In which the X-Men get to meet little baby Nathan Summers for the first time, Storm and Cyclops fight for the role of X-Men leader, the Starjammers reexamine their place in space, Kitty gets an optician’s appointment, Rogue meets the President and they STILL have time to squeeze in a quick round of baseball before the issue finishes!
This is one of the most famous Uncanny X-Men issues of all time. It contains several classic elements made famous by the franchise, including yet another one of their ongoing baseball games – but by far the most well-known part of the issue is that it concludes with a combat fight between Storm and Cyclops to decide who should be the leader of the X-Men. Storm, depowered at the time, surprisingly wins what might have been expected to be an easy fight for Cyclops, forcing Scott to leave the X-Men leadership role (and hopefully spend more time with his wife and newborn son).
Prior to that moment, the issue carefully lays every card on the table before turning each one up. Starting with a lovely scene where the X-Men respond to meeting baby Nathan for the first time, the plot gets set in motion once Scott’s wife Madelyn takes Storm to one side to talk about Cyclops’ worrying absenteeism. The dynamic between Storm, Maddie and Cyclops is brought to the forefront, with everything brilliantly converging to bring us to the fight which concludes the issue.
It’s very easy to look solely at Cyclops and Madelyne in this issue, but Wolverine and Storm are equally fascinating here, even with Wolverine having a very limited (but determined) role on the sidelines. He very clearly notices that Cyclops is not playing the role of devoted father and is distracted by X-Men issues which really shouldn’t be his priority. Although he only has a few lines of dialogue here, he spends them carefully explaining that Cyclops needs to improve his attitude and understand what’s really important in his life.
He’s passive playing father figure, but more important is Storm’s active role in sorting out what she sees as the problem here. Storm has her mind set up from the moment she hears about Maddie’s difficult time in labour, and she quickly and perfectly sets up her trap for Cyclops, using his own guilty bravado to trip him up. For all the times that the X-Men comics have loudly tried to reassure us that Cyclops is the smartest and greatest strategist in the team, Storm very calmly heads directly at him and takes him down.
If anything, the decision to challenge Cyclops is what points out her worth as a leader here. That she wins the fight is an exciting and earned twist from the creative team, but she proves herself as the best leader for the team simply by issuing the challenge. Cyclops doesn’t do anything to resist her – he sees this as a logical move, and so he walks straight into a battle he ultimately loses. She’s able to assume control of the team and kick Cyclops out without turning anyone against her, or creating any particular friction. Everybody agrees that she has won fair and square, and it’s the start of really seeing Storm as the greatest leader the X-Men have had.
That doesn’t last forever, of course, sadly. Cyclops being leader of the X-Men in years to come is firstly because the X-Men comics have always been led by white male writers, but it feels so much more tragic after heading back into the past to read comics like Uncanny #201. It’s not a badass triumph for him to assume leadership and steer the X-Men off into their next great battle – it’s an absolute tragedy. Someone like Jean or Madelyne isn’t able to factor properly into his life because he’s a figurehead first and a person second – as we see here, he literally cannot fathom what it is to be needed for non-militaristic purposes. He can only think in terms of strategic battle, and can’t manoeuvre through emotional spaces in a rational way.
Storm can do both, and Wolverine can do both, and they’re each able to recognise what’s happening between Cyclops and Maddie. They represent the reader, really, as they watch on in frustration as they see clearly Scott’s reluctance to give up his grasp on everything he’s been told is important. Corsair wasn’t there to help him learn about family values, so instead he learned them from Xavier – and that clearly hasn’t gone well. It’s no surprise that both father-figures show up here, sailing through space together, having both made choices to abandon Cyclops and go off and enjoy their own lives.
Storm acts as you’d expect family to act – she get involved directly, unafraid of the backlash because she knows she’s earned and developed a bond with Scott. In this case, it means stepping in to ensure that she not only throws Cyclops out the X-Men – but that she does so through combat, which is what Cyclops understands most. Appeals to his heart are clearly not going to work, as painfully demonstrated through the husband and wife scenes through the issue. Instead, Storm targets Cyclops’ point of pride, catches him out, and provides him with a logical argument for why he should leave the X-Men and go look after his family instead.
That logical approach is heartbreaking. You can see why so many readers turned on Cyclops at this point in his history, because he’s adamantly refusing to give any emotional warmth to his wife and to his newborn son. He has to be convinced that the best strategy for the X-Men is that Storm leads them, and simply walks off. Xavier and Corsair both know what they need from Scott, and are convinced they should treat him in appropriate ways until he can deliver that to them – but Storm understands what Scott needs, first and foremost, and what his family needs.
Her move to become leader is a selfless act of sacrifice. Her own wants and needs aren’t addressed here – she’s doing everything here to make sure that Scott and Maddie get a proper chance at emotional happiness, and it’s why Storm is the goddamned best.
Uncanny X-Men #201 “Duel”
Written by Chris Claremont
Pencilled by Rick Leonardi
Inked by Whilce Portacio
Coloured by Glynis Oliver
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski