Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #205

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“Wounded Wolf”

Another favorite of Claremont’s from among his own work on Uncanny X-Men, “Wounded Wolf” is the second issue (after #198) to feature full art and color by Barry Windsor-Smith. As such, the story is another treat for the eyes. Again, however, Claremont’s clear awe for Windsor-Smith’s storytelling abilities seems to make the author curtail his own.

The opening sequence – in which Lady Deathstrike is turned into a “cybernetic organism” by Spiral – is striking both for the pages’ boldly colorful design and for the text’s poetic opacity. But the scene is perhaps too opaque– Claremont is importing characters and concepts from other series, but not bothering to explain how it all fits together. For the record, Spiral first appeared – along with future X-characters Longshot and Mojo – in Ann Nocenti and Art Adams’ Longshot miniseries. Having also previously turned up in Uncanny #199 as a member of Mystique’s Freedom Force, the six-armed woman now inexplicably runs something called the “Body Shop,” whose purpose here would appear to be to manufacture cyborgs.

Lady Deathstrike, meanwhile, owes her existence to a Daredevil storyline by Denny O’Neil, and became a Wolverine villain in Alpha Flight issues 33-34. Her three henchmen are the former Hellfire Club mercenaries sliced up by Wolverine back in Uncanny #133. The reader is being asked here not only to recognize everyone without any helpful footnotes, but also to accept without any questions that these disparate characters have somehow ended up together at the beginning of “Wounded Wolf.”

At the end of the scene, Spiral compares herself to the devil, which at least makes plain that we’re looking at a very familiar trope: Spiral’s “Body Shop” is a place where people sell their souls to get their heart’s desire. Fair enough. But Claremont is still testing readers’ patience with such a cold plunge into the doings of esoteric characters whose dealings with each other have no precedent. (Indeed, Spiral shouldn’t even be on Earth anymore after the end of the Longshot miniseries: That discrepancy is explained later, in New Mutants Annual #2.)

From there, Claremont again leaves out pertinent information, as he jumps forward in time to show Wolverine covered in wounds and having regressed to a state of animal savagery thanks to a fight with Deathstrike and the Hellfire trio. How they managed to get the drop on him is left to the imagination, as is Wolverine’s presence in New York; he should still be in San Francisco with the other X-Men.

To Windsor-Smith’s credit, his powerful sense of motion and momentum is so strong that it’s easy to get swept into the story despite all of Claremont’s frustrating narrative gaps. But Claremont pushes things too far when he includes a member of Power Pack as a guest-star. A five-year-old girl whose superhuman ability is to create “power balls,” Katie Power is an absurd inclusion here. No doubt the point is to juxtapose one of Marvel’s most innocently pure superheroes against characters who exist on the extreme other end of the morality spectrum (Spiral and the Hellfire mercs on the far end, Wolverine and Deathstrike somewhere in the middle, etc.). But instead it just feels trite and silly, an effect that’s exacerbated by Claremont’s dialogue for Katie – surely the most unconvincing five-year-old voice ever contrived. (An example of how Katie speaks and thinks, when written by Claremont: “Where’s a telephone?! If I found one, I could call Power Pack to rescue us, or Wolverine’s teammates, the X-Men. Should I leave him ... and go look for one? Suppose I get lost from Wolverine then, and can’t find my way back?”)

This is a worthwhile issue for Windsor-Smith’s storytelling. Particularly fantastic is the Wolverine/Deathstrike fight at the end -- told in tiers of horizontal panels and thus becoming another link in the tradition begun by Miller with his Logan/Shingen sequence and continued by Paul Smith with Uncanny #173’s Silver Samurai battle. (Just as Smith topped Miller, Windsor-Smith now tops Smith.)

For Claremont, though, this one’s a misfire.


Anagramsci said...

gawd I remember hating this one--solo Wolverine just bores me to tears... the character has his uses as part of the X-group... but I just can't abide his Dirty Harry-meets-new-age-men's-movement-with -claws act on its own...

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, Wolverine actually doesn't say a whole lot in this story. Katie Power does most of the talking.

