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Retrospective on the Claremont/Byrne era

May 3, 2013

I’ve decided to halt my TNG reviews until I get a summer job and know what my shift will be. So instead, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about probably the best run the X-Men had, the Claremont/Byrne period.

Byrne came onto the book with issue #108, for the finale of the Phoenix Saga. Claremont and Cockrum had already done some amazing stuff – the return of the Sentinels, the creation of Phoenix, the return of Magneto – and they were telling a story that was clearly building to something big. So Byrne had a tough act to follow. But right off the bat, he showed he was up to the challenge, drawing some insane stuff, and doing it very well.

Byrne wasn’t involved in the creation of Phoenix, but he was certainly involved in where her story went from there. It all started with, of all villains, Warhawk, back in #110. Her powers failed against him, leading to her rejoining the team, and eventually, after a battle with with Magneto, separating her from them. We saw only bits and pieces of her over the next few issues, while the X-Men dealt with one complication after another. The separation ended with #126, with the Proteus Saga. That also began the running subplot of Jean’s flashes to the past, which eventually led to the Hellfire Club arc, which led directly into the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Before all that, though, we got a lot of fun times. A nice Savage Land arc, an OK Japan arc. And then, the Canadian Byrne brought us Canada’s superhero team, Alpha Flight. A great, two-issue arc that showed hints of Wolverine’s past, and also gave us Alpha Flight, who are awesome. Byrne, of course, pushed Wolverine quite a bit during his time on the book, making him one of the most prominent members of the team, somewhat to the detriment of Nightcrawler and Colossus. On the plus side, he also moved Wolverine largely beyond his attraction to Jean Grey, setting him up with Mariko Yashida, instead. (And as an aside: There was nothing in this period of the X-Men to suggest Jean felt any particular attraction to Wolverine.) Mariko, of course, would eventually become the first in a long, long line of women who die as a result of getting close to Wolverine. He might be the king of the Refrigerator, given how often his girlfriends get killed as parts of plots against him.

We also got a very fun Arcade arc immediately prior to the Proteus Saga. The Proteus Saga itself was tense, scary and emotional. Some very nice development for Moira, and a little for Banshee.

The fact that they followed the Proteus Saga by kicking immediately into the Hellfire Club arc is rather impressive. This was where Kitty Pryde was introduced, and became an instant fan favourite. Dazzler was introduced, too, and had more personality than she showed in her own solo title. This arc also had perhaps the ultimate Wolverine moment:

X-Men #132

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

The Hellfire Club arc was awesome, full of action and intrigue and wonderful villains. But it was still only a prelude to the Dark Phoenix Saga, one of the most iconic comic storylines of all time. Dark Phoenix was chilling. Evil and inhuman. It took a familiar character, someone much-loved, and twisted her into something unfamiliar and hateful. And then we get a moment of hope in #136, when it seems like Xavier may have suppressed Dark Phoenix. But then, #137. A story so big it needed to be double-sized. Exciting action, a lot of emotional moments, and a heartbreaking ending.

Claremont and Byrne could’ve ended things there. Just dropped the mic and walked away, secure in the knowledge that their run would be remembered forever. But they weren’t quite done yet. First, they had to add Kitty Pryde to the team. Then, they did Days of Future Past, another hugely memorable storyline that gets referenced often, which includes a dark future, the deaths of the all the X-Men, and the introduction of a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants led by Mystique, making her debut as an X-Men villain. It’s only two issues, but it’s an incredible two issues.

Byrne was just about ready to leave at this point, but he still had one more story left in him, and it was one of the best Christmas comics ever: #143. Kitty vs. a Demon. She wrecks the house trying to defeat something that gave the entire new X-Men team a run for their money. It firmly established Kitty as a hero who deserved to be on the team.

This 35-issue run was one of the best that any book has ever had. Almost every issue is great. In fact, the run was so good as a whole that even the weakest issues were still better than most of what else was one the shelves at the time. X-Men’s “satisfactory” issues were better than the “great” from most other books. It’s a shame Claremont and Byrne ultimately had a split, because they made an amazing pairing. It wasn’t just X-Men, either. They also worked together on Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up, and told some great stories in those. They wouldn’t work together again until 2004, for a brief run on JLA. But man, is there anyone who wouldn’t want to see them get back together on the X-Men? It doesn’t have to be for long, and it doesn’t even have to be in-continuity. A six-issue mini (maybe even 12). It’d be amazing. It’s not likely, but it’d be epic.

  1. It certainly was a great run, and for better or for worse, it’s defined the series to this day. I think my favourite moments were the Arcade arc, the Hellfire Club and the Christmas issue. Wonderful comics. It really is amazing how, as you say, even the less than stellar issues were better than most comics’ best!

    • I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite. The carnival, Magneto’s revenge, Alpha Flight, Arcade, the Proteus Saga, the Hellfire Club, the Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past and the Christmas issue are all fantastic. It’s truly impressive how many great stories they told in just 35 issues. Just a little over 3 years (December 1977 to March 1981). The Warhawk and Japan issues were really the only weak spots. And even the Warhawk issue introduced the softball tradition, and the Japan issues gave Wolverine Mariko.

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