My appreciation for this classic run of UNCANNY X-MEN kind of snuck up on me. Certainly, I liked it as a title from the start, and followed it regularly. But I didn’t separate it from the pack–it wasn’t any more or less of note to me than AVENGERS or IRON MAN or HULK or whatever. It’s only in looking back that the consistent quality of the series becomes apparent. Chris Claremont and John Byrne along with Terry Austin, Glynis Oliver (then Wein) and Tom Orzechowski were there issue after issue, month after month, with only a few small hiccups along the way. This was in marked contrast to pretty much any other series you might name at this time from Marvel. While you might like the guys working on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN or FANTASTIC FOUR or whatnot, there was going to be some creative turnover and at least a few fill-ins along the way. Not so with X-MEN once Byrne was on the series. It was consistently the best-crafted comic book on the stands.

While it didn’t feel that way at the time, this is very early in the run of the New X-Men, and Claremont and Byrne are still figuring some of the characters out. Which meant that there were casual revelations about backstories or powers or relationships getting dropped all over the place–a few of which petered out, a few of which wound up reversing themselves over time. As a reader, though, this is my favorite period of the X-Men, before they’d become too-big-to-fail and moved away from being a super hero comic book into something else. It’s these prototypic versions of the X-Men that I connect with the most, before their backstories and histories had become so complex and convoluted, before they’d gone through a bunch of bad stories and were bent to the gravity of momentary fads. I liked this comic because I liked these people, found them fascinating apart from their great-looking and modern Dave Cockrum designs. This more than anything was the difference between X-Men and Legion of Super-Heroes for me. The Legion looked just as good, but the characters weren’t interesting enough to engage me apart from costume-and-powers.

UNCANNY X-MEN also had the greatest soap opera appeal of virtually any comic at this point, and this extended to the action-adventure plots as well as the interpersonal relationships. This issue began a lengthy sequence of stories in which the X-Men, believed dead by Professor X and a few others, embark on a long and winding journey across the globe in order to make their way home. This meant that each story moved them around the board of the globe, placing them into new environments and situations along the way. There was a nice epic sweep to it that kept the book feeling fresh–the series wasn’t tethered to the Mansion in Westchester all the time, but was more free-roaming.

So what’s going on? Well, last issue, the X-Men were all trapped inside Magneto’s secret base in the heart of a volcano when the place collapsed in on itself. Phoenix was able to get herself and the Beast to safety, but they were stranded in the snowy tundra–and the rest of the X-Men appeared to be dead. At the beginning of this issue, Jean and Hank are able to send up a flare that attracts a rescue for themselves as the story begins. Elsewhere, it turns out that the X-Men survived by combining their mutant gifts, and have successfully tunneled back to the surface. They wind up emerging in the Savage Land, an area established in a much older X-MEN comic wherein prehistoric dinosaurs and the like still existed–a land out of time. But it’s warm and it’s better than being buried, so the X-Men are happy to have it. But it’s a dangerous place, and almost instantly, Banshee is snapped up in the jaws of a passing pterodactyl.

This gives Wolverine an opportunity to cut loose, something that he’s been struggling with since the series began. Having Colossus hurl him into the sky, he proceeds to cop the pterodactyl into so much raw meat. This wasn’t the sort of thing we were used to super heroes doing in 1978, so it carried some impact–though not as much as the other things Wolverine would go on to do in this storyline later. Anyway, as the X-Men make their way to a nearby village, they are observed by a shadowy figure, one who identifies them as mutants. There’s a bit of a time-skip here, as we then cut to Jean Grey as she arrives back at the X-Mansion and has to break the news to Professor X that all of his students and charges other than herself and the Beast are dead.

The X-Men, meanwhile, have been taken in by the Savage Land villagers, and they spend some time resting up and healing their injuries from the fight. It’s a stretch of several pages that’s all about characterization rather than plot, and it works really well. This was one of the first instances of conflict beginning to form between Claremont and Byrne, though. The difficulty stemmed from the fact that Byrne would draw a scene with a specific intent in mind, and then Claremont would change that intent entirely when he dialogued it. There’s a Cyclops scene in this issue where Scott finds himself feeling no particular remorse over the apparent death of Phoenix (from his and the others’ points of view, the Beast and Phoenix died in the volcano base collapsed.) But the manner in which Claremont scripted the scene went against Byrne’s preference, and so a division between the two men began to develop. Interestingly, I tend to think that it was the specific marriage of the skills of these two creators that made this run so special, including the manner in which Claremont would add unexpected (and unwanted by Byrne) nuance to a sequence in the writing of it. But it was a relationship that was destined to fracture, even this early on.

But we’re getting to the end of the issue, so it was time now to ramp things up a bit. Remember that shadowy guy from earlier? Well, he comes upon Storm swimming by herself and proceeds to grab her, sucking the mutant energy right out of her and beginning to transform himself. As the X-Men race up in response to Storm’s outcry, they are stunned to find themselves face-to-face with an old foe from near the end of the original X-MEN series: Sauron, the energy vampire! To Be Continued! Except not for me–as I’ll write about once we get there in greater length, for some reason, by 7-11 never got any copies of #115, the subsequent issue, and it was a painful gap in my collection for some time. Eventually, I wound up finding a copy at Port Comics some years later–and I broke my own rule in that I paid $5.00 for it, that being beyond the limit of what I’d shell out for any comic. Having crossed that Rubicon, it became easier to do so again in the future. X-MEN back issues in this time were valued way above any other contemporary series as more and more readers caught on to the title, because the back issues weren’t plentiful. Five bucks for a comic book that I could have, and should have, bought off the racks was unthinkable to me, an absolutely large sum of money in those days.

4 thoughts on “BHOC: UNCANNY X-MEN #114

  1. I got hooked on the New X-Men sooner than you did. I agree, the early years, leading up to Dark Phoenix and her death were the peak. But the Savage Land stuff was weaker than their best work — I find Sauron completely forgettable as a villain and the later part of the arc drew on some uninteresting Ka-Zar stories (they admitted in one letter column that they’d gotten too invested in that continuity).

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  2. This comic and run by Claremont and Byrne was so good. I read the cover off these comics. We learned so much about the characters while in the Savage Land and Byrne made to quiet pages almost as food as the action pages

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  3. Great story! I think the best page (not shown here) was when Jean went alone to tell Professor X about the X-men’s seeming demise. Some brilliant storytelling there and a perfect marriage of text and art. I also suspect it was the first time any of the X-men called Professor Xavier by his first name.

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  4. This post was well worth reading just for the following. “It’s these prototypic versions of the X-Men that I connect with the most, before their backstories and histories had become so complex and convoluted, before they’d gone through a bunch of bad stories and were bent to the gravity of momentary fads.” ‘Nuff said. 😉

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