I always thought it cheapened the scene in Uncanny 133 to have Cole, Macon, and Reese live. It makes Wolverine look sloppy, and it takes away from the visceral feeling of seeing him cut loose in that story.

Anonymous said...

Shooter wanted Cole,Macon and Reese to live because he wanted to minimize the number of people Wolverine killed. If that sounds silly, remember that Gruenwald came up with the "Cap never killed during WARTIME" retcon.
I don't see what's wrong with Spiral being on Earth. It was clearly explained at the end of the Longshot series that now that Spiral and Mojo were together, they would be able to make it back to Mojoworld and maybe make a second try at conquering Earth. Although, it does seem like Spiral found it easier to travel back and forth between dimensions without Mojo after the Longshot limited series. Similarly, the idea in the series was that if Mojo stayed too long on Earth, the planet would die but that was played down or ignored in Mojo's later appearances.

Jason said...

Michael, I would be hesitant to say that much of anything was *that* clearly explained in the Longshot miniseries. Nocenti's writing style in that comic was a bit convoluted, to my eyes.

But even if if I agree with you that the ending of the Longshot miniseries is clear ... well, show me the footnote in X-Men #205 that tells us that this is picking up where Longshot left off. Or something that tells anybody who didn't read Daredevil or Alpha Flight who this Deathstrike person is. Heck, even the Hellfire mercenaries are a little confusing, them looking nothing here like they do in earlier X-Men appearances. I think it is all too opaque for its own good.

Anon, I have heard it argued that the characters being alive makes Wolverine *more* bad-ass, in that it means Logan basically left them to bleed out and die painfully. (He most likely would not have assumed that the Club would rescue them with bionics. But if bionics were necessary, the implication is that the wounds were mortal -- just not instantly so.) I dunno if I buy it, but the POV is out there ...

Anonymous said...

1) Didn't Spiral show up as part of Freedom Force in #199? -- Yes, she did. So, it's not like she's blipping in from nowhere here.

2) I think the sudden shift makes perfect sense. In fact /I wish Claremont had done more of it/.

Look again: you have several rather dreamy pages, without violence or conflict (but full of foreboding!) in which the villains set up the plan. Then, bam, fast forward to halfway through the plan, which is obviously working a treat.

That's not "leaving out pertinent information"; it's leaving out *irrelevant* information.

Think about it! What's this story about? It's about Wolverine, right? And at the end, we're going to learn something about his character: how he survives, what makes him tick.

Well, showing him getting ambushed by the bad guys, kidnapped, tied up, flown to their base in one of New York City's many fine abandoned warehouses, stuffed into a tank, and then tortured for a week as he slowly went insane... would be *completely fucking superfluous*. There might or might not be a cool fight scene in there, but it wouldn't be relevant to this story, which is about how Wolverine claws his way back, and why at the end of the day he's a hero. Fast forwarding, and cutting out the extraneous stuff, was an inspired move on Claremont's part; he deserves acclaim here, not "wait, things aren't being spelled out enough".

3) And let's note a delightful side effect of this technique: it establishes the bad guys as serious badasses simply by showing the results of their work. Obviously they planned ahead, got the drop on Wolverine -- notoriously hard to do -- and then just did horrible stuff to him. There's no need for the usual tedious explication: "Nice try, Logan -- but my SONIC HYPER-BLAST will stop you cold!" Quite the contrary, in fact -- we're not even completely sure what these guys can do. (Not much, as it turns out, but that's not the point.) All we know is that they've taken down the X-Men's Hardcase In Residence.

4) Let's talk a little about subverting narrative expectations. Your standard superhero vs. villain conflict has two beats:

Part I: Lizard kicks Spider-Man's ass
Interlude: Spidey figures out a way to beat the Lizard
Part II: Spidey kicks the Lizard's ass

This may be contained in one issue or spread out over several, but it's been the standard model since waaay back in the Silver Age, and surprisingly few stories deviate from it. Heroes take some lumps, heroes figure out how to make a comeback, heroes beat villain. Probably the purest expression of this in Claremont's run would be X-Men #112 - #113: one issue where Magneto stomps all over the X-Men, and a second in which they return the favor. But there are plenty of others; the first Hellfire trilogy comes to mind, as does the Brood saga, the first Black Tom/Juggernaut story, the second Hellfire story, you name it.

