Fan Retrospectives: Chris Claremont's X-Men: Part 1: The Doomsday Scenario

Chris Claremont is arguably the most influential X-Men writer and one of the most important superhero comics creators in general. His command of prose, deft use of subplots, and willingness to let characters grow in unexpected ways put a definitive stamp that few has been able to replicate since. Come and see how X-Men rose from obscurity into the a global pop culture phenomenon primarily under the pen of this one man.

"The Doomsday Scenario"  Uncanny X-Men #94, 95

Writers: Chris Claremont, Len Wein

Artist: Dave Cockrum

Review by Eric Lee

To back up a little bit, when the X-Men were first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 60's, the book was pretty subpar at best. Despite having a great hook of evolutionary mutant heroes that protect the world that hates and fears them, the book languished for about 10 years. It was not either creator's finest work. X-Men's creative malaise is also reflected in their dwindling sales. It was not the rockstar franchise that it would eventually become.

Cut to 1975, when writer Len Wein injected some new life into the team with Giant-Size X-Men #1. Wein wrote out most of the original roster and replaced them with brand-new characters like Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Thunderbird, and some rando upstart named Wolverine. Due to the tremendous success of Giant-Size, the X-Men title continued its new adventures with an all-new team of characters.

Enter Chris Claremont. His first issue was actually the All-New, All-Different team's second adventure together. But even early on, we already have some of his typical writing tropes, particularly the shock ending and the overly-verbose narrative style.

We open with both teams of X-Men meeting with Professor Xavier. The team that Xavier recruited in Giant-Size X-Men  #1 has decided to stay on permanently with the exception of the prickly Sunfire.

However, the original roster of Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, Polaris, and Havoc decide to leave. Marvel Girl believes that they have outgrown the need for the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters and want to venture out on their own.

Note how Wolverine couldn't care less about Jean Grey splitting. Despite movie interpretations and even later stories Claremont himself penned, Wolverine doesn't have any sexual attraction towards Jean Grey.

What Wolverine does have is a very teenage attitude where he is constantly projecting how cool and aloof he is. This is probably an abandoned plot line where Wolverine is supposed to be the youngest of the new team. The irony is that later stories revealed that Wolverine is one of the oldest ones, easily beating the rest of the team by some 100 years.

The most interesting development is how Cyclops does not feel like he should go off with his friends and Jean into retirement. It is quite striking that Cyclops feels more at home training this group of strangers than with his closest friends.

My personal theory is that this is an example of Cyclops being neuro-divergent where he prioritizes a strict routine in place over comforts.

The next day, the team is introduced to the Danger Room for training. What is hilarious is how there is a totally normal, push-in door that has Danger Room labeled in bold red colors. It doesn’t even look like there is a lock on that door! I bet the other X-Men kept on wandering in the Danger Room by accident, forcing the Professor to put the boldest signage on the door.


Check out this super cool montage splash page by David Cockrum. This guy is an artistic legend and has a great sense of composition. There is so much going on in this training montage that it could be easy to get lost. But Cockrum’s compositions flow nicely where it is easy to understand what’s happening, as well as the passage of time.

Anyway, things got testy after Thunderbird was injured by a laser. His reaction comes off as rude, but it’s to mask some unknown insecurity.

This is a great example of Claremont casually seeding these teeny character traits that tease an interior life before they even joined the team.

What does Thunderbird mean when he thinks, “You’ve blown another chance for yourself. Maybe the last one…”?

Does he want to be on the team more than he lets on? Does he have a history of failing others? It’s great how Claremont can build intrigue into a character with only a few lines.

Meanwhile, we cut to Valhalla- a secret nuclear weapons depot disguised as a Colorado mountain. There, we get the introduction of the X-Men’s main villains: the Brotherhood of Mutants- The Ani-Men!

I’ve always liked the look of the Ani-Men. It is cool how their visual style is cohesive with the yellow torso suit while sporting individualized looks to give them a unique flair.

