X-Men (Volume 1), # 94 - 96 (June '75 - Sep '75) & Classic X-Men 2 & 4 (1986).
XM # 94 - 96 tells the story of Count Nefaria and the death of Thunderbird, one of the original Giant Sized X-Men. We'll also pick up some extra back up stories that were added to the X-Men mythos via Classic X-Men # 2 and 4.
X-Men (Volume 1) # 94 - 95: Thunderbird's last flight
Plotter - Len Wein
Script - Chris Claremont
Pencils - Dave Cockrum
The issue begins with Sunfire, Havok, Polaris and the four of the original X-Men (Angel, Jean, Beast, Iceman) announcing that they will not be sticking around. Banshee toys with the idea of leaving since he’s so much older than the rest, but they convince him to stay.
Cyclops is torn but decides that being leader of the X-Men is his place in the world.
In the second half of the issue, Count Nefaria (A remarkably forgettable villain) and his group of Ani-Men take over a military installation (common theme) and threaten to wreak havoc on the world. The X-Men are dispatched to stop him.
The X-Men face Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men, ultimately succeeding. Count Nefaria jumps on a plane to escape at the last minute but Thunderbird jumps on the plane to stop him. As Thunderbird tries to destroy the plane, it ends up blowing up, killing them both.
Uncanny X-Men # 96: Sorrow
Writing - Chris Claremont & Bill Mantio
Pencils - Dave Cockrum
The team mourns the loss of Thunderbird and no one takes it as hard as Scott with him being the leader of the X-Men. While grieving, Scott decides to let loose by blasting a hole in a local forest.
His optic blast awakens a demon named Kierrok the Damned. The X-Men fight Kierrok and ultimately succeed, coming together as a team.
This issue is also the first time Moira MacTaggert is introduced as well as Storm’s first claustrophobic attack (and a little more of her true origin).
Classic X-Men # 2: Backfilling the Jean and Storm relationship
In 1986, Marvel decided to re-print the Claremont run with additional vignettes added in to help characterize the key characters. This issue shows Storm and Jean going shopping, which is important because the original run mentions that they are close friends, but it never really shows us how they became so close.
Classic X-Men # 4: Backfilling the Wolverine and Nightcrawler relationship
As the Claremont run takes shape, you start to see a bromance between Nightcrawler and Wolverine. This entertaining story shows Wolverine pushing Nightcrawler to be himself. The comics establish that Tony Stark had given Nightcrawler an image inducer so that he can make himself look “normal” when in public, but Logan is trying to convince him to walk down the street looking natural. The first few people he passes on the street look surprised, but they accept him. A third person does not accept him and tries to start a fight, and this is where Wolverine charmingly decides that he’s seen enough. He steps in and beats the guy up for his buddy.
Before Game of Thrones made it cool to kill off main characters, Claremont used the death of Thunderbird to prove that the Uncanny X-Men comic book would have real stakes. In the documentary "Claremont's X-Men," Claremont said:
"We wanted to put a major character at serious risk. We didn’t want the readers to ever take the book or characters for granted. We wanted to establish a sense that even the franchise characters in X-Men were not safe."
In some ways, this may have seemed like a gimmick since Thunderbird had only just been introduced before dying, but I give Claremont credit because he doubled down later in the run with the Dark Phoenix Saga (Spoiler!) It's also worth noting that at this point in publication, Thunderbird had just as many appearances as Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus. Dave Cockrum sheds a bit more light on the decision by saying:
"Thing was, he came in as an obnoxious wiseass and loudmouth and Wolverine did that better. We decided we didn’t need two loudmouths, and rather than develop the character, we decided to kill him off for shock value. It was the first time anyone had ever killed off a character and not said anything about it on the cover. "
Claremont could have done a better job of getting us to like Thunderbird, but instead he showed us that he was difficult to get along with and may have had a death wish. While the following panels still make me think he had a death wish, Dave Cockrum suggests the opposite by saying
"We didn’t think of it as committing suicide, though; he was just so worked up that he wasn’t thinking."
The villains are still a little forgettable, but I know there are some amazing ones we'll be introduced to soon enough. When asked why Jean re-joined the series after declaring her departure, in Comic Creators on X-Men, Dave Cockrum simply said:
"Basically, we missed her and wanted her back."
