Sunday, February 10, 2013

Spotlight On: Chris Claremont

Doug:  Chris Claremont is a guy whose name is almost synonymous with the Bronze Age, and unfortunately also with everything that went wrong with comic collecting in the 1990's.  We all know him from his quality runs on Iron First, Marvel Team-Up, and of course the All-New, All-Different X-Men.  He showed up a few times in the Sean Howe book we recently discussed, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.  We won't bore you with our own personal rehashing of Claremont's career -- nope, that's your job today.  You can use this link to see a chronological listing of his writing -- you may be surprised where he showed up back in the day!

Doug:  So share with us some personal favorite moments from his career, as well as some low points that maybe left you cold.  If you're like me, his increasingly convoluted X-universe drove me not only away from the mutants, but was a step on the way toward quitting new comics altogether.  I now prefer to dwell on his output from the 1970's, which is of course the general focus around these parts of cyberspace.


Rip Jagger said...

I'd have to say my favorite Claremont stories are the ones he did in collaboration with John Byrne. The Iron Fist stuff is great, the X-Men stuff is wonderful.

Claremont was able to tap into personalities of his characters without making it seem to be a gimmick. Unlike Conway who like his mentor Thomas was always into plots way more than characters, Claremont seemed to prefer the latter. Englehart for the record seemed to blend the two perfectly for a time.

But as you suggest in the set-up, that interest became a fetish and demolished the good he could do. Stories became infamously convoluted, challenging all but the most committed fanboys to keep up.

And it might be a mistaken memory,but it seems his writing became more and more leaden as it progressed, demonstrating less trust in the reader. His obsessions became more obvious and distracted from the overall experience.

We'll always have Iron Fist and the Days of Future Past though. Brilliant!

Rip Off

humanbelly said...

Boy, he was Mr. Horror Mag for awhile there, wasn't he?

Gosh, he was SUCH a good writer for such a long, long time--- and then, to me, he just wasn't anymore. I had a sense that at some point he fell in love with what he perceived to be his own brilliance, and began writing to please himself rather than to create stories and lives for us (the readers) to enjoy. I've often thought of him as a precursor to Bendis-ization. But that may have more to do with an INCREDIBLY annoying writer-tic that he starting using as early as MTU, and it became ubiquitous: The self-referencing metaphor (I just coined that phrase, 'cause I don't know what the real term is for it). Something like, "My aged back is still as powerful as it is hirsute!" "Her gentle caress is as lovely as it is deadly." That sort of thing. EVERYONE he wrote was capable of using that device-- even Spider-Man-- which, apart from being a very stilted, unnatural manner of speech, made everyone (of course) start to sound kind of the same. . . in a pretentious, faux-intellectual sort of way.


Anonymous said...

His X-Men stuff is obviously classic (convoluted as it was), but I always liked his Marvel Team-Up stories...the way Spidey interacted with his latest partner seemed more realistic to me when Claremont was writing it.

Mike W.

Humanbelly said...

Totally agree, Mike. The Spidey/Yellowjacket & Wasp two-parter (reviewed on this board, I do believe) was a particularly strong example. One of the rare times where Hank & Jan's relationship really seemed to be quite healthy and still characteristically "them".

Claremont does get lifetime kudos for advancing the role of women superheroes. Anyone remember that point where the X-Men were entirely women? I thought that bold development was as courageous as it was unhyped. (heh-- couldn't resist. . . )


Edo Bosnar said...

For the longest time I would have described Claremont as my favorite comics writer, bare none, based on my love for his work on X-men, and Marvel Team-up, etc. Now I can see that he certainly had his flaws, and like many others, I agree that eventually some of his strengths became his weaknesses. Also, I think he kept going back and recycling certain story ideas way too much. Personally, I thought it was a big mistake to keep using characters and situations from that alternate future created in "Days of Future Past." Also, I did not like the whole Magik/Belasco/Limbo thing.
However, I still like to go back and read his stories from when he was going strong in '70s and '80s. I was actually pleasantly surprised when I read my Essential Tales of the Zombie and Man-Thing to find that he had done so many stories in Marvel's horror books.

