Tuesday, September 07, 2010

In Summary …

[Jason Powell CONCLUDES his look at every issue of Claremont's 17 year X-Men run. I literally don't know what to say, other than thanks Jason. And thanks to everyone reading. You guys generated 2,826 comments on Jason's work and I know both he and I appreciate it. Even though at least a chunk of that was spambots and Jason taking the time to respond to basically every single person who commented, it is still goddamn tremendous.]

I’ve written so many words about Claremont at this point – and I know I’ve repeated myself a lot from entry to entry, far moreso than was necessary I’m sure – and the result is that a summary is probably not necessary. I think I’ve said all I wanted to say about Claremont at this point, despite the fact that he has a huge body of material outside of Uncanny, much of which is very, very good. And even within the X-sphere, there is stuff like The New Mutants, Excalibur, the Wolverine ongoing, which I didn’t talk about.

Still, I think I have done what I set out to do here. My feeling was and is that Claremont gets short shrift as a comics writer. This is someone who defined for more than one generation how to do mainstream superhero comics, particularly team books. From “New Teen Titans” on down through “Gen13,” his influence can be felt. (Claremont actually wrote a “Gen13” series in 2003 that wasn’t half bad. Well, okay, actually the second half was pretty bad. But the first half was good.)

The list of X-characters that Claremont created or co-created is rather amazing, and consider how many of these characters are still hugely important components of the franchise: Kitty Pryde, Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost, Rogue, Mystique, Pyro, Sabretooth, Mr. Sinister, Forge, Jubilee, Gambit … plus Dani Moonstar, Wolfsbane, Sunspot, Cannonball, Cypher, Warlock, Magma, etc. Add to that all the characters for whom Claremont gave us the definitive incarnation, including Wolverine, Storm, Magneto, Nightcrawler … Also, it is Claremont who made Magneto a survivor of the Holocaust, who made Charles and Magnus into old friends, who created the Scott-Jean-Logan love triangle. These are contributions not just to the relatively insular world of comic-books, but to pop culture in general: So many elements of the Bryan Singer films (and even the Ratner one) are drawn from Claremont’s material.

A recent article on Singer – who was slated at the time to direct the upcoming “X-Men: First Class” film -- gave the director literally all of the credit for the opening scene of the first X-Men film: young Magneto in a concentration camp. The article makes no note of Claremont, although there is a sentence noting that Jeff Parker wrote a comicbook called “X-Men: First Class.” Parker gets name-checked for a title. The man who produced the material that set the entire tone for Singer’s take on the franchise? Not a mention. Meanwhile, jokey-joke internet pieces about the ten lamest comic-book characters, or whatever, will gleefully use Chris Claremont’s name as a punch-line in their entry on The Dazzler.

Via the work of Joss Whedon, Chris Claremont has impacted pop culture even beyond X-Men. The character of Buffy is an avowed Kitty Pryde analogue (based on Claremont’s characterization), an entire season of “Buffy” riffed on Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga, and Whedon’s “Firefly” has a heavy Claremont influence as well. (That show also has boasts a clear Kitty analogue as well, in the character Kaylee.)

Claremont’s use of women in “X-Men” was ahead of its time 30 years ago, and I feel that modern comics are still catching up. During his tenure, Claremont populated the X-universe with so many female characters that were well-realized in their own right, and not defined by how they related to their male counterparts. The females of Claremont’s X-Men were essential to that mythos, far moreso than in any other franchise. A great test of this is the film adaptations, which so often have to pare down the continuity to the core elements. For the first X-Men film, this gave us an ensemble including Storm, Jean Grey, Rogue and Mystique, all key players in the action – to be joined in the sequels by Kitty Pryde and Callisto. Contrast with the Spider-Man films, in which the only major female character is Mary Jane, whose job it is to get captured in the third act – every time. The third film added Gwen Stacy. Her purpose: To be a romantic foil for Spider-Man, just like Mary Jane.

Cartoon adaptations are just as telling. The X-Men cartoons again feature Rogue, Storm, Kitty Pryde and Mystique prominently, just for a start – again, as heroes fighting alongside the males. In Spider-Man, the women exist for no other reason than to be attracted to Peter Parker.

I don’t see much different in contemporary comics (though I confess I am hardly an expert). In team books, the males always outnumber the females. If it’s the opposite, usually there is some kind of gimmick involved, or it is a series aimed specifically at “girls.” Has anyone other than Claremont ever given us a mainstream super-team in which females outnumbered the males (and in which this wasn’t any kind of ironic twist or something that needed to be commented on, it simply WAS) … ?

And finally, there is the sheer length of the run, which Claremont never seems to get credit for. He wrote X-Men uninterrupted for 17 years. No one has duplicated that length of time on a mainstream superhero comic. Factor in all the X-related spinoff series, and you get something in the area of 380 comics, which far outweighs any other run in terms of quantity. Claremont has said that he considers everything from his first issue (Uncanny X-Men 94) to his last (X-Men 3) as one single story. On these terms, then, he even beats Dave Sim’s 300-chapter “novel.” Claremont’s “novel” is not only longer, but he also finished first. No one since Claremont has even come close to this.

