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X-Men by Jim Lee and Chris Claremont (and Whilce Portacio) Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

Gotta say this for the man — he knows how to make an exit.

– Archangel, X-Men #3 (Claremont’s last issue)

And so, this is the end. The end of Claremont’s quite simply epic run on the X-Men books. It’s amazing to look back on the writer’s output today, and simply try to consider the size of his contribution to the franchise. While he departed the books as they were at the height of their appeal (X-Men #1 famously being the best-selling comic book of all time), it’s hard to argue that X-Men ever would have reached that height without Claremont’s vision and style. While the writer undoubtedly had his weaknesses, I think his contributions to the medium are rather undervalued. While writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller reinvented comic books, I think that Claremont was an expert at incorporating those radical changes into his work, and a writer who managed to secure the support of his fans by giving the X-Men a sense of pop culture resonance that a lot of subsequent writers tried and failed to capture.

Through X-tremes…

This is the end of Claremont’s run, and I don’t want to dwell on that too much. As I’ve discussed in my other reviews of his work, the writer had his weaknesses as well as his strengths, and certain creator quirks can be spotted repeating over his mammoth run. Still, I think it’s quite an accomplishment to take a book that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby departed remarkably quick and to turn it into the cornerstone of a publishing line at one of the two biggest comic book publishers.

It’s also worth noting, regardless of whatever issues or problems I might have with some of the content, Marvel’s collected editions department have surpassed themselves here. The restoration work on the omnibus is perfect, even if the recoloured X-Men #1 isn’t included (omitted so it can be sold as part of a recoloured collection). More than that, though, there are countless little touches that add up to show a staff who love the material as devoted fans.

Card-carrying hero…

There are over 100 pages of extras included at the back, including a painstakingly compiled collection of card print-outs featuring work by Jim Lee himself. There are also several gigantic foldouts, including both original and recoloured versions. There’s trade paperback covers and text written by Lee covering his work on the title. There’s remarkably little from or about Claremont, which probably makes sense. The team also went out of their way to collect “stray” issues that don’t necessarily belong in this collection, but would have been orphaned otherwise. For example, we get two X-Factor issues from Louise Simonson that bridge the X-Tinction Agenda hardcover with the Apocalypse finale written by Lee and Claremont. It’s nice to have them included.

Indeed, I massively respect the “as few issues left behind as possible” approach adopted by the editorial staff when it comes to collecting Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. After all, there’s pretty much an unbroken chain of oversized hardcovers collecting the run from Inferno to here, and only a handful of issues missing between Fall of the Mutants and Inferno and between Mutant Massacre and Fall of the Mutants. Assuming that Marvel gets around to omnibusing the gap between Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men omnibus and Mutant Massacre, the vast majority of the run will be readily available in a deluxe format. And that’s something worth celebrating, because it’s an important, iconic and impressive run. While I’ve never been afraid to pick holes in it, I think it deserves to be considered one of the great comic book runs.

“Focused totality… sigh… psy…”

Here we are, towards the end of it. I think it’s fair to say that Claremont had been kind of peetering out a bit after Inferno. After all, the issues in the first collection were all interesting experiments with interesting ideas, but with little sense of overarching direction. It didn’t even seem that Claremont was picking apart the team to put them back together, though he has engaged in similar long-form arcs before. Instead, it seemed like Claremont had a bunch of clever individual ideas, but no sure way of making them all connect.

So we got things like Psylocke’s strange physical transformation, and Storm’s second childhood – ideas that weren’t so much bad as completely off-the-wall. They felt like discarded Silver-Age cast-offs, with body swapping and de-ageing and a variety of tropes that had seemed wholesome when applied in the fifties and sixties, but were rendered somewhat creepy in the modern day-and-age. While I think that Claremont’s writing was increasingly introspective and clever, I believe it’s fair to say that he was losing energy and interest a bit.

