In a Nutshell
The death of Magneto & departure of Chris Claremont.
By: Chris Claremont & Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
The Gold team races for Asteroid M, hoping to rescue Professor X and their brainwashed teammates before the plasma cannon fires. They manage to seemingly sneak aboard the station and reach Professor X, but they're then attacked by the Blue team. As the battle rages, the Blue team slowly seems to come to their senses, just as Magneto and his Acolytes intervene. But as Magneto suddenly collapses in pain, Wolverine appears with Moira, who explains that her attempt to modify Magneto's mind failed as soon as he used his powers, just as its failed on the X-Men during their battle, and that Cortez, who has fled the asteroid, hasn't been healing Magneto, only amplifying his powers to mask his injuries. Just then, the cannon fires, and Magneto uses the last of his strength to hold the asteroid together long enough for Xavier and the X-Men to flee. But the Acolytes refuse to leave, choosing instead to die with Magneto, and Xavier must be dragged to safety, refusing to abandon his old friend. As Magneto dies, he opens his mind to Xavier, insisting it's better that his dream die in this manner, giving Xavier his dream instead, even as he fears Xavier's heart will break when it fails him. As the X-Men return to Earth, Xavier speaks to the power of hope, insisting that the X-Men are obligated to try and create a better world than the one Magneto knew.
Firsts and Other Notables
This is Chris Claremont's final issue of X-Men, bringing to an end a run (combined with Uncanny X-Men) that stretches all the way back to 1976, as the writer, fed up with the conditions of working with Jim Lee and with editor Bob Harras clearly favoring Lee's ideas for the direction of the series over Claremont's, decides to leave the characters he turned into blockbuster superstars. He will, of course, return to the X-Men, a handful of times of varying lengths and quality, but he'll never again achieve the peaks - creatively or commercially- that he did during this initial, groundbreaking run.
Claremont was actually long gone by the time this issue (and in fact, all three issues of the series thus far) was on sale, with news of his departure leaking to fans around the time X-Force #1 was on sale. He agreed to do this initial three issue story as a sort of severance package for himself, one which ended up paying out handsomely.
Magneto dies this issue, going down in flames aboard Asteroid M along with his remaining Acolytes, in order to help the X-Men escape. He will, of course, be back, but remains dead for roughly two years (1993's crossover, "Fatal Attractions", is built around his return), which is a rather remarkable length of time for the franchise to go without its signature villain, especially at a time when it's profile is arguably the highest it will ever be. It marks the longest sustained absence of the character since his de-aging in Defenders, and as someone who read most of these issues in real time, month-to-month, it certainly felt a lot longer than two years before he came back.
Magneto's death can be read as another example of the future Image guys cleaning house, pushing him out of the way along with the Reavers, Hellfire Club and Hellions over in Uncanny, but given that he receives much more of a proper sendoff than those characters, and his death coincides with Claremont's departure from the series, it reads much more like Claremont putting his favorite toy back in the toybox before he leaves.
This initial wave of Acolytes, most of whom are ciphers beyond Cortez, also die this issue, and for the most part, they will remain dead, though the concept of the Acolytes will be resurrected by Cortez and that iteration of the group will eventually come to serve the resurrected Magneto as well.
The latest iteration of Asteroid M is destroyed as well, though we'll eventually see that parts of it will fall to Earth, and some of those parts will later serve as the basis for Utopia, the artificial island sanctuary the X-Men will operate out of during Matt Fraction's later run.
This issue rolls back the idea, suggested in the previous one, that Magneto's repudiation of his villainous nature was a result of being brainwashed by Moira while an infant in her care, establishing that while Moira did try to alter him biochemistry, the change was reversed almost immediately after Magneto started using his powers, an effect also depicted on the brainwashed Blue team: the more they use their powers, the more quickly they come to their senses. Unfortunately, the fact that the previous issue's retcon is undone (re-retconned? Conned?) in this issue occasionally gets overlooked, as some sources still cite Moira's manipulation as the explanation for Magneto's time as a member of the X-Men.
