Welcome to Breaking In!, a new series where one of our readers is given a random issue from a widely-read comic series that they’ve never gotten into before, or maybe have been intimidated by. Will they be hooked or will they hate it? ARE long comic runs difficult for new readers to pick up? Let’s find out! Our first volunteer is Emily Lauer, who chose X-Men! Good luck, Emily, and hope you survive the experience…
Uncanny X-Men #237
Terry Austin (inker), Chris Claremont (writer), Rick Leonardi (penciler), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Tom Orzechowski (letterer)
I love the X-Men! …in theory. That is, I love the idea of a ragtag band of misfits, each individual and marginalized in their own way, banding together to save the world and grapple messily with working as a team. In practice, however, I don’t have very much experience with the X-Men beyond having seen some of the movies and having acquired some vague cultural knowledge that has seeped in from reading about comics generally. I sure know that there have been decades and decades of multiple versions of the X-Men. So picking up Uncanny X-Men #237 makes me feel like the slow version of one of those memes where someone with no knowledge of the MCU movies is asked to name all the characters and they call Mantis “Snail Girl.”
I kept making assumptions about the world and the characters that I then needed to backtrack and revise a few pages later. Usually that was because I kept seeing things I thought I recognized, but in a different context or different version. For example, I know who Rogue is, but not this version of Rogue, who is somehow also Carol Danvers; I know who Dr. Moreau is in the novel by H. G. Wells, but I don’t know this version.
In this issue, Wolverine and Rogue are trying to evade capture in Genosha, an island nation where mutants are enslaved. While large numbers of “magistrates” in militaristic uniforms enforce the laws as a sort of police force, the primary villain of the issue is Dr. Moreau, the scientific mastermind of the enslavement process, who is referred to as the Genegineer.
Wolverine and Rogue seem well-equipped to evade capture, but their situation is complicated by a few factors. One is that Wolverine has suffered some sort of depletion of his powers, including his healing ability. Dr. Moreau, looking at some test results, estimates that he has only days to live, a prediction that seems to be borne out when we see Wolverine coughing, hunched over, and bleeding.
Further, Wolverine’s musings inform the reader that Rogue is a “dual personality” and that right now she is Carol Danvers. Friends, I have no idea what is going on here. Let’s just go with it. She seems confident and competent.
In any event, she gleefully picks people’s pockets along with Wolverine after he starts a bar fight. In the aftermath, they overhear some rough types (including a woman—and the Chief Magistrate earlier was a woman, too!) dumping the unconscious son of the Genegineer onto a segregated mutant train that is going nowhere good. Our intrepid X-Men decide to follow, and that, of course, is another factor which complicates their evasion of capture: they get involved in local affairs.
Up to this point in Uncanny X-Men #237, as a reader I had seen non-mutants treat mutants poorly on Genosha, but I hadn’t realized the extent of the threat to Rogue and Wolverine posed by their genes. At the train station, things start to get a little clearer. A sign indicates that mutants and non-mutants are segregated, with a specific platform for mutant use only. Further, on the train itself, Wolverine observes a “mutant driver slave-linked to the cars.”
The following scene is at the citadel, where the Genoshan threat to mutants is made even more stark. We see Dr. Moreau explain to his son’s fiancee that since she tested positive on her genetic exam, and is therefore a mutant, she must sacrifice herself and whatever her mutant talent is to be enslaved for the good of the non-mutants of Genosha. Well, he says “for the good of Genosha,” but we all know what he means.
And then we jump to yet another location on the island, where the Cavalry, by which I mean a lot of X-Men, some of whom I recognize, finally show up! Dazzler, Storm, Havok, Scarlet Witch I think (nope, it’s Psylocke), and the Large Metal Gentleman. His name isn’t Iron Curtain, but it kind of is. Colossus! That’s it. They fight their way through some magistrates and experience some kind of psychic pulse that I can only imagine will be important in the next issue.
Meanwhile, Rogue and Wolverine, disguised as magistrates, rescue the Genegineer’s son, still unconscious, from whatever fate he’d suffer riding that train. They don’t even attempt to rescue any of the actual mutants on the train, who get beaten by the authorities for sassing them.
The last panel of the comic, however, promises that the conclusion in the next issue will be a revolution. And Wolverine at least, if not Rogue/Carol Danvers, is visibly affected by the violent oppression they are witnessing.
Overall, this issue was extremely engaging, considering that I didn’t know what the plotline, setting, or character lineup would be going in. Chris Claremont’s writing is very good and I can see why his work is beloved by so many. Early in the comic, I paused my reading to confirm that he was indeed British-born to verify how ironic he is being on page page when he has a jingoistic recording call Genosha “our green and pleasant land.” The answer is very ironic.
Interestingly, this propaganda recording also claims that on Genosha, people are not judged by skin color. Based on the generally good, atmospheric, and clear color work by Glynis Oliver, everyone there is white or pink until Storm and Colossus show up as part of the rescue party. It turns out, however, when mutants are enslaved here, they have a “skin suit” bonded to their bodies to mark them. It’s creepy and gross, and it provides an extremely explicit way to judge someone by their appearance.
There’s a lot to appreciate about Uncanny X-Men #237, as it resonates with contemporary problems with racism and persecution of minority populations, including immigrant detention. I felt invested in the plot right away, even without knowing the backstories of specific versions of the characters. While I wonder a bit about how Rogue is sometimes Carol Danvers, and why Wolverine’s powers are messed up, mostly I want to find out what happens next. I want to see the revolution in Genosha, promised by the final panel. So while this issue isn’t the first in a series, and it certainly doesn’t stand alone, I think it is a fine place to dive in to Uncanny X-Men.