These days, a month that goes by without more than a dozen X-books weaving stories into each other is an anomaly. But 30 years ago, in that strange time known as the 1980s, such a thing was a novel idea.
Back then, Chris Claremont was in charge of nearly all the mutants and two ongoing series: Uncanny X-Men and the New Mutants. The original five X-Men, however – Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Iceman and Angel – were under the purview of Louise Simonson in the earliest incarnation of X-Factor.
What brought these three teams (and also Thor and Power Pack) back together in 1986? Genocide. A new group called the Marauders was slaughtering the Morlocks, a community of mutants that lived in the sewers below New York. The Mutant Massacre was one of Claremont’s darkest, most violent stories to date, and had some of the most lasting effects on the X-books. Angel’s wings were broken and later amputated, leading him to become Apocalypse’s Horseman Death. Nightcrawler and Shadowcat were injured and left the team to recuperate on Muir Island, which led to them co-founding a new team, Excalibur. In their place would come Psylocke and, later, Dazzler and Longshot. Sabretooth – a Claremont creation ported over from his run on Iron Fist – would stake a claim as a major X-villain and specifically an arch-nemesis of Wolverine. The Marauders’ employer would later be revealed as Mr. Sinister, the mad geneticist obsessed with the Summers bloodline. The Massacre would also later be tied in to the backstory of Gambit, who would not appear in the comics for another four years.
Next, in 1988, came Fall of the Mutants, which wasn’t so much a crossover as a label that appeared on the three main X-books but was considered a major event nonetheless, not the least so because the X-Men died … for about a minute.
The X-Men and Madelyne Pryor sacrificed themselves fighting the Adversary, a Native American demon god linked to Forge, during a battle in Dallas. Upon vanquishing their foe, Roma, the daughter of Merlin, resurrected them, made them invisible to technology (a plot thread that, near as I can tell, just sort of disappeared) and gave them access to the Siege Perilous, a one-time transporter that, once a person passes through it, basically gives them a new life somewhere else with no memories of their previous one until such time as a writer finds that inconvenient. Meanwhile, in X-Factor, the team fights Death, aka Archangel, and breaks him of Apocalypse’s control, and in New Mutants, Doug Ramsey, aka Cypher, is shot and killed by The Right, an anti-mutant group led by Cameron Hodge, whose name will pop up a few more times in this post.
The following year brought an Inferno to the streets of New York in a convoluted plot involving, in no particular order, the demons of Limbo, inanimate objects coming to life, Pryor becoming the underboob-exposing Goblin Queen, Colossus’ sister Illyana being reverted from a magic-wielding sorceress back to a child, Hodge making a deal with demons for immortality, a number of babies – including the baby that would grow up to be Cable – being stolen to complete a spell, Pryor being revealed as a clone of Jean Grey created by Mr. Sinister, the Spider-Man villain Hobgoblin becoming a demon, another demon getting infected with Warlock’s Transmode Virus, the X-Men and X-Factor fighting each other, and the X-Mansion being destroyed again. Inferno cast a wide net, stretching from the X-books to Spider-Man and Daredevil to, quite sensibly, Damage Control, the Marvel Universe’s post-event cleanup crew. And Power Pack. Those kids got a lot of hangtime in the ’80s.
Hodge surfaces again in 1990 as a creepy spider-robot with a human face pulling the strings on the mutant-enslaving island of Genosha in The X-Tinction Agenda. By this point, Jim Lee was drawing Uncanny X-Men and Rob Liefeld had come aboard New Mutants, so we’re starting to see some of the deck-clearing exercises that will pave the way for X-Men #1 and X-Force #1 a few months down the line. Some of the X-Men who went through the Siege Perilous are reunited. Cable has taken over the New Mutants. Storm is restored from her de-aged self back to an adult weather goddess, and she introduces everyone to the creepy Cajun friend she made while evading the Shadow King. Havok is revealed to have been working as a Genoshan magistrate. Wolfsbane of the New Mutants is turned into a Genoshan mutate, or slave. Warlock is killed. A bunch of people see former British woman Psylocke as an Asian ninja for the first time. And the Genoshan government is toppled – literally; Rictor destroys their Citadel.
The Claremont age ends in summer 1991 with a mini-crossover called the Muir Island Saga that straddles Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor. The Saga served a few goals: It wrapped up a long-running (there’s no other kind with Claremont) arc involving the Shadow King; it re-crippled Xavier; it reunited the X-Men with their original members to form an all-killer, no-filler superteam that would need two books to hold them; and it transitioned X-Factor from a book about the original five X-Men to a book about a government-sponsored mutant team written by Peter David. If you have any affection for Jamie Madrox, Strong Guy or Polaris, it starts in X-Factor #70.
Next week, Matt takes us into space for some cosmic crossovers, so bring your favorite Infinity Gem and prepare to get Annihilated.
Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.