In the internet world, specifically that of the comic book discussing community, I am beginning to think that I share a brain with Brett White who writes the “In Your Face Jam” column for CBR. This column you’re about to read will mark the second time that, while I am in the midst of putting together a piece, he publishes one looking at the exact same subject.
I include this not only to recognize his work, which I think is consistently excellent, but also because it let me know that I am not the only comic-book loving adult male for whom the last six weeks of the year or so are spent engrossed in Christmas songs, TV shows, and movies. More importantly for this piece, it also informed me as an X-Fan that I am not the only one who finds tremendous joy in the occasional holiday issues Marvel produces featuring the hijinx of my favorite mutants.
The above image is the cover for the very first Christmas-y issue I recall reading when I began my foray into the world of X-Men under the guidance of Chris Claremont. As with the issue I addressed in a previous pair of columns, this issue is a bit of a “downtime” in that it is not part of a larger event. It is actually one of four single shot stories bridging the gap between Fall of the Mutants and the Earthfall story arc that saw The Brood return to the pages of the X-Men for the first time in years.
This time frame marked the beginning of the Outback Era for the X-Men. The prior issue saw the team save the woman who is now commonly known as Tyger Tyger, liberate the mutant teleporter Gateway, take down the cyborg gang known as The Reavers (long before they devolved into the completely generic unit depicted in a recent Cable & X-Force issue), and take over their rather technologically advanced home in the Australian Outback.
It marked the kick-off to a change in the mission of the team as they intended to use their “deaths” to allow them to hit their enemies without fear of reprisal against their loved ones. It began with the Siege Perilous offer at the close of Fall of the Mutants but truly got underway with the takeover of the Outback town and thematically continued on through X-Tinction Agenda and the aftermath that ultimately returned our outlaw mutant heroes to the Xavier Mansion.
This issue though, titled ‘Twas The Night…, stands as a quiet time with the only “fight” scene pitting Rogue, in essentially a modified Danger Room session, against the rest of the team as well as the technology of the Reavers former base. Even the very first page of the issue (depicted below) screams happiness and joy in the face of the “death” that the team just experienced:
As she scans Storm’s reading with the uber-sophisticated computer system formerly belonging to The Reavers, the lone non-mutant on the team and estranged wife of former X-Man Cyclops, Madelyne Pryor sums up the aftermath of the recent past with the statement “It’s good to hear you laugh Ororo. I hope we all get the chance to do it more often.”
That leads us into the aforementioned homegrown Danger Room sequence as Madelyne uses the computers to scan Rogue as she “infiltrates” the X-Men’s new base whilst being bombarded with “safe” versions of her compatriots powers. It’s a team-building sequence, and in the vein of what I would call “classic Claremont”, it is one that allows the newer reader some insight into the individuals compromising the team while not boring the long-timers with information they already know.
As you can see, Claremont uses Rogue in the page below to remind the reader who these characters are or perhaps to introduce them if you’re a first-timer. He even uses Rogue to highlight aspects of the casts power set, the most important to me being her comment about the strength of Colossus. It can be taken as a non-essential observation but I took it as one that tells the reader that things are changing with the team’s powerhouse. Also, I love this page simple for the “Nothing printable” comment Rogue makes. It is a line that has stuck in my head for years for some reason. One final note about the page that you can read below in the final panel…
…Claremont even uses the sequence to tease us all with “…a story for another day” pertaining to Madelyne’s personal saga. This hint of future events that would not pay off for months (if not years) was something that, throughout his run, the author did masterfully and is a tactic many writers have used since (look to Matt Fraction’s stint on Uncanny X-Men or Dan Slott’s current run on Amazing/Superior Spider-Man for recent examples).
In the story unfolding in this issue though there is an X-Man missing from the training sequence: Longshot. He has wandered off to explore the grounds of the team’s new home and following some unknown voices that he tells us “…sounded so lonely and scared”. A logical conclusion is that The Reavers have prisoners hidden somewhere but instead he finds this:
A treasure trove filled with the Reavers booty, amassed from who knows where, but due to Longshot’s ability to “read” the history of inanimate objects (an ability he informs is known as psychometry) we discover the story of one specific piece of treasure. Unfortunately Longshot’s ability actually turns against him due to the sheer volume of lost objects in the room vying for attention and he is completely overwhelmed by their cries with the page ending in his screams.
(Given that this article’s title is a Christmas-centric one I am sure you may be wondering where the holiday spirit is in this Outback extravaganza? Don’t worry it is coming.)
The story jumps us ahead to “Another Day”, leaving Longshot’s fate a short-term mystery, while Dazzler completely freaks out just cleaning her room.
The things I love about this page are many: the way Marc Silvestri nails Dazzler’s facial expressions, the lettering, the fact Colossus is too big to fit through the door frame, and just how pedestrian a scene it truly is. This is something that happens to people around the world every day; maybe not cleaning out an abandoned Australian Outback town formerly owned by cyborg killers but the act of cleaning house. This being comics, and the characters all being super-powered, the details are of course ramped up and it is quite an amazing sight to see Storm using a monsoon to clean out the trash while Havok vaporizes it all with his plasma blasts.
It is a pedestrian chore but it’s a scene that demonstrates to the reader the bond of these teammates. They aren’t just allies by coincidence or circumstance; they are a family bound together by their mutant genes and by their shared experiences. They are not blood, at least not most of them, but they are just as close if not closer then individuals who share the same DNA.
