Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #11, part b, “Hope”

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]

The next issue will establish that the X-Men spent some time actually relaxing in the United Kingdom between X-Men issues #103 and #104, and “Hope” takes place at some point during that vacation. The star is Phil, a British fantasy writer who no longer feels inspired by what he does, but finds a new muse in the form of a passing Storm. Storm, it seems, has at some point since joining the X-Men become a fan of Phil’s novels. She recognizes him from his book jacket, and swoops him up to join her for a ride on the wind.

It’s all rather fanciful and good-natured, with some good turns of phrase by Claremont in the narration ... but something feels off in this one. Storm at one point tells Phil that while she has incredible powers, she lacks another talent: the ability to convey the wonder of them. “That is your gift,” she tells him. Of course, in real life, Claremont is the writer who conveys to us what it’s like to be an X-Man. So is the writer a stand-in for Claremont? If so, did Claremont really go through a phase when the passion was gone out of his writing? And what are we to make of the fact that Phil is suicidal at the start of the story and -- even after meeting Storm and hearing her impassioned plea that not throw away his life – Phil still seems pretty keen on jumping off a building in the final panel?

There’s something to be said for the fact that Claremont doesn’t make Phil’s dilemma clean-cut. He doesn’t immediately find his life reaffirmed just because of his chance encounter with Ororo. By the same token, Phil’s character arc is muddled enough that I’m not quite clear what the point is here. The matter is further obfuscated by Claremont throwing a psychopathic murderer (who only preys on women) right into the middle of the story. I’m sure he just wanted some action to spice things up, but it’s a rather garish b-movie twist to throw in when you’re trying to tell a sensitive tale about an artist who’s lost his spark.

Like “The Gift,” this one doesn’t really work. It’s elevated a bit, granted, by the possibility that Claremont is taking us into a dark part of his own psyche. (I’m particularly intrigued by Phil’s wondering whether he should simply quit. “So why don’t I leave?” he asks himself, then immediately answers, “No guts. I’ll always be more scared of what I’m giving up than what I might gain. Too bloody comfortable ...” Was this how Claremont felt about Marvel in 1987, when this story was published?) But while it remains a fascinating curiosity, and while it is another example of John Bolton’s mastery of his craft (it is superbly illustrated throughout), “Hope” stands as the second of only two misfires by Claremont and Bolton.

[Again I have not read the b-sides, but it seems like Claremont is being awfully smug here, as the writer encounters a character only he can really interpret -- especially as Claremont has put himself more directly into the X-Men in earlier issues.]


Jason Powell said...

A more generous reading might simply be that it's something to do with the importance of writers in general, or writing as a craft. It's not necessarily implied that Phil is the "only" one who can tell the X-Men's story, so much as that his ability to do so is a worthwhile thing, not to be thought of in lesser terms than other crafts.

That's less smug, although possibly still a little bit ... trite, maybe?

I don't know. It's pretty muddled, either way.

Anonymous said...

Aye, well, I'd still rather read "Marko and Cassidy: Mutant Interior Designers" Jason.


Jason Powell said...

You discovered my fan fiction!

Dougie said...

"Callisto's subway tunnel was just so Beauty and the Beast until Tom and I decided to tzuj it up with faux-fur throw cushions"


A Painter said...

One thing I'm surprised you didn't mention is how these back-ups served not only to comment about the reprinted issue, but about the then-current issues as well.

Phil compares his writing ability to Storm's powers, and asks how she would feel if she lost them. At the time of publication (1986?), the current issues of Uncanny X-Men put Storm in an extended period where she had lost her powers. It's interesting to note that Storm - like Phil here - was nearly suicidal when they were first lost.