In which the X-Men deal with the aftermath of the very long Onslaught storyline by heading over to Jean’s house to have some pancakes. Oh, and Wolverine attempts to rationalise with Charles Xavier about the whole ordeal, which the Prof is blaming himself for – but not in the way you might expect.
By Steve Morris
Change is a constant in the X-Men’s lives, which is antithetical but part of how serialised comics are constructed. Issue #337 of Uncanny X-Men is, as ever dealing with the characters as they adjust to change, and a shifting of the status quo which is immediately obvious as being only a temporary moment in a greater restless narrative. This comes at the end of the Onslaught story (which I’ve never read…) and explains that a bunch of superheroes were killed off in the final fight. As a result, the X-Men are trying to recover themselves, and this issue spends its time assembling the surviving characters for breakfast at Jean’s house.
In assembling the characters, we spend time with Wolverine and Xavier; Cyclops and Beast; Jean and Quicksilver. Each segment sees characters resolving (or failing to deal with) recent developments in their lives, with writer Scott Lobdell fairly sharply focusing on the X-Men as a support mechanism for one another. By having some of the characters work to rebuild the confidence of the others, the story can work around the cyclical nature of superhero trauma. Just as soon as Beast is doing recovering, he can turn round and help Cyclops, who will then rediscover his strength just in time to aid Iceman’s personal growth, and so on.
That’s illustrated most clearly in the featured conversation of the issue, which sees Wolverine attempting to help Xavier. This being Wolverine, that comes in the form of tough love, and some over exaggerated panels from Joe Mad which don’t help make the script’s points quite as clearly as perhaps the artist thinks they do. Wolverine has a lot he owes Xavier, making him one of the clearest choices for the person who should sit with the Professor and try to help him focus on what’s important. There’s also a comparison to be made between the two specifically at this point in their shared history, as they’ve both been used essentially as vessels for mass murders.
Wolverine, ever proactive, wants to use that as the starting point for a conversation which’ll open up Xavier and make him start to process what’s happened. Xavier, however, is trying to stay distant and distraught by what happened. He sees everything in a strangely disconnected way, looking at this as a moral and personal failure – which is true, but also disconnects him from the immediacy of what’s happened. “In many ways, I am responsible”, he says, which sums up the way he’s trying to keep himself away from exploring what he’s done on a personal level. Wolverine sees straight through it, because he’s Wolverine and he knows exactly what Xavier is going through.
That’s one of the most exciting prospects within the X-Men as a group of characters. They can be rearranged in countless ways to play off one another and bring fresh things to the story. The shorter scenes which put Jean and Quicksilver together may seem more throwaway than Xavier and Wolverine’s argument, but it’s another example of showing characters with similar histories react in different ways. Jean Grey, who has lost her family to so many different crises in the past, is really a rather perfect choice to be Quicksilver’s empathetic sounding board.
Firstly, that’s because Jean is the nicest person in the world, but secondly because she doesn’t have to articulate her connection to Quicksilver in order to convey it to the reader. There’s no moment where she mentions her past history in order to connect to Quicksilver. She just offers him kindness, he accepts it, then panics when he hears somebody else about to walk in the room. As the breakfast table starts to fill, it becomes clearer just how different and intriguing all these characters are. They’ve all been through the same events, but been affected in different ways and reacted in disparate ways. Psylocke has essentially shut down; Iceman is overdoing his jokes; Gambit is in passive-aggressive mode and Bishop is a calm sense of authority.
The stories which come at the X-Men constantly threaten them with change, and always will do: but we’ve grown used to the ways they’ll react to those changes and with that comes a sense of security and engagement. Every time something knocks them down, they’ll eventually pick themselves back up – but there’s an infinite arrangements of characters who can sit together in order to rebuild the X-Men. Beast and Cyclops can return to their youth (which Iceman never left) in order to raise a smile, but then sit Scott with Jean and their instant concern for the rest of the team creates a palpable empathy for everyone sat round their table.
In one issue, Jean empathises with Quicksilver without deconstructing the bubble he’s built around himself, then worries about Psylocke’s businesslike attitude, makes fun of Cyclops and Beast, calms down a fractious Gambit, and psychically panics about Xavier to Scott. There’s a wide range of reactions there, and it’s because we’ve seen the characters experience so much through their fictional lives. Their constant state of change means they’ve experienced a thousand lifetimes: the constant change means they’re ready to help each other through anything that comes.
Cyclops and Beast end their conversation on a more positive note than when they started, as do Jean and Quicksilver. And although Wolverine walks off from Xavier rather than persevere and wait around for the redemptive arc to begin, it’s a calculated move designed to have maximum impact on the Professor. Sometimes it’s more important to realise that somebody needs their personal space than to try and force a resolution, and the quintessential loner of the team is perfectly aware of that.
But the issue could have been completely different and ended the same way. Jean could have sat with Xavier, whilst Cyclops talks to Quicksilver and Wolverine jokes around with Beast. You can combine these long-lived characters in endless ways – but because of the construction of superhero comics, and the strengths of the decades-developed characters themselves, you always end up with them back at that breakfast table, telling jokes and reconnecting. It’s the joy of change: it doesn’t have to mean that anything actually changes.
Uncanny X-Men #337 “Know Thy Enemy”
Written by Scott Lobdell
Pencilled by Joe Maduriera
Inked by Townsend & Russell
Lettered by Comicraft
Coloured by Bucce & TB!
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.