Posted - November 28, 2011 | Updated : November 30, 2011 | December 1, 2011 | March 19, 2013 | August 17, 2015
Chris Claremont and John Byrne's X-Men
Synopsis of the Claremont-Byrne Run
This section will give a comprehensive summary of the stories contained in Uncanny X-Men 108 to 143 - the Claremont-Byrne run.
Issue 108 is the concluding issue of a previous story arc started by Claremont and artist Dave Cockrum. In this issue, Phoenix manifests cosmic-level powers as she prevents a neutron galaxy from exploding into our own universe. At the conclusion of this tale, the leadership of the Shi'ar Empire passes on to Lillandra but she cannot immediately ascend the throne. Lillandra, Professor Xavier and the X-Men head back to Earth.
As issue 109 opens the X-Men are taking a break. Wolverine chooses to relax by hunting alone. While doing so, he is attacked by Vindicator, leader of Alpha Flight. The combined might of Wolverine and the other X-Men prove too much for Vindicator as his attack is successfully repelled.
The Xavier mansion's security is breached by Warhawk, a Colossus-like superhuman sent by Sebastian Shaw of the Hellfire Club. The X-Men manage to take him down and turns him over to the authorities with no idea who sent him or why.
Once again, the Mansion is infiltrated. This time by old X-Men foe Mesmero. Mesmero uses his powers to enslave the X-Men and set them to work in a Circus. Hank McCoy, the Beast, currently a member of the Avengers, finds it strange that no one is answering his calls to the Mansion. He goes there to find his old team missing. Hank manages to track them to the Circus and proceeds to set them free.
All this time, Mesmero's movements are being tracked by Magneto. At an opportune moment, Magneto defeats Mesmero and holds the X-Men hostage. He takes the X-Men to his Antarctic base where he imprisons them. Storm frees her fellow X-Men and a great battle with Magneto ensues. The battle ends with the collapse of the Antarctic base.
Using her power, Phoenix manages to escape, taking the Beast with her. Thinking the other X-Men dead, the pair return to give the terrible news to Professor X.
Jean Grey travels to Muir Isle to deal with her grief.
The other X-Men have not perished. Using the twin powers of Cyclops and Banshee they manage to dig a tunnel under the ice and emerge into the Savage Land. In their turn, they believe that both Phoenix and the Beast have perished.
While in the Savage Land they confront Sauron and aid Ka-Zar against the machinations of the Petrified Man.
Distraught at the loss of most of his X-Men, Professor X decides to go with Lilandra to the Shi'ar Empire for her crowning as Majestrix Shi'ar. The Professor also remembers the events of his past when he dueled to the death with another telepath.
While travelling by boat from the Savage Land the X-Men encounter a powerful storm that threatens to capsize them. They are rescued by a Japanese freighter and are taken to Japan. They arrive just in time to help Sunfire and the Japanese government deal with the terrorist Moses Magnum. It is also here that Logan meets his great love Mariko and, in the battle with Moses Magnum, Banshee loses his powers.
On their way back from Japan, the X-Men are intercepted by Alpha Flight. The Canadian super-team demand that Wolverine go with them. After a lengthy battle, Wolverine agrees. But it is a dupe, Wolverine manages to escape from the Alpha Flight plane and rejoin the X-Men as they head back to the Mansion.
They find the Xavier Mansion empty and the facilities have been powered down. As they go about restoring their home they are set upon by the minions of Arcade.
The X-Men are captured and forced to run the gauntlet at Murderworld. During this time Colossus succumbs to his weakness while Storm proves her strength. The X-Men eventually escape Arcade.
There is good cheer all around as the Professor returns to find his students alive. The team also travel to Muir Isle for a reunion with Jean Grey. The happy occasion is shattered by the escape of Moira's son - the homicidal mutant Proteus. After much difficulty, the X-Men manage to track and confront Proteus. He is so dangerous that the X-Men are forced to destroy him.
