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From the Top: Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, Part Three

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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.  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 #101-110.

Uncanny X-Men #101 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)

Continuing from one of the greatest cliff-hangers of all time, the issue opens as Jean Grey desperately tries to pilot the spaceship out of the solar flare storm as the radiation tears through her body. Her friends and follow X-Men, safely hidden away in the life cell’s protective containment, can only pray for Jean’s life. Despite all the odds against them, the ship reaches Earth. Crash-landing in the ocean, the team scramble their way to the surface, gasping for air. Kurt, Scott, Peter, Wolverine, Sean, Ororo, Charles, and Peter Corbeau huddle together, happy to be alive. But where is Jean? Scott announces he is going back under to find the love of his life, and when Kurt attempts to hold him back, telling him there is no chance Jean could have survived the radiation AND the crash, Scott threatens to kill him if he holds him back. But before Scott can go down, the water begins to churn and bubble with force unknown. Force revealed, Jean erupts from the depths as a phoenix rises from its ashes. Before their eyes, a rebirth. The force may hold the appearance of young Jean Grey, humble and meek, but there lurks something far more sinister, far more amazing behind her eyes.
Here begins what is commonly known as The Phoenix Saga (not to be confused with The Dark Phoenix Saga). No longer Marvel Girl, Phoenix has taken over. The effects and ramifications of this transformation are felt almost forty years in today’s series. Prior to this issue, Claremont spent a majority of his run (beginning with issue #94) primarily establishing the All-New, All-Different X-Men. The groundwork is set. It is time to make things epic!
Although so much character work is already in place, Claremont does not stop there. Other than Jean’s transformation, we also see Scott realizing his heart is not with the X-Men but rather with Jean, Nightcrawler becomes smittened with Storm, and my favorite, Wolverine may feel love for the first time (or the first time he can remember). The scene where he buys Jean flowers and arrives at the hospital to find that the rest of the team is already there so he decides to trash the gift instead of reveal himself to everyone is both heart-warming and -breaking.
Xavier, knowing he can’t take care of the team and tend to Jean, who is recovering in the hospital, sending the X-Men (sans Scott who stays to help too) on an “enforced vacation.” Sean tells them that he received a letter from his cousin explaining he has inherited his ancestral home in Ireland, so they can vacation there. Unfortunately, not everything is as it seems at the Cassidy castle. The issue ends with Black Tom Cassidy (Sean’s cousin) and Juggernaut capturing the team and revealing their plan to kill them all.

Uncanny X-Men #102-103 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)

Those of you reading the series less for the character development and more for the action and fighting sequences, you these are your issues! Dave Cockrum’s dynamic portrayal of the team battling Black Tom and Juggernaut is fantastic. The choreography is solid, and each character is properly spotlighted. I mean, in reading Colossus going one-on-one with Juggernaut you can almost hear metal clashing against metal as punches are thrown. This is a battle you feel more so than read.
Highlights from these issues:
–Claremont plays up stereotypes and finds a way to offend an entire country by adding Leprechauns! The redeeming factor with these guys is that they are pretty awesome.
–Nightcrawler’s power set expands when he finds his body disappears when cloaked in darkness.
–Storm’s back story is expanded and we learn that her parents were killed when a damaged plane falls from the sky and into their house in Egypt during the Suez War. From there, she is taken in thieves and trained to be one of the greatest. Soon, the Serengeti calls her, and she walks thousands of miles to find her new home. She remain there, content and free, until Xavier came to her and asked her to join the X-Men.
–The Leprechaun’s reveal Wolverine’s true name to be Logan.
–Misty Knight is introduced as Jean’s new roommate.
–A familiar baddie (Eric the Red) is behind Black Tom and Juggernaut’s scheme to kill Charles Xavier.
–After Black Tom is defeated, Juggernaut risks his life to try and save him.  He calls BT the only friend he ever had.  Claremont does what many writers do not, he makes the villains human.  They may do bad things and want to kill the X-Men, but at the end of the day they are still people with hopes, dreams, friends, and lovers.
–And, most importantly, Colossus does not like it when Wolverine calls Storm “Broad.”
The issues even makes me care about Banshee–and if you read the previous installments, you know that my love for the character is none.  His battle against his cousin, both of whom are immune to the other’s powers, using a battle ax and a sword actually fun to read.
As most issues involving well-known villains, after the good guys win, the bad guys’ bodies are nowhere to be found.  Black Tom and Juggernaut live to fight another day.
Up next, Magneto! “‘Nuff Said!”

