Saturday, 4 October 2014

UXM #201: "Duel"

(What's past is prologue. And apparently, everything else.)


After the explosive adventures - to say nothing of the avalanche of pages - that made up the '85 annual and UXM #200, it's time for a bit of a rest. This is one of Claremont's now-standard reflective, standalone "fun" issues, though in truth it's rather too stressed out for that final adjective to fit too well. Beyond the (perhaps all that much) more angsty feel to this issue, though, it's very much business as usual. Rachel finds time to sneak into her grandparents' house and fix the memory globe of Jean she'd previously broken Cannonball's biggest problem is a term paper swallowed by his computer. The team even gets to squeeze in a baseball session [1]. There's also a tendency towards Claremont's habit of keeping super-powers out of the picture altogether.  Though really it's not so much that they're absent here, so much as simple facts of life. Kitty spends more time fixing a computer than phasing, which she's only doing to get from place to place in the mansion in any case. Indeed, super-powers are not simply downplayed here, they're declared to not be what the X-Men are about in the first place.

This, after all, is the issue in which Ororo and Scott duel for the right to lead the X-Men, and Cyclops comes up short despite Ororo having lost her powers. She doesn't need them. Speed, skill, a decent plan, and above all focus is what gets her the win, and with it the top slot. This difference between her and the currently all-to-pieces Cyclops (and we'll get to that in a minute) is underlined during the actual bout, in which Cyclop's internal monologue is all over the place, whilst Storm's is utterly silent.

(Actually, there's a way in which that bothers me; concentrating totally on how Scott sees the fight and giving us nothing on Ororo's interior monologue has unfortunate optics considering the differences in gender and race. Having said that, I'm perfectly happy believing that this is an approach Claremont would happily have taken at any point he wanted to underline someone's lack of focus, and the resulting problem is an unfortunate coincidence. If nothing else, it's hard to be too down on an issue that takes a questionable approach to comparing a white man and black woman which involves the latter thoroughly trouncing the former and therefore getting to take charge of everyone.)

So what is it that's got Scott so het up? He's terrified about what to do without Xavier, and having only an allegedly reformed super-villain's word that the man is even still alive. Which honestly, isn't actually the most ridiculous idea in the world.  But it's horrifically badly timed, considering how Madelyn has only just given birth to their baby boy, a fact that Cyclops is pretty much completely ignoring. There's a certain irony in Scott fretting so much over the loss of his de facto father that he's neglecting his newborn son, but there's more to it than that.  This is about setting Cyclops up as a man so obsessed with what he's lost in his past that he's completely oblivious to the benefits of the present. This is actually a major motivating factor for Cyclops throughout his life. He started off defining himself by the loss of his parents and (arguably more importantly) his ability to see the world like everybody else. Later, he becomes consumed by the idea of trying to shape each new iteration of the X-Men to be as close as possible to how they operated in the early days. He gets so good at this that once he drifts from this model everyone completely loses their shit, calling him first a power-mad dictator and then an unhinged terrorist.  Reasonable people can disagree about to what extent Cyclops actually deserves those titles, but really that debate would come down to how much Cyclops obsession with the past convinced people any change would indicate severe problems, and how much it objectively would indicate those problems.

That's all to come, though; I'll presumably talk more about it in the 2060s (it's not just Cyclops who can't get out of the past). Returning to the issue at hand, the point here is that everyone else is either embracing the future or at least making peace with the past. The arrival of baby Summers has everyone cooing (even Wolverine isn't threatening to gut him, which is practically a declaration of love). Charles is - admittedly with difficulty - coming to terms with the fact he might be exiled from Earth, but he has his soul-mate Lilandra to keep him company. Rachel fixes her "grandparents'" memory globe, making peace not only with her mother's shade but also her own past mistakes. And Storm proves quite spectacularly that she's ready to get back in the game, powers or no powers.

Whilst all this is going on, though, Cyclops is fretting about the loss of Charles and how he doesn't get to be leader of the X-Men anymore. The idea that the team might be able to function both without its founder and its original leader just utterly bowls him over. Which makes him entirely unbearable here - I'm not willing to say I have zero sympathy for him, but my sympathy lies so completely with Madelyne that what I can spare for Cyclops isn't really worth mentioning - but it does serve a very important function.  With X-Factor about to debut, Claremont is clearly doing some groundwork in building up to Cyclop's shitty behaviour in that title.  And really, though I don't have a much more positive take on that upcoming storyline than everyone does, I have to say Claremont does a good job of polishing a messy turd here. Playing up Cylops' obsession with the past and his fear of losing what matters to him both reminds us of how much Jean's return would mean to him, and the removal of aspects of that past through Charles' disappearance and his defeat at the hands of Storm makes a sudden appearance of a link to the past more important now than ever before. Surrounding him with people moving on just makes Scott's condition more obvious, and more tragic.

Which seems like a pretty good place to sign off. You can complain about what precedes it, and you can sure as hell complain about what follows. But this particular slice of the mutant cake is probably baked just about as well as it could have been.

(I really do have to start leaving the room when Fliss is watching Great British Bake Off...)

[1] Which for some reason includes a cameo from Ronald Reagan and Donald Regan. Since said cameo doesn't end with Rogue punching both of them square in the spunk-fobs, the scene is a rather depressing reminder of how terrible superheroes are at fighting real villains.  Oh well.


This story takes place over either one or two days.

I don't have any definitive proof of this, but I suspect the baseball game in this issue takes place the day after the team return from Europe. Super-powered they may be, but I'm sure they'd still want to shake the kinks out from a twelve hours plus aeroplane ride.

Speaking of that trip, the team had to get from Paris to New York in between last issue and the next, and Madelyne needs to have had time to return to her previous svelte figure having given birth to baby Christopher. That should take a couple of weeks at least, which puts this story as kicking off about a week after Magneto and Charles say their goodbyes.


Monday 11th to Tuesday 12th March, 1985.


X+7Y+10 to X+7Y+11.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years.

(Beast is 33 years old)

Contemporary Events

Mohammed Al Fayed buys Harrods.

Standout Line

"It begins." - Uatu, the Watcher.

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