Saturday, November 10, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men 4b

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For earlier posts in the series click his name on the tool-bar on the right.]

"The Big Dare"

Some of the best Claremont/Bolton backups are ones like this, which seize on a very minor thread from the a-story, and develop it into its own piece. The Bolton vignettes stand alone on their own merits, but they also both enrich and become enriched by their relationship to the text that inspired them.

So, in Classic X-Men #4b, we begin with Wolverine and Nightcrawler playing a game of tag. It ends with Wolverine grabbing Kurt by the collar and thrusting his claws toward Kurt's face. At the last second, he retracts them, and with a grin extends his hand in truce. Nightcrawler is, understandably, a little freaked, and Wolverine's line as he helps him up, "Lookin' a mite pale, bub," is very funny (how could Kurt possibly ever look pale?). The entire scene is charming on its own, but when juxtaposed alongside a story that featured Wolverine almost chopping up Kurt for real, the scene is given an additional layer of meaning: We understand immediately that Wolverine will never cross that line again where his friends are concerned, but he's still the type of person who will scare the hell out of them just for a laugh.

What Claremont is showing us here is a typical comic-book "secret origin," only rather than being the origin of a character, it's the start of a relationship - specifically, the Logan/Kurt friendship that would soon become a cornerstone of the series. It begins when Wolverine dares Kurt to turn off the "image inducer" (a machine that holographically disguises Nightcrawler's demonic appearance) and stroll down a busy street as himself. Kurt accepts, and is amazed to find that he enjoys the various reactions from the people he passes. Bolton's artwork is delightfully whimsical in this sequence - especially the rather outré decision to give Nightcrawler a cane and hat as a way of emphasizing the character's extroverted, vaudevillian streak. Nightcrawler's internal monologue as he gets more and more comfortable is incredibly entertaining. "Smile," he tells himself at one point. "A little courtesy and charm won't hurt."

"The Big Dare" is an excellent piece not only for Nightcrawler, but for Wolverine as well, who spends the entire sequence keeping pace with Nightcrawler several steps behind him, covering his "buddy's" back. Kurt helps a "damsel in distress" with her bags and then keeps walking, it's Wolverine who is in position to overhear the woman's reaction: "What an extraordinary young man!" Wolverine's off-hand reply, "That he is, ma'am," speaks volumes. Claremont is often accused of excessive wordiness, but he consistently demonstrates restraint and economy in these Bolton collaborations.

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