Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Zack Quaintance, who chose number 177 for the roulette – so it’s time for Mystique to deal with those X-Men once and for all!

By Steve Morris

It’s a small world when your skin is bright blue, and X-Men readers always suspected that Mystique and Nightcrawler might be related in some way. That theory was ultimately confirmed by the comics, unfortunately culminating with The Draco, a comic I keep threatening to come back to at some point. Back in the time of Uncanny X-Men #177, however, it was just another one of those small ongoing suggestions which writer Chris Claremont was very keen on offering to readers without ever confirming it for them.

His run on the X-Men began at a time when there was still that lingering possibility that the characters could be changed and developed: in fact, you could easily argue that this is exactly the problem with his writing as the years moved on. His refusal to actually put his cards on the table or deviate from long-term storytelling becomes a frustrating refusal to ever commit to changing from the comfortable and comforting structure he’s happily set up for his characters. His years and years spent writing the characters are somewhat unprecedented within American comics, but his inability to change as a writer meant the world of mutantkind calcified after a while. Once you’ve put every female character into black leather you kinda reach an impasse, right?

But then… that also became the nature of the X-Men rather than just a Claremont quirk. Every concept we see in this issue – Xavier and Lilandra, Colossus and Kitty, even Storm cutting her hair into a mohawk – has happened and ‘unhappened’ repeatedly in subsequent years. The indecision of the grandstanding Claremont run on the X-Men became an industry-wide indecision for the characters, as nothing was allowed to progress beyond the end-point of Claremont’s time as writer. And even right now, the core plot point of this issue #177 of Uncanny X-Men has become the core of current X-Men comics, with the relationship between Mystique and Destiny being central to the current “Inferno” story.

The more Marvel’s PR tells us that things are changing, the more we know they’ll soon return to the baseline. Time for Storm to call her stylist.

In issue #177, things start off at a circus, of course, with Mystique as our narrator. Pounced upon by Wolverine, she quickly fights back against him, but something is clearly ‘off’ from the start. We realise that shortly after she slits his throat – the only part of his body not protected by bone/adamantium, she notes in her brutally no-frills narration – and confirm as she starts murdering all the other X-Men. Everything moves so quickly that the voice in our head saying “this isn’t actually happening” can’t keep up against the action. Claremont was always excellent at pacing, and nobody knows how to draw out the page like John Romita Jr.

The sequence demonstrates not just the danger Mystique poses to the team, as she kills almost all the X-Men within the space of ten pages, but a secret weakness: she’s not willing to kill Nightcrawler.

He’s the only character she hesitates with: even more of a surprise given that on the previous page she shot Rogue, her adopted daughter, without much second thought. Standing over the body of her dead daughter, she screams in pain, but between the gutters of that emotional panel her yellow narration box tell us that “a small part of me looks on with amused, clinical detachment”.

Yikes.

So why hesitate with Nightcrawler? We know now, but Claremont was clearly never going to tell us. It wasn’t until a random issue of X-Men Unlimited in 1994 (written by Scott Lobdell) that the seeds Claremont planted actually grew into anything. Kurt is her biological child, and so she holds back from the killing blow. For readers, the scene acts as confirmation, which is probably one of the main problems with the X-Men franchise as a whole: it wants us to assume everything it doesn’t actually want to say. Mystique and Destiny are a couple, they’re sat on the sofa together in this issue, and Destiny calls her “my Raven”. Is that relationship actually confirmed, though, the words put on the page which make it impossible to wave away in future? No.

X-Men fans have had to become used to a franchise which can’t or won’t definitively state anything for them. Characters like Storm, Illyana and Kate Pryde remain locked into the default assumptions of the fanbase, whatever those may be, as the written word on the page refuses to appear. Much like the third Summers Brother, who surprised the world by being definitively not the character he was teased to be. How about Dazzler’s child, who we now know is Shatterstar, but wasn’t confirmed for years and years? Long-term storytelling is one thing, but not when it’s shared between different writers, years apart, who never spoke to each other about it. We work from assumptions, and hope that each new writer will assume the thing we want to be true. In the comics world, the X-Men narrative remains unique in that regard.

So when we re-read Uncanny X-Men #177 we know that Mystique and Destiny are definitively a couple. And we know that Nightcrawler is Mystique’s son. Those assumptions were made real by other writers at other times. But the comic itself – Chris Claremont himself – never braves that decision.

It hesitates and pulls its strike at the last moment.

 

Uncanny X-Men #177: Sanction
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Inker: John Romita Sr.
Colorist: Glynis Wein

Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

 

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.

 

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