Back in the United States the X-Men are set upon by the Hellfire Club. One by one they are captured, with Jean Grey falling prey to the power of Mastermind. The tide is eventually turned by the deadly Wolverine who sets about freeing his teammates.
While trying to take control of Jean Grey, Mastermind has destroyed psychic checks on her power as Phoenix. This power very quickly goes out of control - Dark Phoenix is born.
Dark Phoenix destroys a star in her hunger and, in so doing, also destroys a planet of five billion inhabitants. She is resisted by the Shi'ar but proves too powerful. In the end, it is the power of Professor X that manages to hold the Phoenix power in check, but by then it is too late. Jean Grey stands accused of genocide. In order to defend her, the X-Men take on the Shi'ar Imperial Guard. The Guard has the X-Men outnumbered in a battle in the blue area of the moon. In the end, Jean Grey brings about her own death.
Cyclops leaves the X-Men.
Wolverine makes peace with Alpha Flight, and, together with Nightcrawler, they help the Canadian team track down and cure the mighty Wendigo.
In the distant future, Kitty Pryde travels back in time to prevent the assasination of Senator Kelly. This will, in turn, avoid a future where America is ruled by the despotic Sentinels.
Kitty is left alone in the house during Christmas and is attacked by a N'Garai demon. It is her baptism of fire as the newest X-Man.
Highlights of the Claremont-Byrne Run
This is the last issue of a story arc involving the X-Men's adventure with the star-spanning Shi'Ar Empire. It is also the first issue of the Chris Claremont and John Byrne run.
John takes over from the equally legendary Dave Cockrum. In fact, this dedication appears at the end :
I love the "I'm not dead" note from Dave. And he's not uninvolved either, Dave Cockrum will still be doing a lot of the covers going forward.
It's evidently a wrap-up issue. Byrne's art is still a bit rough - it will become absolutely gorgeous during the next few issues. Not much catches my eye. There is the part when Wolverine gets punched so hard he reaches escape velocity and nearly goes into orbit. And then there's this:
From the writing and art point of view, this issue is unexceptional but it makes Comics Recommended because of sheer importance - this is the start of the Claremont-Byrne run in Uncanny X-Men. That's not a good run - it's a great one.
Holy Mother O' God! indeed. I've always loved the concept of the Savage Land : In the middle of the Antarctic ice, hidden by
clouds, is a tropical jungle lost in time. In the Savage Land, dinosaurs still walk the Earth and savage tribes hunt among the verdant trees. How amazing!
Chris Claremont throws in a fast-paced tale of the X-Men's struggle to save the Savage Land from the depredations of the Petrified Man. Along the way they encounter the classic X-Men villain Sauron!
Sauron is the evil alter ego of Dr. Karl Lykos. Dr. Lykos was bitten by a Savage Land pterodactyl that gave him a hunger for the life force of other creatures and would occasionally change him into the seven-foot tall (wingspan is twelve feet) Pterodactyl-Human amalgam, Sauron. In his pterodactyl form he is superhumanly strong and is capable of warping perceptions with his gaze. He can also unleash the life force he absorbs as blasts of pure energy.
Chris Claremont gave John Byrne a lot to work with here, and Byrne does not disappoint.
Check this out.
Now you know what Ororo means.
In issue 117 of Uncanny X-Men we have this panel:
And this panel:
Yup. This issue is about two guys sitting around in a tavern.
Actually, it's pretty interesting. One of those guys is, of course, Xavier. The other is Amahl Farouk. They're both telepaths and they both go at it like a pair of mad dogs. This two just fight it out. Claremont and Byrne gives us a ringside seat on what's it like for these psionic types to square off against each other and it makes for a very entertaining issue.
After leaving the Savage Land the X-Men travel by sea right into the path of a powerful storm. In danger of being wrecked, the X-Men are rescued by the crew of the Japanese ship "Jinguchi Maru". Since the ship is on a delicate mission and must maintain radio silence at all times, the X-Men are forced to take the long way home with a stopover in Japan. Upon arrival, they see the port of Agarishima on fire!