For all that, the guy is mocked. As the world turns and the X-franchise continues to forge ahead -- and the time since Claremont’s original run ended becomes longer than the time he spent crafting it – less and less people seem to remember or care that he built the X-universe from only a few seeds. On comic-book message boards everywhere, idiots who think of themselves as die-hard X-Men fans decry Claremont’s work and diminish his contribution, apparently not realizing the irony that if Claremont hadn’t done what he did, they wouldn’t even BE die-hard X-Men fans.

With all the poison directed at Claremont on the net, I wanted to put something out there that redressed the balance somewhat. And an issue-by-issue look seemed to make the most sense, as it was a way to truly emulate the massiveness of Claremont’s accomplishment.

Now I’ve done that. At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem like enough. I still feel like the positive is outweighed by the negative regarding Claremont, particularly on the internet. But hey, I did my best.

Thanks to everyone who read and commented. It was heartening to read other people speaking positively about Claremont, and it was always particularly nice to be given new insights that made me appreciate his work even more. Thanks to Art, Dave, Neil S, Douglas, Nathan A., Scott, and all the other incredibly erudite and fantastic commentators, who really made this whole project come to life with their addendums, corrections, arguments and elucidations.

And my eternal gratitude to Geoff Klock for hosting this blog. Putting these writings here gave them a much larger audience than they’d have gotten had I posted them at my old Live Journal. More importantly, his deadline forced me to stick with this even at times when I started to think this was a gigantic fool’s errand. And his encouraging comments on the content itself were immensely gratifying, particularly given how much a fan I am of Geoff’s own writing. Thanks so much, Geoff!

And even though he’ll probably never read this or any other the other 230-plus (!) blog entries … Thank you, Chris Claremont, for the hundreds and hundreds of awesome superhero comics.

-- fin --


neilshyminsky said...

"...apparently not realizing the irony that if Claremont hadn’t done what he did, they wouldn’t even BE die-hard X-Men fans."

When I first read this, I read it as "there wouldn't even BE...", which is probably equally accurate.

J said...

Hey, Claremont did get a cameo in X3 so at least his influence in the movies wasn't completely forgotten.

Jason said...

"When I first read this, I read it as "there wouldn't even BE...", which is probably equally accurate."

*** That's how I re-read it too! You're right, that was probably a better way of putting it.

Paul Steven Brown said...

Bravo, Jason. These articles have been wonderful to read and I'm going to miss them on Wednesday mornings. It was a great stroll down Greymalkin Lane.

I feel that Claremont is mostly ridiculed for his writing style and patterns that he fell into during his return to the X-Men in 2000 and his X-Treme X-Men work. I think younger readers who weren't reading X-Men as the original run was being published, saw the second tenure on the books and couldn't bring themselves to believe the hype about the original seventeen years.

That being said, I've really enjoyed his X-Men Forever. He doesn't have to deal with any of the baggage that happened since X-Men #3 and it's been a fun book.

neilshyminsky said...

Paul wrote: "I feel that Claremont is mostly ridiculed for his writing style and patterns that he fell into during his return to the X-Men in 2000 and his X-Treme X-Men work."

Not that it's a big secret or anything, but I'm going to be writing a very brief follow-up to Jason's series where I look at Claremont's various 'returns' to the X-Men. In it, one of the suggestions I make is that the dislike for Claremont and his affectations (the Claremontisms) has less to do with Claremont than it does with the guys who followed him and tried to impersonate his style. And, in so doing, managed to create a sort of charicature of Claremont's writing that was reflected back on to the man himself, with unfortunate consequences.

(I also note that in Claremont's 'Revolution' return, at least initially, he seems to avoid the Claremontisms. They are, however, back in full force by the time he launches X-Treme.)

Jason said...

That kind of brings us full circle to Geoff's book, which I think blamed Claremont for stuff that was more the fault of Claremont's imitators. (He spells "Clairmont" with an "i" and that stands for "IMITATORS"!) And of course I brought this up when I first started commenting on this blog (which I discovered thanks to YOU, Neil!), which led to my doing the Claremont series here ... and so forth ...

dschonbe said...

Thanks again Jason.

This may be obvious to everyone else, but I haven't seen it said so I'll say it myself. Thank you (and to Geoff) for fostering an environment where the X-men (and pop culture in general) could be discussed and dissected in an intellectual environment free from pretention. This blog was the first pop culture related blog I've found to take an intellectual approach to comics yet not spend most (if not all) of its time praising only the works of Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and Alan Moore in a way that only English Department graduate students could appreciate and enjoy. I greatly appreciate it, and wish you nothing but success in your endeavors.

I can offer only my highest praise: I'm excited to see what you produce next.

Arthur said...