But! Quite early in his run, Claremont started playing with this model -- tweaking it, twisting it, adding and subtracting chords. What if you have the first and second acts many issues apart, with lots of stuff in between? (issue #109, say.) What if the villain in Part II is different from the villain in Part I? (e.g., issues 199-200) Or what if you have a Part I without a Part II -- villain kicks the heroes' ass, and then wanders off? He did that way back in #104, and it was really quite powerful -- Scott's "stunning" of him for a few moments was so obviously a sop to convention that the reader was left thinking, damn, the New X-Men probably /can't/ beat this guy.

So what we have here is Claremont messing with the pattern once again: we have Part II without Part I. That's relatively rare, and so it's interesting even if it's not done well. I think it's done well here, which makes it doubly worth a look.

5) Pause to shout out to whatever poor bastard had to color Windsor-Smith in this issue. BWS would draw like a hundred different wires and cables in each panel, and then the colorist would have to give each one a different hue. Couldn't have been easy.

6) The cover! Not only is it very pretty -- look at all the different cables, some in spaghetti swirls, some rectilinear, and that one disturbing loose one that looks like a bit of dangling entrails -- but it also fills in the gap you're complaining about... and it does it in a very cool, allusive way. Wolverine prone and helpless, stuck full of creepy looking tubes: that's your missing stuff right there, all packed up into a single panel.

Note that this is pretty rare, too: to have a cover that references a scene that isn't "in" the book, but that obviously takes place within the time frame of the book -- just in a part of the story that the main story doesn't show. There should be a word or phrase for this... but anyway, it's a nice technique, and something that only a comic (only a floppy comic, really) could do.

(And look at Wolverine's face. Instead of having him contorted in agony, which would be the obvious easy way to go, he looks like he's having a bad dream. Way more effective.)

(And... what the hell is that thing next to him? A skeleton?)

7) Katie Power: this was a judgment call, and the sort of thing that either works for you, or not. I remember that it worked for me in 1986. Would it today? I hardly dare ask.

But look -- the narrative structure pretty much demands that you have a naive third party stepping into this. The mercs and Deathstrike have already had their moment; a POV shift is required.
But telling it from Wolverine's POV would seriously weaken the story. And any competent adult is going to try calling for help, which is going to complicate things. Much of the story's punch comes from the idea that Wolverine is alone, pursued by monsters, in a city where nobody can or will help him. So while you may dislike Katie Power, she /makes narrative sense/ in a way that few other characters could match.

(Is there a viable alternative? Perhaps. You might be able to tell this story without a POV character at all... just Wolverine running and then fighting. But this would require a certain willingness to shut the hell up and let the pictures tell the story that was not really Claremont's strong point, then or ever. Frank Miller, maybe. Claremont, no.)

8) That said, sure, she's handled in a somewhat clunky manner. You already mentioned the dialogue. She also has an eye-rolling "show my power" moment: "I'm ENERGIZER! Of the POWER PACK!!" [throws a fireball for no reason] Not so great.

9) But! Remembering that the story is about Wolverine, does she bring anything to it in that regard?

Hell, yes. Look at those last panels. "I was scared of you, Mr. Wolverine." "I know. Are you still?" "A little."

A bad writer would have had Wolverine answer "You never have to be." Claremont has him say, "No matter what happens -- ever -- you'll always have a friend to run to, Katie. That is, if you want."

That's just neat. Wolverine /is/ scary, and he's not going to deny it. What he offers is not comfort or affection, but loyalty. And he won't push even that, even on a five year old -- it's got to be "if you want".

That wouldn't work with an adult character, or indeed any other character but a child. So, she is bringing something to the table here.

10) Finally, I commend this review to you:


You probably won't agree with it, but it does include the following line:

"What kind of idiots follow Wolverine into a dark construction site, anyway? People that don’t need their intestines."


Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Longshot#6:"With Spiral with him, Mojo won't be lost anymore!He'll return to my world--and may even try to come back here!" That clearly implied Mojo and Spiral might return to Earth someday.
Jason, what was your problem with the Longshot series? I never had much trouble understanding the plot of that series.

ba said...

