In a Nutshell
The gathered X-teams debate their future.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Pencilers: Whilce Portacio, Klaus Janson, John Byrne, Rick Leonardi, Marc Silvestri, Michael Golden, Larry Stroman, Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
With all three teams gathered at the remains of the X-Mansion, Storm, Cable, Cyclops & Marvel Girl debate their next course of action, with Cable insisting that they need to strike hard and fast at their enemies, while the others counter that Professor Xavier never intended for them to be soldiers. Eventually, Cable storms out, proclaiming that whatever course of action they take, somebody needs to step up, leaving the rest to ponder whether they're still fit caretakers for Xavier's dream. Meanwhile, Banshee contacts Moira MacTaggert while Beast & Forge work on a cure for Wolfsbane and Archangel leads Cannonball in a Danger Room flying lesson. As Storm walks the grounds, Gambit approaches her, eager to return to their former lifestyle as thieves, but Storm insists the team needs her. Later, Psylocke expresses her concerns over her transformed state to Jean, while Gambit and Wolverine spar in the Danger Room, watched by a concerned Jubilee.
Suddenly, a simulation of Lady Deathstrike appears and attacks Wolverine, though Jubilee has no idea who programmed it. Wolverine manages to defeat her, but Gambit takes advantage of the distraction to defeat Wolverine in turn. Meanwhile, Jean tries to use Cerebro to locate some of the missing X-Men, but is attacked on the Astral Plane by the Shadow King. Unable to defend herself without telepathy, Psylocke is forced to save her, but doing so leaves Jean with no memory of her attacker. Later, the newly-attired X-Men gather above ground, having decided to stay together as a group. As Cyclops and Jean Grey bid farewell, Lila Cheney & Guido suddenly drive up, with Lila declaring that Professor Xavier needs their help. Just as Cyclops and Jean fly back to investigate the commotion, Storm tells Lila to take them to Xavier, and Lila complies, teleporting away along with the X-Men.
Firsts and Other Notables
This is an artistic jam issue, as evidenced by the credits above, with a variety of pencillers, some of whom have worked on the X-books, some of whom who will, and some who never have, handing in a handful of pages apiece, with whole thing inked by regular inker Scott Williams. Given the level of talent involved (this isn't a bunch of fill-in artists scambling to get an issue done on deadline), this issue was always presumably meant to be a jam, but I have no idea who decided on it or why.
Notably, this marks John Byrne's first pencil work on Uncanny X-Men since leaving the series with issue #143 (he's made other, albeit brief, contributions to the franchise since then, but this is first Uncanny work since leaving).
This issue marks the formal end to the "Non-Team Era" of the series, as it features a unified team of X-Men for the first time since issue #251, comprised of the various scattered bits coming together to form one team: Storm, Gambit, Banshee, Forge, Wolverine, Psylocke and Jubilee (thus, this is also the issue when Jubilee, Forge and Gambit formally join the X-Men).
Also, everyone adopts the yellow/blue uniform Forge & Banshee have been sporting since the Reavers' attack on Muir Island, thus putting all the X-Men in a unified look for the first time since the 60s (reportedly, something Jim Lee and/or Bob Harras wanted, as part of their desires to bring the book to a more classic, "old school" aesthetic.
In general, it's something of a divisive look amongst fans, as it doesn't make a ton of sense that a group of mostly adult characters, many of whom (like Gambit and Wolverine) have strong personalities that seem unlikely to go along with a "school uniform" approach. On the other hand, the uniforms have been established to work as body armor, so it makes some tactical sense for everyone to wear one, and there is something charming in having a unified team look, in part BECAUSE this group is so much older and features such strong personalities. Ultimately, it's a short-lived look (though as has been mentioned before, this is pretty much Forge and Banshee's default looks for much longer), but I do tend to like it, particularly once the little splashes of individuality get highlighted (like Banshee's wings, Forge's cybernetics, Jubilee's glasses & earrings, and Gambit's coat).
