Using some of the greatest comic titles of all time, let’s take it from the top and explore them from the very beginning. I will break up the articles by story-arcs, analyzing their importance in the series and highlighting the title’s continuity. The title may be from any publisher and any genre. To start us off, I’ve chosen Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men. You may be asking, “Are you f*cking nuts? How do you expect to read all of that?” My response: I understand this is quite a feat seeing as there are hundreds of issues, so I may not hit on every single issue of the series ever published. There may be times when I skim over several issues, but I will do my best to cover the most important parts. This week I cover issues #94-100.
Admittedly, I went a little overboard. Things got carried away, and this week’s edition of “From the Top” grew into something WAY more than I ever intended. I would just like to state that this amount of content should not be expected each week (unless my enthusiasm gets the better of me again!). I will say that I really had fun reading these issues and writing about them, and I hope you enjoy it too.
Uncanny X-Men #94 (Chris Claremont, Len Wein, & Dave Cockrum)
Chris Claremont is ready to close the door and forge a new path into the unknown. Some characters will stay, some will leave, and one will die. The cast may vary, but the X-Men continue. Picking up where Len Wein left off after Giant Size #1, Claremont rounds the two X-teams in the mansion for some jaw-dropping news: not all the mutants are sticking around. First up, Sunfire reminds Charles Xavier that he only agreed to help rescue those kidnapped by Krakoa, so he barks like a ferocious dog, perhaps Rabies infected and foaming at the mouth, and refuses to stay. The team acts distressed by his departure, but I wonder if they secretly are sighing deep breaths of relief to be rid of the asshole. Second, Warren Worthington III announces that he and the rest of his version of the X-Men are ready to move on from Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. He (Angel), Alex Summers (Havok), Bobby Drake (Iceman), Jean Grey (Marvel Girl), and Lorena Dane (soon to be Polaris) all feel as if they have learned everything Xavier could teach them. They ask Scott Summers (Cyclops) if he will join them. That night Scott contemplates the decision, but he soon realizes that while the rest of the team can easily hide their powers from the rest of the world, he is cursed to forever bear the mark of his mutation because of his high-powered laser eyes. The drama from this moment is felt with each panel. I’m so used to today’s Cyclops, the brooding “martyr,” that the anguish aching through the young man’s
bones reminded me that there are likeable attributes to the character. The next morning, Scott delivers the news that he will remain. He and Jean embrace, kiss, and tell the other how much they love each other, but, in the end, the team bids farewell. Claremont has severed the ties, but worry not, they will all reunite soon.
Despite the pain in his heart, Scott must prepare the new group of X-Men: Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Banshee (ugh!), Colossus, and Thunderbird (sigh…). Soon, with the entire team overworked, tensions run high and we see bickering amongst the troops. Claremont never fools the reader into thinking this is a perfect team: they have their differences and many are quick-tempered. Scene change to Valhalla Mountain, home to NORAD (The North American Air Defense Command), which is quickly taken over by Count Nefaria (first introduced as an Avenger villain in Avengers #13) and his Ani-men, a revamped version of a team which first appeared in Daredevil #10. Their plan? Take control of all of America’s missiles, which he will fire if the world does not pay up. Xavier, head floating as if he was Zordon, alerts the X-Men to the crisis. Apparently, the Avengers passed on this case due to a sizable workload on their end, so the X-Men spring into action! But first! We must pause for a brief (though not brief enough) moment for Thunderbird to be dick (that’s okay, he dies next issue). So the X-Men take to the Blackbird and fly to Valhalla–which is, of course, in the Rockies. Flying over the mountains, their ship is destroyed not once but twice. The issue ends as the team is plummeting to their death from 1000s of feet. Do they survive?!?
