The Path Not Taken!
Credits: Chris Claremont & Jim Lee (story/pencils), Scott Williams (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Glynis Oliver & Joe Rosas (colors)
Summary: The Starjammers arrive and rescue the X-Men from Deathbird and the Imperial Guard. Meanwhile, in the Savage Land, Colonel Semyanov ambushes Magneto. Semyanov then abandons Nick Fury’s UN command and joins Zaladane. Rogue, Nick Fury, and Ka-Zar make their way to Zaladane’s citadel, where she is stealing Magneto’s powers. They interrupt the process, allowing Magneto to use Brainchild’s equipment and regain his powers. Magneto kills Semyanov, and even against Rogue’s pleas, kills Zaladane. He abandons his former allies, determined that kinder methods will not save mutants. Later, after Lilandra is restored to the Shi’ar throne, Psylocke is attacked by a mysterious figure, while Jubilee and Gambit accidentally catch Xavier torturing the imprisoned Imperial Guard.
- Colonel Semyanov is the father of the Russian sailor slain by Magneto years earlier (Uncanny X-Men #150). He reveals this issue that the Russian members of the UN team were always assigned to kill Magneto.
- Ka-Zar remarks that dinosaurs in the Savage Land are evolving faster than ever and becoming too smart, following the High Evolutionary’s restoration of the area. I don’t believe this plotline was ever expanded upon.
- Banshee wonders why Gambit always asks questions of the other X-Men, but reveals nothing about himself; another hint that he’s a spy.
- During a montage of tragic moments from Magneto’s past, one of them includes him fighting the Shadow King. This is the first time Magneto’s ever been connected to Shadow King. Later, while listing all of the current threats to mutantkind, Magneto names “the Hellfire Club and their accursed Shadow King.” When the Shadow King storyline is finally resolved, at the end of Claremont’s run, the Hellfire Club are nowhere to be found. Apparently, Claremont was developing a Magneto/Hellfire Club/Shadow King storyline, but this issue is the only evidence I have to support the theory.
- Rogue’s powers conveniently return while fighting Zaladane and the Savage Land Mutates. She tells Magneto that his process did work, he just should have been more patient.
Gimmicks: This barely counts as a “gimmick,” but this issue marks Uncanny X-Men’s first gatefold cover. There are no enhancements on the cover, though, and the additional fifty cents added to the standard cover price are for sixteen extra pages.
Review: Speaking as someone who bought this issue as a kid, this really did feel like an event. I can’t think of any other double-sized anniversary issue I own that feels like it truly merits the hoopla associated with reaching a multiple of 25. I was also young enough at the time to at least briefly consider if the cliffhanger ending of the story was true; could Xavier be a villain? I dismissed the idea after I considered that the character had existed since the early ‘60s, and couldn’t imagine Marvel radically altering an established hero’s personality like that. (How little did I know…) In retrospect, the storylines it’s resolving haven’t been around for too long, and there’s still the massive Shadow King subplot simmering in the background that needs to be addressed, but reading the issue today it still feels as if it’s worthy of the extra pages.
Probably the most remarkable element of the story is Claremont’s ability to give every member of the cast something to do. That doesn’t mean that every Starjammer or Imperial Guard member gets the spotlight (and poor Lila Cheney is left without a single line of dialogue), but the actual X-Men all have at least one moment to shine. Even if it’s a brief moment of Storm questioning why Deathbird’s plan made no sense, it’s significant because we’ll find out next issue why Deathbird abducted the team, and it exposes the true villain of the piece. It’s just a quick dialogue exchange, but it establishes how sharp Storm is, and foreshadows upcoming events in the story. And Storm’s the X-Man who receives the smallest amount of attention in the issue. Every X-Man aids the story in some way, or is given some moment to express an aspect of their personality. Compare Forge’s awed wonder at experiencing an alien culture for the first time to Jubilee’s annoyance at the way these things look (and smell), for instance. Now, think about how rarely any X-Men story post-Claremont utilized the cast so well. And it's hard to imagine any writer matching Claremont's work with Magneto during this arc. Magneto's monologues during this storyline are absolutely haunting, as Claremont fulfills Magneto's journey from villain to failed hero to...who could even say? A damaged man who isn't willing to play the old games any more, but is too powerful and iconic to ever truly abandon his past.
Jim Lee’s art also serves the story extremely well. There’s a fair number of splash pages and double-page spreads, but Lee is just as skilled at using multiple panels to tell the story. Zaladane’s death scene is twelve panels, for instance, all one page. It doesn’t feel cramped at all, and in fact serves to heighten the tension between Rogue and Magneto during the scene. Lee’s penchant for hyper-detailed characters is also put to use, as we see just how alien, or outright gross, characters like the Starjammers or Savage Land Mutates could be. I remember being shocked at Lee’s ability to take an innocuous looking character like Worm and make him look outright disgusting in this issue. Lee could actually be as good at monsters as McFarlane, but apparently he’s never let go of this Gulf War-era military design work. It’s what he always seems to go back to, but he could embrace horror just as easily.