Tuesday, August 31, 2010

X-Men 1-3, part 3

[Jason Powell started writing these from Wisconsin, years ago. He came to New York City this summer because his science fiction musical, which I will review soon, was accepted to the New York City Fringe Festival. Today he leaves New York City, on the same day his blog about the final Claremont X-Men issue in the initial run goes up. There will be like 6 more posts from him in the next six weeks, epilogue type stuff, but we have reached the end of an era folks.]

“Mutant Genesis”

(Part Three of a Three-Part Blog)

I do wish to end on a positive note after the last two entries about this arc. So let it be said that -- troublesome politics and backstage dramas aside -- “Mutant Genesis” is a genuinely fun superhero story. Jim Lee and Scott Williams were at the top of their game in 1991, and their enthusiasm is evident in every panel of X-Men 1-3. The artists adorn both the plot and the visuals with a lot of slick, sci-fi trappings: Note the abundance of sci-fi technology in almost every setting, and how many of the characters wear brand-new costumes, tricked out with extra bucks and pouches (common in 90s superhero couture). Even Professor Xavier’s chair is now a piece of science-fiction machinery.

Claremont, while not nearly so enthusiastic about the comic at this point, clearly has no intention of being outpaced by his young collaborators. Displaying all the confidence of a master craftsman, the author produces text that matches the visuals at every turn. Lee and Williams clearly want the X-Men to seem as futuristic and “cool” as possible, so that’s what Claremont delivers. Even Xavier, the perennial “mentor” figure, has become something of a bad-ass (continuing the characterization that began with his pummeling of a Skrull in Uncanny 277).

By the same token, he also still has a huge emotional investment in these characters, having lived with them for a decade and a half. By all accounts, including his own, Claremont thought of them almost as real people. (His first prose novel, First Flight, is dedicated to “Charley, Scott, Jean, Ororo, Logan, Peter, Kurt, Sean, Kitty, Rogue, Betsy, Alex, Ali – and all the rest – who helped (and help) pay the rent!”). That affection shines through to the end as well. For all that they are infused with Lee’s sense of contemporary coolness, the X-Men are still portrayed with characteristic sensitivity and depth: Consider Rogue’s plea to Magneto, which displays continuity from the recent Savage Land arc that increased the two characters’ emotional closeness. At every turn, Claremont and Lee strike a beautiful balance between characters who seem remarkably sexy and hip yet still emotionally relatable. Of course, this is, to some degree or another, what Claremont had been doing for the entire 17 years.

Note also that despite the fact that he’s leaving, Claremont still employs his favorite trick of sprinkling smaller mysteries amongst the broader goings-on, to be explicated at some later date: The “Delgado” mystery in the first issue is absolutely Claremontian; while I have no evidence to back it up, I’d bet money it was Claremont’s idea and not Lee’s.
Darragh Greene, a favorite comics commentator of mine, writes about his experience of the first issue of X-Men, saying:

“My first American superhero comic was adjectiveless X-Men 1, so I just caught the tail-end of Claremont's long run writing those characters; but those three issues made an indelible impression on me. (Indeed, without them, I probably would not have gone so deep into either the genre or the medium.) They were a swansong, of course, but they were all the more powerful and passionate for that. Naturally, I was blown away by Jim Lee's art, but Claremont's assured command of language, the theatrical fluency and elegant rhythm of the words, elevated the collaboration to a dazzling work of art/literature whose epic grandeur and deep humanity fired my fourteen-year-old imagination.

I had to hunt down the back issues of Uncanny X-Men, of course, and when I did, I realized that there had been a slump in quality prior to Lee coming onboard. After he came on as regular penciller, and began taking a hand in the plotting, the book began to fizz again. I think Claremont certainly became better with the right collaborator, and I think Lee was such a collaborator even if I now know that Claremont was not happy with Lee's plotting and plot changes. Whatever the situation, there was a synergy that worked, and the book was better for it.

So, as a reader, I think Claremont's run ended on a high whatever his own thoughts were at the time. Certainly, ever afterwards, I judged the quality of the X-Books with reference to those first three startling issues of X- Men, but nothing came close.”


Though Greene is perhaps singularly eloquent in the expression of it, his experience is far from unique. Upon its release in 1991, X-Men #1 was the best-selling comic ever. Many people bought and read it, including scores of fans who had never read an X-Men comic-book before. And unlike two earlier massive Marvel best-sellers, McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 and Liefeld’s X-Force #1, Claremont and Lee’s series actually delivered on the hype. The issue was so effervescent and absorbing that it turned brand-new readers into lifelong X-Men fans.

This is part of the brilliance of Claremont’s departure – to leave on such an extraordinarily high note. His seventeen years as writer of The X-Men is not only remarkable just for the sheer length of time itself, but for the fact that – from his first issue to his last – he was hooking vast amounts of readers. As he noted himself in an interview in 1992, the average X-Men fan when he quit hadn’t been born yet when he first started.