Uncanny X-Men #104 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)

He’s back, bitches!  This issue marks Magneto’s triumphant return, restored to his peak age after being de-aged into an infant by Alpha the Ultimate Mutant.  Back in action, Magneto doesn’t miss a beat in returning to fight against humanity and the X-Men!  Held up in Moira MacTaggert’s secret island laboratory, Magneto lures the mutants (still sans Cyclops) to him in order to crush them.  The dynamic between the All New, All Different X-Men and manipulator of metal is the most interesting feature of this issue.  With the original team, none of the members had metallic powers, but this is not the case for the new crew.  Not only does Wolverine have his adamantium claws (pretty sure they have not discussed the fact that his ENTIRE body is made up of the same material yet), but, in his fighting form, Colossus is nothing but metal!  At such a disadvantage, the X-Men did not stand a chance against Mangneto.  That is until Cyclops arrives on the scene.  He has learned from Jamie Madrox (a.k.a. Multiple Man, first appeared in Giant Size Fantastic Four #4) that Erik the Red was the one to free Magneto from his infant form and set him on the path to destroy the team.  Cyclops urges the team to flee, and they do.  As they are running away, Wolverine notices that Dragonfly, one of the count’s ani-men as escaped her cell–this will not be addressed again for SEVERAL issues and not in this series.  Dragonfly was the only ani-man created by Claremont, so my guess would be that he wanted his characters to spread through the Marvel Universe.
Another crucial scene is one that is just briefly mentioned.  As Magneto is leaving the complex, the door behind him reads “Mutant X.” Mystery!
The issue ends with the introduction of The Starjammers members Corsair and Ch’od, the first good look at Lilandra as she prepares to crash into Earth, Jean’s parents meeting Professor X, as well as Erik the Red plus Polaris and Havok preparing to destroy Xavier.
There are so many different pieces moving around right now, that trying to explain them is actually quite difficult.  However, when reading them in the issues, everything seems to make perfect sense.  Claremont fantastically plays with all of these pieces in a way that ensures we see enough of everyone at the right times.  The balance is impeccable.
My one gripe with this issue is the way in which Magneto is portrayed.  I was hoping Claremont would have given us more than just a seemingly mindless baddie.  Out of all the bad guys introduced in this run so far, Magneto is the most one-dimensional of them all.

Uncanny X-Men #105 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)

Returning to the states, the X-Men encounter Erik the Red and immediately attack him.  As they attack, Firelord (first appearance Thor #225), Galactus’ former herald swoops in from behind and begins attacking them.  As it turns out, Erik the Red has tricked Firelord into thinking the X-Men are a threat to his life by having Polaris and Havok go after him earlier.  The fight–or should I say beat down–does not last long.  The X-Men are no match for Firelord’s incredible strength.  Next, Erik the Red and Firelord go after Charles Xavier, the ultimate goal.
Cutting back to the woman of Xavier’s dreams, Lilandra, we see that she is about to be killed by a Shi’ar hunting party, but she is able to teleport to Earth just as her ship is destroyed.  The two are finally able to meet each other face-to-face.  Unfortunately, their meeting is not peaceful for long, because Firelord and Erik the Red bring the fight to them.  Much to the confusion of Jean’s parents, Ms. Grey transforms into her Phoenix costume and easily takes down Firelord, casting him out into the Jersey Meadow Lands.  Despite their best efforts, Erik the Red is able to capture Lilandra and take her through a transporter leading to…somewhere the X-Men may never know, for as they attempt to follow them, the transport closes!  Using her incredible Phoenix abilities, Jean opens the port al once more, allowing the X-Men to follow Erik the Red to save Lilandra.  Just as the X-Men pass from one place to another, Firelord returns threatening to destroy  everything until he has Jean Grey.
Issue highlights!
–Jean’s parent baffled by the sights before them.  Not only are the X-Men involved, but Firelord, Erik the Red, AND Lilandra, too.  Their expressions when the find out their daughter is more than meets the eye (no, she is not a Transformer!) is priceless.
–During the fight between Firelord and Phoenix, among the terrified by-standers are Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum.  Chris is narrating everything that is happening while Dave is tell him to shut up and run.  This is the second time Claremont has written creators have been written into the series, and it is hilarious each time!

