Tuesday, August 25, 2009

X-Men Annual #12b

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue analysis of Claremont's X-Men, continuing to school the hell out of us all.]

“I Want My X-Men”

Teamed once again with the artist of Ann Nocenti’s “Longshot” miniseries, Claremont uses the b-side of the 1988 annual to again revisit that story’s bizarre, quasi-satirical universe and its ruler -- the corpulent, superhuman media mogul Mojo. The story, despite its brevity, is as bloated as its antagonist with meta-fictional observations about the state of the X-Men franchise in 1988.

We open with Mojo recounting the ending of the previous year’s crossover, “Fall of the Mutants” – his long synopsis regularly interspersed with Charles Schultz-esque interjections of “AUGH!” Is Claremont making fun at his own convoluted storylines – or perhaps, many readers’ frustrated reactions to them?
More to the point, Claremont here is mocking the ongoing commercialization of the X-Men, casting Mojo as Marvel Comics (or its shareholders, perhaps) who are more concerned with the profit potential of the characters than they are with the actual stories. Matters become particularly blatant when Claremont pulls himself (along with Adams, Orzechowski, and – presumably – Bob Harras) into the storyline. The comic-book version of Claremont (unnamed, except as “Chris” in a jokey editorial caption one page later) berates Mojo/Marvel thusly: “I warned you – I said, go for quality, not quantity -- but nnnNOO, you just had to keep exploit —” [he’s cut off when Mojo magically shrinks Claremont’s head into that of a cartoon baby]. Three years before the fact, Claremont is correctly predicting this argument (X-Men as creative property vs. commercial one) coming to a “head,” and Claremont losing against his monolithically powerful opponent.

From there, we proceed to a sequence in which Mojo creates one X-Men spinoff after another. Note that in 1988, the amount of X-Men spinoffs could still be counted on one hand. Though the writing was on the wall, the franchise was still relatively contained, and would not proliferate to absurd levels until the 1990s, soon after Claremont quit in frustration. Though he portrays himself as martyr in “I Want My X-Men” (albeit a whiny one), the fact is that Claremont – with this story – correctly sees where the franchise is heading. In the images of Mojo as he magically whips up one spin-off team after another – throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks – we see the future of the X-Men: a franchise that has become the victim of its own “excess success.” Once the hottest thing in comics, the X-Men line is now a bloated parody of itself, as Marvel overstuffs the shelves with “... X-Men after X-Men. Mutants without end ... skinny X-Men, fat X-Men, giant X-Men, tiny X-Men, musical X-Men, dancing X-Men, X-Men fish, X-Men insects, chimps in X-men costumes, X-Men mimes ... midget X-Men, X-Men made of straw or brick or mint chocolate ice cream! Each group of X-Men more boring, more tiresome, more ... malodorous ... than the one before ...”

Claremont saw it coming, all along.

17 comments:

Arthur said...

This is where it starts getting really depressing. The end is in sight. Things start getting more and more out of control, the crossovers get bigger, all leading up to X-Men # 4 -- the end of an era.

At this point, I was a voracious X-Men reader (since Uncanny X-Men 181), but I was beginning to tire of Claremont a little. I got tired of the stilted dialogue, the spoken recaps of everyone's powers in every issue... but he always did enough different things and tied them together to keep them interesting. You weren't sure, even this late in the game, what was going to happen next.

The end is in sight, but on the other hand, the first Genosha story is next! Can't wait!!

Art

Arthur said...

Oh, and I'm surprised you didn't mention the upcoming X-Babies mini! Not only does Marvel not get the joke, they have become the joke!

Art

Jason said...

Art,

See the comments for the previous entry. I did mention it, and -- well, okay, to be fair, we don't know how the series is going to be handled. It might be just as satirical as this original "Babies" story was.

But yeah, it is not without irony that the latest X-Spinoff is a series built around characters created to mock X-spinoffs.

(I like the preview art, though. Very Bill Watterson-esque!)

You make a good point about Claremont's ticks getting to be a bit much. I remember being pretty cool with X-Men at this time, but the relentless tough-guy vernacular of the Wolverine solo series grated at me a bit.

Still, any high-output writer is going to have his stock phrases that he returned to. Hell, even Shakespeare re-used the same turns of phrase. And he only wrote 37 plays. Claremont wrote 350 X-comics from 1974-1991!!!

I guess what I'm saying is, Claremont is better than Shakespeare.

Gary said...

This seems the appropriate place to ask: Jason, what are your thoughts on the Excalibur Special "Mojo Mayhem", the followup to this story where the X-Babies are pursued by the relentless Agent, only to return to the Mojoverse firmly having the whip hand? How does it extend from the "X-Men will be proliferated out of control and Marvel will drive them into the ground" attitude that you see in this story? By the time the whole tale is told, Marvel is under the thumb of the X-Men, who will get what they want.

