Friday, June 24, 2005

What happened to Chris Claremont?

Uncanny X-Men 455 - 459

A long time ago, in a story called "An Age Undreamed Of" (Uncanny X-Men 190 - 191), a magical amulet transformed New York into a city ruled by a sorceror called Kulan Gath. All the city's heroes had mediaeval personae (though Captain America was, gratifyingly, still a pompous ass). Allying together, the transformed X-Men and Avengers defeated Kulan Gath and reversed the spell.

It was unquestionably a bad story, and what it memorable is that it was written by Chris Claremont, in the middle of a brilliant 100-issue spell which took us through the Hellfire Club, Dark Phoenix, the Brood saga, Lifedeath and the Mutant Massacre. The X-Men were transformed into the biggest comic book in the world thanks to the best prolonged spell of writing by any comic book writer, ever.

The lesson of Kulan Gath is that even great writers at their peak can write dross sometimes.

The problem with Chris Claremont is that he has written so many fantastic stories and created so many important characters that it seems almost, well, sacrilegious to criticise him. However, criticism is about judging people whose achievements far outstrip anything you might ever have done, so here goes.

The recently complete Hauk'ka story ran in UXM for five months. It involved a plane crash in Canada, a junior Wolverinette called X-23, previously unnoticed evolved dinosaurs, sorry Saurians, called Hauk'ka who took over Rachel Summers, using her telepathic powers to create a global hyper-storm. The X-Men allied with Brainchild and his Mutates, apparently "long-standing adversaries of the X-Men" and a group of nice Saurians fight the Hauk'ka in the Savage Land. In the end, everybody becomes best of friends.

Why is the savage land such a breeding ground for poorly written stories? The best thing that ever happened there was Gwen Stacy cavorting round the jungle in stilettos and a bikini, but even that wasn't exactly "Batman: the Dark Knight Returns."

The Hauk'ka saga was a Kulan Gath of a story. This being the era of graphic novels, it went on for five issues. Bad stories are nowadays stretched into bad sagas. Mutated dinosaurs? Why would temperature sensitive cold blooded creatures want to fool around with the weather anyway? Rachel's transformation into saurian was just a wee bit ridiculous. Does have X-23 have some hidden charisma? I'm also alarmed about Brainchild and his Mutates being long-standing X-adversaries. Either my memory is developing alarming blank spots, or Marvel now publishes so many mutant books that my knowledge isn't all that good anymore.

It's not just this story which is poor. Claremont is in a noticeable decline. I dropped X-Treme X-Men after a succession of substandard, long-winded stories (God Love Man Kills 2, Intifada, Storm: The Arena). That book didn't survive much longer anyway. The new Excalibur just never got going.

Claremont was outrageously thrown off UXM in the late 200s. We waited years for Claremont's return, but his second and third comings have been a big disappointment. The messiah has returned, but not only has he not saved mankind, but his sermons don't seem all that good any more.

Do I think Claremont should go? No. I'm a long-time Claremont fan and I think he's earned to right to expect our patience. I'm not sure that I have faith that it will all come good, but I still have hope.


Blogger Luis said...

Spot-on observation RE: Savage Land stories. Not even Arthur Adams art can make them interesting. I remember the Kulan Gath two-parter with much fondness, however. I guess I was young enough then to be entertained by the 'alternate versions' of the characters, shocked by the unbelievable violence done to Spider-Man, and touched by Spidey's ultimately useless heroic efforts. Also, I always liked JR Jr's work. :)

11:10 pm  

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