Neil: will this follow-up series appear here or somewhere else?

I think you have a point about Claremont's impersonators. That was probably what turned me off more than anything, that they managed to copy the bad part of Claremont (the "heightened-reality"/theatrical language) but not the good (the subtle characterizations and long term plotting). I generally liked Nicieza's work, even his stuff on the other X-Books like X-Force (without Leifeld) and Gambit, but his X-Men stuff was painful. In the xbooks newsgroup, it even had a term: Fabian Nicieza's Sledgehammer of Angst(TM).

With Claremont's Revolution, I kept wondering if it would have been better regarded had it been allowed to continue. He seemed to have long-term plans for the Neo, but the immediate outcry led to the storyline being dropped and CC getting removed.

Jason mentioned last week about the disappointing payoffs to the storylines in X-Men Forever. I wonder if this is in part with writing with one eye on the trades, that he has to reach a good break-off point every 5 issues. XMF2 seems a bit looser, and much better, like he's starting to settle in for the long haul.

Jason, have you ever met Claremont?


Anonymous said...

Yes, it seems that many new comic book readers who are familiar with the "new comic style" or who started out reading Morrison or Ellis (who I do love) cannot appreciate the older style of comic writing.
I found the 1970s-early 1980s the high point of Marvel comics writing, and I'm always surprised when I recommend an older comic series to a new comic book fan and they tell me that they found it boring and badly written.

I do think that latter-day Claremont has soured many a comic fan on the name "Claremont" and that many detractors have never even read the original Claremont comics.
But, maybe changing expectations and norms in the style of writing comic books have also made it so that newer readers just don't "get" the classic style. Which is a shame.

Jason said...

"Jason, have you ever met Claremont?"

*** Sadly, no. I had fantasies of getting him to come see my show in New York, but it did not happen.

Neil, are you going to look at X-Men Forever in your series?

Jason said...

"It was a great stroll down Greymalkin Lane."

Ha! Nice.

Ken Dynamo said...

it is a shame claremont isnt given more credit for building the x-men franchise into the billion dollar brand it is. it's tough to think of a creator making a bigger impact on a comic book property (besides the original creators, that is - of course in the x-men's case claremont's influence exceeds that of the original creators, least IMO).

as for the internet blather - can't say i ever noticed it, but i dont get on many (any) comic book boards. i will also admit that i enjoy a good claremont dialog roast, but only because i am so endeared to it. to use it as ammunition to dismiss the entire claremont cannon, however, is ridiculous.

also, who's talking doo doo on dazzler? i enjoyed her every appearance in the pages of uncanny x-men. i never read an issue of her own series but her stories in the 210's and 220's were personal favs of mine.

by the way, anyone have any clue if claremont gets any kind of residual on the stuff he created making it into the movies? i'm guessing not, but it would be nice if they got him a consulting credit or something.

Christian O. said...

Wonderful. Eternally grateful that you did the entire run. I'm a post-Claremont X-men fan to some extent (I intially began, and ended, with the Jim Lee issues, because I hated Lee's art) and these analyses made me buy the first omnibus collecting Uncanny.

HOWEVER, I think your accusations towards the Spider-man movies are based on a bad premise, seeing as Spider-man is about one person and not a group. Of course everyone will be seen in relation to the main character - he's the main character.

And to answer your girls/boys ratio group thing question: Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan was two dudes and four girls. And fit your criteria.

I do think Claremont is recognized by the right people though - writers like Grant Morrison and Matt Fraction.

Any chance of doing an equally herculean feat in the future, Jason?

neilshyminsky said...

Arthur: yes, it'll be here!

Jason: I haven't even touched X-Men Forever. It felt like I couldn't go back, y'know?

Jason said...

Hm, tried to post a comment, but it didn't go through. I'll try again.

"HOWEVER, I think your accusations towards the Spider-man movies are based on a bad premise, seeing as Spider-man is about one person and not a group. Of course everyone will be seen in relation to the main character - he's the main character."

***I disagree. In the film series, the male characters have agency. They are movers and shakers, and they get shit done, even if many of them are villains.

The female characters exist to look good, be attracted to Peter Parker, and to get brutalized, kidnapped and/or killed.

Thanks for the "Runaways" heads-up! That is great to know about.

"Any chance of doing an equally herculean feat in the future, Jason?"

*** Depends on your definition. I am writing a superhero opera that will be produced at the Milwaukee Opera Theatre. (About a female superhero with a male sidekick. Gotta practice what I preach!) And am trying to get my first original musical "Invader?" produced again. My original work has much greater priority at this point.

If you mean more blog series about comic-books, then nope!

Jason said...

"I haven't even touched X-Men Forever. It felt like I couldn't go back, y'know?"

*** Understandable. Well, maybe I'll find time to do some scrawls about XMF then, for after your Claremont series ends. :)

Matthew E said...

