Monday, August 9, 2010

Claremont's X-Men

This week I am in the Eaton Collection reading a bunch of classic X-Men books from the Claremont/Cockrum era, and I know it has been often commented on before but man is it a bit startling to read comics with actual dialogue again. Comics these days are so art-dependent, the writers seem to pride themselves on using as few words as possible. I'm all for the occasional silent panel, one of my favorite panels in Camelot 3000 is completely wordless, but Claremont is so brazenly unafraid to talk your ear off.

And it's not Stan Lee-era narration of the action, either. Where Thing says, "Darn, I missed!" when he, you know, misses. It's commentary, exposition, and characters just, you know, taalking and thinking in character. It appeals to the roleplayer in me, who can spend an entire scene just talking in character without any actual plot happening. Though there's plenty of plot in Claremont's X-Men too.

The real object of my quest has been to find out the moment in which Kitty Pryde actually used the "Ariel" codename, which Xavier proposes to her but she rejects way back in #139. All the sources say she switched to Ariel in #171, but I have read every page in that comic three times this week and nowhere does Ariel appear. In #169 she says she doesn't like "Sprite" any longer, because it is "a kid's name," but she doesn't use Ariel anywhere in Uncanny until she leaves the team post-Secret Wars and has her miniseries with Wolverine, which is of course when she switched to Shadowcat.

I still maintain that Claremont lost me as a regular X-Man reader when Storm went punk. The whole conversion and change Storm went through was a big non-starter for me, I was totally on Kitty's side during that whole series, and I'm actually kind of surprised that I could read the book when Cyclops -- whom I have always liked -- was getting pooped on and treated like garbage, but when they turned the weather goddess into an ad for Love & Rockets, I quit. Reading the books again today, I still felt exactly the same way.


  1. I'm with you on missing the words in (some) mainstream comics. I loved the narration in 70s Marvel Comics (those which I grew up on), full of attitude, full of fun with language.

    However, I liked "Punk Storm" since she (it? just a narrative construct, after all) changed organically, due to being separated from Earth for so long. At first I was all like "Whaaaa?!??" but then I saw the character-driven logic behind it, and I was sold. Plus, she just looked damned cool :-)

    I was stuck when re-reading the Dark Phoenix storyline a few years back at how much is not there - at how much is assumed to have happened during those month-long gaps between issues. Not that a month passes in diegetic time, but that the comics seem to assume that it's been a month since you read the previous chapter: Some things get repeated, some things are assumed. The stories taken in toto don't always read as smoothly as today's multi-issue storylines do, with their synopsis pages and their "write for the trade paperback" techniques. Not better or worse, just different.

  2. First, it's great to see you drop by, Gene. Thanks for posting!

    I should re-read Dark Phoenix. Maybe I will make that my book for August 28th "Read Comics in Public" day. Nicole has done some work with Byrne's various female superheroes who gain ultimate power and thus turn BAD and SEXY, but it has been a long time since I looked at it.

    Writing on Claremont today (I'm examining his Tempest riff in Uncanny 148-150) what I came to like was the way he could build a story up slowly through subplots, which you can't do in the current "write for trade paperback" environment. The plotline that culminates in the fight with Magneto on the island in 150 starts as a couple of pages in 147, a few more in 148, and so on. These days, books have to start a new plot RIGHT NOW in a big turn, stay focused, then end just as firmly six issues later. You didn't need to do that in 1981. I kind of miss that. It was comics made to get you back into the store every week, instead of comics aimed at

    I also like the morality plays Claremont was unafraid to dish out. With Kitty there to be ingenue, every story turned into an morality discussion in which we, as young readers identifying with Kitty, were shown how to live our lives in a more tolerant, liberal, way. Do comics still do that? I guess maybe they do, but they're not as brazen about it.