A Reflection (Mostly) on Claremont's X-Men

Introduction


While Claremont did script the first three issues of the re-booted X-Men (and made enough money off those issues to buy a house), he had left Marvel before they were published, leaving me to conclude that this is the perfect time to reflect on the impact he had on the X-Men. This post can be paired quite closed with my Favorites as of 1990 as it's pretty much a who's who of Claremont characters anyway.


The first 180 issues of Uncanny X-Men has been a wild ride, so before we officially re-launch the title, I am going to do a short examination of each era as well as diving into the individual characters.


Oh, the original X-Men. We wouldn't have had the team we know and love if it wasn't for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I wouldn't recommend going back and reading the original issues as they don't stand the test of time. I'm still in shock at how different (and terrible) Xavier is in the comics compared to my impression of him from other adaptations. It's no surprise they constantly try to kill him off over the years!


Roy Thomas and Neal Adams injected some real life into the series when they took over. Things could have been quite different if collecting sales data had been more efficient back then, as chronicled by Dave Cockrum in Comic Collectors on X-men: "Marvel had actually cancelled it prematurely because the Neal Adams/Roy Thomas issues ended up selling quite well, but the company [had not received] the sales results back before they cancelled it."


You can find my full breakdown of this era here.

As mentioned previously, the X-Men had been cancelled right as they were hitting their stride under Roy Thomas and Neal Adams. The X-Men had gone into re-prints for years until they were re-launched in 1975 by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum in Giant-Sized X-Men # 1.


You'll constantly find people on the internet saying "I want to start reading X-Men, but I'm not sure where to start." The overwhelming response will be to start here with Giant Sized X-Men # 1 where Cyclops (the only holdover from the original team) recruits a new team of international mutants consisting of Colossus, Wolverine, Storm, Sunfire, Banshee, Thunderbird, and Nightcrawler to save the old team (Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman),


Beast, Marvel Girl, Angel, and Iceman all decide to leave. Beast will fair well as he will turn blue shortly and join the Avengers, Jean will be back with the X-Men before you can say lickity split, and Iceman and Angel headline a bunch of terrible comics such as the Champions and Defenders.


My original breakdown of this issue can be found here.

While the "All New, All Different lineup" is typically associated with Claremont, he didn't actually take over until this point. Wein had plotted 94 & 95 to be sold as Giant Sized X-Men # 2 so Claremont had to quickly convert those back into a comic and quickly write # 96, which helps to explain why the writing isn't that great, however it's hard to find anyone who can draw the character's Dave Cockrum created better than he!


Sunfire was barely an X-Men as he left at the very end of Giant-Sized X-Men # 1. This run is remarkable because it includes the death, right out of the gates, of Thunderbird. This really turned some heads because it wasn't a common thing to be killing comic book characters.


This really showed the comic held stakes, something they kept in mind when Jean was killed years later, creating arguably the most impactful comics arc of all time and something that sent the X-Men on the trajectory they are still on as one of the best selling and most popular super hero groups in the world.


My original breakdown of these issues can be found here.

Claremont and Cockrum only pick up strength as they move into #97 - 101 with the birth of Phoenix! Not only does Jean join the team as Phoenix, but we start to see Claremont build out the team's supporting cast with Xavier, Moira, Havok, and Polaris hanging out on the periphery. My original blog on this era can be found here.

Scott stays by Jean's side at the hospital and Xavier begins dreaming of Lilandra while the X-men travel to Cassidy Keep to take on Juggernaut and Black Tom, chronicled more in depth here.

Oh boy, the X-Men are really in their heyday right now with Dave Cockrum rolling out new character after new character. These issues gave us the introduction to Lilandra, Multiple Man, Corsair and the Starjammers, and even the full Imperial Guard! We get a little Magneto in here too, but he's still one dimensional at this point, he'll get there though!


Full blog found here.

This was a long stretch where we were still getting classic late 70's X-Men by Cockrum and eventually passed on to John Byrne (with a few fill in artists sprinkled in).


It had been kind of a running joke how criminally underused Banshee was, so he was officially written out during this time period when he pushed his power to the max to the save world and could no longer serve as a super hero.


We got some more Magneto, but again he was still one dimensional. Arcade showed up, but I just don't like him. A few other one and done villains popped up. We spent some time in the Savage Land, in Japan, and in Canada where Alpha Flight first popped up.


