[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!