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Claremont’s X-Men 1: Before They Wuz Fab

Graeme McMillan

The first couple of years of Chris Claremont’s UNCANNY X-MEN (#94-105 – the book was bi-monthly back then) are really weird to look back on, knowing what came later: Len Wein had introduced the All-New, All-Different team in Giant Size X-Men without Claremont’s involvement, and so the first couple of years feels like the writer trying to work out what to do with the characters.

There’s no real singular voice to the series, at this early point, probably because Claremont himself hadn’t really worked out what we’d later come to recognize as his voice; instead, everything reads pretty much like the generic late ’70s Marvel comic book that is was – Free of the expectations of what an X-Men comic should be, Claremont and Dave Cockrum pursue their own interests (space opera!), bring in characters from other books (And when you’re bringing in supporting characters from The Hulk, you’ve got to know that you’re desperate) and pick at tidbits from the original incarnation of the book, just to keep that sense of continuity going.

It’s enjoyably free of the oppressive angst that the books went on to develop, the consistent sense of persecution and fear and loss that defined the franchise after the Phoenix arc, but it’s also… pretty bland stuff, really. If the characters hadn’t gone on to bigger and better things, there’d be nothing to really differentiate this from Marvel Team-Up or The Defenders or whatever. As it is, it’s mostly worthwhile to see Claremont slowly realizing who each character was, in fits and starts (Storm’s sudden claustrophobia which affects her when she’s in a castle in #102, but not when she’s in a sealed military base within a mountain in #95, because he hadn’t thought of it, back then; or Wolverine’s claws being revealed to be part of him in #98 and the way it seems to crystalize the character so that he finally feels like the Wolverine we know by #100), and also what kind of story worked for them.

There’s a free-wheeling, unrestrained feeling to the series here that it lost somewhere in the mid #100s and never regained, sadly enough, but one of the side-effects of that is that there’s also no real sense of weight or importance to anything, either; the closest you get is Jean Grey’s transformation into Phoenix, but even that has a familiar, never-ending Mighty Marvel Soap Opera feel to it that doesn’t turn into what we know it as now until much later. For now, though, these issues are Okay, but nothing more, unless you know what comes later.

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