X-Roulette: Uncanny X-Men #227

In which the X-Men conclude Fall of the Mutants by heading off into space and sacrificing themselves to stop the “Adversary” from destroying everything. It’s the end of a massive chapter of the Chris Claremont-written run of the series, and is leading into something even bigger…

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There’s an awful lot of unthinking sacrifice in Uncanny X-Men #227, which comes as the final part of “Fall of the Mutants” and leads across into the much-loved run for the characters in Australia. Here, the X-Men go into the final part of their battle in a state of disarray: Storm and Forge are kidnapped, Colossus is unable to turn back to his human form for extended period of time, and Madeleine Prior has been split apart from her family. Dazzler, most notably, has had someone place a mask over her face and then stab her through the forehead, pinning it in place.

It’s a very strange piece of business, but she’s still alive – just unable to see anything. It’s psychic or something, just go with it.

One thing which falls heavy on the issue is the feeling that the X-Men are at the end of their thread. They’re tired and beaten up, and luckily at this point in time they have Mark Silvestri drawing their adventures. Silvestri specialises in lanky characters, with thin limbs and big straggly hair – perfect for emphasising how exhausted the characters are. Every panel shows them sighing, shrugging, gasping for breath as they reach inside for the strength to fight yet another set of monsters.

This sacrifice of their health and safety is the theme which underpins the issue. It’s strange to think of the X-Men in terms of being a cult of personality, but around this time that’s exactly what they would have seemed to the rest of the world. Unusual and unknown, they cut a presence round the world but nobody actually knows who they really are, or what their goals are. That’s part of why it’s been so easy to construct the narrative that they’re a threat. If only one side are presenting an argument, then people don’t exactly have any other conclusions to draw.

As such, their presence takes on a mythic status for people, in a sense, especially elemental characters like Storm. This story has seen her try to make people believe the X-Men are no more – but she doesn’t achieve that goal until the end of the issue, by accident. So with the team being so well known, it’s surprisingly easy for them to sweep other people away with them. Looking at this team in particular, you can see that’s exactly what’s happened for most of their roster. Dazzler fell into the team after a career in entertainment, whilst Rogue knocked their door down and asked for help. Longshot was attracted to them from another world – the team are made up of people who found themselves part of something bigger than they could imagine. And given the lives Longshot, Psylocke and Dazzler all came from, that’s no understatement/

In this issue we see that extend even more across Madeleine Prior, a character who desperately needs to one day have a sympathetic female creative team bring her back and let her live once more. Maddie has no powers that she knows of but follows the team around from battle to battle, unsure of herself but sure of the mission she’s following. She’s a part of the X-Men now, and when the time comes she’s as willing as anyone to sacrifice herself for this greater good. Her sacrifice is the most heartbreaking part of the issue – she offers it plainly, without any great speech or drama. Very calmly, she accepts what she needs to do in that moment, knowing it’ll end her life.

Her move comes after a speech to a cameraman who, upon hearing her seriously eloquent thoughts, agrees to have a rope tied round him so the X-Men can fly him to the Moon. The cult of personality that surrounds the X-Men is absolutely real, people. And although the characters sacrifice everything here, that’s the one thing which remains, most tantalisingly – by the end of the issue the world sees the X-Men simply and plainly sacrifice themselves to save the world, and believe they’re dead. There’s a reason why stories were built around the power of remembrance within the Marvel Universe. Just look at how inspiring this must be: and if you need it spelled out, we see Kitty Pryde, the future of mutantkind, watching the broadcast.

But that cult of personality, as should be expected, carries a huge burden. It’s heroic, sure, but the X-Men’s quick acceptance of their sacrifice also feels really worrying. Most of them have family, they all have friends, and none of them blink before giving up their lives in service of the greater good. Dazzler articulates how “mean” it is that they have to do this, but the rest of the team essentially overrule her as being selfish as they all declare they want to die so that the villain (called The Adversary, because you may as well be on the nose if you’re going to be anything) can possibly be stopped.

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Forge, meanwhile, is the one person who survives the fight, but it’s a fairly rough survival at that. He’s immediately criticised by Mystique for letting the X-Men take the fall. He has to cast the spell, he theorises, so he couldn’t have been one of the people to sacrifice themselves, despite Maddie having a husband and son who need her and now might never see her again. Forge is the surviving face of the explosion in space, and he’s been seen on television. Signing up for the cause means signing yourself up for emotional and sometimes physical devastation, and yet time and time again the characters sign straight up for it.

That’s actually a little worrying, to be honest. It’s intended to be aspirational but to be fair I’d much rather see them at least tackle it as an issue rather than blindly accept their lives as forfeit. If the minority are forced to always make all the sacrifice, who will be left to remember them – and how will they be remembered?

Uncanny X-Men #227 “The Belly of the Beast!”
Written by Chris Claremont
Pencilled by Mark Silvestri
Inked by Dan Green
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski
Coloured by Bill Wray

Number #227 was suspiciously chosen at random by both Jon Erik Christianson and John Troutman

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