In a Nutshell
The X-Men battle the Acolytes in France
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: John Romita Jr., Brandon Petersen (2nd Story)
Inker: Dan Green, Dan Panosian & Al Milgrom (2nd Story)
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos, Richard Starkings (2nd Story)
Colorist: Steve Buccellato, Glynis Oliver (2nd Story)
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Nightcrawler arrives in France at Professor Xavier's request, and receives a Cerebro booster from Forge, who leaves before the X-Men arrive. Elsewhere, the Acolytes, who have captured Moira MacTaggert, probe her memory for details about the process with which she briefly brainwashed Magneto and the X-Men. As the X-Men rendezvous with Nightcrawler, Moira tells one of the Acolytes, the young Neophyte, how Cortez actually killed Magneto, a truth later confirmed when Neophyte overhears Cortez talking with Gamesmaster, prompting him to flee the Acolytes castle. Using Forge's device, the X-Men locate the Acolytes, just as Neophyte is found by a young human girl who is slain by Cortez' guard, sent to retrieve Neophyte. The X-Men defeat the guard and Neophyte agrees to help them infiltrate the castle. They arrive just as Cortez is about to kill Moira, and a battle ensues. Cortez attempts to abandon the Acolytes and escape, but he is delayed by Neophyte long enough for Wolverine to gut him. Xavier offers Neophyte a place with him, but Neophyte declines, saying he must find his own way in the world, but that Xavier and Magneto's dreams are more similar than either realizes.
Cortez is retrieved from the hospital where he was recovering from Wolverine's attack by one of the Acolytes, after which he learns from Gamesmaster that the points he was awarded for killing Magneto have been taken away, which Cortez realizes can only mean one thing. Meanwhile, at the X-Mansion, Xavier & Moira discuss the recent virus which seems to be targeting mutants. Moira's words spark a recollection in Xavier of Stryfe's files, and he asks her what treatment there is. She replies there is none; in all cases she's studied, once contracted, the virus is terminal.
Firsts and Other Notables
Though his "official" return is held for issue #304 (and the intervening months will be filled with additional teases to that effect), this issue more or less confirms that Magneto is still alive when, in the issue's second story, the Gamesmaster strips Cortez of all the points he was given for killing Magneto, which Cortez realizes can only mean one thing (but he doesn't go so far as to say it: that Magneto is alive).
In addition to teasing the return of Magneto, the epilogue also continues to tease Illyana's fate and the larger Legacy Virus storyline, with Illyana's excerpt from Stryfe's Strike File reprinted as Xavier begins to realize that Illyana is suffering from no mere bout of the flu.
After filling in on issue #287 and drawing the Cable limited series, John Romita Jr. returns to the series as the book's new regular artist (along with his longtime inker Dan Green), bringing along his new (relative to his first run) blocker style. This second run will be significantly shorter than his first, cut short by the ascent of Joe Madureira and feature two fill-ins (along with one jam issue). This is also Brandon Petersen's last issue on the series, as he draws the epilogue following the main story.
This issue introduces a slew of new Acolytes, most of whom will stick around as stalwart members of this iteration of the group: Milan (who has an arrow on his forehead for some reason and possesses the dubious ability to transform thoughts into electro-magnetic images ie he can put your memories on TV), Javitz (a big guy with an eye-patch made out of a headband), the oddly named Seamus Mellencamp (who is a big lizard person), Scanner (who can detect other mutants), Neophyte (who has a phasing power not unlike Shadowcat's and clearly isn't meant to be named Neophyte - it's implied to be his rank here, something later writers will miss and continue to call him Neophyte), and Amelia Voght, another teleporter who is the arguable standout of this group, as she will turn out to have a pre-X-Men past with Xavier and star in one of Lobdell's best issues.
Additionally, we see the members of Cortez's personal guard, all of whom wear individual attire rather than the now-standard Acolyte uniform: Senyaka (who has a psionic whip and will get his own action figure because the 90s) is arguably the standout of this group, but Katu (the one-armed guy) will feature in some Cable issues while Spoor (the Beast Man guy) will end up doing some stuff in Excalibur.
