[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue! ever! of Claremont's initial X-Men run! This one was supposed to be up last week, and last weeks was supposed to be up this week, but I screwed up the order, even though Jason Powell made it super clear. Sorry. ]
A-side: “You Must Remember This”
B-side: “The Fundamental Things”
In 1992, only a year or so after his departure from the X-books, Claremont was interviewed by The Comics Journal. Interviewer Kim Thompson notes at one point that, in order to prep, she had read the paperback collection of “Days of Future Present.” Claremont’s reply is sarcastic: “That was a good one.”
A story told over the course of four 1990 annuals, “Days of Future Present” is as bloated and horrible as a beached whale (thus, perhaps appropriate that it contains so many allusions to “Moby Dick”). When Kim Thompson notes that she couldn’t follow the storyline, Claremont agrees that it’s a clusterfuck, blaming the whole concept of the company crossover rather than the creative personnel involved. “That was done by three people who knew what we were doing,” he says, in reference to himself and the Simonsons.
It’s a charitable assessment. While Walt Simonson’s opening chapter in that year’s Fantastic Four annual is perfectly readable, the two middle episodes – both by Louise – are dreadfully written. Her New Mutants annual is a chaotic mess of characters and concepts without a single cohering element. The X-Factor annual is marginally more focused, but suffers from egregious characterization of the lead characters. The entire affair is so obnoxious, that Claremont’s conclusion in X-Men Annual #14 – while still suffering from the lingering logistical problems – feels like the window opening to let in a gentle spring breeze.
The opening pages contain some characteristically thoughtful narration, juxtaposed with a delightfully prosaic scene (illustrated by Art Adams, who drew all of Claremont’s best X-annuals) of Rachel Summers enjoying a burger and fries at a diner. The serene normalcy of the pictures, combined with the mellifluous poetry of the text, go a long way towards washing away the sheer, excruciating noise of the preceding chapters.
From there, Claremont does his level best to juggle a gigantic collection of characters (the entire casts of the previous three annuals, plus Gambit and Young Storm), and is more or less successful thanks to a sense of pacing and focus bred from years of experience. He also has the advantage of being the person who gets to answer the questions set up by the story’s premise (i.e., the Franklin Richards of the future appearing in the present). It’s refreshingly on the nose when Storm finally cuts through the chaos midway through to ask the question that should have been asked two chapters ago: How can Franklin have come from the “Days of Future Past” timeline when, in the original story, we saw him killed by a Sentinel? (It is emblematic of Louise Simonson’s work on the X-titles that this obvious question hadn’t come up already.)
Because of the crossover it concludes, the a-side of X-Men Annual #14 was never going to be a masterpiece. Nonetheless, it is a shrewdly constructed ending to a troubled story, redeeming much of the flaws and almost convincing us by the end that this was all a worthwhile saga. As always, Art Adams’ work is brilliant, and Claremont even makes Rachel Summers likable for a few pages.
As for the b-side, it is -- curiously -- set between the pages of the a-story, depicting a diversion in which Rachel and Franklin head to Madripoor for a chat with Wolverine. The first half comprises an abridged retelling of the X-Men’s origin (as related by Wolverine to Jubilee – it’s bemusing to think she’s been going along with Logan’s agenda for this long without really knowing anything about the X-Men).
It’s often been commented that there is something a bit dodgy in the X-Men’s Silver Age origin, with Charles Xavier endangering the lives of teenagers. Logan’s spin on the origin story here is almost amusing in its cynical response to such accusations: He chose kids “for the same reason the military does,” explains Wolverine. “They’re flexible … they adapt fast and well to new situations and regimes. They respond to authority. And they believe – give ‘em the right cause, the problem isn’t makin’ em go, it’s holdin’ ‘em back. Most of all, though, they have no real concept of mortality. Death, even as an abstract, doesn’t mean much – it’s something that happens to other folks, never to them, so they’re willing to throw themselves into a meat grinder without a second thought … where someone older might not only think, but question.” When Jubilee comments that Xavier sounds like a “nice piece o’ work,” Logan’s responds dryly with, “Simpler times.”
It’s not only funny, but it is a rather cogent and convincing spin on the origin story. It’s become fashionable in more recent years to look at some of the weirder aspects of the Silver Age and decide that entire miniseries are required to reconcile some of their more questionable aspects, usually mixing in a dark sensibility that was never part of the source material being re-evaluated (see: “Identity Crisis”). As with so many modern-day excesses, we can see in Claremont’s finest work a much simpler way to go – he answers the questions in a few panels, then moves on.
And thus ends Claremont’s final X-Men Annual. He would quit before the 1991 issue rolled around. It is serendipitous that his final story for it would actually be a reflection on the series’ beginnings. Though it is drastically low on incident – to the point where it can barely be called a “story” at all – its tone is eminently appropriate at this late stage of Claremont’s sage: Pensive and reflective, with a mature appreciation of the X-mythos’ rich history.