Sunday, December 27, 2009
Christmas Comics: The Uncanny X-Men #230 (June 1988)
Writer: Chris Claremont
Pencils: Marc Silvestri
Inks: Josef Rubinstein
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor in chief: Tom DeFalco
When they reprint classic merry mutant tales, they usually omit this one (more on the more popular X-Men holiday stories soon). Perhaps because this tale is tied into the Australian outback era of the The Uncanny X-Men, which is both admired and reviled, depending on who you listen too. This is easily the goofiest X-Men Christmas story, but it’s also not without its charms.
The story begins with the X-Men on a typical training session in the outback town they took over in the previous issue from The Reavers. But Longshot is absent, lured to a room filled with “haunted treasure” that wants to return to the owners The Reavers “liberated” it from. This is a weird idea, that these objects have some kind of sentience and, even more, an emotional attachment to their owners. This is ascribed to Longshot’s power of psychometry, which was an ability outlined in his original 1985 miniseries. Haunted by the pleas of these items, Longshot’s tales prompt the X-Men to try to return every item to its rightful owner.
The ridiculousness of the idea is commented upon extensively in the story — Claremont’s halfway successful technique for selling the idea to an audience most likely too "cool" to take the concept at face value — with Havok and Wolverine noticeably scoffing at the idea. But like most good Christmas stories, the season's good points melt away the skepticism and everyone joins in whole-heartedly. Even Wolverine gets in on the act, wearing a Santa hat and carrying a big bag of gifts over his shoulder — all of which is pretty out of character and most likely not "cool" with the average late 1980s X-Men reader, but it is Christmas.
Amid all of this, there are a couple of subplots. One has Rogue trying to connect in some way with Gateway, who at this point is still a silent mystery. The other has Dazzler trying to come to terms with her new, non-glamorous life living with the X-Men in the outback and craving the missing comforts of books, TV, music and fun in general.
The general hokeyness is complemented by a some quite nice little moments in which people surprisingly recover treasures long thought lost. I particularly liked a four-panel scene in which a couple of kids catch Dazzler in the act and she claims to be one of “Santa’s special helpers.” There’s also a nice little nod to The New Mutants, who at this point believe the X-Men dead and are in mourning, as Storm gives them some weather worthy of an extra Christmas carol.
That all this happens on Christmas is fairly obvious, but not overtly commented upon until fairly late in the story, when the X-Men make a gift to Dazz of the super-trendy motorcycle she’s had her eyes on. (Presumably, it was one of the gifts that had no signature for Longshot to register.) Rogue also gets a subplot resolved as her attempts to connect with Gateway.
The art is an interesting mix. This was the pre-Image Silvestri — lots of mood and emphasis on setting with a slightly sketch and abstract style. I was always conflicted about Rubinstein’s inks, which are polished but also add a soft and slightly cartoony feel that clashed with the usually over-serious approach of Claremont’s stories. Faces in particular were not as expressive with this art team — Silvestri's sketchy style lacked some range in this area, and Rubinstein flattened out and distorted things a bit.
I remember buying this issue off the stands and thinking it a bit of a throwaway issue — one of those quiet issues Claremont would use to emphasize character after a big change in the status quo. One of these every so often worked nicely, but there was a definite hunger to see the new Australia direction take off. This had come after the resolution of Fall of the Mutants in #227, a fill-in tale in #228, the establishment of the new direction in #229 and there would be one more character-oriented fill-in in #231 before things got back to the meat of things with the return of the Brood in an action-packed three-parter starting in #232. This was obviously never going to be a pivotal issue in the X-Men canon, referred back to via footnotes for as long as they used footnotes, but something about this kind of simple, all-in-one holiday story evokes a fondness for those days when comics could tell stories outside of serialized trade collections and mega-crossovers.