From behind the iron curtain…

And one can suspect why. Early in this collection, as Jim Lee joins the title in a more regular capacity, Claremont and Lee are credited as equals, suggesting a stable and productive artistic relationship – perhaps similar to the dynamic Claremont had with John Byrne, the artist who worked with him on the Dark Phoenix Saga that truly established his run. However, those credits quickly give way. Writing the X-Factor issues dealing with the child of Jean Grey and Scott Summers, Claremont is reduced to a “words” credit, while Lee and artist Whilce Portacio take the “plot” credit. During Claremont’s three-issue stint on adjectiveless X-Men, Lee is the name in lights while Claremont is simply writing dialogue.

Arguably the nineties were to be a decade driven by artists-as-writers. Todd McFarlane came off a run on The Amazing Spider-Man with David Michelinie and began writing and illustrating his own adjectiveless Spider-Man. When that fell through, he left to found his own company, just as Jim Lee would leave to found his own company. I always loved the story (probably just an urban myth) that Alan Moore was asked to write “words” for the Man of Steel reboot plotted by John Byrne. Moore, apparently a bit more good-natured than he is now, supposedly replied, “Only if he inks my pencils.”Claremont had increasingly felt like a bit of a puppet, as his own characters and plots became secondary to the demands of bigger names. Indeed, one can almost see Claremont engaged in a tug-of-war over the character of Magneto in these very pages.

Sean, baby, Sean…

John Byrne, his former collaborator, had hijacked Magneto for use in his massive company-wide crossover Acts of Vengeance. Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men tied into it somewhat half-heartedly, and Claremont himself has suggested that Byrne was simply trying to “one-up” his former collaborator’s last gigantic crossover, the X-Men based Inferno. Anyway, Byrne insisted on including Magneto in a cadre of card-carrying one-dimensional villains like Loki and the Kingpin and the Red Skull. This seemed like a rather obvious attempt to undo over a decade of characterisation that Claremont had given the former character, reducing him from tortured anti-villian to cackling scenery-chewing bad guy again.

Indeed, in discussing Magneto’s return to form, Jean Grey would actually name-drop the crossover. Jean had only recently returned from the dead, having died near the start of Claremont’s run, so her perspective on Magneto is that of a lunatic madman, rather than the nuance and developed character Claremont built. Using the resurrected Jean, Claremont suggests that Magneto has come a full circle:

Speaking of Magneto, I know you believe he’s reformed Ororo, though that’s hard to square with my memories of the man. But, increasingly of late, he seems to be reverting to that original type. There are reports of him actively participating in “Acts of Vengeance” attacks on various super-heroes, and most recently in an assault on the West Coast Avengers.

Taking a stab at Magneto…

In fairness, writer Mark Gruenwald, writing Captain America, did manage to make something of the situation and salvage some of Magneto’s character. Gruenwald suggested that Magneto had joined the team-up simply to get close to the Red Skull, a Nazi supervillain. That issue is rightly considered a modern pop culture classic, as Magneto gives the Skull a well-earned beat-down. However, it was only a small concession. The point was clear, Marvel wanted Magneto as a villain again, and Lee wanted to use him as the bad guy in the three-part X-Men launch.

Claremont’s handling of Magneto himself offers perhaps the best work of this collection, as he tries to rationalise the Master of Magnetism’s descent into super-villainy. First, however, in the superb Crossroads, Claremont tries to illustrate how his character has evolved. Not just the “illusion of change”, but actual change. “Life is change, Ka-Zar,” he advises an ally in the Savage Land. “Like it or not. Either we adapt, or we perish.” It’s interesting that Claremont focuses on Magneto in the Savage Land – his earlier stories featuring the character as a cut-out villain were based there. “More of my past come back to haunt my present and threaten my future,” he muses.

His magnetic personality…

This time, however, Claremont casts Magneto as a hero, set against the obviously-evil Zaladane, who is sure to borrow one of Magneto’s earliest and evil-est plans. She is very much an example of the Stan Lee school of villainy, with very little motivation, and a habit of monologuing at length. Of her plan, Magneto observes, “It is a goal I once had, in those long-gone days of madness, when I was reviled and condemned as a super-villain, leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.”

