[Neil Shyminsky continues his look at Claremont's more recent return to the X-Men.]
In my blogs about Claremont’s return to X-Men and Uncanny, I spent a lot of space writing about how Claremont was never as tediously wordy or prone to allowing characters to soliloquize, and noted how those comics were themselves proof that fan claims had always been exaggerated. But a strange thing happens in the course of a year. Because by the time that Claremont, having been pushed from the core books for Jon Casey and Grant Morrison, transitions to X-Treme X-Men and launches it with a new first issue, his verbosity has become prolixity*, and the writer has become a stereotype of himself.
(* For those who also didn’t know this word existed – I found it by accident a few weeks ago – the dictionary tells me that prolixity is “boring verbosity.” Perfect.)
Of the 31 pages I count in the issue, fewer than half (14, and maybe 15 if you include the page where Thunderbird shoots a fireball) contain any action at all, much less a fight of any kind – and many of those pages of action consist of the X-Men getting pwned by goons in futuristic armor, which is hardly exciting stuff. That means that 17 pages feature characters who are only standing or sitting, all the while talking or thinking. Of those 17 pages, four are devoted to in-narrative storytelling that’s designed to fill-in the backstory for readers who are new to the X-Men (a one page summary of who the X-Men are) and/or wondering what makes X-Treme X-Men different from the other books (three pages about Destiny’s diaries and how they came to learn about them). And then there’s a couple pages where the characters discuss why they don’t trust Professor X anymore**. And a couple more pages where the local police and politicians explain and introduce themselves to one another for our benefit. This isn’t just a lot of exposition – it’s the exposition of your nightmares.
(**Which, on top of being unnecessarily long, also happens to be badly written, since it forces us to a) align ourselves, as the reader being filled in, with the surprisingly ignorant and personality-less Thunderbird who is asking the questions, and also b) believe that Thunderbird, having been on the team for at least a year at this point, is really that clueless and made the decision to join this mission without really knowing why they were doing it. Which is only possible to believe if Claremont thinks that either he or we are stupid.)
The characters that Claremont has chosen are a bit strange, too, given his characterization strengths and traditional favourites among the X-Men. Granted, Claremont was working under restraints, here – Morrison and Casey were given first pick, so Chris only had so many options. (This is why Beast appears only in the first couple issues – Morrison hadn’t yet put his claim in when Claremont started, and so he had to be hastily written out.) But for someone famed for writing so many varied voices, and writing them so well, the uniformity and blandness of his choices is underwhelming: the aloof ‘living-computer’, the aloof no-fun cop from the future, the aloof weather goddess, the aloof English ninja aristocrat, the slightly-less-aloof Indian aristocrat... stop me once you see the pattern. Aside from Rogue and the short-lived Beast, this is a team that is surprisingly (for Claremont) lacking in humor and, well, fun. And when you combine an exposition-driven issue with such seriousness, the result is less than exciting***. It is, in fact, just boring.
(*** Confession time: Even in re-reading this, so as to write about it, I couldn’t force myself to read every word bubble, much less every word. There are entire pages where, while I could tell you vaguely who was there and what was discussed, I couldn’t be compelled under threat of torture to tell you what they specifically talked about.)
This being, effectively, the second year of Claremont’s discontinuous return to the X-Men, it’s at least nice to see some familiar Claremontisms re-emerge in his writing:
Rogue informs us that she is both invulnerable and that her claws will “cut through anything – but ah won’t!” (though, to her credit, she makes a joke out of how she announced the former)
Sage uses the old cliché, “Not today, gentleman. And certainly not by the likes of you!”
This one, from Psylocke: “Weighed in that balance, our own fate, our very lives, they’re nothing”.
And from Beast: “Comes with the uniform, comes with the moniker of X-Men”.
It’s not enough to save the issue, of course, but it’s at least an indication that Claremont is no longer afraid to dip into his bag of old tricks. Too bad that, given the awfulness of its surroundings, this sounds more like a pale imitation of Claremont than it does Claremont himself.
In Jason’s final post on X-Men 1-3, he raves about how the qualities that made Claremont’s writing so well loved were in evidence right until the end of that 17 year run: “Fun, intelligence, eloquence, action, intrigue, an unabashed affection for the characters, and an unqualified respect for his readers.” But in this, his second go at launching a new X-Men title, it’s not clear that more than one or two of those attributes have survived the intervening years.
I want to say something nice about this comic, but I don’t have much. I certainly have nothing nice to say about the non-Claremont aspects – I think Sal Larroca is a weak storyteller and the digitally ‘painted’ panels are muddy and clash badly with the crisp outlines of the text and their bubbles. But the important point is this – it feels, after a year, like Claremont has already run out of enthusiasm. And while it also seems that he recaptured some of his old form by the time that his run on X-Treme (which lasts four years) ended and he returned to Uncanny X-Men (for another two-and-a-half years), it’s not in evidence here and this comic is hardly better than fan fiction. Not good at all.