Some pretty decent stories that you can learn more about here, but all in all I just felt like I was killing time until the Dark Phoenix Saga started.

Claremont and Byrne continue their magic with a great story that still holds the #9 spot on my favorite list. Full Proteus Blog here.

Claremont and Byrne are reaching their zenith here. The Phoenix stuff is heating up AND we get the introduction of Dazzler and Kitty. Kitty will join the team shortly after the Dark Phoenix Saga and Dazzler will join in a few years, after her solo comic fizzles and dies.


For those of you who have been reading along with me, you've found that I started my X-Men reading journey without any attachment to Kitty...but now I am absolutely obsessed. Thanks to Claremont's handling of the character, I doubt she'll ever get knocked out of the top spot in my favorite list. Welcome to the X-Men, Kitty Pryde!


Kitty may actually be one of the contributing factors to the big blowup between Claremont and Byrne, leading Byrne to leave the dream team. Byrne had the following to say in Comic Creators on X-Men: "I wanted her to be a totally normal girl, who wakes up one morning and has superpowers. Her biggest problem in the world would be, maybe, acne. But Chris made her a genius, and I said ‘If she’s a genius, she’s not totally normal.’"


Full blog coverage here.

Here it is, the Dark Phoenix Saga. The story that put X-Men on the map, forever. What was it that made this so successful? Was it the art? Was it the balls to kill a beloved character? Was it all the amazing characterization? Whatever it was, it got everyone talking about the X-Men, making the Claremont/Byrne X-Men the top selling comic at Marvel.


Not only did this give us the stunning death of Jean Grey, but it also led to Cyclops quitting the X-Men. Claremont originally planned on him retiring for good but Marvel had other plans...Full Dark Phoenix blog here.

When I was reading this the first time, my jaw almost hit the floor. Days of Future Past were really the two issues directly following the Dark Phoenix Saga!? Seriously!? DoFP might be even more iconic than Dark Phoenix. It currently sits at # 4 on my list of favorite issues, so thank you Claremont and Byrne for keeping the good times rolling.


Storm officially takes over as team leader and Angel steps in purely because Claremont thinks the team always needs 6 members. Full blog found here.

John Byrne stuck around for the magic of the Dark Phoenix and DoFP but took off after $143. Brent Anderson filled in on 144 and then we saw a reemergence of Dave Cockrum. This "It's All About the Girls" Blog was so fun to write because it highlights two things Claremont is known for: strong females and a large, interesting cast. Illyana, Marika, Dazzler, Spider Woman, Lee Forrester, Carol Danvers, Moira, Amanda Sefton, Siryn, and Stevie Hunter all get plenty of screen time. Not to mention the JV team of Havok, Banshee, Iceman, and Polaris getting an entire issue to shine themselves.

The early 80's was ALL about Kitty and I just couldn't get enough of her. Angel says goodbye and Cyclops is still doing side missions. Full write up here.

The Brood Saga is another X-Men staple that seemingly everyone's heard of. Cockrum kicked us off and Paul Smith steps in to finish it off. Claremont had the following to say in Comics Creators on X-Men: "Paul Smith’s contribution to X-Men is sort of immeasurable. The thing with Paul was that he found a way to present the characters that was strong yet vulnerable and sympathetic."


Wolverine has his best issue yet, Cyclops shows back up, Kitty tries on 17 outfits, Starjammers show back up, Carol Danvers becomes Binary, we first meet Deathbird, and a cute little dragon graces us with his presence. Read here for more.

WINNER. This run of issues includes my favorite moment (Storm stabbing Callisto in the heart) and my favorite issue (UXM # 170). We also see Rogue officially join the team and Kitty is being called Sprite for some dumb reason. Full blog here.

Paul Smith cedes penciling duties to John Romita Jr with #175. After Proteus, Dark Phoenix, DoFP, Brood Saga, and Storm's transformation...things slowed down a bit. These issues were a bit lackluster. Full blog here.

We're entering Secret Wars Time. It was...alright. Read here to read more.

Oh no, Rachel is here. If you've been following my blog, then you know that I despise this cry baby! She's getting a bit better in Excalibur now but she was the worst during this era! Wolverine and Kitty stepped away for their own limited series and we got the first appearance of Forge! Full blog here.