Has anyone other than Claremont ever given us a mainstream super-team in which females outnumbered the males (and in which this wasn’t any kind of ironic twist or something that needed to be commented on, it simply WAS) … ?

Yes, actually. In the mid-'90s, there was a period of time where the Legion of Super-Heroes had more female than male members. For a while, the roster was: (female) Andromeda, Apparition, Kinetix, Saturn Girl, Shrinking Violet, Spark, Triad, XS (8) and (male) Brainiac 5, Chameleon, Cosmic Boy, Invisible Kid, and Leviathan (5).

Nathan P. Mahney said...

In addition to using a lot of women in prominent roles, Claremont deserves some credit for increasing the racial diversity of superhero comics. Yes, some of that was inherited from Wein/Cockrum, but it's something Claremont propogated himself. Just look at X-Treme X-Men - of the original members (Storm, Bishop, Rogue, Psylocke, Thunderbird, and Beast) we have an African, an Indian, an Australian Aborigine, and Psylocke, who at least looks Asian.

Arthur said...

Speaking of male/female ratios, I'm probably the only person who loves the fact Claremont's Sovereign Seven was divided right down the middle: 3 males (Reflex, Cruiser, Rampart), 3 girls (Cascade, Network, Finale), and one who seemed to be both (Indigo).

Jason, I had a different sort of Claremont meeting in mind for you. "Invader? I Hardly Knew Her: The Graphic Novel. Forward by Chris Claremont".


ba said...

Thanks a lot, Jason, I really enjoyed it.

In response to the crux of this post, I agree with many of the other posters - Claremont seems to be bent on destroying his legacy with his latter-day X-men work (the less said about x-treme the better, and I personally can't stand xmf). That said, the man gets a lifetime pass, and I don't think his recent work has diminished the old work for me at all (I read along with the blog posts, this being like the nth time I've read that stretch of UXM).

Jason said...

"In the mid-'90s, there was a period of time where the Legion of Super-Heroes had more female than male members. "

*** Awesome. Mid-90s, eh? That's great. I think Claremont really opened the door for that.

"peaking of male/female ratios, I'm probably the only person who loves the fact Claremont's Sovereign Seven was divided right down the middle: 3 males (Reflex, Cruiser, Rampart), 3 girls (Cascade, Network, Finale), and one who seemed to be both (Indigo)."

***Not the ONLY one. I noticed it too, and loved it. (One of the few things I loved about Sovereign Seven. The Indigo character was really fascinating.)

Of course, midway through the run, Claremont killed off one of the male members and replaced him with Power Girl, unbalancing the 50/50 split in favor of the gals.

(By the way, I have Mitch and Geoff to thank for pointing out in conversation something I completely missed about XMF. I mentioned that Claremont has already killed off Wolverine, Iron Man, and the Beast. And the obvious point that those three characters are all male had completely escaped me. Geoff suggested that Claremont wants to use X-Men Forever to eventually kill off every male in the Marvel Universe.)

And Art, I think if there ever was an "Invader?" graphic novel, I might ask Claremont to adapt the entire thing. But I'd be perfectly pleased with just an intro, I suppose. :)

Ba, yeah, I don't think the new stuff ruins the old stuff either, though I have seen people argue the opposite. Which is a pity ...

Paul Steven Brown said...

Arthur said, "XMF2 seems a bit looser, and much better, like he's starting to settle in for the long haul."

I totally agree with this. The first year of XMF was a clearing of the board and a restructuring the book and the cast into something that CC really wanted to work with. XMF2 is about taking those pieces and running the board with them now that he is firmly entrenched in this rebooted world.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Congrats, Jason. Any thoughts of collecting this series into a book? Geoff has to have some competition, right?

Arthur said...

Jason: And Black Panther! Don't forget he killed him too! And this Ghost Panther character, well, it's been suggested that it may be a woman under that armor.

Paul: not to put you on the spot or anything, but I'd love to hear Jason interviewed on some X-related blog. (Probably not Uncanny X-Cast -- Rob and Brian are more entertaining when they're yelling at each other.)

Arthur said...

(And by "blog", I meant "podcast")

Paul Steven Brown said...

Arthur: On X-Nation we've been discussing X-Treme X-Men for the last three episodes in our 'Days of X-Men Past' segment. Maybe I should ask Jason to come on and we can hear his views on some of those Claremont issues.

Jason: I really hope you get the opportunity to interview CC someday. I got to last year for the podcast and A) it was just cool to finally talk to the guy that wrote all those great comics I read as a kid, and B) all you have to do is ask one question and sit back. The man is wonderfully verbose.

Gary said...

Fantastic. What work you've done here, Jason. I do like the way you've homaged your inspiration with the nice, understated --fin-- at the end, there.

I thought there was material through October, though? A look at some post-UXM work? I seem to recall Claremont's FF in particular coming up. Is that dead, then?

Thanks again for the wonderful series. It's increased my appreciation of the work, in particular the daring that Claremont exhibited with his ever moving forward attitude. Who needs lunchboxes and beachtowels? Give me X-Men #211, damn the status quo, full speed ahead!