Iceman debuts his new spiky look in this issue, the next step in the "Iceman isn't using his powers to their full potential" plotline. Motivated by Mikhail's taunting him as such in issue #291-293, his new appearance is also motivated by Romita wanting to punch up his look.
Nightcrawler guest stars in this issue, helping the X-Men as a favor to Xavier, but really, so that the core "All New, All Different" team can reunite for issue #300. He describes himself as the leader of the Excalibur, which while true, is putting it a bit more bluntly than that series ever has. His presence leads to Storm and Nightcrawler interacting directly, on panel, for the first time since issue #211.
Forge also returns, appearing in person to hand off a Cerebro booster to Nightcrawler before leaving in order to avoid any awkwardness with Storm. This begins a string of Forge appearances in the series over the next few months, before he transfers over to X-Factor.
There's a pair of flashback pages in this issue, set just before X-Men #1, showing Xavier and Moira discussing Xavier's proposed first class of X-Men and Magneto's imminent attack on Cape Citadel. We also see that Xavier was aware of the "All New" X-Men prior to the creation of the team, but chose to go with the original five as they were younger and thus less set in their ways. He also reiterates the notion that the "X" in X-Men doesn't stand for "Xavier".
It's also revealed that Xavier has some kind of past with Acolyte Amelia Voght; their past together will be explored in issue #309, though it doesn't quite fit with what's teased here (this seems to suggest she is a failed student; we'll eventually learn she and Xavier were lovers and she objected to the concept of the X-Men as an unnecessary escalation).
This issue features a "Prismatic Foil-Enhanced" cardstock cover with holographic "X" logos on the background, the first time the series has featured what we traditionally think of as a gimmick cover.
In the "things that could have been" department, it's worth noting that issue #300 is about as far into the future as any of Claremont's various "if I hadn't left the series" plans went, as he intended the issue to be a more direct sequel of sorts to issue #200 as well as the true culmination of his Shadow King storyline, with Xavier dying to defeat the Shadow King and Magneto replacing him with the X-Men once and for all.
The Chronology Corner
Nightcrawler appears here between issues #60 and #61 of Excalibur, prior to the concurrent RCX storyline (which explains why he's still wearing his old/original costume and not the Warpie-created one).
Moira appears here after X-Factor #90, with her appearance here setup in that issue (and her experiences in Genosha informing her conversation with Xavier in the epilogue).
A Work in Progress
Nightcrawler talks about going into battle with Forge like it's something they did often; aside from fighting the Direwraiths shortly after Forge's first appearance (when he wasn't yet a member of the team), was there any other time the pair would have fought together (or really, even interacted at all)?
In the wake of breaking up with Storm and leaving the X-Men, Forge has grown bitter about the X-Men in general.
Nightcrawler suggests that being a mutant might be synonymous with change, a sentiment that gets brought up a lot during Lobdell's run.
The X-Men's last trip to France, in issue #200, is referenced by an angry mob.
En route to the Acolytes base, Colossus calls Stevie Hunter to check in on Illyana, who continues to run a fever. Colossus is also noticeably short-tempered with Iceman.
Neophyte learns this issue that Cortez actually killed Magneto, and it's also suggested that Voght knows this too.
He learns this thanks to Gamesmaster, who tricks Cortez into admitting it and being overheard in order to keep the Upstarts' game interesting.
Archangel points out to Bishop the impact Bishop's presence has had on Xavier.
With both in the field together, Storm and Cyclops briefly argue over leadership responsibilities, with Storm failing to defer to Cyclop's clear superiority as a leader.
In a declaration/explanation of her lack of a codename, Jean name drops Madelyne Pryor, which is always nice to see (great depiction of Jean's power, too).
Bishop notes that in his future, no one has ever heard of Cortez (which actually kinds of fits, since he mostly disappears from the franchise after "Bloodties").
