Monday, January 26, 2015

BAB Firsts - Face-Off: The Thomas/Adams X-Men vs. the Claremont/Cockrum X-Men

 This post was originally published on November 18 2010

Doug: New feature today, kiddies. Lately we've been discussing great arcs, the X-Men done-in-ones of the Claremont-Cockrum era, and tomorrow ol' Neal Adams will be part of our topic. So we thought -- what the heck -- why not give you another opportunity to sound off on the pros and cons of two of the most renowned runs of the late-Silver and Bronze Ages?

Doug: Today we're asking for feedback on the run that failed to save the X-franchise: issues 56-63 and 65 (May 1969-February 1970). Thomas' formula for character development, along with Adams' engergizing of the book with his dynamic panel lay-outs, realistic styling, and the creation of Havok all combined for a winning prescription in one of the most highly regarded runs of all time; alas all of that didn't save our Merry Mutants from reprint-purgatory.

Doug: However, Mssrs. Claremont and Cockrum also set the comics world on its collective ear with their interpretation of the All-New, All-Different X-Men in a run that covered
X-Men #'s 94-107 (August 1975-October 1977). Talk about characterization! Chris Claremont further cemented Cyclops' role as the brooding, sometimes self-deprecating leader and under his pen Wolverine would become a superstar. Dave Cockrum was able to transfer the energy he'd brought to DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, and introduced beloved characters of his own creation in Storm and Nightcrawler. One of the real blasts of this series was watching the new team confront the old enemies: Count Nefaria, the Sentinels, Juggernaut, and Magneto.

Doug: So, you're heading to the longbox for a little X-fix. For which run would you reach?


J.A. Morris said...

I'm going to use C/C and T/A to abbreviate the creative teams' name here. Sorry again,long comment alert:

First off,let me say that that Adams art still blows me away. In fact,I recently told my wife that when I cease being impressed by Adams' art,that's a sign I've given up on life! Furthermore,one of the first X-men "reprint book" I ever bought contained some of the Thomas/Adams stories,so they'll always have a bit of sentimental value for me. Here's the book,maybe some others here read it too:
It was a British Marvel/Grandreams publication.
I recently re-bought the stories in a Marvel Masterworks book,just to have better quality reprints. I love the centerspread in #61 where Sauron's origin is retold on the back of his wings! Another favorite is the page where Beast falls out a window and is saved by Iceman. Love the perspectives and the facial expressions on that page.
Some of the best comic book art ever. And while I've never been one to read comics for "cheesecake" value,I have to put on my "superficial dude" hat and say that women drawn by Adams here are far more gorgeous than those drawn by even John Romita Sr at the height of his powers.
Here's a sample of how great a storyteller Adams was:
Thomas' script is very good,not great though. The Sentinels portion is better than what comes before and after.

But it's no contest,the C/C stories are better. Adams art trumps Cockrum's(I like Cockrum a lot too),but the C/C stories are generally better and have consequences that are still effecting the X-books today.

Thomas is one of my favorite creators,but parts of these issues are just silly even by Silver/Bronze age standards. Karl Lykos(Sauron)wants to kill himself because he's dangersous,so he goes to Tierra Del Fuego. Why not just jump off the Brooklyn Bridge? His girlfriend Tanya goes there too,how does she get there so fast? And speaking of Sauron,he was one of my favorite villains as a kid,he still looks cool. But his origin is silly. Karl Lykos gets bitten by a magic pteranodon,that gives him energy draining powers? Lykos isn't a mutant,but a "non-mutant variant"? What is that? I've always thought Living Pharaoh was bit goofy too. Yes,C/C gave us the stupid leprechauns, but the good far outweighs the silly in the "All New,All Different" stories.
In the C/C stories you get Magneto,Nefaria,Juggernaut,ImperialGuard and the first appearance of Phoenix. Need I say more? I am also a big fan of Christmas-themed comic stories,I love the trip to Rockefeller Plaza issue 98. No Christmas stories from T/A!
The Claremont/Byrne/Austin era is still the best, but the C/C stories are superior to the T/A stories.
I'd generally rather read stories about the "New" X-men instead of the originals,just a more entertaining group of personalities.
To put it simply,if I had to recommend stories to someone who wasn't familiar with the X-universe,I'd recommend the C/C stories any day over the T/A stories.

MaGnUs said...