Uncanny X-Men #95 (Chris Claremont, Len Wein, & Dave Cockrum)
With the grace of a wrecking ball, Colossus touches ground first. Banshee and Storm help the rest down safely. This is the first time since Claremont took over that we really get to see the X-Men work as a team to conquer an obstacle not from the Danger Room. It is simple, but effective. It shows that Scott takes his role as leader seriously, as he volunteers to be saved last. He is ready to sacrifice himself for a group of people he only just met maybe a few weeks ago. Once they are all safe, Nightcrawler “BAMFs” his way into the NORAD complex. Seconds after teleporting, he is assaulted my a creature not so different from mutants. Frog-Man, a member of the Ani-Men, was sent to kill the x-truder. Nightcrawler evades Frog-Man and calls him “Herr Frosch,” a name the creature dispises. The Ani-Men, consisting of Ape-Man, Frog-Man, Bird-Man, Cat-Man, and Dragonfly, are mutated human beings, struggling with their new identities. They still see themselves as human, and Frog-Man makes it a point to tell Nightcrawler that he is nothing like the mutants. If you read my “Confessions of an X-Bitch,” then you know that I’ve already compared the X-Men and their struggles to those suffered by African Americans; I’m going to continue with that analogy. In this issue, the Ani-Men take on the role of Mixed Race characters (half human/half mutant). The Ani-Men find themselves to be superior to the mutants because they still have some “normal” human genes inside of them. This could represent the conflicts between mixed (Black & White) and single race people. Years ago, if you were half-white/half-black, you were better off than just a black person. You were deemed superior because you had white genes inside you. This is, of course, ridiculous, but it happened. Instead of binding together, they highlighted their differences and fought because of them. The same is true of the Ani-Men.
Despite Frog-Man thinking himself hot shit, Nightcrawler still drops the amphibian. The rest of the X-Men enter the mountain when Kurt opens the hatch. As they make their way to Count Neferia (whom, let me just say, is the epitome of villainous badassery. They say dress for the job you want, and the count takes his wardrobe seriously. With his goatee, monocle, cigar, and cape he comes off as a tossed design for The Master for the classic-era Doctor Who.), they are attacked by the rest of the Ani-Men. The epic fight sprawls four pages and includes the first team up between Wolverine and Nightcrawler. Count Nefaria tries to escape in a airplane during the chaos, but Thunderbird goes after him, clinging desperately to the plane. The team begs Thunderbird to let go, that he will surely die if he doesn’t, but John Proudstar is far too proud (or stupid) to fall back. As he breaks through the cockpit, the plane explodes and Thunderbird is killed and the count is badly wounded (though thought dead at the time). I can’t help but wonder if readers were saddened by Thunderbird’s death. Personally, I couldn’t wait for the asshole to die. The saddest part is knowing that he doesn’t stay dead…
My frozen heart aside, the team takes the loss hard, especially Scott (as seen next issue) and Xavier, who was mentally connected to John when he was killed. Was this Claremont’s way of doing away with a character he disliked or was this the plan all along? Either way, as the issue ends and the team bows solemnly, I can’t help but think…why didn’t Banshee die too?
Uncanny X-Men #96 (Chris Claremont, Len Wein, & Dave Cockrum)
The issue opens with a sulking Scott Summers, the weight of Thunderbird’s death heavy on his shoulders. He is reminded that death is always a risk when you are an X-Men; however, no matter how much you prepare for it, there is no easy way to cope with the loss of a teammate. In a fit of rage, Cyclops unleashes and cuts loose his eye beams, tearing apart a forest and cracking open a hidden temple. It is clear that the temple does not house Care Bears and Teletubbies, we will see more of that later. Cut to the mansion where the X-Men are training. During their practice, Colossus accidentally swats Wolverine, who prepares to retaliate with anger, but Storm stops him. Nightcrawler laughs at the situation, prompting Wolverine to call him (for what I believe to be the first time) “Elf.”
Leaving the Danger Room, Xavier introduces Banshee to the X-Men’s new housekeeper, explaining she will take care of them when he leaves (destination currently unknown). The caretaker is Moira MacTaggert, and Banshee is instantly smitten with her.
Cutting once again, we are now in secret base in the Adirondack Mountains (because what other landscapes are suitable for bases?). Doctor Lang, crazed in his obsession to capture the mutants, has created Project Armageddon, but it is up to his former pal Colonel Rossi to give the committee the OK to green light the project. Lang is following in the footsteps of persons such as Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels. He seeks to end mutant-kind. Rossi does not believe the project worthy of the billion dollars and countless man hours already wasted on it, so he will not allow the project to continue. As Rossi leaves, Lang swears that the colonel will not return to Washington alive.