Having spent years now attempting to enumerate what makes each individual chapter of Claremont’s opus a unique jewel unto itself, I feel qualified to argue that just about any given issue – including his very last -- contains all the qualities that made the series a success: Fun, intelligence, eloquence, action, intrigue, an unabashed affection for the characters, and an unqualified respect for his readers.

The final monologue of X-Men #3 contains an unabashedly humanist message, a call for everyone in the world to do everything he or she can “to leave our world better than we found it.” The very fact that we live, Xavier says, “gives us the obligation to try.” Considering just how many people have been positively affected by the X-Men franchise – especially after the widespread dissemination of the mythos thanks to television and film adaptations – and considering just how much of that franchise is the invention of Claremont, it seems fair to say that the author has certainly followed his own advice. Claremont put his heart and soul into The X-Men, and infused the entire mythology – for all time, I would argue – with an irresistible power and pull. John Byrne once said that every writer and artist who worked on The X-Men after Neal Adams were just riding the wave that Adams created, but I disagree. Adams’ influence was strong, but eventually it dissipated in the wake of a much larger phenomenon. It is Christopher S. Claremont who built this mythology to last.

34 comments:

Jason said...

Oddly enough, Darragh just recently learned of these blogs and has sent me some feedback on them. (He didn't know I was about to post a long quote from him!)

He also tells me that the person who pointed out that Gambit was the first Lothario character to grace the X-Men mythos (see the blog for Uncanny 267) was the very learned and erudite Mr. Stephen Segal. Thanks, Stephen!

Ken Dynamo said...

i started picking up x-men every month starting in the summer of 1990 during which i turned 9 years old. i specifically remember after issue 269 my appetite became insatiable (even though i had a hell of a time figuring out what was going on most of the time). so while it wasnt the adjectiveless x-men that first pulled me in, it was still the Lee-Claremont tandem that got me hooked for life.

20 years later, and having finally read every claremont penned x-men, i stumbled across your invaluable efforts, Jason, and just as i never wanted the claremont run to end, i will dearly miss the regular installments of claremont analysis and discussion here. thanks for all the time and effort. at least there 6 more posts to look forward to!

Jason said...

Thanks so much, Ken!

Geoff has told me that I am welcome to keep writing stuff for the blog if I want to. So we'll see what happens. Maybe like Claremont himself, I'll find myself unable to stop talking about the X-Men.

I have been reading X-Men Forever, and I do have thoughts about it. So we'll see ...

In the meantime, though, thanks for reading, everybody!

Mitch Montgomery said...

Jason- Whenever anyone talks about this series of blogs and the duration of this project from now on, I am going to respond by saying, "By the Python, those were bright years." Out of principle.

A random observation: the 1993 Sega Genesis X-Men game ends with that same quote about leaving the world in better condition than you found it, which struck me as a little heavy for a video game at the time!

On the subject of X-Men helping people: as a teenage boy in GA who had trouble talking to girls, wasn't any good at sports, and liked theater, a comic about cool place where everyone was appreciated for their specific uniquenesses really did the trick.

Geoff Klock said...

I know I have said this before but it is worth saying again. I was obsessed with that 1993 Sega game, even though I only sort of knew the characters from like having seen the cartoon twice. Then I got sick. My mom went to get me medicine and noticed at the pharmacy comic books which she thought were based off of the game, and got me one. Uncanny X-Men 301 was my first ever comic book, which means I literally started reading comics like the MONTH Jason Powell stopped.

It is weird that I can't really remember what appealed to me about comics at first. I know I liked Gambit and his exploding playing cards, and impossible Rogue romance. Other than that the one thing I remember really loving was this trading card with Havok on it, his hands crackling with yellow and black circles of energy. To this day that image still means comics to me.

I think what I really liked about the X-Men was the feeling of massive history -- mostly Claremont history it turned out. You were just in the middle of this massive story. People say that alienates new readers, but it hooked me in. I wanted to know who everyone was, and that just leads you to more and more comics as you go.

Arthur said...

I'm surprised the "learned and erudite Mr. Stephen Segal" was able to come up with such insights in between kicking all that ass in his movies!

(I'm even more surprised that the aforementioned Stephen Segal isn't former X-Men writer Steven T. Seagle either!)

Now that the main body of your blog posts is done, I hope we'll see a blog post by Geoff. I'm curious to see how his perception of Claremont and his X-Men run has changed. I haven't read his book, so I'm not sure what his specific complaints about Claremont were, so it may be helpful to give a summary of his starting point.

Jason, what would say are the worst things about Claremont's run? Were you bothered by the dialogue and stock phrases?

When re-reading these issues, I can certainly appreciate that Claremont has a certain style - and I tended to love love love his descriptive captions - but I can't imagine some of his dialogue spoken by a living being. Has anyone in the 20th Century onward ever responded to "I love you." with "And I, you"?

@Geoff, in your next book, could you please say something disparaging about Claremont's New Mutants run? Maybe it'll goad Jason into writing about them.

Art

Teebore said...

@Geoff: You were just in the middle of this massive story. People say that alienates new readers, but it hooked me in. I wanted to know who everyone was, and that just leads you to more and more comics as you go.