Some more weak issues continued. Storm loses her powers and leaves the team. She was powerless for WAY too long. Kitty and Wolverine still away. This leaves Nightcrawler as team leader, but unfortunately his leadership chops aren't quite what they could be. Full coverage here.

Still pretty weak. An argument could be made that Claremont was put in a bind because of Secret Wars, but this era was a bit of a drag. At least #195 made my favorite list because Wolverine installed Kitty as team leader for an issue! Full blog here.

Xavier is gone, Cyclops is on side missions, Storm is in Africa, Nightcrawler didn't work out, Kitty is 14, so who else can lead the team? Magneto!? Yes, I had NO IDEA that Magneto actually became a straight up good guy for quite some time, but that started right when Secret Wars Volume 2 began.


I would argue that the characterization of Magneto is Claremont's greatest accomplishment and the most compelling comic book villain ever to be written. Yeah, I said it! More on what happened here.

More Secret Wars V2 for you. Full Blog.

X-Men go to Asgard.

Claremont and John Romita Jr. kick the Magneto Redemption tour into full swing with the Trial of Magneto. While the trial itself is inconclusive, Claremont's intention is clear with Xavier being written out of the comics (for years!) and bequeathing the New Mutants to his leadership. Full blog here.

Storm officially wins the leadership role over Cyclops white Secret Wars 2 rages. Full details here.

Secret Wars 2 ends and Rachel goes completely off her rocker! I've already hated this character and then she almost obliterates the entire universe in this issue. Why is no one else concerned that this angsty teen is gallivanting around with the Phoenix force!? Full coverage here.

This is another era where things get very slow. Storm is leading the team, but without powers (which I hate). Rachel is a big crybaby, but luckily she leaves the comic here. Luckily Kitty and philosopher Logan are top notch as always. As you can tell, I keep going back and forth on whether or not to include Magneto in the graphic. He was definitely running the New Mutants, but in and out of the X-Men. Full blog here.

A shakeup when it was desperately needed. X-Men created the first X crossover event with the Mutant Massacre. According to Comic Creators on X-Men, "Paul Smith drew the Morlocks as having thousands. Chris only intended for there to be a few hundred. He decided he was going to kill them off, but Wheezy suggested making a bigger deal out of it. This became the first event."


Psylocke officially joins the team (in her original incarnation as a British telepath). Colossus, Kitty, and Nightcrawler are each badly injured, writing them out of the series for good. Nightcrawler and Kitty will be founding members of Excalibur, but they'll decide not to have two meatheads in the team (Captain Britain being the other) so Colossus stuck with the X-Men.


I had the most fun writing this blog as the entire thing was written as a Mortal Kombat death match.

Marc Silvestri steps in on pencils as Longshot, Dazzler, and Havok join the team. This era wasn't fantastic either, but I'm thankful for a little shakeup. Storm is still powerless, ugh! Full blog here.

Things start to pick up a bit here. Storm finally sets out to get her powers back. Finally! Wolverine steps in as leader and it's hilarious watch him give Havok and Dazzler such a hard time. Mr. Sinister gets even more established. Colossus comes back. Madelyn joins the team (more or less). All of this culminates in the Fall of the Mutants storyline with the team sacrificing themselves, only to be brought back to life by Roma. From this point until the Jim Lee re-boot (where this recap ends), the team will be believed to be dead, invisible to scanners, and more or less hiding out. Full blog here.

A weak run of issues where the X-Men down under are hiding out in Australia. Full blog here.

Some good issues with the nation of Genosha introduced and the seeds of Inferno being laid. Full blog here.

Inferno was...EXCELLENT. Amazing. It's hard to summarize as I spent FOUR blogs writing about it, but the story itself was excellently written and it paid off MANY plot lines that had been lingering for years. Not surprising that my favorites list is littered with Inferno references.


One of the most satisfying things for me personally was that it had been very frustrating seeing the X-Men isolated from the rest of the world while X-Factor, the New Mutants, and Excalibur didn't know they were alive. This issue brought X-Men face to face with X-Factor. Storm and Wolverine got to see that Jean was alive (more on her in my X-Factor recap) and so much more was finally able to unfold. Just so good! Blog 1, Blog 2, Blog 3, Blog 4.

And the following the winning success of Inferno, the team stayed together and continued to cross over more and more with the other titles. Storm stayed in charge with her powers and the comics were the stronger for it.


