To the Outback & Beyond… Dying of the Light

After putting them through the wringer with Inferno, Chris Claremont gave our merry mutants a two issue break filled with shopping and drinking while simultaneously broaching the fallout of the event and introducing Jubilee.  Now the fun’s over and it’s time to tear the X-Men’s world down to its very foundation…


Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Marc Silvestri
Inker: Dan Green
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Letter: Joe Rosen (#246)/Tom Orzechowski (#247)
Editor: Bob Harras

It’s appropriate that Claremont’s slow de/reconstruction of the X-Men would begin with Dazzler, considering my exploration of this era began with a Dazzler-centric tale.  She is a character that few writers ever get a handle on, but the beauty of Claremont running with these characters for decades was that he established their identity and allowed them to grow as he took the characters on a journey that changed them and/or reestablished their reasons for being.  This two issue story begins an extended arc that works toward that goal and could just as easily have been called “X-Men: Disassembled” if it was written by Brian Michael Bendis now.

Starting with Dazzler, Claremont continues to explore her reluctance to fully commit to the superhero life.  Overall she’s damn good at it, as proven time and again since officially joining the team some 30 issues prior, but the “dead to the world outlaw life” is not the one she wanted.  As Dazzler expressed in the “Ladies Night” issue, she wants to be more than just a superhero and as we see right at the outset of this, the Lightengale is using the Siege Perilous (last used with The Reavers back in #229) to explore paths not taken.  Unfortunately for her, be it as a superhero, lawyer, singer, or mother, the Siege depicts Allison’s life coming to an abrupt and tragic end.

It’s a scene that allows Claremont to not only reinsert the Siege Perilous into the storyline and reestablish its purpose, but to explore Dazzler’s internal struggles as well as play out the mystery of the Outback.  It also introduces the dominant theme for this story, as over its progression (before we get to the big bad) the reader is presented with the dilemma of Rogue and Carol Danvers’ shared body.  As part of their bargain to share Rogue’s body, Carol spends her time in control to pick up pieces of the life that was shattered during Rogue’s villainous days.  One very interesting facet of Carol’s time in control is that, perhaps due to Rogue’s age (they do keep referring to her as a kid/child after all), Carol seems to have developed a deeper bond with her teammates than Rogue (lending some credence to Rogue’s temper tantrum two issues prior).  This bond is extremely evident during Carol’s conversation with Psylocke and it reveals some of what life is like for each woman.  Carol lets Psylocke in on her strife being locked inside Rogue’s body and informs Betsy how she, just like Dazzler, is questioning if the price the X-Men pay for being who they are is worth it; this is integral to the path Claremont is taking his heroes down post-Inferno. The difference between Carol’s dilemma and Dazzler’s is quite obvious given the shared nature of Rogue/Carol’s.

The talk is not just an exposure of Carol’s feelings though; it also lets the reader know how Psylocke has come to approach her role on the team.  As resident telepath Betsy also feels it is her responsibility to manage the team’s best interests; it’s a mindset that shows how far Psylocke has come from the timid girl battling Sabretooth back in UXM #213 and one that will come into play down the line.

(A quick note about the Dazzler scene that opened the arc: it marks another abandoned Claremont plotline as Dazzler’s told by a ghost-demon she will become “Death’s hand maiden” as a result of refusing her potential futures.  Nothing ever came of this tease during Claremont’s tenures on UXM but he played with Dazzler’s inability to die during his run on New Excalibur in the 2000’s that no one else has touched since.)

With one reference at the close of last issue and another in this, the Havok/Wolverine: Meltdown mini-series is locked into continuity and Wolverine’s solo book gets a nod through Marc Silvestri simply depicting Storm holding an eye patch (referring to Logan’s Patch identity).  The identity/purpose question is again broached through a conversation between Wolverine and Storm; this also marks the third straight issue in which Wolverine’s absences from the team are addressed AND the second time in three issues that the Storm going against her “goddess” image has been brought up by a teammate.  With Dazzler it was a case of preconceived notions; with Wolverine, who has been at Storm’s side since the day they joined the X-Men, it’s almost as if he’s playing with the ideas of who OTHER people think Storm is at heart.  Wolverine’s known every aspect of Ororo from shy goddess to the confident team leader we see today and everything in between, and her response of, “Storms, Wolverine, have a myriad of colorations. No less than people,” perfectly addresses the assorted personas she has taken on over the years.