I couldn't agree more. I jumped into X-Men smack dab in the middle (Uncanny 290) and the confusion I felt turned me on, not off. I was excited at all the years of history there was to discover about these characters.

I've long since argued that a strong sense of history isn't a negative when it comes to comic books.

@Jason: I couldn't agree more about Claremont being the driving force behind the X-Men mythology over Adams. While Adams inspired much of Claremont's early work (as you've pointed out), he quickly moved beyond it, and everything going on in X-Men to this day has its root in Claremont's X-Men, for good and bad, whether in agreement with or opposition to his take on the characters.

Adams was hugely influential, but Claremont is the benchmark to which all subsequent stories are held.

neilshyminsky said...

I have to agree, obviously, with everyone who points out how impressively epic this final story is - that it's one of the few closing chapters to a long run that lives up to its billing.

And, similarly, Jason's in peak-form, here. I wondered, at first, why he didn't tackle X-Men 1-3 individually, but this three part format really did work out for the best.

(And like the goodbye to Claremont on the final page of X-Men 3, it feels like the end of this series has just been sprung on me by surprise. Where did the time go?)

Ryan said...

Not much to add that hasn't been said, but I've been reading along with these issue summaries as they've been posted and it's increased my appreciation of Claremont's run greatly. I can only thank you for posting them.

I too started after the Claremont run, with Uncanny 313 and adjectiveless 32. Both issues continued a 2-part story from the previous issue, with the stories themselves being respectively the prelude to the next X-universe crossover and a story designed to clear up some continuity issues regarding Psylocke/Revanche. Difficult to think of a more user-unfriendly entry point, but I loved it and started working backwards.

Jeff said...

Totally agree on the continuity making me want to go back and read more. Also in agreement that I'm really going to miss this series. Jason, this was an awesome project.

On a side note, it's kind of nice that Jim Lee's next X-Men story resolves a dangling Claremont plot, with the Fenris/Hand storyline from 268 getting wrapped up. And his Mojo issues do the same. The first time reading I did not realize this, so it was kind of nice to see Lee at least attempting to something that flows naturally out of Claremont's run. After he left, that's when things really took a nose dive.

J said...

I've always been an X-Fan but I didn't really appreciate Claremont until I read this blog (Started reading in the 90s at the very end of the original run). Then I picked up the first 32 issues of Classic X-men and after I read those I started buying more Uncanny issues and now I've read all the Claremont run. So thanks for turning me on to it I guess.

The only observation I have for X-Men 1-3 is that Jim Lee/Chris Claremont team was only around for about 15 issues (less if you throw out the crossovers) and they managed to tell a classic Wolverine story, a classic Wolverine in Japan story, TWO classic Magneto stories, a classic Savage Land story, a classic space opera, AND create the best selling comic of all time. Not bad at all.

Anonymous said...

Like Geoff and others, I was drawn in by the continuity and history when I became a regular X-Men reader back in 1990 at the age of 9. But it was a specific kind of continuity, one that ties back to Jason's description of how Claremont viewed his characters as real people. It wasn't a continuity of a sequence of big "events" or climactic battles. It was a continuity of character growth. As Jason has mentioned, X-Men 1-3 feature callbacks to previous Magneto issues - 150, 275, etc. But rather than focusing on the dynamic action in these issues (a sinking submarine, a battle in a dinosaur-filled savage land), their significance is obviously that they are turning points in Magneto's development as a person. As someone approaching the period of rapid personal development that is adolescence, there was something very appealing about discovering that these flashy, imagination-catching characters had a "secret history" of personal development that I could follow if I could just track down the issues.

Which reminds me of when I became a regular X-Men reader. I had read a few issues before, but it was purchasing X-Men Classic 50 (reprinting Uncanny 146) and Uncanny 267 off the shelves at the same time that sold me. The two issues were so different and I just had to know how they got from 146 to 267. 146 was the second Arcade story, featuring the clear lines and "primary color" superheroics of Dave Cockrum. The setting (an Eastern European castle) and the villain (Dr. Doom) were regal. The story was instantly accessible. In contrast, 267 featured the dense, murky art of Portacio/Lee and dark, muted colors. The shabby setting of the airplane graveyard was a stark contrast to Doom's castle. It wasn't entirely clear to me what was happening in 267. Storm was the only character to appear in both issues (characteristically, in transformed states in both issues), but in dramatically "lower" circumstances in 267. Now this was a story that moved! What had happened in those intervening issues? Contrast that to, say, Spiderman. Had Spiderman's circumstances materially changed over that same period?

I had a similar feeling when I first read the Asgardian Wars trade (and had not, at that point, read the intervening issues between the two stories contained in the trade). How did they get from the status quo of the Alpha Flight story to the status quo of the New Mutants story? These were characters that were growing, changing, moving in and out of social circles - things I could relate to. I was pretty amused when I later realized how close in time these two stories were.

-- Mike

Anonymous said...