The fire has been caused by a man-made earthquake, the work of wealthy industrialist Moses Magnum. The X-Men help out and proceed to infiltrate Magnum's island lair. I particularly love this shot of Nightcrawler, showing his ability to blend into the darkness.
Two things of particular note in this story arc is Logan finding his lady love Mariko - these two will be the subject of many X-Men stories to come. Also here, is Banshee's finest moment as an X-Man; a moment that comes with a very high price.
The panel above is from the a story called "The Trial of Colossus".
That's Cyclops saving Nightcrawler by taking out several deadly Murderworld cars with ONE optic blast. Good stuff.
In this story, Colossus and Storm make for an interesting dichotomy. Murderworld was designed to exploit weaknesses. In Colossus' case, he succumbs to the pressure. Ororo, on the other hand, shows how strong she really is. I remembered this story when, later on, Storm becomes the second leader of the X-Men.
Like some people, I'm morbidly fascinated by Jack the Ripper - I have several books on my shelf about the shadowy fiend who terrorized London in the late nineteenth century. There's a particular feel to the Ripper tales that Claremont manages to recreate in Uncanny X-Men 125 to 128.
Maybe it's the nature of Mutant X or Proteus as he is called. He has no physical body and has to kill people to use them as hosts - burning out these hosts in a matter of hours. This ability allows him to assume any number of identities. For a long while, the X-Men are reduced to following a trail of dead bodies.
Claremont gave this villain some balance. Proteus has a fearsome power - he can alter reality. This is major, Franklin Richards-level power. He also has a major weakness - metal. As in bullets. But you have to find him and resist his reality-warping power before you can shoot him. He almost does get shot, by Moira MacTaggert, his mother. Yup. His mother. It all gets very interesting as Claremont pulls on all the right strings.
In later years, Wolverine would become the breakout star among these new X-Men. He won't be big- he would be huge; nearly on par with Spider-Man himself. That's not quite right, no one is as big as Spidey. It's said that Wolverine inherited the mantle of The Thing, who was as huge in the seventies as Wolverine was in the eighties and beyond.
I can't help thinking that the start of such celebrity was here, in the Hellfire story arc. Wolverine really comes out well here, showing up as the last hope of the X-Men against the smothering attack of the Hellfire Club.
It was brilliant of of Claremont to make Shaw a mutant as well as a billionaire. That way he can harass the X-Men from multiple fronts. The choice of power is also spot on. I like Shaw's ability to absorb and project kinetic energy; it allows him to adapt to whatever X-Man is currently attacking him. The arrogant attitude tops it off to make an excellent X-Men villain.
The Hellfire Club is the club of the 1% - the wealthiest of the wealthy. That's an excellent match for the X-Men, because near as I can tell, Professor Xavier must be a multi-billionaire. Also, it's really nice to have our heroes dress up for these lavish parties in those posh locations.
These three armored attackers have been sent by the Hellfire club to capture X-Men. More than that, they are each calibrated for the specific powers of the X-Man each is supposed to capture. More than that, all throughout the story arc the Hellfire Club knows exactly where the X-Men are. The level of preparation is impressively thorough, lending the Club an added aura of malevolent competence.
I should also mention that two future X-Men of note appear in this arc for the very first time: Kitty Pryde and Dazzler.
Just in case I don't get the message across correctly, I'll just come out and say it : The Dark Phoenix Saga is the best story arc in the Claremont-Byrne run. Byrne's art is topnotch but it is Claremont who really pulls out all the stops. Plotting is faultless, sequences blend into each other seemlessly with well-timed transitions, dialogue is in character. Best of all is the pacing, as Claremont builds up to several key moments in the story with heart-wrenching effectiveness. This is as flawless as this run can get. It is a joy to read.
