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What Happened to Chris Claremont?

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Chris Claremont was once one of the best writers in comics. Once. Now he’s trying to recapture his former glory with “X-Men Forever.”

Chris Claremont took the X-Men, a title a hairsbreadth away from cancellation, and turned it into Marvel’s hottest property. He created such lasting characters as Rogue, Sabretooth, Captain Britain, Psylocke, Gambit and Kitty Pryde. His writing style revolutionized the comics world and spawned a legion of imitators.

But that was then. Claremont has not been the ongoing writer on a “major” comic in almost 5 years. The lower level ongoing books he’s given seldom last more than 25 issues before they have to be cancelled and revamped. Fans who were once drawn to his writing are now treating it with distain or apathy.

What went wrong? Is it that the tastes of the comic reading public have changed so much since Claremont’s X-Men heyday? Or is it that Claremont has lost some of his skill as a writer?

Since some of the concepts and characterizations Claremont established are filling the seats in the cineplexes over the past few years, a changing of tastes is not the issue. That means we seriously have to look at whether or not Claremont’s ability as a writer has diminished.

Now, I am writing this from the perspective of a Claremont fan. When I was younger, I had a subscription (as in Marvel mailing me each monthly issue directly to my doorstep) to three Marvel titles—Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, and Uncanny X-Men. I picked up the Paul Smith issues at the newsstand and my first subscriber copy was John Romita Jr’s first issue on art. So, Chris Claremont and I go way back.

Reading that last paragraph, you could not be faulted for expecting this criticism of Claremont to be “why can’t he be like he was.” Actually, it is the opposite. My fault with the present-day Claremont isn’t that he should be a slave to his past, but, rather, that he is too much a slave to it.

The last decade of Claremont’s career has been essentially one big nostalgia fest. His work on Uncanny X-Men, Excalibur, New Excalibur, Exiles, and New Exiles have featured characters and concepts he revisited from his earlier career.

You have to look no further than Psylocke. Claremont created the character for Marvel UK’s Captain Britain series. He killed the character off in Extreme X-Men but felt compelled to bring her back in his last stint on Uncanny X-Men. The character then proceeded to follow Claremont throughout all the books listed above, fitting in awkwardly in some circumstances.

It doesn’t stop there. The Otherworld he worked with on Captain Britain made its way into Uncanny X-Men, Exiles and New Excalibur. Dazzler, another character Claremont created, was brought into the British based Excalibur even though nothing in her previous continuity involved any connection to England. Heck, almost the whole line-up of Claremont’s team in New Exiles was alternate reality versions of characters the writer created (and the one non-Claremont creation on the team, Morph, was possessed by a villain Claremont created called Proteus). 

It seems that Claremont was less concerned with providing entertaining stories for his audience than he was working in his own comfort zone or finishing stories for his favorite characters, stories he never had the chance to finish himself or thought he could finish better than the writers that did work on them.

This quality is readily apparent in X-Men Forever. Claremont left the X-Titles back in the 1990s after a falling out with Jim Lee and Bob Harras (the writer was upset with changes Lee made in the plot without consulting him,.Claremont went to Harras but since this was the era of the superstar artist, Harras backed Lee for fear of angering the artist and making him leave Marvel. We all know how that worked out). He had a gameplan for the series that he never was able to employ. This series starting tomorrow is him going back in time and picking up where he left off.

Claremont returning to the X-Men should be a cause for celebration. But it seems apparent that we will not be getting the same version of the writer that worked on the characters from the 70s through the 90s. At least this time, his returning to familiar ground is totally appropriate. 

Also out this week:

Booster Gold #21:
In today’s trying economy as it pertains to comic books, only two things are certain. First, companies will be quicker to pull the trigger on cancelling low-selling titles. Second, eventually, prices will have to be increased on the comics these companies sell. DC is the first dealing with these issues, but they have come up with an ingenious way to ease the pain for angry fans.

This week, the price for Booster Gold goes up by a dollar. But, to help make the price increase more palatable, they are giving us something extra. Blue Beetle, whose own series was recently cancelled, will be joining the title as an exclusive back-up feature. Other recently cancelled faves such as Manhunter will be joining other titles the same way. 

Dan Jurgens & Matthew Sturges (W), Dan Jurgens & Mike Norton (A), DC Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Wolverine #74:
In the final installment of Guiding Lines reoccurring feature, “What the heck is going on with Wolverine?”, this issue features the end of the storylines started in Wolverine #73, which came out several weeks ago, before Wolverine #72, which came out about two weeks ago. There. It’s finally done and numbering will now return to normal.

Of course, this issue is the last issue to focus on Logan, as with #75 the title changes to Dark Wolverine and will star Logan’s son Daken and will stay that way for the foreseeable future. Don’t feel so bad for Logan, however. He still is starring in about 50,000 other titles on a monthly basis, so he will still be keeping busy. 