It turns out the Ani-Men work for Count Nefaria who has designs to take control of the nuclear warheads to ransom against the world.

Nefaria dropped some interesting exposition that implies that the time he last met the X-Men between X-Men #23 and X-Men  #94 has only been less than a year. But that’s an insane compression of time. It is especially unlikely that it has been less than a year since X-Men like Cyclops, are portrayed as physically much older than in their original run.

So, Nefaria sends a video message demanding the ransom or he will launch all nukes. Interestingly, the Avengers were supposed to respond, but Beast- who was a part of the Avengers at the time- passed the message along to the X-Men.

The X-Men arrive in their Blackbird jet and the General in charge talks to Cyclops. What’s weird is that Cyclops and the General have met before but the General is still mistakes him for Captain America or Iron Man.

C’mon, General. Cyclops looks nothing like those other guys.

So Nefaria launches some missiles at the Blackbird but fails to blow up the jet. Instead, he shoots them with Sonic Disruptors.

I for one didn’t know that Sonic Disruptors are a fancy way of say total disintegration beam, because it completely evaporates the Blackbird- leaving the team to fall to their death.

Fortunately, the team’s flyers are able to rescue the non-flyers. The exception is Colossus- who turned into his metal form and landed without a scratch.

What really strikes me about issue 95 is how Claremont and Wein drum up a ton of dramatic tension about who will die. Issue 95 proudly proclaims that one of the X-Men will die on the cover and the writers keep on throwing potential life-threatening obstacles at the team.

First, the team's falling to their death. Then they are trapped in a gas-filled chamber. Next, they're met with a hail of gunfire from the guards, and then confronting the surprisingly-dangerous Ani-Men. Each action beat just ups the tension of who will die. Since they're all almost brand-new characters, it is anyone's game on who'll bite it. It really makes for a great read.

In the end, the X-Men defeat the Ani-Men and overcome any traps along the way, but Nefaria tries to escape by boarding a fighter jet. Only Banshee and Thunderbird see him take off.

This leads to Thunderbird jumping on top of the flying jet and destroying it by hand only to get blown up himself. It's been almost 50 years since this comic came out, but back in the day, this was definitely a shock to readers as it killed off a new character so quickly. It's not like modern-day comics where we know specific characters are too popular to die permanently- giving them an invisible plot armor.

When looking at Thunderbird's specific death scene, it is really interesting to consider how it is very in character. Specifically, how Thunderbird died not because he was caught in an inescapable trap, but simply because he was too impulsive and pig-headed. 

There were many opportunities for Thunderbird to escape death. He could've jumped off early and allowed the flying Banshee to pursue the jet. Both Professor X and Banshee were pleading with him to get off the plane, but Thunderbird was obstinately clinging to the former glory of being an Apache warrior.

It is easy to look at the scene and dismiss it as a stupid storytelling construct to kill a character for drama's sake. But Thunderbird's stubborn personality and longing to be something more was with the character since his very first scene. It really speaks volumes about the efficiency of both Len Wein and Chris Claremont's writing that the death scene feels like a natural ending to Thunderbird's arc. 

Shockingly, he was only resurrected recently in 2021 during the X-Men's Krakoan period where they were able to resurrect any mutant easily. However, Thunderbird has not done a super lot since then, probably because he has a brother Warpath who has the exact same costume, power set, and personality, making him redundant.  

By the Numbers

Notable Developments:

  • The first time the All-New, All-Different X-Men appeared in Uncanny X-Men.
  • The first new Uncanny X-Men story in about 5 years (previously the title was on life support thanks to reprints of earlier adventures.
  • Sunfire immediately leaves the team, along with the original roster of Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, Polaris, and Havok.
  • Thunderbird dies and remains dead for about 45 years.

Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Number of times Banshee says 'Ye': 5

The Most Claremontiest Quote of the Story:

 “Killed by my eyes! My cursed, mutant, energy-blasting eyes!”- Cyclops, Uncanny X-Men #94

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