Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #223

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

“Omens & Portents”

The X-Men are once again based in San Francisco (predicting the relocation to that same city by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker in Uncanny #500 – whose publication is imminent as of this writing). This time the team are hiding out in Alcatraz, which is a fun idea. It’s a shame it will last only for a couple issues. In the meantime, after the exhilarating Marauders two-parter, Claremont shifts his focus back to the Storm/Naze “vision quest” material. Unfortunately, this was working just fine as a simmering subplot, e.g., issue 222’s bit with the oddly named “Eye Killers.” Here, Claremont simply recapitulates the previous month’s motif, wherein Naze manipulates Storm into fighting demons that – unbeknownst to her – actually are operating under his orders.

The most noteworthy aspect of Storm’s hallucinatory experience is the inclusion amongst her delirium-induced visions of a giant bear. This is the titular villain of 1984’s “Demon Bear” arc in New Mutants, wherein Danielle Moonstar – a Cheyenne Indian, just like Forge and Naze – faced down the monster, which had possessed her parents years earlier. Though the connection is never spelled out explicitly, the fanatic devourers of all things Claremont are invited to connect the dots: the bear is one of the demons that Forge freed years ago during the Vietnam War, an agent of the villain who we will learn over the course of this story arc is known as “the Adversary.”

That Claremont leaves this all for readers to intuit is an example of one of his quirks – something he’s been both criticized and praised for. But it only makes sense for a comic book writer to work this way. The medium is inherently dependent on readers’ willingness to fill in gaps; as Scott McCloud pointed out, the spark of imagination ignited by the “gutters” – the space between panels -- is what makes comics unique among artistic media. Claremont’s extending this principle to the gaps between different comic book series is a shrewd way to stimulate the reader on multiple levels at once. The effect, for those patient enough to collect and process all the relevant pages, is genuinely arresting.


Anonymous said...

But that way of writing is arguably bad writing- it just leaves confused readers. There's a description of one of Claremont's Dr.Strange issues on the Marvel Appendix site that sums up the problem- "Clea fights Dormammu's wraiths, which were sent by Mordo- OR a servant of the N'Gari-a lot of things were going on".When even readers who are paying attention can't figure out who sent the demons, then it's bad writing.

ba said...

With years and years of continuity, confabulation is sometimes necessary, and if you're going to read a stretch of 200 issues, you just have to accept it.

This issue didn't strike home for me, because I usually really enjoy the sort of in-between arc issues (where baseball is played, nightcrawler and wolverine fight for beer, etc.), this one was rather lacking in levity, which was sorely needed after the marauders. OK, we had to set up stonewall and co with freedom force (unnecessary), explain why storm is going to stab forge (unnecessary), and have destiny foretell the x-men's death (unnecessary!).

And hey, it ain't a demon bear unless it's drawn by Sienkiewicz!

Aaron Forever said...

Why's this a an example of bad writing, that he brings in the Demon Bear without explicitly saying that it's the one from NM?

In fact, isn't that how modern readers say that continuity should work? He's got a demon bear in there, but with regard to the story itself, it isn't really important that it's Dani Moonstar's demon bear, is it? So he doesn't mention it. Those who know it's the Demon Bear instead of just a demon bear benefit but it has no real significance to the story he's telling in this issue.

Again, I thought that was how modern continuity was supposed to work when put to use appropriately? It isn't bogged down with a bunch of re-iteration of the NM arc because it isn't necessary. It's just there without the fetishistic continuity porn that everyone's been bitching and moaning about the last 10 years.