It’s interesting how Claremont handles this, because he seems to foreshadow something Morrison would address with a complete lack of nuance in his New X-Men run. Discussing Zaladane’s schemes, after expressly comparing her to an earlier version of him, he remarks, “And I hear the echo of der Führer’s voice in the radio of memory, smell the awful stench of the sick and the dying as the cattle cars brought the condemned to Auschwitz.” Morrison would make the comparison overt – suggesting that a genocidal Magneto had become exactly the kind of monster that had murdered his family. And people have the audacity to suggest Morrison was anything less than faithful to Claremont? Don’t worry, I have more interesting comparisons to make with Planet X below.

Rogues’ gallery…

Claremont tries to turn Magneto back into a villain while retaining the complexity of the character. It’s a pretty tough task for the writer, and I’m not sure he succeeds. Erik seems to be thinking of mutants, seeing his forced turn as a cruel necessity that comes almost out of nowhere. “And a kinder, gentler Magneto cannot save them.” Indeed, Claremont seems to revise this plot point in Rubicon. Retired to Asteroid M, literally lounging around in his pyjamas, he is confronted by a mutant pledging her life to his cause. He responds, “But… I have no more cause.”

Over that three-issue arc, Claremont rapidly devolves Magneto, similar to how Morrison would write the character in Planet X. Indeed, it’s hard to read Morrison’s penultimate New X-Menarc as anything but tribute. The Scot even goes out of his way to paint Magneto as a massive hypocrite, like he is here. While Morrison’s Magneto uses a drug to boost his powers (thus disproving his natural superiority), here Magneto subjects the X-Men to the same abuses that he lambasts them for supposedly using on him. Apparently this Magneto only thinks brainwashing is wrong when it’s used on him.

Sticking it to the man…

Indeed, here Magneto is shown to be a puppet of another sinister and more obviously evil figure. In Morrison’s New X-Men, Magneto was used by Sublime to instigate a race-war. Here, the Master of magnetism is a puppet of Cortez. “Look t’ the man who’s goaded you t’ confrontation at every stage,” Moira suggests. “Who’s cast you irrevocably as humanity’s enemy! Claimin’ his power was healin’ you, when every use of it made matter worse!” Indeed, both arcs seem to cover similar thematic group, and I’m always surprised by those who treat Morrison’s run as some sort of attack on Claremont.

That said, those first three X-Men comics are hugely influential. Not only did Jim Lee’s character designs pretty much set the appearance of the X-Men in popular media until Bryan Singer’s X-Men (what with X-Men: The Animated Series and all), but you can also see the influence of these issues on Mark Millar’s Ultimate X-Men run. The psychotic (and brainwashed) Magneto and the betrayal of Xavier for Magneto by Scott both feel like plot points affectionately homaged by the writer.

Ball’s in your court, mon ami…

However, while Claremont teases the possibility that his Magneto was just an illusion created by in-story tinkering and brainwashing (“the question is not what happened to that man you describe, but whether he ever existed at all?”), he instead settles to treat Magneto’s return to villainy as just a natural development in superhero comics. “Our natural tendency to view Magneto as our enemy… may well have helped precipitate this confrontation,” Beast comments as matters escalate, as if to suggest that Magneto is too complex a character to be defined in the simplistic terms of a superhero narrative.

Magneto himself laments this cyclical nature, as he wonders how Claremont’s Wolverine could somehow ignore more than ten years of character development. “I have fought by his side,” Erik laments. “For the brief time I worked with the X-Men, he accepted me wholeheartedly. If not as a friend, then at least as a comrade in arms. Why has he turned on me? What has changed?!” The only thing that has changed is the times around him. They need Magneto to be a villain again, so he is rendered a villain by default. It actually gives Claremont’s final arc a sense of pathos.

The heat of the moment…

Still, there is some hope. As much as Claremont reverts Magneto, he takes care to point out that the world is changing in good ways, too. He allows his mutants to return to Genosha, the metaphor for South Africa that they visited in X-Tinction Agenda. It is now a free country, safe for mutants. “You should know, Rogue,” Anderson suggests, “since you X-Men helped bring that about.” Of course, this arguably makes Magneto’s turn all the more tragic, as Beast notes: “They’ve changed — for the better! Why is it you’re going the other direction?”

