Chris Claremont/Bob Brown, John Byrne
I was very tempted to skip Uncanny X-Men #106. It’s clearly stated as a filler issue, put together from old art they had laying around while Dave Cockrum was working on Jon Carter of Mars. This issue was never reprinted in the Classic series. It would be an easy one to pass over, but I found the idea of Xavier having a dark self a bit intriguing. So I thought I’d pair it off with #117, when Xavier fights a psychic duel with Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King.
Dark Shroud from the Past
#106 picks up right after the X-Men have gone through the Star-Gate. Xavier is in some kind of delirium, believing that Misty Knight is Moira and that it’s several weeks before when she was taking care of him. The Focus shifts to the X-Men training in the danger room. There’s another moment of strife between Wolverine and the rest of the team. Banshee entreats Cyclops to stop riding the team so hard, this group is different than the first team. They’re older and have learned to hone their powers on their own instead of with a team. They can’t be held to the same standards. This talk is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Angel, wearing his classic X-Men uniform. He taunts them and then attacks, joined by Beast, Marvel Girl and Iceman.
What follows is a strange fight. It’s acknowledged that the new team is more powerful, but they are kept off balance because the original team coordinates their attacks much better. There are some odd indications that something isn’t right. Wolverine can’t get a scent off of Iceman, and Angel is able to shrug off Banshee’s scream.
Just when it seems to be a stalemate Xavier crawls into the room, still under the influence of the sedatives Moira gave him. He disperses the original team, who were just projections from his mind. But then another enemy appears and declares that he is Xavier’s dark side. The X-Men try to attack him but he throws them off. Xavier is able to hold him back though and brings back the specters of the original team to keep him at bay. He explains to the team that he is usually able to keep his evil self at bay, but all the mental stress of his dreams and meeting Lilandra and then her being kidnapped momentarily broke his resolve.
Even though this was just a one-off filler issue that may not be considered canon, there’s a lot of stuff to unpack here. Once again the new team is compared to the original team. This time it’s their teamwork that is called into question. Wolverine is still a big disruption. His lashing out at Colossus is a little disturbing. But this plot was formed before he had been developed very much. His temper is a bit curious though. If he really hates being bossed around and told to work with the group, why doesn’t he leave? However when the chips are down he will dive into the fire for any of the others without hesitation. It seems like he’s made his choice and that he considers the X-Men his new family, but he just doesn’t want to sacrifice his identity as a loner.
The idea that the original team is better than the new team is worth examining. This all is happening in Xavier’s mind, does that mean that he doesn’t have faith in the new team he assembled? Or is he frustrated that they seem to have a different dynamic? It’s not clear at the end if he accepts the new team, or if he still holds his original students up on a pedestal.
The Shadow King
Jumping ahead to #117, the X-Men are off somewhere and I Xavier is recalling one of the events many years ago that inspired him to form the X-Men. He was travelling in Egypt, back when he could walk, and came across another telepath like himself. The man was Amahl Farouk and he made no secret about using his powers to control others and take whatever he wanted, he even called himself the Shadow King. Xavier refused his offer to join him and the two enter into a kind of telepathic duel.
The fight itself is fairly short. Farouk’s astral form is dark and dangerous and he shifts it constantly along with arena that they fight in, but he’s all style and no substance. Xavier conserves his energy and just when it seems like he will be overwhelmed he focuses all his power into one blast and is able to defeat the Shadow King. Farouk was the first evil mutant Xavier ever encountered, and it gave him the idea that mutants like him should be guided onto a righteous path, and trained to fight other evil mutants if necessary.
I can’t ignore the classic orientialism ideas here. Xavier, the white westerner, encounters the evil middle-eastern man who uses his powers to enslave people. It’s only right that a young and virile American come in and put him in his place. It doesn’t help that Farouk looks like a villain from a James Bond movie. Although if he’s supposed to be Egyptian, I’m not quite sure if he would call himself a ‘king’. That’s more of a European concept. I probably shouldn’t expect too much historical or linguistic accuracy here. Xavier initially states that he will “see Farouk brought to justice”, but that’s pretty obscure. I’m not sure what charges or which court would apply. But that’s a moot point, he pretty much kills him. Maybe he didn’t mean to, and maybe he’s not really dead. It’s implied that the physical death is instant but on the mental plane it takes ages. Is that more merciful?
If Xavier succumbed to his “dark side” would this be his fate, to become something like the Shadow King? Why is it that really a danger to begin with? Is it just the lure of power? Things would be so much easier if he used his powers to make people do what he wanted. Maybe part of Farouk is still there in Xavier’s mind, and that’s what tempts him to use his powers for evil. Maybe telepaths are just more susceptible to darker impulses because the very nature of their powers is based on invading the minds of other people. Other powers, like teleportion, weather control or strength focus on external things. You can practice and explore their limits without affecting someone else. But telepathy can only affect other people’s minds. Often Xavier and other telepaths talk about the strain of constantly having access to the thoughts of people around them. In a way the telepaths would be picking up on some manifestation of Jung’s collective unconscious. It would be so easy to let go and be swept away by the darkness of all the minds around you, and influence them to your will.
This is not the last time we’ll see Xavier’s dark side, or Amahl Farouk. He’s just too good a villain not to revisit. But in the meantime we have to get back to the present and see what’s on the other side of that Star-Gate.