In a Nutshell
The X-Men fight the demonic Kierrok.
Author: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockum
Inker: Sam Grainger
Letterer: Dave Hunt
Colorist: Phil Rachelson
Editor: Marv Wolfman
Plotting Assist: Bill Mantlo
As Cyclops grieves over Thunderbird's death, he unleashes his power in a blind rage, unknowingly blasting through an ancient cairn. Back at the mansion, the X-Men are training in the Danger Room when Wolverine almost kills Nightcrawler. As Xavier discusses Cyclops' mood with Banshee, Moira MacTaggert arrives at the mansion, having been asked by Xavier to look after the house while he is away on vacation. Meanwhile, Dr. Steven Lang of Project Armageddon is visited by an old friend, Colonel Michael Rossi, who has been tasked with reporting on Lang's progress. Realizing that Lang intends to launch a mutant witch hunt, Rossi decides to recommend that the project be shut down, much to Lang's displeasure. Back at the school, Cyclops suddenly bursts through the wall in battle with the demonic Kierrok of the N'Garai, who escaped from the cairn Cyclops destroyed.
The X-Men manage to defeat Keirrok, but he then reforms, stronger than ever. Cyclops says he's destroyed the creature several times already, only to have it come back to life stronger than ever. As the X-Men battle it once more, Xavier reads its mind, then sends Storm off towards the cairn. There, she is attacked by more demons, but manages to fend them off with a lightening bolt which reseals the cairn and causes Kierrok to vanish. Elsewhere, Colonel Rossi's plane crashes, seemingly killing him.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks Moira MacTaggert's first appearance, who, we will eventually learn, is a renowned geneticist and research colleague of Xavier's, as well as his former fiancee, and who will go on to become arguably the book's most important supporting character. Here, she's introduced merely as a Scottish woman Xavier has hired to look after the mansion, but hints of her role in things to come are present (see below).
Steven Lang appears for the first time, as the head of Project Armageddon. He is following in the footsteps of the Sentinel-creating Trask family in desiring to wage war on mutants. Lang mentions being beholden to a council; this will later be revealed as as the Council of the Chosen, the precursor to the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle, retroactively making this issue, in a manner of speaking, the first mention of that organization.
This is also the first appearance of Michael Rossi, an Air Force colonel, who will go on to become a relatively minor supporting character in X-Men and Ms. Marvel.
Kierrok, a member of the demonic N'Garai, appears for the first time. The N'Garai are not exactly a staple of the X-Men's Rogues Gallery, but Wolverine will fit them again in a mid-90s annual and they will pop up again around X-Men (vol. 2) #75.
More notably, Chris Claremont takes over full writing responsibilities with this issue, marking the beginning of his sixteen year solo run as writer of X-Men.
A Work in Progress
Seeds of the future Nightcrawler/Wolverine friendship are planted, as Wolverine gets enraged when Kierrok attacks Nightcrawler.
Wolverine exhibits a weird dialogue tic, peppering his dialogue with the word "baby" a lot. Thankfully, it never caught on.
We also see what will later come to be known as Wolverine's "berserker rage" for the first time.
Storm's past as a child in Cairo, the death of her parents and her resultant claustrophobia are hinted at for the first time.
That 70s Comic
Why comics are awesome: Moira MacTaggert pulling a machine gun out of Professor X's armory.
Storm doesn't have time to dodge this bolt of energy, but she does have time to explain that she doesn't have time to dodge it.
Dave Cockrum turns in a nifty psychedelic half page depicting Xavier's telepathic reading of Kierrok's mind.
This issue marks the first appearance of one of Claremont's favorite story tropes, the invasion of our world by demonic forces. Though relatively self-contained here, he'll craft variations on the theme several times in the years to come.
Banshee is immediately smitten with Moira, kicking off one of the book's longer-lasting romances.
The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Hulk smash Hostess Fruit Pie!
Who will YOU be for Halloween?
Chris Claremont on the core idea of the X-Men
"Hated and feared by a world that they're sworn to protect. Basically, it was everything that Stan set up right off the get-go. What with me being an immigrant-when you're a kid walking around Elmhurst in British schoolboy shorts, knee socks, a Peter Parker sleeveless sweater, a tie, a school blazer, T-strapped sandals and an English accent, you often got your head handed to you-and always moving around-my dad was in the Army at that point-I alwaus felt like the proverbial fish out of water. Being an outsider sort of came naturally to me so I understood where the X-Men were coming from."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p63
Dave Cockrum on Storm's character design
"What wound up being Storm was originally a character called the Black Cat, and I had a character named Typhoon that had Thor's powers and cape. I kind of combined my Black Cat character with Typhoon and ended up with Storm. Marvel liked her, though Len [Wein] was worried that the white hair would make everybody think Storm was somebody's grandmother. I said, 'Trust me, they're not going to think she's anybody's grandmother."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p85
Dave Cockrum on working with Chris Claremont
"His first solo issue was pretty much presented to me as a full script. Chris was going off to England and so he did a full script for that one. After that we worked together much more as co-plotters."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p89
Chris Claremont takes over the book in full, and his presence is immediately felt as he crafts a slow moving (for the time) tale examining the X-Men's grief in the wake of Thunderbird's death (as one of the commenters on Jason Powell's post about this issue remarked, the N'Garai invasion can be seen as a metaphor for grief, in that the demons threatens to overwhelm the X-Men until they attack it at its source). As Cyclops unknowingly unleashes a monster that will threaten the team (leading to the standard-for-its-time fight scene by issue's end), the rest of the team is depicted training and interacting with one another, allowing Claremont an opportunity to try his hand at what he'll be remembered for best: characterization. With Len Wein out of the way, Claremont has free reign, and already we can see some of the characters' personalities edging towards what they'll become : Wolverine as reckless but loyal, a more flamboyant, cheerful Nightcrawler, and Storm's perseverance.