I do admire Claremont’s symbolic decision to “kill” Magneto at the end of the adventure, with a modest little note of departure from the author. Of course Magneto would return, even more villainous in Fatal Attractions, but it’s a nice gesture – perhaps the perfect way for the author to sign off his work on this line of books. While Storm and Wolverine where undoubtedly Claremont’s protagonists, and the two he kept at the heart of the franchise, Magneto had the most interesting journey. And, to be honest, I guess it really ended here.

Making a Gambit…

That said, it’s remarkable how much tidying away Claremont did before he departed. It seemed that everything almost went back to how it was before he’d begun. It’s a nice gesture, shuffling away the mess he’d created to tell his stories and allowing his successors a blank slate. Cyclops is no longer a father, merely in a loving relationship with Jean Grey again. The team is back at the school again. Professor Xavier is in his wheelchair again. It’s remarkable to think of all that happened in between and how perfectly most things came a full circle. I think it’s a touch of class.

Of course, Claremont is a writer renowned for his melodrama. Even if you didn’t know this was the end of his run, one gets the sense from the way he’s writing. It’s all very reflective, it’s all about how far they’ve come and how much they’ve changed. “Then perhaps you grown-ups need me as much as the kids,” Cable suggests at one point, making the point that the once youthful original team (Cyclops, Jean, and later addition Storm) are now “grown-ups.”It seems Claremont reserves that distinction for the character he has actually handled a lot – it’s immediately juxtaposed with a scene of the original Stan Lee and Kirby X-Man Iceman childishly coating the bathroom walls with ice.

Wolverine was always sharp…

Repeatedly characters seem to have difficulty recognising the team, whether measured against the original incarnation or even Claremont’s earlier issues. Even Claremont’s Shi’ar characters, Deathbird and the Starjammers, having difficulty knowing who these people are. “For shame, Starjammer,” Liliandra rebukes them, “not recognising the X-Men? Even if their roll has somewhat  changed since last we met.”

Arguably Claremont’s single most important creation, Storm herself seems to give voice to Claremont’s seeming fatigue. “Times have changed since Charles Xavier founded this school and created the X-Men. Changed even since he brought in myself and my companions to be the team’s second generation. Now there is a third, and we must answer, my friends — are we fit caretakers any longer, for Xavier’s School and his dream? Or has the time come to turn that role over to others… as it was handed first from him to you, and you to us?” That last part especially feels like the kind of think Claremont must have been asking himself.

Does she stay this way? You Betsy!

And so we arguably get Claremont’s last great myth-arc, involving the Shadow King. Like so much else here, it’s a chance to reflect back to earlier in his run, which seems to be a trend here. Characters ruminate on times past, allowing Claremont to illustrate how much time has passed since he took over the book and gave it a unique identity. Storm considers the very beginning of her time with the team, “And on our first mission — how long ago that seems — Thunderbird was killed.”

Cyclops, the angstiest member of the ensemble, reflects back to an even earlier point in history. “I keep thinking back to the old days. When we fought ‘terrors’ like Unus the Untouchable and Grotesk and the Vanisher. Now — it’s Apocolypse. Genosha. Master Mold. Reavers and Marauders. The list seems endless. The better we get, the better they get.” It seems almost like a writer reflecting on how the medium has changed during his tenure. Of course, I think Claremont handled the change better than most – Jubilee is, after all, a gigantic homage to The Dark Knight Returns and nu!Psylocke is arguably a reference to Miller’s Daredevil – but there’s no denying the world and the medium have come a long way, baby.

Lone Wolverine…

Indeed, Claremont’s X-Factor issues even take Jean back to the place on the moon where she died in his most iconic work, The Dark Phoenix Saga. There’s a sense that he’s trying to tie it all up and to go back almost to the beginning. As such, he presents the Shadow King as the antagonist of his final long-form story, retroactively drawing from a nearly throw-away Psi-War one-shot near the start of his run. In doing so, he tries to craft a suitably grand villain to play out his last gigantic Uncanny X-Men story.