Gary said...

Christian O. said:
"I do think Claremont is recognized by the right people though - writers like Grant Morrison and Matt Fraction."

Considering that Grant Morrison completely undid Claremont's Magneto work (something I learned at this website), I don't think he particularly "recognizes" Claremont. Unless he's recanted somewhere and I didn't hear about it.

j said...

"Considering that Grant Morrison completely undid Claremont's Magneto work (something I learned at this website), I don't think he particularly "recognizes" Claremont. Unless he's recanted somewhere and I didn't hear about it."

Grant Morrison loves Claremont's X-Men run. In the back of one of the New X-Men collections they have the original X-men proposal that Grant sent Marvel and he speaks very highly of Claremont in it. There are also quite a few very subtle references to events from the Claremont run throughout the run. He really didn't "undo" Claremont's Magneto. People tend to forget that Fatal Attractions did that and Grant was basically writing him consistently with what had come in the 90s.

Teebore said...

Ah, what can I say that hasn't already been said?

Thank you, Jason, for not only striving to be positive on the internet, but to be positive about Claremont, and to do it so well.

I've always been a fan of Claremont's work, but this series has definitely given me a new appreciation for it (and even better, new tools with which to defend the work against the haters) and makes reading the issues again almost an entirely new experience. So thanks for that, too.

Jason said...

"Fantastic. What work you've done here, Jason. I do like the way you've homaged your inspiration with the nice, understated --fin-- at the end, there. I thought there was material through October, though? A look at some post-UXM work? I seem to recall Claremont's FF in particular coming up. Is that dead, then?"

Thanks for noticing the "fin," Gary. I was quite pleased with that. :)

There are blogs about other Claremont work coming up, though. I might've miscalculated when I said it would last through October, but there are six more articles a-comin'. And if you scroll through the comments you'll see that Neil Shyminsky has some Claremont blogs on deck as well ... ! (Which I personally am super-excited to read.)

Jimtron said...

Jason, I wanted to thank you for taking the time and effort to undertake and complete this project. Reading your review of Claremont's works, issue by issue, became a welcome part of my Tuesday afternoon ritual. As I read your sometimes funny and always insightful comments, it brought to mind my own experience of tracking down every X-Men issue from Giant Sized #1 through the then current issue, #269, and devouring them as quickly as I could. Though I stopped collecting around #285 or so, the experience stayed with me.

It also helped inspire me to write my own issue-by-issue reviews of a personal favorite, the Marvel Transformers comic (some 110-odd issues when associated mini-series and crossovers are considered.) At this point I'm more than halfway through.

Kudos, sir, for a job well done.

Menshevik said...

Thanks, Jason, for a great series that always provided food for thought.

Interesting question re. teams with more female than male members. Quite probably Claremont was the first to do that, although I believe that at least one team became 50-50 gender-balanced before the X-Men did, as for quite a while during the 1970s the Defenders core team consisted of Nighthawk, the Hulk, the Valkyrie, and Hellcat.

Menshevik said...

Re. the X-Men and Spider-Man: There obviously is the huge structural difference that Spidey is a solo hero fighting solo villains and the X-Men are a group fighting groups of villains. There is also the fact that Spider-Man was an instant classic in the 1960s and nearly all important supporting characters and villains date from that decade and thus reflect the gender-bias of the era, while the X-Men made a new start in 1975 with an almost entirely new team and cast of villains. Few of the later additions stuck, including his transient partnership with the Black Cat. With the less successful Daredevil bigger changes were possible, as shown by the 1970s title change to "Daredevil and the Black Widow" or by the pivotal role of Elektra in the Daredevil movie (and Elektra then got a movie of her own, while in the X-Men's case alpha male Wolverine got the first spin-off movie).

It is also that the romantic elements are not central to the X-Men films while the romantic story is the life-blood and a central theme of the Spider-Man trilogy ("this is a story about a girl"). Thus Flash's, Harry's and John's important function is to pursue Mary Jane. There is one more very important female character, btw, - the dispenser of sage advice (and a blow to Doc Ock's head) Aunt May. The different genre-mix is obvious: Spidey loses his powers because his relationship with MJ goes sour, while in the heavier-on-the-action X-Men Cyclops' friggin' death goes all but unacknowledged by his lover and teammates.

As a fan of both Claremont's X-Men and of (pre-OMD) Spider-Man I have to say that I am not entirely happy with both film franchises, but that I was more disappointed with the X-films. In the first one Storm is a cypher and Rogue, whose personality bears no resemblance to the Claremontean one, is a damsel in distress again and again. Things improve a little for her in X2, but X3 undoes all her progress, besides spitting out Mystique and killing off Jean (Callisto's utterly insignificant cameo and even Kitty's and Storm's heroics unfortunately are too little to offset the depressing picture).

Menshevik said...