Cortez's true colors are revealed this issue as well, and we learn that his mutant ability to amplify other abilities is merely masking Magneto's ill-health, making him worse rather than healing him (confirming Cortez does not in fact have a healing power), shortly before abandoning Magneto and the rest of the Acolytes to their deaths, the better to position himself to take full advantage of Magneto's oncoming martyrdom. It will eventually be revealed that Cortez, like Fitzroy and Shinobi Shaw, is a member of the Upstarts, with his "killing" of Magneto giving him a sizeable points advantage in their contest.
Gambit and Rogue are seen interacting with each other directly for the first time in this issue, the start of a relationship that will come to dominate the franchise for next half dozen or so years, and never truly goes away. Gambit seems to hint that he'd be immune to Rogue's powers, something he'll do on-and-off through the years, before she does touch him, and it turns out, he's not (with his insistence otherwise chalked up to cockiness/indifference).
The Blue team fights the Gold team this issue, an idea so obvious in its geekery once two teams of X-Men are created that it's not surprising it happened this fast (though with plenty of other things to cover, the actual fight doesn't amount to much, and no clear winner really emerges).
A Work in Progress
Opening narration in this issue declares that roughly 50 miles up is where space begins, the highest point humans can travel in anything less than a rocket. I have no idea if this is correct, but it's one of those cool science-y facts that occasionally get worked into comics.
The Gold team's method of reaching Asteroid M is also clever, in that comic book science kind of way: flying a transparent glider powered by Storm into space, after which Jean telekinetically grabs onto the asteroid and drags the ship towards it. Not sure the science entirely holds up (and Forge apparently built this thing fast), but on the surface, it's lots of fun.
Banshee's jaw is broken by Gambit this issue, a minor continuity point over the next couple issues.
In the last Claremontism scripted by the man himself, Delgado tells Colossus, it's "your choice...your funeral!"
The Best There is at What He Does, Mon Ami
Similar to his catching of a bullet in issue #1, Gambit is able to use his staff to deflect all of Forge's shots.
On the final page of the issue, Professor X gives a little soliloquy which can be read as Claremont giving a final statement on the purpose of the X-Men and their thematic importance.
Bob Harras on Chris Claremont Leaving the X-Men
"With X-Men, there are some things you can't get away from for too long: the school dynamics; Xavier; the fact that they're essentially students learning how to use their powers; that sort of thing. But the book was becoming more like Avengers. The X-Men now had aliens and magically-powered characters on the team. I felt like we had to go back to what X-Men was all about, and to me X-Men was Xavier and Scott and Jean and all the other classic characters. But Chris didn't want to do that kind of stuff any more. He felt that he had done it already. My point was, 'Sure, that's the X-Men!' It was getting so we were speaking the same language, but we couldn't understand each other.
Also, at that point, I was getting whispers from the sales department, saying that the retailers were unhappy. There was a subtle pressure from that direction to do something drastic with the book. It was doing well enough, but I got these rumblings that excitement wasn't there any more. It had the numbers still, that was Chris' point, and it was valid. His books had the best sales by far in the industry. He had made it the number one book. Why mess with that? But, on the other hand, I knew I had a great asset in Jim [Lee], who also had feelings about the direction he wanted the stories to take. It was like, 'Which way do we go?' The other thing was, as the books were coming out during all this tension, they were getting better and better. There was more excitement in them. So I thought, 'Okay, if we get through this, Chris will see that we're having a great ride here."
"On the one hand, I was thinking, 'Hey, buddy, we're just going to keep on going!' But there was also a fear in me that the franchise was going to die. I had read Chris's X-books for years, so his leaving was huge. I really wanted to work it out. I wanted Chris and Jim to be a team. When Chris opted out, there was this definite feeling of, 'Holy shit!' But another part was, ;Okay, we can still do this,' Because I did believe in the character, the concept, and that we could keep going. That being said, I was far from happy, because I had great respect for Chris. Even in our worst head-butting period, I recognized Chris as the guy who had created this thing. Well, maybe not created, but had certainly developed it. So I had mixed emotions. but I also knew that Jim had a lot of really exciting ideas".