In my head, X-Men = Claremont, so I can't go any other way than Claremont/Cockrum.

Yes, I had read the X-Men by Stan and Jack before, but I became a fan of them with Claremont's run. Too bad he's not such a good writer anymore...

Karen said...

The early X-Men -and by this, I mean anything pre-Adams/Thomas -generally bored me silly. Sure, there were a few good stories here and there but they never seemed to really live up to their potential until those two got their hands on the book. Even then, they were just beginning to make the X-Men a title that could be spoken about in the same discussion with the FF or Avengers.

But I have to go with Claremont/Cockrum here. These were MY X-men, and my sense of nostalgia for them is over-powering. But beyond that, I think the team really flourished under C/C. Their scope was widened and they seemed to be capable of any type of adventure.

MaGnUs said...

To be fair, in my case it's also about the development the X-Men had under Claremont and Cockrum, and then Byrne... but then again, Chris had decades to develop it, and Roy didn't. So it's not really a fair comparison.

Doug said...

I have just been hit with an inspiration for a new series of posts, or perhaps an Open Forum question...

...and it involves "dream teams". What if Claremont wrote and Adams did the pretty pictures?


Edo Bosnar said...

I'd go with the Claremont/Cockrum run, too. I guess the fact that pretty much everyone else here seems to think the same way can only be expected, since this is a blog that attracts Bronze Age fans.
As for Doug's question about creative dream teams, I don't think I'm the only one who thinks Claremont & Byrne on X-men were a dream team...

Doug said...

Edo --

In hindsight you are probably right (although looking at the entire breadth of Byrne's work, Terry Austin has to be attached to his hip for it to really be a "dream team"). I'm not sure I'd have put Byrne so high on my list back in the mid-'70's.

For story-reading, I, too, would go for the All-New team and their run under C/C. However, if I only wanted to look at the books, I would pick the Adams stories. And by the way, we should toss some kudos Tom Palmer's way, too. That dude was virtually without peer around 1970.


Fred W. Hill said...

J. A. Morris' assessment matches mine. Adams art is magnificent, but the stories, while far better than most previous X-Men tales, didn't quite measure up to the standard that Claremont set during the early years of his run, with Cockrum & Byrne.
BTW, I've heard of but never read any of Byrne's fill in the gap series, covering the period between the end of the old series and beginning of the new. If anyone here has read it, is it worth checking out? Byrne has done great work in the past, but he's also produced some garbage, even if mostly pretty garbage.

Doug said...

Fred --

I've read Byrne's Hidden Years series. It's nostalgic at best, but not overly memorable. He began to do some things that really put me off, like introducing some of the All-New elements prior to when we were introduced to them in Marvel time? How could Storm show up in these Hidden Years when it would be months if not years before Xavier would go to Africa to recruit her?

The art was pretty good, like you said, but if you really pressed me to list a favorite or least favorite story, I probably can't.

Does anyone else have an opinion?


Edo Bosnar said...

Re: "X-men: Hidden Years" - I have the impression that I commented on this on some other thread here, and if so, I apologize for being repetitive. Read roughly half of the series, and, yes, the art was nice, but the stories were very convoluted and rather bland. I also didn't like things like featuring Storm before she was actually "introduced." I think the series would have been much better if Byrne had just limited himself to the 27 or so "missing" issues instead of leaving it open-ended. It may have forced him to write more coherent and enjoyable stories.
Re: inkers - nothing to add to Doug's praise of both Austin and Palmer, just to say that the latter was without peer for quite some time and not just around 1970. Truly one of the great inkers (along with Austin).

Jefsview said...

Doug, you do know that there almost was a Claremont/Adams story, but Brad Anderson got the gig (God Loves graphic novel). The Adams/Palmer art team is equal to the Byrne/Austin one as far as sheer power storytellings, even though Adams does a better job in the page design department.

The Thomas/Adams/Palmer stories were before my time with the X-Men (which began around 96-97), so Claremont/Byrne/Adams steals my vote -- and, damn! what a ride! No other book could compare to the X-Men during that period for characterization and subplots slowly developing -- the intrigue kept you coming back for more.

I would have loved to have read a Claremont/Adams and Palmer Havok and Polaris mini-series, but the fates weren't kind.

MaGnUs said...

Terry Austin MUST be Byrne's inker always. Byrne inks his own stuff too thick.

Karen said...