Jason Aaron & Daniel Way (W), Adam Kubert & Tommy Lee Edwards (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Buck Rogers #1:
Buck Rogers is one of the oldest science-fiction characters around—if not THE oldest. He was created over 80 years ago in a story in the classic pulp magazine Amazing Stories. The character gained international fame as that story was adapted into a long-running comic strip. Over the years, the concept has made its way into other medium such as films, television and, of course, comic books.

It’s been a while since Buck has graced comic book pages, but now he’s back. Dynamite, Scott Beatty, and Carlos Rafael are putting a modern spin on everyone’s favorite futuristic hero. And if you’ve seen what the company has done with the Lone Ranger and Zorro, you know that the company does right by classic characters like these.

Scott Beatty (W), Carlos Rafael (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.50. Ongoing Series.

JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith #1:
The JSA and Kobra was a good pairing of enemies. Kobra gave the JSA a modern villain to fight, and the JSA made Kobra seem like a realistic threat. They’ve clashed in the pages of JSA, and now the snake-based terrorist organization is back to plague the Golden Age Greats in a new miniseries spinning off from a recent “Faces of Evil” one-shot.

New Kobra leader Jason Burr will stop at nothing to bring the world under his organization’s thumb. The JSA will do anything to stop them. But this is an enemy unlike any the Justice Society has ever faced. Kobra does not play by the same rules as the JSA. Now, the classic superteam has to change their playbook—or perish!

Eric Trautmann (W), Don Kramer (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Resurrection Vol. 2 #1:
The first Resurrection series dealt with an invasion of the Earth by hostile aliens. Humanity fought back, and after a hard decade of fighting, the aliens left without a warning and without a clear reason. For many creators, that would be the end of the story. But, in this case, it’s about to get a whole lot more interesting.

This sequel deals with the after effects of the invasion as humanity tries to pull itself back together. The old way of doing things failed them the first time. Is it time for something new? If so, what? Rebuilding society will be a struggle, probably harder—and more violent—than the invasion. Will they be able to create a working system before the aliens come back?
 
Marc Guggenheim (W), Justin Greenwood (A), Oni Press, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Punisher: Frank Castle Max #71:
The three-headed writing team on this series finally gets to writer number three as Victor Gischler takes over the reigns on the title. And, judging from the solicitation, the series is going to take on a Cajun flavoring.

Frank Castle is willing to go wherever his quest for justice takes him. Whether it be Europe, the Middle East, or the Soviet Union. But, as dangerous as those places are, they don’t compare to the terrors found at home. A trip down South, Frank runs into an evil worse than he could possibly imagine. Of course, he wouldn’t be the Punisher if he let evil go, well, unpunished. But this time, his enemy might be more than he could handle.

Victor Gischler (W), Goran Parlov (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.


Red Robin #1:
The aftermath of “Batman R.I.P” has brought about a lot of changes. Now, no one expects these changes to be permanent, but that doesn’t mean fans aren’t excited about them. This week brings a new series that might star an old friend.

This series features a hero who does not believe that Bruce Wayne is really dead. That hero is called Red Robin, and he is travelling the globe in search of clues as to Wayne’s wherabouts.

Conventional wisdom states this has to be Tim Drake, the former Robin. DC is being coy about it, but all evidence points to that being the case. If you were a fan of the Tim Drake Robin, you’d probably want to pick this one up, just to hedge your bets.

Christopher Yost (W), Ramon Bachs (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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Comments

  • Shrimp Lad

    Shrimp Lad Jun 9, 2009 at 12:20pm

    Strictly speaking, Claremon did very little towards the initial development of Betsy (Psylocke) Braddock apart from creating her as a supporting character in the title strip of Captain Britain Weekly. Alan Moore and Jamie Delano developed her further during the Fury/Slaymaster strips, before Claremont brought her over to the X-Men. As far as Otherworld was concerned, that was purely the creation of Steve Parkhouse in his Black Knight strip for Hulk Comic, which co-starred CB, and was further developed by Alan Moore.
    So what's wrong with Claremont? His writing is verbose and unrealistic, and he seems focused on the same old concepts which he first introduced in his 1970s/80s work. Poor chap seems very tired these days...

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jun 10, 2009 at 6:48am

    I will give X-MEN FOREVER a look see despite not being interested in Marvel's current X-output. Chris Claremont gave me so many hours of reading pleasure in my teenage years that I *definitely* owe him that courtesy.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jun 10, 2009 at 7:32am

    As much as I am crazy about older comics, Claremont is very tiring to me due the same arguments as Shrimp Lad gives in his first comment. My brother bought Essential Uncanny X-Men with Claremont and Cockrum / Byrne and it was just such a chore until I discovered the perfect way of reading a Claremont comic: skip the captions and the reading load lightens considerably without losing anything of the storytelling :p

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Jun 10, 2009 at 3:46pm

    I agree with these guys. Your points in the article are true as well, William, but I think a change in reader's tastes is also part of why Claremont's star has faded. His ideas are still drawing in moviegoers, yes, but not in the style he originally wrote them. Claremont is (or was) a brilliant idea man but his prose was often melodramatic and loaded with exposition. Modern comics are not generally written that way. So I think it's a combination of Claremont's style falling out of favor and him falling back on nostalgia too often.

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