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X-Over And Over Again ? Part 4: The Muir Island Saga

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Welcome once again to Broken Frontier's continuing review of the X-Men crossovers of yesteryear, timed to coincide with the ongoing Messiah CompleX.

Following 1990's The X-Tinction Agenda, the X-Men were left in a status quo simultaneously new and traditional. They had returned from their headquarters in the Australian Outback to take up residence in the Xavier Mansion once more, reforming into a coherent unit under the leadership of Storm. The original X-Men, meanwhile, remained active under the banner of X-Factor. All of that was about to change, however, with the advent of the following year's crossover, the legendary...Muir Island Saga?

The Muir Island Saga is probably the least well-known of the X-overs, while simultaneously being one of the most important in the decades-long saga of the X-Men. The story unfolds over the course of five issues, Uncanny X-Men #278-280 and X-Factor #69-70. The X-Men journey to Muir Island, home to an advanced mutant research facility, to find its inhabitants under the control of the Shadow King, an evil psychic entity and old foe of Professor X.

The Professor escapes back to the Mansion, where he contacts his old students in X-Factor. They launch an attempt to rescue their comrades, and much of the island is destroyed in the ensuing battle. The Shadow King takes control of Xavier's estranged son, the disturbed psychic Legion, but an astral battle appears to destroy the malevolent being, leaving Legion brain-dead and Xavier once again paralyzed. These tragedies, however, are tempered by the original X-Men's decision to return to the team.

This story-arc is a pivotal one in X-history. It continues the franchise's movement back towards its roots, reestablishing the mentor-student relationship between the X-Men and Xavier and bringing the five founding members back onto the roster. The division of the expanded squad into two distinct teams soon thereafter would lead into the debut of X-Men, a second monthly book that continues to this day, signaling Marvel's commitment to making the mutants' adventures the company's central franchise.

Beyond these external considerations, however, The Muir Island Saga is just a good story, and a good X-Men story. It takes disparate elements of X-history, particularly the nearly-forgotten Legion, and forges them into a compelling narrative featuring a credible threat in the powerful Shadow King. It is evident from the outset that the X-Men are faced with a battle they might not be able to win, unlike the somewhat less imposing Cameron Hodge of The X-Tinction Agenda.

At the same time, however, the scale of the story is not exaggerated unnecessarily by bringing in the New Mutants or other Marvel heroes, or decompressed over seven or more issues as it would be today. The challenge is made clear, and the two teams involved come together to stop it in a demonstration of solidarity that had not been present in the X-books for some time. The storyline also serves as a showcase for Professor X, a character that had been sadly neglected, spending much of the 1980s in space with the Shi'ar.

So, with all of this going for it...where's the love for The Muir Island Saga? Why has it fallen by the wayside in the decade and a half since its publication, while so many other X-overs can be namechecked by any number of readers? The problem, perhaps, is that there are so many in the first place. The 1990s were rife with crossovers between the various X-books, barely giving the creators, editors and readers time to deal with the consequences of one before setting up and moving into another. In all of that event-book chaos, a compact, well-crafted storyline such as this could get lost in the noise, which is exactly what has happened.

Those of you that are frustrated with the convoluted continuity and endless intertwining stories of the X-Men might do well to revisit The Muir Island Saga, as a reminder of what the property is capable of delivering when handled correctly: a carefully constructed, engaging plot filled with character moments that make sense, rising naturally out of and building on what had come before while setting up hooks for the future. These elements, unfortunately, would be in short supply in many of the X-overs of later years.


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