Earlier this month, I claimed to be somewhat of a “Magneto scholar.” I don’t implicitly know if I would stand by that statement in a court of law, but that silly comment allows me to segue into this week’s Longbox Diving issue: Uncanny X-Men #200, “The Trial of Magneto!”
Click behind the cut for some thoughts on the issue. As a note, there are spoilers galore in this write-up, but the issue came out in 1985. Somehow, I think that if you haven’t read it by now, you probably don’t care about spoilers that are largely outdated.
It has been quite some time since I have visited a Chris Claremont X-Book. I was initially excited about Claremont’s return to older ideas in the X-Men Forever books, but those very quickly proved to be less than great only three or so issues in. Claremont’s work of the past decade has, to put it as politely as possible, left a lot to be desired, as books like Excalibur and New Excalibur — while fun at a base level, something along the lines of “Oh, I’ve always liked these characters, let’s keep going” — dragged on with stale dialogue and unentertaining plots.
But Claremont’s work on Uncanny X-Men? My goodness. I’m sure that everyone who has enjoyed the stories of the X-Men to at least a tertiary extent has come across one of Claremont’s monumental works on the book, anywhere from the Phoenix Saga to Days Of The Future Past and beyond. Everything from my childhood involving the X-Men are all intensely tied to Claremont’s work on the characters, from the books that I read and still own, to the cartoons that I watched, and even up to the eventual movies that Hollywood made (although I was less of a child at that point in time and more of an annoying teenager). Claremont’s more modern work may be out of touch and place, but when he was in his prime, he was the man to write the adventures of the X-Men.
So, with the resurgence of Magneto’s clone Joseph currently happening in the pages of a Skottie Young penned-mini, I find myself looking at my personal collection of Magneto comics. You see, in my personal longbows I actually have a divided section just for books with Magneto. Most of them are more “modern” than not, with stories like the Magneto War hidden in there as well as Greg Pak’s Magneto: Testament. There are a few characters in comics whose stories I will generally just find and buy simply “because”, and Magneto is one of the few who make the grade (in fact, at this point in time I think I have every book that ever came out as part of a Magneto series). And the earliest book that I have in that section? Uncanny X-Men #200, worn down from over twenty years of love and affection (and, truthfully, burial).
Upon a revisit of the book, I am honestly quite shocked at what I find within — a near perfect comic. It has been some time since I have read an X-Men comic from this era, but I am easily reminded why I wanted this one. It’s an absolutely monumental story, tying off the ends of the Asgardian Wars and ushering in the next era of what was to come. The issue is mainly a crossroads book, telling a singular story that accomplishes a lot in its pages through techniques not intrinsically used anymore. A modern day milestone issue usually promises death, destruction and mayhem, or action like you’ve never seen before. Uncanny X-Men #200, however, revels in short bursts of action, with all its monumental shake-ups coming from quieter moments. There’s still a fair deal of action, but the issue by and large is a place to pinpoint where changes were about to take place with all of the various main X-characters in brief pieces, such as Kitty lamenting her eyesight, or Cyclops (once again) questioning his ability to lead. It’s such a stark contrast to where the characters reside now that, to a grand extent, its like watching a movie starring one of your favorite current actors back when they were just a child.Continued below
It’s humorous to visit a twenty year old comic now, especially given the amount of comic book trends that have since gone the way of the wind. No longer do we see thought bubbles anymore, as boxes of text take their place to develop inner monologues. The amount of redundant dialogue is also more painfully obvious now than it was then, as characters have to either blatantly reminisce about obvious elements of their being (Rachel Summers gives a short description of her basic character biography at one point) or explain who a character is to a reader that should be familiar to them at issue #200. My favorite moment is when Lilandra and Corsair appear in front of Madelyne Pryor, the only X-Man still in Westchester, and Madelyne Pryor cries out “Corsair!”, followed by the thought bubble, “Scott’s father, leader of the Starjammers,” before finishing her dialogue with “and Empress Lilandra!?!” If this was a real moment of discussion, I would imagine that Lilandra would’ve been confused as to why Maddy took so long to announce her presence as well.
The center-piece of the issue, though, is the obvious: the Trial of Magneto. It’s not as grandiose as you might imagine; in fact, the trial is only done in short bursts, from the opening testimony, to the first appearance of an old foe of Magneto taking the stands (Admiral Gregori Mihailovitch Suvorov), to Magneto briefly taking the stand himself. The X-Men have always been a parable for those we hate and fear, and more than anything Claremont uses this issue to see Magneto as a reflection of hatred; Magneto’s trial (which opens with an NPR pundit comparing him to Hitler) is little more than an opportunity for a mutant to ask humans why they keep killing each other, and the subtext is ripped out from under the rug. The X-Men themselves battle with forces of Fenris, who are attempting to frame them for crimes against humanity, and they end their battle dropping off some villains in front of the police and delivering a line as subtle as a hammer hitting a nail: “We’ve done our job, gentleman. Now it’s your turn.”
The trial doesn’t see a proper conclusion or sentencing due to the attack from Fenris and the subsequent “death” of Xavier, but the final message of the issue is rather blatantly clear. As Claremont ties the issue’s story together, he finds time for one more effectively poignant line: “(Magneto’s) fate — and the X-Men’s — is now before the court of public opinion. The people of the world will determine their innocence or guilt — and whether their story has a truly happy ending.” That line alone is the perfect comparison between the work of Claremont past and present — while it was once a seemingly effortless endeavor for Claremont to spin tales that used the mutant metaphor to its full extent with just a line here or there, that element of his work has since been lost to the sands of time.
The art of the book is done by a young John Romita Jr., just 29 years old at the time. He hadn’t gone on to develop his now currently signature style (seen everywhere in Avengers and Kick-Ass), but you can see early qualities here. There is plenty of rigid and blocked posing to go around, but the designs are generally looser. Romita’s greatest strength of the issue, though, is the scope of it — set pieces include various streets and locales of Paris, the mansion in Westchester, the far regions of space and the Starjammer’s spacecraft — and the amount of rich detail Romita fits into the pages. Romita has always been rather grand at delivering wonderfully designed environments and scenery, and this remains true twenty years ago as it does today in his lush pages of Spider-Man and the Avengers. While to a certain extent its sad to see Romita Jr reach a point in his career where he seems reluctant to draw anything but the strictly rigid lines of his current characters, it is similarly to compare/contrast his past work as we’ve done with Claremont’s.
From here, the X-Men went through a bit of a shake-up, as these things go: Magneto took over Xavier’s role at the school and went on to teach the New Mutants; Cyclops was ousted by punk-rock Storm as leader of the X-Men, and he and his wife Madelyne Pryor went to Alaska to live alone. However, as outdated as the issue undoubtedly is, it still reads as a near perfect example of what made Claremont’s run on Uncanny so… well, uncanny: a collection of character moments mixed in with a few stylized action sequences, all wrapped up in a thinly veiled reflection of the environment the book was born from.
If this was a regular review on the site, right about now you’d see something along the lines of Final Verdict: 9.0 – Buy.