Monday, September 24, 2012

Aunt May vs. Iron Fist--It Could Happen

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


X-Men #100

Despite this issue of X-Men being published with nine, count 'em, nine different covers, there's nothing particularly distinguishable about its story. It's still business as usual for the team, Claremont style--and I speak of course of Chris Claremont, who has been writing the adventures of the X-Men, off and on, for over 20 years. The "style" I'm referring to consists of writing elements which every reader is well familiar with, elements which always tip you off that you're reading a Claremont story. Heroes and villains alike speak in abridged sentences, apparently as a way to make them appear tougher and with more of an edge. The villains have absolutely no doubt of their superiority or ability to defeat the X-Men, and in a particularly ruthless style. Character exposition out the wazoo. And there's usually a "darkest before the dawn" approach with the heroes--having their situation hit rock bottom, before they pull things out and regain the advantage. I could go on, but you get the general idea. The pacing in a Claremont X-Men story is near-dizzying, with a lot to keep track of during a battle.

That's not to say Claremont's doting upon dialogue isn't without its good side. For one thing, he's one of the few writers at Marvel who actually cares about characterization--and with as many characters who pass through the pages of X-Men, he has his hands full in that regard. For another, certain artists he works with--Salvador Larroca and, in this case, Leinil Francis Yu--have styles which display some fine and distinctive artwork, but don't necessarily lend well to storytelling in a team book. It's very difficult to follow their trail of thought as the story is laid out, and equally difficult sometimes to figure out what's happening on any given page--and it's only because Claremont has a tendency to jam his pages with character dialogue (and often monologue) that we're able to actually follow the story. There are times when I wish Claremont would just, you know, shut up--but when the action picks up, his writing style is a necessary evil when accompanied by Yu's art.

In this particular battle, the X-Men face off against select members of the Neo, a separate species of mutants who are up in arms over a recent attempt by the High Evolutionary to "erase" the mutant gene from humanity (earlier and more successfully than the Scarlet Witch's effort). For the most part, the X-Men are trying to deal with the aftermath of a series of explosions that were meant to bring down the Evolutionary's orbital station that was used to launch his plan. A battle with one of the Neo takes place in the midst of that--while in a second battle elsewhere, Nightcrawler attempts to escape another Neo's assassination attempt. Here we see a fair representation of the Neo sect, after the botched attempt on Nightcrawler:

As you an see, another staple of Claremont's writing is that his female characters are strong personalities that often take the lead. It's one of the things I appreciate, and makes for a nice change at Marvel where the women have usually played more supportive roles. Unfortunately, Claremont simply doesn't know when to rein it in. It's one thing to have assertive female characters--it's quite another to ram it down the reader's throat. Are all strong female characters as hard-edged as Domina? Do Shadowcat, Psylocke, the Invisible Woman, and Storm need to be ninjas? This man would have Aunt May in a Tae Kwon Do class, given half a chance.

And take a look at Kitty Pryde in this full-page declaration of independence. How distinctive is she now from Rogue, or Illyana, or Psylocke, or Mirage, or Colleen Wing, or almost any female character whom Claremont has gotten his hands on?

"I got no interest..."--where is Kitty from now, Brooklyn?

By the way, this "giant-sized special"? It's not because this title has reached issue #100, though that would have been a nice thing to do for the reader who's stuck with the book for the past 99 issues. No, the padding comes from an eight-page insert called "Fast Lane," a four-part story dealing with drugs and alcohol use--a segment placed smack-dab in the middle of the issue's X-Men story, in a way that's meant to discourage the reader from simply skipping past it. If you're attempting to build momentum for your title's 100th issue, inserting a separate story in the middle of it is probably not the way to go about it.

In short, X-Men #100 is a fine battle issue--a fine Claremont issue--but boils down to a day in the life of these brittle, hard-edged X-Men whose world has moved further away from the influence of Charles Xavier and more toward the kick-ass mindset that dominated Marvel comics at the turn of the century. These days, either someone is out to get the X-Men, or the X-Men are out to get someone. As Domina notes, this is war--and ever since this spin-off X-Men book began being published, the X-Men have seemingly been at war. But in another fourteen issues, the book will inexplicably change its look and title, to New X-Men--and the difference in both look and direction takes some getting used to. So I suppose you could say issue #100 of X-Men--while otherwise pretty much status quo in comparison with prior issues--is, in a way, a turning point, even if not recognized as such. With this issue, Marvel winds down not only the direction of the X-Men which this second title began--but also its nod to 100th issues in general, now that its flagship characters have all passed that mark.

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