Jimtron said...

Oh, my. I didn't get ANY of that as a kid. How prescient and depressing at the same time.

Arthur said...

Still, any high-output writer is going to have his stock phrases that he returned to. Hell, even Shakespeare re-used the same turns of phrase. And he only wrote 37 plays. Claremont wrote 350 X-comics from 1974-1991!!!

I guess what I'm saying is, Claremont is better than Shakespeare.


Yeah, that Shakespeare was a mountebank. I tell ya, my English lit classes would've been a lot more interesting if we covered X-Men!

With regards to Claremont-speak, I remember giving a copy of an issue to an older acquaintance of mine. After starting to read it (it was issue what? 213? The Windsor Smith one with Dazzler and Malice) he proceeded to mock it mercilessly. His take was that it was so simply written, that everything was broken into short sentences. He compared it to "See Jack run. Run Jack Run." Needless to say, I didn't appreciate his tone or criticism and shied away from him after that.

As much as he likes those short sentences and phrases, you gotta give props to Claremont's vocabulary. I don't know how many times I've had to look up words like "supernal" and "internecine" in my dictionary.

Moore and Miller were on the rise at this time and despite the complex storylines, Claremont still came off as somewhat stodgy compared to them.

BTW, I wish you were covering New Mutants. While the X-Men went off to become "legends" the New Mutants were back home in the "real world". I think I liked the NM better at this point because they were more "normal". Plus, some of the plotlines overlapped. You love CC's rehab of Magneto? Well a big chunk of his development is in NM!

Any chance of you going back and doing the New Mutants or are you going to be Claremonted out after X?

Anonymous said...

This is J. Powell here ... posting anonymously because gmail is blocked at work ...

Gary -- Interesting thought on "Mojo Mayhem." Claremont's control would have probably already been slipping a bit out of his control by that time (around August of 1989) ... so, I don't know -- wish-fulfillment perhaps? Or was Claremont predicting that it was soon to be a bunch of young, immature, bratty hotshots who would be dictating creative policy at Marvel? (After all, the story ends not with the X-*MEN* on top, but the X-*babies* ...)

Art, you liked the New Mutants better at *this* point? i.e., concurrent with X-Men Annual #12? That was when Louise Simonson was writing them. Can't say I'm a big fan of that era. (Although Bret Blevins' art looks great. It holds up really well too. Much better than the artist who replaced him ... what was his name again?)

You're the second person in two days to ask me if I'll cover New Mutants after this. I can't say I have any plans to at the moment ... to cover CC's run would be another 60 entries --- yikes. I dunno.

Apart from the too-brief Bill Sienkiewicz era, the Art Adams special (which I already blogged about), and a few great Magneto issues here and there ... there are great swaths of Claremont's New Mutants run that is probably only of interest to Claremont completists. Team America, Nova Roma (gladiators!), the Arena (more gladiators!), alternate-future-overload, some stuff with the Beyonder ...

As a Claremont fan, I always find stuff to enjoy amid that material (though, boy, does the gladiatorial combat stuff try my patience ... BOTH times he does it). Still, it's hard to imagine dedicating the per-issue time and attention that I've been giving the X-Men run to the NM run.

So, guess we'll see ... ? Maybe a five-part installment covering one year each of it, or something.

Let's see if I get through this one first. I do still have over 40 more to write, after all ...

Arthur said...

Art, you liked the New Mutants better at *this* point? i.e., concurrent with X-Men Annual #12? That was when Louise Simonson was writing them. Can't say I'm a big fan of that era.

Ew, we're up to the Simonson New Mutants era already? Never mind. I was thinking of the stuff at the end of Claremont's run, the Magneto issues. I liked that part of the run as much as the Sienkiewicz stuff!

So, no New Mutants... what about X-Men Forever? Any interest in continuing with that?

I want you to continue to entertain me!

Dance, monkey, dance!
Art

Jason said...

I do really really like the three-parter just after Secret Wars II, involving the New Mutants being taken into the White Queen's school. Magneto then tries to get them back, but Frost calls the Avengers to stop him. The third part in particular is fantastic. Claremont makes the Avengers look like total pricks, which I am always a fan of. And it has one of my favorite Claremont moments ever. Magneto tries to convince the Avengers that he's switched sides, and says, essentially, you've got the Sub-Mariner on your team. He used to be a villain? Why can he be a good guy but I can't? And Captain America says something like, "Before he was a villain, Namor was my ally during World War II!"

And -- dry as a martini -- Magneto says, "How fortunate for him, Captain. I didn't have that option."

I LOVE that line, with all my heart and soul.

