Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #9, part b, “The Gift”

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men -- NOW TWICE A WEEK, TUESDAYS and SATURDAYS. For more in this series see his name on the toolbar on the right.]

Well, talk about lousy timing. Geoff gives me a bit of grief because I suggest that Claremont should be applauded for his optimistic, “Love conquers all” philosophy, saying that if it’s not persuasive, then such a philosophy is just a cliché. I argue that Claremont DOES render it persuasively ... and then along comes “The Gift,” one of Claremont’s most feeble gestures in the direction of optimism. While I maintain that first eight Claremont-Bolton backups are each brilliant in their own way, and a few of them are utter perfection from start to finish, “The Gift,” in Classic X-Men #9, represents Claremont and Bolton’s first misstep. Indeed, it turns out to be the weakest of their roughly two-dozen collaborations on this title.

The story is set in between the panels of the main part-a narrative, while the X-Men are waiting in the hospital for Jean Grey to recover. Nightcrawler happens to be looking out a window, and sees a lonely kid wandering the grounds. He teleports down and very quickly befriends the child. They’re a very cute sequence in the middle where they play a sort of impromptu game of tag, and Nightcrawler of course keeps winning because of his ability to teleport. Bolton captures the perfect tone, leading to a playful and light-hearted sequence.

The rest of story, however, which ought to be just as whimsical – the point of the story being that Nightcrawler’s optimism breaks through the kid’s shell of depression – is overwritten. The bit in which Nightcrawler teaches Daniel to juggle is just a little too precious, for example. It comes off as trite.

Them there’s the ending: The following morning, Nightcrawler searches the hospital for Daniel, only to learn that the boy was a sick patient, and he died last night. So the kid Nightcrawler spent the evening palling around with was “... A GHOST?!” Hmmm.

So Nightcrawler and the ghost of a boy who died happened to meet up and become friends. The point of all this? Well, according to Nightcrawler, at the end (talking to himself, mind you): “The world – like a juggler’s balls – goes round and round ... and the trick is to live, the best you can, while you can. For that way, there will always be lights shining bravely, joyously – even in the deepest darkness.”

With all the times Claremont’s way with words has gotten me me right in the gut, I am inclined to cut him a lot of slack. But I also need to call him out when I feel like he’s fallen short. And, with that muddled attempt at an optimistic theme (be the best you can be – if you do, there will be lights!), “The Gift” falls very short indeed.

[The issue by issue analysis is a harsh taskmaster, because it does not allow you to gloss over any misstep. I have not read the issue, but it is interesting to me that Claremont is making a thematic chime here -- Nightcrawler finds the dead and back again kid as Jean is beginning her tenure as the most famous dead and back again character in comics.]

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