Sorry, the sentence about the X-Men relaunch was added later; "Few of the later additions stuck" refers to Spider-Man, not the X-Men.

Jason said...

All very excellent points, Mensh. They deserve a well-thought-out response and this probably isn't it, but I'll try my best:

I find the X films less problematic than the Spider-Man ones. (Although I am thinking mainly of X1 and X2, because everything after that was hackery.)

"This is a story about a girl" is one of the things I hate about the first Spider-Man, as I think it is, for one thing, disingenuous. If it were about Mary Jane, it would be about Mary Jane. It's not; it's about Peter Parker. For a second thing, that line also turns Mary Jane into this idealized object to be desired, rather than a person.

Sean McKeever's "Mary Jane" comic ... THAT was a story about a girl.

Meanwhile, Aunt May is a "dispenser of sage advice" who gets terrorized and hospitalized by the Green Goblin.

I can't defend Rogue's role in the first film, as you're right, she is the damsel in distress. But you've still got Mystique, Storm and Jean. Storm is no more or less a cypher in the first film than Cyclops, I don't think.

(Only Wolverine, Rogue and Magneto get a lot of time with characterization.)

But Storm and Jean still are equals to Scott and Wolverine at the end, when it comes time to bust heads. And Mystique faces off against big-bad-ass Wolverine, and acquits herself well.

I'd still maintain that the women in X1 and X2 are, more often than not, equals to the men.

And what's the feminist construct about how women are typically characterized as either Mother, Virgin or Whore? That's basically Aunt May, Gwen and Mary Jane in the Spider-Comics. Reverse Gwen and MJ and that's more or less the movies. (Insofar as the Gwen of the movies is the MJ of the comics, and vice versa, although really movie-Gwen is a complete non-entity, much like that blonde "Ditkovich" girl.)

I think the women of X-Men (comics and films) are some of the few superhero-women not to be easily slotted into those types.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on wrapping up this series and your musical, Jason.

As we move to Jason's posts about Claremont's non-X-Men work and then Neil S.'s posts about Claremont's later X-Men runs, would it be possible for Geoff to give us a heads up as to the material that will be covered in the next post? I haven't read much of Claremont's non-X-Men work and I haven't read any of his subsequent X-Men runs as I was long out of comics by then. I'm tempted to track down the works Jason and Neil will be covering, or at least the shorter ones, so that I can really appreciate their posts. It would be helpful to know ahead of time what's coming up.

Speaking of Claremont not getting credit for what works in the films, I came across an interview with Ian McKellen where he states that Magneto does "have special powers which involve holding your hand out and emoting and having whatever effect is required by the plot. But in the end, what's interesting about a character is not those sort of abilities, but their inner life and their inner strengths and the complications of their relationships with other people. That's what I'm always looking for in the script. You can, at times, look in vain for those sorts of details in a script based on a comic, because, after all, the dialogue in a comic is perhaps not as interesting as the flash and bravado of the pictures. But I believe in Magneto. I believe he's a man with a real past and a real dilemma and a real purpose for being alive. His abilities with regards to bending and attracting metal are, in this sense, incidental to why I like him."

McKellen believes in Magneto because Claremont believed in him. As Jason has argued in several of his posts, Claremont viewed his characters as real people and the resulting characterization is precisely why McKellen agreed to take the role. (Or at least why he said he agreed to take the role. I'm sure there were economic considerations.) Yet at the same time McKellen articulates the factors that make Magneto a worthwhile character, he expresses skepticism that those factors would have been developed in a comic. Poor Claremont.

I've also read several people laud Alan Moore for Adrian Veidt's epiphany in Watchmen. At the failed Crimebusters meeting, Veidt realizes the ridiculousness of someone with his abilities using them to combat petty crime. Instead he uses those abilities to change the social order. But Claremont had already had Magneto eschew the traditional motives of superhero comics in favor of using his powers in attempts to effect social change at the highest levels. I don't know enough about other comics to know if "Claremont did it first" in this instance, but it seems like Claremont's Magneto may have been one of the earlier examples of this.

-- Mike

Jason said...

Thanks for that, Mike. McKellan's performance as Magneto is extraordinary, but it would be a shame if he never knew that Claremont is the one who made that character into such a compelling role for him. (Still, I'm ever-grateful to McKellan for doing giving us by far the best realization of a Claremont character on film.)

As noted, you see lots of people giving Singer credit for the Holocaust backstory in the films. That does frustrate me, but I guess that kind of thing is inevitable. I think it's probably rare these days that an actor in a comic-book movie will go back and read the comics. And in the case of the Marvel properties, one wonders where would they even begin. (It's fun to read about when it happens, though. The actress who played Mina in the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" spoke of reading the graphic novel after getting cast, and pretty much all but admitted that she preferred the comic to the movie script.)

