I don’t use my digital memberships for these articles as much as I should. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been taking advantage of my DC Universe and Marvel Unlimited subscriptions. I have been on the lookout for issues to review here. It was the latest episode of the Legion of Substitute Heroes podcast that I was reminded of Paul Smith’s great run on Uncanny X-Men.
Some might view this time as a period where the title began to drop in story quality, but I think that part came shortly afterwards. Here we saw the development of the team after Cyclops leaves for good, but still get to see his path twist back around into his old team’s lives. We also got the introduction to the Morlocks, the addition of Rogue, and huge developments for Wolverine. These are some great issues and I chose to review the issue that has one of the best splash pages in X-Men history.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Paul Smith
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Kitty Pryde is ranting to her best friend, Illyana Rasputin about Professor X. He has shifted her from the X-Men to the New Mutants. Illyana calls her to task for complaining that it isn’t fair, especially to someone that spent years in Limbo. They rush off to dance class, not realizing that some type of alien hunter is watching them.
As Wolverine prepares to take a vacation to Canada, he and Nightcrawler discuss Kitty and Wolverine agrees that she should be an X-Man. Nightcrawler has come around to thinking that the Professor may have made the right decision. Wolverine argues that as a mutant Kitty will be a target whether she is an X-Man or not. They also agree that while she could be a liability, she has proven herself to be valuable member of the team on more than one occasion.
Professor X and Lilandra are trying to get Xavier’s new cloned body to walk.For some reason, his mind refuses to accept that he can walk, making the effort too much to bear. Lilandra will be returning to try and retake her throne and wants Professor X to join her. He refuses, because he bears too much guilt for being in the Shi’ar Empire when Jean Grey needed him. He needs to be on Earth for any new mutants that need his help. They are unaware that the alien hunter has been watching them.
Kitty and Illyana are at dance practice. Kitty is so distracted by her anger at Professor X that she’s messing up. Her dance teacher , Stevie Hunter, tells her to present a strong case to Professor X and he’s sure to change his mind. Much to Illyana’s chagrin, Kitty takes Stevie’s advice to heart.
Early the next morning, Storm climbs the eastern ridge near the school. She’s seeking to reestablish her link to nature after being away from Earth. Suddenly a storm comes up and blows her off the ridge. She finds herself chilled by the cold wind, which she should be immune to. She’s concerned that her connection to nature has been irrevocably severed.
In the next few days, Kitty tries logic, passion, co-operation and flattery to change Professor X’s mind, but to no avail. Meanwhile, in Florida, Scott Summers surprises his old girlfriend Lee Forrester. They spend a romantic day together, but come to the decision that they cannot be together, as Scott’s world is too dangerous for Lee. They embrace and try to enjoy the time they do have together. In New York, Nightcrawler surprises his girlfriend with wine, candles, and a stuffed doll of himself.
One day at school, Kitty is doing homework and trying to catch up from time she missed adventuring through space with the X-Men. She decides to run a scan of the mansion before making some cider, just in case anyone else wants some. She sees a curious anomaly in the lower maintenance tunnels. It isn’t any of the X-Men or New Mutants. She decides to check it out. She’s a little perturbed to wear the New Mutants uniform again. It’s no longer uniquely hers like it was when she first joined the X-Men.
She arrives in the tunnel to find the lights out. She sees that something damaged the main cable. Establishing mental contact with Professor X, she presses on cautiously, but finds herself surprised by the small dragon she thought she had lost when the X-Men blew up the Brood home world. They are then attacked by three young Sidrian Hunters, left over from a previous attack on the mansion.
The Hunter’s blast disrupts Kitty’s phasing power. She’s left with no choice but to fight them off with the help of her dragon, which she has named Lockheed. They take out two of the Hunters, but another catches Kitty from behind with a blast. It fires at her again, but Colossus jumps in the way of the blast. It isn’t powerful enough to affect his armored form. He takes out the Hunter easily. They then find that after taking out one Hunter, Lockheed ate the nest, thousands of eggs.
Kitty convinces Professor X to let her keep Lockheed, who, while intelligent, is immune to his telepathy. He also compromises with her. She can stay in the X-Men as long as her education and training does not suffer for it. If they do, then she goes back to the New Mutants.
In Alaska, Scott Summers arrives with his father and brother to meet his grandparents, who run a cargo airline. A female pilot named Madelyne Pryor arrives to pick them up, and Scott is surprised to find that she looks and sounds almost exactly like Jean Grey.
This is an expertly crafted story. In the publishing history of the comics, there had been a grand space adventure before this. The conflict, while unique to the X-Men, is rather pedestrian. It can be very relatable to a teenage reader. There are only two subplots that get introduced, aside from Wolverine going on vacation. His story picks up in his first mini-series. Storm’s troubles resolves in five issues, and the Madelyne Pryor subplot is resolved in seven issues.
I want to go off on a tangent about Madelyne Pryor. She was created to give Cyclops a “happily ever after” and get him out of the book. Since leaving the team after the death of Jean Grey, he had found himself back with the X-Men, even if he wasn’t a member again. The fact that she looked like Jean Grey was a fluke, sheer coincidence (source). It was editorial interference that undermined this direction. It’s a classic case of Editor’s feeling like characters can’t grow and evolve. It’s the same mentality that caused “One More Day,” the New 52, Legion reboots and the abandonment of so many Legacy characters. Characters can grow and change, and writers used to try and make that happen.
Returning to Claremont’s story in this issue, the conflict is firmly established, explored and resolved. Kitty even gets to fight alien monsters to resolve the conflict. Professor X is developed, and his foibles as an overprotective parental figure are explored. Of all of the stories featuring Kitty Pryde, this is probably my favorite. She shows the maturity here that she displays so well in current comics as an adult. She also shows a joy for life that so often is lost, even with younger characters. I love when a character in comics takes a moment to enjoy something, even something mundane.
Paul Smith’s artwork is so refreshing. It has a easy style that while naturalistic, it retains a cartoonish charm. The only artist that I can compare it to is Steve Rude, However, doing so is such a disservice to both artists. The influence of his time on Uncanny X-Men is understated. He is the artist that redesigned Storm with a mohawk, taking her away from the “goddess” stereotype and made her more relatable. His Rogue is more attractive, and the basis for development that started her on a path to popularity. His cover to Uncanny X-Men #173 is iconic, as is the splash page to this very issue.
Paul Smith’s design choices are almost flawless. There are numerous panels that could be covers or masterpieces in their own right. The colors are a product of the time, but I love the way that they are altered for the darkness. What I really love is the prevalence of cyan in the color palette. The colors as a whole are bright, but the cyan actually maintains that brightness. It also helps with the seasonal aspect of the story. It is set during a very snowy winter, and Glynis Wein was able to get that across in the art.
Just as a postscript, I always wanted a stuffed Nightcrawler like the one in this comic.
If you want to read this comic digitally, you have a few options. I read it on Marvel Unlimited. It is available digitally on Comixology as well. It was reprinted in X-Men Classic #72, which featured a really good cover by Adam Hughes. One of the more unique collections that this comic was reprinted in is the black and white, smaller “backpack” collection, X-Men: Target Angel. That same black and white format was of course reprinted in Essential X-Men Vol. 4. It was also collected in the second Women of Marvel TPB. One of the first collections of it was the Uncanny X-Men: From The Ashes TPB.
If you’re looking for a hard copy you shouldn’t have to pay too much if you can find it, definitely not more than ten bucks unless it’s graded.
Final Rating: 9.7 (out of 10)