Monday, January 31, 2011

Chris Claremont's Third Uncanny X-Men Run Part 1

Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men for 17 years. He didn't invent them, but he probably created and informed on nearly everything there is to know about them. He might actually have been on the title longer, if not for an increasingly difficult relationship with X-Men Editor Bob Harris, and Marvel's artist-centric approach to comics in the early 90s. Essentially Marvel began thinking that artists like Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and others, where the primary reason people where buying comics. This mentality encouraged a disasterious mess, where writing and plot became secondary to the artists Marvel where desperate to keep happy. Harris kept giving Jim Lee more control over the plots, eventually leading to Claremont quitting and handing in his final three issues, which launched the X-Men #1. (BTW, despite all their attempts to keep them happy, Marvel lost all of those famous artists when they left to form Image Comics.)

Anyway, Claremont didn't come back to the X-Men again for nearly a 100 issues. It was on issue #100 of X-Men that Claremont returned to Marvel and took over writing the X-Men again. Claremont wrote both Uncanny X-Men and X-Men for awhile, but failed to impress readers, as the two books felt disjointed and confusing. It wasn't the triumphant return everyone was expecting. Things did get better, though, as Claremont was able to launch a new book "X-Treme X-Men" - which was lavishly illustrated by Salvador Larroca. The new title specificly splintered this group of X-Men away from the other two titles, where Grant Morrison was making waves with his legendary run. Being able to focus on one title and not have to worry as much, as before, about interfering with other X-Titles, Claremont was able to bring back the magic that made his original X-Men stories so good. Characters like Storm, Rouge, Bishop, Sage and others really got to shine during these issues. Though this wasn't meant to last, as Salvador Larroca was taken away from the title after 24 issues for the failed Young Namor series. This really hurt the title despite the hard work from new artist Igor Kordey. The stories where good, but Igor Kordey, while a very quick and brilliant artist - is not what you'd consider a mainstream artist. The series seemed to take a nose dive; though, it did managed to last up to issue #46.

What I've recently been re-reading, though, is Claremont's third term as writer on Uncanny X-Men. X-Treme X-Men ended sometime shortly after Grant Morrison's run was over - and Storm's splinter group of X-Men rejoined the main group. These issues, Uncanny X-Men #444 to 474, delivered on a brighter and more optimistic follow up to X-Treme X-Men. I believe they are somewhat under appreciated. I know I didn't completely understand all the refrences to previous work by Claremont as I do now. Elements like from his runs on Captain Britain and Excalibur. Even his artist and co-author Alan Davis came onboard, reinforcing the more optimistic tone the series was aiming for, and delivering a lot of returning favorites to the X-Men universe.

The run started off spectacuarly, by resurrecting one of the most deadly foes in the Multiverse, an unkillable robot named "The Fury". This enemy was famously written by Alan Moore in the pages of Captain Britain - where Brian fought this monster, and was even killed by it. (Merlin stepped in and brought him back to life.) It was miracle the Fury was defeated at all. With this great villain due his long-awaited return, it seemed like the best return to form Claremont could have asked for new tenure on X-Men.

The cast that consisted of this group where mostly from X-Treme X-Men, like Storm, Bishop, Sage, and Cannonball with additions of Nightcrawler, and Wolverine. Rachel Summers was the biggest surprise, as she was earlier returned to X-Cannon near the end of X-Treme X-Men. With Jean Grey having died (again) at the end of Grant Morrison's run, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring back her alternate-timeline daughter. And Claremont and Davis didn't miss a beat in redesigning her for a new audience. Rachel took on her mother's former code name "Marvel Girl" and appeared in a cheerful new costume reminiscent of her mother's. She also began referring to herself as Rachel Grey, instead of her father's name, in some form of protest against her father's affair and relationship with Emma Frost. Rachel's redesign was a smashing success - and probably the highlight of the entire run, as the character has been severely misused since she appeared in the pages of Excalibur.

Another element quickly established in this first arch was the X.S.E. (X-Treme Sanctions Executive) - an element carried over from X-Treme X-Men where the X-Men are dully authorized police in mutant affairs. This element cleaverly set Storm's X-Men apart from Cyclops and Emma's group of X-Men, allowing Mr. Claremont to continue being able to develop his group of X-Men with less interference from other writers. I think Claremont works best this way, though I also think he's one of the more deft writers in being able to adapt to changing circumstances. Several times during this run events from other books effected his - and he alway seemed to tie it in extremely well to his own narrative. It should be noted, though, that Storm's group of X-Men, being distanced from the regular group, showed quite a few times perhaps some annoyance Claremont had with many of the changes done to the X-Men that I believe he might never have entirely agreed with. The inclusion of Emma Frost as co-head the Xavier Institute was always ever present in consistent snarky remarks towards her.

The Fury first encountered Rachel, Bishop, and Cannonball while they where visiting Brain Braddock (Captain Britain) in England. Brain wasn't home, as the Fury was there instead to greet them. After initially beating the team down, the Fury hacked into the X-Men glasses/communication devices - and hacked into Sage's systems. Sage, to me, is probably one of the more intriguing X-Men to come along since Wolverine himself - as she's shrouded in mystery as a former member of the Hellfire Club, and apparent spy of Xavier's all along. She has a computer like brain and had set up an intercate computer system for the X-Men - all of which the Fury hacked into, and directly into Sage's mind. This was a great moment for the character, and her massive amount of knowledge was pitted against Storm, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler. They managed to defeat her while she also was able to finally break free of the Fury's control. The X-Men quickly departed to the Fury's location.

Meanwhile Cannonball was probably having his most spectacular fight he's ever been depicted in, as he fought tooth and nail to defeat the Fury. At first the Fury was able to penetrate Sam's invulnerable force field, which typically kept him from any harm when flying through the air. The Fury was able to break his leg. Cannonball was able to resist further attacks, and seemed to be winning against the Fury at several points. But the Fury is unstoppable for a reason - it always adapts and repairs. Sam was able to fly it directly into an exploding propane tank, but nothing would work. Sam was fighting a loosing battle, but he managed to hold it together long enough for the X-Men to arrive and join the battle. It was not an easy fight, but Sage, now knowing about the Fury from it's previous take over was able to devise a plan to destroy the Fury, once and for all. It was not easy - as even a small portion of the Fury surviving meant it would recover. It all came down to Rachel, who showed how devastatingly powerful she actually was - using her telekenisis to crush the Fury inside the event horizon of a black hole she created with her mind. Sage connected the powers and will of the other members to strengthen Marvel Girl, allowing Rachel to do the impossible - she shunted the Fury off into non-existence.

With Alan Davis' art, this four issue epic was just spectacular! There where many unanswered questions, though. No explanation was given as to where the Fury had come from, or how it had come back to life. A small hint was given, though, just when Rachel was about to defeat the Fury, she was able to see Jamie Braddock, mad reality warping older brother of Captain Britain and Psylocke, walking behind the scenes. He would prove to be at the center of a great deal of mysteries as this run progressed.

Sadly, after such a spectacular showing, Cannonball left the group without even a word or mention, as he had been recruited back with X-Force in a new mini-series.

I'll come back with part two of my retrospective of Chris Claremont's third Uncanny X-Men run.

Click here for Part 2

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful rundown of a pretty-much ignored period. There was stuff to like but, from her reintroduction in X-Treme X-Men (awful title), Sage annoyed me. The idea that this baddie had been a goodie all along was simply daft - at least with Emma Frost we'd seen a long character progression which made her eventual integration into the X-Men plausible. But Sage just turned up and became Betty Deus X-Machina.

    I very much agree that the treatment of Rachel was a highlight - personality and costume, she stood out.