I always found that spiral has been written poorly, by almost every writer who has touched her. She has a unique mobius-type backstory (she DID start as Richochet Rita, correct? that's what I always took away from the Longshot mini, which was lots of fun to read, but really hard to understand), and appears to work more as a gun-for-hire for mojo (and freedom force), with her own personal motivations which have never been explained (even in the Beast mini, where he finds Karma's kids in the Body Shoppe...as I remember). Claremont may have had designs to explain her more fully, but he never did, and past 1990, she was just demolished as a character with any motivation (she just popped up in the Astonishing Stories comic last month).

@Doug - they have frequently had the power pack dealing with rather adult situations throughout the 80s, and they were very recently in some comics with wolverine (katie's friendship with him now established), the skrulls, etc. Heck, they even walked in on the upcoming Mutant Massacre. Now they simultaneously exist as children (in their own series), and as teens/adults (Julie in the Loners mini).

I thought this issue was a pretty decent one-off; a so-so story with foreshadowing of future deathstrike/reavers/spiral influence in the comic which become more prevalent almost two years later, during the oz-men/wolvie solo series.

Jason said...

Michael, I like the Longshot series -- I don't mind a comic book that takes some work to comprehend. But I think that's what Longshot was. I'm still not sure I understand what that giant dog was all about.


1.) Thanks for the reminder. But I think I knew she was in Uncanny #199, hence my comment "Having also previously turned up in Uncanny #199 as a member of Mystique’s Freedom Force, the six-armed woman now inexplicably runs something called the “Body Shop,” whose purpose here would appear to be to manufacture cyborgs." So I'll ask again, how does that follow logically from her agenda in Uncanny 199 or in the Longshot series? Look, guys, I'm not saying this is James Joyce, but let's not pretend that there is an intuitive leap from the last appearances of Spiral and Deathstrike -- respectively -- to what we see here. There just isn't. And maybe read the blog entry again, because you seem to think I need it explained to me. I figured it out; I'm just saying it is asking a lot of readers who might not have read every appearance of these characters before they turn up here.

2. Here are the questions that turn up in my mind: Last we saw, Wolverine was with the other X-Men. How did they get Wolverine alone and kidnap him? But okay, let's say I go along with the conceit, that these guys are just DAMN GOOD, and that's how they took Wolverine down. Well, then, they must have caught a cold between then and the parts we are shown, because suddenly they are not very good at tracking or defeating Wolverine. I'd like to know how it is they were so good in the part we are conveniently not shown, yet now they have trouble fighting a five-year-old.

3. Well, see point 2. Yes, there is a side-effect there, but it is not one that I like.

4. Good points all.

5. I believe Windsor-Smith colored the issue himself. Poor bastard indeed!

6. Good point. You're good at giving covers their due. I tend to ignore them.

7. I don't know about this. Yes, Claremont would not have let the pictures tell the story, probably ... although he is more likely to do so for Windsor-Smith than many other artists, at least during this era. But hey, that's why Claremont loves his narrative captions. Not saying that would've been a better choice (Uncanny 143 comes to mind), but bringing in a five-year-old is rather inane.

8. Yeah.

9. Leave us not forget Katie's response -- "And so, Mr. Wolverine, will you." I know Claremont writes his characters so that poetic rhythm comes before verisimilitude, and that is one of the things I love about him. But having a five year old breaking up the "So will you" like that is just too much.

10. I'm not much a fan of Dave's Long Box. I'm an "Invincible Super-Blog" man, m'self. And so, my friends, should you all be.

Jason said...

Ba, did the original series imply that Spiral and Rita were the same person? For some reason I thought that was added later.

As noted in the entry above, I see Claremont as positioning Spiral as a kind of Satan figure, out to -- in one way or another -- capture people's souls. I actually really like the use of Spiral in the comic under Claremont's pen; in fact I think she's a perfect icon for Claremont's writing style during his peak period, which was a narrative style that spiraled in and out. As Doug noted, Claremont played a lot with the structure of superhero stories. His example of putting the first and second act several issues apart is the most resonant, I think, as it's what Claremont played with the most. The effect frustrated and attracted fans in equal measure back in the 80s, with so many stories -- all in a kind of perpetual "media res" -- weaving in and around each other. As though juggled by a six-armed person.

