[Jason Powell continues to epilogue the hell out of his epic look at Claremont's X-Men.]
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 FOUR 1986-1987
New Mutants #40, 1986
When Claremont turned Magneto into the new headmaster for the New Mutants, it didn’t always work. (I think Scott Lobdell commented in the “Comics Creators on X-Men” interview book that there was something horrible in seeing Magneto folding laundry.) But the story here is right on: Magneto fights the Avengers, who refuse to believe that he has reformed. I think that by the mid-80s, Claremont must have been pretty immersed in his private mutant universe, as he seems to relish the idea of taking down Marvel’s mainstream heroes down a peg. Captain America and company come off as terribly smug and sanctimonious here, and it’s quite a joy to see Magneto (and the New Mutants, particularly Illyana) take the team down. There’s a quite wonderful moment when Magneto points out the Avengers’ hypocrisy, them having accepted the formerly villainous Sub-Mariner among their ranks yet refusing to believe that Magneto could reform. Captain America points out what he believes to be a key difference: With Namor, there is a precedence for heroism, as the Sub-Mariner actually fought against Nazis in World War II. Magneto’s reply – informed by his own history with the Nazi regime – is dryly perfect: “How fortunate for him, Captain.”
People have theorized that part of the X-Men’s popularity was due to their status as the outcasts of the Marvel Universe. Since comics fans themselves often feel like outcasts, it was easy for them to identify with the X-Men, and certainly must have felt empowered by the glamorization of the characters. This particular issue of New Mutants – with its group of teenage misfits rallying around a powerful leader to defeat and humiliate a group of smug authoritarians too blind to see how very wrong they are – surely must be a quintessential example of this phenomenon. I mean, I like to think I am reasonably well-adjusted and integrated into society, but I still want to cheer when I read this one.
Classic X-Men #7b, 1986
Ah, the Classic X-Men backups, illustrated by John Bolton. Some of Claremont’s best X-Men stories, these. Issue 7 introduces us to a Hellfire Club run by normal humans. Sebastian Shaw has worked his way into the inner circle, but the other mutants – Tessa, Harry Leland, Emma Frost, and another female mutant, called Lourdes – are still on the outside. But an attempt by the Club’s chairman, Edward Buckmann, to eradicate mutants with a new batch of Sentinels changes things. Shaw initiates a coup, and takes over the Inner Circle, thus leading to the Hellfire Club status quo we all know and love, as introduced in X-Men 129.
These back-up stories are a great example of Claremont’s ability to be economical when needed. Here’s what I said about this one: ‘There’s a fantastic bit of dialogue toward the end of the Sentinel sequence, when Shaw’s lover, a mutant named Lourdes, dies from wounds received during the fight. It begins with a fairly standard cliché: As she starts to fade, she flashes back to a happy time in her life, and wishes she could be there again. She then looks at Shaw and says, “Oh, Sebastian ... why does Buckman hate us ...” Shaw’s reply: “Fear. Of what we are, and what we represent.” And then he adds, “Now, I’ll give him cause.”
From a sentimental flashback to a gently plaintive indictment of the villain’s racism, to Shaw’s surprisingly pragmatic response, to a chilling set-up for the story’s final act. … And it all happens in just a few lines. The flow is fantastic, and a great example of Claremont at his absolute best.’
Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men #4, 1987
What worse name could there be for a touching, heart-warming, character-driven drama than “The Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men”? But there it is. The title teams do fight, both in issue 2 and issue 4, but the whole series is built on emotional moments, not physical ones. The series is actually packed with psychological drama -- another example of Claremont economy, as in terms of page count this story is not that long – and everything pays off beautifully in the fourth and final issue. I’ve read it many, many times, and it always makes me cry. I mean, literally cry. Beautiful, heartwarming stuff.
Classic X-Men #12b , 1987
Another twelve-page Claremont-Bolton collaboration, which lays out large parts of Magneto’s back-story. Magneto is Claremont’s greatest single achievement as writer of the X-Men – by far his most fleshed-out, most three-dimensional characterization. And this is one of Claremont’s best Magneto stories, although it is trumped by …
Classic X-Men #19b , 1987
This is my single favorite X-Men story, ever. I’ll just link to the full write-up.