Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #16, part b

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Claremont's X-Men issue by issue. For more in the series see Jason Powell's name on the toolbar on the right.]

“Dearest Friend”

Claremont picks a curious subject for this one. The a-side of this one is about Wolverine and Weapon Alpha, but the b-side is set in the past and stars ... Banshee. This is fine with me; the world has no shortage of solo Wolverine comics. But this one – in which Sean Cassidy and his cousin Tom compete for the same woman, a beautiful blond motorcycle enthusiast named Maeve Rourke – should more appropriately have gone in Classic X-Men #10, which featured Black Tom as a villain. And #10b (a Wolverine solo story) could then have gone here. Curious.

At any rate, the lack of any momentum from the a-side makes “Dearest Friend” feel a little less urgent than other Claremont-Bolton backups, but on its own terms it’s as solid as any of the others. In the continuity department, it explains the source of the rivalry between Sean and “Black” Tom (they loved the same woman; of course, we should have guessed!) and also plants the seeds for a Claremont Spider-Woman arc published in 1981 involving Black Tom and Maeve’s daughter, Theresa.

As a plain-old love story, it’s light-hearted and quite sweet. It begins with a chase scene that ends with Banshee and Maeve flying off a cliff and almost plunging into the Atlantic, and Bolton has a lot of fun with Sean’s Superman-style rescue, flying Maeve to safety just inches before they hit the water. Claremont also has fun playing with the bantering relationship between Sean and Tom at a time before it became the insane, comic-book-style antagonism of Uncanny #101-103. The best bit: When Sean flies Maeve to Cassidy Keep (screaming all the while, since that’s how his power works), they arrive to the image of Tom in a bathrobe, looking sleepy and unkempt. “Sean – dear, idiot cousin,” he says. “There’s a time and place to flaunt your special gift. Here, at three past midnight, isn’t it.”

As it has to, the story ends with Maeve choosing between her two suitors (she goes for Banshee, surprise, surprise), and there’s even a handy bit of plotting that ties the antagonist from the Act One chase scene into the turning point of Act Three. Right out of the screenwriters’ handbook, that one.

It’s worth noting that in writing the main stories in Uncanny X-Men – as well as the spinoff titles, New Mutants and Excalibur – Claremont was always keen to throw in subplots that would keep readers coming back. A standard issue of a Claremont X-comic has a cut every few pages to a different, often entirely unrelated, scene. But in these Classic X-Men backups – limited to done-in-one stories only 12 pages in length, and typically following a single character arc rather than several – Claremont demonstrates his genuine talent for rock-solid plotting and tight, focused characterization.

I’d like to think there are a large portion of X-Men fans out there who, if they read these Classic X-Men backup stories, would have a reaction akin to Dana Whitaker after seeing The Lion King. “I didn’t know Claremont could do that! Did you know he could do that? I didn’t know he could do that.”


Anonymous said...

The Banshee and the Mimic are among my earliest memories of the X-Men.Banshee was a verbose, refined creature with a very unusual appearance and remarkable catchphrase ("Sirens be praised").A pipe-smoking connaisseur of art, who, some of Werner Roth's shots, reminds me of Peter O'Toole.He pops up in Englehart's Captain America six or seven years later as a Country & Western fan. Then, Claremont recasts him as a "barely-literate ex-cop". By the time we get to Generation X, Banshee seems to have shed ten to fifteen years in age!

Gary said...

A "barely literate ex-cop"? Who said it? Because I can see it coming out of Banshee's mouth in a manner to downplay himself. Claremont will have the barely literate ex-cop cranking through Ulysses before Byrne's time on the title is done.