Every weekend this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new installment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.
The Uncanny X-Men # 225
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Marc Silvestri, Dan Green
It was the early days of high school and on my way home from class, I’d stop at the nearby strip mall comic shop and browse through the racks of new, fresh-looking monthlies, sift through the bins of old, dusty issues, or gaze up at the wall that showcased all of the comics that were too rich for my part-time warehouse-work wage.
I was always a DC Comics follower. That’s no secret. Batman and Star Trek invited me into that publisher’s house and, twenty-five years later, I still haven’t left. Back in those days, you were either a DC fan or a Marvel follower – there was no middle ground. It was a little reminiscent, I suppose, of the whole Beatles vs. Rolling Stones thing. But during that winter of 1987, a poster that Marvel Comics created, and that the local comic shop had displayed, caught my eye and then quickly captured my imagination.
First, a quick flashback to a few years earlier: the big company crossover events of Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths by both Marvel Comics and DC Comics respectively, had just taken place. They were stories of impending doom by the most evil of antagonists where all heroes had to band together in order to overcome their opposition. Who could resist the company-wide, capital “E” Event story? They were every comic book readers dream.
Back in ’87, the poster that had me buy The Uncanny X-Men # 225, my very first X-Men book incidentally, dealt with the recent “Mutant Registration Act” storyline, a plot thread that had governments register the names all people with super powers. It brilliantly aped a war-time propaganda advertisement and had me wondering if indeed, I knew what my children were.
I needed to discover more of the Marvel Universe and that opportunity came with the Fall of the Mutants storyline that ran through three of the company’s biggest selling titles: the previously mentioned Uncanny X-Men, The New Mutants and X-Factor. Chris Claremont, the long-standing writer on Uncanny X-Men, was at the helm on a story that promised to redefine the look of the team while adding fuel to the fire of political and social unrest within the universe.
The issue proved to be a great jumping on point for new reader. Indeed, the splash page named each member of the X-Men, a brilliant story device as the team had undergone a face lift in recent months. Lesser know, b-list characters such as Longshot, Havok, Dazzler and Psylocke were in the mix now, along with the established Wolverine and Storm, brought to the forefront of Marvel Comics readers everywhere and given their chance in the sun. (Interestingly, competitor DC Comics had made the same decision on starring characters in their flagship Justice League of America title, an idea that was failing at this point in time.) The Fall of the Mutants storyline ensured that readers would continue buying the series on a monthly basis while luring new ones like myself to the title.
Issue #225 is first chapter in that storyline, a brief introduction for the reader, both to characters and the environment. We learn that a team of super powered individuals, led by Mystique and sanctioned by the government, are out to apprehend mutants who will not register themselves. We also learn that a mysterious adversary aims to destroy both the X-Men and, possibly, the entire world.
Claremont knows these characters better then anyone else – he’s written them for so long. There is drama and intrigue here, of course, but also light-hearted comedy. In the midst of pitched battle between the X-Men and Mystique’s Freedom Force, there’s an amazingly funny scene between a “sitting” Blob and a “smothered” Wolverine. I don’t think anyway has seen ‘ole Wolvie use his razor-sharp adamentium claws in quite such a way before! He is, truly, the best at what he does! As a master of the sub-plot, Claremont hints at a relationship between the characters of Longshot and Spiral while alluding to a climactic choice on which the “fate of everything depends” that Peter Rasputin (Colossus) must make.
Readers get inside the head of these characters regularly (and literally) with thought balloons – a device common during the eighties but out of fashion in comics today. As Colossus loses his temper in a rubble mound that used to be a building (ruined in a previous battle between the X-Men and the Juggernaut), he contemplates the state of social unrest in the world and the friction between humans and mutants. “Perhaps my deeds are sufficient answer,” he thinks, “Often, we would joke amongst ourselves about how easy it is to see where the X-Men had been. But I suspect – for those whose lives are devastated in the process, no matter how noble or necessary the cause – it is not so funny.” This thought is the theme in both the distinction and the animosity between those who are “normal” and those with “gifts” – a theme Claremont often parlayed in his stories.
The kinetic art of Marc Silvestri is no less a lure into The Uncanny X-Men series. In the time of fan-favourite Todd McFarlane and the coming of Jim Lee, Silvestri could draw both a great action scene and a beautifully sexy super heroine. Having Dazzler on the cover pointing her fingers like a gun at the villains while her hips were slung in the other was no less a tag line for me than the actual title logo of the comic. His Wolverine was great too, rendered with scratchy, lively lines; his tight, blank eyes held a wild animal’s menace behind them. Absolutely perfect for the character.
As an introduction to the Marvel universe, The Uncanny X-Men did its job. As a DC fan, I went out seeking the three issue mini-series in each of the three titles this story-within-a-story featured. Afterwards, I went back regularly to the X-Men – not every month – but often enough to have a number of issues in my “longbox” collection. I went on to collect other Marvel Comics series as well, falling in love with titles such as Spider-Man and Thor.
I still live in the DC house, but every once in a while, I venture outside and visit my neighbour to see what they’re up to. Looking back, I wonder if the title Fall of the Mutants had a different meaning altogether.
The mutant heroes never died, like the story title suggested. Instead, perhaps it was I, in the end, that had fallen for Marvel’s mutant heroes.