So even if her motivations are opaque (like the Longshot series, thanks for backing me up that it was a weird one), she is sheer perfection as an icon of Claremont's writing on X-Men.

Anonymous said...

Jason,Ba,no, Spiral wasn't intended to be Rita originally. Mojo alludes to her "synthetic origin" and it's implied that she was another genetically engineered slave like Longshot. Nicieza established she was Rita in an X-Factor Annual.
Jason, the giant dog was some demon-dog-thingie that was sent after Longshot by Mojo,got stuck on Earth and wound up absorbing magic on Earth and becoming more powerful.

Anonymous said...

I love this discussion of narrative.
can i get a little more explanation of the three examples mentioned here:

1)"What if you have the first and second acts many issues apart, with lots of stuff in between? (issue #109, say.)

2)What if the villain in Part II is different from the villain in Part I? (e.g., issues 199-200)

3)Or what if you have a Part I without a Part II -- villain kicks the heroes' ass, and then wanders off? He did that way back in #104, and it was really quite powerful -- Scott's "stunning" of him for a few moments was so obviously a sop to convention that the reader was left thinking, damn, the New X-Men probably /can't/ beat this guy."

Jason said...


Doug might want to expound on his own post himself, so I don't know if I should horn in ...

Just to discuss Claremont's approach in a more general sense, when it came to the classic Silver Age good vs. bad thing, he seemed to eventually settle into a pattern of having three rounds. The first round usually saw the bad guys do very well ... the second would be a stand-off or end somewhat inconclusively ... the third would usually see the end of those bad guys (either because of a thorough beat-down or -- more commonly -- because the the bad guys would reform or have to team up with the X-Men against an even greater threat). Either way, the third fight would be fairly conclusive for that particular rivalry.

1.) X-Men #104 -- As Doug said, Magneto beats the X-Men and leaves. (Cyclops kind of saved the day at the last second, as noted by Doug, but really all he did was fight off Magneto for a second, enough time to gather the troops and retreat. Magneto then crowed his triumph and departed the scene.)
2.) X-Men 112-113 -- a two-part story, which in the first part sees the X-Men again take a beat-down. In part two, they rally and "work as a team," and actually have Magneto on the ropes, but then -- significantly -- the place in which they're fighting starts to crumble around them, and both they and Magneto have to flee before the fight can conclude.
3.) X-Men 150 -- New X-Men vs. Magneto, Round Three. It ends with Magneto almost killing Kitty, realizing that his blind zealotry has led him to murder innocent mutants. We get our first hint that Magneto is a Holocaust survivor. Magneto, for the first time, flees the scene before the X-Men -- and when next we see him, he and the X-Men will be on the same side.

Another example:
1.) X-Men 210-213 -- The Mutant Massacre. A new team shows up, the Marauders, and they take the X-Men down, hardcore.
2.) X-Men 221-222 -- X-Men v Marauders, round two. They fight in San Francisco, both teams getting equal numbers of hits in, but ultimately neither team can really be said to win.
3.) X-Men 240-241 -- X-Men v Marauders, Round Three. The X-Men get the drop on the Marauders and deliver a pretty thorough trouncing. Then their fight gets side-tracked as both teams have to fight "Inferno" demons that are taking over the city. In the end, all the Marauders (except Polaris and Sabretooth) are killed, either by the demons or by an X-Man. It's the last time Claremont will use them.

Note that in all these cases, each Round happens with several issues separating them, which gives a sense of all these sections, or "Acts" of the dramas, if you like, being woven together in one giant tapestry.

Anonymous said...

Anon, with #109 I was referring to Weapon Alpha -- who shows up and beats the hell out of Wolverine, before beating a tactical retreat in the face of all the X-Men together. The fight is effectively suspended until they meet again, a dozen or so issues later.

With #199-200, we have Freedom Force defeat Magneto and the X-Men in the first issue -- and then be replaced by Fenris in the second.