Also, I have to take this opportunity to throw in a defense of Uncanny 146, since I hadn't discovered this blog when that issue was discussed. Jason, you made totally valid criticisms of that issue in the context of Claremont's larger narrative. I do have to say that for all its flaws, 146 made a great introductory issue. Splitting up the team is a tired standby of team books and prevented Claremont from deploying one of his trademark strengths (i.e., constantly finding new ways for the characters to interact and combine their powers during the action sequences). At the same time, this made for easily grasped introductions to the characters. It also allowed for some visuals that really stayed with me: Wolverine against the checkerboard, Angel on the perch, etc. I also thought the ending - "Nightcrawler's disappeared!" - was a great inversion of your typical comic book cliffhanger. Rather than ending the issue with the characters being plunged into danger (which isn't going to create genuine suspense, because even at 9 I had noticed that most cliffhangers were resolved without any real threat to the heroes on the first two pages of the following issue), the issue ends with a character emerging from danger. The reader just doesn't know how he did it. I then spent the next weeks running various possible escape scenarios through my head, which was probably another reason the issue captured me. But ultimately the reason I have such affection for this issue - by no means a standout issue in Claremont's run - has to be for the reason you articulated in your penultimate paragraph. That's a great distillation of Claremont's run and, I would argue, successful serial storytelling in general.

-- Mike

Evan said...

When I was young, I also started with x-men #1, and read faithfully until the age of apocolypse when I just got tired of it and swore off mainstream super hero comics for the next 11 years. I really thought the impressiveness of x-men 1-3 was a fluke.

After reading you blog I now own a nearly complete x-men collection (thanks to the help of tpbs and the oddly easy to aquire vg and vf $1 x-men bins).

My wife hates the ten additional comic boxes that have entered into her life, but I've been having a great time digging back into this genre that I had long since discounted.

Thanks for the reading!! Please give serious thought to looking at x-men forever. Many times I've felt baffled by certain choices claremont made there, but in my reading I've just finished the 2004 period of x-books, so I'm starting to really see the creative dialogue he has between his return to the 616 stuff and when he feels he has full control over his universe.

Teebore said...

@Mike: it was a specific kind of continuity, one that ties back to Jason's description of how Claremont viewed his characters as real people. It wasn't a continuity of a sequence of big "events" or climactic battles. It was a continuity of character growth.

I LOVE this point; in all my years of talking about how continuity done right can be a turn on to comics, not a turn off, I've never thought of it that way, but you're right: it's the characters' personal histories that hook readers: you want to find out how they got to this place, and nobody did that better than Claremont.

I remember reading X-Men #1, having never read #150, #200 or #275, and being excited to go back and do so. Not because I was excited to see Magneto sink a Russian sub, but because I was excited to see the beginning of his transition away from outright villainy as referenced in X-Men #1's story.

Jeremy said...

Jeff: Whenever I re-read Claremont's X-men, I usually read those Hand/Mojo issues as well. It wraps up some dangling plot threads, and it still has Jim Lee being Jim Lee all over the place(even in the later Mojo issues look a bit rushed).

Ray Van Buskirk said...

I have read Uncanny X-men since issue #104 came out on the spinner rack at 7-11, all the way through to now. This blog has been an absolute joy to read and, like many others readers, has inspired me to go back and read all the issues as you have written about them. And in doing so, has enabled me to see all these wonderful stories in a new and, oftentimes, different light. Thank you Jason.

Anonymous said...

What a read!

Jason said...

Online access has been limited for me, as has time, because I've been readjusting to life in Milwaukee (ugh). So, got some catching up to do!

From Art: "Jason, what would say are the worst things about Claremont's run? Were you bothered by the dialogue and stock phrases?"

Interesting question. I've been focusing on the positive for years, so it's difficult to answer, even though I willfully acknowledge that the run is not perfect.

Bothered by the dialogue and stock phrases, nope, not at all. For me, it was part of the heightened reality of that world, and I put it in a category with Shakespeare's heightened language. (Nobody talked like those people either, and Shakespeare had plenty of stock phrases as well.)

Let's see, things about Claremont's run I didn't like ...

Well, Rachel Summers. She was Claremont's attempt to recreate Alan Moore's Linda "Captain UK McQuillan, but while Moore's arc for Linda was tight and controlled, Claremont beat us over the head with Rachel's whiny crap for years, and never resolved it. (Making Rachel a Hound was a good twist, and it led to a great, fetish-y costume, but it didn't make the character any less insufferable.)

Amara Aquilla of the New Mutants. The whole Nova Roma concept is too large and bizarre an idea to just drop into the world and then never explore. (Though Claremont is finally giving it more attention in "New Mutants Forever.") Amara's whole culture-shock was always kind of glossed over. Meanwhile, her mutant power is similarly too large and ridiculous to be practical. "Lava blasts" are one thing, but the idea that every time she gets pissed, volcanoes sprout, no matter where she is? But at least I'm glad that Claremont didn't spread these two horrible ideas over two different characters. It was all on Amara.

(X-Men 189, the team-up of Rachel Summers and Amara Aquilla, is a true horror.)

