Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Jason Powell on Claremont's Classic X-Men #1

[Guest writer Jason Powell begins his look at Claremont's X-Men, something I probably need to be schooled in. Let's welcome the first guest writer for this site, and hope we have many more. This may be the first in an issue by issue look at the run.]

This is Chris Claremont's elaboration upon the story first told in Giant-Sized X-Men #1, which brought Len Wein and Dave Cockrum's "all-new, all-different" X-Men into the fold. Claremont, a superhero writer who's more interested in emotional interaction than fight scenes, tells a story in which the new X-Men members interact with the old ones.

Iceman is cast as something of a punk in this story, ostensibly because he's the youngest of the X-Men and therefore the least open-minded (note Angel's line about Bobby: "He's a kid. He doesn't appreciate the possibilities...").

There's a wonderful sequence in which Bobby interrupts a moment of burgeoning camaraderie among Banshee, Colossus and Nightcrawler. After making nasty comments about Nightcrawler's demonic appearance and Colossus' native Russia (Classic X-Men #1 was published in 1986, when the Cold War was on everybody's mind), there's a great exchange between Kurt and Bobby:

Kurt: "I resemble a monster, therefore I am one? You object to Peter's government, and condemn him by association? You're all for mutant rights, but only for those mutants who fit your aesthetic and political criteria? A most charitable attitude, Herr Drake. Most enlightened."

Bobby: "That's not what I said! You’re putting words in my mouth!"

Kurt: "Then prove me wrong. Take my hand, and Peter’s, and welcome us with an open heart."

Nightcrawler's chastisement of Iceman is devastating, but then turns on a dime into a heartfelt plea for compassion and brotherhood. It's abeautiful character moment for Nightcrawler, and also a good example of the excellent flow that Claremont's dialogue has when he's really cooking. These "Classic X-Men" stories with John Bolton represent Claremont at the very top of his game.

The heart of "First Night," however, is Claremont's forefronting of the Cyclops-Jean-Wolverine love-triangle, which originally did not figure into the earliest "all-different" X-Men adventures quite so prominently.

Here, Claremont reveals Jean's visceral attraction to Wolverine as one of her primary reasons for quitting the team, which is a huge ret-con. Interestingly, Claremont chooses not to put Cyclops and Wolverine in a scene together. Instead, Cyclops cloisters himself in an office (to finish filling out a report on the Krakoa battle "while the impressions are still fresh," which is delightfully square) and Jean goes for a walk on the grounds, where Wolverine makes a play for her.

Then in a marvelous little parallel, while Wolverine comes on to Jean on the ground, we have Angel trying to woo Storm in the air. (Interestingly, Warren is almost more forward than Logan.) But in the midst of his flirtation, Warren notices the scene below, and immediately forgets about Storm in order to come between Wolverine and Marvel Girl. This is good characterization of Warren, as it both demonstrates the shallowness of his attempted flirtation with Ororo, and hints that he's not entirely over Jean (Roy Thomas did a Scott-Jean-Warren love triangle back during the X-Men's original run).

His line to Logan, "She's spoken for - and even if she wasn't, she's too good for the likes of you," is fantastic. Losing Jean to Scott - that's one thing. But Jean preferring Logan to Warren doesn't sit nearly as well.

Classic X-Men #1 ends with one of my favorite X-Men scenes: Jean goes to Charles and tells him that she is leaving the team. The pages are lit very somberly by Glynis Oliver, and Bolton draws Xavier in such a way that you can just feel his heart break. This exchange is particularly memorable:

Jean: "What of my own dreams and plans – for love, for a family. Must they be sacrificed on this terrible altar of responsibility?"

Xavier: "Dear Jean, is that what you believe the X-Men’s purpose is? Have I failed you so utterly?"

Xavier, who is often portrayed as fairly unflinching in his confidence, questioning whether he's failed his first student, tugs at the heart quite a bit. It's an excellent dramatic turn on Claremont's part, making Xavier so vulnerable in that moment.


Anonymous said...

Isn't Black Lightning's "lightning bolt up the ass" so much more kewl than Claremont's ponderous prose?


neilshyminsky said...

So after I said I would engage with Jason's Claremont-talk, he starts with an issue I don't have! (Alas, I've only collected these issues in the Essential books.)

Jason Powell said...

"Isn't Black Lightning's "lightning bolt up the ass" so much more kewl than Claremont's ponderous prose?"

Yes, it is kewler. But it is not cooler.

"So after I said I would engage with Jason's Claremont-talk, he starts with an issue I don't have!"

I feel like everyone who hasn't read the Claremont/Bolton material in Classic X-Men would like Claremont more if they did. That is perhaps just cock-eyed optimism on my part. But Neil, you should buy the "Vignettes" collections!

Patrick said...

Bring on some more Claremont coverage. His X-Men run, outside of Dark Phoenix, gets none of the analysis and respect it deserves. I reviewed the whole run, from 94-280 over the course of a few months last year. So, if you're looking for more writing on Claremont, this should keep you busy.

neilshyminsky said...

Jason: Let me amend that - I have very few issues of Classic X-Men. I picked up the Dark Phoenix stuff for the first time in that format, and a few other issues here and there. As I recall, Jim Lee's very first X-Men story is in one of those back-ups. But it's collected? That's worth looking at, then.

Jason Powell said...

Patrick, thanks for the link! That's so cool that there's some coverage of it on the net that I didn't know about. I will definitely be reading your stuff. I of course 100% agree that there's not enough Claremont love out there.

Neil, yeah, there are two "Vignettes" trades that reprint the backup comics drawn by John Bolton. The reproduction is a little lacking -- I think the art and coloring looks much better on newsprint than on the glossy TPB paper. But it's still good to have them in a bound volume. They're some of my very favorite X-Men stories of all time.