Jason, I see the pattern you're describing, and I think it's real and interesting, but I'd also caution against leaning on it too much. There are a lot of villains and story arcs that don't fit it, from Phoenix to the Hellfire Club and beyond.

Also, the sequence gets disrupted by the emergence of multiple X-titles with frequent cross-references (not to mention actual crossovers). So, one part of the sequence might start in one title, and then it might be resolved in a different one, with a different hero or X-team.

Doug M.

Jason said...


Hellfire Club was a three-rounder.

1. Dark Phoenix Saga
2. X-Men 151-152
3. 207-209 Battle with Hellfire Club suspended when both teams have to team up against a greater threat (Nimrod). In the very next issue, 210, Shaw proposes an alliance between Hellfire and the X-Men, which is eventually accepted.

Granted the X-Men do beat the club on both those two occasions ... and there are a lot of Club appearances in between those second and third fights that show various dirty dealings and shady goings-on with the club. More complications of the pattern.

(Note as well that in your example of Uncanny 199-200, even though it is a two-parter, the 1985 X-Men annual is explicitly placed chronologically between those two stories. )

All part of the grand and glorious tapestry!

Anonymous said...

In issue 199, the X-Men actually beat Freedom Force. The issue ended with all the Freedom Force members beaten except Mystique, and Wolverine had the drop on her. The only reason Magneto does not get away is that he chooses to surrender.

Spiral also is a character with wildly fluctuating power levels. Maybe this is because, like all characters who use magic, it's hard for each writer to recall just what exactly Spiral can do. When Freedom Force fought the Avengers, she was able to steal Captain Marvel's powers, defeat Iron Man and Hercules, and temporarily remove all of their powers. Then in her 1990s appearances, the likes of Gambit and Archangel are giving her a hard time in a fight. Say what?

Anonymous said...

thanks for the explication. i love being shown these kind of patterns.
its interesting to hear about a middle act, where theres a draw. its also interesting that the third act could end with a defeat of the villains, the villain giving up, or making a truce. (could these patterns be adapted to romantic and dysfunctional-family plots?)

heres an maybe-annoying follow-up question: after claremonts long run, did other writers forgoe these multiple acts? Did Morrison use them? and did claremont use them when he came back? Is this a subtle elements that got lost with the end of claremonts first era. or is it the structure immaterial in comparison to the power of the content.


Jason said...

As Doug noted, these patterns were not hard and fast rules. (Particularly the result of that second fight.) Even Claremont was inclined to complicate them or just plain mess with 'em.

As far as Claremont's departure, this may be unfair of me but the stuff immediately in Claremont's wake just reads like a cynical attempt to copy Claremont's style just for the sake of commerciality, with no real creative impetus to do so. So superficially, we did see a lot of open-ended stories and dangling plots, but whereas Claremont was following his own creative impulses, the deliberate obfuscation by Lobdell and Nicieza strike me more as dictated by editorial fiat. (And certainly this seems to be what was going on, based on what people have said about that era in X-Men's history.)

Morrison's run was only 25% the size of Claremont's (and if you count all the spinoff and satellite issues Claremont wrote, the percentage is even smaller), so I don't know that he could have had the same long-term things going on, with different stories weaving in and out. Just the space limitations would have made that tough. But others could speak to whether he did anything similar in terms of structure.

The same probably tends to apply to latter-day Claremont, whose X-Men runs have all ended up being brief as well. So I don't know ... but really, modern-day Claremont X-Men reads as much like an imitation to me as early 90s Lobdell and Nicieza. It has superficial similarities to the work of Claremont's heyday, but it's hard to see much soul in it.

ba said...

@jason - re: your last paragraph. claremont clearly wants to redo the 90s, thus the new series he's writing picking up as if no one else started writing x-men after issue 3 of the 90's series.

Jason said...

Ba ...

I know!

That new series is going to be awesome. Or, it will suck.

That new series is going to EXIST.

wwk5d said...

"In the end, all the Marauders (except Polaris and Sabretooth)"

Were they? I remember Prism was blown up, but as for the rest, I just thought they were beaten without being killed. Oh well.

