Tag Archives: Chris Claremont

Today’s Super Comic — The Uncanny X-Men #201 (1986)

Many superheroes have lost their powers in various storylines, and that includes many X-Men. Usually, it’s presented as an obstacle interfering with an immediate goal, and it’s a solid trope—it shows the hero is more than his or her powers. But the best examples of the trope have also used it to further develop characters, to provide consequences beyond the immediate short story.

Storm lost her powers for a few years’ worth of X-Men comics. She took the bullet for Rogue and then had to figure out how to reinvent herself without the abilities that had defined her for so long. More than most X-Men, her powers affect her personality; in earlier days, she would often repress her emotions because of how her feelings affected the weather around her. She was already beginning to loosen up before this event (see the mohawk), but this pushed her further into new territory.

By Uncanny X-Men #201, she was ready to return to the X-Men, despite the continued absence of her powers. Meanwhile, new father Cyclops isn’t quite ready to leave the team. He obviously should leave to concentrate on his young family, but Professor Xavier’s recent departure and Magneto’s recent arrival as the New Mutants’ new headmaster give him an excuse to try to cling.

But Storm knows Cyclops is in no shape to lead the team at the moment, so she challenges him to a Danger Room duel, with the stakes being leadership of the X-Men. And she prevails, demonstrating the better wisdom, temperament, and physical fitness for the job, even without the aid of powers, and she reminds us why she’s perhaps the X-Men’s most formidable leader.

Storm’s power loss did prove her skills beyond controlling the weather, but it also humanized her. She could no longer be the aloof goddess of her earlier appearances, and her disconnection from the weather put her more in tune with the people around her. And when her powers inevitably did return, those lessons remained in effect.

The X-Men’s success isn’t hard to figure out. The characters grew over time, and their growth kept things interesting and fresh. The Storm and Cyclops facing off in issue #201 aren’t exactly the same people who first met ten years earlier in Giant-Size X-Men #1, but they’re10 consistent with everything that’s come before.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler: Rick Leonardi

Inker: Whilce Portacio

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men Vol. 6 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (1982)

Back in 1982, Marvel launched a majority-female team whose members were all of different ethnicities, and as far as I’m aware, there was no special fanfare or controversy surrounding the diversity. The big deal was that this was a spinoff of the super-popular X-Men. Also, it was good and the characters were interesting. That’s what readers cared about.

Professor Xavier and Moira McTaggart assemble a new class of teenage mutants in Marvel Graphic Novel #4. It’s your standard team-gathering issue—we meet the New Mutants one at a time in their respective situations, and a shared threat gradually pulls them all together. We see that each one has much to learn, but also strong potential.

Writer Chris Claremont makes sure we get to know these new characters as people first, not as superhero personas. By the end of the graphic novel, we’re still thinking of them primarily as Xi’an Coy Manh, Samuel Guthrie, Danielle Moonstar, Roberto da Costa, and Rahne Sinclair, not Karma, Cannonball, Mirage, Sunspot, and Wolfsbane. I can’t even remember if they all acquired their codenames in this first appearance or in New Mutants #1, which goes to show how this was more YA fantasy/sci-fi than straight-up superheroes (though they qualify as both super and heroic). The main idea was a group of young people learning to cope with a dangerous world, not necessarily save it.

The X-Men were superheroes. The New Mutants were students who sometimes had to be heroic. If you’re going to do a spinoff, such distinctions are important.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: Bob McLeod

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in New Mutants Classic Vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #123 (1979)

Fun fact: Colleen Wing, whom you may have met in the new Iron Fist Netflix series, briefly dated Cyclops of the X-Men. Yep—Colleen Wing and Scott Summers. That was a thing for a few seconds a long time ago, during the first interval in which Scott believed Jean Grey was dead.

The Marvel Universe can be a small world indeed, as shown in X-Men #123, which begins as Spider-Man just happens to run into Scott and Colleen strolling along the streets of New York. If your characters are going to share a fictional universe, why not have fun with it? And these sorts of quick guest appearances helped develop the MU as a setting worth visiting—you never knew who you were going to run into (well, unless they announced it on the cover so they could boost sales).

So Spider-Man, Cyclops, and Colleen Wing walk into the panel (or swing in)…and a kidnapping sets the plot in motion. This issue begins a two-parter in which the villainous Arcade captures the X-Men and a few friends and traps them in Murder World (it’s like Disney World, but the attractions try to kill you).

It’s a fun premise that splits up the X-Men and throws them into various death traps. But surviving is only half the battle! They’ll then have to navigate this maze, find their way back to each other, and rescue their friends from a sociopath.