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p178
Chris Claremont on Leaving the X-Men
"Working with Jim [Lee] was a lot of fun, but the institutional strains were starting to kick in. The problem was that Jim was just as strong-willed as I was. Jim wanted to do stuff that reminded him of the things that made him get into comics in the first place. He wanted to bring back Magneto and do the Sentinels and all that sort of stuff. My problem was I had already done those things...at least twice. I wanted to try and find some new stories to do. New stuff for the new millennium, you know! We couldn't find any sort of common ground that would allow us to compromise...Bob Harras was editing X-Men in those days and he was a lot more simpatico to Jim than he was to me. Looking back at it from the vantage point of the here-and-now, I can see no one had either perspective or the incentive to find a way out. There was just no comfort zone. There was just all this butting of heads and we all got boxed into corners. Bob and Jim wanted to do what they wanted to do and the feeling was I could not or would not go along, and they were going to do it anyway. I thought, I've worked too hard. The time has come maybe to see if I can survive with the X-Men. So I quit X-Men and left Marvel."
"At some point, Bob decided to follow Jim's vision on X-Men and that's when I knew it was time to go."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. pp75-76
"It wasn't even a case of 'Jim will handle X-Men, you can take Uncanny.' No one on the editorial side wanted to talk about it, it was just take it or leave it situation....Jim was not a consistent producer. I'd get seven pages; a week or two would go by, and I'd get fourteen pages. There were cases where I'd get the pages and I'd have to script them and send them to the printer a day later. It was a panic."
Howe, Sean. Marvel Comics - The Untold Story. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. p327-328
Chris Claremont on Magneto
"It's never been as cut-and-dried as 'he is a hero, he is a villain,' He is a man with an agenda, a set set of beliefs. He is someone who, if you want a more contemporary analogy, could be considered Malcolm X to Charles Xavier's Martin Luther King. He doesn't trust the world outside. His belief is bone-deep. His belief is that to trust humanity is to ultimately be betrayed by them. He looks around and he, for example, sees what's happening to the Kurds and that proves his point that governments will find a way to screw you no matter how much they say differently. From the perspective of someone who spent his youth in a death camp - not even a concentration camp - in Auschwitz, he is extraordinarily bitter and extraordinarily cynical and extraordinarily distrustful. His belief is 'I must do what I must do to protect my people. I will take whatever steps are necessary to achieve that goal. Whatever is in my way must either get out of my way or I will remove it from my way. Whoever tries to stop me must face the consequences.'"
Darwin McPherson. "An Exact Man: An Interview with Chris Claremont." Amazing Heroes July 1991: p39
Claremont on the theme of prejudice and intolerance in X-Men
“The X-Men is the only Marvel book I’m aware of that, when it was started, had a specific theme, that theme being that humanity hates mutants simply because they exist...the X-Men are hated, feared, and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants. So what we have here, intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry, and prejudice. That gives it a very possibly far heavier thematic structure than is perhaps intended for [mainstream] comic books, but I think that’s one of the things that’s given the book its endearing nature over the years. It’s a book about outsiders, about people who are beyond the pale, so to speak, which is something that any teenager can identify with. It is a story about downtrodden, repressed people fighting to change their situation, which I think anybody can empathize with. And it’s a book through which we can say certain things about the human condition that might not be as easily said in, say, The Avengers.”
