Claremont’s X-Men run is generally referred to as an indisputable comic book classic, one that ran for no less than seventeen years (more if you include his various returns to the books after departing in 1991). There’s no question that it is where the greater world began to take notice and fall in love with X-Men’s suddenly complex and tragic mutants, and the special mix of science fiction, horror, action, and soap opera that Claremont brought to the book continues to define the mood of the franchise all these many years later.
With many of the X-Men’s greatest hits in the bag (The Dark Phoenix Saga, Proteus, The Brood Saga, etc.), this is where we truly start to see the stories diverging and expanding into a more sprawling and convoluted X-Continuity. Soon, Claremont would no longer be the only X-Writer, and we would see more and more of the spin-offs and crossovers that sometimes diluted and sometimes advanced the franchise. Though The Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 4 might read as more of a sporadic collection of B-plots than a saga, longtime readers and those newer readers that don’t mind being thrown into the deep end of the pool will be able to appreciate the character dynamics alongside many resolving and developing plot threads alike.
We Begin With A Giant Squid
This story begins with the very good Uncanny X-Men #176, a relatively low-key issue that mostly focuses on the recently married Scott and Madelyne Summers flying around and being newlyweds together. We’re talking about Scott Summers, though, so this involves a water landing, a shark attack, and a fight with a giant squid. Madelyne and Scott figure out how to get the plane back in the air and they’re on their way, but not before they share several endearing moments and come to a greater understanding of each other’s needs.
There isn’t a single villain in this arc. Instead, we see a sort of hodgepodge of antagonists. Freedom Force attack the X-Men at the behest of Mystique. Selene takes up some space in a fun adventure with Rachel and Magma. The Morlocks briefly return, and they’re just as entertaining as they always are. Well before Marvel saw any success in the world of film and TV, they were trying their hardest to make it happen, and there were a lot of starts and stops along the way. One example would be Rom the Space Knight and his villains the Dire Wraiths, who appear multiple times throughout this trade despite having nothing to do with the X-Men. They feel about as wedged-in as they are. Kulan Gath from the world of Robert E. Howard and Conan finally wrap up this somewhat thematically disjointed collection.
The Stories Within The Stories
Naturally, the characterization is the biggest draw of this omnibus. Though it doesn’t contain any specifically noteworthy arc, there are still a lot of memorable stories here. Uncanny X-Men #183 sees a highly immature nineteen-year-old Colossus break up with the surprisingly adult fourteen-year-old Kitty, which devastates her. Wolverine forces Colossus to hit a bar with him and Nightcrawler, then intentionally stands back and lets him get beaten by the Juggernaut when a fight breaks out. Colossus is hurt that his friends didn’t have his back, but Wolverine chides him, not for breaking up with Kitty, but for failing to look out for her as a teammate and a friend.
Rogue’s story develops significantly here. After being taken in suffering from extreme PTSD after traumatizing Carol Danvers by absorbing her memories, feelings, and powers, Rogue continues to struggle to fit in among the team. This is due in no small part to their friendship with Carol. Meanwhile, her adoptive mother Mystique trains in Murderworld with the intention of getting back to Rogue, who she believes is being held captive by the X-Men. When she and Rogue finally meet face to face, Rogue begs her to leave, and, for perhaps the first time, Mystique sees how their life as villains tore her adopted daughter apart.
When Rogue hears that one of Carol’s exes is in danger, she instinctively goes to save him, only to realize in the process that she doesn’t actually know him and all her memories of him are from Carol. He has no sympathy and even threatens to kill her, at which Rogue tearfully confesses that she wishes he would. Rogue has one of the most successful redemption arcs in comics due to the genuine stress and remorse she feels for her actions, and how long it takes her to make amends. Her road to recovery is long, and this is only the beginning.
Meanwhile, Uncanny X-Men #186 is one of the greats of the Claremont era: “Lifedeath I.” While this story doesn’t get quite the recognition of some of the bigger team issues, it is one of Claremont’s finest moments, and would go on to define so much of Storm’s motivations going forward. After the events of #185 leave her de-powered and feeling alone, Storm and Forge strike up a complicated romance. Though these two were perhaps never meant to work out, their mutual attraction and their struggle to let down their guard with each other is relatable and real. De-powering female characters is a problem in comics, but for Storm, this is an important part of her history that empowered her in ways that could never have happened otherwise.
The Mutant Minutiae
Even characters with relatively less time on the page, like Nightcrawler, have solid and believable character developments. Nightcrawler angrily confronts a comparatively nonchalant Xavier about the amorphous nature of his “dream,” and continues to fail as the leader of the team while dedicating a lot of his time to his relationship with Amanda Sefton. Madelyne Pryor is one of the great stand-outs of this story, and this is a great collection to read if you’re looking for why and how she’s such a vastly different and equally complex character as Jean. She is just a civilian with Cyclops, who is goofy and open with his feelings of adoration for her, and it’s easy to see why he is later ripped to pieces inside when Jean comes back from the dead. He and Madelyne are genuinely happy together in a way that he and Jean could never have been.
It’s nothing short of tragic how badly their stories go after this, and seeing them grow together and nearly find happiness makes it all the more heartbreaking. Rachel Grey joins the team, and the horrific after-effects of her doomed future on her psyche become a major story line going forward. Here, her feud with Selena is solidified, and her unique, tempestuous friendship with the New Mutants’ Magma develops in the same story, though it is sadly never followed up on.
Kitty Pryde & Wolverine is a surprising lag in the trade, one of the few misses of Claremont’s run. Looking back, this series should have delivered a lot more than it did. Taking her from the Xavier Institute to Wolverine’s Japan (very different from actual Japan for the most part), the series more or less begins and ends with its description. Wolverine’s old grudges continue to make guest appearances, and Kate is trained to become an assassin by a villain before Wolverine swoops in and saves her. The story doesn’t connect the dots for Kate on pretty much any front, and more or less exists for a few good character beats and some solid fights. Presented with these other exposition-heavy stories, I can see how it could be the last nail in the coffin for some readers. But that would be a shame, because then you’d miss X-Men/Alpha Flight, which features an incredibly fun crossover with Loki and art by Paul Smith.
This is the era of the X-Men where the stories became so dense and interconnected that new or less-invested readers might have a hard time jumping in. Indeed, a lot of the biggest X-Fans will cite that part of the appeal of picking up an X-Men comic anytime after the mid-’80s being that there was a greater unexplained continuity to explore, but it’s not a storytelling approach that will work for everyone. For those who want an efficient self-contained story, this will certainly not be the omnibus for you, but for people who are here for the soap opera, it’s hard to do better than Claremont’s X-Men.