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5. Uncanny X-Men 185-188: “Lifedeath”
Synopsis: This one’s got it all: mutants, aliens, demons, and government conspiracies… oh and Storm gets de-powered, also. In the midst of all this chaos, Claremont somehow manages to weave such a personal and poignant character arc for Storm. What most people tend to overlook about Claremont’s initial tenure is that Storm was the main character of his run. He took this untouchable and impersonal goddess and put her through the ringer in every possible way. Never was this more prevalent than in “Lifedeath”, where Storm loses her powers and her identity, falls in love only to be betrayed by it, and then takes a leave of absence from the X-Men. One of the reasons why the X-Men became as popular as they were was because the characters felt like real people, with real hopes and fears. There was no better example of this than “Lifedeath”.
Iconic Moment: Storm emotionally eviscerating Forge after she finds out that he was partly responsible for de-powering her.
4. Uncanny X-Men 274-275: “Crossroads”
Synopsis: If Star Wars is ultimately a story about the corruption and eventual redemption of Anakin Skywalker, then one of the central storylines of Claremont’s initial run is that of Magneto’s failed attempt at redemption. This two-parter, primarily set in the Savage Land, brings Magneto’s character arc to a close, and finally proves that Magneto is beyond redemption. Beginning in Uncanny X-Men 150, Claremont molded Magneto from a one-dimensional fanatic into a sympathetic Holocaust survivor, fighting a pre-emptive war against the very same hatred and violence that cast a shadow across his childhood. Arguably the greatest Magneto story, “Crossroads” represents the truest depiction of Magneto and demonstrates just how much the character grew and evolved under Claremont’s penmanship.
Iconic Moment: Magneto kills Zaladane, ultimately proving that he is irredeemable and beyond redemption.
3. Uncanny X-Men 129-137: “The Dark Phoenix Saga”
Synopsis: Now, what X-Men list would be complete without mentioning “The Dark Phoenix Saga?” Everything that could possibly be said about the merits of this story has been said a thousand times over. There is one thing, however, that has been overlooked, and it’s one of the secret strengths of “The Dark Phoenix Saga”. Although it’s a nine issue storyline, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” is actually made up of a trio of three-issue arcs: the first arc introduces Shadowcat and the White Queen; the second deals with the Hellfire Club and the seduction and corruption of Jean Grey; and the final arc deals with the threat of the Dark Phoenix herself. Somehow, across these nine issues, Claremont masterfully crafts and plots his way around this grand storyline with a methodical and meticulous design. His vision for where he wanted to go with these characters and what he wanted to do with them is executed perfectly in “The Dark Phoenix Saga”.
Iconic Moment: The X-Men get the shit kicked out of them by the entire galaxy… literally.
2. Uncanny X-Men 141-142: “Days of Future Past”
Synopsis: It took about eight writers and 45 issues to create “The Age of Apocalypse”; it took Claremont only one half of two issues to create and detail the “Days of Future Past” storyline. In a dystopian future where Sentinels rule North America and mutants are places in concentration camps, the sole hope for survival comes in changing the past and sending the mind of an adult Kitty Pryde to stop the inciting action that leads to the rise of the Sentinels: the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly. This is a future that’s as bleak as possible, without ever seeming frivolous or over-the-top. There are only seven X-Men left to save their world, and it feels like the fate of the world is hanging on every single page. This is the very future that the X-Men fight to avoid, and in only two issues, Claremont brings this nightmarish reality to life in a frightening but electrifying way.
Iconic Moment: Kitty Pryde walking through a graveyard containing every single X-Men and meta-human.
1. Uncanny X-Men 239-243: “Inferno”
Synopsis: For whatever reason, the X-Men are at their best when they serve as a metaphor for real life events and marginalized groups of people… or when they fight an endless horde of demons. Case in point: “Inferno”. For a story that’s essentially one gigantic retcon, “Inferno” fires on all cylinders as a thrill ride that moves a mile-a-minute. After her husband (Cyclops) walks out on her, her son gets kidnapped, and she finds out that she’s a clone of Jean Grey meant only to bear Scott Summers’ children, Madelynn Prior loses it and goes a little funny in the head.
It’s stories like “Inferno” that intimidate new readers, but also entice them into wanting to read more. It’s also one of the best examples of the X-Men as a soap opera. After Prior goes apeshit and loses her mind, she makes a deal with quite a number of demons, double crosses them all, beats the shit out of her creator, Mr. Sinister, tries to commit infanticide, tells the Phoenix Force to “Fuck off” (something we all wish we could do at this point), and then tries to murder-suicide Jean Grey and herself. Although it’s a crossover with X-Factor and New Mutants, “Inferno” is an X-Men story as it’s spun out from the pages of Uncanny X-Men and plants the seeds for X-Factor’s eventual return to the fold. “Inferno” represents everything that was great about comics in the late ‘80s and why they become so popular in the early ‘90s. For the all the chaos that went on during this storyline, it was managed and executed perfectly by one of the greatest plotters in comic book history.
Iconic Moment: The X-Men slaughter the Marauders after having their asses kicked by them before… twice.
For however big the X-Men were, and hopefully once again will be, Claremont was the architect of it all. He took the least important book published by Marvel and turned it into a powerhouse that at one point outsold every other book by a three to one margin. Not only did he bring X-Men to the top, but he also kept them there, as this list has been compiled from stories throughout his 16 year run. Stories from 1978, 1981, 1987, and 1991 are all represented, not just to show even parity, but because for the vast majority of his time as writer, Claremont churned out masterpiece after masterpiece. (Excepting the Kulan Gath storyline from Uncanny X-Men 190-191, which is literally unreadable.) What it comes down to is this: anyone who’s ever been a fan of Marvel’s merry mutants probably owes it to Chris Claremont.