[Jason Powell continues to epilogue the hell out of his huge look at Claremont's X-Men.]
PART THREE: 1984 - 1985
Uncanny X-Men #183, 1984
Kitty and Peter break up. Original blog entry says: “Thanks to Romita’s incredible talent for drawing a fist-fight, combined with Claremont’s peerless ability to write superheroes as real, psychologically credible human beings, this is the first issue of Uncanny X-Men that – instead of being weighted one way or the other – is truly equal parts superb melodrama and dynamic action story. The balance would never again be this perfect.”
New Mutants #27, 1985
It’s probably obvious that I’m sort of cherry-picking a favorite issue from each miniature “era” of Claremont’s run. Obviously Claremont/Sienkiewicz has to be represented somewhere, despite the relative brevity of their collaboration on New Mutants (it lasted just a little over a year, from issue 18 to issue 31). It was a really fantastic bit of synergy – Claremont was explicitly pleased with it when he talked about Sienkiewicz in the “Comics Creators on X-Men” book. I had always assumed that some of the wild concepts that cropped up over the course of that run were the result of Sienkiewicz co-plotting, but apparently I had it backwards. According to Nocenti in her interview with Patrick Meaney (as always, thanks, Patrick!), Claremont was just coming up with wilder and wilder ideas, so Nocenti felt obliged to seek out an artist whose sensibility was out-there enough to match with Claremont’s increasingly weirder ideas. (So, the next time you see someone online say that Warlock was created as a way to showcase Bill Sienkiewicz’s weirdness, be aware that it just ain’t so. Sienkiewicz was recruited so that Warlock would be portrayed according to Claremont’s vision.)
Anyway, this issue is my favorite of the Claremont/Sienkiewicz run – it’s the middle part of the “Legion” three-parter. It’s a stock plot, one of Claremont’s go-to’s: a journey through the astral plane, inside someone’s psyche. It allows for a lot of weird, dream-like imagery, which normally can feel a bit self-indulgent and wearying. But Sienkiewicz’s art style – so impressionistic in style, and so varied in form – really elevates the concept beyond what has become a superhero-genre cliché. The story is visually insane enough to actually feel like it might be taking place inside of someone’s mind. Meanwhile, Claremont’s characterization of Xavier, as he explores the mind of a son he didn’t know he had, is quite powerful and multi-faceted. Xavier has always been portrayed as the guy who knows more than he tells. He’s the one who knows all the secrets. But here, we see a fantastic reversal of that – we get to see Charles as the naïve one, for a change. And it’s all completely credible.
The issue also feels rather strikingly topical when reading it now, as part of David “Legion” Haller’s mental backdrop is informed by the Arab-Israeli conflict.
New Mutants Special Edition, 1985
Unlike with X-Men, where Claremont loved to shake up the roster on a regular basis, the New Mutants had a much more consistent line-up during Claremont’s tenure. Possibly because Claremont had a special affection for his own babies – the X-Men were largely created by other people, but all nine New Mutants were created or co-created by Claremont himself. (Except for Illyana Rasputin, technically, but she really was a cipher until Claremont did the Limbo story with her.)
Anyway, there is no better showcase for all nine New Mutants than the 64-page 1985 Special Edition, which drops each of them in a different domain of Asgard and then has fun watching as they attempt to survive and thrive in a realm of pure fantasy, slowly but surely making their way to each other.
What I said earlier: “Ann Nocenti once again earns her chops as an editor; she’s got every member of the creative cast working not only at peak efficiency, but seemingly in telepathic unison. The various design elements – layout, line, color, letters – complement each other so well, it’s almost hard to believe that so many different people were involved. The clarity of expression and continuity of design are breathtaking.”
Art Adams didn’t draw all that many mutant stories by Claremont, but whenever he did, the results were always gold. Adams’ depictions of the New Mutants are actually my favorites. I don’t think anyone drew these nine characters better.