...reading comics from the year i was born!
Uncanny X-Men #213-224 (Marvel)
by Chris Claremont, Alan Davis, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jackson Guice, Marc Silvestri, Bob Wiacek, Dan Green, Glynis Oliver, Tom Orzechowski, et al.
Something that comes up a lot in X-Men comics is the idea of a mutant community, whether or not it exists and, if so, what it’s like or should be like. In these issues from 1987 though, Chris Claremont is less interested in that idea of group identity as he is in exploring what happens when a single person’s identity is threatened, stolen, or lost. The team’s shared objectives and attitudes are relatively stable. The X-Men get attacked directly a lot in this period, and constantly being on the defensive makes it easier to work together toward a common goal: survival. Yet while as a unit they’re fairly reliable, several individual members of the team have some sort of identity crisis during this run, from emotional and mental breakdowns to having their minds controlled to the even worse fate of poor Madelyne Pryor (see below). It’s not a theme that is openly discussed or always present, but there are pretty regular reminders in these comics that one’s sense of self is a fragile thing, and that the results of damaging or removing it can be severe for the person affected and everyone around them.
Malice also does a number on Dazzler, the first person she inhabits and controls. Like Polaris, Dazzler isn't’t technically one of the X-Men at the time, trying instead to make a go at a music career. That dream is quickly cut short by Malice, even after she’s been driven out of Dazzler’s body, because the whole affair forces Dazzler to rejoin the X-Men rather than staying out on her own as an unguarded target for future Marauder attacks. So Dazzler becomes a superhero again, even though it’s not the life she’d choose for herself, and though she does it well and with great determination, it takes it's toll on her. She’s on edge, constantly second-guessing herself and losing her temper at the drop of her hat, acting rashly and arrogantly for no reason. The lifestyle thrust upon her is not one that is necessarily a good fit for her or that she enjoys. There’s some satisfaction to be gotten from doing good, but it’s not nearly the same as what she gets from singing and performing and doing all the other things she truly loves. Yet fighting alongside the X-Men is better than dying alone, so she sticks it out despite her unhappiness and emotional instability.
Both Havok and Dazzler see the lives they were trying to build suddenly and unexpectedly demolished, one personal and the other professional. They have to start from zero, trying to find meaning in the incessant violence and fear of life with the X-Men. Along similar but even more dramatic lines, Madelyne Pryor, not even a mutant but married to one, is put through absolute hell by the Marauders, only to end up, like Dazzler, with no options except to stay with the X-Men indefinitely for her own protection. After putting her in the hospital and stealing her baby, the Marauders go further and erase every trace of Madelyne’s life, making it so that, according to any and all available records, she never existed. With no way to prove who she is, and no real leads as to the whereabouts of her stolen child or her M.I.A. husband Cyclops, Madelyne’s situation is dire to say the least. She knows who she is, and so do the X-Men, but the rest of the world refuses to acknowledge it, making her a strange sort of non-entity. Powerless to change what has happened to her or to do anything that would significantly improve her future, Madelyne’s stuck, still alive but without a life. It’s torturous and hopeless and huge, driving her, quite understandably, to the point of nearly committing suicide.
Not everyone in this book has their identity upturned like this. Both Longshot and Psylocke manage to avoid the kinds of personal crises their teammates have to deal with, for very different but equally logical reasons. Longshot is by nature a bit unpredictable, the token wildcard of the team. This is not to say he doesn't have a personality, but as an outsider in our world, he has a naiveté and curiosity that leave him on slightly less sure footing than the rest of the cast to begin with. Add to that his own ignorance of the exact workings of his luck-based superpowers and corresponding lack of control over them, and it becomes clear why messing with Longshot’s sense of self would be trickier and maybe less interesting than it is with everyone else. He’s already trying to figure out who he is and his place in this world, so there’s no need to introduce those dilemmas again.
As for Psylocke, she keeps her wits about her by virtue of being the X-Men’s resident telepath. She is their most useful defense against Malice, their communication system, and the most stable mind among them. It’s hard to be effective with psychic superpowers if you don’t have a good connection with your own mind, and Psylocke is nothing if not effective. The first issue of this run, 'Uncanny X-Men' #213, is all about Psylocke proving her worth by facing Sabretooth one-on-one and living to tell the tale. After that, she’s firmly cemented as the team’s sturdiest pillar, and it’s a role that suits her. She’s considerate, intelligent, self-reliant, and able to tap into the thoughts and insecurities of all her allies and, if needed, soothe them or bring them back down to Earth. With the other X-Men losing their grips to one degree or another, it’s important that the team have a rock, and Psylocke’s the perfect person to fill that slot.
There are several sprawling, near-fatal fights between the X-Men and the Marauders, all of them scripted, choreographed, and drawn quite nicely. Both sides take some heavy beatings and have a few close calls over the course of the long-running conflict. But the more significant threat to the titular heroes is the vulnerability of their personal identities, the fine line between sanity and madness, confidence and doubt, of which the Marauders are smart and sadistic enough to take advantage. It’s not the high-powered, theatrical superheroics that hold the most danger and intrigue in these comics. It is the resulting melodramas the characters are put through where the real excitement is found, impactful depictions of people who have lost track of themselves but have to move forward with their lives anyway.