Doc Savage said...

Liked him okay on Marvel Team-Up where his fetishes, fixations, and verbal tics weren't so prominent. But if I want Modesty Blaise, I'll read Modesty Blaise. So no X-Men for me.

Anonymous said...

Oh Chris Claremont, where do we even begin? Yes, his early work on Iron Fist, MTU and the new X-men, particularly with John Byrne and Terry Austin, is the stuff of comics legend.

I think that after a while, though, he began to suffer burnout. We've seen it all too often - a brilliant energetic young writer comes up with fresh new ideas and plots for a new title, and for a long while is successful. Afterwards, almost inevitably, he begins to decline; the plots become more convoluted, the scripts tired and uninspiring. I think Chris really became too jaded with the success he experienced. Give him credit, though, the decline occurred gradually after the departure of Byrne.

Some of my favourite stories have been written by Claremont, and I'll always treasure his classic stuff.

- Mike 'days of future present' from Trinidad & Tobago.

J.A. Morris said...

I agree with the others here about his Marvel Team-Up stories, good stuff. But part of me thinks he'd be universally loved if he'd quit X-men when Byrne & Austin did. That series & those characters have never been as good. But Claremont has certainly earned the right to be called one of the best comic writers of all time, since he's one of the most imitated writers of all time.

But when I think of Claremont today, I think of dialogue like this:

"I love you."
"And I, you."


"If we kill them, how then are we any better than they?"

William said...

Like many others on here, my favorite Claremont moments are one's in which he collaborated with John Byrne.

One of my greatest comic book related wishes came true last year when the Claremont/Byrne issues of Marvel Team-Up were finally collected into a trade paperback. For some reason it didn't include their last issue with Spidey and Red Sonja, but still it was something that I had been wanting to happen for years, and it's now one of my most cherished books.

Another of my favorite Claremont projects is Iron Fist. Again a collaboration with Byrne. I received both of the Iron Fist Marvel Masterwork volumes for Christmas 2012. They include the entire run of Iron Fist (in full color) and I absolutely love them. In fact those Byrne/Claremont issues are some of my favorite comics of all time.

And of course I was a big fan of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men. However, I was never as big a fan of Claremont without Byrne though. Which leads me to believe that John contributed a lot more to their mutual projects than just drawing what Chris wrote.

Graham said...

I enjoyed his work on Iron Fist in those early days, but I really liked the Star-Lord issue he did with of my favorites back then. To me, that was as good as it got.

The X-Men work with Byrne was excellent, but around the time I stopped reading comics in the early 80's, I started noticing that goofy dialogue that some of you have mentioned and it just didn't seem natural for everyday people to talk like that.....of course, that's discounting the fact that ordinary people would be wearing costumes and jumping from building to building fighting bad guys or whatever.....

Anyway, I picked up a later issue of X-Men that my brother had and I just put it back down. I had only been away for a few years and didn't know whether to wind my head or scratch my watch as far as the X-Men went.

Edo Bosnar said...

William, that issue of Marvel Team-up with Red Sonja is not included in the reprint volume due to copyrights, as in Marvel no longer has the copyright to Red Sonja. Otherwise, that's one of my favorite single issues of Marvel Team-up, if not my absolute favorite.

Doc Savage said...

Marvel doesn't have the Red Sonja license anymore.

I also think Byrne without Claremont was not as good. Maybe they reined each other in like Lennon & McCartney.

Doc Savage said...

Marvel never had the copyright, only a license.

Anonymous said...

Once, like many others on this daemon-spawned site, I was his, body and soul. I realised though, m'loves, that he was beginning to disappear up his own nether region in the letter columns of the X-Men.

He answered the letters in said column, sport, and would sign them "Chris"....but soon, all too soon, it would say "chris"....that thrice-damned lower case C rankled, and when at last he signed off as "csc", I knew at last that.....I hurt.


Doc Savage said...

Spot on!

Fred W. Hill said...

I'll join the chorus of those who most loved Claremont when he collaborated with Byrne, although I also enjoyed the first run on the X-Men with Cockrum. Somewhere between X-Men 150 - 200 I lost interest -- I was mostly still collecting, but reading them was becoming more of a chore than a pleasure. Then again, I pretty must lost interest in all of Marvel's output during that period.