Claremont and Byrne expand the backdrop to galactic levels. This panel is representative of that.
To the left is the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree Empire. To the right the ruler of the Skrull Empire. In the foreground Lilandra, Majestrix Shi'ar with her ministers. These are three of the four galaxy-spanning races of the Marvel Universe (the fourth are the Badoon) - a testament to how big this storyline is.
This is the core event of the storyline.
The murder of five billion innocents by the Phoenix. Jean Grey is one of the gentlest, kindest, X-Men, just imagine what this does to her - not to mention the rest of the team.
There are so many great things in this three-issue arc. If you read closely you'll notice a vindication of sorts for Professor X - the last few issues have been showing a strained, subtle competition between him and Cyclops; here too is the ending between the long running romance between Scott Summers and Jean Grey. The battle scene is from the best of the X-Men tradition: they are outnumbered, outgunned and running out of time - this always brings out the best in them. Build up of the story is strong, and the ending is very satisfying.
One thing though, the story arc can be read as a standalone tale but it will reward those who are familiar with recent X-Men history. Jean Grey's inner conflict starts long before issue 135 and many other subplots have their origins from previous issues. But don't let this stop you, I won't even hesitate to recommend this to those who haven't read a single issue of the X-Men.
This issue is very enjoyable because it is a one-issue summary of X-Men history from the first issue done in 1963 to the Dark Phoenix Saga ending in issue 137. For long time readers, and those familiar with at least some of the past stories, it
helps put things in perspective and is a very pleasurable read.
Surprisingly, from the vantage point of this summary, Professor X does not come across as the benevolent and perfect teacher that I always thought him to be.
John Byrne does a fine job of copying the art styles of Jack Kirby and Werner Roth in some of the panels. But there are panels that are signature Byrne; and its great to see his take on those old stories. Here's a fine example:
Here's his take on the new costumes of the original X-Men by Neal Adams.
Today X-Men history is spread over a number of books, and I would think thousands of issues. I don't' think they can do this one issue recap anymore.
The five issues scattered throughout the Claremont-Byrne run in Uncanny X-Men can be considered the introduction of the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight. Let's look at the team one by one.
Vindicator's power derives from his steel mesh suit. The battlesuit is able to manipulate the Earth's electromagnetic field giving Vindicator a variety of powers: flight, the projection of concussive force and force field generation.
Just like Dr. Bruce Banner, Dr. Walter Langkowski experimented with gamma rays. As a consequence, he is able to transform himself at will to the ten foot tall, two thousand pound Sasquatch. The Sasquatch is not as strong as the Hulk who is rated at strength class 100. Sasquatch is strength class 70, same as Colossus.
Both Aurora and Northstar have super speed (potentially light speed if only there were no atmosphere). When they come into physical contact with each other, they can generate a powerful strobe light.
Shaman is the Canadian Dr. Strange, the heir to lore so ancient it was old before Canada was Canada. Par for the course are magical feats of different kinds. He also has a bottomless "medicine pouch" from which he can draw different magical artifacts.
Snowbird is a half-human half-god. She can take the form of any arctic animal.
Issue 109 is about Vindicator's attempt to capture Wolverine. Issues 120-121 has the whole team going up against the X-Men to get to Wolverine. By issue 139-140 we have peace between Alpha Flight and the X-Men at last, as Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Vindicator, Snowbird and Shaman team up to hunt down the Wendigo - a creature so powerful it can fight toe-to-toe with the Hulk. In particular, I like this panel very much.
In this issue, Storm dies . . .
So does Wolverine . . .
Plus . . . the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!
Next Kitty destroys most of the Mansion, the Danger Room and the SR71. She's going up alone against a Demon from the X-Men's adventure with the N'Garai in issue 96. Tough critter too.
This is a Christmas issue and a baptism of sorts for Kitty.
This is also the last issue of the Claremont-Byrne run.