Wednesday, September 28, 2005

X-Men 139-161

The journey through Essential X-Men continues, I finished Volume 3 a couple of days ago, and I've read a few issues of issue four, but I'm going to save the brood storyline for my next review. Anyway, last time I was talking about X-Men, it was more about the issues surrounding Chris Claremont's standing in comics history than the actual book, and this sure was riveting, but I'm going to try to touch a bit more on what happened in these issues.

So, we pick up right after the Dark Phoenix saga, generally considered to be the high point of the book, and I wouldn't argue with that. It's huge scale storytelling, a really long, well developed plot that provided a sort of backbone to the early part of Claremont's run. You don't really notice how essential the Phoenix stuff is to giving the book a sense of direction until it's gone. In these issues, the book sort of drifts, there's some good storylines, but not as much character development and the plot doesn't really seem to be going anywhere.

For starters, there's the awful Wendigo storyline. Alpha Flight are barely even characters, yet they turn up again, and another awful Marvel universe character finds his way into the book, namely Wendigo. The X-Men work much better in they're in a world with a sharp dichotomy between human and mutant. The whole metaphor of a world that hates and fears them is undercut if the world simultaneously loves the Fantastic Four. And for that reason alone, it's better if these other Marvel Verse characters don't find their way into the book. However, there's also the fact that they're generally speaking awful characters. Wendigo is the same as Sauron, a man who turns into something evil and attacks people. The story hits the same awful beats and drags on.

However, Claremont and Byrne return to from with 'Days of Future Past,' the issue that inadvertantly led to some of the most complex continuity in any mainstream property. But, while the issue may have wrought Cable, Bishop and more, as a standalone piece it's a great chunk of storytelling. I always enjoy an alternate world or dystopian future and we've got it here. The future segments are really well done, and I like the foreshadowing of having them working with Magneto. This is also the first issue of the book to credibly present the idea of mutant prejudice as a realistic concern. Seeing the future X-Men being ripped apart is still pretty harrowing.

This issue is clearly the major inspiration for Buffy's season three episode 'The Wish,' right down to all the main characters getting killed at the end. And the fact that Rachel Summers eventually turns up in the main timeline may have been a loose inspiration for Dopplegangland.

Claremont and Byrne's 'breakup' issue is the fun Kitty Pryde attacked in the mansion piece. However this issue begins the annoying trend of completely destroying the mansion in every storyline for a while, to the point that they even start to comment on it in the book.

After Byrne leaves, Dave Cockrum returns to the book. His art has a much simpler, silver age feel, which I don't think works as well for the book. He makes me appreciate Byrne's consistently great art more, though his reputation in comics would certainly be better if he had died right after completing this run. Time has not been kind to Byrne, or Claremont for that matter.

Anyway, this book closes out with an issue where Cyclops fights a surreal battle against someone named D'Spare. There's some pretty cool dream sequence within, and it sets up a nice subplot with Scott and Lee Forrester stranded on an island that's eventually revealed to be Magneto's. I really liked the character development there and the Bond movie style villain-hero social interaction between Erik and Scott.

Even as that going on, we've got a fairly weak main storyline, involving Arcade and Dr. Doom. Arcade is an awful character, I'm almost ashamed to be writing an analysis of a story that Arcade is involved in. Speaking of Bond movie style interaction, there's a good scene with Dr. Doom and Storm, but that storyline goes on too long and doesn't really lead anywhere.

The highlight of this chunk of the series is undoubtedly the stunning X-Men 150. In Morrison's run 150 was the ultimate battle with Magneto, the highlight of his run, and Claremont's 150 is probably the highlight of his so far. This issue is critical because it's the first time we get the sense of Magneto as a sympathetic character, and the ending where he break down in tears over Kitty's body is genuinely effective. This issue redefines the character and forces you to question whether he might actually be doing the right thing. Hero/villain ambiguity is always a plus for me, and this issue is a total success.

From there, things go a bit downhill. There's the Emma Frost/Storm bodyswitch storyline. Emma isn't a particularly developed character here, so it's a fairly standard trying to get the body back thing. Emma is actually my favorite character by the time of Grant's run, though from what I hear Joss is messing with her a bit, making her move back towards evil, which isn't good. Grant's treatment of her was genius, and the whole X-Men series could really end with her and Scott kissing in his last issue. No more was needed. But, I'll find out more about what Joss is doing in October when the trade of his second story line is released.

Anyway, this is followed by the return of Corsair and the start of the Brood storyline. There's some good stuff with Scott adjusting to the idea of Corsair being his father, but on the whole these issues are pretty weak. Things just seem to happen and there's no sense of the story going anywhere.

However, in 161, things improve. This issue is Xavier's flashback to his time working in a hospital with Magneto, and though I'm a bit uncomfortable with a concentration camp playing so prominently in the story, it's pretty respectful and works well.

Throughout the end of these issues there's a lot of dwelling on the idea that the X-Men don't kill, not even creatures like the Brood. I'm a pretty nonviolent person, but I think it's odd to have Claremont constantly putting them in situations where they need to defend their life, or the lives of others and killing is the only way to do that, yet they won't. You want them to just kill these things and they would be perfectly justified, yet you've got these characters who refuse to.

So, now I'm into unread territory. I'd read through the first three Essential volumes before, but I've never read the stuff after 161 and I've heard pretty good things about it, with some people claiming it's better than the Byrne run. It still astounds me that Claremont could write the book for 186 issues, not to mention what he did on the spinoff books. That's mindblowing, if I were to work on a book for as long as he worked on X-Men, I'd be writing it until 2021. And again, even though I'm a bit negative here, the fact that he built this entire world is astounding, and it's tragic that he doesn't actually won any of it, and after all this issues, taking X-Men from nothing to the biggest comic on the market, he could just be thrown off the book, it's tragic.


Jonn said...

Claremont is the man. And while the saga goes on and thats all good, its nice to look at Claremont's X-Men (including all the spinoff books) and get an idea of his vision.

Patrick said...

I think people really underestimate Claremont's contribution to both X-Men, and comics as a whole. Every book in the universe comes out of what he did, and the storytelling template he invented. Plus, the extended run he did on the book is one of the best longform comics of all time, topped only by Cerebus in terms of one person writing a book. He wrote it for seventeen years, and all the spinoffs on top of that, and it remained a fairly coherent universe, at least through Inferno. It's a great acheivement, and it must have been really cool to read it month to month and see the universe evolve.