Isaac P. said...

I like the narrative jump in the middle of the issue, but the start left me cold. I was looking forward to finally reading the origin of Lady Deathstrike, a character I never really knew much about, only to learn nothing other than what I already knew, that she has some vague blood-feud going on with Wolverine. The front end of this issue could have used at least a few footnotes if not more expository dialog.

Aaron Forever said...

Claremont's runs starting with his return in 2000 to when Excalibur got derailed in 2004 for House of M have been rather hindered by shifting editorial focus or writers from the opposite end of the Marvel Universe completely taking the premise of his book away from him for a giant line-wide crossover.

If you notice, when he came back in 2000 on the two core books, he was kind of right back in the swing of things, steadying his legs, but beginning with a slow burn introducing the Neo. I never had a problem with his stories then, but the comics industry had moved on from that style and Mark Powers pretty much made him drop all of that to re-align to the classic villains and re-tellings of his own stories in order to, much too late, align with the X-Men movie that turned out be very popular. His work, even after that, on the parent books, was pretty decent, in my opinion. When Quesada came along, replaced him with Morrison and, um, who? Casey? and he was shunted off to X-treme, he picked up some of those earlier ideas in the form of Vargas and the Destiny diaries (it's pretty much a given that he was plotting most of Alan Davis later run that introduced the concept by the time he took over with a credit in the book). Vargas was a fill-in for the Neo, a mutant-beyond-mutant, because the Neo had come to stand for a lot that was "wrong" about his return, and Marvel's attitude in general. Why, I don't know. It took Claremont coming back to introduce a new concept, new villains, a new direction, whereas the writers in the 10 years prior were just re-playing the "riffs" he'd established from 1975-1991. And the ones that came after his brief run in 2000, when it comes down to it. It's an unfortunate coincidence that the X-Men became Marvel's most visible property to the wider popular culture right in the middle of his return. He wanted to move things along, do something different, and Marvel's desire - need, actually - to make the X-Men a coporate entity that never moves forward with a property was as strong, or stronger, than it was when he left in 1991.

When he moved on to X-treme, and that team's existence in-story was very much a reaction to what was going on in the 2 top-tier books, he did a lot of great stuff with that. But I remember in interviews that they kept switching editors on him midstream, and those editors would come in and try to re-shape where the book should go. Which is what an editor ought to do, but there really should have been a book (X-treme) where Claremont got to tell the stories that, at least in terms of style, he wanted to tell. That didn't really happen, and then he got bumped back into Uncanny, importing most of the X-treme ideas. But it was too late. I think he was shell-shocked, and especially with the rather galling circumstances that accompanied the end of his Xavier/Magneto incarnation of Excalibur, he was pretty much defeated. There's some good stuff in his 3rd Uncanny run, but after he's booted from that in favor of Brubaker, you can see in things like The End and GeNext and Exiles and X-Men Forever that he's trying to adapt and just throwing in as many things as he possibly can hoping something sticks before another editor comes in and makes him change direction or pulls the plug or what have you.

Aaron Forever said...


I'm hoping that being off in his own universe(s) with X-Men Forever and GeNext, that he's able to calm it down and regain that masterful way of telling a sprawling, mature, slow-burn kind of story that his last phase in Uncanny that might even stretch back to the beginning of the Paul Smith era punctuated by the various crescendoes of events coming to a head.

Considering the publishing climate and how often low-selling books are cancelled or gutted, it's not likely.

As much as I look forward to the Forever trades (that's how I read everything these days), I usually walk away a little disappointed because he's not playing to his strengths. Everything he's written since his departure from Uncanny in 2006 has been rather unconvincingly high-octane, trying too hard to dazzle, and reads like an all-ages book. Nothing inherently wrong with any of those, but Claremont's best work is when he's using the characters and stories to express an idea, incrementally, rather than go for all-out action or jam-packed twists & turns.

He's off in his own little world now, so I'm hoping there's a return to form. But I think he's so shell-shocked from the way he's had to work the past 10 years in contrast to when he was the big shit in the 80's, that that kind of Claremontian storytelling is lost to us. At least coming from Claremont.