Magnus, I am with you 100% on that! I don't think I've really cared for Byrne's work very much unless he was inked by Austin.

I was reading an article on the Adams/Denny O'Neil GL/GA series in the latest Back Issue magazine, and Adams remarks that at both companies, he had the best inkers for his art -Palmer at Marvel and Giordano at DC. They certainly meshed very well!

MOCK! said...

I am late to the party BUT I have to say:

Claremont/Cockrum for the reasons listed above.

Byrne with Austin.

Hidden Years: I bought them all recently for 50 cents was an enjoyable (yet bland) read, though I agree WAY too convoluted for no real reason. If I remember correctly (and given the unremarkable-ness of the series I may be wrong) the entire run took place in less then a week or two "real" time.

Did I miss anything?

Edo Bosnar said...

Having re-read the discussion above, I have to say that J.A.'s point really resonates with me even more this time around - the Thomas/Adams run was really well-served by absolutely fantastic art. Although I'm not quite as critical of the stories as J.A. is, I will concede that if the art had been done by any of the artists who had been working on X-men prior to that point, like Heck, Roth or even the young Barry Smith, that run would not be as memorable. (I deliberately left out Steranko, because I think if he had remained on the title for 5 to 10 issues he would probably have done some fantastically ground-breaking stuff as he did elsewhere.)

Also, since Hidden Years also came up, I have sort of an addenda to my comments of a few years back, since in the meantime I acquired and recently read the Panini digests that collect the entire series. Generally, I stand by my criticisms from before, although I'll add that (like MOCK!) I found the entire run quite enjoyable, despite all of its many flaws.

Humanbelly said...

Edo, what time is it over in your neck of the globe (as it were)? The new posts pop up here on the East Coast (of the US-- Eastern Time Zone) at 7:00 sharp-- so it's always right around breakfast time for me. But you're, what, about 6 hours earlier? Seven hours? Colin, it's probably late-morning or lunch-time for you, is that right? Man, we're all over the place, as far as relative daily schedules go. . .

To answer Doug's original question in the final, off-the-cuff way he phrased it, I would actually go to the ol' long-box to pick up the Thomas/Adams run (well, if I had it) first, simply 'cause I've read the C/C run several times, and have not had the opportunity to read the former in its entirety. I have a couple of the original issues, and the Sentinel arc is re-printed in GS X-MEN #2 (and boy is it great)-- but the whole thing is high on my get-a-reprint-collection list.

It is funny how truly fantastic art can go a long way toward legitimizing questionable story elements. As conceived, Sauron is a head-slappingly inane villain whose origin and power-set seems to boast of an entirely-picked-at-random structure. But man, he does look cool! And in his limited appearances he always seems to have been served by really good artists. There's also been a smart tendency for the writers to always lean on the time-honored (well, okay, maybe threadbare) angle of the pathos of this decent man cursed with transforming into this awful, dangerous creature. The whole Wolfman, thing. Or Jekyll & Hyde thing.

Hmm-- how would the A/T run have fared, storywise, if the art chores had been handed over to, say, Werner Roth, or Don Perlin, or Frank Robbins? Yeesh.


Anonymous said...

HB, the BAB post starts for UK readers at noon exactly so for Edo it would be about 2pm I assume.

Humanbelly said...

Let's see, so in meal-centric terms, it posts while I'm having breakfast; you're having lunch (insert eye-rolling fish & chips comment here); and edo's fighting off the mid-afternoon malaise w/ a Snickers Bar.

And now I'm hungry again. . .

Thank ya, Colin--!


Edo Bosnar said...

Actually, posts go live for me at 1 p.m. (Central European Time), which is - sometimes - lunchtime for me as well (in fact, a lot of times I just wait to take my lunch break at my desk knowing that I'll have an interesting BAB post to read and then comment on.

Back to Sauron: yeah, the origin is really kind of silly if you think about it too much, bad he's such a cool villain. His looks are cool, his powers are cool, and he's been in some pretty good stories - like the Savage Land story in the Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-men, or that first story arc in Marvel Fanfare.

pfgavigan said...


I hope this makes some sort of sense. It does in my mind so I hope it comes across in the printed word.

I think I would give Cockrum the edge in the X-Men for the simple fact that I don't believe that Adams was ever quite as comfortable with the Marvel House style of art as Cockrum was.