J.A. Morris said...

Since the Marvel Team-Up with Red Sonja & Kulan Gath was discussed earlier, I thought folks might like to know the story was recently reprinted here:

Doug said...

Thanks for the link, J.A. I had no idea that existed. I probably wouldn't be much interested in the mini-series that's included (how's that for a prejudicial statement?), but would enjoy the MTU story.


Doug said...

Hey, William --

Do you know of this compilation of Byrne's work? It looks interesting, although some of the stories that are included are a little curious.


Edo Bosnar said...

Matt, yes, you're right, it was the license to Red Sonja, not the copyright. However, given how much Roy Thomas altered Howard's Red Sonya, i.e., moving her to the Hyborian age, giving her a completely different origin, even changing the spelling of her name, I think Marvel probably could have successfully petitioned to acquire outright ownership of the character.
J.A., I knew about that Spider-man/Red Sonja book but never had any interest in it, because I have zero interest in that mini-series. It's easier to just buy Marvel Team-up #79, which can actually be acquired rather inexpensively (I think I paid about $1 for my copy a few years ago).

William said...

Thanks for the link Doug. I did not know about that book. I was quite interested when I saw what it was, but I just bought a few new things this week (including Man of Steel Vol. 7 by Byrne) and my wife wouldn't be too happy with me if I dropped another $24 on a book right now. So, I was actually relieved when I read the description of what was included in the book and realized that I already have almost everything in other various reprint volumes. So, happily I can pass on this one. For anyone else that is interested, Amazon has only one copy left in stock.

Edo, thanks for the info. I thought it was odd that they left that one out. Fortunately I own the actual issue, however would have been nice to have it included in the trade. It seems incomplete without it. I almost bought that "Spider-Man & Red Sonja" mini-series trade paperback just because it includes a reprint of MTU #79. But I have absolutely zero interest in the rest of the book, so I just couldn't justify it.

Anonymous said...

JA – you make a good point about the (all too) accurate grammar, but on the other hand:

“I'm the best there is at what I do but what I do best isn't very nice”

“You just made the biggest mistake of your life...and the last”

“OK, I’ve taken your best shot, now it’s my turn”

Now, those might not be absolutely accurate because I’m remembering from 30 odd years ago, but how amazing is it that after all these years we can still remember lines of dialogue. And I KNOW you lot know those lines as well, even if I’ve misquoted them. I can probably remember more Claremont lines than anyone else’s.

Matt – I like the Lennon & McCartney comparison, although I think maybe Waters & Gilmour is a better choice. McCartney definitely suffered without Lennon, but Lennon did some really cool stuff post-Beatles that would never have happened if he’d stayed in the Beatles. I think Claremont never had an artist to equal Byrne, but I’d struggle to say that Byrne ever had so good a writer, including himself.

One thing that really surprises me about that list you linked to Doug, and I’m also surprised that no one mentioned it, is that so much of his good stuff is all concurrent. From 76 – 78, he was writing Xmen, Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel and Marvel Team Up as well as issues from any other titles all at the same time and there is so much goodness packed in there!


Bruce said...

Yeah, Claremont has his quirks and tics, but he also created approximately one zillion (give or take a couple) great comic book stories.

The whole idea is to create characters whom the reader cares about and wants to follow month after month. For years, Claremont did that as well as anyone in comics has ever done it.

Yeah, he seemed to suffer from burnout and his last few years on the book weren't as good as his earlier years. But even since leaving X-Men, he's done some outstanding work - I really enjoyed his Fantastic Four run, his JLA reunion with Byrne and, most recently, X-Men Forever.

In short, I'd put Chris Claremont on my Mount Rushmore of personal favorite comic book writers.

Bruce said...

And I just noticed that I started a sentence with "yeah" twice in the same post. Maybe that's my personal version of "No quarter was asked - and none given!" :)

Karen said...

And the no prize goes to bls for his stunning Chris Claremont impression!

( know...that was so well done...what if it actually was Chris Claremont himself who left that comment??)

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