X-Tra Sauce – The Outback Era X-Men: Part 1 – Introduction

Hi everyone! If this is your first time here on the site, my name is Dave Shevlin and while I am not a good writer, I am an enthusiastic one! My site, for you newcomers, is one that is here to celebrate the nostalgia, love and the elusive “cool” factor of comic books. I’m not here to write a dissertation on comparisons to 14th Century literature or anything like that. I don’t have that skill set. I am here to talk about why certain comics mean something to people, why they matter, why they are worth your time. I want to expose people to the same magic I feel for certain special comics. The comics that make your heart skip a beat. The ones that make you grin like an idiot when you picture them. The ones that are a perfect blend of art and writing that hit you in your gut, curl up into your brain and stay with you for the rest of your life. The main comic that sticks with me, that is a core piece of who i am, is the Chris Claremont/Marc Silvestri/Rick Leonardi run on X-Men. The run where our merry mutants go “down under”.

This is the first part in a long form continuous series I will be writing about The Outback Era X-Men. Why spend all this time dissecting this particular chunk of X-books, you ask? Well, it’s because this is my FAVORITE era of X-Men ever. I am head over heels in love with it. To me, it represents the high point of writer Chris Claremont’s legendary 17 year run on the X-Men titles.

Chris Claremont had been writing Uncanny X-Men and several other Mutant books for 13 years by the time 1988 rolled around. Throughout this run his main central theme to his books was growth and change. He had characters like Cyclops grow up, get married and retire to leave the team. Comic book status quo’s back then were a bit like the Wild West. Before movie and merchandising rights were such a huge deal, creators had a bit more free reign to enact long lasting change without things being reverted back to the status quo. Under the editorship of Louise Simonson and later Ann Nocenti, Claremont was given a lot of leeway to basically do whatever he wanted unless Editor In Chief Jim Shooter directly butted in. Throughout the 1980’s you see Claremont drifting away from a lot of the established X-Men tropes. Professor Xavier is sent off to space and Magneto is put in charge. Cyclops has his leadership usurped by Storm who, along with others, undergoes deep character change, growing ever more pragmatic and lethal. The Mutant Massacre decimates the team and core cast members are jettisoned off. Systematically he prunes the X-Men plant until theres not much recognizable growth left. Finally, the Fall of the Mutants X-Over happens and the X-Men all die, sacrificing their lives to destroy The Adversary and save the world.

Their deaths last about 2 pages as Roma, Merlyn’s daughter saves them. She’ll become a huge deus ex machina to get us where we’re going but I’ll delve into more of that later.

Claremont uses this crossover to effectively murder off the X-Men and give himself a clean slate from which to reinvent the book. I said earlier, Claremont’s whole theme during his run is change and that thematic influence in his work is never stronger than it is here. He’s finally reached the apex of everything he’s laid down. After 13 years he unshackles himself from fan expectations and the tired status quo. Gone are the ties to the rest of the X-Men supporting cast. Gone is the Mansion in Westchester. Gone is the outdated super-hero team reacting to threats as they happen. Gone are the old villains. In it’s place stands a Mutant strikeforce, ready to proactively strike at those that would do them harm. They have a new secret base in the Australian Outback. They are invisible to machines and spells. They can teleport to anywhere in the world they need to be. They are given a certain freedom when all their friends and enemies think they are dead and off the table. They are given new enemies that represent the hate Mutants face in new, varied ways. Claremont’s whole run, in my opinion, is leading to this progressive change. Challenging himself to do something different gives the book a fresh jolt in the arm and spurs him on to unparalleled new creative heights. I want to explore and show you how everything is new, new, new and why that makes this the all time best X-Men period.

This era really is the culmination of everything Claremont had been working on. His themes on mutant conflicts and racial issues as well as what a superhero team can be are explored so heavily here and he’s finally transformed the team into the band of revolutionary outlaws that take no shit in their own little pocket corner of the Marvel Universe that he’s always wanted. It doesn’t’ last super long, as all good things must end, but for a brief period we get THE seminal X-Men work. In this X-Tra Sauce series, I am going to do a deep dive on every single issue and more to explore Claremont’s themes, the art, what does and does not work, behind the scenes stuff, dropped or changed plots, character and creator spotlights, why it matters so much, and most of all how this work resonates with me personally. You’re going to get a lot of me gushing about why this specific material means so much to me and why this is the best X-Men run ever. I’ll try to make it entertaining as well as thought provoking. Hopefully by the end of this you’ll have a real appreciation for the material after seeing it through my eyes. Pull up a seat to the table and join me in enjoying some Comfort Food Comics, Outback style!