Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Post-1991 Claremont Part 1

[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.

First up:


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 …

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.)


scottmcdarmont said...

And Claremont's explanation of why Klingons look different now? (Personally, I always felt willful suspension of disbelief was enough... but then theyd did that tricky DS9 episode)

Jason said...

I'm confused by my own blog post. Is this all I wrote? I thought I wrote a full, long blog post about some of the stuff that just gets a few sentences at the very end of this one.

Also, how long ago did I write these? Claremont's graphic novel is the "best Star Trek movie ever made"? Was this before the Abrams movie?

I feel estranged from my very self after reading this post. Not unlike a Claremont character.

Jason said...

"And Claremont's explanation of why Klingons look different now?"

You want me to spoil it!?!?

"(Personally, I always felt willful suspension of disbelief was enough...
but then theyd did that tricky DS9 episode)"

I would've argued that the DS9 episode was enough, as it poked fun at the subject while at the same time addressing it with some finality.

But Debt of Honor came out before that DS9 episode (and as such, doesn't quite jibe with it).

Basically Claremont's idea is that there are two races of Klingon -- the smooth-heads and the bumpy-heads (note: NOT official terminology). Back in Kirk's day, the smooth-heads were politically ascendant, and basically kept the bumpy heads down. They were "The Man," but the Klingon version.

Then there was a political paradigm shift, and the bumpy-heads became the movers and shakers.

Mitch said...

Ha! Bout time those tree-hugging smooth-heads got what was coming to them!

The only thing I have read from this list is the JLA series. I will have to change that. Thanks Jason.

How's Milwalkee treating you?

j said...

I had some of those AvP issues with I was a kid. I didn't know Claremont wrote them though. Dark Horse's AvP comics in the 90s were generally really good.

Teebore said...

I quite liked DS9's approach to the Klingon, which was pretty much just a "suspension of disbelief" wink at the audience. Claremont's take on it isn't bad either, and not too far removed from the "official" explanation (such as anything is official with Trek continuity) nowadays.

I've always been a sucker for the Aliens/Predators mashups (the concept, at least. Not so much the execution, as the movies have managed to somehow repeatedly botch a concept elegant in its simplicity) and, obviously, am a fan of Claremont, so I just might have to check out the Deadliest of the Species. Bet I could find them for a song at a convention.

scottmcdarmont said...

btw Jason,

I haven't been around much on the blog lately but congratulations on finishing the x-men blogs, your play and everything else. Hope to see some clips of the play soon.

Jason said...

Thank ye, Scott!

Mitch, Milwaukee's treating me all right, I guess. It's a bit boring, somehow. :)

FrF said...

I paused at the reference to Dark Horse Presents 1-2 because those issues are from 1986.

Actually, the Renegade story is in Dark Horse Comics 1 (http://www.comics.org/issue/50673/) & 2 (http://www.comics.org/issue/50690/) from 1992! The artist is Vince Giarrano.

Regards to Jason, the Stakhanov* of Chris Claremont fandom :-)


Anonymous said...

I think AvP may have been bimonthly. I remember the series being very protracted. It may have switched to monthly after six issues, though.

Looking back, those WildCATs issues look to have a lot of the tics of post-1998 X-Claremont. I could never tell what was going on or why I was supposed to care -- Tapestry, Soma, the Troika ... they night as well have been Neo.

I was desperate for more Claremont after X-Men and tried to get into his Defiant work (Prudence and Caution) and Sovereign Seven. But the magic seemed to be gone. Liked the novels,though.

Kudos on the monumental series, Jason.

Gary said...

Well, I just re-read all of Claremont's FF run that I own, so I wanted to weigh in on it.

It suffers in several places - not the least of which is that, early on, it took over from Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis, who were just knocking it out of the park. Davis' art has been consistently gorgeous since his second run on Excalibur, and Lobdell was just... man, he was having fun and the book was just a romp. The switch to Claremont's drama and dialogue tropes in #4 was harsh.

The tropes ran amok in the book, too. Everyone was the best at everything they do, and that could wear. It was a departure from the usual portrayals of the team in that they usually don't come off that hypercompetent. But, it was a very nice portrayal in that it showed that the rest of the FF pulled their weight outside of combat. There's a bit where the Pogo Plane gets blown up in issue 11, and Ben laments everything he'd had to do to get it licensed (four or five word baloons in one panel, natch). It does make it feel more practical that so much gets done, and it works for the FF because they've got such a stable lineup - why? Because they're all fricking awesome at more than one thing, that's why - but when every villain is built up as an insurmountable threat and every hero made an undefeatable paragon... it gets old.

The plots, though... once you get past the part where a lot of the early books feel like Excalibur leftovers (Warwolves, Gatecrasher and the Technet, Roma, the Cross-Time Caper in the Negative Zone), man, they are GOOD. They're big. They're expansive. They're interesting. Even the Excalibur leftovers. It's not that they were bad, just that they felt like stuff Claremont wanted to do on his old book but never got to.

There's some great moments in the run, too. Franklin ups the power levels of the entire FF to fight off the Captain Britain Corps, which is so cool, and then Galactus shows up to give the FF a personal reference on top of it... DANG. Johnny and Ben track down a hiding Dr. Doom in his own castle with no assistance from Reed. Ben fights the whole current lineup of the Avengers in this bizarre half-speed dust up when the Avengers try to corral him after Dr. Doom (actually Reed trapped in Doom's armor) joins the FF... so cool.

Oh, and I want to call out this one aggravation: Ben tells Doom, "Beatin' one of the FF? For a guy like you? That's easy." Um, Chris? Ben beats the crap out of Doom, takes everything he's got and won't stop coming, in FF 40. "Battle of the Baxter Building".

Good run, overall.

Gary said...

Oh, and if you're looking for other good post-X-Men Claremont, his Contest of Champions 2 is excellent. He writes Deadpool and Spider-Man in rapid succession and keeps their humor distinct. He writes a fantastic, butt-kicking Human Torch in issue 2, and writes reader-determined battles that just click, unlike Ron Marz's inadequate effort in Marvel v. DC.

Good stuff. Enjoy it.

Jason said...

Thanks, Gary. I'll have to look at those FF issues again. I of course have a huge love for 17 and 18, which I have brought up more than once on this blog. I like those two because they are fairly self-contained.

But there are other issues of that run that I remember liking as well, and it did seem like CC hit a groove around that time. I wasn't able to track down all the issues post-18, so I kind of lapsed in my reading.

It's really nice to hear some positive words about the FF run, though, because it is definitely oft-maligned. (Does Plok still come round these parts? He mentioned Claremont's FF being shitty with a capital "S" (literally).)

I have never been tempted to trackdown Contest of Champions 2 ... might have to rectify that. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I was never a fan of Claremont's FF because it did read like Claremont was more interested in writing Excalibur but got stuck with FF instead.
As a FF fan, it just wasn't what I was interested in reading in that book.
There's a fair point that the run might get better, but I had been jaded by the early issues, plus I did really enjoy the Lobdell/Davis run.
But, there were certainly some problems.

As far as WildCATs, I don't really blame Claremont for those "tics", as that seems to be the main problem with WildCATs. I never enjoyed that series. Even Alan Moore's run was plagued by those same problems.
The WildCATs team always seemed very generic, and the entire concept of the book seemed to be to avoid characterization.