Seemingly left for dead at the end of the main story, the epilogue shows that Voght retrieved Cortez from an Italian hospital where he was recovering from Wolverine's attack after being turned over to authorities.
In a rant/monologue, Cortez says that he was born royalty.
It turns out that Xavier's Ready Room, first seen in issue #298, is a surprise to Moira as well, despite her brief stint as Xavier's housekeeper (and points for name-checking Moira's housekeeper days).
Forge is wielding some top-notch JRjr guns in the opening pages. Seriously, I love that stuff; it just screams "comic book!" to me in the same way Kirby Tech and the Kirby Crackle does.
"Professor Xavier is a jerk!"
Xavier responds to the mobs' request that the X-Men leave by using his telepathy to make them think the X-Men have left.
Cyclops tells one of the Acolytes he's the X-Men fight to protect everyone, friend or foe, and that anyone is welcome to whatever life they want, up to the point they start threatening someone else's.
Reading this issue when I was younger, having already been fully trained by Wizard magazine and the speculator market of the early 90s to expect every issue with a number divisible by twenty-five, especially a double-sized one with a fancy cover celebrating an anniversary, to be a BIG DEAL, I was consistently underwhelmed by it in terms of how big a deal it was. It doesn't serve as a culmination to a long-running storyline and/or significant character developments (as Claremont initially intended for his planned #300 issue); in fact, though it builds on events from the previous two issues, it's mostly standalone (as they were as well). And while it more or less comes right up to the line of saying "Magneto is alive!", it doesn't actually cross that line, saving the full reveal of his resurrection for issue #304 (which always seemed to overshadow this issue in terms of significance and anniversary-ness), which made what should have been a BIG DEAL issue read instead like an appetizer for the main course of issue #304.
But reading it now, this actually does serve as a rather fitting celebration of the history of the X-Men as they reach a milestone issue of some significance, albeit in more subtle ways than just featuring the return of their historically chief antagonist or making it so things "will never be the same again!". Whether a happy coincidence of timing or the result of a planned effort, having John Romita Jr.'s second artistic stint begin with issue #300 is a nice touch, giving this issue some added symmetry with issue #200, the last centenary issue of the series, which JRjr also drew. That issue was also centered on the question of Magneto's fate (albeit more directly, with Magneto actually appearing in the issue and shaking up the status quo by replacing Xavier) and found the X-Men in France, parallels Lobdell makes explicit here.
As a kid, the inclusion of Nightcrawler was just a fun guest appearance by a former member of the team; now, I recognize the importance, in terms of celebrating the X-Men's history, of reuniting the core of the "All New, All Different" team for the first time since "Mutant Massacre". The two flashbacks, via Moira's memories and Milan's oddly-specific power, hearken back to the series' earliest days. And while this issue doesn't feature a status quo change on par with Magneto taking over the school or the events to come shortly in "Fatal Attractions", there is a subtle sense of "look how things have changed" throughout the issue, via discussions of Professor Xavier's recent methods and actions post-"X-Cutioner's Song": his mind-wiping of the crowd in France, Archangel's acknowledgement of how Bishop's presence has contributed to his more proactive approach, and the reveal of a shared past with one of the new Acolytes.
Issue #200 was all about setting up Magneto to be the new Xavier. This issue flips that, and asks the question: how much of Magneto is in the new Xavier? It's a question that will run through much of the thirtieth anniversary celebration of the X-Men, and beyond (along with the Legacy Virus plotline, also kicked into high gear here, which will impact the series significantly, soon, then linger...quite a bit longer). And thus, just as with issue #200, which put the series on a path it followed, at least in part, for seventy-five issues, issue #300 is as much about pointing the way forward as it is celebrating what's come before, making it a pivot point between the past and the future. All of which seems more than enough to justify the fancy cover and to qualify this issue as the "BIG DEAL" my younger self failed to see it as.
Tomorrow, things get sick in X-Factor #90. Friday. Wolverine goes to the Savage Land in Wolverine #69. Next week, Cable returns in Cable #1.