Xavier himself, the father of the X-Men (often absentee during Claremont’s tenure, describes the Shadow King, “My oldest foe, Stevie. In many respects, the primary reason… I created both this school and the X-Men.” He is, according to Professor X, “the antithesis of my dream.” It kinda works, but not really. The Shadow King never feels like that big a deal, despite years of build-up. There’s no real sense of who or what is beyond “really evil.” I get that he is the embodiment of hatred as Xavier’s philosophy embraces love, but he never feels like that much of a complex character, and certainly not important enough to anchor a plot like this.

Savage!

The rushed final issue might have something to do with this, though. Fabian Nicieza takes over in the middle of the arc, which isn’t ideal. It’s not that Nicieza is a bad writer, it’s just the shock of the transition. It would be daunting enough to take over from Claremont after all the strings had been tied up, but Nicieza literally steps into the story mid-flow. As a result, the final act feels a bit disjointed, and I think it undermines Claremont’s final work on Uncanny X-Men.

Despite that disappointing aspect of it all, there is a sense that Claremont is finding his feet again. While familiar quirks are in effect (long monologues, kinky sex stuff), there’s a sense that Claremont is a bit more relaxed and fluid than he has been in quite a while. In fact, he seems to enjoy a bit of self-criticism here, acknowledging his own flaws. It’s nothing new to see characters comment on the author’s verbosity, with Gambit ambushing Wolverine in the danger room while the latter is musing on life (“wrong time for questions, Bo”), but he seems to accept some pretty direct criticisms of his recent work.

Welcome to the Danger Room!

Cable, a guest from another book who shows up once as an outside, offers a scathing critique of the team’s lack of direction. “Splinted into a handful of teams — running all over the map, no focus, less direction, half the time doing your enemies’ job for them.” Now, to be honest, that sounds like a pretty valid criticism of the first of these two collections, doesn’t it? It takes a writer with some measure of comfort to make cutting remarks like that (especially so soon), and I think that’s part of why I like Claremont’s writing. The author never seemed as self-important as, say, John Byrne.

Indeed, Storm even frames a confession to Xavier, perhaps standing in for Claremont addressing his editors over some of the more… controversial creative steps of the past few years. “A great deal has happened since your departure and  little of it I fear good,” Storm tells her former mentor. “The school as you remember it is effectively no more. The responsibility is mine, as leader of the X-Men. I did what I thought was right and necessary. Some of those decisions turned out to be mistakes. The world changed. We seemed to set a standard, our enemies rose to meet it. Life devolved into an unending battle, so much effort spent on simple survival that we began to lose sight of what we were surviving for.” I think that’s a little harsh, but it seems like Claremont conceding that he has had a bit of bother of late.

Embracing the shadows…

Still, that doesn’t mean Claremont is restraining himself. There’s still plenty of room for the almost-under-the-radar creepy sex stuff that Claremont has been slipping in under the radar since he started writing the title. Warskrull Prime plans to use the captive X-Men as “breeding stock” at one point. This wouldn’t be too bad, but the Lord Chamberlain insists, “The males are of no consequence.” Of course not, it’s Claremont’s women who hold the real power.

Later on, echoing uncomfortable scenes from X-Tinction Agenda, the creepy Brainchild contemplates a powerless Rogue, observing that this opens “all manner of intriguing possibilities.” This is a character, after all, who uses exclusively female slaves (“pets”) bound to his will. In X-Factor, we’re even treated to some familiar Claremontian age-play, as the sinister Psynapse attacks Jean inside her head, deaging her as Magneto did to the X-Men and as Nanny did and as happened to Storm. “You’re a real baby now, Red, in form as well as nickname.”

They got this covered…

In fairness, there’s also some clever ideas. I think Claremont was always very much in step with the times around him, which is perhaps why he is so undervalued as against the bigger writers of the day – matching pace doesn’t seem like that big accomplishment, even on the same book for so many years. Here, Claremont returns to themes he flagged in the last collection, pondering what Watchmen means for the super-hero genre as a whole. Here, Claremont is ahead of the curve. Most people seemed to assume it meant audiences liked violence and cynicism. Claremont, on the other hand, recognises it as an attack on the institution of the superhero.

