Welcome to Part 5 of X-Tra Sauce: The Outback Era X-Men. Up for discussion this time is yet another odd single issue story: Uncanny X-Men #231 by Chris Claremont, Rick Leonardi, Dan Green, Glynis Oliver-Wein & Tom Orzechowski.
This one is seemingly just an excuse for Claremont to further the plot of the New Mutants book into the on the horizon Inferno event after he left that title. It’s been 3 months into the Outback Era and the X-Men haven’t done much besides hang out in Australia and port around a bit and that continues here. This issue is the Colossus show. He’s dreaming about his little sister, the New Mutant, Magik and it’s bad dreams. He can’t shake the feeling she’s in trouble. Problem is, this team has vowed to pretend to be dead, even to their loved ones and this is really hurting Pete because he can’t just go say “Hey, watsup?” to Ilyana and port back. As the rest of the team discusses if they should let the Big Russkie go see her, Gateway walks in, points at him and ports him to the side of his sister, presently in her demonic realm of Limbo.
The horns and goat legs are out as she battles back the out of control demons led by S’ym in a revolt. Colossus ports in just as she thinks she finishes a necromancy summoning spell to bring his deathly shade to her side to help. Pete takes advantage of this to have his cake and eat it too and pretends to be this shade and get some quality time with his sis. We find out Magik fell asleep while reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master And Margarita, and characters from that novel popped into reality to terrorize her, including the Baba Yaga, who has taken out the rest of the New Mutant’s team and turned the Westchester Mansion into a nightmarish house of horrors. Together, they port back in and Claremont has Colossus go through a personal gauntlet, forcing him to transform back into his human form, which at this point caused him intense pain. Claremont goes back to the well he loves guzzling from, having Colossus’ iron skin take out the bad guy.
After everything finally calms down, we get some cathartic and pretty touching moments for Bro and Sis as they embrace and give each other some of that sweet unconditional love. I don’t have a sister, but this stuff really hits for me. I really love how Claremont has this big, badass, demon sorceress get bashful and turn away when in the presence of her big brother. We’ve all had those times where, for example, you’re out drinking with your friends, being rowdy and stupid and you run into a family member you admire. A lot of awkward throat clearing, as you shift from party mode to business mode, greeting them red faced. Colossus, cool big bro that he is just says “Love you, Party on Ilyana!” and it’s so sweet and poignant.
The last page may as well be hot to the touch, about to burst into flames as we see S’ym once again and keep the drums beating for Inferno. It’s fun seeing how far back all the little plot threads that will come together for that event reach. You actually get an explanation for this creepy, dream like issue of where Baba Yaga and the rest actually came from. They were simple Limbo demons, tapping into Ilyana’s thoughts and memories, busting loose into the real world. Magik is up to her neck in shit. She can’t keep a lid on Limbo and so much is going wrong in her life that when she falls asleep, demons start to crawl into our reality. That shit is really going to hit the fan soon with that plot beat.
Now that we have the plot synopsis out of the way we can move on from that one week Claremont read that novel and decided to throw it into his comic. The big thing you’ll notice here is Silvestri isn’t art. We now have Rick Leonardi as artist. He had done a few X-Line books at this point but became the de facto “second” artists for Uncanny at this time when it went bimonthly. I love Leonardi. He was one of the first seemingly manga inspired artists to start populating American comics in the 80’s. He has said in interviews that he had no real creative input on the stories or anything, he was just happy to hop in for those extra issues because they paid so well.
“Marvel at that time was experimenting with publishing two issues per month. Marvel needed someone but it was great because I got to draw X-Men and team up with some amazing inks like P. Craig Russel or Bill Sienkiewicz on the New Mutants .“
Inker Dan Green is yet again the secret MVP and glue that holds this book together. Just like Silvestri, Green is my favorite inker that Leonardi ever had. Green just has this amazing ability to perfectly enhance every single line artists put down while also cutting the chaffe from the original pencils and making the artwork so clean and pretty. Look at Leonardi’s work on Spider-Man 2099 where he’s inked by Al Williamson or Jesse Delperdang’s inks on Leonardi’s Nightwing issues and try to tell me that Green isn’t the GOAT. Terry Austin comes close on Cloak and Dagger, but even that is a little too scratchy for my tastes. As always, Dan Green reigns supreme here.
My favorite thing about this issue has nothing to do with the strange plot. It is THE FASHION! Colossus rocks some short shorts and has some serious sneaker game through this whole thing. He completes his outfit with some stunning red socks. Pete just gets it. Some fresh new white kicks, set them off a little with a dash of color in the socks. Leonardi is so talented, man. I wonder if he rocked outfits like this too. I really appreciate an artists that puts work into drawing cool sneakers. That will always elevate a comic for me.
But it doesnt stop with Colossus. We get some other wild looks for the rest of the X-Men here.
We start with Rogue, who is in a fullbody, skintight green jumpsuit, complete with fashionable matching green coat that seems to be an almost proto Jim Lee 90’s jacket look. BUT LOOK AT HER YELLOW SHADES!! We will be starting a Rogue SHADESWATCH here in this column to see if they ever come back.
Storm shows up next. She’s wearing one of her leather jackets, wide open, nothing on underneath, tucked into what seems to be the trunks of her usual costume sans the legging parts. She completes the ensemble with a chunky ass utility belt. It reminds me of when Sinbad would wear jumpsuits and cinch a belt on them. The “Afros and Bellbottoms” look. When in doubt, just throw a fucking belt on it. What an icon. What an absolute Queen.
Later we get a scene where the X-Men wash dishes. This is peak comics right here. These are the type of slice of life beats I wish were in every issue. Take a look at the whole cast here. Maddy is rocking what seems to be Belle’s outfit from The Simpsons episode “Bart After Dark” in all red. Havok is in his usual himbo jungle safari outfit. Dazzler is straight up rocking an 80’s ski suit. So many good looks here. I appreciate Leonardi actually drawing Wolverine’s costume with the hood mask. That rarely ever is shown realistically.
But wait, there’s more!! Even Gateway gets to strut his stuff on the Australian catwalk. Usually he’s depicted as a near naked man with a loincloth or something. Here he’s straight STYLIN! Look at that matching headband, vest, shorts combo with pocket knife.
Leonardi doesn’t get enough credit for his clothing and savvy style sensibilities. All in all this issue isn’t one of my favorite with the plot, but it gives us enough to further the entire X-Line. Really it just ends up a spotlight for Leonardi’s art. I’m supposed to be looking at these creeps from Russian Literature, but my eyes are glued to Pete’s sneaks, trying to figure out if these are based on a real life pair.
Let’s end this column shining some light on legendary letterer Tom Orzechowski. I LOVE this panel where Storm is asking Colossus what’s the matter with him. Look at that elaborate cursive “Sigh”. You instantly feel the exhale of anxiety and melancholy, all through that font changeup. That right there is the power of good comic lettering. It actively contributes to the story. Damn, that’s good.