Back at the mansion, a monster attacks. His name is Kierrok the Damned, and he comes from the temple Cyclops destroyed earlier. The teams fights the beast, but their powers prove to do nothing more than irritate him. That is until Wolverine taps into his berserker rage and unleashes his adamantium claws all over his ass. This is the first time we see Wolverine lose control of himself, but as he states, this is not the first time it has happened. Berserker rage is not something Wolverine is proud of, and he is ashamed the others witnessed it. Unfortunately, Kierrok begins to recover stronger than before. Xavier taps into the beast’s mind, but is overwhelmed by what he sees and the two become one. In excruciating pain, Xavier learns where the monster came from and that the temple must be sealed to vanquish Kierrok. The bottom half of page 23 is one of the most beautiful Cockrum drawings of the run so far. The tension is tasted and Xavier’s pain his felt. Cockrum shows off his ability to draw monster comics in this issue, drawing from his previous work in Monsters Unleashed, Eerie, and Creepy. How does Moira attempt to fight off Cockrum’s beast? With a machine gun, of course! I don’t really have anything to say here…I know her past makes this scene make sense, but come on. Xavier explains that Storm must seal the temple, which she does after fighting through some more monsters. As the temple crumbles, she has a flashback to her time in Africa as a child. So sort of explosion has occurred. What exactly happened is not made clear, but we can see that the parental figure is killed.
The issue concludes with the smoldering airplane wreckage. Lang ensured Rossi did not return to Washington. I really like the way Claremont chooses to subtly set-up this story. Instead of introducing Lang’s plot all at once, we are given pieces which build into something greater…but not in the next issue. First we see the return of Havok. And he’s fighting his brother?!?
Uncanny X-Men #96 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)
It begins with a dream, as all great ideas begin. Adventures, inventions, stories, everything worthwhile in this world starts the same: in a dream. Xavier tosses and turns in the deep heart of the night reliving the same dream–or nightmare!–for the umpteenth time. A war plays through his mind, a war spanning space, a galactic assault rivaled by none. Who the participants are is a mystery, but we follow them anyway. A lone ship, amidst the barrage of laser warfare, scuttles from the chaos, leaving his brethren drifting through the metallic graveyard. Before Xavier can see the pilot and crew, he wakes from his dream. Something is beginning. Claremont is dropping hints of a story greater than anything before. A Kirby-esque galactic war is brewing, and Claremont is toying with the readers, dangling the carrot just out of reach as we run the uncanny treadmill. Cockrum’s depiction of the war is breathtaking. Had he had access to the colorists of today, Cockrum’s drawings of space could match or even surpass those of Jerome Opena.
After a brief scene with Moira MacTaggert and Xavier explains the reoccurring dream, we are transported to Rio Diablo where we see how Alex Summers and Lorna Dane are getting along since departing the school. While Alex is away doing geological tests, a visitor greets Lorna…and he is the last person she would ever expect to be at her door. Alex returns, following her call for help. Lorna, now Polaris, attacks Alex and is congratulated by the unknown person for her actions. He also tells her that soon they will go after Xavier.
A few days later, the team (sans Wolverine and Banshee) is in Kennedy International to see Xavier off as he takes a well deserved vacation. Nightcrawler is able to attend using Tony Stark’s image inducer, making himself appear, as Xavier says, like a movie star. Soon, Polaris and Havok disrupt the goodbyes by attacking the group. Polaris blasts Jean, sending Scott on a rampage. The airplane, with Xavier inside, attempts to flee the scene before the battle turns into “WWIII.” As the battle rages on, the unknown visitor from earlier is revealed as Eric the Red (different from Scott’s stint as a character of the same name). Eric the Red is controlling Havok and Polaris and making them attack their friends. Alex tries fighting the control, but Lorna is too far gone. She is fully Polaris at this point and embracing the fight. The fight continues, but soon Lorna is injured, causing Alex to stop holding back. He threatens his brother with death if Lorna has been killed.