Jason said...

So those are some Claremont characters I hated.

I dislike that Claremont would abandon plotslines and -- more specifically -- mysteries. The whole Nightcrawler/Mystique thing was introduced in freaking 1980. He had ELEVEN YEARS to answer it and he never did. That one kind of pisses me off. (He back to this one in his "Forever" series as well, and handled the "reveal" horribly.)

I've never really heard Claremont give a decent explanation for *why* he did this. I can understand wanting to keep the mystery going and extending things for a long time. But to drop stuff completely and NEVER come back to it ... annoying. (Actually, Patrick Meaney's interview reveals that Claremont WAS going to finally do the origin of Nightcrawler. Uncanny 204, where he rescues Judith Rassyndill from Arcade, was going to be Part One. But the story "wasn't working," so he just abandoned it. Gah!)

And lastly -- and maybe this does count as a "stock phrase" of his, or at least a "stock device" -- I was always annoyed when one of the X-Men would say something kind of melodramatic, and another X-Man would say, "How can you make jokes?" Then you'd have to go back and look at the line and realize that what looked like just the standard Claremontian melodrama was actually an attempt by Claremont to be some kind of comic hyperbole. I don't think Claremont was always great at getting humor across. (He's even admitted as much.) He had some great laugh lines when he was able to step outside himself and comment and some of his own ridiculous plot ideas. ("His name's Mr. Sinister. His hobby is cloning redheads.") But when the characters were supposed to be making jokes, it usually didn't work. (And the slapstick/farce of Excalibur was always just way too forced.)

There you go, Art! Now I have to stop. All this Claremont hate ... it's like I'm pissing *myself* off!

Jason said...

"I've always been an X-Fan but I didn't really appreciate Claremont until I read this blog (Started reading in the 90s at the very end of the original run). Then I picked up the first 32 issues of Classic X-men and after I read those I started buying more Uncanny issues and now I've read all the Claremont run. So thanks for turning me on to it I guess."

Awesome. I love hearing about this kind of thing!

Jason said...

"it was purchasing X-Men Classic 50 (reprinting Uncanny 146) and Uncanny 267 off the shelves at the same time that sold me. The two issues were so different and I just had to know how they got from 146 to 267. "

YES! This is EXACTLY how it was for me. I bought Classic X-Men 30 off the rack (X-Men 124, featuring ... yes ... the X-Men vs. Arcade!) and also bought X-Men 218 out of the back-issue bin.

The two issues featured not a single character in common except for Juggernaut. Oh, and they both had a passing mention of "Captain Britain."

So I know exactly what you mean. You're right, you just *had* to know what happened in between, and just the cognitive dissonance between two issues with such radically different tone and style (despite having the same author's name attached to both) just fired the imagination.

I agree with everyone saying that the sense of history to X-Men was a draw rather than a turn-off. I don't know if that's still the case for people trying to get into X-Men now ... but back then the sense of a rich mythology was palpable and intoxicating.

Jason said...

Trying to reply to everything here ... :)

Mike, I love your defense of Uncanny 146, particularly the cliffhanger -- which, you're right, is a great inversion of expectation.

Evan, awesome! Another person buying a bunch of Claremont comics! I love it.

Jeremy, I have a few issues I like to read after Claremont's run because they tie things up a bit, but anything scripted by Lobdell or Byrne is NOT on that list. Probably just a personal prejudice, but I really find the post-Claremont issues by Jim Lee to be too depressingly facile. (Also, don't like the extemporizing of Wolverine's origin, or the stupid Ghost Rider/New Orleans stuff, and I didn't think we needed a Mojo capper, as he got his comeuppance during Claremont's run, in "Mojo Mayhem.")

Ray ... thank you so much!

Thanks for commenting, everyone! Sorry it took me so long to reply this time!

j said...

I didn't know whether to be happy or surprised when Wolverine actually stabbed Rachael.

Arthur said...

Welcome back, Jason.

Rachel -- I started with X-Men 181, so Rachel as an ongoing character was just on the horizon when I started, but I never found myself annoyed with her. Her tantrums didn't seem out of place considering her personal history.

Thinking of her now, I think it's more annoying that she went away, had some unrevealed adventures, and came back a different person who couldn't remember her past. The trauma she went through was never properly dealt with (if it even could, which may be why Claremont did what he did), it was just forgotten.

Amara -- never one of my favorite characters, but I've come to like her a bit more during my re-readings. I kind of like the idea of Nova Roma. It doesn't seem too bizarre in a universe where there are water breathing Atlanteans and a prehistoric jungle in Antartica.

You know what's worse than Nova Roma? Fabian Nicieza's New Warriors story where he tries to explain it away. Like the whole Kwannon/Revanche/Psylocke nonsense, "Alison Crestmere" destroyed a character and didn't even give us the benefit of a good story.

As for her Magma powers, I always just assumed her power created mini-volcanos by automatically melting some earth relatively close to the surface and bringing that up. I couldn't imagine all that magma rushing up from miles under the surface in seconds.

