[Jason Powell continues to talk about Claremont. And we will listen to him forever because he is awesome.]
In the spirit of not-wanting-to-quit, and as a testament to the addictiveness of Claremont’s writing, I thought I’d follow up the end to the Claremont/X-Men blog series with a few epilogues, if you will. (Epi-blogs?)
First off, people at one point were asking if I was going to look at any of Claremont’s “return to X-Men” work that started in 1998 and has pretty much continued non-stop since then. As noted, this simply isn’t in me, because I don’t have any interest in that material.
But I do hate that it makes me sound as if I find none of Claremont’s post-1991 work edifying. Quite the opposite, actually. There is much of it that I enjoy – it’s just that none of it is “X”-related.
So I thought I’d do a multi-part run-down of what I consider the best of Claremont’s post-1991, non-X-Men work.
ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: DEADLIEST OF THE SPECIES 1-12
This was released by Dark Horse over the course of more than a year (a monthly schedule, with a few delays). I think it was over 1995-1996 … ? Art was supplied by Jackson Guice for the first issue or two, then quickly transitioned to Eduardo Barretta for the bulk of it. (Hope I got that name right … a lot of these comics are in storage …)
Clocking in at 300 very text-heavy pages, this is pretty much a full-on sci-fi novel. The use of the respective mythologies from the two movie franchises is canny and accurate without being overwhelming, so that the story can stand as a solid, self-contained epic in its own right. (Really no more than a rudimentary knowledge of the Aliens or Predator films is required.)
Set in a future wherein the aristocracy live in giant, luxury space-stations while the planet Earth itself is an alien-overrun slum, “Deadliest” takes as its departure point the concept of the “trophy wife,” which here is explored to a science-fictional extreme: women who are genetically engineered to be the ideal mates for the billionaires who requisition them – “perfect” not just physically but psychologically as well.
Interestingly, the storyline also involves Predator/Alien hybrids, which I seem to recall reading was the macguffin of the most recent crossover film. Claremont did it first AGAIN! Ten years ahead of Hollywood! (Although this strikes me as such a no-brainer of an idea for a crossover between the two franchises that I doubt Claremont was really the first to do something with it.)
For the Claremont fan, characteristic touches here include the strong feminist agenda: Beyond the critique of the whole trophy-wife phenomenon, there is also the title’s implicit pushing of the female gender as the more formidable one, and the fact that the three protagonists are, as Claremont put it when he plugged the series in an interview, “a female human, a female Predator, and a female Alien.” (The latter, of course, is a perfectly natural choice, as the original films already established the “Queens” as the dominant creatures.)
The storyline gets characteristically complex too, with a large cast and several nicely fleshed-out settings. Claremont’s talent for world-building is shown off to good effect here (a skill he never got to demonstrate much in X-Men, since he was operating in the already-established Marvel Universe). It’s not all just flash and dazzle, either. Every detail gets woven into the overarching mystery, all feeding into a strong payoff.
For X-Men fans, the series also features lettering by Tom Orzechowski, which is awesome. And there is something fun about seeing Claremont being able to write actual “Aliens” after having contented himself previously on doing his pastiches via The Brood. Each issue also features a beautiful cover by John Bolton (my favorite of all of Claremont’s artistic collaborators, on X-Men or anything else).
The series is still in print, courtesy of Dark Horse’s “Aliens vs. Predator Omnibus Volume 2,” which features all twelve issues of “Deadliest.” (Sadly, though, it omits the Bolton covers.) I have the original issues, but I’ve often been tempted to buy the Omnibus, just to have the whole epic in one handy little volume.
Then there’s …
DARK HORSE PRESENTS 1-2
The ending of “Deadliest of the Species” reads very much like an “origin” story for a new sci-fi/superhero comic-book. It’s even got the superhero name spoken melodramatically as the last line of dialogue in the story: “RENEGADE!” Apparently at one point there were plans for Claremont to do a comic with this title for Dark Horse – in fact, a year or two before “Deadliest” was published, Claremont did a sixteen-page Renegade story published in the first two issues of a Dark Horse anthology comic entitled DARK HORSE PRESENTS (which also, somewhat coincidentally, featured a Predator story drawn by Claremont’s occasional X-collaborator Rick Leonardi).
This li’l tale (titled simply “Renegade,” appropriately enough) appears to be set years after the events of “Deadliest of the Species,” despite being published first, so it stands as kind of an odd quasi-prologue/epilogue to the longer work. I think I’d suggest reading it AFTER “Deadliest” even though I personally read it first. (I picked up all this stuff as it came out, ‘cause I was all Claremont-crazy back then).
As a story in its own right, it’s quite brisk and exciting. At its core a basic construct of superhero versus supervillain (both of them female, unsurprisingly), it’s notable for the larger universe hinted at. Claremont seems to have an elaborate backstory/history/milieu all worked out, and even in the space of sixteen pages he paints a compelling portrait of it, through only a few deft strokes. A shame this one never got off the ground, as it had a lot of intriguing potential.
Can’t remember who supplies the artwork to “Renegade,” but I quite like it. It’s rather sleek and sexy (but not at all doing the pandering Image art style so en vogue at the time), particularly the design of the antagonist. And once again, lettering is by Tom Orzechowski (yeah!).
Taken all in all, the above two works comprise a fabulous sci-fi graphic novel, well worth the time of any fan of the genre.
JLA: Scary Monsters 1-6 (these have kick-ass covers too, this time by Art Adams)
Fantastic Four 17-18 (most of Claremont's Fantastic Four run from 1998-2000 is too mired in confusing subplots, but right in the middle he does this fantastic "Matrix meets Batman" two-parter that is just amazingly entertaining)
WildCATS 10-13 (good solid action, feels like a direct continuation of the slam-bang Claremont/Lee stuff at the tail end of Claremont's Uncanny run)
The "High Frontier" trilogy of novels (FirstFlight, Grounded, Sundowner). (The last one gets just a *tad* confusing at times, but overall this is great, pulpy sci-fi material.)
The Black Dragon and Marada the She-Wolf (Claremont's fantasy collaborations with John Bolton. Fantasy is not my favorite genre, but the combo of Claremont and Bolton is awesomeness that can't be denied)
Star Trek: Debt of Honor (Set after Star Trek IV, a really brilliant synthesis of Star Trek mythology up to that point and great space opera in its own right as well. Art is by the awesome Adam Hughes, who really goes all out. Claremont even gives us the best-ever explanation for why Klingons look different now than they did in the 1960s. A beautiful graphic novel, all across the board -- exciting, clever, touching. Who'd have thought a comic book would turn out to be the best Star Trek movie ever made?)
Gen13 issues 0-7 (I think ... whatever is collected in the September Song trade. I honestly think this had the potential to become a really fantastic team book. The characters were fun, the Manga-inspired art was bright and attractive, the writing was snappy and engaging. The September's Song arc is loads of fun. But I get the impression that when sales dipped on this series, Claremont changed his focus mid-stream, so that a story about a whole new team instead became a confusing arc about revivifying the original Gen13, who I don't think were all that great. That's why issues 8-16 don't make the list. Very frustrating to read these comics now, because it all seemed to be heading somewhere really interesting.)