This new run also started setting up a theme that there would only be 6 active X-Men at a time. You’ll see throughout the Claremont era that when someone new shows up, there will always be a reason for one of the others to leave. The X-Men were pretty popular at this time and even though the original crew went away, they were still front and center in the larger Marvel universe.
Chris Claremont has officially taken over the X-Men franchise, and life is good! As mentioned in my coverage of Giant-Size X-Men # 1, Len Wein had plotted # 94 & 95 to be released as an oversized Giant-Size X-Men # 2, but then Wein left, so Claremont had to quickly massage the story into 2 separate comics. Claremont doesn't take over plotting and scripting until we get to #96, but Claremont considers that issue a failure. According to Peter Sanderson's X-Men Companion Volume 1, Claremont says
"I wrote #96 full script while I was in England. I'll never do something like that again because it's probably the worst issue of the X-Men that's ever been written."
#94 - 96 is penciled by Dave Cockrum, which is great to see him taking most of his creations and helping Claremont to bring them to life. Tom Orzechowski steps in as the letterer and begins an incredibly long tenure as the book's letterer. The team starts to look more familiar as Sunfire and Thunderbird exit stage left and we're introduced to the badassery of other mainstay's like Moira McTaggert.
This arc is when we see Cyclops really start to transform into the leader he will become. He's faced with his first true test of dedication when he's forced to choose between duty to the X-Men and friendship. His close friends and lover were leaving the team, but he felt an overpowering calling to continue serving Professor Xavier and his dream pushing him to remain with the team and lead the new iteration of the team.
After making the decision to stay, we also see Cyclops leading the X-Men in the danger room for the first time as opposed to Professor X. This shows a major shift in the team dynamic as Cyclops becomes much more than a field leader, and will eventually open the door for countless creators to simply choose to write out Professor X to avoid confusion.
The level of seriousness Scott adopts will become one of the grounding qualifiers of who he is as a person. We further see this responsibility weighing heavily on him as he deals with grief following the death of Thunderbird. Where the other team members are sad that they lost a teammate, Cyclops is shown to be taking it personally as it was his job as team leader to keep everyone safe.
Jean leaves the team for this arc, however she will be back shortly. While she'll be given one hell of a story coming up, she is originally appearing solely as Cyclops girlfriend. In fact, given all the build we've had to their relationship, this arc gives us their first ever on panel kiss!
It's really interesting to think how things could have been different if Claremont didn't take over. For instance, Len Wein had envisioned Nightcrawler as a character who constantly struggled with persecution. In Peter Sanderson's X-Men Companion Volume 1, Claremont explains that he wanted Nightcrawler to not only accept his mutation, but to revel in it. He created the circus backstory to help explain how he grew up in an environment where looking different was more easily acceptable.
Wolverine is still coming into his own as a character at this point. Dave Cockrum loved Nightcrawler and tended to focus on him, but we'll get plenty of Wolverine when John Byrne takes over since he tends to stick with fellow Canadians.
We see Wolverine go into one of his berserker rages for the first time when he lets loose to attack Kierok in Issue # 96. In addition, he gets a lot of grief for almost killing Nightcrawler in a danger room training session, something that has more significance in retrospect knowing how close these two will become.
In case you're curious, Beast lands on his feet as he had finally turned blue (in Amazing Adventures # 11) and becomes an Avenger, asking the team to help with Count Nefaria in place of the Avengers.
Iceman and Angel
Iceman and Angel joined with Hercules, Ghost Rider, and Black Widow (among others) to form the Champions, however I would strongly advise against reading this terrible comic book. Due to it's terribleness, I will not be covering it in this blog.
The first 93 issues followed a terrible routine of the X-Men practicing in the danger room, Scott and Jean playing “Will they, won’t they”, a new bad guy showing up, defeat one dimensional bad guy, repeat. I had been hoping and expecting that the endless lines of throwaway villains would cease to be a factor, but Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men quickly showed me I was wrong. I’ll be keeping an eye on this to see if the villains get any better, or at least recognizable.
There are a number of reasons why it’s important to talk about Moira. First of all, she is a very important supporting character for the X-Men so it was cool to see her first introduction. Second, I knew that Charles and her had an old relationship and I expected them to be together in this early run. I was surprised to see that her relationship with Charles was a thing of the past right at her introduction and she quickly started dating Banshee. Third, I know that Moira becomes a gigantic part of the 2019 House of X/ Powers of X re-launch so it’s fun to see her here. Finally, Moira is a downright badass!
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