My epic (re-)reading of Uncanny X-Men, starting from the very beginning in 1963, continues. In some cases, I’ve read these issues before, but some are completely new to me; hence “(re-)reading”. This batch covers Uncanny X-Men #189-193, originally published during the first half of 1985. Of this era, I’ve read the last issue but none of the others, so it was interesting to finally have greater context to that story.
The creative team remains the same here: Chris Claremont as writer and John Romita, Jr., as artist (usually with Dan Green as inker). Some of the over-writing Claremont is known for has been sneaking in more and more. It gets pretty clunky in the big anniversary issue of 193, which is unfortunate, as it seems when Claremont is given more pages to write a story, instead of letting things breathe a little, he just crams more in there. Romita is picking up more and more of his signature style but his characters aren’t blocky and stiff because of it yet, so visually things are looking pretty nice.
This is an odd period. The team and cast is really scaled back. Cyclops is finally, really retired from the book, and doesn’t show up at all. Storm, now powerless due to the last set of issues, takes a sabbatical, gets sucked back in for one more multi-part adventure, and then actually leaves. Wolverine and Kitty Pryde are away for half of these stories for their Wolverine & Kitty Pryde mini-series. And Professor X pulls back from his more active leadership role, although he’s still around. Otherwise, that really only leaves us with Nightcrawler and Colossus among the cast we’ve had since 1975. They’re joined by the recent addition Rogue and newest team member Rachel Summers, who at times doesn’t even feel like a full team member. So basically a 4-person team for a good portion of these issues. Things get so sparse that the cast of sister title New Mutants keep popping up to fill things out. They even spend a whole issue fighting the father of Warlock, a villain clearly meant for the New Mutants book.
There are two major stories here. The first involves Kulan Gath, a villain from the Conan the Barbarian series. Yes, that Conan the Barbarian. Marvel Comics licensed the sword-and-sorcery character and had a long-running series or three starring for about 15 years starting in 1970. At some point, because Marvel writers and editors couldn’t leave well enough alone, it was revealed that Conan’s stories, firmly set in the fantasy genre, happened in the modern Marvel universe’s distant past. Because of course everything has to be connected. Kulan Gath was an evil sorcerer who obtained immortality, so of course he eventually started popping up in Marvel’s superhero comics. His appearance here was shortly after his first “modern” appearance, where he met and fought Spider-Man, who makes a guest appearance along with the Avengers. Kulan Gath basically alters Manhattan to be a Conan/ancient fantasy world. These days, this story would’ve been a big event but instead it’s just a couple of issues of Uncanny X-Men. It’s fun to see the X-Men mixed with a straight-up fantasy story but I couldn’t help but feel it was largely unnecessary. The ending is a bit odd too, as though Claremont had written himself into a corner, so basically Dr. Strange hits the Cosmic Reset Button. It ends up feeling like a bit of a cop out, and is responsible for the arrival of Nimrod, an oddly named special Sentinel from Rachel Summers’ future. The whole thing probably would’ve fit better in Avengers or maybe Amazing Spider-Man since he has more history with the character at this point.
The other major story here is big anniversary of the All-New, All-Different X-Men. It turns out the original Thunderbird has a younger brother who wears his costume and tries to get his revenge on the X-Men for causing his brother’s death. This character will become more prominent in some spin-off books. Firestar is also introduced, a character first created for the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon. This is her first time appearing in the main Marvel Comics universe. She doesn’t do a whole lot, but she will also end up being more prominent in other comics later on (most notably for me, one of my all-time favorite super-hero series, New Warriors). There are better emotional beats here, with James Proudstar really feeling conflicted about going through with his mission of vengeance. Since the cast is so slim, I wish one or both of these new characters ended up either joining the New Mutants or just sticking around.
Another significant moment is Professor X being the victim of a hate crime. He started lecturing at Columbia University, but some of his students didn’t take kindly to him being sympathetic to mutants and they actually assault him, complete with a brick to the head. While healing, his powers are seriously tampered. Xavier is a really powerful mutant, so the series is constantly finding ways to tamp his powers down so that the rest of the cast has something to do. Claremont tries to write him out of the book a number of times, but like with Cyclops, fan nostalgia is too great and he’s always brought back.
Rachel Summers gets a lot of attention during these issues, as she continues to be haunted by the future she came from. We’re still in the early days of the crazy time travel antics of the X-Men. It’s going to get much more confusing and convoluted. Rachel basically comes from the Days of Future Past storyline (or some version of it) which was partly set in the year 2013. Even though 2013 is now in our past, it was still the future when the original story was published in 1981. That story seemed to end with the dystopian 2013 being prevented but in actuality it just created a new reality where the future played out differently. How much the present X-Men’s future will turn into the Days of Future Past future is a (confusingly worded) question that hangs over the books for decades. And Rachel’s arrival from her future, and her constant fretting about the life she had to lead in that messed up future, is a constant reminder of that question. Unfortunately this is basically the entirety of Rachel’s personality for too long, but I guess if you were forced to hunt down your own people and then time traveled to your past to discover all of your loved ones aren’t exactly the version of them you remember and what does that mean for this future and will they forgive you…? OK yeah that’s kind of a lot to take. (Although, let’s be honest, if we lived through any given year of Uncanny X-Men, we’d be in an insane asylum.)
During this period, Nightcrawler becomes field leader and he’s plagued with doubt even more than Storm’s first few missions. He does rally toward the end though and while the implication seems to be that he’s not cut out for it and he only got the gig because Wolverine was away and Colossus was too heart-broken from his break-up with Kitty, at least it’s giving the character something to do.
Kitty returns and from what I’ve gathered from the Wolverine & Kitty Pryde mini-series, she has received some ninja training and now uses the codename Shadowcat, which she’ll use for a good decade or so. She and Colossus don’t really seem to address their break-up, although I don’t know what’s to say. It’s notable that they barely interact once she returns, which seems right. Wolverine has pretty firmly settled into the grizzled know-it-all. By now, he’s a little too “I’ve seen it all” for my tastes.
So yeah. This run was a little underwhelmed. A little low on the whelming meter. There’s nothing significantly bad going on, it just seems like the series has stalled a bit.
Next time: The epic Uncanny X-Men #200, where nothing will ever be the same again, again.