In the dramatis personae on the opening splash, while all the other characters are listed by their codenames, Jean is simply "Jean Grey", instead of Marvel Girl; she will formally drop the "Marvel Girl" codename and simply go by her given name after the upcoming shuffling of the line.
Prior to his appearance in the next two issues, Magneto's status is discussed, with his apparent reversion to villainy via "Acts of Vengeance" and the subsequent Dark Scarlet Witch story in Avengers West Coast referenced. Storm, to her credit, notes that whatever's up with him now, he did his best as Headmaster to the New Mutants (at least for as long as she was around to observe it, of course) and may be worth seeking out in that regard.
This issue features the first direct interaction between the Wolverine of the 80s and the Wolverine of the 90s as Wolverine and Gambit face off in the Danger Room, with Gambit emerging the ultimate winner.
More hints about Gambit are dropped in this issue: Wolverine notes that he fights like Longshot (something pointed to by the "Gambit is Longshot" theorists, despite the fact that Longshot never went through the Siege Perilous), and it's implied that Gambit is responsible for programming the Lady Deathstrike simulation which attacks Wolverine (and ultimately gives Gambit his victory), which was likely meant as a hint towards Gambit's intended nefarious motives that ultimately goes nowhere.
Similarly, Gambit entreats Storm to leave the X-Men with him, which could be read as Gambit trying to get the one member of the team he legitimately likes clear of whatever nefarious schemes he knows are coming, but ultimately is just a plea by him to return to their old life together now that the immediate Genoshan crisis has passed.
Entering the Astral Plane, Jean encounters and is attacked by the Shadow King. Lacking telepathy, she is saved by Psylocke, but the effects of Psylocke's efforts leave Jean with no memory of the Shadow King's identity, effectively keeping his plotline on the back-burner for a little while longer.
For whatever reason (possibly the jam elements) this was always an especially pricey back issue back in the day, especially relative to the subsequent Jim Lee issues of the series, one of the "wall" books kept out of easy reach at the local hobby store that I lusted after for a long time before getting enough money to buy a copy.
A Work in Progress
A holographic globe presents the names and known locations of some of the X-Teams' biggest threats at the moment; notably absent are Apocalypse and Shadow King (whom the X-Men don't know about at this point.
Cyclops insists to Cable that the X-Men weren't brought up to be soldiers, even though Cyclops spent of significant amount of time in Louise Simonson's early X-Factor issues angsting over how all Xavier ever taught him was how to be a soldier.
Storm admits that her idea to fake the X-Men's deaths so as to better strike at their enemies was perhaps wrong, hanging a lampshade on that criticism and formally bringing it to a close.
Similarly, Cable chides the X-Men for being splintered and scattered, a possible acknowledgement of the criticisms surround the "Non Team" nature of the series prior to "X-Tinction Agenda".
Iceman and Boom-Boom spend this issue pranking each other a nice (probably unintentional) nod to their relationship in Boom-Boom's early X-Factor appearances.
Cyclops offers the X-Men a place in Ship, noting that it would be both more spacious and secure than sharing the X-Mansion basement with the New Mutants, but Storms counters that living secluded from humanity, separated from them by a barrier that prevents them from entering Ship, may be antithetical to Xavier's dream, possibly a bit of veiled criticism towards X-Factor's current status quo on Claremont's part (or just a convienant hand-wavy explanation for why the two teams aren't just reintegrating at this point).
This issue includes a now-regular reminder that something is off about Moira, that she's acting wilder and stranger than ever.
It's noted that, thus far, Forge has been unable to find a way to reverse Rahne's Mutate transformation, and that the longer it takes him to find a solution, the more difficult any solution will be.
It's noted that Psylocke has yet to tell her brother she's alive, in part due to her transformation by the Hand and concerns over any lingering effects of their brainwashing.
Lila Cheney, last seen desperate to reach the X-Men in issue #270, pops up at the end of this issue saying Professor X needs their help, and transporting them away, kicking off their next story arc.
Gambit finishes Wolverine off in the Danger Room by saying, "Bang, you dead."