(And X-Men Forever ... yeah, I should probably do something about that. As Geoff noted when it was announced, the creation of "Forever" has changed the Claremont blog project "from Herculean to Sisyphean." :)

ba said...

I think you should skip X-Men Forever. It's not canon, and really, it's...unfortunate to compare claremont's work before 91 and after (see x-treme x-men).

I would be down with that S&M team of x-men from the annual...though matt fraction attempted something freakishly similar in uncanny recently, and it...didn't work.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, funnily, when you're a kid, all those variant X-Men teams actually seem kind of cool: the Transformer version especially.

And, as an adult, one finds it's that S&M team that captures the imagination for some reason ...

X-Men Forever not being canon is water off the proverbial duck's back, to me. :) For one thing, I consider everything post-1991 to be non-canon anyway, and for another, it's not as if non-canonicity stops anyone discussing the X-Men films or Ultimate X-Men, or the cartoons.

But, I don't disagree that the latter-day X-work is wanting. I can understand why he keeps returning to it -- financially, it's his best option. Anything non-"X" related he does fares miserably. ("Big Hero Six" sold abysmally, despite it having a lot more pep and freshness than anything "X" that he's done for ten years.) I do wish circumstances were such that Claremont could just do something different, but the readers aren't there anymore.

"Forever" is a step up from his other X stuff, though. (I find "The End" and "GeneXt" both to be pretty dire, and I never bothered to read X-Treme.) It has its flaws and they are not inconsiderable, but -- on the other hand -- he killed off Wolverine, and that is awesome in at least six different ways.

-- JasonP

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

There are actually chunks of X-Treme that pretty good - it's a very spotty series that frequently falls prey to Claremont's latter day ticks (mind control! gladiators!), and relentless pushing of his pet characters that just don't work, but there's some good stuff in there. Enough that it's worth a look.

Anonymous said...

Could Mojo and Major Domo's creation of wave after wave of X-teams only to quickly dispose of them (in their case, retracting the platform beneath them and sending them to their doom) a prescient commentary on the comic industry's endless creation of brand-new characters only to kill them off left and right? The past several years of mega-crossovers from Marvel and DC are the cases in point.

Arthur said...

ba: I've been enjoying the hell out of X-Men Forever. I gave up reading the "real" (read:canon) issues a long time ago. X-Men Forever actually gets me back to the LCS every two weeks.

The two things that bother me are Kitty's claw (um, what?) and Sabretooth hanging around the mansion. Claremont actually responded to me on the Comix-Fan forums about Sabretooth - the Marauder version is apparently an inferior clone. He really needs to address that in the book.

Jason, not only is killing Wolverine off all kinds of cool, but I admit I loved seeing a blind Sabretooth in the kitchen, eating a bowl of "Wheaty-Os" and beer with a ladle!

What happened to Paul Smith? I used to love his stuff, but I didn't like his work on the latest XMF.

Art

Dave Mullen said...

Hmmm, Looking back I can honestly say I enjoyed everything Claremont wrote up to his exit in X-Men #3, yes even the Siege Perilous stuff wasn't bad, I thought destroying the team like that was very daring and experimental but it did carry on too long perhaps...
Really though this discussion brings up a very valid point, back in the 80s i'd read anything and there weren't many books i activly disliked. I did however totally dislike X-Factor, a very strange book that didn't seem to have a soul or a purpose though it has to be said it was pretty good when Walt Simonson stepped aboard for his stint(!) New Mutants was a similar deal as while there were very good issues the book in general seemed a bit pointless ultimatly, just an experiment that had gone on far too long....
for some reason the X-franchise books of this time never seemed to have an actual reason to be, they were just there, doing their thing.

You can't just lay this problem with quality control at the X-mens door though, The Avengers had a number of spin-offs at this time (late 80s), so did Spider-man.
Not all of these were bad books but it did have an effect in diluting the core book and stifling the characters 'voice', if you spin Wolverine into his own ongoing book you automatically ensure that actually this guy has no real danger to face as he's needed in both his own book and the team-book, he has in effect now become creatively untouchable because of those dual 'owners' individual needs.
Let's be frank in admitting that's a big part of what makes X-men Forever so good - everything is again fresh and open to real risktaking. If Wolverine 'dies' you aren't quite sure if/when/how he can possibly make it back and that's the fantastic strength of having a strong writer at the helm who is allowed to do his own thing with the characters
X-Men Forever works because it simplifies the team, makes them accessable, and returns the risk factor that made Claremonts original run so very succesful. Now Anything goes, again!

Gary said...

Politely: they are "tics", not "ticks".

Jason said...

Politely: Go to hell.

:) Totally kidding. Thanks, Gary! I've gotten lax since I quit copy editing.