Tag Archives: Chris Claremont

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

Today’s Super Comic — Uncanny X-Men #173 (1983)

Uncanny_X-Men_Vol_1_173Even though it came out the year I was born, this is the issue that got me hooked on X-Men comics, and I hadn’t even realized what a pivotal issue it was.

The 1990s cartoon had already reeled me in, but the first couple of early ‘90s X-Men comics I tried left me cold. Then I came across this issue reprinted in ­X-Men Classic, and it did the trick.

Most of the focus is on Wolverine and Rogue while the rest of the team is incapacitated. Though Rogue had officially joined the team a couple of issues earlier (while Wolverine was away in his own miniseries), the others didn’t readily accept her, on account of the fact that as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants she had drained the memories and powers out of their friend Carol Danvers (the original Ms. Marvel and current Captain Marvel). Understandable.

But here, Rogue has the opportunity to do something heroic for possibly the first time in her life, for the one person who was treating her with kindness. And the moment Wolverine shows he accepts her as an X-Man should look familiar to anyone who’s seen the first X-Men movie.

Chris Claremont has written many years’ worth of X-Men comics, but this storyline ranks among his best writing. And he’s aided by the clean, dynamic pencil work of Paul Smith.

An X-Men classic indeed.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: Paul Smith

Inker: Bob Wiacek

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Essential X-Men vol. 4 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #111 (1978)

x-men_111Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s collaboration on X-Men got off to a solid start several issues before this, but this is the point at which it became consistently great. The best was still to come, but in retrospect, as offbeat as it is, #111 feels like the start of something special indeed.

The story drops us right into the middle of a mystery and places us in the point of view of a character who has been out of the loop for a while—Hank McCoy, the Beast. He has been busy avenging with the Avengers and hasn’t gotten a chance to personally meet the new X-Men yet. So imagine his confusion when he finds people who look like dead ringers for Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus performing as carnival freaks. (Well, you don’t have to fully imagine—Byrne renders Beast’s bewilderment rather vividly on the opening splash panel.)

Three X-Men Hank does know—Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Banshee—are also part of this carnival, but they aren’t acting like themselves. Complications ensue as the Beast attempts to unravel this mystery, leading to a terrific final-page reveal that basically commands you to read the next issue.

And that was part of the trick Claremont and Byrne accomplished in this run—incredible storytelling momentum carried directly from issue to issue. Events happen, and they have consequences that don’t get tidied up within twenty pages, thereby setting up the next issue. But this isn’t just one long tease to leave readers salivating in anticipation of some eventual grand payoff. No, each issue provides its own payoff in one way or another. Serialized storytelling at its finest, and X-Men #111 serves as a great starting point.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Marvel Unlimited; included in Essential X-Men vol. 1 and other collections

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up