Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jason Powell on Marvel Fanfare #’s 1-4 (a-sides)

[Guest blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men Run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

Marvel Fanfare #1Marvel Fanfare #2Marvel Fanfare #3Marvel Fanfare #4

Collected as the TPB “X-Men and Spider-Man: Savage Land”

As he demonstrated with the awesome Uncanny X-Men #150, Claremont has by now realized that the way to avoid turning into a hack who rehashes his own hits is to write stories that inherently prevent their own repetition. In “I, Magneto,” Claremont added a new layer of depth to Magneto that would preclude his future appearances leading to another fight. (Claremont and Byrne had already given us the ultimate X-Men vs. Magneto story in issues 112-113, so why even try to do it again?)

Here, Claremont similarly puts the kibosh on future Sauron tales via much more prosaic means. He simply ends the story with Xavier finding a cure for Sauron’s condition, and voila: Exit one super-villain from the X-Men canon. (Sauron wouldn’t return until after Claremont’s 1991 departure.)

To get to that point, however, Claremont first embarks on yet another homage to Neal Adams. It begins with Angel (plus Spider-Man) descending to the Savage Land and facing the Savage Land Mutates. Spider-Man leaves at the end of issue 2 but Angel sticks around, to be joined by the rest of the X-Men in issue 3. This all is a straight Adams rehash. (Adams created the Mutates for X-Men #62, in a story that also began with Angel preceding the other team members into the Savage Land.)

The strange plot, with Spider-Man leaving after two issues and the X-Men showing up to replace him, was presumably shaped by marketing considerations rather than creative ones.

All in all, this has the makings of an unoriginal and uninspired story. Surprisingly, however, it’s quite the opposite. A lot of the arc’s success is due to the artists – who number some of the best comic book illustrators of the era. Michael Golden on parts 1 and 2; Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod on part 3; and Paul Smith and Terry Austin on part 4. Golden’s work in the Spider-Man chapters is downright beautiful, his manic fight choreography and quirky anatomical renderings an obvious precursor to Todd McFarlane. Inspired by the wildness of the art, Claremont’s writing displays a refreshing amount of wit and invention. Cockrum and McLeod prove to be a formidable combination in part 3. And Paul Smith – who will go on to replace Cockrum as Uncanny’s regular penciller – is a revelation. Smith’s chemistry with Claremont is palpable immediately, the intense vision of the X-Men they portray here being a sharp preview of what the two will accomplish together on Uncanny in 1983.

So, granted, the plot is a patchwork quilt of old Neal Adams material. It doesn’t matter. The artwork running throughout the story is so diverse in style yet consistent in quality – and Claremont is so clearly inspired by his cavalcade of great illustrators – that the whole thing makes for a cracking good trade paperback. If we needed to have one more Sauron story, this was definitely the way to go about it.

Trivia note: The “Savage Land” TPB also features the return of Zaladane, Garrokk’s high priestess who played a small role in Byrne and Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men issues 115 and 116. The name seemed then – and still seems now – to be unnoteworthy: an arbitrary collection of syllables. But the last syllable being “dane” will eventually be woven into a storyline that makes her the sister of Lorna Dane. (Claremont first plants the seeds for the reveal in 1988’s X-Men Annual, wherein Havok – Lorna’s lover – meets Zaladane for the first time and finds her unaccountably striking. She is introduced to Havok by the High Evolutionary with the diminutive “Zala,” so Alex can’t possibly make the connection.) It seems incredibly unlikely that the Lorna Dane/Zaladane connection was intended from the start. So we have this odd, unintentional phonetic coincidence that Claremont decided to exploit years after the fact for a very melodramatic, soap-opera twist. It’s not the only example of Claremont doing something like that – not by a mile – but it certainly stands out as the most obliquely serendipitous.

1 comment:

Nathan Adler said...

Have been in communique with Gerry Conway and should mention first that most of the work he did in comics during the 70s and into the 80s was flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, so to speak.

He advised that, like Indiana Jones, he was making it up as he went along and suggests it's pretty safe to assume he wasn't attempting to tie two characters together just by a similarity in their names — honestly, he didn't plan that deeply, or that far ahead, at that point in his career.

So, no, he had no intention of connecting Zaladane to Lorna Dane.

As for where he came up with the name, he advises it was almost forty years ago, and he has a hard enough time remembering where he left his car keys last night, so can't remember that far back unfortunately.