After Rogue delivers food to Gateway, our attention turns to a freshly awakened Longshot who explains to his teammates what unfolded in the treasure trove. The argument then turns to what to do about the enormous amounts of booty The Reavers had stolen since, via Longshot’s psychometry, the team could conceivably read the history of every piece in the room and, where possible, return it to its home. It’s an argument over doing what is right over what is logical given the X-Men’s current mission statement to remain “dead”. The right thing wins out and then, in another of my favorite pages from this issue:
It is a scene of teamwork and of family. It shows what these individuals are capable of when they put their minds, and their powers, to work. These are the X-Men that I fell in love with and the ones that are sorely missing from a current landscape that sees the teams fighting each other more than actual villains and certainly more than they seem to help the world.
More on that later though as now our Christmas story begins to unfolds. Courtesy of Gateway, the team begins to bounce around the world playing Santa Claus. From the Australian desert to Paris, from the United Kingdom to the United States, the team trots the globe looking to bring some happiness to humanity during the Christmas season. Claremont and Silvestri include a few moments in this sequence like the page below:
The Dazzler moment was cute but the real touching piece is the brief cameo by the carol-singing New Mutants in the midst of a snow squall. That it is Storm in this sequence allows the weather to be tweaked to make it easier for the X-Men Junior Squad but it is her comments, her rationalization for perpetuating the lie of their death, that reminds (or informs) the reader that the X-Men are part of a larger world.
It’s Wolverine watching a young man in Hong Kong spray a protest across an X-Men Wanted poster or Longshot crying as he watches one of pieces of treasure returned to its owner that put some perspective on the reach of our mutant heroes before finally…
It’s a happy day, a rare one in the lives of these individuals really, and it demonstrates how much the team is capable of doing for the world without throwing a single punch, snikting a single claw, or blasting a single enemy. In one magical Christmas night, the X-Men used their powers not to fight but to bring happiness to untold numbers of people all across the world.
Wolverine and Storm even find the time to bring some joy to their own team, particularly Dazzler as that motorcycle she eyeballed in the treasure cove is gifted to her as a way to cheer up the team’s resident diva after her earlier temper tantrum.
Storm’s final toast to Wolverine about how they fight for life perfectly sums up this issue, and really one of the fundamental traits of the book under Claremont’s guidance. Then we close with Rogue again reaching out to Gateway, this time with cake and a Christmas gift in the form of a flute. Unlike the last time though, the Aboriginal teleporter responds to Rogue and we head to the next issue with Gateway playing her a tune.
It’s a hopeful close, one that is full of promise for the future and, given how the X-Men went about their mission on that Christmas night, hope that maybe they have made the right decision to remain “dead”. Only by picking up the next issue can you see if that is indeed the case…
Now I started my reading of Uncanny X-Men #230, and the writing of this piece, with the sole intent of celebrating a single issue that was seasonally timely and showcased some of the best the mutants had to offer in my nascent years as a fan. Yet as I came to the end of this writing, my train of thought took a turn and a bit of a revelation hit me.
First, before I sign off, I must say that this was the first time I have reread this issue in several years so it was hard to look at it without filtering it through the lens of the modern day X-Men books. In particular, Storm’s toast illustrated one of the fundamental differences between THEN and NOW. THEN it was that fight for life but also one for the larger mutant family and one to change the preconceived notions/fears humanity had towards mutants. NOW, essentially since House of M, has largely been about a fight for the survival of the mutant species but that is beginning to change, at least partially.
The Jean Grey School under the guidance of Wolverine was founded with the intent of getting back to that family dynamic, getting back to the principles under which Charles Xavier founded his School for Gifted Youngsters, and working towards something more than just survival of the species.
The Xavier School though, and the team operating under Cyclops, is solely about the survival of the species. It has thrown the “protecting those that hate and fear them” ideal under which Charles created the X-Men to the wayside and it is an institution that cares zilch about how humanity looks at mutants.
Yet despite these fundamental differences, despite the gap between today and the things that I first fell in love with about the X-Men, I still find myself engrossed in all that the mutant world has to offer. The reading of this Christmas issue, the birth of Amazing X-Men, its return of Nightcrawler to me, the intrigue of All-New X-Men, all of these things only serve to remind me of assorted reasons why my love affair with comics has endured for almost thirty years.
So that being said, my revelation: through #230 I believe I have found a focus for my articles here on Sequart. I want to take an extended look at one of my favorite segments of the 50 year history of the X; the span from Uncanny X-Men #228-280 that included, amongst other events, Inferno, X-Tinction Agenda, the return of The Brood, the debuts of Gambit and Jubilee, not to mention the complete and utter decimation of the team that I loved.
I want to see how all the strands tied together, I want to see the threads that were left dangling with no resolution reached (at least not one penned by Claremont), more than anything I just want to immerse myself in that world one more time…
Oh, and in the vein of the holiday, if you’d like to check out some more Christmas Chaos from our favorite mutants here’s a list of other options:
- Uncanny X-Men #98
- Uncanny X-Men #119
- Uncanny X-Men #205
- Uncanny X-Men #341
- Uncanny X-Men #365
- X-Men (Vol. 2) #109