I was never sure what to make of her "Lava blasts". I just assumed it was a character-specific way to describe a flame blast. Is it supposed to be actual lava, not just flame? If it is, how does it get to her arms? Is she actually transforming into molten rock in her Magma form and expelling some of her mass?

I just read New Mutants Forever # 2. In it, Doug makes some innocuous comment, and Amara says "How can you make jokes at a time like this?" Doug's answer: "It's either that or scream." I'm pretty sure I've read this exact same exchange between different characters many times before. And, like you mentioned, Doug's initial comment wasn't really a joke. I wouldn't even say it was mildly amusing.

I rather liked the Nightcrawler/Mystique reveal in XMF. It's been hanging out there for 30 years now, and there's no way that it can live up to any hype, so why not just have Mystique say that she's his mom and move on? I do kind of wish she said she was his father, but hey, maybe that will be coming later. Mystique wanted to get Kurt used to having a parent first, before revealing the sex change!

On second thought, Mystique should have just revealed everything on the Jerry Springer Show.

Will you get a chance to talk about your New York City adventures and/or your play on this blog? Where will Invader will go now? NA tour? Broadway? The movies?

Jason said...

“Will you get a chance to talk about your New York City adventures and/or your play on this blog? Where will Invader will go now? NA tour? Broadway? The movies?”

**Not sure yet. News as it develops! I won’t be writing about “Invader” on the blog, though Geoff is drafting a review.

“why not just have Mystique say that she's his mom and move on?”

**Because that part of it was the part that any of us could’ve guessed. The real mystery was WTF happened, how did Kurt end up being raised by Margali Szardos? Why is his name “Wagner”? (We know he believes it to be his real family name. It is not the name of his adopted family, obviously.) Who’s Kurt’s father (or mother, if you like the Mystique sex-change idea)?

To just throw out there, “Yes, Mystique is Kurt’s mom,” it’s just boring and lame and answers nothing.

It’s funny that Claremont did the same thing with the Sabretooth/Wolverine reveal in Forever. Again, that was the part that was obvious, just from Sabretooth’s dialogue back in the day, “You always were a disappointment, boy.” The mystery is not the fact of it, it’s the questions raised by it. Why does Sabretooth try to kill Logan on his birthday every year? Who is Wolverine’s mom? Etc.

This is one of the reasons I find XMF so unsatisfying, and a completely unworthy successor to the classic X-run.

“And, like you mentioned, Doug's initial comment wasn't really a joke. I wouldn't even say it was mildly amusing.”

Ha. Yep, there ya go!

“I kind of like the idea of Nova Roma. It doesn't seem too bizarre in a universe where there are water breathing Atlanteans and a prehistoric jungle in Antartica.”

Yeah … I guess. I feel like the problem is that Atlantis gave us Namor, whose power has to do with his affinity for water. And in the prehistoric jungle we have Ka-Zar, a Tarzan analogue who can talk to animals, and who battles jungle savages.

Nova Roma gave us … Volcano Lady. It’s a bit of a non-sequitur to me. Your explanation for how she makes the volcanoes is nice, though. I like that!

“Her tantrums didn't seem out of place considering her personal history.”

Really? Even issue 206, where the X-Men talk about visiting Cyclops in Alaska, and she freaks out and breaks a bunch of dishes, and blasting the other X-Men with dangerous rays of whatever -- while thinking to herself, “No, I’m not ready to face my father!” even though she had already met and interacted with present-day Cyclops by that point? Gah. I felt Claremont really failed to get across her trauma. Yes, I understood that she was supposed to have faced horrors. But I never felt any sympathy. Her whole guilt over having hunted down mutants rang a little hollow after the third time she freaked out and started shooting her teammates with lethal energy bolts.

In fairness, Claremont wrote a Rachel Summers solo miniseries that was meant to deal with her trauma in more detail and dimension. Got scrapped for some reason. (The first few pages were drawn by Rick Leonardi, and are findable online.)

Arthur said...

Jason:To just throw out there, “Yes, Mystique is Kurt’s mom,” it’s just boring and lame and answers nothing.

But at least the relationship is not a mystery any more, so some of the background can start to be explored. I'm sure CC will get around to it in about 4 or 5 years, maybe. :) I mean, it took 30 years to get this far, I'm not expecting all the answers just yet. Then again, he's currently working with Mystie in current issues of XMF, so maybe we'll get some answers sooner that expected.

Unfortunately, I'm also half-expecting the answers to not quite fit established history. I mean, look at Rogue. Twice in XMF we're told that Mystique sent Rogue to Xavier. If that's so, why was Mystique so upset when she left (UXM 170)? Why did she infiltrate the mansion and nearly kill Xavier to get her back (UXM 177-178)?

Jason:Why does Sabretooth try to kill Logan on his birthday every year? Who is Wolverine’s mom? Etc.

Sabes did explain why he'd try to kill Logan: to keep him in his place "one step behind me." I dunno, I kind of like that simple explanation. I didn't expect Sabes to have a well-thought out reason. Plus, the idea that Wolverine, the supposed macho alpha male of the team, gets taken down with such ridiculous ease every year appeals to me. And Sabes does it just because he can!