Also, Storm’s comments about staying true to herself resonate with Wolverine’s reasons for repeatedly disappearing to take care of personal business but as the reader turns the page from Storm/Wolverine’s scene to see Carol Danvers in charge of Rogue’s body, that statement comes into question.  It is not explicitly stated, but “staying true” is certainly inherent in the visual of Rogue’s body being driven by Carol’s psyche and in Rogue’s hands honoring Carol’s deceased brother at the Vietnam War Memorial. Is “to thine own self be true” really possible for either Rogue or Carol given their mind-body situation?

Introduced in this issue, the character of Sharon Kelly (wife of the long-time mutant antagonist Claremont based on Senator Joseph McCarthy and named after his college professor, Senator Robert Kelly) is a counter-point to the X-Men’s internal struggles with their identities.  In contrast to the mutants’ questions of whether they can be more, we learn from a few panels that Mrs. Kelly was a Hellfire Club servant girl who was introduced to the Senator by Sebastian Shaw.  She moved beyond her station via her marriage to Kelly; still, she plays freely with both her new role and her former, as well as her husband, by dressing up in the servant outfit once more to surprise Robert.  That free flow between her two roles is something the X-Men are unable to do themselves.

It brings to mind how superhero comics are cyclical, that everything comes back around to status quo. Extraneous characters can change/adapt but the core cast must eventually return to its norm in order to continue.  Sometimes it takes months, sometimes years, but ultimately everyone reverts to something resembling their core.  One example of that cyclical nature exists when Claremont brings Senator Robert Kelly into the mix to set-up a deal with Shaw as the Hellfire Club’s head attempts to garner funding for a new breed of Sentinels.

How is this cyclical?  It is almost identical to a conversation between the men over 100 issues earlier in UXM #135. Jump to now, where the Sentinel version he describes is essentially the Nimrod variant and was an idea spawned by the Hellfire Club & X-Men fighting the time-traveling Sentinel unit back in UXM #208-209.  Essentially we have the paradox of the Nimrod unit creating itself and hence why this is the arc in which Claremont chooses to reintroduce the mutant hunting sentinel from the Days of Future Past timeline he created four years prior.

(Another example of the story being cyclical is how Kelly is the very man who first broached the subject of the Mutant Registration Act that, in one timeline, led to his death which then lead to the Days of Future Past era that created Nimrod, who is now in this revised timeline where Kelly lived and eventually got the Registration Act passed which led to the Fall of the Mutants event that led to the X-Men faking their deaths that led to where we are today: circular albeit confusing)

In a fashion that is somewhat un-Claremont-like, he actually just places Nimrod (unseen in nearly forty issues) into the story without any sort of explanation for whom/what he is or what purpose he serves.  Typically the writer would use a bit (ok a great deal) of exposition to (re)establish a character but in this instance, Nimrod is depicted brutally decimating a drug ring, speaking like a computer program, and leaving a sigil behind in the form of an “N” inside a handprint.

Nimrod’s handprint actually brings to mind the seemingly abandoned eight-pointed star Madelyne designed for the X-Men’s sigil that was last seen in the Genosha arc.  It was an intriguing idea as I tend to think of “calling cards” as the MO of the villains (Zorro and his “Z” excluded). Yet in the case of Nimrod, it’s a calling card to the villains so they know exactly who decimated their operation.  With the X-Men there is nothing about the star that pointed directly to the team (since they’re thought to be dead); rather it was intended to let people know that SOMEONE was looking out for them.  Either way, be it a hero or a villain, the idea of a marker is certainly an action that screams of ego.  The public may not know WHO the eight-pointed star signified, but the people that left it behind do, and that speaks volumes towards the superhero ego needing to validate its own existence. Now Nimrod, who at the start also stands in contrast to the X-Men with his ability to function in both “human” guise as well as robot crime fighter, ends up being stuck in the “who am I” dilemma after merging with the Master Mold Sentinel unit.  It becomes evident that something isn’t right as the robotic Master Mold becomes unable to “see” the X-Men due to their invisibility to all but either the naked eye or the Outback computers.

