Welcome to Part 3 of X-Tra Sauce: The Outback Era X-Men. After our intro and a spotlight on artist Marc Silvestri we are finally going to start digging into the actual comics. First up is Uncanny X-Men #229 by Chris Claremont, Marc Silvestri, Dan Green, Glynis Oliver-Wein & Tom Orzechowski.
So the main theme of this article series is to show how great this run is because of how capital N new it is and you can’t get much more fresh than this issue. If this was published today, this would no doubt be a new issue number 1 relaunch. The X-Men you’ve become familiar with throughout Claremont’s run are gone. We are not at the mansion in Westchester anymore. It’s time to go down under to Australia! But first a detour to Singapore.
I honestly can’t imagine what it was like to be a reader back in the 80’s and pick this issue up off the stands. It’s immediate carnage and action with no X-Men in sight. We don’t know any of these people. Claremont goes so new he throws us into Singapore to the Hoan International Bank and gives us a quiet little global lesson before things explode. Were introduced here for the FIRST time to the Reavers, soon to be mainstays in the X-Men rogue gallery. In fact, they are the main characters of this comic. We spend literally half the issue with them before the X-Men show up.
Let’s talk about the Reavers for a little bit. The Reavers are very clearly the first “man made mutant” introduced into the X-Men Universe. This is a plot beat that tends to pop up in the best X-Men runs, the concept of humans doing whatever they can to themselves to make themselves superior. For Claremont, it’s the Reavers. In the 90’s X-Men comics they introduce the Prime Sentinels – humans who have been changed by nanotech to become Sentinels. In Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, he introduces the Homo Perfectus movement with the U-Men, which was humans grafting mutant body parts to their own to become an “artificial mutant”. In Mike Carey’s run on X-Men, he introduces the Children of the Vault, humans temporally evolved over 6,000 years to basically become a new species parallel to mutants. And in Jonathan Hickman’s recent House of X Powers of X relaunch, he introduces a future race of Homo Novissima, humans who have purposefully used genetic engineering and technology to evolve past mutantkind.
This is such a fascinating idea. Instead of mutant infighting, creators take the humans who “hate and fear” mutants and show the depths they’ll sink to to be on a level playing field with mutants. In the above page from Marvel Age #62, they even call the Reavers mutants – cyborg mutants. One of the best plot beats in X-Men comics is that the hate and fear humans have for mutants is in actuality just petty envy. Humans want to be these larger than life “superior” creatures, but through a random genetic lottery, they can never be. The Reavers are the genesis of this essential building block of X-Men. These are humans who have gone through horrible cyborg alterations to be some type of new powerful human, who can do all type of fantastical things. I think it’s genius to update the ever present enemy of humankind and blend it into some sort of perverted mutant analogue. It’s more terrifying than it ever has been here. The Reavers, now “superior” humans in contrast to our beloved mutants, have lost all humanity. They teleport into this bank to murder men, women and children indiscriminately, steal money, kidnap women and whatever else they want. The Reavers are horrible.
So, when the hell do we get to Australia? 8 pages in after the Reavers 80’s action movie introduction we see how they can teleport all over the world, with the aid of a mutant Aborigine, Gateway. It’s here we’re introduced to the new mysterious setting of the Outback. Gateway is immediately shown as some enigmatic character. He doesnt speak, we dont know his motivation or story, only that the Reavers keep him as an unwilling mode of transportation. If he goes against them, they will destroy his “Holy Place” and we get Claremont spoonfeeding us some Aboriginal beliefs. Gateway doesnt play a huge part into this story or the whole run as a matter of fact, but Claremont and the team clearly had some abandoned plans with him. In the Marvel Age #62 preview and this issue’s letter column, we get hints that there was an aborted more sinister plot cooking with him.
None of this came to pass and it now stands as one of many in the box full of Claremont’s abandoned plots but it’s extremely interesting to take note of here as we start.
So the Reavers base of operations ends up being some abandoned little town in the middle of the remote desert of the Australian Outback. It has several complexes in it ranging from an old Hotel that’s more of an old West saloon, to a treasure vault to, as we’ll see in future issues, a mysterious high tech computer room.
One thing for us to note for the larger Claremont mutant tapestry is that the kidnapped woman, Jessan Hoan, is violated (I absolutely HATE this part) by Reaver Pretty Boy to fundamentally alter her mind and characteristics. This is a pretty disgusting way to change her into new character Tiger Tyger, crime lord of Madripoor who will appear next in the Claremont penned MArvel Comics Presents and solo Wolverine series.
14 pages in as the Reavers wind down in their saloon town, we get an impromptu sandstorm. But this is no natural sandstorm, it’s the X-Men baby!! It’s here I want to shift gears and highlight how Claremont decides to take the X-Men and put them into a whole new genre. This isn’t a superhero comic, THIS IS A WESTERN!!
