Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jason Powell on X-Men Annual #7

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

“Scavenger Hunt”

X-Men Annual #7 is notable for its opening, which marks only the second time that Claremont’s X-Men begin a story playing baseball. In spite of the few times the author has used this particular image, the idea – such a quintessential example of “heroes at play” – has come to be emblematic of Claremont’s approach to the characters. The rest of “Scavenger Hunt,” meanwhile, is anything but emblematic – it is, instead, a complete departure from just about anything that made Claremont’s X-Men good.

At this point it’s a given that the annuals have virtually no bearing on large-scale X-Men continuity. Here, Claremont exercises his freedom from the demands of the monthly serial, delivering a deliberately wacky story whose tone would be out of place in the ever-increasingly dark regular series.

The story is penciled by Michael Golden, whose previous collaborations with Claremont (Avengers Annual #10 and Marvel Fanfare #’s 1-2) led to some incredibly exciting superhero stories. Here, with Golden’s imagination hemmed in a bit by Claremont’s goofy plot and his expressive clarity destroyed by someone’s decision to change inkers every few pages, the visuals are an aesthetic mess, ranging in quality from exquisite (the apropos-of-nothing Dr. Strange page) to mildly attention-getting (the Steranko homage on Page 7) to painful (the “Marvel employees” bit).

Claremont meanwhile has hinged his whole comedy plot on the tired “madcap chase” premise, as typified by It’s a Mad, Mad ... World. The broad slapstick wears thin from the moment it starts, and the annual only ever comes to life when Claremont is able to digress from the ridiculousness back into his more familiarly melodramatic style – as in the Sebastian Shaw sequence, which is played relatively straight and teases enticingly at the next X-Men/Hellfire Club battle.

The overlong sequence in which Marvel Comics employees are trampled by the X-Men (one of them blaming Claremont for the situation, in an uncharacteristic meta-moment) is particularly egregious and self-indulgent. And the nonsensical ending is embarrassing not just for its attempt to sexualize the 14-year-old Kitty and Illyana, but in its dismal failure at doing so. (The Tom Selleck cameo, meanwhile, is an oblique payoff to a running gag from the New Mutants, wherein Sunspot periodically talks himself through tough situations by asking himself what Magnum, P.I. would do. The whole thing is laughably dated now, and probably was still laughable then.)

I do find one line in this issue amusing: Kitty’s comment “How can a single woman own so many costumes?” in regards to the Wasp is a deliberate irony, given that Claremont has been making a bit for three years of Kitty’s inability to pick a costume and stick with it. In truth, he stole this bit from the Wasp, who was doing the multiple-costume shtick years earlier. Kitty’s very next line of dialogue, “D’you think the Wasp’ll mind if I ‘borrow’ some?” is Claremont’s tacit acknowledgment of having stolen the gag. It’s pretty funny, but hardly enough to redeem a trying 39 pages.


Isaac P. said...

While this Annual is quite weak, I still had quite a bit of fun reading it. Possibly the Essential format reduces the visual goofiness a slight bit by not having the constant green and purple of the Impossible Man.
For all the stupidity that goes on within, I was surprised how many continuity specific character bits Claremont works into the story. Even if the annual doesn't matter to the overall continuity, Claremont is still determined to get some character development in. I even have some affection for the groan-inducing finale, simply because it is just so bad.

david said...

This annual made my brain hurt.