Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Jason Powell's Top 20 Claremont X-Men Comics, part 4 (of 5)

[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.


Shlomo said...

Interesting that #10 thru #16 are not from the main title... I guess we'll see about the last four.

Anonymous said...

After reading FF vs. X-Men, I was convinced Claremont would be the perfect writer for Fantastic Four... I guess his run wasn't a total train wreck, but I dropped the book, disappointed, long before the story you wrote up. Still, Claremont on FF in the '80s could have been great.

New Mutants 40 is etched pretty strongly in my memory. The fight with the Avengers was amazing, and then the last few pages convinced me that Magneto truly cared for his students. I have a soft spot for the New Mutants, as their series was one of the first I tried to follow through back-issues, but they weren't the most inspired creations. In fits and spurts, however, the title matched and occasionally surpassed its parent title.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

The back up story for classic x-men #7 was always my favorite. It's amazing how deep an origin story Claremont was able to tell in 12 pages. Its a shame that Marvel seems to have forgotten the story was already told, and published that awful 4 issue Hellfire Club mini in 2000. "The secret origins of the X-men's deadliest foes!" Ha!

No love for UX 211. That issue blew my mind when I read it. The moment Colossus snaps riptide's neck i knew things would never be the same.

Al said...

Is there a way I can get a link to Meaney's interviews with the X-Creators?

Jason said...

Mike L, I agree with pretty much all of that.

Anon, I never read the Hellfire mini. Did it contradict Classic #7, or just try to add stuff to it?

Al, not at the moment, to my knowledge.

J said...

I love New Mutants 40 issue. You forgot to mention though that while most of the Avengers acted all uppity, Cap was having conflicted thoughts and was learning towards believing Magneto. I always thought that was a nice touch.

Andrew said...

not for nothing but i am very much enjoying hickman's current FF run.

Teebore said...

I've always loved that New Mutants issue, especially the bit you discussed about Sub Mariner's reformation.