Welcome to the final week in our analysis of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men. The first four weeks can be found here, here, here, and here.
Fearless readers, we have come to the end of Claremont/Byrne’s classic run on Uncanny X-Men. There are some very emotional points in these issues, but on the whole, this doesn’t feel like an ending so much as it does yet another springboard for future storylines. And that’s what it is: after all, Uncanny X-Men is still going 30 years later, and even with Byrne’s departure, Claremont had another ten years left on the title. What’s more, Claremont and Byrne had things planned out for a further seven issues until Byrne decided to leave. But more on that later. For now, we’ll dive headfirst into the final eight issues of their run together.
When last we left our merry mutants, Dark Phoenix was preparing to return to Earth, her appetite for destruction not sated by consuming a whole star. In advance of her return, Lilandra’s Grand Council plans her demise, President Carter (for whom Claremont brings back his regrettable dialects) tells Jarvis to assemble the Avengers, and Beast devises a “mnemonic scrambler” which the X-Men can place on Phoenix to limit her powers. The first place Jean goes upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere is her family’s home in Annandale-on-Hudson. Claremont’s captions say that “[t]his is Jean Grey’s home, not Dark Phoenix’s,” “[y]et Jean Grey is Dark Phoenix.” Her parents, and her sister, are woken from their beds in the middle of the night, their minds now an open book for Jean to unwillingly read. She senses their fear of her, and lashes out, turning a potted plant to crystal as an example of her terrible power. And she would have done more were it not for an unnatural fog produced by Storm that draws Jean out of the house, allowing Kurt to slap the mnemonic scrambler on her.
As last week’s introductory column wound to a close, I pondered two thoughts: Could John Byrne’s art be any more fantastic? Would Chris Claremont be able to refine his writing as time went on? Though we’re still fairly early on in their run, I’ve now been presented with two satisfactory answers, one of which was surprising, the other not so much.
I’ll start with the surprising one, the first thing that leapt out at me as I plowed through these issues: yes, John Byrne’s art is capable of being even more incredible than it already was! Seriously, he was doing a bang-up job on the seven issues we talked about last week, especially as he started discovering the physical and emotional cores of each character during the Magneto storyline. Even by those high standards, his work over these issues is nothing short of phenomenal. There’s the spread of Wolverine lashing out at Sauron as the rest of the team looks on in shock; the full page of Xavier’s memories taking place within his head; the group tackling Canadian superteam Alpha Flight; the list goes on. Just classic stuff on almost every page.
As for Claremont, his progression is what I had been hoping for and expecting, but it’s still good to see that his writing is getting better. Not that it was bad before, but there’s only so much corny dialogue and regional dialectics one can stomach. There’s still plenty of corny dialogue, but for the most part, it’s the good corny, the kind of corny one expects when one picks up a superhero comic from the late 70’s. Thankfully, Claremont has also dialed back the characters’ dialects. Nightcrawler stills busts out German phrases and Banshee’s dialogue is still littered with “ye”s and “aye”s, but more sparingly and at more appropriate times. There are instances when Sean’s actually able to say something that would sound intelligible coming from another character’s mouth!
In our latest episode, Paul and I mentioned a number of comics recommendations for beginners in a variety of genres. However, we also mentioned that we had to pare down our lists significantly so that the topic would even approach being manageable. Here, as promised, are our other selections.
FANTASTIC FOUR #232-293 (John Byrne)
After his legendary Uncanny X-Men run, John Byrne took over Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four. Cinematic storytelling, emotional character shake-ups, shocking betrayals. And he grew up Sue Storm, taking her from the Invisible Girl to the Invisible Woman.
Came across a pleasant little surprise on Netflix Instant last night: Comic Book Confidential, a 1988 documentary by Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann which takes a look at the history of comic books. It’s interesting from a historical perspective, since this was right when comics were really beginning to be embraced as an artform by the public, what with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns having been released to critical and commercial acclaim. Obviously, there was still a long road ahead, and even now most people continue to think of comics largely as kids’ stuff with flashy superheroes and WHAMMO! sound effects. At around 85 minutes or so, it briskly takes you through the early funnies, the whole Fredric Wertham/censorship debacle, the first superheroes, and the Marvel boom before going on at length about the underground scene. We hear and see from a lot of comics legends: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Bill Griffith, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, and Harvey Pekar, among others. Interestingly, neither in the brief look at then-current superhero books nor in the Frank Miller interview is Watchmen mentioned. Anyway, it’s a cool movie and a nice condensed history.