Uncanny X-Men #106 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum)

This is a rather peculiar issue.  We get yet another fight between the original team and the new X-Men (just like issue #100), but the fight only occurs in Charles Xavier’s head.  To be honest, this issue feels a lot like filler, coming at a time in the story that does not make sense and is frankly annoying.  This problem is similar to when Chris Burnham took over for an issue during Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated.  These issues really did not add anything to the overall story.  This is not to say that this issue is not good, it just comes at the wrong time.  Either way, let’s see what happened in #106…
Picking up right after #105, the visions he has been having finally wear too heavily on his mind, and Xavier ends up slipping into a coma-esque state. In his dream, the team finally confronts Scott on his obsession with the original team.  They have had enough of him always comparing them to the old guys and the way he has been riding them since Thunderbird was killed.  Scott attempts to apologize for the way he has been acting, admitting all of what they are saying to be true, but he is interrupted when the original team swings in and starts a fight.  For the next nine pages, it is X-Men versus X-Men, and it is clear that the new guys do not have a chance at winning.  The battle is broken up with Xavier crawls into the room and begs them to stop.  He knows that this is in his head, and it is up to him to stop it.  By just not thinking about them, Xavier is able to make the original team vanish.  That is when the evil Xavier appears.  Bringing back Marvel Girl, Ice Man, Beast, and Angel, the team takes down the entity.  After the fight, Xavier wakes back up alone.  The story can then continue.
But what does all this mean?  What was the point of X-Men fighting X-Men and the introduction of evil Xavier (part of a future storyline)?  Perhaps this is Charles’ way of reconciling the two teams.  The conversation at the beginning about Thunderbird’s death may be from the guilt Charles feels toward the death of someone he brought into the mix.  The evil Xavier entity may be nothing more than the hate and doubt and guilt in Charles’ mind.  Thoughts?

Uncanny X-Men #107 (Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum) & #108 (Chris Claremont & John Byrne)

This is it.  Chris Claremont’s entire run so far has been building to this two issues.  On a planet known only as “The World,” the story crescendos.  Lilandra is captured, and her story is revealed.  Her brother Emperor D’Ken, leader of the Shi’ar found the location of the most powerful weapon in the entire universe.  Driven mad with power, D’Ken would stop at nothing to obtain what was known as “The End of All That Is!”  The weapon is located inside of the M’Kraan Crystal, located on “The World.”  Lilandra, commander of the Imperial fleet vowed to stop her brother.  The Shi’ar split in two.  One side fought for D’Ken and the other for Lilandra, causing a civil war between the Shi’ar.  Lilandra knew that she needed help in her quest, and her mind was locked to Charles Xavier’s.  Her brother summoned the assistance of Davan Shakari, a.k.a. Erik the Red.  Count Nefaria, Black Tom, Juggernaut, Magneto, Polaris and Havok, and Firelord, were all used by to kill Xavier and keep the X-Men from this very moment.  But they conquered them all.  Every obstacle thrown in their way, the team has managed to overcome.
The X-Men fight the Shi’ar forces, but they soon realize that they are outnumbered and outmatched, especially because Jean is too weak from opening the portal to transport the team to fight.  Fortunately, reinforcements arrive in the nick of time.  They are the Starjammers!  The combined strength of The X-Men and the Starjammers is enough to defeat the Shi’ar army.  Unfortunately, during the chaos, D’Ken is still able to unleash the ultimate power of “The End of All That Is.”  The M’Kraan Crystal begins to grow brighter and brighter.  Just then, the universe and everything in it blinks.  For one brief moment, everything ceases to exist.  Peter Corbeau returns and his Starcore computers pick up on the “blink.”  Via telecom, the Fantastic Four report that they picked up on it too.  He determines that if the universe continues to “blink”–and it will!–life as the know it will end!