It’s good times. Another classic from the Claremont/Byrne era. (I dare you to find one bad issue from that run. Just one. Can’t do it, can you?)

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #133 (1980)

I just saw Logan, and it was amazing—a bit of a downer in some ways, but a fantastic, character-driven movie. So let’s look back at a much more upbeat comic from when creators were just beginning to realize Wolverine’s potential.

X-Men #133 is in the middle of the Dark Phoenix Saga, one of the all-time great comic storylines. The previous issue ended with the Hellfire Club capturing the X-Men after having seduced Jean Grey to the dark side. There was one X-Man they didn’t capture, though—one they assumed they managed to kill by sending him plummeting down through several floors and into the sewer. Silly villains.

But of course they didn’t kill Wolverine. They just made him mad, and in #133, the X-Man’s lone wolf has to fight his way through innumerable minions, without any scrupulous teammates to hold him back. It’s the sort of thing the comics medium conveys very well—awesome character being awesome as he tries to save his teammates.

And meanwhile, old-school villain Mastermind continues his mind games against the X-Men, particularly Cyclops and the brainwashed Phoenix. The whole issue is great, but it’s really Wolverine’s time to shine. He’s still largely a blank slate at this point in the character’s history, but a strong foundation is being laid.

So watch the excellent movie, and then look back at the character’s formative years that made that excellent movie possible.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (TPB); The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #98 (1976)

Allow me to pinpoint the issue where Chris Claremont’s legendary X-Men run started getting great:

X-Men #98. The preceding issues show lots of promise, but here’s where the momentum and excitement begin to kick in.

It opens as many great X-Men stories do—with the team enjoying some downtime, just trying to live their lives, until the world’s fear and hatred get in their way. In this case, that fear and hatred manifest in the form of the robotic, mutant-hunting Sentinels.

(Coincidentally, one of the strongest ‘60s X-Men stories was the Sentinels’ debut, and here their return coincides with the book’s tremendous increase in quality. Makes sense, then, that the ‘90s cartoon used them in the pilot episode.)

The Sentinels capture Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Banshee, who then must fight their way through bigots and robots. They’ve been abducted to a facility at an unknown location, and when they learn exactly where they are…yeah, that’s going to pose some new challenges.

Part of the X-Men’s success has involved mixing and matching great characters and watching them play off each other. This issue gives an early example of that by pulling together three X-Men who had hardly ever functioned as a team, and certainly not with just the three of them.

It’s especially interesting to read this early-draft version of Wolverine. He’s acquired quite the convoluted backstory over the years, but none of that’s known at this point. He’s basically an irritable mystery man, and the script hints that there’s more to his past than we may suspect. It’s even suggested he might not be a mutant, and Cyclops questions whether he’ll work out as an X-Man. Both of those proved to be absolutely wrong, but one thing that did take hold—we get some of the earliest signs of Wolverine’s burgeoning crush on Jean.

The X-Men are definitely in their formative years here. The best is yet to come, but this issue offers up a great start.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler: Dave Cockrum

Inker: Sam Grainger

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Uncanny X-Men #211 (1986)

uncanny_x-men_vol_1_211Mutant Massacre, the title of a classic X-Men crossover, sounds dark and violent…and it is. Pointless murder, defeat, and critical injuries all occur. But it’s less about that and more about fighting to overcome such darkness, no matter how bleak the situation gets.

We don’t see graphic images or gore (it was a more kid-friendly era of comics). But, particularly in Uncanny X-Men #211, we do see the X-Men risking their own lives to protect the innocent Morlocks from the vicious Marauders, and doing so despite their own preexisting injuries. Things actually go pretty poorly, and how they handle defeat shows us how heroic the X-Men truly are.

It’s one of their worst days, but because of the goodness they demonstrate along the way, we continue rooting for them. A fine example of how to balance hope and darkness.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Pencilers: John Romita, Jr. and Bret Blevins

Inker: Al Williamson

Cover: John Romita, Jr. and Bob Wiacek

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in X-Men: Mutant Massacre (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Wolverine #1-4 (1982)

wolverine_vol_1_1Wolverine has starred in many, many solo stories over the years, but his first miniseries remains the best.

A good rule for a spin-off is to place one familiar character in an unfamiliar setting with unfamiliar characters. That’s basically what we get here (though Wolverine’s girlfriend, Mariko, was already introduced in Uncanny X-Men). The result is something that feels like a true Wolverine story, not an X-Men story starring only Wolverine.

Wolverine’s internal tension drives the story as much as external forces do, as his bestial impulses conflict with his desire become a man worthy of Mariko’s love. And actual character growth occurs—not something comics were known for at the time.

