Saturday, June 13, 2009

X-Men Forever #1: "Love and Loss"

X-Men Forever #1 came out this week, the much discussed return of Chris Claremont to the X-Men status quo he left in 1991. I considered his entire first X-Men run a satisfying single work in and of itself with an ending that while not totally satisfying does make thematic sense and carries a feeling of finality. But, I definitely wanted to see Claremont continue on from that era, he created a universe that was perpetually renewed and reborn, and could run forever, so why not pick up again and try to take it another sixteen years.

I think most people have the wrong impression of the way that Claremont’s original run worked. Seen today, it’s broken down into greatest hits moments, with heavy emphasis on the Byrne era and Dark Phoenix, and the occasional branch into the later crossovers, or the Paul Smith era. That’s a consequence of the way the run has been collected, but it reads best as a single work, rising and falling over the course of the entire sixteen year run. The series has many distinct eras, but they flow seamlessly from each other, and the real joy of it isn’t in the individual parts, it’s in looking at the big picture, and seeing the characters subtly grow and change over the course of the stories. Storm going punk in the 170s may seem like an abrupt character change, but it’s actually the physical culmination of eighty issues of character development to get her to that point.

As such, I think it’s hard to judge Forever on the first issue. Claremont isn’t like Grant Morrison in the sense that his single issues are so dense and endlessly debatable that each one is an event, his work is all about letting stories develop over time. As such, this issue is largely about laying out a bunch of potential storylines and setting up the dynamic that the team will function under for the foreseeable future. Though narratively, the issue is one big fight scene, he manages to lay down a lot of character threads that will likely be developed as the series progresses. I don’t think it’s as satisfying a first issue as say, Batman and Robin #1, but I think it does the work that’s needed to do to set the stories in motion. You don’t read a Claremont story for the first issue, you read it to watch something develop over time.

I’ve seen some people criticize the book’s premise as self indulgent and confusing. But, I think it’s actually a lot easier for a new reader to pick up this book than a random issue of Uncanny. And, considering these are Claremont’s characters, you could argue that the more recent eighteen years of stories are the alternate universe, and this is the real continuity. I don’t think that this is the book Claremont would have made then, being written in 2009, it’s always going to exist in relation to the stories told in the interim. But, I think it gives Claremont the sort of freedom he used to have in the 80s, the freedom to make real change, and that’s what excites me about the book.

It’s a tricky thing in serial fiction to make you feel like these are the ‘real’ versions of the characters, and that the things that happen to them have actual consequence. Morrison did it with his X-Men, and Claremont certainly had that in the 80s. I think it’ll take me a couple of issues to get into the universe of this book, but I feel like the characters are the ones I knew, and that’s a good sign going forward.

Particularly with the twice monthly schedule, I’m eager to watch the story develop and see what Claremont can do. I don't read that many comic books as monthlies, but I do like the routine of having something to look forward to on a Wednesday. Hopefully the book will be successful enough to sustain itself for a while and give a nice bookend to Claremont’s thirty-five years on the X-titles.

And, in a bit of self promotion, look for a little trailer for my Claremont/X-Men documentary shortly. Once I get the time to cut something together, I’ll put it online so you can see what Chris and his collaborators are looking like today.


Jason said...

Well said, Patrick. You're right, it's a really hard thing to judge as a single issue, for exactly the reasons you describe. I'm having a hard time cohering any opinion on it beyond, "So far so good."

Congrats on the work on the documentary! It sounds amazing. Can't believe you got Ann Nocenti! Too cool. I'd do anything to see the raw footage of that interview. (He said, wistfully ...)

Paul Steven Brown said...

I want to see! As a long time fan and a member of the "comic book press", I'm more than willing to lend my support!

Patrick said...

Ann Nocenti said she was approached by a couple of other Marvel documentaries, but would do ours if we got her, Chris and Weezie on together, so I got them to agree and we were able to shoot with her.

And, send your address over to, I'll send you a DVD of the raw stuff, all 2.5 hours of it.