As for Wolverine's mother, CC dropped a few hints about her appearance in XMF. That was awhile ago, and her expected appearance never materialized, but supposedly he has/had a plan for her.

Nova Roma gave us … Volcano Lady. It’s a bit of a non-sequitur to me.

(shrug) It's a mutation. What would an appropriate Nova Roma power be?

Do you remember Slipstream from X-Treme X-Men? A surfer who finds he has the power to "ride the waves" of some kind of warp energy using his surfboard! Or Sketch, from CC's 2000 Revolution run, who could make her drawings come to life. I hate those kind of gimicky powers. I'm glad that Amara has a more "natural" power that's not based on something "Nova Romany".

About Doug's comment in NMF: I take back what I said. It was amusing. His comment, spoken from inside a dungeon, was something like "when in Nova Roma, be sure to check out their dungeons." I was too taken aback by seeing the familiar "how can you joke at a time like this" exchange to realize that, yeah, Doug's line wasn't bad.

As for Rachel, I don't know. Sure, she's had her moments of calm around Cyclops, but it was still a touchy subject for her, so I understand her occasional (OK, constant) flake-outs. Again, I think this was CCs intention. Before, you had Jean Grey as Phoenix, who was slowly corrupted by its power. With Rachel, you had this power in the hands of someone already emotionally unstable. Having thought about this a bit more, I have a fuller understanding of why Wolverine stabbed her. She was already unstable. It wouldn't take too much to push her over the edge.

Jason said...

"Then again, he's currently working with Mystie in current issues of XMF, so maybe we'll get some answers sooner that expected."

*** If we do, I’ll withdraw my complaint.

“Twice in XMF we're told that Mystique sent Rogue to Xavier. If that's so, why was Mystique so upset when she left (UXM 170)? Why did she infiltrate the mansion and nearly kill Xavier to get her back (UXM 177-178)?”

***I noticed that too. Another annoying thing about XMF, for sure.

“Sabes did explain why he'd try to kill Logan: to keep him in his place "one step behind me."”

*** I guess that does work. It still raises all sorts of questions about Logan’s childhood, and such.

“(shrug) It's a mutation. What would an appropriate Nova Roma power be?”

***I don’t know. But what we got with Amara was someone dealing with a pretty huge mutant power, and also a pretty huge level of culture shock, and after about three issues she seemed to have both under control, and then her whole Nova Roma background just was a novelty.

“Having thought about this a bit more, I have a fuller understanding of why Wolverine stabbed her.”

*** I’ve got no complaints about Wolverine stabbing her. :)

And speaking of Claremont laugh-lines that worked, I have to concede that he gave Rachel a good one in Excalibur, relating to her somewhat ridiculous Hound outfit. She and Kitty have both been taken prisoner, mutant powers neutralized, and strung up by their feet. Kitty manages to wriggle out of her boots, thereby freeing herself. Rachel says something like, “That’s a great trick – but my boots sort of go all the way up to my neck.”

Dave Mullen said...

In fairness, Claremont wrote a Rachel Summers solo miniseries that was meant to deal with her trauma in more detail and dimension. Got scrapped for some reason. (The first few pages were drawn by Rick Leonardi, and are findable online.)

Yeah, I liked the character as she was introduced when I first found the x-men with Uncanny #181 and I've kind of followed her... I had never Made the Captain UK connection but gosh - it fits!
Looking back I can see why you're critical on her but I think the context of that era is important, the X-Men were about a small school of people who were problem children, and in more ways than one. Scott Summers has been depicted with a variety of mental issues over the years that stretch back to his earliest days, Rogue was essentially a schizophrenic and initially wildly unstable, Wolverine too was... difficult!
Put into that context Rachel is a natural progression, a LOT of the X-Men have been or are unstable to one degree or other and what I liked was the mystery of her missing months where she was taken to Mojo-verse and came back a much stronger person. I think the Excalibur run had her played just right before lapsing again into bad melodrama by the #75 mark and never really recovering to this day...

I think the world has changed, and trends come and go, which is why these characters go off the boil why Claremont has never been able to recapture what he had in his prime. The moodiness of Moore's Captain Britain or the 80s X-Men is of its time, just as Jim Lee's contribution is a 90s thing.

Since X-Men 1-3 here the concept has shifted gradually from the character arcs and subplotting that buit the books success under Claremont to action orientatd tales. That's the truly defining feature of 'X-Men Forever': there has been no sign whatsoever of the deep characterisation and character building arcs that defined his original run, all Forever is is a somewhat thin and shallow action book, wham bam thank you maam....

dschonbe said...

Caught up again after a vacation. I finally got a chance to read the Essential Iron Fist book. Wow, Claremont/Byrne really made that character. No way Iron Fist would have laster otherwise.

As for the connection between Nova Roma and volcanos, maybe Claremont had watched a documentary about Pompeii...

