(Re-)Reading Uncanny X-Men: Decisions, Sanction and Other Tales

Yes, I’m still here and I’m still reading every issue of Uncanny X-Men. At least, the first volume, anyway. Haven’t decided yet if I’ll continue on when the series got relaunched in 2012. Maybe. We’ll see. I’m only up to 1984, so I don’t have to worry about that right now.

I’ve created a (Re-)Reading Comics category, so you can find all the previous installments in one place, in case you missed any.

This batch of issues, Uncanny X-Men #176-180, covers the immediate aftermath of the marriage of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor, and goes up to the team’s disappearance for Marvel’s first big crossover event, Secret Wars.

This also starts artist John Romita, Jr.’s proper run on the series, following a rushed epilogue in the previous issue. He’d been the regular artist for Iron Man and Amazing Spider-Man before this, and continued to be the main artist on both Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men for months. Nowadays, almost no one does more than one book a month, so the idea of someone doing two monthly books, and those two books being Marvel’s two biggest franchises at the time, is astounding (as well as amazing and uncanny).

John Romita, Jr. is the son of Marvel stalwart John Romita, who himself had been the regular artist on Amazing Spider-Man for years following the departure of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Romita Sr. defined the new look for Spider-Man that really catapulted the book to new heights. Handing the reins over to his son may seem a bit like nepotism on paper, but fortunately Romita, Jr. is a solid artist completely qualified for the job(s). As time goes on, he develops a striking style of his own, but here he’s still in the Marvel house style established by his father and peers, more or less. While maybe not daring or experimental, it’s clear and effective storytelling.

Meanwhile, writer Chris Claremont was approaching his ninth year on Uncanny X-Men. Nowadays that’s unheard of, but even in the ’70s and ’80s that was impressive. We’re not even halfway through his first run on Uncanny X-Men! Earlier in his career, he had written Iron Fist, Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel and Marvel Team-Up, among other books throughout the Marvel Universe, but by 1983 and 1984, he was exclusively writing Uncanny X-Men and its various spin-offs, such as the sister title New Mutants and various mini-series projects. It’s probably not coincidental that this is around the time the scripting begins to get more wordy and management of the X-Men property begins to get more dense and convoluted.

cyclops-vs-octopus

John Romita, Jr.’s first Uncanny X-Men cover

Last time, I bemoaned the handling of the Madelyne Pryor mystery, which really felt like the first serious mis-step. The first issue of this batch spotlights Scott and Madelyne on their honeymoon, giving Claremont and team yet another opportunity to finally clean up the ridiculous coincidences and red herrings about Madelyne’s Jean Grey likeness that we keep being told aren’t fishy. That was a little sea pun for you, which I suppose is appropriate due to the (no doubt Jaws-inspired) brush with a shark followed by a superfluous fight with a giant octopus. As a kid, I really thought aquatic menaces were going to be a much bigger problem in my day-to-day life. Of course, this a 1980s super-hero comic, and you can’t go a full issue without some action for the kids, but the fight quota could’ve been handled in one of the cutaway scenes dedicated to furthering subplots. Instead we get fishy fisticuffs. The fight against the elements ends up being much more suspenseful and engaging, and results in a good character-driven decision for Scott to decline his father’s offer of space adventures and settle down with Madelyne, effectively shuffling him off the book. This is at least the second time he’s been written out, and it won’t stick either. But it’s good for now.

The next set of issues brings Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants back into the picture. They’re fun recurring villains and make for more exciting battles than the original Brotherhood from the ’60s. The whole ambush ends up being a ruse so that Mystique can sneak in and free her adopted daughter and teammate Rogue. But, she discovers that Rogue left her and joined the X-Men of her own free will. Rogue continues to be the controversial member of the team, despite winning over Wolverine recently. Here we finally hear it from her just how important it is to be with the X-Men, eliminating any lasting doubts about her true motives.

Another subplot is resolved when the Morlocks kidnap Kitty Pryde to make good on her previous promise to the love struck Caliban. She had promised to stay with him forever in exchange for her friend’s freedom, and then waltzed out of his life. The ploy was really an attempt by Callisto to regain leadership of the Morlocks from Storm, which of course fails, but Kitty ultimately agrees to honor her word. Caliban, ever the tragic character, learns that he can never force Kitty to love him, and releases her.

The final issue in this batch finally addresses the changes Storm has been going through in cutting her hair, changing her clothes, and generally being more ruthless (my theory: since being replaced with a flawed duplicate by the space whale in the Brood Saga). They don’t really answer any questions about it, but Storm speaks more directly about it than she had previously, and she and Kitty have a good heart-to-heart about it. The issue ends with a cliffhanger that is continued in New Mutants (which I’ve decided to not read) and the rest of the X-Men getting teleported to another world for the big Secret Wars event (which I also won’t be reading). So it seems as good as any to stop there.

This is kind of a transitional period of the X-Men. Some long simmering sub-plots are finally getting resolved or moved forward. Colossus is feeling jealous over Kitty’s friendship with Doug Ramsey. Professor X finally regains full use of his legs (and even starts joining the X-Men in the field). Nightcrawler’s ties to Mystique are teased again.

It’s a good batch of issues anchored by some good character moments.

Next up: The X-Men return from Secret Wars

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