The miniseries features some of Chris Claremont’s strongest writing and some of Frank Miller’s strongest art. The two bring out the best in each other as they show Wolverine striving to be his best—and stumbling quite a bit along the way.

And only forward momentum carries the series—no convoluted backstory cluttering things up. You can enjoy this book without ever having touched an X-Men comic.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: Frank Miller

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Wolverine (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Uncanny X-Men #183 (1984)

uncanny-x-men-183One of the nice things about comics—if a character acts like a total jerk, someone like the Juggernaut comes along to beat him senseless.

Uncanny X-Men #183 expertly blends soap opera and comic book sensibilities into a memorable outing. Colossus breaks Kitty Pryde’s heart (though seriously, that was a creepy relationship—he was 19 and she was 14…creepy), so Wolverine takes him out to a bar to chat man-to-man (with Nightcrawler tagging along/chaperoning). And by sheer random happenstance, the Juggernaut is there and Colossus bumps into him. Barfight ensues.

A nice touch on writer Chris Claremont’s part is having Wolverine decide to keep himself and Nightcrawler out of the battle—let Colossus endure the punishment he deserves for his heartlessness and maybe learn a lesson in the process.

It’s a classic issue, and the sort the X-Men excel at. Not every battle is about good vs. evil.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: John Romita, Jr.

Inker: Dan Green

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men vol. 5 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Uncanny X-Men #161 (1982)

Uncanny_X-Men_Vol_1_161Comic book mythologies are often created on the fly, particularly those involving the classic superheroes. It’s a fun, if also perilous, aspect of the medium. A writer and artist will introduce the core concept, and over the years other writers and artists will build on the established canon, making connections and finding opportunities their predecessors hadn’t thought of. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc.—none were introduced with any grand multi-year plan in mind.

The X-Men movies have gotten lots of mileage out of the past friendship between Professor Xavier and Magneto, which for many years has been an essential component of X-Men comic book continuity. But not all the years.

Magneto debuted as standard-issue raving super-villain bent on humanity’s destruction. He had neither backstory nor nuance in 1963, and certainly no previous ties to Xavier.

Even as late as Uncanny X-Men #149, Xavier was recapping the X-Men’s battles with Magneto as if the man was some stranger of mysterious origins. But by #161, writer Chris Claremont figured out that a past friendship between the X-Men’s leader and most persistent foe would add much-needed depth to the villain. And he was right. It was a brilliant move, and worth ignoring any contradictions in previously established continuity.

In #161, Xavier flashes back to twenty years earlier, when he meets a Holocaust survivor named Magnus who’s volunteering in an Israeli hospital. They become friends as they work together helping a patient, Gabrielle Haller (this is also the first time we meet the mother of Xavier’s son, David Haller a.k.a. Legion, though he was still a few years away from his debut—another example of retroactively building continuity).

It’s a solid issue, complete with young Xavier and Magneto teaming up to battle Baron Strucker and Hydra, but most interesting is watching the beginning of the ideological divide between the two, which would be revisited and fleshed out in multiple mediums over the next few decades.

Magneto would be many things in the years to follow—antagonist, head of Xavier’s School, brain-dead focal point of a cult, depowered former mutant, repowered mutant, subordinate to Cyclops, and so on—but he was never a standard-issue raving super-villain again.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler: Dave Cockrum

Inker: Bob Wiacek

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #137 (1980)

X-Men_Vol_1_137“The Dark Phoenix Saga” gets a lot of attention for two main reasons—it killed a major character at a time when that was seldom done, and it’s pretty darn good. This story climaxes in a death that feels organic and earned, not the result of an editor’s desire to shock readers. It’s the tragic consequence of an X-Man being unable to control her growing power, and it’s a death driven by character.

The extra-sized issue #137 is a great read throughout, with the X-Men fighting the Shi’ar’s Imperial Guard for Jean Grey’s life. This subverts the usual superheroic operating mode, in that the X-Men aren’t fighting to save the world—they’re fighting to save a loved one who actually is the real threat, thereby creating more shades of gray than typically seen in a comic book battle royale.

Though Jean Grey is the central figure, Chris Claremont and John Byrne neglect none of the other X-Men, giving each a turn in the spotlight and plenty to do. It’s an exceptionally well-crafted battle scene bolstered by the emotional stakes, with each X-Man motivated by their love of their friend.

It’s so well done that it’s easy to forget that the Imperial Guard was created as Marvel’s analogues for DC Comics’ Legion of Superheroes. This battle is basically the closest thing to an X-Men vs. Legion fight (even though the Imperial Guard begins to diverge into its own identity at this point).

In any case, this book deserves its status as a classic. No question.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (TPB); The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up