As for what's coming up from moi in the next six weeks: Fantastic Four 17-18 (the ones published in 1999); the Star Trek: Debt of Honor graphic novel; his "High Frontier" prose novel trilogy (FirstFlight, Grounded, Sundowner); WildCATs 10-13 (from circa 1994); the Justice League: Scary Monsters miniseries (circa 2003); and his twelve part Dark Horse series, "Aliens/Predator: The Deadliest of the Species" (currently available in Dark Horse's second "Aliens/Predator" omnibus).

Menshevik said...

Well, "this is a story about a girl" obviously was not to be taken literally, but it shows that movie Peter's life revolves around MJ. Don't know from where you get that this quote turns Mary Jane into an idealized object of desire, after all, she goes through three boyfriends in two movies before Peter and she is characterized as a fairly down-to-earth "girl next door". As a secondary plot we see MJ's life apart from Peter, how despite various setbacks she works on her career as an actress. Indeed, one other huge difference is that the Spider-films focus on the dichotomy of "civilian" and superheroics, while in the X-films they have no life, for them a private life is not even an option.

Storywise, Aunt May's dramatic role in the movies encompasses that of Professor X in the X-films, she is the mentor, among other things.

On X1, Storm is by far the least important of the X-Men. Scott's characterization in that movie is actually pretty cool, he has his romance with Jean and his rivalry with Logan and he is the team leader, while Storm outside of battles just sits or stands there.

Re. the Virgin-Mother-Whore construct: The way it is often used shows the truth of the adage that if you only have a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Nothing is easier than to put the movie X-women in these categories, they are a lot less complex characters than in the comics. Most embody variants of the Virgin (Rogue can't have sex, Kitty is underage, Storm has no time for love, Jean resists her attraction to Logan), there is no Mother (Storm and Mystique having been stripped of their maternal aspects in the adaptation) except perhaps Charles Xavier, and Mystique and Dark Phoenix are Whores of the Vamp/Femme Fatale subvariant. The movie MJ actually is difficult to fit into the pattern, since you could describe her with equal justification as a Virgin and a Whore. She has a more active love-life than the 1960s/1970s comics MJ or Gwen. Actually, if anyone really embodies the Virgin in the Spider-films, it is Peter Parker, in the end MJ has to take the initiative (she's Princess Charming, he's Cinderello). I also would say that the similarity between comics Gwen and movie MJ (or indeed post-ASM #121 comics MJ) have been hugely exaggerated, especially by Gwen/Peter shippers who still haven't got over Peter finding happiness (as far as it would be possible for him) with MJ after Gwen's death.

Jason said...

We're getting to a point where it's just going to be arguing subjective opinions. To put my opinion of the Spider-Man movies in a nutshell, I think Aunt May and Mary Jane are both useless idiots in the films (the former because her advice is so hollow and lame, particularly the speech in S-M2 about how being a hero is great because people line up to meet them, so it's totally worth destroying your life to be one), and the latter in that all three films have a climax that has her kidnapped and screaming. (Also her inability to figure out that Peter is Spider-Man, which in the movie is shown to be pretty easy.) Add to that Gwen in the third film, there just to create a love-triangle. And of course Landlord's daughter, who is there to serve Peter cake. And oh yeah, they gave Doc Ock a wife, just so they could gratuitously kill her off, and give Doc an *extra* reason to become evil.

And to nutshell my feeling on the X-movies ... These are action films. And if women are able to participate in the action, demonstrate equal or greater efficacy to that of the men, I think that's significant, and good. Storm defeats the Toad, and Mystique gives Wolverine the longest fight of anyone he faces off against in the first movie.

We could debate which film has more complex women, but I think that is going to come down to personal taste and which movie one thinks is, overall, better written.

So, I'll bottom-line my point:

The typical role of women in action films and superhero comics are girlfriend or femme fatale or mother-figure. In X-Men, the women fight alongside the men. I think that's laudable, and rare.

In Spider-Man, the women are there to kiss Peter Parker and make him cake.

Menshevik said...

And here is my closing statement:
While I would agree about your general thesis that it is a good thing that in X-Men female characters fight as well as the male ones (although personally I was not as impressed as you were by Storm's defeat of the Toad), I still think that singling out the Spider-Man movies for comparison is wrong because
1. Spider-Man films are about a male solo hero, so even if MJ or Aunt May had been more efficacious or there had been a female ass-kicking character like Elektra in "Daredevil" or Catwoman in "Batman Returns", they still would have paled next to Spidey. Just as in films or series centring on a female action hero (Lara Croft, Wonder Woman, Xena, Buffy, Alien, what have you) all male characters are going to be outshone by her.
2. They're different genres - X-Men is action, Spider-Man is action/romance or even romance/action.

Maybe the difference between us is that I like non-action genres more than you and that thus for me characterization is more important even in an action film and ass-kicking is not the primary measure of a person's worth. Considering the Claremont's Storm who kicks ass but is also essentially a woman in the way she thinks and acts, the cypher-Storm of the movie to me seems like a robot. Heck, IMO even the heroine of "Salt" is more of a woman than she is and her part was originally written for a man.

