[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]
“By Friends – Betrayed”
“Chris was one of the first comicbook writers to give us female characters who did not exist solely to be captured by the bad guys so the (male) heroes could rescue them. Altho it is unfortunately true he very quickly turned this into his own cliché – ‘the Claremont Woman’ -- he bought himself a place in comicbook history by being thus ahead of the curve.” – John Byrne
Claremont was superhero comics’ first feminist writer. He clearly had an affection for Storm -- the “new” X-Men’s only female member originally – right from the start. Indeed, it is Ororo who saves the day in Uncanny X-Men #96, the first X-Men issue that Claremont plotted. (Cockrum’s favorite of the “new” X-Men was Nightcrawler; Byrne’s was Wolverine; could Storm have been Claremont’s?)
Claremont’s feminist inclinations were even more obvious in his work on “Ms. Marvel,” which he wrote in the late 1970s. Ms. Marvel’s civilian identity, Carol Danvers, was a character whose expansive and versatile skill set must have seemed absurd at the time, given its context among the breezily sexist Marvel Universe she existed in. At the age of 29 (as given in Avengers Annual #10), she already had quite the resume: she was a former air force pilot, a former NASA security chief, and the former editor of magazine called (what else?) “Woman.” All this, and a superhero too (who, thanks to master costume-designer Dave Cockrum, sported one of the most elegantly gorgeous superhero suits of her day).
Not long after the series was cancelled – the title character thus falling out of Claremont’s affectionate custody – Ms. Marvel soon found herself the focus of an embarrassingly sexist story arc that saw print in Avengers #’s 197-200 (see this article for the details).
Claremont’s blood must have boiled when he saw what happened to her in this story – essentially the closest a mainstream superhero comic could come in 1980 to raping one of its characters. Worst of all, the people behind these sexist comics seemed not to realize what they had done, so Claremont took it upon himself to write an Avengers comic that would specifically address the damage.
The result is Avengers Annual #10, a passionately executed adventure story whose viscerally thrilling centerpiece – the battle between the Avengers and Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – seems to be a Trojan Horse for its final scene, wherein Carol lectures the Avengers on how badly they screwed up in Avengers 197-200. (It’s really aimed at the creators of those Avengers issues for their insulting portrayal of a character that Claremont clearly felt deserved better.)
Claremont’s intentions are good, but in truth the banality of Carol’s lecture at the end is quite dramatically pre-empted by the sheer brilliance of the action that precedes it. Collaborating with Michael Golden, a thrillingly unique artist, Claremont delivers some of the most manic action sequences of his entire career, the pages loaded with unexpected turns and insanely choreographed twists.
Thanks to Claremont and Golden’s unbridled creativity, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants emerge as a genuinely intimidating pack of villains here. They were engaging in their first appearance during “Days of Future Past,” but couldn’t help but be overshadowed then by the dystopian-future scenes. In “By Friends – Betrayed,” the Brotherhood are a force to be reckoned with. Supercharged by Michael Golden in an Avengers Annual (of all places), the Brotherhood will go on to enjoy a career as one of the more convincing supervillain teams to recur in Claremont’s X-Men stories over the next decade.
There are several other bits of this comic that make it a key part of Claremont’s X-Men canon (hence its inclusion in this blog series): Most importantly, it is the first appearance of Rogue, the Brotherhood’s newest member, with the ability to temporarily absorb people’s powers and memories through flesh-on-flesh contact. Right from page one of this issue, she has already done this to Carol Danvers – permanently, somehow – at the behest of Mystique, who hates Carol for undisclosed reasons. (Indeed, Mystique’s first appearance was in an altogether oblique two-panel teaser in the penultimate issue of Ms. Marvel, published almost two full years before the character’s full appearance in “Days of Future Past.”)
With Carol’s memories permanently stolen from her by Rogue, she ends up as a patient of Charles Xavier, whose mental powers manage to restore her to some semblance of mental health. Having engineered this turn of events, Claremont is thus able to make the powerless and partially amnesiac Carol a supporting character in Uncanny X-Men (she first shows up in issue #150). Her role in Uncanny never quite clicks, but of course Rogue will go on to become a mainstay.
Avengers Annual #10 also contains a throwaway panel in which Claremont decides, propos of nothing, to drop the name of the lead singer of Steeleye Span, one of his favorite bands. Thus is a cute little girl (who has been “sick” but is “better now”) dubbed Maddy Pryor -- to the eventual consternation of continuity-obsessed X-Men fans everywhere.