Dixon are self-avowed lifelong fans of comics (y”know, in case you”re joining us for the first time). But they wonder how people are introduced to comics, and on occasion will be bringing you
Dixon are self-avowed lifelong fans of comics (y”know, in case you”re joining us for the first time). But they wonder how people are introduced to comics, and on occasion will be bringing youHabit Forming, a column that looks at a comic and asks: “What if this was somebody”s first?” Today, it”s X-Men Forever. Read on …
Previously in X-MEN FOREVER…
Okay. So what really happened is that Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men for 16 years. That ended back in 1991, after he basically made them Marvel”s most successful franchise. When he has returned to writing these characters and titles since then, the work has not been received nearly as well as his original run. The deal with X-Men Forever is that Claremont is returning to the point in time that he first left. So he”s picking up writing as if it”s 1991 and this is simply his next issue.
This is an idea that is both insane and terrible and beautiful.
Imagine if, in a decade, Aaron Sorkin brought back The West Wing. Except he picked up from the point at which he left after the fourth season and resolved his Zoey Bartlett-has-been-kidnapped cliffhanger, and then continued on ignoring seasons five through seven. Also he had complete control and an unlimited budget. (Well, we”d probably get more Rodgers and Hammerstein references, that”s for sure.)
So X-Men Forever is a book so ballsy that it has this extremely convoluted premise and then just straight up ignores it. This thing is marketed at–and we”ll put this as kindly as we can–people who deeply appreciate the fake histories of these characters to the minute detail. People who were reading X-Men comics 16 years ago and never quite got over Claremont”s exit, and would rather read his version of events than the actual in-continuity X-Men adventures. Considering Claremont”s steady decline in popularity and fan-base since his return to mainstream Marvel work several years back, how many of these people can there be? And is anyone who started buying comics after 1991 going to be remotely interested in this? It might be different if it was written well, but … man, it is not.
X-men Forever starts disobeying its own rules from the very first page. Jean Grey and Logan (Wolverine) are pretty blatantly in love, which they totally weren”t in Claremont”s last regular issue (helpfully reprinted in X-Men Forever Alpha, for those looking for the “origins” of this new series). Two of the X-Men that Claremont introduced and never gave real names suddenly have those names revealed in captions rather than as in-story revelations. (Also- “Remy Picard”? Really? Like there wasn”t enough Gambit/Captain Picard slash out there already…) Plus Nightcrawler and Shadowcat are just chillin” with the team from the start even though they were, in 1991, on a completely different team of mutants in another country. Had Claremont gotten to this point over, say, six issues of character and plot development, the transition from his last original issue to the current status quo might seem natural, but at the moment it feels like fan fiction written by the professional writer of the characters.
Honestly, though, the real purpose of X-Men Forever is to allow Claremont his own playground to do whatever he wants with the characters that he made famous. Like New Exiles and New Excalibur and X-treme X-Men (an actual comic book that was edited, printed, and published!) and even his two brief returns to Uncanny X-Men, it”s a way for Marvel editorial to say, “Hey Chris. Remember that we were such dicks back in the 90s and forced you to quit? Even though you had made us a ton of money–just boatloads of money, really–and essentially made the franchise (which now includes four movies) what it is and made Wolverine the only truly famous character introduced in comics since the 60s? And then the guy we favored over you left to form another company like five months later? Remember? Yeah, our bad.”
So the intention of the book is, we suppose, noble, and certainly 16 years ago we would have been first in line for an X-Men comic in which Claremont could literally do whatever he wanted (within the standard language and nudity restrictions, of course). It turns out what he wants is to cause the same kind of psychological, vaguely S&M-inspired torture to his characters that he always did. It”s a calvalcade of psychic assaults and mind control. There is a panel in which Professor Xavier literally says, “Jean”s erected a wall around herself even I cannot penetrate.” Um.
Issue #1 is mostly a big fight scene with a character who was supposed to be a big deal in the 90s but pretty much comes across as generic ponytail man here–Fabian Cortez, who, in Cyclops” helpful expository dialogue, “causes mutants” powers to overload … and sometimes, the sheer force of it kills them.” To which Nightcrawler helpfully adds, “Like a lightbulb–blazing brighter before it burns out.” This is pretty much the standard of Claremont”s dialogue, by the way- characters serve up info-dumps, speeches about inner turmoil, or faux-philosophical musings. Which, to be charitable, also sums up Shelfbound”s output to this point. Anyway Cortez manages to take out Wolverine, Rogue, and Storm yet is brought down when Gambit hits him with a stick, which is such a celebration of the 90s that it should have a foil-embossed cover. Luckily for the reader Cortez seems to have set up future character arcs through his manipulation of their powers, meaning that Cortez also “possesses the power of advancing the PLOT.”