An issue I hope Jason tackles during one of his epilogue posts:
The sheer length of Claremont's run. Morrison never had a run on any title that I'm aware of anywhere near so long. It'd be interesting to dissect how the length of Claremont's run both helped him and hurt him. Certainly if he'd left after Dark Phoenix Saga, he'd have a VERY different legacy in the popular opinion.

Arthur said: When re-reading these issues, I can certainly appreciate that Claremont has a certain style - and I tended to love love love his descriptive captions - but I can't imagine some of his dialogue spoken by a living being. Has anyone in the 20th Century onward ever responded to "I love you." with "And I, you"?

I have. I recently convinced my wife to read the LotR books, the George RR Martin books, and the Robert Jordan books. It was only by reading those that my wife finally understood my occasional use of odd turns of phrase. I can only imagine how much Claremont contributed there...

Finally, thank you Jason. Your love of these comics is clearly infectious. Your reviews are a pleasure to read.

-Dan S.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Contests on getting through this whole damn thing, Jason! I haven't been commenting like I was early on, since I haven't read anything beyond what's in the second Essential volume, but I've been reading each post faithfully. I hope you do follow it with something else, since I really like your writing (hey, will your play do any shows in Chicago?).

I gotta say, I have read these final issues, and I don't exactly share your enthusiasm (so, so wordy! Plus, Jim Lee doesn't do much for me. I did think it was cool when I read it as a teenager though), but I don't want to rain on your parade. I'm looking forward to any epilogue posts you've got left; gotta enjoy this while I still can!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this series, Jason. I've enjoyed reading your take on the Claremont era, more so since i bought the last few Essentials.

Rachel Summers really sucked, huh? I came to know that character through Excalibur when Alan Davis wrote & drew it. She was much more sedate then, and her angst seemed reasonable (she was about to reclaim her mind when circumstances forced her to fight Necrom). Claremont did a better job with her in the early Excalibur issues, giving her some lighter moments. She bore little relation to the horrible creature of the early-'80s X-Men comics.

Incidentally, I'm as curious as anyone else who followed this feature: what non-X-Men Claremont do you like? Sienkiewicz New Mutants tops that list for me, with NM 35-40 a close second. What non-Claremont X-Men do you like? The Davis run on Excalibur was one of my favorite set of super-hero comics, much warmer and more original than almost anything else the late '80s-'90s had to offer.

Congratulations on your recent play, and I look forward to reading the epilogue installments.

- Mike Loughlin

Jason said...

"That's the truly defining feature of 'X-Men Forever': there has been no sign whatsoever of the deep characterisation and character building arcs that defined his original run, all Forever is is a somewhat thin and shallow action book, wham bam thank you maam...."

***Good point. But even Claremont's talent for plotting action has atrophied. He used to give us some great, satisfying action payoffs. Now, even that seems beyond him. The XMF arcs often have really pallid endings.

"
An issue I hope Jason tackles during one of his epilogue posts:
The sheer length of Claremont's run. "

***I think I've said all I wanted to say about that. I don't remember specifically which posts talked about the advantages and disadvantages of the length of the run, but it's in there somewhere! :)

"but I don't want to rain on your parade."

***Thanks, Matt. :)

"what non-X-Men Claremont do you like? Sienkiewicz New Mutants tops that list for me, with NM 35-40 a close second."

***Nice choices! I love those as well. The next six posts are basically about my favorite non-X-Men Claremont, so you'll get an earful of that if you keep reading! I also like Claremont/Byrne on Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up quite a bit. Actually all of Claremont's Marvel Team-Up is pretty solid, I think. Claremont's Spider-Woman has got some great stuff in it as well.

"What non-Claremont X-Men do you like? "

Let's see ...

I enjoyed Lobdell's two issues of X-Men/WildCATs.

Larry Hama and Marc Silvestri did some great stuff on the Wolverine solo title. (As did, a couple years earlier, Archie Goodwin and John Byrne.) But I'm a nut for late-80s/early-nineties Silvestri, so I'm a bit biased. Still, I thought Hama did some great stuff with Wolverine -- faithful to Claremont's characterization but still with its own voice. Issues 31-37, the first seven Hama/Silvestri issues, are particularly good I think.

Roy Thomas and Neal Adams' run is classic, of course.

Joe Casey's miniseries "Children of the Atom" and Greg Pak's "Magneto: Testament" are both great prequels.

David Von Allmen has a great Magneto story in "Marvel Comics Presents" #3.

When Claremont stopped doing the back-up features regularly for Classic X-Men, the writing chores were picked up by Ann Nocenti, who did some awesome stories with John Bolton on art.

Christos Gage's recent "X-Men/Spider-Man" series were enjoyable, particularly issue 2, set during the Mutant Massacre era. (And AMAZING artwork by Mario Alberti.)

The first two issues of Grey/Cruz's recent "Uncanny X-Men: First Class." I only read those two, but they were lots of fun.

And, of course, I agree with you on Alan Davis' Excalibur.

Geoff Klock said...

you all saw this summary of Rachel Summers, yeah?

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/08/02/lbfa-rachel-summers-history/