[Guest blogger Neil Shyminsky With Two Ys heroically picks up where Claremont SuperBlogger Jason Powell leaves off.]
When Geoff asked me, many months ago, to cover Claremont’s return to the X-Men – 100 or so issues after he left – I told him that I would be glad to cover the issues where he set the new status quo, but that I didn’t have enough enthusiasm to go beyond that. At the very least, I had genuinely fond memories of X-Men #100 and Uncanny X-Men #381.
But memories are a funny thing. There’s a University of Washington study that’s commonly taught to Intro Psych students where, under particular conditions, researchers found that they could convince nearly half of their subjects that they had met Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. Which is, of course, impossible. I bring this up because, having re-read the issues that I agreed to write about, I can only assume that Jason’s series – and, of course, the issues that I’ve read alongside his analyses – somehow warped or otherwise compromised my sense of just how good these comics were. Which isn’t to say that they’re purely awful...
But let me back up. X-Men #100 shipped only a month after #99, but six months had passed since the High Evolutionary depowered and repowered all of mutantkind. The six month gap isn’t unprecedented – the X-books pulled something similar a few years after Claremont left, after the “Age of Apocalypse”, and also skipped an indeterminate amount of time prior to Giant Size X-Men, which immediately preceded Claremont’s first run – but there’s something lazy about it. Over at uncannyxmen.net, Peter Luzifer writes that the gap occurred in lieu of “slowly building up new plot elements and having the characters coming up with lame excuses for their new looks”, and the results are generally underwhelming: there’s no explanation for why this is the current line-up, who’s leading, and why it’s such an unusually small team; Psylocke has new powers, inexplicably; Rogue’s absorption power no longer affects Colossus; Colossus and Rogue hook up spontaneously*; a new Thunderbird appears and we’re given no reason to care about him; the new villains, the Neo, have no clear motivation, ambiguous powers, or stock-villain personalities and dialogue.
(*Okay, so this one could have been good, in the classically soap opera-ish way that CC really excels at: Claremont later explained that the idea was to give Rogue a choice between a man she loved but couldn’t touch and one she could touch but didn’t love. But it unfolds too quickly and awkwardly, and it’s never picked up again.)
It’s not all bad. Aside from Warren Ellis on Excalibur, it seems like no one since Claremont himself had done much (or ANYthing) to develop Shadowcat, so the change in her appearance and attitude and the central role are nice surprises, if awkwardly executed. (Of course, she would be separated from the team and wouldn’t reappear for the duration of Claremont’s stay on X-Men.**) Take the line of dialogue, given to Shadowcat, that would become emblematic, at least among people on internet message boards of the day, of how Claremont was pressing too hard: “Reboot your system, baby. ‘Cause time only goes in one direction.” Ugh. Nightcrawler’s turn as a priest is also a worthy development, even if it’s strange that Claremont effectively skips the developmental bits – why he left, how he’s changed – in order to “return” him to super-heroics after he had retired from it for... zero issues. These are minor victories, clearly.
(**I’ve read that this was due to – stop me if you’ve heard it before – editorial interference. Kitty was supposed to get a miniseries that would address where she went, why Seth said she was a Neo, and so on, but the L.S. was dropped and Claremont was told to move on. One other interesting side-note on editors: the X-editor who chased Claremont off in the first place, Bob Harras, was presiding as editor-in-chief and rehired him for this run. And it wasn’t his fault that CC’s second run was so short, either – Claremont was booted this second time by Harras’ replacement, Joe Quesada.)
But for a Claremont reader with a long (if malleable) memory, these things shouldn’t be surprising. The first dozen or so issues of his original run have a similar slap-dash feel, as if Claremont is just throwing ideas against a wall as they come to him, knowing that most of them probably won’t stick. (Spoiler: most of them don’t, the second time OR the first.) We fans remember how early he planted the seeds for a Wolverine-Jean relationship and are impressed with his forward-thinking, but we forget that he did the same for Colossus and Storm; the first hints of what will eventually lead to the Phoenix Saga appear in Claremont’s first ten issues, but so is the suggestion that Wolverine is literally a mutant wolverine (though this was originally Len Wein’s idea), which will turn out to be much less fondly recalled. The point, simply, is that Claremont’s stories have always unfolded slowly and he needs time to set things up, to figure out what will work and what won’t. Whether this is an adequate defense of these newer issues or a knock against the older ones depends on how much patience you have as a reader.
In a move that’s entirely to be expected if you’re a long-time reader of either Claremont’s X-Men or Jason Powell’s re-evaluation of them, there is also a very deliberate effort on Claremont’s part to revisit his own work: the space station, Peter Corbeau, the telekinetic bubble to protect the team on re-entry – this stuff all recalls the first year of Claremont’s original run and the events that lead to the first appearance of Phoenix. (So, too, does the series of variant covers, each drawn by someone who had their own lengthy penciling gig during Claremont’s run, and often featuring the team as it existed when that penciler was on Uncanny X-Men. And so this has the effect of feeling like a tribute to the writer after-the-fact, a remembrance of what he’s done, which is a curious choice when you’re supposed to be pushing new stories with new characters and a new set of villains.)
What’s lacking here, though, is any obvious commentary on the older stuff. Jason’s series did a particularly good job of showing how Claremont’s backward glances were always meta-commentaries on where the team had been and where they were going – there are too many that fit the bill to list them all, but here are a few*** – but I don’t really see that meta-element, here. (Except, I suppose, in Kitty’s brief dialogue.) I’m not even sure that we can call this connection anything more than “interesting”, especially since it’s not clear that the events of the space station are meaningful outside this story – it provides a scene for a Neo terrorist attack, but why did it need to be a space station? It’s as if Claremont thought that a lazy gesture would be good enough.
(*** Thanks goes to Jason, once more, for helping me track down a lot of the posts that are found via these hyperlinks. There’ll be more of them, too.)
I should also add that Claremont is simply not the same narrator he once was. In the very confusingly rendered scene where Kitty descends into the, um, I guess the bowels of the space station, we would be forgiven for wondering whether we were watching a flashback. For a writer who was famous for over-narrating in order to compensate for poor art, Claremont is surprisingly unhelpful. More surprisingly, none of that purple, poetic language that Jason has noted numerous times is in evidence, here. The issue is set in outer-space, but he never describes it to us in anything but a perfunctory manner. It’s a notable absence.
A bit of good, a lot of bad, and the feeling that something is missing – it’s an auspicious start to Claremont’s second-coming.