While the battle continues, reinforcements arrive in the form of Wolverine and Banshee. Eric the Red, Havoc, and Polaris retreat. Cyclops has a chance to use his laser to shoot them out of the sky, but he cannot bring himself to hurt his brother and Lorna. He stands down. Furious, Wolverine accuses Scott of being gutless. Scott responds with a punch sending Wolverine to the ground. Wolverine tries to retaliate, but Storm stops him once again. As Scott storms away from the group, it is revealed that there are two people watching them. The first is Doctor Lang from last issue. The second is an unknown being, quite possibly someone from Xavier’s dream as the high-tech circuitry of his ship suggests. At the bottom of the page, we are promised the return of the Sentinels in the next issue.
There are so many different plots and subplots all occurring at the same time that we can see Claremont is building something more epic than we ever imagined. It began with a dream.
Uncanny X-Men #98 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)
Snow falls, drifting between skyscrapers which loom like silent, metallic giants. In the streets, bundled people take in the sights of the holiday: carolers sing melodies of semi-forgotten lore, Santas pepper the streets and ring their bells as they collect money for those less fortunate, and the decorative lights flicker through the falling snow. Among those bundled people is another group, most appreciative to just embrace the calmness of the moment. These are the X-Men, and it is Christmas.
Some members of the team are having a more difficult time adjusting to civilian life than others. Ororo comments that the snows from Kilimanjaro blanketed white, unlike that which blows past her face in New York. Kurt (Nightcrawler), once again using Tony Stark’s image inducer, and Peter (Colossus, before known as Piotr) have adapted instantly as they chase pretty women. Wolverine is taking it the hardest. He tells Jean, “I got no use for Christmas,” and proceeds to sulk about as Wolverine is known to do. Scott worries that Wolverine may prove not to work out (oh, how little young Scott knows), but then again he was wrong about Alex and Lorna. Jean begs him to relax, and they kiss. During the kiss, we are treated to one of the best cameos of all time! Two characters approach from the background, both smoking cigars. They are the original X-Men creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby! Jack says, “Hey, Stan, you know who they were? I tell ya, they never used to do that when we had the book.” Stan responds, “Ah, Jack, you know these young kids–they got no respect.” Not only is this moment hilarious, but it also shows that Claremont knows he is working with the next generation of the X-Men. These are not your father’s mutants, and he makes it perfectly clear. Unfortunately, these blissful moments are short-lived because without warning, the Sentinels attack.
Unlike the previous two models, these Mark III Sentinels are now impervious to the powers of the original X-Men. Jean realizes that her powers have significantly grown since their last encounter, so the Sentinels are not prepared for this fight. No were they prepared for the All-New, All Different X-Men. Storm unleashes her weather controlling abilities and creates a hurricane in the middle of the city. Spectators flee in terror, but none are harmed by the gale force winds. Despite their best efforts, Jean, Banshee, and Wolverine are captured.
Cut to the middle of the ocean where we see Xavier enjoying his vacation fishing aboard the Dejah Thoris (an allusion to John Carter’s wife from Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom series) with Peter Corbeau, Bruce Banner’s old roommate. Xavier explains his dreams to Peter, who thinks he may be insane. Like a few pages before, the Sentinels attack once again. Xavier takes one down, but then he sees the face of the mysterious alien from last issue. As the images flash through his brain, another Sentinel strikes from underneath and destroys the boat. Peter floats lost at sea, far from land, and hopes that someone heard his mayday call. Due to increased solar radiation, the Sentinel rushes to his destination, Charles Xavier in his hand.
Days later, Doctor Lang confronts the kidnapped mutants (Jean, Banshee, Wolverine, and now Xavier) and explains that Project Armageddon is his scheme to eradicate all mutants. As Lang and his goons study Wolverine, they receive strange readings and question whether he is a mutant or not. Wolverine, out of costume, responds by releasing his claws and breaking the team free. They begin planning their escape, but they are not sure how they will get Xavier, who is not only disabled but unconscious, out. Much to the others’ dismay, Wolverine motions to leave him behind. The others disagree, but when another Sentinel attacks, they have no choice but to flee without the professor. Banshee grabs Wolverine and Jean and flies out the top of the complex. But the look of terror on Banshee’s face as the team breaks out shows that something went very, very wrong.