As in the last volume, he takes time to criticise the “ship” from X-Factor, as it towers over New York, creating a distinct barrier between superheroes and the people they protect. I think he was quiet prescient, as Marvel is still trying to cope with this today. “Cyclops,” Storm suggests, “is not the heart of Xavier’s dream the integration of mutants into society? If instead we remove ourselves completely from it, do we not run the risk of becoming precisely what those like Magneto have always believed us to be, an elite?” Of course, this does kinda side-step the idea that Charles was preaching integration with a mutant-onlyschool, but hey, it’s a smart point.

#1…

Here, however, Claremont seems to suggest that the distinction isn’t between mutants and people anymore, but between super-humans and humans. He sees the same logic applying to the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, the same alienation being theoretically possible, as he discusses how the ordinary inhabitants of New York think of X-Factor’s headquarters. “They resented the huge shadow it cast, it’s unearthly origin… the fact that — like Avengers’ Mansion and the Fantastic Four’s Four Freedoms Plaza — it might, at the drop of a hat, serve as the site of some awesome battle between superheroes and villains.”

It’s a point Claremont returns to in his final arc, the work on adjectiveless X-Men. Forge (“the maker”) comments on how the metaphor can apply across the board and how easily it can move superheroes out of touch with ordinary people – by the inhabitants of a fictional world or real-life readers. “They look around, they see a world that’s slipping more and more out of their control. Mutants, super-beings, gods, aliens, a guy who can stick to walls at one extreme, a creature who eats planets at the other; each one that comes into being, they feel, diminishes the rest of humanity, ordinary homo sapiens, that little bit more. The future they see, Jean, is one where they’re destined to be perpetual victims, innocents caught between beings whose powers they barely comprehend and haven’t a hope of matching. Where they’ll always be at our mercy.”

Psychic and Pyslocke…

In case you didn’t get the Watchmen connection, Claremont even allows Beast to overhear a news report discussing the possible deployment of super-soldiers to fight the Gulf War, mirroring Doctor Manhattan’s involvement in Vietnam in that classic work. “… ranking officials at Central Command refuse to speculate… on the possible use of so-called enhanced power beings as strategic or tactical assets in the current crisis. As with nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry,this is an area which all concerned appear extremely reluctant to get into, a Pandora’s Box nobody — including, it is hoped, the other side — wants opened.” We’re even treated to the sight of environmental campaigners protesting about Antarctica and the Savage Land.

I think all of this is remarkably clever, and it’s an idea that Claremont plays out in the background rather than pushing to the fore. It’s almost like the writer is pushing the genre as far as it will go before he departs, testing the limits, or at least flagging them to the reader. There’s only so far that the real world can encroach on a superhero comic, only so much relevance you can put in before it all collapses under its own weight. Claremont doesn’t get points for hammering it home, but Marvel has been mining those themes in a big way over the last decade or so, and I think that some of the credit is owed to Claremont.

Very pale rider…

Of course, for many people, the attraction will by Jim Lee’s work, and it is remarkably solid. He does a lot more work here than he did on the first volume in the set, and the book actually keeps going after Claremont’s departure to include the rest of Lee’s stuff, including the X-Men issues that he plotted. While his artwork is pretty great, it is worth noting that it is occasionally a bit silly at times – in a very nineties way.  My personal favourite silliness involves Nick Fury’s outfit at the UN – how many pouches does a guy need?

This means that it collects the writers who followed Claremont. There’s a nice bit of symmetry as his former partner John Byrne takes over, but leaves after two issues. And then Scott Lobdell arrives. I do not like Scott Lobdell’s writing. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he’s really the weak link in the post-Claremont X-Men line-up. Peter David is awesome. Fabien Nicieza writes good superheroes. But Lobdell is… not very good. It’s even more frustrating because he’s stillwriting comic books and – from what I’ve read – still making the same mistakes.

Force of will…

For one thing, the title becomes very sleazy very fast. I’ve been quick to point to the less-than-wholesome aspects of Claremont’s run, but that felt at least complex. After all, the sexual subtext was ever-so-slightly buried beneath the body-swapping, evil-costume-changing, bondage-themed, deageing, mind-control stuff. It seemed like it was serving a story, or that it was an attempt to deconstruct Silver Age tropes. Under Lobdell, what slight hint of nuance there was disappears completely.