The team wakes from the blink to find that the M’Kraan Crystal is almost at the right moment for D’Ken to use its power which would essentially destroy the universe.  The X-Men and Starjammers need to get to the crystal, but they are stopped by a M’Kraan guard named Jahf.  This little guy is more powerful than they can imagine.  He nearly defeats the teams until Banshee unloads the strongest sonic scream he has ever attempted.  His efforts defeat Jahf, but another guard takes his place, both bigger and stronger.  This new guard explains that no matter how many guards they beat, another will always be ready to stop them.  (At this time we have also learned that the President, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers have all come to terms that there is nothing they can do to stop the “blinking” and eventually the universe’s demise.  It is up to those already on “The World” to save the day–though all seems lost.)

Eventually, the X-Men, the Starjammers, D’Ken, and Lilandra are transported inside of the crystal.  Inside the crystal is a city and a bright light that attracts Jean.  Upon touching the light, everyone is hit with a beam making them live their own personal nightmares.  Nightcrawler is assaulted by a mob made up of all his friends, the Emperor faces his life-sucking pet, and Corsair has to relive his wife’s murder.  Jean is able to break from the trance because nothing is worse than what she lived through when he was transformed into The Phoenix.  Scott has lost control of his energy beam, and in order to save the rest of the group from his blasts, Jean knocks him out.  She investigates inside the crystal and finds that is houses a neutron universe, which if released will destroy their own universe.  As Phoenix, she has the power to seal the neutron universe and contain it once more.  She tries, but her powers are not strong enough at the moment; her life force is not enough.  Storm and Corsair (convinced to help when Jean reveals that his she knows his name is Christopher Summers and that he is Scott’s father), broken from their nightmares band together with Jean, sacrificing bits for their own life force to help contain the second universe.  They are successful, and Jean transports them back to Earth.  They have won!
Back in the apartment, Lilandra tells the group plus Xavier, Misty Knight, and Jean Grey that now that the Shi’ar realize what has happened and why she acted against her brother, they will make her their new leader.  She will be Empress Lilandra.  But until the Shi’ar meet, she will stay with Xavier.

Issue 108 gives us the first of MANY issues drawn by the legendary John Byrne.  While I am disappointed to see Dave Cockrum go (in some ways, I prefer his art to John’s), John’s art is a welcomed change of pace and a perfect addition to the story.  Coming right after the first “blink,” there could not have been a better time in the story for this to happen.  Everything looked the same with slight differences.  One noticeable improvement in the way the eyes are drawn.  Maybe I’m the only one actually paying attention to something as silly as that, but the lack of open eyes or detailed eyes in Dave’s art kind of bothered me.

Funniest moment of the issue: Chris acknowledges Dave’s contribution to the series by stating, “This book is dedicated with respect and admiration to Dave Cockrum–who helped make the dream a reality.”  In response to this seemingly eulogic dedication, Cockrum simply replies, “I’m not dead.”  Perfect!

Uncanny X-Men #109 (Chris Claremont & John Byrne)