Back at the mansion, Peter Corbeau warns the X-Men, who have been frantically searching for their friends for days, that the others are taken somewhere off-Earth. The reason the Sentinel commented on the solar radiation was because the X-Men were taken into space!
Uncanny X-Men #99 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)
They tried. No one can argue with that. Banshee, Woverine, and Jean did their best to best Dr. Lang and his Sentinels by breaking through the exterior of their confinement, but what they found on the other side was not haven, but rather the vacuum of space! Ironically, the trio are saved by Lang’s Sentinels and brought back inside what they now understand to be a spaceship.
Cutting to another spaceship–this time on Earth and directed toward the stars–we see Peter Corbeau has speedily commissioned a trip into space with himself and four other passengers (Cyclops, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm). Using the ship, the crew plans to rescue its friends. We also learn that since the Sentinel attack on Christmas Eve, riots have broken out across the nation. Known mutant supports are also under assault and scrutiny. One of the supporters being Judge Larry Chalmers (first appearance in X-Men #57), once an enemy of mutant-kind. Before Bolivar Trask’s death, Larry positioned himself as anti-mutant. However, after viewing the corrupt and vicious ways Bolivar and his son used the Sentinels to attack the X-Men, Chalmers switched sides and fought for mutant equality.
On Corbeau’s ship, the X-Men prepare for take-off. Colossus has a mental breakdown as he remembers how his brother Mikhail, a cosmonaut for the Soviet Union, was killed during a mission in space. Overcome with grief, Colossus wishes himself dead rather than in the rocket. We then see that the UN’s research station, Starcore One, has picked up intense solar flare readings. ANOTHER cut to Dal’roon, Ireland where a solicitor is attempting to send a letter to Banshee in the U.S. After delivering the letter, the solicitor is killed by someone claiming to be Banshee’s cousin. What exactly is going on here, I have no clue. And quick, before we spend too much time on one scene, we must switch again. This time to Corbeau’s ship attempting to land on Lang’s space station. Lang denies their request and instead sends his Sentinels to destroy them. The X-Men are able to fight them off, but Storm is knocked from the vessel and thrown into space where she discovers her ability to control solar winds! That is pretty badass!
The fight is now inside the ship. Pieces of metal stripped from the Sentinels are cast every which way as the X-Men’s attack proves to succeed. We once again see characters showing off as they fight, especially Nightcrawler and Colossus. The whimsical battle motif jells perfectly with the fighting style of the original X-Men. They are good, they know it, and they want everyone to know it too. The best takedown in the issue comes from Colossus whom in an effort to channel his inner Rock’em Sock’em Robot, blasts the head of a Sentinel clean off its shoulders. The X-Men are victorious, but Colossus reminds them that there is no time to celebrate. They have lost Storm. Colossus then goes on and on, seeming to gain these emotions from nowhere, about what appears to be a deep love for Ororo (whether sensual or platonic is unclear). It seems as if Claremont is still trying to find exactly what direction he wants to take with these characters. Luckily, she quickly returns to the group and they can continue.
By this point, Scott is in full rampage mode and ready to kill some Lang ass. He sends Colossus, Storm, and Nightcrawler to rescue Wolverine and Banshee, but warns them that Lang is all his. Scott charges Lang, easily disposing of his goonies, and pulverizes the doctor with nothing more than his fists–lasers are not personal enough. Just when all seems won and he has rescued Jean, Claremont throws the read yet another loop. The original X-Men are now aboard the ship, and Professor X is commanding them to kill the new guys. Even though we know there is trickery afoot, seeing what appears to be Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman staring down Colossus, Storm, Banshee, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine is really damn cool.