Allow me to elaborate, when he was on Legion of Superheroes, Cockrum's pages were certainly well executed, but seemed less dynamic than they later would on the X-Men. He picked up a bit of Kirby in his panel construction, the way the figures and action came forward and towards the reader.

Adams, while enjoyable, seems more hampered by the book, perhaps by the simple number of characters he had to deal with, perhaps not. I do believe that he occasionally struggled with his story telling as, in my own opinion, tended to lose the flow of the narrative when going for a particular artistic effect.

Either way, in my opinion, Adams seemed more at home at DC. There he had access to characters, inkers and writers who tended to match him in attitude and aptitude.

I don't think Mr. Adams was alone in this regard. Don Heck and Werner Roth definitely seemed more relaxed and capable while rendering Wonder Woman or Lois Lane. Via DC's World's Greatest Superheroes comic strip George Tuska made his way back to the newspapers where his art style worked to great advantage.

Marvel's house style of dynamic artwork, largely lifted from Mr. Kirby, wasn't for everybody. And this isn't to imply that these people were lesser artists, just possibly not comfortable with working in a style that at a certain fundamental level was not their own.

Yours in appreciation for your patience


The Prowler said...

This is almost "Iconic Actors and Their Roles" part 2. Who's the better X-Men, T/A or C/C? Certainly C/C had a longer run. If Cockrum's art was not quite Adams, did Claremont's stories lines make up the difference? Same with Adams. Did his pencils make Thomas' "weaker" storylines seem more dynamic with his talent on display. I know during that magic year of '75 when Marvel was "Giant Size"-ing everything, I was introduced to "The Sentinels Live" storyline. When we talk about classic villains for the X-Men, would it be Magneto or The Sentinels? Certainly both have had a serious impact on the team.

I did get to see more of Adams work on the X-Men title with the Visionaries TPB. He did some breath taking work. To be more modern, I would say it was "mind blowing", "destroying" and "the" "best" "ever"!

But back to my original question, or really Doug's Dream Team, was T/A what it was because Adams' art made the stories better or was C/C what it was because Claremont's plots make Cockrum's art? Dayum, a tough one. I would say T/A for the art.

Doug: How can a guy get the pass at the top of the key, kiss it off the back board, never dribbled once and NOT GET CALLED FOR TRAVELING!?! OMG, are they ever going to make that call!?! Why be on the court if you're just going to WATCH THE GAME!?!

(I only know you got the wrong man.

Information Transit got the wrong man. I got the *right* man. The wrong one was delivered to me as the right man, I accepted him on good faith as the right man. Was I wrong?)

Anonymous said...

Hmm both creative teams came in at key points in the lives of our merry mutants; I loved Neal Adams's realistic art style but I gotta say my favourite has to be the Claremont/Cockrum team. The X-men really took off during the Claremont/Byrne/Austin era but Claremont/Cockrum laid the foundation for later greatness.

- Mike 'still trying to figure out what my mutant power is' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

Probably too late to posit this and have it create any further discussion, BUT---

--- is it possible that the Claremont/Cockrum X-Men wouldn't even have ever been attempted had it not been for the ill-fated Thomas/Adams run setting a benchmark that the more discerning, invested fans truly wanted to see attained again for the X-People? They set a precedent that showed the brilliant potential of the book (before its demise), which certainly had to have been an inspiration for the following team. The one through-line between the two runs- even though it may have been unintentional- was kind of its tone. . . its feel.

T/A was the League of Nations, which eventually begat the United Nations (kind of. . . )


B Smith said...

Good grief, do you even have to ask?

It's Thomas and Adams all the way - that issue on display, #58, might be the greatest issue in that run.

Let's see: it set the tone for Sentinels stories to come for a long, long time, introduced the "heads on TV as Greek chorus" motif that's been used a zillion times since...I can't help thinking C. Claremont wore out his issue, at least until his sport/boyo/m'love/I hurt schtick came along.

Don't get me wrong - those first Claremont/Cockrum issues were beauties (apart from the leprechauns perhaps) but Adams and Palmer were just about unbeatable on all counts (remember that anecdote about Neal leaving blank spaces and putting "Write pretty here, Roy!"...? I can't imagine him doing that with Mr C).

I don't know if it was csc wearing too many of his influences on his sleeve, but it's like he was echoing Thomas...and while an echo can be a fine thing, in the end it needs something to copy.

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