Monday, October 10, 2005

X-Men 177-194

The journey through X-Men continues, and I've now read 100 issues Claremont's run on the book. 100 issues is a huge accomplishment, the only run on a book I know of that's longer than Claremont's on X-Men is Dave Sim on Cerebus, with his thirty year 300 issue journey. And at 100 issues, Claremont is still going strong, though in these issues, some of the problems that would plague the book down the line begin to emerge.

The first storyline in this chunk of the book concerns the X-Men's fight with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. This is rather unremarkable until the issue that closes the storyline, 179, where Kitty is forced to marry Caliban, the Morlock. It's a bizarre setup, perhaps best exemplified by the cover:

But the story itself is pretty sweet, as Kitty chooses to honor the bargain she made to save the X-Men back in the first Morlocks storyline, and Caliban recognizes that Kitty doesn't belong here and lets her go.

On the whole, this set of issues isn't as strong as the Paul Smith era. The characters are always split apart, and we only get a few moments of strong character development. Kitty and Wolverine barely appear, and only Storm has major changes.

A large part of this problem is the fact that a lot of storytelling is happening in other books, I feel like I'm missing a lot by not reading New Mutants, and I'd really like to see what happened in the Wolverine/Kitty Pryde miniseries. If this were the 80s, I'd definitely be picking up all these books, because Claremont seems to have done a great job of creating a coherent universe. So, when Wolverine appears in only one book a month, not seven, but that means that we miss out on what he's up to in this volume. Same thing with Kitty, she spends a bunch of time away, and that's tough because she's probably my favorite character at this point in the run. I wouldn't say this is a flaw in Claremont's writing, I know if I was reading both books I'd love the intertitle continuity, but reading in this format, it's difficult. I really wish they'd put out an Essential New Mutants book as companion to this.

This volume is interesting because it's the first time the idea of being "hated and feared" is really beocming essential to the story. There'd always been some anti-mutant prejudice in the title, but it's becoming much more important now, and nearly every issue has a scene with some government types talking about how something needs to be done about the mutant problem. It's really interesting stuff to read, that's the strength of the book, the conflict between the old and new.

However, even as these storylines work, the book is dragged down by a series of awful storylines. The stuff with the wraiths drags on for a whole bunch of issues and leads nowhere. But the worst offender is Kulan Gath, a three issue storyline that quite literally goes nowhere, because at the end it's wiped out of the time line. It's an apallingly bad storyline, with awful mystical stuff and the main focus is on the Avengers and New Mutants, not even the X-Men.

The storyline also sees the female characters frequently dressed up in lingerie and thigh high boots. I've got the feeling that Mrs. Claremont ends up wearing this stuff every once in a while because it turns in his work so much, it's not just coincidence. It's required wear for the Hellfire Club, and Rachel, Storm, Callisto, Selene and even Kitty end up wearing some variation of the outfit. This cover basically sums it up:

I bet there were a lot of awkward moments when kids tried to get their parents to buy them that comic. A lot of the time this stuff is probably subconscious, but it's clearly a motif in Claremont's work.

Anyway, while this stuff was rather crap, we do get some great material when Storm loses her powers. Over the course of thirty issues or so, Storm has gone through massive changes, first changing her appearance and when she loses her powers, it forces her to struggle to redefine herself outside of her role as an X-Man. This culminates in the brilliant issue Lifedeath, which consists almost entirely of one night's interaction between Storm and Forge, folllowing them as they grow closer together and then ultimate are torn apart. It's a brilliant issue, the best by far in this chunk of the series. There's very strong emotional tension and it's devestating when Storm rejects Forge. We want them to get together, and it's not really anyone's fault when they're torn apart.

Forge is someone I'd seen a bit of in the TV series, but never in the comics, and he's a compelling character in his appearance here. He fits in perfectly with the anti-mutant sentiment in the government, working as someone torn between the security of his work and the moral obligation to do what's right.

The other major new character in this stretch of the book is Rachel Summers. I think bringing her in was a mistake. Clearly she's designed to replace Jean Grey, but I don't think Jean needed any replacing, especially without Cyclops around. She's got some interesting issues as a result of her time in the Days of Future Past world, but she just makes things too complex, and starts the books on the path to numerous alternate future characters that would lead them away from the more grounded state of the Paul Smith era. Plus, she's not that interesting.

The thing I did really like seeing was Xavier in charge of the team on field missions. It's a great change in the status quo and puts everyone else in an uncomfortable position. Xavier at this point is one of the most interesting characters in the book, and I'm annoyed that he's spending so much of his time off in New Mutants.

So, these issues are still good, and there's a lot of interesting stuff going on, but the book's tight focus is starting to slip and the numerous mysitcal storylines take the focus away from the character interaction that's at the center of the book.

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