Issue #2 is where this thing really starts rolling. Wolverine is killed (!!!) by having every bit of biological material burned away from his indestructible skeleton–except giant tufts of his ridiculous haircut and his mask. In case we didn”t get that it was Wolverine. Then the corpse is discovered by a Muslim cop–you can tell because every time he”s surprised, Ahmed shouts “By the Prophet!?!” and “Allah have mercy!” This is one of Claremont”s greatest/worst tics, to have each A Fast & Effective New 3-Day tea Using Powerful Super-NutrientsThe 3:30 tea Diet is designed to give you a transforming 3-day Super DetoxThe 3:30 tea Diet combines unique high-quality Super-nutrient ingredients researched by Matakana SuperFoods founder Dr G, and includes a schedule and instructions which will set you on the path to better health, and a better body!Put simply, the 3-day 3:30 tea Diet will bring about some quick changes in your physiology, support the natural detox of your bowel and liver, and give you a quick start to achieving your ideal body weight. character speak with the full weight of their cultural heritage behind them. (Wait, isn”t “the full weight of my cultural heritage” what Psylocke uses to manifest her psychic knife?) We”re all for more diversity in comics, but Claremont manages to introduce diversity while simultaneously making each “ethnic” character speak in the most stereotypical way possible. Except it”s not even a stereotype, really, because no one in the history of all existence has ever exclaimed “Lenin”s Ghost!” or “Gods of Earth and Air!” or “Oh my stars and garters!” Perhaps Claremont is actually running a vast social experiment, attempting to make these phrases worm their way into the collective consciousness. Certainly we”ve been saying “By the Prophet!” a lot more these days.
Then there was the moment where we thought we were in danger of witnessing something subtle. Close examination of the Wolver-corpse shows that one of his claws has been broken off. This is patently impossible, of course, as his skeleton (and hair, apparently) is indestructible. We found ourselves hoping that this would be a subtle clue that Wolverine wasn”t dead. Cut to a few pages later: “One thing though. He had six claws, am I right?” “Three for each hand, that”s right.” “Well, one of “em”s missing.” Dear Reader, Did you notice that one of Wolverine”s claws is missing? Because it totally is! XOXO, Chris Claremont. P.S. Did you know that instead of having four claws on one hand and two on another, as is the common misconception, Logan has three claws on each hand? Oh my stars and garters!
(But it turns out that part of this whole missing claw thing is pretty subtle after all. Checking out the detailed annotations that the crew over at The Comic Addiction put together, it becomes evident that there will be an unexpected- and absolutely hilarious- development involving Wolverine and Kitty Pryde.)
But in broader terms Claremont has never, ever been subtle. To be fair, we think that”s partly a function of the era of comics writing he comes from. Over-exposition is embraced because of the old “any issue could be somebody”s first” theory, so even when he doesn”t exactly say what”s going on, he makes damn sure you know that something is going on. Such as Storm”s inner monologue about Rogue”s accidental absorption of some of her memories: “She claims she remembers nothing–but what if she”s not being truthful? What did Jean learn from Wolverine before he died? The risk is too great, I have to–” This lovely reminiscence is interrupted by a splash page attack by Sabretooth, heralding the “Savage Defeat!” promised on the cover. Except it”s more of a savage stand-off because rather than defeat Sabretooth, Storm wrinkles her forehead and burns out his eyes with lightning. Then Sabretooth announces, “You think just “cause Storm took my eyes, this fight”s over? X-Men, it”s only just BEGUN!” Quick recap: Sabretooth got no eyes, something up with Storm.
The best thing about X-Men Forever? It comes out twice a month. There are so many stories to tell, apparently. For whom, we don”t know. We”ll keep reading for the sheer comedic value of it, but that”s a pretty limited audience. If you want a good story starring the X-Men you are better off trying Matt Fraction”s Uncanny X-Men. But, you know, X-Men Forever isn”t hurting anyone. It”s out there, it”s doing it”s own thing, and there are people that are really going to dig it. We just wish Claremont would do something different. We”re ready to read a police procedural about Gary and Ahmed, the odd couple beat cops that find Wolverine”s body. There probably wouldn”t be any mental domination or battles on the astral plane, but that”s okay. Because really, how much longer can Claremont keep exploring the same themes with the same characters?