Yet as the story evolves, or should I say as Master Mold evolves, it realizes it has integrated Nimrod into its systems and calculates that its acknowledgment of Rogue’s existence (later the whole team’s) may be the result of unit dysfunction caused by integration.  In other words, possibly comparable to the Carol/Rogue mind-body dilemma, the computer isn’t sure if Rogue is real.  The dilemma builds internally between the two units over the course of the second part of the story while the Sentinel simultaneously battles the X-Men.  The struggle culminates in the Nimrod unit convincing Master Mold that it too is now a mutant and to fulfill its prime directive (destroying all mutants) it must commit suicide.  The readily available method of the Siege Perilous takes down the Sentinel unit, as well as Rogue (now in control of her own body), and the ultimate fate of both is left to be determined in the future.  Rogue’s will be addressed down the line in this series but that of Master Mold/Nimrod was left for another decade until the Machine Man & Bastion Annual 1998, written by Mike Higgins and Karl Bollers, addressed it in the fallout from Operation: Zero Tolerance to explore the origins of the villain Bastion.

Speaking of lingering plot threads, when he reappears at the construction site where Nimrod’s human guise of Nicholas Hunter works, Master Mold references The Twelve in his initial “thoughts.”  Unfortunately the entire concept of The Twelve would prove to be another unresolved thread during Claremont ‘s tenure on the book.  Rather, it was wrapped up by Alan Davis, Terry Kavanagh, and others in the Apocalypse: The Twelve event published in early 2000, thirteen years after the first mention of The Twelve in X-Factor #13-14 and including characters that did not even exist in 1987.

As for Rogue’s fate, the concerns of Carol Danvers pertaining to the superhero life are rendered rather moot as she too is sucked into the Siege Perilous with Master Mold/Nimrod.  The fact that it is Dazzler who must make the choice to send her along (playing into the “Death’s hand maiden” angle) is not without relevance.  They are two characters who have never seen eye-to-eye and, as recently as the Inferno prologue, were at odds when it came to the nature of their respective relationships with Longshot.  Despite that tension between the two, it is the heroic nature of both that wins out, with Rogue making the self-sacrificial call for Dazzler to do what must be done while Allison makes a choice to sacrifice her teammate to save the day.

Yet there is something nagging about one of Rogue’s final panels where she telepathically pleas with Psylocke to tell Dazzler to do what’s necessary to destroy Master Mold.  We don’t see a response from Betsy before Dazzler reacts but, knowing what’s on the horizon, I find myself reading that with a suspicion that I will address in more detail in an upcoming chapter.

Another moment in this story that has changed thru re-reading is Sharon Kelly’s fate.  Sharon was always a victim of Master Mold, but upon a second reading I now see it’s actually Rogue’s fault due to her ignorance of the Sentinel’s capabilities!  Just as Spider-Man accidentally snapped Gwen Stacy’s neck while trying to save her, Rogue’s insistence that Sharon run for her life inadvertently led Master Mold to target Sharon and blast her. Her death leads Sen. Kelly to bolster his anti-mutant stance, but recants prior to his death.  That too is something addressed by writers other than Claremont.

The slow dissolution of the X-Men is underway as Rogue is “dead” thanks to her own teammate, Wolverine is absent, Longshot is questioning his purpose on the team (briefly addressed in this story but more in later chapters), and in that final page, Donald Pierce has surfaced alongside Wolverine’s nemesis Lady Deathstrike and Reavers leader Bonebreaker.  And they aren’t the only ones watching, as we see Nanny and The Orphanmaker watching the trio, who are watching Shaw and Kelly.

The only bright spot of hope in this arc, possibly even for the future of the X-Men, is Jubilee, as she discovers just who it is she followed through that portal—but even that has a tinge of the negative as Gateway’s presence terrifies the young mutant…

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Christopher Maurer is a graduate of Michigan State University w/ a BA in English who then proceeded to get wrapped up in the world of videography for local news & sports, including the 2003 March Madness tournament, before migrating to Philadelphia in late-2003 where he then jumped into the crazy-ridiculous world of professional wrestling under the moniker Shane Hagadorn. It is a world in which he, his wife, and cats have since resided for the last 10 years. Chris, an avid fan of comics for 25 years & counting, has been writing his own personal blog since late-2010 at 20 Plus Years of 32 Pages and recently had his first published work in the September 2013 issue of Philly Beer Scene Magazine. His loves include Batman, mutants, Grant Morrison, craft beer, and not taking it all too seriously...

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