Tuesday, December 14, 2010

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

[Jason Powell finishes, FOR NOW, his epiloguing to his look at EVERY Claremont X-Men issue from the initial mega-run. BUT, if you enjoy Jason Powell's writing and/or Claremont, and god knows you do, you should continue to check this blog on Tuesdays, because we hope to have an exciting thing for you soon; and in the mean time we may be offering more Powell Claremont blogs to tide you over till that THING arrives. Anticipation! Mystery!]

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 FIVE: 1988-1991


Uncanny X-Men Annual #12, 1988

Maybe this is a cheat, because this issue has two great Claremont stories for the price of one. And both are illustrated by Art Adams, which is awesome.

The first one is pretty straightforward – an all-out action story that hearkens back to the Claremont/Byrne days. But it’s doubly cool because – having been published after the Bolton Classic X-Men backups, in can actually incorporate elements of said back-ups, thus cementing those Bolton stories in the X-Men canon. This one is a great payoff for the Claremont loyalists.
Meanwhile, in glorious contrast to the un-self-conscious romp of the first story, the b-side here, “I Want My X-Men” is gloriously meta-texual, and looking at it 22 years later, one realizes that it was remarkably prescient. Via the media-parody character Mojo (created by Adams and Ann Nocenti), Claremont is mocks the commercial exploitation of the X-Men franchise. As I said in the original blog entry: ‘… Mojo creates one X-Men spinoff after another. Note that in 1988, the amount of X-Men spinoffs could still be counted on one hand. Though the writing was on the wall, the franchise was still relatively contained, and would not proliferate to absurd levels until the 1990s, soon after Claremont quit in frustration. Though he portrays himself as martyr in “I Want My X-Men” (albeit a whiny one), the fact is that Claremont – with this story – correctly sees where the franchise is heading. In the images of Mojo as he magically whips up one spin-off team after another – throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks – we see the future of the X-Men: a franchise that has become the victim of its own “excess success.” Once the hottest thing in comics, the X-Men line is now a bloated parody of itself, as Marvel overstuffs the shelves with “... X-Men after X-Men. Mutants without end ... skinny X-Men, fat X-Men, giant X-Men, tiny X-Men, musical X-Men, dancing X-Men, X-Men fish, X-Men insects, chimps in X-men costumes, X-Men mimes ... midget X-Men, X-Men made of straw or brick or mint chocolate ice cream! Each group of X-Men more boring, more tiresome, more ... malodorous ... than the one before ...” Claremont saw it coming, all along.


Uncanny X-Men #236, 1988

This is part two of the original four-parter that introduced the concept of Genosha, a mutant-slave state. This was the ultimate expression of the “mutants as persecuted minority” metaphor, at least in Claremont’s run. Never was it more brutally conveyed, and never did the X-Men seem more perfectly placed, politically. The X-Men are truly morally outraged here by how they see their own kind being treated, and they genuinely become freedom fighters here.

Issue 236, titled “Busting Loose,” is the best of the story’s four chapters. What I said in the blog: ‘Ultimately then, “Busting Loose” has all the trappings of a conventional superhero story: There are evil masterminds, people in trouble, a city buried under moral corruption – and a bright, primary colored superhero who emerges toward the end to take care of everything. Claremont’s genius is in both complicating and enhancing all of these story beats, making the danger harsher, the morality murkier, the heroes more troubled – then clothing it all in a real-world allegory. With its powerfully realized antagonists, morally outraged heroes, breathtakingly designed setting, superbly complex character dynamics and surprising political astuteness, issue 236 is a true triumph on the part of Claremont and company. In some ways, “Busting Loose” is the apex of Claremont’s creativity and expression on the Uncanny X-Men series, a peak blend of intelligence, action and drama that few X-Men issues before or after would match.’


Uncanny X-Men #242, 1988

This and the next issue – parts of the “Inferno” crossover -- are actually the only times in Claremont’s run on “Uncanny” that all five of the original Silver Age X-Men are active protagonists. Indeed, they are more or less the heroes of this story, while Claremont’s team (the “Outback” lineup at this point) are mostly portrayed as demonic villains. Part of why I love this issue is just that continuity-geek aspect of it: It’s also the only time that Claremont has the “old” X-Men actually appear and fight the “new” ones. (It seemed to happen twice in the early Claremont days, but in one case the Silver Age team turned out to be robots; in the other, they were telepathic illusions.) The fight is quite excitingly rendered too, by Silvestri and Green, who were an underrated art team on the series.

I also love evil Madelyne Pryor here. Maddie probably qualifies as one of my “comic-book character crushes,” and while the “Goblin Queen” transformation was a bit of a travesty (done to make Scott look good by comparison), Claremont gives her such a righteous rage here that I find it a little bit intoxicating. She’s such a force of nature here, confronting characters with their own hypocrisies even as she attempts to kill them (or in Havok’s case, seduce him).

Like Uncanny 137, this is another one that I always think of as being like a Greek tragedy, particularly the “brother vs. brother” stuff with Havok and Cyclops. More on that in the original blog entry here: http://geoffklock.blogspot.com/2009/10/uncanny-x-men-242.html

Indeed, “Inferno” has many parallels with “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” The one is in many respects a sequel to the other. “Dark Phoenix” is regarded a classic while “Inferno” is considered one of the worst X-Men stories, but I think they are both fantastic. Indeed, there are some ways in which I find “Inferno” superior. But most rewarding (for me) is in looking at how the two stories play off of each other.


