Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jason Powell's Top 20 Claremont X-Men Comics, part 1 (of 5)

[Jason Powell returns for this encore presentation. Because you demanded it! Neil should be back with the final part of his series soon.]

Per some folks’ request (hi, Jeremy), here is my top 20 favorite Claremont X-comics. (Today.) Note: I’m going chronological, not with a ranking.

PART ONE 1975-1981

Uncanny X-Men #96 – from 1975

The first issue fully plotted by Claremont, and it introduces several motifs that will recur often over the next sixteen years: Demonic invasion (see also: X-Men 143, X-Men 184-188, “Fall of the Mutants” and “Inferno”); women kicking ass (note Moira coming out with the machine gun, and of course it is Storm who saves the day); Ororo’s claustrophobia; and the one-page cutaways that seed upcoming plots (not something invented by Claremont, but it’s a device that he loves, and this is the first issue in which he uses it).

When I first blogged about this, Josh Hechinger made a great comment about it. Here’s an excerpt …

“ … notice how everyone's attacks on the monster are mainly them trying to defend whoever just got smacked down by the monster? Storm goes down, Colossus saves her. He goes down, Nightcrawler lays into the monster. Nightcrawler goes down, Wolverine goes berserker. It escalates, to the point of overcompensation. … Everyone on the team clearly A) doesn't want to see another teammate die and B) is trying really, really, REALLY hard to make up for the fact that they sat on their thumbs when Proudstar went boom. … (Except for Banshee, who DID try to save Proudstar, and as such is barely involved in the fight.)”


Uncanny X-Men #113 – 1978

The quintessential X-Men vs. Magneto fight, by Claremont/Byrne/Austin. That team always did action really well, and this is one of their best fight scenes, and it’s against their arch-enemy! (It’s also pretty much the final appearance of the evil, Silver Age Magneto. His rehabilitation begins to take place over the course of his next few appearances.)

Uncanny X-Men #132 – 1980

Here’s what I wrote originally: “This issue is a triumph by Claremont and Byrne, containing an embarrassment of riches. With the exception of their utter masterpiece, Uncanny X-Men #137, this one’s their very best. It contains the return of the Angel, a beautiful love scene between Scott and Jean, a wonderfully suspenseful assault by the X-Men upon the Hellfire Club, the full unveiling of Sebastian Shaw (arguably Claremont/Byrne’s greatest addition to the X-Men rogues’ gallery), the payoff to Jason Wyngarde’s seduction of Jean along with the revelation that Wyngarde is actually Silver Age villain Mastermind, and to top it all off the best picture of Wolverine ever drawn.”

Then in the comments, Doug M pointed out the use of contrast in the issue: “ … it is structured, to a degree rare even for top-form Claremont & Byrne, and almost unknown in mainstream comics up to this time. … We have two parts to this issue -- the intro in New Mexico, and the attack on the Hellfire Club in New York. … New Mexico is sunny and warm and clean. In New York, it's night and cold and snowing, and some of the action takes place in a sewer. … In New Mexico the X-Men are casual, in jeans and bathing suits. In New York, they're formal, in uniform or in evening dress. … New Mexico is wide open and outdoors. All but a couple of panels in New York are indoors, and some are claustrophobically so -- Nightcrawler and Wolverine going through tunnels. … New Mexico is heavenly, with an angel soaring high above. The Hellfire Club is hellish, with the two least human members of the team -- the one who /looks/ horrible, and the one who really /is/ horrible -- creeping through the sewers. … The very first panel has Angel flying high. The very last panel has Wolverine emerging from the muck deep underground.” Doug goes on with some interesting observations about how these contrasts reinforce thematically what is happening with Jean … it’s all great stuff. Check it out if you haven’t.


Uncanny X-Men #137 – 1980

The issue that everything before it was leading up to. A Greek tragedy, with superheroes.


Teebore said...

Thanks for coming back and posting these Jason! I'm excited to see the rest of your list.

For this run of issues, your favorites are some of my favorites, though I'd probably sub issue #108 for #96.

Not that #96 is bad, but I have particular fondness for the widescreen cosmic insanity of #108 (especially the Classic X-Men reprint which expands on what Jean does with the crystal, and was the way I first read the issue).

Jason said...

Yeah, apart from the fact that the new pages don't have Byrne/Austin artwork, the 1987 "Classic" version of 108 trumps the original, for me too. (I read the original comic first in "Marvel Masterworks," and was later blown away by the revamped version of the story in "Classic.")

Jason said...

(That said, I wanted to do a list that had a good sampling from all the different "eras," and I wanted to get something from the original Cockrum days.)

Robyrt said...

A lot of what makes a classic villain that superhero stories often miss is that the narrative respects him just as much as the characters do. Magneto is repeatedly shown to outfox and outgun the entire X-team, which makes subsequent "Here comes my arch-nemesis! Oh no!" speeches more believable. Contrast with villains like Arcade or Doctor Doom who we are told are dangerous but never meaningfully threaten the X-Men, and as a result lose their dramatic potential pretty quickly.

Jason said...

Good call, Robyrt. That was a great thing about the early Magneto appearances in Claremont's run.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing these, Jason.

Along with Days of Future Past, 113, 132 and 137 seem to be the real consensus builders among X-Men fans. There's not much I can add about any of those issues, though Doug's analysis of 132 calls to mind Watchmen 5 ("Fearful Symmetry"). Alan Moore has received tons of praise for the structure of this issue, and it is a great issue. Doug's comment made me realize that Claremont & Byrne's structure in 132 anticipated Moore's structural achievement in Watchmen 5 by half a decade, though 132's significance in popular discourse seems to be limited to the final panel.

96 is an interesting selection. When I got around to reading Claremont's initial run through in release-date order, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Giant-Size and the Len Wein-plotted issues. Having already read 111-113 and DPS at that point, I found myself eager to get to the Byrne issues even after Claremont completely took over for Wein. My impression then was that Claremont made "the leap" in his writing when he teamed up with Byrne. But as you point out, many of Claremont's motifs were on display from the moment he had control of the title, and looking back now, there were a number of aspects of those post-Wein, pre-Byrne issues that I like. Although when I think about those issues now I may be mentally commingling them with the stories from the Vignettes trade, which give those early issues added weight.

-- Mike

Jason said...

"Claremont & Byrne's structure in 132 anticipated Moore's structural achievement in Watchmen 5 by half a decade"

*** What Moore did in Watchmen is quite different, I think. The content of X-Men 132, or any issue of X-Men, is reproducible in other media. The structural symmetry in Watchmen 5 exists even in the panel layouts, which is quite another level of detail.

"Although when I think about those issues now I may be mentally commingling them with the stories from the Vignettes trade, which give those early issues added weight."

****I'm probably guilty of that myself at times.

Jeremy said...


I look forward to reading more!

Ken Dynamo said...

Cyclops' inner monologue in 96 is pretty hilarious.

i always like X-Men 98. killer purple robots are rad, not to mention its the last time jean grey will be conscious on earth for like 8 (real) years. retconned, i know, but still, i only read all these issues well post-retcon.

Matt said...

I hate to pick nits, but if John Byrne is to be believed (which I know is about a 50/50 chance), Dave Cockrum drew Moira with the machine gun on his own initiative. Claremont just ran with it.