Rated | Alphabetical
Chris Claremont, Salvadore Larroca
There was a time when Chris Claremont's penchant for dialogue was a good
thing. In the late '70s and early '80s, before the heyday of Alan Moore and the
idea of comics as anything even remotely approaching literature, Claremont's
work on Uncanny X-Men was remarkable for the eloquence of the characters'
elocution. Of course, his knack for mythos-building and imagination-capturing
storylines certainly helped elevate the book above the masses, but it was
Claremont's knack for characterization, delivered in ever-unspooling
soliloquies, that made the book stand out.
Of course, we've come a long way since then. As Moore and a cadre of
harder-edged, deviously imaginative writers have left their indelible marks on
the medium, Claremont's distinctive style has joined the duck-billed platypus in
the tarpit of ancient relics. If this seemed shocking in the early '90s, when he
left Marvel's mutant franchise in the hands of less-than-capable successors,
it's painfully obvious now.
Case in point: X-Treme X-Men, which collects the first nine issue's of
Claremont's new stand-alone mutant title. X-Treme can be seen as Marvel's
attempt to keep the father of mutant writers happy and (somewhat) in the loop,
even as the franchise's two core titles were handed over to younger, "hotter"
talents (including Grant Morrison of Doom Patrol and JLA fame).
But the result is a painfully laborious read that fails to stand out amidst the
constant clutter of the ever-too-large X-universe. (Honestly now, does the world
really need a Mike Allred-produced mutant book?)
So as not to get in the way of the regular X-Men titles, Claremont takes a team
of seasoned fan-favorites (Storm, Beast, Rogue) and underdeveloped ideas (Sage,
the new Thunderbird) and sends them on a long quest. The team seeks Destiny's
Diaries, a series of journals in which the blind mutant precog Destiny recorded
her visions of possible future Earths, and which series has only brought pain to
the late mutant and her former cohort Mystique.
So far, so decent. But Claremont, to his shame, fails to deliver a plausible or
even reasonable explanation for this particular team's decision to hunt the
books in secret. Apparently, these mutants (also including Psylocke and the
time-displaced supercop Bishop) take it upon themselves to gather the tomes,
feeling that even their leader and mentor Charles Xavier would not prove immune
to their inherent temptation. Just what rationale these "X-treme" X-men operate
under, to believe that they alone are worthy of carrying out such a quest, while
hiding from their fellow teammates and the world, is never adequately presented.
While glaring and, indeed, critical, this is not the collection's only flaw. The
action, such as it is, meanders, beginning with a too-long thread that involves
the team getting captured by a super-secret branch of Spain's Guardia Civil
and run through tests for the flimsiest of explanations regarding national
security. Claremont also relies too heavily on flashbacks to fill in the
expository holes, and the jumps are jarring.
But easily the most tiresome aspect of these stories is Claremont's tendency to
have his characters orate like figures of Shakespearian tragedy at the drop of a
mutant power-blast. At best, such hyper-verbosity comes off as self-indulgent
whining (as when Rogue fumes "This ain't FAIR!" over and over again). At worst,
the characters stumble over clumsy chunks of dialogue (and thought-balloon
reflection) that would get any aspiring scribe flunked out of Creative Writing
As Claremont has proven countless times over the years, at the helm of such
insipid storylines as the "Mutant Massacre," he's only as good as his
artist -- it's no state secret that the most successful X-Men eras combined solid
stories with the exemplary superhero art of John Byrne or Dave Cockrum.
Salvadore Larroca is by no means a terrible artist, but his fluid, painterly
style lacks a crisp, dynamic boldness needed in action-driven books such as this
one. The coloring (courtesy of someone/thing known only as "Liquid!" in the
credits) doesn't help, as the team's identical blue-black costumes help muddy
the all-important clarity of action scenes.
Claremont's eye for exotic locales and dense, wandering plotlines might better
serve a far-flung space opera or espionage title, but on a high-profile
superhero book, they're excesses that the writer himself lacks the discipline to
rein in. Which makes this latest branch of the X-Men tree one that cries out for
a pruning, post-haste.
New X-Men: Imperial
E is for Extinction
Uncanny X-Men: Poptopia
For a taste of Chris Claremont's better X-Men work,
interested readers should seek out Marvel's black-and-white Essential
X-Men reprint collections. The Dark Phoenix Saga is the other
obvious starting point. Meanwhile, Mutant Genesis (available in
April), which collects the first seven issues of the new X-Men title of
the early '90s, shows that Claremont still had a flair for good action
storytelling even in the early '90s (aided and abetted by a pre-Wildstorm
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