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p32
And with that, Chris Claremont's 15 years writing the X-Men, a run of unprecedented quantity and quality, then and now, comes to an end. He will be back, a few different times (because little in superhero comics is forever), but none of those later returns ever rival this initial run, in terms of length, impact, or sheer quality of writing. This is, for all intents and purposes, the end of an era, and Claremont's importance to the X-Men cannot be overstated. That we are discussing this today, that X-Men movies have been released steadily into theaters for the last sixteen years as of this writing, that the X-Men continue to be a going concern for Marvel, is all down to Claremont, and the work he and his many gifted collaborators did from 1976 to 1991. Everything that follows for the X-Men, for better and worse, lives in the shadow of Claremont, either in attempting to replicate and/or honor what he did, or in reacting against and/or repudiating it. He introduced at least a dozen lasting characters to the Marvel Universe, helped develop Wolverine into a richly complex character and sales engine in his own right, and turned a lone bi-monthly title into a full-fledged franchise.
Much has been written about Claremont's departure, how it was handled, who was to blame. He received a raw deal, no doubt about it, pushed aside in favor of the hot new thing (which, in a delightful bit of schadenfreude, shortly thereafter pushed aside the people who booted Claremont), despite his decades of history and the level of his success, elevating an afterthought of a title into an industry juggernaut. His departure, while necessary in the eyes of the powers-that-be, was handled poorly and by, most accounts, unprofessionally. But Claremont, to his credit, has always presented a measured level of animosity over that. He knew the terms of his employment - if Marvel could survive the departure of Jack Kirby at the height of the Silver Age, it could survive the loss of Chris Claremont during the booming early 90s. Whatever animosity Claremont has let out in public statements seems mostly directed at the work-for-hire model that still dominates American superhero comics, a model which left him little recourse for grievances, while also acknowledging that writing the best-selling comic of all time (and receiving a cut of the profits) certainly made for a decent severance package (it reportedly paid for his house).
And while his departure in this issue is relatively unheralded, left only to a small graphic on the final page, he gets to go out with a thoroughly Claremontian issue. Like the previous two in this series, it suffers from the apparent disconnect between Claremont and Lee, with Claremont's scripting and the sheer energy of Lee's pencils smoothing over some dodgy plotting, but it does feature one of Claremont's favorite tropes: heroes fighting mind-controlled heroes, and Xavier's soliloquy on the final page acts as a kind of final mission statement from Claremont, a final declaration about the power of hope and the responsibility to craft a better world.
It also gives him the opportunity to put in the final word on the crowning achievement of his tenure, the transformation of Magneto from a one-dimensional, cardboard villain into one of fiction's most complex and compelling characters. Magneto would, of course, be back (see above re: finality in comics), but he'll rarely reach the level of complexity Claremont brought to the character. After slowly reaching a point where he was willing to give Xavier's dream a chance, then failing and ultimately declaring himself out of the game, Magneto's final act is to sacrifice himself for the X-Men and his old friend, Charles Xavier, giving in one last time to the better angels of his nature even while insisting that Xavier is a fool for not seeing the world for what is is. It is perhaps the best sendoff the character could have received, one which sends him out on a high note while staying true to his character, safely safeguarding (for a time) Claremont's crowning achievement from the next generation of creators.
But for all this issue makes for satisfying conclusion to Magneto's decades-long arc, it still isn't quite a satisfying conclusion to Claremont's run. But then, it's doubtful anything could have been. To say Claremont had already overstayed his welcome is unduly harsh, but it's hard to imagine a better exit point than any of the ones he's already passed in his fifteen years on the title (the end of "Dark Phoenix" or "From the Ashes", Uncanny #200, the end of "Inferno"), or even this one, which concludes the introductory arc of the series which made X-Men a franchise unto itself, with a final statement on Magneto's character and the thematic significance of the X-Men. His departure deserved more attention, more fanfare, more respect. But at least he got to go out saying something, in a high-profile, well-drawn issue. It could have been better, but it also could have been worse.
Tomorrow, Technet shenanigans in Excalibur #45. Friday, flashback shenanigans in Wolverine #49. Next week, Sunfire! in Uncanny X-Men #284.