We get Rogue wearing hot pants and a bikini top. Nevermind that it’s incredibly dangerous given her mutant powers, it looks sexy, right? We get Psylocke playing the temptress threatening to ruin Scott and Jean’s relationship. She lacks any sort of character beyond “looks hot in a swimsuit.” At least Morrison’s Emma Frost had a consistent character while she served the same purpose. This is around the time that Marvel started producing swimsuit issues, and some pin-ups are collected here. And we wonder when comics started alienating young readers and gaining a reputation as an insular hobby?

Wife of the party…

More than the incredibly overt sex stuff, however, there was the terrible plotting. Trying to fill a void left by Claremont, the first story arc was one of many stories that would be told using Wolverine’s “mysterious past” as a springboard, drafting in elements of Barry Windsor Smith’s Weapon X miniseries. This would become such an awkward story-telling crutch that Brian Michael Bendis would make a point to remove it at the ned of House of M, allowing Wolverine to remember everything.

We even got sub-Claremont-ian nonsense from Lobdell like giving Gambit a wife (who dies in her first arc) and tying the character to silly organisations like “the thieves’ guild” and “the assassins’ guild.”It’s not that these ideas were necessarily beneath Claremont, who was the father of convoluted plotting, but that he handled them infinitely better. Instead, it seems like Lobdell is trying too hard to play into the type of stories that his predecessors used to tell. He even tries to make Cyclops a bigger failure of a husband and father by suggesting a possible affair with Betsy.

Kick-starting the nineties…

It’s somewhat ironic that collection ends with two-part Mojo story, set in the ratings-obsessed alternate universe. It’s easy to argue that the X-Men franchise in the nineties would be driven by crass appeals to popularity rather than on the merit of their stories. That’s not to suggest that there wasn’t some good stuff to be found (Age of Apocalypse is a classic), but merely to suggest that the emphasis moved away from the writers as part of the equation. It was all about spectacle and big events and gigantic story beats. I can’t help but feel that Claremont’s approach was forgotten too quickly.

Of course, you can’t go home again. Claremont would eventually return to the X-Men, but never to the same acclaim or success. I think that he was just the right man in the right time. The fact that the right time happened to last so long probably says quite a bit about the superb quality of the man. Even if he wasn’t consistently producing gems, and even if his later work never really measured up, I think that this run deserves the respect and the praise that it has been given.

The “X” Factor…

And Marvel deserve some thanks for collecting it so well. Now… if we could only get the rest of it.

You might be interested in or reviews of some of the rest of Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run (and other assorted mutant-related work):

4 Responses

  1. Am going back and doing a personal archaeology of my youth, which includes rereading much of the Claremont X-Men (among other things). The reviews of these compilations are excellent–thoughtful, personal, and in-depth. Thank you for writing these.

    • Thanks Lan! I have to say, as much as I can see Claremont’s faults as a writer, I love his Uncanny X-Men run. I even love the issues collected in the first volume of this set, which are much-maligned. I think he doesn’t get that much credit because – after The Dark Pheonix Saga – he no longer really started trends, but it takes a keen eye to observe and recognise them as fluidly as Claremont seemed to. He had his fingers on the pulse, and a lot better than many of those who would follow him.

  2. I really liked your review. I’ve just discovered your blog recently, and it’s been rewarding read your texts. I hope you come back to review “X-Men: Bishop’s Crossing” HC.

    About the content… I’m discovering now the 90’s X-Men, and it’s been quite an experience. I’ve read all the Claremont issues and quite everything pos-Morrison, so now I’m trying to keep un with the middle. Although there are too many flaws in Lobdell’ and Nicieza’s writing, I think the 90’s are not so terrible as people say. Well, let’s see when I’m finished.

    • I like Nicieza quite a bit. Lobdell is bombastic, and – I’d argue – maybe trying to channel Claremont too much, but without the nuance. The “tentacle” bit in X-Cutioner’s Song really put me off him. (If I’m thinking of the right crossover.) I’m hoping to return to X-Men soon. The continuity is nuts, but’s its just an inherently fascinating franchise.

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