Last entry, I showed how Marc Silvestri in Comics Interview #76 said that Claremont wanted the now dead to the world X-Men to exist as “Legends, like something out of the Old West” In the same interview, Silvestri describes the Outback as something from cowboy times, like “America 200 years ago”
Rereading this issue with that context, it’s EXTREMELY apparent this is them doing a Western starring the X-Men. So many Westerns, be they books or films, start with the evil black hat wearing gangs descending on an unsuspecting town, murdering villagers, robbing the bank, absconding with lasses. That’s EXACTLY what The Reavers do here, except they teleport into a high tech bank in Singapore in the 80’s. It’s a perfect translation of the Western tropes filtered through comics. After their score, the Reavers go back to their hideout, which this time is an even more literal old west town in the Outback. They all sit in a saloon getting drunk and rowdy. They should be wearing cowboy hats here! But, just like all Westerns, this gang of black hats needs to get a comeuppancefrom our heroic band of Outlaws. Cue the arrival of the X-Men
The X-Men strike hard and fast, absolutely obliterating this group, even if some of the bigger name Reavers escape through Gateway’s portal. Instead of a pistol shoot out, mutant mastery of phenomenal powers are used to beat, round up and force out this rowdy gang of thieves and killers. It’s like Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch riding in to town and taking over. Storm, leader of this gang of outlaw,s leads Psylocke and Havok like desperadoes with an expert plan to shoot down the gang keeping watch. Dazzler and Longshot, the new members of the team bumble in like young cowpokes not used to drawing a pistol. Colossus and Rogue have a good ol fashioned saloon brawl. And Wolverine, well he draws and shoots faster than any gun in the West. It’s a pitch perfect Western. I’m in awe of it. They even string up the Reavers that don’t get away in rope, like theyre ready to tie them to a horse.
Congregating in the saloon afterwards, the X-Men a new way of thinking for this run, seriously consider murdering the Reavers before deus ex machina, Roma pops in. Now she, as I explained in Part 1, let the X-Men return to life with mystical safeguards and a second chance. She said she wouldnt hop in again to help, but she does again. And she gives our heroes the Siege Perilous. This is going to be a very important thing throughout this run and my analysis. It’s basically a magic door that judges you and your inner self and desires and pops you back out into a new life. Longtime X-Men expert Nathan Adler had this insight into Claremont’s ideas about the Siege Perilous, which I find interesting:
Claremont takes the idea of the Siege Perilous as a gateway directly from Andre Norton’s 1963 novel Witch World where she incorporated the legend that the only knight worthy to sit on it was Galahad and that all the others who tried were transported to the world they were meant to live in. This is not the first time he would mine Norton’s work for X-Men. While Byrne later claims that Days of Future Past was his idea, methinks he is taking a little too much credit since the mutant camps idea is practically identical to the slave labour camps the Espers were forced into in Norton’s short story Wizard’s World collected in High Sorcery. Claremont obviously came up with the concept for Uncanny X-Men since this story by Norton has enslaved Espers “brain-twisted” into becoming Hounds that hunt psychically for E-camp escapees, an idea that he completely ripped off for Rachel Grey’s background.
The remaining Reavers are forced through the Siege, and Roma magically teleports Jessan Hoan back to Singapore. Though these X-Men are a transformed new group of Outlaws, they try to uphold a sense of justice and not become murderers. Roma recaps how they are invisible to cameras and technology and leaves them the Siege. Here they make a vow to be the “white hats”, a gang of heroic mutant outlaws.
Thus, our new status quo is firmly established. I’ve seen a lot of people ask “Why Australia?” about this era and it’s pretty clear now in context that Chris Claremont wanted to turn the X-Men into a Western. The X-Men will now operate out of the old Reaver base, claiming it as their own, in another Western trope move.
In our continuing look at how the great quality of this era is directly correlated to new ideas, it’s extremely evident in this intro issue. The only thing that isnt new here is the X-Men and even they have new looks, philosophies and a secret mystical safeguard against being seen by technology. In this day and age I’d even go so far as to say this wouldnt even be titled X-Men, this would be some whole new brand name it’s so different from what came before. You cant’ help but get swept up in it all as Claremont deftly keeps the action at a breakneck speed but the pace of new ideas and the X-Men finally appearing is done perfectly. You immediately get invested in this new team, their new missions and their new base and status quo. It’s so fresh! You can FEEL how creatively re energized Claremont is here. This such a bold, bizarre outlier in the decades of resetting status quo of American superhero comics. The old X-Men, with Xavier, the school and their connection to the greater Marvel Universe are dead. In their place, stands the whispered about clandestine legends, the root toot tootinest gang of mutant Outlaws we’ve ever seen!