[Jason Powell in his second to last post on Claremont's X-Men run, though there will be some epilogues.]
(Part Two of a Three-Part Blog)
Claremont writes the first three issues of the newly minted X-Men series in a subtle dialogue with the franchise’s other new launch, X-Force, whose first issue also broke the sales record, two months earlier. X-Force, drawn and plotted by Rob Liefeld and scripted by Fabian Nicieza, was the quintessence of lowest-common-denominator crap: A borderline incoherent mish-mash of violence, scowling faces, impossible musculature, giant guns and ripped-off layouts, all held together with nonsensical text by Fabian Nicieza (“Stab his eyes, he got away again!”). That the comic spun out of Claremont’s own brainchild, The New Mutants, clearly didn’t sit well. It’s not difficult to glean the subtext, then, when in on Page 8 of X-Men #1, we see Xavier holding a portrait of The New Mutants as he says, “I look at the world, and cannot help wondering … if my dream has any validity anymore.”
Magneto, meanwhile, is manipulated into playing the villain by an unsavory new lieutenant who is eventually revealed to have his own traitorous agenda. This new villain’s name: Fabian. (Thanks, Nathan Adler, for pointing this out.) Claremont’s little swipe may also be to do with Nicieza having been the one who finished off “The Muir Island Saga” when Claremont couldn’t bring himself to write the concluding chapters.
Magneto’s scheme this time around is telling as well: To brainwash the X-Men into villains. The first time we meet the transformed X-Men, in X-Men #2, Scott justifies thusly their reason for acting so out of character: “…Times have changed. We have to change to match it. Same as Cable and his X-Force.”
Clearly, for Claremont, X-Force was emblematic of the franchise’s future, and where it was going wrong. With hindsight, it’s easy to agree with him. (Actually it wasn’t too hard at the time either, for perceptive fans and pros, both.)
The problem wasn’t just the mindless action, but the re-establishment of the conservative politics that Neil Shyminsky identified in his paper, and which has been discussed here. While the Silver Age versions of the X-Men were assimilationists, vilifying the revolutionary faction represented by Magneto, Claremont eventually “mutated” them to the other extreme. By 1985, they were aligning themselves with the mutants they had previously vilified: the revolutionary Magneto and the disenfranchised Morlocks. Those mutants who allied themselves with the “establishment” (Freedom Force) were now the enemy. As Neil and I both talked about, the Genoshan arc in Uncanny 235-238 represents the point of fullest turnaround: The X-Men are true freedom fighters, whose goal is to topple a government that oppresses their race through a relentless system of apartheid. (Note that we are explicitly told in that story that Genosha is a U.S. ally, so there can be no confusion that the X-Men might actually be acting in alignment with the establishment.)
But as Neil points out, the politics of The X-Men did not stop revolving at that point. Instead, they just kept on swinging past 180 degrees, slowly but surely turning back to the zero point thanks to increasingly more constrictive editorial mandates. Once we get to “Mutant Genesis,” the “explicitly counter-revolutionary” iteration of the X-Men are back in full force. We’re in the Silver Age again, only it’s worse because the comic can no longer hide behind the curtain of naiveté. We’ve seen now what the series is capable of, which makes the pro-establishment politics seem not only cowardly, but almost sinister. When Magneto’s acolytes launch a strike against Genosha in X-Men #1, the X-Men rush to the country’s defense! Not surprisingly, the Acolytes accuse the X-Men of being race traitors, and Gambit’s explanation is that the Genoshan government has changed, and so have its policies. Really? From what I can garner from “X-Tinction Agenda” and this issue, the country is now being headed by Anderson, the Chief Magistrate – the woman who, in the original Genoshan arc, was the most zealous defender of the government’s anti-mutant policies.
Meanwhile, the X-Men here are attacking Magneto at the behest of Nick Fury, in tandem with the U.S. government. This is the same government that – unless I missed something – is still enforcing the Mutant Registration Act. It is also implicit that it is the U.S. that are acting as the watchdogs for Genosha, to prevent them from re-instituting their system of apartheid (the one we never actually explicitly saw dissolve in any case). So the X-Men are trusting the enforcers of the Mutant Registration Act to police Genosha?
As for Magneto himself, he emerges – as always, under Claremont’s pen – as the most sympathetic (and just plain coolest) character. He establishes Asteroid M as a sovereign nation for mutants, and says that all mutants are welcome – including, Magneto says quite explicitly, the X-Men themselves. The so-called “villain” is the most magnanimous and inclusive character in the story!
Interestingly, Claremont even has Magneto himself question what has turned the X-Men into counter-revolutionaries (though he doesn’t use that term). He notes that during their fight in issue #1, Logan actually tried to kill him. “I have fought by [Wolverine’s] side,” Magneto muses. “For the brief time I worked with the X-Men, he accepted me wholeheartedly. If not as a friend, then at least as a comrade-in-arms. Why then has he turned on me? What has changed?” Indeed, we never get an answer to Magneto’s question. Claremont knows there isn’t one that will satisfy.