[Jason Powell returns for this encore presentation. Because you demanded it! Neil should be back with the final part of his series soon.]
Per some folks’ request (hi, Jeremy), here is my top 20 favorite Claremont X-comics. (Today.) Note: I’m going chronological, not with a ranking.
PART ONE 1975-1981
Uncanny X-Men #96 – from 1975
The first issue fully plotted by Claremont, and it introduces several motifs that will recur often over the next sixteen years: Demonic invasion (see also: X-Men 143, X-Men 184-188, “Fall of the Mutants” and “Inferno”); women kicking ass (note Moira coming out with the machine gun, and of course it is Storm who saves the day); Ororo’s claustrophobia; and the one-page cutaways that seed upcoming plots (not something invented by Claremont, but it’s a device that he loves, and this is the first issue in which he uses it).
When I first blogged about this, Josh Hechinger made a great comment about it. Here’s an excerpt …
“ … notice how everyone's attacks on the monster are mainly them trying to defend whoever just got smacked down by the monster? Storm goes down, Colossus saves her. He goes down, Nightcrawler lays into the monster. Nightcrawler goes down, Wolverine goes berserker. It escalates, to the point of overcompensation. … Everyone on the team clearly A) doesn't want to see another teammate die and B) is trying really, really, REALLY hard to make up for the fact that they sat on their thumbs when Proudstar went boom. … (Except for Banshee, who DID try to save Proudstar, and as such is barely involved in the fight.)”
Uncanny X-Men #113 – 1978
The quintessential X-Men vs. Magneto fight, by Claremont/Byrne/Austin. That team always did action really well, and this is one of their best fight scenes, and it’s against their arch-enemy! (It’s also pretty much the final appearance of the evil, Silver Age Magneto. His rehabilitation begins to take place over the course of his next few appearances.)
Uncanny X-Men #132 – 1980
Here’s what I wrote originally: “This issue is a triumph by Claremont and Byrne, containing an embarrassment of riches. With the exception of their utter masterpiece, Uncanny X-Men #137, this one’s their very best. It contains the return of the Angel, a beautiful love scene between Scott and Jean, a wonderfully suspenseful assault by the X-Men upon the Hellfire Club, the full unveiling of Sebastian Shaw (arguably Claremont/Byrne’s greatest addition to the X-Men rogues’ gallery), the payoff to Jason Wyngarde’s seduction of Jean along with the revelation that Wyngarde is actually Silver Age villain Mastermind, and to top it all off the best picture of Wolverine ever drawn.”
Then in the comments, Doug M pointed out the use of contrast in the issue: “ … it is structured, to a degree rare even for top-form Claremont & Byrne, and almost unknown in mainstream comics up to this time. … We have two parts to this issue -- the intro in New Mexico, and the attack on the Hellfire Club in New York. … New Mexico is sunny and warm and clean. In New York, it's night and cold and snowing, and some of the action takes place in a sewer. … In New Mexico the X-Men are casual, in jeans and bathing suits. In New York, they're formal, in uniform or in evening dress. … New Mexico is wide open and outdoors. All but a couple of panels in New York are indoors, and some are claustrophobically so -- Nightcrawler and Wolverine going through tunnels. … New Mexico is heavenly, with an angel soaring high above. The Hellfire Club is hellish, with the two least human members of the team -- the one who /looks/ horrible, and the one who really /is/ horrible -- creeping through the sewers. … The very first panel has Angel flying high. The very last panel has Wolverine emerging from the muck deep underground.” Doug goes on with some interesting observations about how these contrasts reinforce thematically what is happening with Jean … it’s all great stuff. Check it out if you haven’t.
Uncanny X-Men #137 – 1980
The issue that everything before it was leading up to. A Greek tragedy, with superheroes.