Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jason Powell on Claremont's Classic X-Men 2 and 3 (UXM 94 and 95)

[Jason Powell continues his look at Claremont's X-Men -- not quite issue by issue but awfully close, as here he goes at two at a time. For more of the same click Jason Powell's name at the bottom of this post. I like how we are building a whole library of X-Men posts here: Claremont, Morrison, Whedon. Anybody want to take on the Kirby issues?]

These two issues contain the very first Chris Claremont X-Men story, "The Doomsmith Scenario," although Claremont only provides dialogue here. The story is plotted by Len Wein, and probably for that very reason it's still quite rooted in 1960s superhero traditions: A team of villains to challenge the team of heroes, a ticking-clock situation, and a criminal mastermind so by-the-numbers that he has a cane, mustache and monocle.

Since the plot is so rote, the only thing that makes the story standout is Claremont's melodrama, but it all feels rather shoehorned in here. The comic is such a bombastic, Silver Age action story that it feels discordant to see the angst layered on so thick. It would take a while before Claremont became more fluent. For now we get moments like:

--Thunderbird showing his disrespect for Cyclops by calling him "one-eye." "The name is Cyclops, mister!" is Cyclops' retort. Is "one-eye" somehow a stupider-sounding name than Cyclops?

--The introduction of Count Nefaria. He has some dialogue from off-panel, and Dragonfly says, "What? Who ssspeakssss?" Dragonfly is apparently an idiot. Then Frog-Man says, "Who do you think, Dragonfly? It's the boss ­ our lord an' master." Nefaria then reveals himself on-panel and says, "Yes, Count Nefaria is your lord and master." And on and on it clunks.

--Claremont's transition from Nefaria back to the X-Men. Nefaria says, "Now, the game begins in earnest," which segues to a narrative caption: "Games. Some like 'em, some don't. Take Scott Summers ­ he gave up games a long time ago." Claremont is really trying too hard here.

The bit in this story that I genuinely love is the resolution of the cliffhanger on the first couple pages of issue 95, when the X-Men calmly work things out while plummeting to their deaths. They're so sanguine that Nightcrawler ­ as John Byrne has somewhat disparagingly pointed out ­ delivers a physics lecture. ("If I teleport from this height, the law of conservation of energy demands that I rematerialize at the same velocity. I will be killed regardless.") It's fantastically over the top, which is how superhero comics ought to be.

The ending of the "Scenario," with Thunderbird dying, was Len Wein's idea. Claremont protested it, presumably on the grounds that it was a waste of a potentially cool character. In practice, it does come off as a bit of a cheap ploy, although Claremont added some scenes in the "Classic" reprints to make us care more about Thunderbird. There's an entirely new thread in which Thunderbird is having a huge crisis of confidence, because he realizes that there's nothing he can do that one of the other X-Men can't do better -- entirely true, as it turns out. It's a great humanizing touch, and it adds much more pathos to Proudstar's grandstanding at the end which leads to his death.

1 comment:

Arthur said...

--Thunderbird showing his disrespect for Cyclops by calling him "one-eye." "The name is Cyclops, mister!" is Cyclops' retort. Is "one-eye" somehow a stupider-sounding name than Cyclops?

(I'm re-reading my Claremont run, and re-reading Jason's reviews. I'm just sorry I wasn't around when these were new.)

I'd say that "One-eye" is "stupider-sounding" than Cyclops.

One thing I liked about Marvel (and X-Men in particular) is that they had cooler code-names. DC had the formulaic super-hero names, with a plethora of suffixes (-man -woman -boy -girl -lad -lass) while Marvel tended to be more clever. (With pre-90s X-Men, the only code-name that really grated on me was "Marvel Girl", and Claremont soon rectified that.)

With "Cyclops", it's an allusion to mythology, requiring at least a passing knowledge of what a cyclops is to see how it fits. "One-eye" is on-the-nose. (Or on-the-eye.)