by Austin Gorton
Uncanny X-Men #175 is the climax of a story colloquially known as “From the Ashes”. In it, Mastermind uses his powers of illusion to make the X-Men believe Dark Phoenix has returned from the dead. First, he creates an illusion in which the X-Men seemingly witness Dark Phoenix obliterate Manhattan. Then, with the X-Men properly motivated, he further uses his power to make them see Cyclops as Dark Phoenix herself. This leads to a battle in which the X-Men give no quarter against the being they believe to be their greatest foe – but is, in fact, their leader.
What follows is Cyclops’ finest moment as he takes on the team whom he once crafted into the superbly-oiled fighting machine they are today. Via a combination of his optic blasts and tactical skills, a leader’s intricate knowledge of his teammate’s strengths and weaknesses (and an assist from the Danger Room), he single-handedly battles a team which includes powerhouses such as Storm, Rogue, and Wolverine – and wins. Then he exposes Mastermind, clears Madelyne’s name, and marries her, all before the issue ends.
It is a stunning and well-earned triumph for the character, one believably and beautifully rendered by writer Chris Claremont and pencilers Paul Smith and John Romita Jr. It also represents the climax to Claremont’s efforts to write Cyclops out of the series and into semi-retirement, a state from which he could periodically return for big events before stepping back to a married life free of superhero angst. To that end, Claremont had introduced Madelyne Pryor at the beginning of “From the Ashes”, not as a pawn in a villain’s plot or a figment of Cyclop’s imagination, but as a means to give Cyclops a happy ending, using the logic of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo to argue that, hey, sometimes some people just uncannily resemble one another for no good reason.
In essence, Claremont crafted a finite ending within the long-form serial narrative of the X-Men. Not for the entire team – he had more stories to tell with them, and Marvel certainly wanted to sell more comics of its bestselling series – but at least for one of its members. Uncanny X-Men #175 is meant to be Cyclops’ final stand, his last hurrah, his swan song; and Claremont and company send him out on a high note, proving his mettle once and for all before letting him ride off into the sunset with his new bride at his side.
Of course, it wouldn’t last: forces outside Claremont’s control would soon pull Cyclops back into regular action. This lends a bittersweet note to Uncanny X-Men #175. It stands, ultimately, as a tease for a happy “What If?” that never fully materializes. Yet it also still stands as a testament to Cyclops’ cunning, skills, and, yes, even his coolness, as he closes the book on his tenure with the X-Men (for a time) by proving, once and for all, that he is the best there is at what he does, before happily walking away to enjoy a quiet life with the woman he loves.
Uncanny X-Men #175 “Phoenix!”
Written by Chris Claremont
Pencilled by Paul Smith & John Romita Jr.
Inked by Bob Wiacek
Coloured by Glynis Wein
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski
Austin Gorton can be found reviewing the X-Men, one issue at a time, on his website The Real Gentlemen of Leisure and co-hosting the A Very Special Episode podcast. Follow him on Twitter here.
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