Welcome to Part 4 of X-Tra Sauce: The Outback Era X-Men. After our initial relaunch issue and setup of our new status quo, we hop right into the action with a………Christmas issue? Join me as I wax poetic about Christmas and Uncanny X-Men #230 by Chris Claremont, Marc Silvestri, Joe Rubinstein, Glynis Oliver-Wein & Tom Orzechowski.
This is probably my favorite Holiday issue of the X-Men of which there are many. Uncanny X-Men #341 with Joe Mad drawing our team enjoying Christmas in New York City is a top contender as well but that one is largely just Cannonball fighting Gladiator. Still great though. This one to me is special.
Before I go any further, I should say I am an absolute fiend for Christmas. It annoys the hell out of my wife and everyone around me. I go off decorating. I watch all the movies, specials cartoons and tv shows. I put on Youtube 80’s and 90’s Christmas commercial compilations. I’ve bought old Sears and Toys R Us “Wish Books” off of eBay. I decorate the inside of my house with everything. I own totes full of Christmas shirts, sweaters, cardigans, jackets, pants, hats you name it. I own a Turboman figure.
Hell, getting back on topic, I even custom made a Christmas sweater with this very X-Men team from a Holiday Marvel ad.
I even have over 6 huge custom bound compilations of Christmas or Holiday themed comic books. I’ve spent an insane amount of time researching and finding every Christmas comic I can find. (A bunch of them highlighted in this Twitter thread.)
So it’s safe to say I am a bit of an expert on Christmas comics and this one ranks very high. In my 20’s I lived with my brother and we would go sleep over at my Mom’s house on Christmas Eve to really simulate that Christmas Morning magic even though we were grown (Don’t make fun, my wife has done enough of that haha). I would bring boxes of my hundreds of Christmas comics to read in my now too small teenage bed as I stayed up late. This issue was always one of the first ones I’d dig into. We are greeted with an alltimer opening splash page.
Four issues ago in Uncanny X-Men #226, during Fall of the Mutants, Storm finally got her powers back. It’s nice that Claremont uses this issue to show off the newly revitalized Storm in this wonderful new Silvestri designed costume. This is Storm’s best fit ever. I will always be mad people added more and more white shine to it that Jim Lee saw that and thought white was Storm’s costume color for his iconic 90’s costume makeover for the team. Here and now we see a NEW Storm, happy and in the air again, complete with symbolic makeover in hair and outfit. It’s refreshing and a joy to see.
The big chunk of important ongoing X-Men story beats plays out in these first few pages as the X-Men engage in a sort of “Danger Room” training session that lets them test out their new Outback home. Madelyne Pryor firmly establishes herself as the X-Men’s new home base leader as she instantly acclimates herself to the advanced computer system the Reavers had set up. It’s here we get two Claremont long game plot teases.
One is the computer system the Reavers had. It’s an incredibly advanced setup that doesnt fit this middle of nowhere abandoned Outback town. Madelyne starts to ruminate here what exactly the deal is. Claremont always seemed to have more plans for this as he drops mysterious teases throughout this run. Don’t worry, I’ll point them out as we go and give my guess what he may have been thinking.
The other tease is again Madelyne Pryor related. Although she pretty firmly establishes herself this issue in a very cool way as the X-Men’s top support member, the plans are seemingly already in place for her eventual turn and departure in the Inferno event. It’s a heartbreaking scene in context as Maddy is so excited to finally be able to stand on her own, empowered and part of the team finally. Knowing what’s to come really hurts. Right from the start, an Inferno is starting.
Longshot ends up exploring the rest of the complex and finding the Reaver’s Scrooge McDuck-esque “loot vault” where everything they stole is thrown into. All the stolen objects call out to Longshot due to his psychometry powers which allow him to read the psychic imprint and emotions on an object someone handled. This power was established in his origin miniseries but had barely been used, but Claremont uses it as the crux of the issue. It hits him so hard he ends up in a psychic shock so the team consoles him and investigates. It’s here the suggestion to return all of the stolen items to their owners is cooked up.
Longshot insists they must do this while Wolverine argues it’s a big waste of their time. He loses the argument however as they work systematically to redistribute the loot. Longshot reads each piece, Maddy pinpoints where it has to go with the computers, the team divides the stolen goods by Continent and then Psylocke telepathically tells Gateway where they want to teleport to. No more antiquated Blackbird traveling for the X-Men. Theyre going to be porting all over the world instantaneously all night!
It’s here we venture into the George Bailey sappiness Holiday stuff as it just so happens to be Christmas Eve when the team does this, so you get a nice montage of them popping the goods back to the rightful owners, complete with Dazzler Claus and a New Mutants cameo. It’s really cute, really fun and super heartwarming. I for one welcome our new mutant Santas.
The MVP of this issue is Dazzler. She only recently joined the team after going through some hard times and a bit of an identity crisis. Claremont uses this issue to REALLY hammer home her fun personality as a bit of an outsider not used to this rough and tumble life. She wants a bit of leisure and comfort here! I love that he has her constantly complain about this gross new base they inherited from the Reavers and how she desperately wishes they could keep the motorcycle they find in the loot vault. That the rest of the team does just that in a cute symbolic gesture of making her feel more welcome is so nice.
If all that wasn’t enough sweetness, we also get Rogue reaching out to Gateway. Even though we were teased that in him something sinister lurks, as I detailed in the last article, this issue seems to pivot away from that almost immediately as he’s given a touching moment on our last page. It really humanizes him as we see him stop just staring constantly and actively motion for Rogue to join him as he plays a flute. That last panel always gets me. I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING!!
This may seem like an odd one and done story to slide in at this time, but it’s secretly brilliant. It’s essentially the first time we get to see all of them just talk and start to develop the new team here in between the big Fall of the Mutants event and what is to come. I really admire Claremont’s strategic plan here. We’ve barely had time to process Dazzler, Longshot, Havok and Psylocke even being X-Men as this team has all been together for less than ten issues so far, so it’s pretty smart to just let you get to casually know them and watch them all bond in a non life threatening way for a bit.
Joe Rubinstein inks over Marc Silvestri’s art in this one instead of the usual Dan Green job and to me it’s very apparent and not my favorite. Rubinstein is a very talented inker but Green was in perfect symbiosis with Silvestri. Silvestri often would draw so many detailed lines on every figure and Green would always do his best to pick up on that. He also perfectly inked Silvestri’s trademark faces and expressions. Rubinstein puts a bit too much of his own style on top of Silvestri’s pencils for me. Check these Dazzler and Rogue faces for example:
Although they are in the trademark Silvestri poses, the features are different and skewed where in isolation like this, you may not even guess this is Marc’s work. He transforms Silvestri’s scratchy, cartoony, expressive, abstract art into something more constrained and realistic and in my opinion goes against what Marc puts down. I think the best inkers are the ones that enhance the penciller’s work while also cutting out their worst excesses. Rubinstein’s inks go way too far in that direction, giving us an almost outdated house style that these bold, new comics are trying to shake. Thankfully he only does a few of the inking jobs in this era but it’s definitely noticeable.
We’ve got our new team, we’ve got our new base and we are ready to roll. Savor this Christmas downtime as Claremont steps on the breaks and doesnt stop for a very long time after this.