Per the GCD, the breakdown of which artists drew which pages is as follows: Whilce Portacio (p.1-3); Klaus Janson (p. 4-6); John Byrne (p. 7-9); Rick Leonardi (p. 10-12); Marc Silvestri (p. 13-15); Michael Golden (p. 16-18); Jim Lee (p. 19-22); Larry Stroman (p. 23-24).
Former series artist Marc Silvestri, appropriately enough given his reputation for sexing up the characters, draws a shower scene between Jean Grey and Psylocke.
The Best There is at What He Does
It's once again noted that Wolverine is not in top form, a condition to which his loss to Gambit is partially credited.
In addition to the fun of the artistic jam, which showcases some pretty great artists as well as offers a neat microcosm of X-artists of the past, present and future, this is a fascinating issue in terms of how it represents where the franchise is at this point in time, and where it's heading, especially in light of the then-upcoming (but still, as far as I know, unannounced/unplanned) line-wide reshuffling and launch of a second X-Men series. It is, effectively, the final Classic Claremont Quiet issue written by Chris Claremont (later writers will adopt the style), serving as both an epilogue to the recently-completed "X-Tinction Agenda" and teasing future stories, both immediately (the Lila Cheney/Shi'ar arc) and further out (the final resolution to all this long-simmering Shadow King business). In the same way that the issue both looks back and forward to recently finished and soon to begin stories, it seems to also sit astride both the history and the future of the franchise, a physical representation of the push-and-pull unfolding in the pages between the Claremontian past and the upcoming Claremont-less, artist-driven future.
The conversations between Storm, Cyclops and Jean Grey in the issue's early pages serve as, if not an outright mea culpea, then at least an acknowledgement on Claremont's part that perhaps exiling the X-Men to Australia, leading the world to believe they were dead, and then dismantling the team and focusing on its scattered remnants wasn't, understandably, to everyone's taste - and, as much as has been written about the conflicts between Claremont the Innovator and Classicists Harras and Lee around this time, this admission from Claremont seems genuine; he didn't have to script the dialogue that way, after all. Furthermore, this issue offers a tantalizing hint of what's to come, if not in a full embrace of Cable's "shoot first, ask questions later attitude" (which will shortly overwhelm New Mutants and lead to the creation of X-Force) then at least in a world of reintegrated X-teams, where the various plot- and editorially-driven walls keeping X-Factor and the X-Men apart (keeping Jean's return a secret, distrust of Magneto, faked deaths and outer space adventures) no longer exist.
Yet, while the issue ends with a newly reformed and official looking team of X-Men (wearing matching uniforms for the first time since the early 60s - see Jim Lee: Classicist), thus formally ending the nebulous "Non Team Era", it also ends with X-Factor going their separate ways again, having offered in the course of the issue no good explanation for why the two teams shouldn't stay together at this point (Storm's point about Ship is well made, and the mansion's basement is too small, but, uh, maybe just rebuild the mansion?) aside from the fact that, apparently, the X-Men can see the future and know that true reunification has to wait for just over a half dozen issues.
Thus, this issue presents a glimpse of the future, a future that, reading this issue now, we know will come to pass, but only after it's held at arm's length for a seemingly-arbitrary while. Whether this is a result of Claremont exerting the last of his quickly-dwindling influence to delay the inevitable (as if to say, "fine, you've got your traditional team and your classic uniforms, but we're still keeping the books separate, consarnit!"), or simply the fact that the marketing department hadn't yet stumbled onto the idea of "two X-Men titles = two times the money!", or something else entirely, is unknown. Whatever the reason, the end result is a story that manages to be fascinatingly prescient yet unwilling to step directly into the very future it's predicting, and is thus a microcosm of the entire X-universe at this point, a franchise with a series and a writer at its center which is desperately beating on against the current, being borne ceaselessly not into the past, but to the future.
Tomorrow, a trio of first appearances in New Mutants #98. Friday, a new artist comes aboard in X-Factor #63. Next week, a new Fantastic Four is formed in Fantastic Four #347-349.