Special note, this piece first appeared on WMQ Comics as part of a series about fans’ favorite issues of Uncanny X-Men.
By Zack Quaintance — There are comic readers with perfect stories about their first issues, lucky folks who just happened to wander into some idyllic drugstore on a brisk day in New England as a kid, later emerging with a copy of “Amazing Spider-Man” from a spinner rack, maybe written by Gerry Conway with a first appearance of a new character who later became an icon, an issue they still look back on, thinking, now THAT was good comics.
I am not one of those readers. Good god, am I not one of those readers. And, as I’ll explain in a moment, I believe I’m much better for it.
My first real exposure to comics came courtesy of “Uncanny X-Men” #345, which has Maggott on its cover. Maggott. Now, I’d seen comics before via friends’ older brothers, and I’d even gotten the Claremont/Lee X-Men #1 before that as a gift, rolled up in my stocking. But I was too young. I’d scribbled on the pages and tore the cover. “Uncanny” #345 was the first comic that came my way once I had the literacy and motor skills the medium demanded. That original sin aspect is part of the reason I’m picking it as my favorite, but there’s more to it than that. This book has also had a lasting and positive legacy with me, and today I’d like to unpack that.
It’s not a good comic, not by any traditional standards, and it’s made even worse by the five issues after it. The book is full of mysteries, including: Is Joseph really Magneto; who is this guy Maggott; and what secret is Gambit hiding that’s so dark and awful? Its writer, Scott Lobdell, fell out with editorial before paying off pretty much any of that (except the Gambit bit — turns out dude helped massacre the Morlocks), which makes this an inherently frustrating story to look back on, especially for me, who first read it under the naive assumption all comics were carefully made with precise long-term planning (hah!). This book can, from a certain perspective, represent the corporate meddling and pressure that would often hamstring “Uncanny” throughout its post-Claremont run, and arguably still does to this day, really.
So, there’s that. Taken on standalone merits, this issue isn’t great, either. Joe Madureira’s art with heavy Tim Townsend inking is pretty, to be certain, well-formed and stylish with obvious manga and anime influence, a cut above most schlock from the era. It’s still, however, bursting with impossible female anatomy — side boob and jumpsuits that make bodies look vacuum-sealed — and total beefcaking (Bishop reading in a futuristic chair wearing naught but a scant vest and banana hammock…see below).
But if you’ll permit a glance through rose-tinted nostalgia glasses, I think this comic is better than all that. “Uncanny” #345 came out in 1997, when the ’90s as we’ve come to remember them had begun to pass. The art was still very much stuck in that era, but just look at Maggott, a concept built with so much odd levity. His mutant power is two sentient slugs that can basically eat through anything. In his first appearance, the slugs gnaw on a gruesome ‘90s robot with big claws and a supernova for tonsils, thereby saving a supermodel who apparently also runs a Christian orphanage in a jungle in Guatemala, after which Maggott quips: Disgustin’, ain’t it, luv? (SPX: CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP).
And that’s all we get of him. Intellectually, I know this is all bad, but also this is one of my all-time favorite X-character introductions (even if Lobdell’s departure led to an incomplete storyline and eventual mockery and disdain for ol’ Maggott), perfectly as grandiose as it is goofy.
The lasting legacy of “Uncanny” #345 in the context of my life as a comic book fan and reader, however, is what truly endears the comic to me. This book ultimately taught me that the medium is not one built for perfection (not like the best literature, TV or movies) as much as it is for occasional moments of unrestrained bliss. It taught me that comics are a prolific and churning ecosystem, one that should be approached as low-stakes. I watch frustration and anger wash through comic fandom online, and I shake my head, largely unable to relate. My first comic starred Maggott.
Essentially, “Uncanny” #345 gave me healthy expectations for this hobby, I think, allowing me to take superhero comics at their best while avoiding the toxic disappointment of wanting to control the fiction. And I owe it to this issue about a mutant man who could eat through robots with his sentient slugs.
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.