My inner child joyfully squeals while grown up Alex tries to analyze the situation. This is where those against comics get things wrong. They only focus on the first part while completely neglecting the second. We can treat comics like any other piece writing as long as we read it with a specific eye. Other than our favorite mutants fighting each other, what is Claremont’s purpose for this scene? I’d argue that he is further showing the gap between what was old and what is now new. This is an example of studying authorial intent. Of course then we get into intentional fallacy, in which we question, “Well, did Claremont REALLY mean to represent that?” That is one of the reasons we now have New Criticism, where we only study what is directly in the text. Using New Criticism, I would focus on considering this fight to be an allegory for the transition between the old and new. The conflict that arises when the old thinks itself still relevant and the new thinks too highly of itself. Let’s take this further and try a Marxism approach. The original X-Men comes from what seem to be well-to-do backgrounds while the new guys are far more diversified–many of whom come from impoverished and/or working class families. Those of a lower social class, kept down by the lack of money and power, are rising to take control from the upper-class rulers. Or maybe I go psychoanalytical on your asses and diagnose each of the X-Men with a specific mental state which explains why they do what they do. Or I could just listen to that inner child in me whom squeals with joy seeing his favorite heroes go head-to-head because that would be reader-response, focusing how the reading impacts and relates to my life. BOOM! There is your brief (and, most-likely, first) lesson in literary criticism/theory and guess what? I used a comic book as my example. Drops mic
Uncanny X-Men #100 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)
Cough Umm…yeah. Sorry about that last bit. I got a little carried away. Either way, moving on. Including this issue, if you had purchased every new (not counting the reprints) issue since the series began in 1963, you would own 74 issues and have spent roughly $12-14 dollars with tax. Today, you are lucky if $12 dollars gets you four issues.
The plot of this issue is fairly straightforward. We get several beautifully drawn combat scenes by Dave Cockrum as the heroes clash. Eventually, they crack open Jean Grey to find that she is a machine. Once the X-Men know that the originals are not only not who they think they are but not human, they stop pull their punches and destroy the androids. These machines are actually made up of Sentinel pieces and are known as X-Sentinels.
Soon, the team turns on Lang who tries to escape via some type of spacecraft, but his ship goes down and he appears to perish in a ball of flames. I cannot think of a death better suited for a slime ball like Lang except maybe drowning or something equally horrible. The dude needed to go, and it needed to be gruesome.
As the X-Men try to escape the spaceship, they find that the solar flare (brought up several times in previous issues) is now too powerful to safely pass through. The team needs to remain in the protective chamber (life cell) in order to survive. Unfortunately, with the autopilot damaged, someone needs to sacrifice his or herself and fly the team home. Much to the group’s dismay, Jean volunteers. She learns how to pilot the shuttle by reading Corbeau’s mind and sends the rest to safety. Scott attempts to stop her, but she knocks him out. The best and most heart-felt moment of the issue comes in Wolverine and Storm’s confrontation with Jean, which runs as such,
Wolverine: Nice shot, Lady–You bucking for Martyr o’ the Year or somethin’?
Jean: Make it quick, Wolverine–I’m busy.
Wolverine: What’re ya tryin’ ta prove–that you’re as good an’ noble as Big Daddy X? It’s suicide, Jeannie!
Jean: The name is Jean, Mister–and I have just about had it with you! I have tried to like you, Wolverine–obnoxious little upstart that you are–but for the life of me, I don’t know why I made the effort. So shut your mouth, and get into the life cell–NOW!–before I lose my temper.
Jean: Not you, too, Ororo–I couldn’t bear it. Look, I have the best chance of survivial–that’s it. Pure and simple. It’s me–or It’s none of us.
Storm: Then–may the gods protect you, Jean Grey.
Jean: Thank you, Ororo. A last favor, my friend…? Would you…tell Scott…tell him I loved him.
Those who’ve read Dark Phoenix Saga know that this sacrifice means more than anything any of them expect at the moment. Jean pilots the shutter through the flare, but as Scott wakes up, the radiation breaks through the glass and encompasses Jean. The issue ends with her screaming in terror.
So that’s it, NothingButFamily. There you have my thoughts on Claremont’s first issues as head X-scribe. But do not fret, the fun doesn’t stop here. No! Stop back next week to read and discuss my coverage of issues 101-108, better known as “The Phoenix Saga.” I encourage you to follow along in the reading with me.