Even though The Phoenix Saga appears to come to a close at the end of last issue, all the loose ends are tied up here.  We see that Christopher Summers begs Jean not to tell Scott that he is his father, which she agrees not to tell him.  Why he doesn’t want her to tell is never explain, making this not make much sense–maybe more will be explained later?  We also see everything Lilandra already explained at the end of the issue before.  I’m not sure exactly why we need to go over this again, but I’m down for more panel time set in space.
Back in the mansion, Ororo greets her plants she left behind and has another one of her weird naked rain showers–if you are not actually reading these issues, I promise that this does happen.  Kurt calls up his girl, Amanda, and sets up a day to see his favorite movie, Star Wars.  Kurt tries to get Peter to come with him, but Peter has already agreed to go on a picnic with Sean and Moira.  There is a touching moment between Scott and Kurt as they discuss how Scott needs to lighten up.  He takes out his hatred of feeling cursed with high beamed eyes on the rest of the group.  Kurt tells him that his situation is much, much worse–hell, he was born blue and furry!
The group, consisting of Sean, Moira, Ororo, and Peter, prepare to leave for their picnic when Logan tells them he plans to come with.  Ororo is surprised that he would want to come with him, but he assures her that he is only along for a ride into the forest–it has been far too long since he has had the chance to hunt.  While Sean and Moira play in the lake together, Ororo and Peter sit beneath a tree and talk.  Ororo mentions something about feeling restricted having to wear clothing (mind you, she is only wearing a bikini).  Between this conversation and the naked shower, I’m starting to think a bit differently about Mr. Claremont…Meanwhile, Logan, tracking a doe, is attacked by Weapon Alpha, a.k.a. James Hudson, apparently an old friend of his from Canada.  James informs “Weapon X” that he must return to Canada to do something for his former employer.  Needless to say, Wolverine does not agree.  A fight breaks out, eventually leading to where the group is lounging.  Alpha Weapon, apparently “the ultimate product of Canadian technology” [is this supposed to be impressive 😉 ], does not stand a chance against all of them, especially after Moira is hurt by accident and Sean flips shit.  The issue ends in triumph, but even that is short-lived as Wolverine explains now that they know where he is, things are going to get much worse.

Uncanny X-Men #110 (Chris Claremont and Tony DeZuniga, with assistance from  Dave Cockrum)

Real Talk Moment: this issue is nothing but filler.  It is enjoyable, but, truthfully, it is filler.  Hell, they even got another guy to come in and do the art…
Not only is it filler, but nothing much happens.  Here, let me explain…
While the X-Men are enjoying a relaxing day outside playing baseball and celebrating Moira’s last day in New York.  There is a brief moment where Wolverine gets worked by and flashes his claws at Colossus, who proceeds to drop the little ball of anger.  The group takes a break from baseball to…workout in the Danger Room–because that seems relaxing.  Thanks a lot, Scott…asshole.  Oh yeah, and Moira was attacked by Warhawk, who is now in control of the Danger Room.  X-Men go in, and the door swings shut.  Time to fight for their lives.  Guess what?  They win.  It is an action packed “shoot ’em up” kind of story which should keep your attention, but that is about it.  Nightcrawler shows off his new ability to transport other people with him, as first seen two issues ago.  That’s about it.  Hey, let’s just be glad that they didn’t have to fight the original X-Men again.  Also, where is Lilandra?  Does she not like baseball?  Can she not fight in the Danger Room?  Maybe she’s up taking summer showers with Ororo’s plants. Who knows…There has not been any mention of her since the beginning of last issue.  I’ll cut Chris some slack.  He just came off of one of his strongest stories of his entire run.  A flop here or there is not going to hurt anything.

Overall: Holy shit…that was intense.  Honestly.  I know that my words cannot fully express the amazingness of The Phoenix Saga.  The way everything so perfectly comes together is something readers must experience.  I implore you to get on this ASAP!  And the story of The Phoenix is far from over.  In about thirty issues, we learn that there is much, much more than we expected.  Keep on this journey with me, and we will experience it together!

Because you’ve spoken, next week I will not skip straight to The Dark Phoenix Saga, but rather continue on with issues 111-121!  If you don’t have the single issues (which, let’s face it, you probably don’t) these issues can be found in Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men Volume 3, Essentials Volume 1-2 (black and white), Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volume 1, and Comixology for $2 each (click here).  My preferred method is MMW volumes because they are cheap, lightweight, and in color.  I highly recommend InstockTrades.com for purchasing your trades and graphic novels.  They are insanely cheap and provide fast shipping–I placed an order last Friday and I had the package by Tuesday.