Over on Geoff's blog, Jason Powell has been doing an amazing job of critiquing every issue in Chris Claremont's run on Uncanny X-Men. He's also caused me to reassess some of the things that I wrote in the paper that I have linked in the sidebar - to acknowledge some material that I had either ignored or forgotten. So this is write-up is something of a corrective post-script.
Jason has just wrapped up his analysis of UXM #235-8, a storyline set in the mutant-enslaving African nation of Genosha (not so subtly modeled on South Africa's apartheid state). This is not the same team of apologist and acculturationist X-Men from the Lee/Kirby or Claremont/Byrne days that I complained about. As Jason notes, this is a team that doesn't find a world order that's worth protecting and decides to attack it instead: "Wolverine’s oath to tear down an entire nation built on racism feels utterly right for an X-Men story. As if this is the kind of thing they should have been doing from Day One."
Jason's probably right, though I have to give him additional credit for having revealed both how gradual and convincing the slow transformation of the X-Men - on the level of individual character, Storm and Wolverine, but also the composition of the team itself - from an anti-mutant police force to a pro-mutant terrorist cell is achieved. And there's no denying that the team that tries to destory Genosha is composed of terrorists - sympathetic ones that should encourage us to avoid reductive explanations of terrorism, but terrorists nonetheless. Jason remarks that one of the issues - and I think this comment is applicable to the storyline as a whole - is "the apex of Claremont’s creativity and expression on the Uncanny X-Men series". It's also, sadly, an indication of the concept's limits.
The storyline completes the reversal that began with the old Brotherhood of Evil Mutants becoming the government-sanctioned super-team Freedom Force - the X-Men have, effectively, become the new Brotherhood. That Claremont could pull this off speaks volumes to his skill in building the transformation up slowly and carefully over a period of years, but it's telling that he blows the team up over the next 12 months. You can turn the X-Men into terrorists, but you can't then write an ongoing book about terrorist "heroes" who punish governments for human rights abuses. (At least, not until Warren Ellis and Mark Millar did so with The Authority, which feels as if it owes something to this version of Claremont's X-Men.)
Nor could Claremont, after writing such a convincing and inspiring change of direction, take a step-backward and return to superheroics-as-usual. And so, after the Inferno crossover that has nothing to do with politics and a couple of stand-alone issues, Nimrod reappears to kill Rogue, Wolverine and Longshot leave, Storm is thought dead, and the other four X-Men sacrifice themselves to escape certain death. And then Claremont builds the concept back up from the ground, (and, in so doing, creates something quite unlike what we've seen before) reunites and returns the group to face a different kind of Genoshan threat, and is summarily removed from the book.
But for those few months...