We open this story at night, a couple of young children on the run. Both of them being Black, and all of their pursuers being White, it’s likely that Claremont was evoking historical events with this scene. However, these kids aren’t being hunted because of the color of their skin…
Now’s as good a time as any to mention that Claremont has a very specific way of writing dialogue. There’s a weird formalism that informs the speech of pretty much every character. It’s more than the kind of expository dialogue that Marvel comics of the time were known for, it’s got a cadence all its own. It’s apparent in the way the woman answers the boy’s question, and we’ll see it throughout this tale.
It’s almost Greek Tragedy-like in its way. But look! This boy’s eyes are alight with some kind of energy, proclaiming him to be a mutant. And he’s summarily executed for it. This stuff’s brutal and powerful and a hell of an opening scene.
Straight off the bat, two children are dead and their bodies are about to be displayed in a public school. Claremont was pulling no punches about this stuff.
However, Magneto finds them first, though it isn’t stated explicitly how. If he were following the Purifiers around, he’d have stepped in to stop the execution from happening, so presumably he just happened upon these bodies, which strains credulity. But the way he’s speaking aloud, and the coincidence of the issue, reinforces for me the idea that this is some kind of stage play instead of a comic book, complete with soliloquies. That’s Claremont for you.
Couple things to note here: ‘vaunted’ is a Chris Claremont staple. He’d use this word at least once every other issue of Uncanny X-Men. This, and ‘nigh-invulnerable’ are just a few of the vocabulary words X-Men comics taught me.
Also, this version of Magneto (for his story has been revised numerous times over the course of his history) is a survivor of Auschwitz. He has a hatred for this specific kind of atrocity and it drives his every move.
This is Reverend William Stryker, a televangelist. We see him in his office reading the Bible. I’m not au courant with my Bible verses enough to know where this comes from specifically, but we get the idea.
‘Briefing tapes’ make him seem like a supervillain of some kind, which, as we’re about to discover, he is.
Question: how do these guys know about the ruby quartz composition of Cyclops’s visor? As far as I know, it’s one-of-a-kind, and so is he. Nobody else has his power, so there would be no need to research a way to counteract it. Weird one.
Also, his eye beams are a projection of FORCE. How would a colored lens prevent that? I realize asking for logic in a comic is foolish, but that’s always bothered me.
Finally, ‘self-styled’ is another Claremont-ism that I’ve never heard or read outside of X-Men.
There it is! ‘Nigh-invulnerable’! We’re racking up points on the Claremont-ism bingo card!
It should be noted here that this story is somewhat outside of canon, despite later efforts to fold it in. But suffice it to say that Kitty’s codename at this time was ‘Ariel’, which she adopted after being called ‘Sprite’ for a couple of issues, and before she became ‘Shadowcat’. Not important, but wanted to throw it in.
As we finish this scene, it’s an interesting aside that the original artist for this graphic novel was Neal Adams, who had drawn many of the ‘classic era’ X-Men comics, and whose work this artist, Brent Anderson, superficially resembles. Apparently there was some kind of dispute about ‘work for hire’ stuff and Adams ended up passing on the project. Which is really too bad, because I love Adams’s work far more than Anderson’s, and it would have been a superior product that we’ll now never get to see.
SMASH CUT! We are now just outside of dance instructor Stevie Hunter’s studio, where an enraged Kitty ‘Ariel’ Pryde has apparently rammed a fellow student right through a door.
That’s fellow mutant Illyana Rasputin trying to pull Kitty off the lad, and her brother, and fellow X-Man Peter Rasputin on the opposite side of the scene. Though at this time, I don’t believe Illyana was an actual X-Man.
Also, notice the conspicuous display of Kitty’s Star of David in the last two panels. Claremont wants you to make the obvious racial comparisons.
Kitty’s so angry she’s losing control of her mutant ability, which is to make her body intangible. She can pass right through solid matter, which poses no end of logical questions that I won’t pose here.
Here’s Stevie Hunter. She’s not a mutant herself, but she’s aware that Kitty, Peter, and Illyana are, and keeps their secret from the rest of the world. She was a cool supporting character who seems to have vanished from the X-Men stories, and I’m too lazy to do the research to find out why.
Here we see the reason for the conflict. As sequential storytelling, it’s not terribly interesting or innovative, but it gets the point across. But! There’s a HUGE bit of dialogue coming up.
Okay, let’s talk about this. This was the first time I’d ever seen that word in a comic book. This is a BALLSY MOVE on Claremont’s part. And I should mention that Chris Claremont is a White dude.
The whole thing behind X-Men comics is that they’re a metaphor for the racial equality movement. Mutants were made to be the underdogs, always fighting for mankind, hated and feared for being different. So it’s not as though Kitty’s point isn’t entirely invalid.
But holy hell, did she have to come out and say it this baldly? Does it need to be made this naked? Does it add to the gravitas of the story for Kitty to have used this word? And to the FACE of her friend and teacher?
At the same time, Kitty at this point was 13 years old or so, and it makes total sense that she would spout off like this without maybe considering the ramifications. Teenagers DO do things like this all the time.
But it’s just WEIRD, in a story that involves superpowers and colorful costumes, to suddenly introduce a very REAL and hurtful racial slur like this. And it won’t be the only time Kitty does this! She does it at least one other time I can remember in the ongoing X-Men series, alongside other racial slurs, to an assembled audience, no less.
It’s a really strange, uncomfortable, charged moment in X-Men history. We’ll get to Stevie’s reaction in the next installment. Thanks for reading!