Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #23, part b

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

“Nightcrawler’s High Adventure”

If there is something in Claremont’s massive X-ouvre that is underrepresented, it is probably his sense of fun. Since Claremont’s way of maintaining drama over years and years of serialized stories came to be so dependent and swerves into negative story values with increasingly high stakes (i.e., things go from good to bad, then bad to worse), he doesn’t often call upon his natural sense of whimsy. The Claremont/Bolton backups — placed chronologically in an earlier, less angst-filled period in the run and also having the benefit of being self-contained rather than part of a serialized narrative — gave Claremont more room to be playful, and never more so than in this, his penultimate “Classic” collaboration with Bolton.

This story is 100% angst-free, following Nightcrawler as he becomes stranded on an exotic tropical island and must rescue a beautiful woman from some sort of demonic cult. Perhaps in a deliberate attempt at symmetry, Claremont puts this story – which has the feel of some classic adventure film from the golden age of cinema – alongside the reprint of the Farouk comic, which had a similarly retro feel. Even the “High Adventure” of the title invokes a more simplistic, or perhaps iconic, type of action story.

Bolton, as willing and able as ever to draw anything, crafts entertaining images of Nightcrawler swinging through the jungle on vines or punching villains square in the jaw (Claremont’s dialogue accompanying the latter is “Leave her be, you fiend!”)

Claremont meanwhile, messes with his audience just a touch. Typically, with series such as Excalibur for example, Claremont will change the tone of his writing when he’s doing comedy, signaling immediately what to expect. In “High Adventure,” though, the flavor of the narration is more in keeping with Claremontian melodrama, which allows Claremont to throw in a few cute punchlines that don’t seem as telegraphed as they sometimes are in his comedy pieces.

In this case, when Nightcrawler is hypnotized and laid out on a slab to be sacrificed by the demon priest at the end, Claremont primes us to expect a more dramatic escape. Note the narration in the panel of the priest lifting the knife: “Blood for a crown, a life for the throne. The sacrifices perish, that he may continue to rule.” One barely notices Tom Orzechowski’s wittily applied “bamf” sound effect that transitions the panel into slapstick of the next, wherein the knife comes down on an empty slab and shatters.

Claremont is also a fan of sexual innuendo, but of the more innocuous, “wink, nudge” variety, and we get a cheeky example of it here, with the woman whom Nightcrawler’s rescued uttering an archetypal “damsel” line, “However can I possibly repay you?” and Nightcrawler’s smug reply, “Oh ... I’m sure ... we’ll think of something.” There’s a contrast to be struck against the Colossus story of the previous issue – the sexual element of that story was right on the surface, but in the context of Peter’s naivety, it had a kind of sweet innocence. The sexuality of Nightcrawler’s innuendo here is not nearly so explicit, but in context Nightcrawler comes off as much more rakish. At this point, Claremont has been thinking about these characters for 10 years, and he’s thought about them from lots of angles, enough so that he can now comment upon and contrast their different attitudes toward sex.

1 comment:

A Painter said...

I always wondered what those beast men were. They were seen again in Karma's brief flashback in New Mutants # 1. (Either that, or Karma's mind was exaggerating, recalling the Thai pirates as horrible beast men. Frankly, I like this idea better.)