[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's Uncanny X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right or the label below. I ask a brief question at the end of this post.]
A common complain about Claremont – one that, as of this writing, I’ve come across online TWICE this past week, both times completely by accident – is that Claremont is overly verbose. His prose is dense and “impenetrable,” his word-choice inelegant. But this is the opening sentence of Uncanny X-Men #217: “Above Cape Wrath – on the north coast of Scotland – is a lonely slab of rock, jutting out of a sea that’s silver-slashed obsidian, rolling in the light of the just-risen moon.”
Later, in describing the scene when Alison sings at a local tavern:
“The pub falls silent as her voice – glazed into a rich contralto by the pure malt she’s indulged in – washes over the crowd. The songs are old, and she does them justice.”
Consider the crisp alliteration of “silver-slashed obsidian,” the tactile imagery of a voice “glazed into a rich contralto.” Claremont’s narrative voice has more in common with a classical poet than, say, Stan Lee, which is perhaps why superhero fans so often deride his talent as a wordsmith. But whereas the Marvel authors who tried to emulate Lee’s brilliant hyperbole (e.g., Len Wein, Gerry Conway) were more often than not excruciating, Claremont’s voice is richly imagistic, and actually takes into account rhythm and meter. The resulting phrases are rhetorically elegant, possessing a subtle flow that the work of his peers almost always lacked. The critics who say Claremont ought to have curbed his verbosity for the sake of narrative expediency are missing the point, and failing to get on board with Claremont’s enjoyment and relish of the English language. The people who are sick of the Wolverine catchphrase “I’m the best there is at what I do” have probably never noticed that it’s written in iambic pentameter.
Getting back to this issue, “Folly’s Gambit” serves primarily to consolidate the “Dazzler as diva” characterization first conceived by Ann Nocenti in the “Beauty and the Beast” mini. She rationalizes her cowardice -- “All I ever wanted was to make people happy,” she thinks to herself, “to bring some light and color and joy into their lives...” But the dark truth is that she is addicted to fame. She thinks she deserves to be in the spotlight, and becomes petulant when she can’t have what she wants. It’s interesting to watch her arc unfold over the next three years, as she becomes less and less sympathetic, the diva-aspect of her personality brought more and more to the fore. Indeed, Claremont will prove much more inclined to bring out the worst in every member of this third generation of X-Men, possibly because they lack that bright and beautiful Cockrum sheen of purity to protect them.
Claremont has fun with the Juggernaut here too. That he’s a Dazzler fan is a humorous touch (“I got your records, I saw you perform, I love your music”), as is his subsequent reluctance to beat on Alison TOO badly.
A good issue, this one. Lightweight, certainly, but lots of fun.
[A great point about Claremont's word choices, Jason. There is something odd, though, about a writer who as you have pointed out cares about language so much -- and even has Banshee name drop Joyce -- ending up primarily as a comics writer rather than a novelist. (How do his novels compare on this point?) The phrases you point out are well constructed but the iambic of "I'm the best there is at what I do" is the genius phrase for comics I think because its poetry is very subtle. Like Dickens' famously iambic pentameter "It was the best of times it was the worst of times" it does not scream I AM POETRY but it sticks in your head and you always remember the phrase without knowing exactly why. I think the other quotations you point out deserve the praise you give them but they also unbalance the comic just a bit -- that kind of language really draws attention to itself, and I am not sure that is what comic book captions should do. This is a problem so subtle, and based in Claremont being a good writer, that is barely deserves the name "problem" but I wonder if "silver slashed obsidian," which might work well in a poem, and is certainly a nice turn of phrase, is a little precious for a comic book? Raymond Chandler's language as used by Frank Miller works fantastically for comics because it is so terse. Also, and just for fun, I do not think it would be totally out of left field to compare Claremont's editorially mandated repetitive phrases used to re-introduce characters every issue (e.g. "I'm the best there is at what I do") to Homer's use of the same adjectives to describe places and people -- the sea in Homer, for example, is always "wine dark." Those phrases were commonplace in ancient Greece because they fit the strict meter of ancient poetry and so worked every time. That you point out that Wolverine's is also metrically sound is really interesting. ]