Thee Comic Column #79: Chris Claremont Documentary

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Last month the good folks at Sequart’s documentary about Chris Claremont and his classic run on Uncanny X-Men became available. Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men is something I’ve been waiting for since I found out about it some months ago and now that it’s out I heartily recommend all X-fans out there follow the link at the tail of this article and grab it. If you need some convincing just hope over to Sequart’s youtube page and subscribe to their feed – there’s so much promotional footage for the film that you will almost instantly become pleasurably overwhelmed by it.

But wait, did someone ask “who is this Chris Claremont?” Is it possible, might there be some younger, more modern X-fans that love these characters but are unfamiliar with the reigning majesty of Mr. Claremont’s run on the original X-book? Well, Sequart will fix that, but in the meantime, let me tell you a little about a magical time for comics in general and the X-Men specifically – the 1980s!

If there is one epic, all-encompassing title, character and career-defining run on a book, for my money it’s Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. My memories of  purchasing my first issue of Uncanny are clear as the world outside the window today, and the rose-colored tint of nostalgia – while admittedly playing a massive part in my love for Mr. Claremont and what he did with these characters – is not all this is. These books MORE than hold up, and whenever I go back and re-read parts of the this era of the X-Men not only do I see more and more ways – both subtle and obvious – that they informed the X-books and films being made today, but I re-live what turned out to be comics history in the making.

Chris Claremont is considered in many circles to have helped usher in the idea of “Macro continuity” in comics and Uncanny X-men is where that happened. These weren’t stand alone stories – these were people’s lives. Twisted, painful, violent lives at time, but lives nonetheless, and the people that inhabited these lives had the same hopes and dreams, victories and tragedies that we have in our world (designated Earth 1218 in Marvel-ese). This month-by-month development not only chiseled the iconic personalities of most of the major X-characters still thriving today but it also made for some of the most intricate, realistic and mind-blowing plot twists in any continuing story ever.

I didn’t start at the beginning of Claremont’s run. No-oh. I came in waaaay after the fact, and I’ve still not read it all even to this day, however I’ve read most of it and that large chunk is among my favorite comics ever. The idea that someone – let alone the sophisticated Sequart- has made a documentary film about this is just, well, amazing.

I came on with Uncanny X-Men issue #227, March 1988 (okay, I had to consult marvel Wiki for the date but I knew it was late 80’s). Christ Claremont, Marc Silvestri and Dan Green; writer, penciler, inker, three names I would learn to look for after I fell backwards in the Marvel Universe as a result of this single issue. At the time I wasn’t reading comics per se, I was reading Larry Hama’s GIJOE because, well, it was my favorite toy. And the comic stayed a favorite even after the toy’d lost the battle to music and girls (for a time). The ongoing continuity of JOE awakened in me an appetite for similarly complex stories and the X-books were where I went to dine on the finest meal I’d had to that point. And oh what a meal! There was a fairly affluent neighbor kid who tended to take whatever the rest of us in the little group of pre-adolescent hoodlums were into and throw a TON of money at it. Said neighbor kid ended up splurging on comics – current issues and back issues – and rather indiscriminately ended up having a little of everything in his collection. It was through him, one bored day after sixth grade trauma that I read my first X-book. X-Factor #10.

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As a result of that book I fell hard for Walter and Louise Simonson’s X-Factor, which in turn made me curious about that title’s sister book. At that time The X-Men were very underground. Comics in general were still underground compared to what they are now. Most every kid in the west had at least some comics because they had become something of a right of passage; a signifier of youth perpetuated by culture’s use of them as something of an age-defining accoutrement. The beginning of Creepshow for example, did a great job showing this. And that was the thing – at that time in the 80s comics were still largely regarded as stories for kids. However, the bubblings of the British New Wave writers and creator gods like Frank Miller and John Byrne were helping make headlines in the larger realm of pop culture, pushing the idea that comics could not only be for adults, but could be literature. And influencing all of those big names was Chris Claremont and his own band of hoodlums: The X-Men.

The characters were mostly all there – Wolvie, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, etc. But these were the characters that seemed almost the red-headed step children of the mainstream and more easily-recognizable icons like Spiderman (with three titles at that time), Batman (two titles and a major motion picture looming on the horizon) and of course, Superman. All of these properties had already made at least serious advances into that larger oeuvre. The X-Men had not. At that time they didn’t have the marketing advantage of cartoons, toys and movies. They were sort of Black Flag to Spidey’s The Police.

And Mr. Claremont treated them accordingly.

These were considerably of-the-time stories and characters. There was death, there was mystery. There was world-reflecting bigotry. What there was not at that time was a blackbird plane. Or slick, fancy costumes. Or Charles Xavier and his endless amount of money and patience, good will and idealism. Those things were there at the beginning of Claremont’s run, vestiges of the 60s era of X-Men, but the true genius of his work with the X-Men was that he slowly took all of that away from the characters and left them in tatters.  The world the X-Men occupied was increasingly darker and their struggles consistently more bizarre. Folks who this is new to will be able to see some of the threads of this in next month’s major motion picture X-Men: Days of Future Past, a storyline plucked directly from one of Mr. Claremont’s more widely famous arcs. I love everything I’ve read that he wrote on the book (if I had to say I’m partial to anything it’s either INFERNO or the loosely-defined Dissolution and Rebirth arcs), and from the looks of it Sequart’s documentary – which you can buy HERE – is going to be both a massive good time examining and discussing this fabled and glorious run. Check it out, here’s a trailer. After that, you can go HERE to buy the damn thing, because you’re probably going to want to.

Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!



Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to Thee Comic Column #79: Chris Claremont Documentary
  1. […] The fact that She Makes Comics was produced through Sequart, the wonderful company that gave us the ...

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