Uncanny X-Men #275, 1991

And we gotta get a Jim Lee one in there. This is perhaps another cheat, as it is a “double feature” again. And once again, one part is a bright, shiny action story that is content just to revisit the glory days (this time going all the way back to Claremont/Cockrum, and the Shi’ar and Starjammers stuff). That’s all well and good (in fact it’s beaucoup fun), but the other half is where the real gold is: Magneto and Rogue vs Zaladane in the Savage Land. This of course has its roots in Claremont/Byrne as well. But the emotional core of the issue – Magneto – is all thanks to Claremont’s vision of the character. This is the climax of his character arc under Claremont, as Magnus renounces his “heroism” phase without returning to villainy. It is here that Magneto – like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight – becomes “too big” for comic-book distinctions of morality. He is simply too complex for that. This is Claremont’s last genuinely moving issue of X-Men.

And there you have it. Jeremy, I hope you enjoyed it!


Jeremy said...

I DID enjoy, thank you very much! I don't know what is about top 10/20/100/etc list, but I LOVE to read them. I get to see my favorites and look at things I missed on("I, Magneto" for instance, I need to track that one down!).

But what's all this about next Tuesday!? THE MYSTERY! THE INTRIGUE! I CAN BARELY STAND IT! AHHH!

Geoff Klock said...

Just to be clear: the announcement will likely not be tuesday, but some upcoming tuesday. But since we do not know when -- making the announcement is a bit out of our hands -- you should keep checking in with us on tuesdays.

Anonymous said...

I also had a crush on Madelyne Pryor when I was originally reading those particular issues of X-Men.
I'm surprised that readers consider "Inferno" one of the worst stories. I've always loved it, and while you hear the usual complaints about cross-overs, I had never heard anyone completely hate that story.
It was always my favourite X-title cross-over.

It's a shame how badly the Mojoverse concept got corrupted by later writers. I absolutely hate Longshot and Mojo to this day, but it's certainly not because of the original stories using the characters.

Good list! Surprised there weren't more Uncanny X-Men series proper stories, but can't fault any of your choices.
Well, not totally surprised as I always considered New Mutants to be Claremont's all-time best writing.

Gary said...

Thank you for doing this, Jason. Thank you for the entire run of Claremont blogs. This was fantastic.

Though how you can not hate X-Factor as the pure, golden, wonderful, moral compass protagonists of UXM 242 is beyond me. That still drives me nuts.

Jason said...

Thanks for readin', guys!

Austin Gorton said...

Thanks Jason. And thanks for championing Inferno, here and during the rundown, a story I feel too gets a bum rap from fans.

Isaac P. said...

The first two issues in today's list happen to be the first two issues of X-Men that I ever read. Definite top place holders on my own hypothetical top 20. I'm also a big Inferno fan here too.

Cecil said...

I'll be thinking about what made #236 work for me, too, as I have a story plotted to be written this year. I've yet to carefully plot an arc for a character quite like Magneto, but I do have a candidate in mind already existing in my notes over the past year and a half.
The enthusiasm for these stories fuels me to place the care into the ones I make, as I would love to make stories that blew me away like X-Men #209 or #150. This list had a solid compendium of story telling touches that seemed to radiate into a mystique that once spread like a magical vocation across their brand and then, seemed without limit. Doubtlessly, these and other special stories made me dream long ago and then once again in recent times: an exciting new thing can be tried, reminiscent of the greatest super hero comics of our times.

Another benefit: I remember how to write teen agers when I think about who I was in those days, and my teenage friends now inspire me to write about the world once bottled up inside me, on the verge of beginning to ask the most urgent questions about our life on Earth.

Cecil said...

X-Men #188 is a great one from the main book around '84, and the excitement around #192 and 193 around my school was palpable! (The Helions, it seemed, despite and sometimes because of their ruthlessness, were a mismatch but the clandestine stuff? Mwah!)
For just a few short months, there were like eight or ten guys trying Marvel Comics!!! (Cooler than say, having a Transformer toy would be a year later in 6th grade, they'd say).

You sold me on what made Inferno cool, too.

x-men 108 (in its Classic X-Men version), 126, 188 209 and 227, all of which are end pieces to story arcs, are my favorites not mentioned. (That reminds me: there's an X-Men/ Alpha Flight #2 I've been waiting over 20 years to read floating around here from the holidays!)

Cecil said...

If it hadn't felt like X-Men 175 had been erased by events that followed in the years---and what classic X-Men story hasn't been someone's toy?---I must say it would be in my group, too, particularly after your strong commentary about the end of Cyclops and the end of the X-Men and the end of their Silver Age style plotting, regarding that classic, which cheats and gives us Paul Smith in his prime AND JR Jr.!
(From Cockrum's first era, I LOVE the feel of X-Men #99. The conclusion in Jamaica Bay is awesome in 101, but something about that read, first found by me in ta-da Classic X-Men #7, and I guess what I'm saying really is that the whole issue, my first of that series, is one of my ten greatest X-Men treasures, tucked away in the foothills of the Appalachians with Mom.
Now, in my blog, I'm finishing my one X-Men/ TRANZ crossover today. Thanks for pumping me up about what made X-MEN great!!!