Re. Octavius's wife in Spider-Man 2: She was added primarily so that this happy conjugal life of a scientist and a literary scholar would be seen as something that Peter would want to model his future life as a scientist and superhero with MJ the actress on. Otto's ambition (hybris) and the influence of his arms is what motivates his slide into villainy, not his wife's death.

Richard P. Steeves said...

Wow. I've never heard a single negative comment about Chris Claremont as an X-Men scribe. In my circles, he is regarded as the definitive writer, and I cannot fathom many people disagreeing with that. I never would have imagined that his run needs to be defended. It, along with, say the Lee/Kirby FF and the Peter David Hulk, is one of the best comic runs of all time. I just kinda figured that was commonly agreed upon...

RonG said...

Jason - great, GREAT, series!

Neil - looking forward to your analyses of CC's later runs.

will either of you, or Geoff, analyze CC's other X-runs? specifically New Mutants and Excalibur?

Troy Wilson said...

Thanks so much for this, Jason. Job well done.

Inkwell Bookstore said...

Thanks for all of your time and insight, Jason. I've really enjoyed reading these.
(Now howzabout putting out a fat, 2000-some-odd page print-on-demand collection of all of these posts? I'd buy it in a heartbeat.)

Jason said...

Inky, it's great to hear that, truly. Unfortunately, though, no plans at this time. Too many other projects being worked on right now. Perhaps one day ...

JD said...

I've been slowly reading this series of articles over the last two months, and it's been very enlightening.

While I don't agree with everything, I've been surprised to see Jason concur with some of the conclusions I reached when I reread the Essentials (chiefly, that Rachel was very annoying indeed, and that the first Genosha arc is a very underrated gem - indeed, the only part of the Australian era that worked for me).

Matt said...

I started reading this series about a year ago and got up to issue 180-ish, at which point I was sidetracked or something and never came back. Then about two weeks ago I got it into my head to finish what I'd begun so long ago, and I continued reading all the way through to the end.

I've left a small flurry of comments over the past few days, nearly all of which were in (sometimes unnecessarily snarky) defense of Bob Harras. Maybe I have poor taste, but I like the guy, and I generally approve of his editorial style. But I wonder if in making those comments, I came across as anti-Claremont? If I did, that wasn't the case.

My first X-Men comic was Uncanny #291 or 292 or something -- it was the first chapter of the "X-Cutioner's Song" crossover with Cable standing over Professor X's body, smoking gun in hand. I had seen X-Men comics before, but something about them didn't really appeal to me. Most of the issues I'd perused to that point were from the Australian years, and they were so unlike what was going on in the X-comics I was now reading. Their costumes weren't very flashy and they didn't seem too superhero-y.

But going forward from "X-Cutioner's Song", there were often flashbacks and footnotes about old issues, before the Australia years. I tracked them down via Classic X-Men back issues, and that was where I fell for the writing of Chris Claremont. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned -- I still don't like the Australia years, and thanks to this blog I know why -- the "revolutionary politics" of the X-Men from that era just aren't something I like to read about. But the colorfully-garbed, "counter-revolutionary" X-Men of issues 94 - 176 constitute my all-time favorite run of any comic book ever. So I don't dislike Chris Claremont, though I'm not a fan of much of his later X-Men work. But this series really got me to appreciate even the stuff I don't like. I may not agree with it, but I feel that I better understand it.

Now, is it odd that having finally finished reading all these entries, I wand to go back and re-read X-Men going forward from X-Men #1? I've read all of Claremont's run multiple times, and I know what I think of it, and my opinions, for better or worse (love the early stuff, don't like the mid to late stuff, but like the very late stuff), are unlikely to change. But, I only read all the Lobdell/Nicieza/etc. stuff as it was coming out. I liked it at the time, but all these extremely thoughtful and analytical entries have made me wonder if it still holds up!

Teebore said...

@Matt: But, I only read all the Lobdell/Nicieza/etc. stuff as it was coming out. I liked it at the time, but all these extremely thoughtful and analytical entries have made me wonder if it still holds up!

The tone/style is a bit different than what Jason did here, but if you're interested in reading some critical analysis of the 90s X-books, starting with X-Men vol. 2 #1/Uncanny #281, I highly recommend Not Blog X by G Kendall.

And if Jason and Geoff don't mind a bit of shameless self-promotion, I invite you to check out my blog, where I've been doing a full on X-Men retrospective and am currently in the early goings of Claremont's run.

Matt said...

I'm a long time reader of Not Blog X, Teebore. I used to comment there quite a bit, but now that G Kendall spends about half his time on Spawn (which I never read), I mostly just skim it until Web of Spider-Man week comes around, or he reviews an X-title I actually read.

Strangely, his blog never really made me want to re-read the Lobdell/Nicieza/Harras era, but this one did. I guess my mind works in strange ways.

I will definitely check out your blog next! See you there.