a new group of young acolytes to put on his costume and be the X-Men’s arch-enemy – one last time.
There are some clear parallels here. Claremont was done with the X-Men; yet Bob Harras and Jim Lee -- both avowed fans of the glory days of Claremont and John Byrne – coax Claremont into writing one more X-Men tale. So, having realized that there is no place for himself in the current state of the X-franchise, Claremont writes the story of how there is no place left in the world for Magneto.
It ends with the character’s death, which is an eminently appropriate way for Claremont to go out. As a one-dimensional Silver Age villain given extraordinary psychological depth and complexity by Claremont, Magneto is emblematic of the author’s achievement as the writer of X-Men. That Magnus departs when Claremont does is a truly poetic stroke.
Of course, the move was destined to be undone by subsequent X-writers, but such is the nature of the game. Claremont would eventually play the game from the other side, undoing Grant Morrison’s “death of Magneto” story with a carelessness that disheartened many Morrison fans.
In fact, in the present story, Claremont actually attempts to preclude too much future deconstruction of his definitive Magneto. In issue 2, the possibility is introduced that everything Magneto has done since his “resurrection” (read: since Claremont started writing him) was not his own choice; the heroic quest -- begun in Uncanny 150 only to fail tragically in Uncanny 275 – was all manipulated by Moira MacTaggert and Professor X. Note, though, that this possibility is introduced only so that Claremont can reject it. Moira’s long monologue in issue 3 reveals that, no, the attempts at manipulation were always doomed to fail: “The choices you made,” she tells Magneto, “were the ones [you] would have made, regardless.” It’s a fascinating attempt by Claremont to maintain the integrity of his noble Magneto, to gird that figure against any future reinterpretations. I’d argue that it was ultimately unnecessary. Comic-book writers will do whatever they want, and for anyone with eyes to see, Claremont’s Magneto will always stand as the quintessential version, the minutia of continuity be damned. (And speaking as a fan, I’ll always be grateful to Bryan Singer and Ian McKellen for making the noble Magneto the definitive version in the eyes of the mainstream audience as well.)
Along with Magnus’ death, the story comprising X-Men 1-3 contains several other noteworthy elements of finality. Although conceived by the creators as a new beginning – it would eventually be packaged under the umbrella title “Mutant Genesis” – the story’s deliberate allusions to other watershed moments in X-Men history make it a strong ending as well for Claremont’s run. (Years later, Claremont would confirm that he considers his run from (Uncanny) X-Men 94 to X-Men 3 to be “all one story.”)
The basic, straight-ahead “X-Men vs. Magneto” premise recalls the Silver Age X-Men 1, of course. In fact, the basic plot skeleton for “Mutant Genesis,” wherein the X-Men fly to Asteroid M to rescue their teammates, has a twin amongst one of the earliest Silver Age X-Men comics (issue 5, wherein Magneto captured the Angel). One team flying to rescue another is also the premise of Giant-Sized X-Men #1, which introduced the new team and was the last issue before Claremont became the writer.
The “Magneto Protocols” plot-thread, a ticking-clock that even the villain is aware of, recalls an element of Claremont’s very first issue, “The Doomsmith Scenario.” Part two of “Doomsmith” also ended with the death of a character – and, both in that story and in “Mutant Genesis,” Xavier taps into the thoughts of the man who dies.
Claremont’s run also, famously, began with thirteen X-Men. It ends with the exact same number. Eight of them are the exact same characters; and among the other five, a rather surprising number of correspondences can be found.
John Byrne espouses the philosophy that a writer can wreak all sorts of changes on a comic-book series during his time on it, so long as he “puts the toys back in the box” before moving on. While some elements of the “Mutant Genesis” re-boot are editorial mandates and/or the desires of plotter Jim Lee (e.g., the rebuilt mansion, Xavier back in a wheelchair), it must be said that Claremont did exactly what Byrne suggests. Despite a 17-year run containing massive, sweeping revisions of the status quo, the X-Men are, as of Claremont’s final issue, back where they started just before he arrived. For better or worse. (It turned out to be worse.)