Except, that's not how it went down at all. In fact, I am still PISSED. 1989 was spent with the various teams being even more disparate than ever. The New Mutants spent all of 1989 on their own in Asgard, Excalibur went to different dimensions for the Cross Time Caper, X-Factor went off planet for the dumb, dumb Judgment War and the X-Men fricken disbanded! Storm was believed to have died and ended up getting de-aged by a dumb villain, Longshot went soul searching and was written out of the comic, Wolverine went on leave to get more time on his solo series, and Rogue was the first of many to get sucked into the Siege Perilous. We did get Jubilee though and Jim Lee's first pencil in #248! Blog here.

Things really go off the rails here. Claremont must have gotten really bored. Psylocke, Colossus, and Havok join Rogue in the Siege Perilous, essentially disbanding the team. Everything for this next stretch happens in a mass of separate smaller stories, which I didn't like.


Rogue is absent for a LONG time from the comics altogether. Dazzler and Longshot still haven't come back (for the most part). Colossus spends a long time as a painter who doesn't remember his past. We won't see Havok for quite some time. Wolverine buddies up with Jubilee which is a blast. Storm is de-aged (did I mention this is dumber than whens he lost her powers) and has her own separate story.


This also gives us the story where Psylocke confusingly gets her psyche moved into that of a hot Japanese assassin. She'll spend quite some time with Wolverine and Jubilee, which is fun.


None of this is to be confused with the true main characters of this era, the Muir Island X-Men headlined by Forge and Banshee. Pretty much every secondary character (Forge, Banshee, Polaris, Moira, Sunder, Callisto, Amanda Sefton, Sharon Frielander, Tom Corsi, Legion, Multiple Man, Siryn, etc) gathers on Muir Island to create a secondary super team.


With as much as I'm bitching about this era, it also gave us Jim Lee stepping to the plate for 257 - 258. I read 256 issues straight (with a smattering of other titles thrown in) and never really had much of an opinion on art unless it was something terrible. But damn, Jim Lee is sooo good. I find myself just spending so much extra time just stopping to enjoy the way he brings the characters to life. His takes on the characters completely changes how I consume the characters. Full blog here.

More Genosha, more separation anxiety, more Banshee/Forge bromance. Full blog here.

Ok, shit's starting to get good again. Jim Lee is the permanent artist. Gambit is here. Rogue is finally back. More and more team members are finding their way to each other. We're almost there! Full blog here.

Yes! The X-Tinction Agenda. Another amazing crossover. I loved Inferno because the X-Men had been hiding (together) in Australia and I was excited that they finally met X-Factor. Well they've spent the last two years apart from each other and the other teams. X-Tinction Agenda not only brings the X-Men back together, but also brings X-Factor and the New Mutants (proto-X-Force) into the fold. Storm is finally brought back to adulthood, Jubilee and Gambit meet the rest of the team, and everything else is brought back into place. Jim Lee drawing everything beautifully. Full blog here.

Why couldn't Jim Lee and Claremont work it out? Why did Jim Lee need to go to Image!? If this is what we get when those two work together, then seriously missed on something special because these issues were utterly fantastic. Storm, fully aged, fully powered, and fully in control. A cohesive team with Japanese Psylocke, Jubilee, and Gambit!? Great stuff here.


I was also blown away by the Magneto characterization. The forces at Marvel clearly decided that Magneto would go back to being a villain and other writers were using him more one dimensionally. But Claremont used these issues to beautifully paint a nuanced man as he was pushed from trying to be the best version of himself to someone who had no choice but to choose the more harsh course of action. I truly believe Claremont's handling of Magneto is his greatest legacy. Full blog here.

The Muir Island Saga is the final entry before we go into the line-wide re-launch. It was only barely written by Chris Claremont before he departed Marvel. Xavier brings X-Factor and the disbanded X-Men together to fight the Shadow King one last time. This completely cleared the deck, bringing everything back to the status quo for a re-launch. Rogue re-joined the team. Everyone under the Shadow King's control was freed. Xavier was crippled again. The Blackbird was returned to the team (stolen by Xavier). Colossus's memories were returned to him. The original 5 X-Men were officially re-integrated with their original mentor and the other X-Men, new and old. Full blog here.


Breaking down characters

I'm going to go through and break down the "New X-Men" tracking their transformations over time. I am going to save the original 5 X-Men for my upcoming X-Factor retrospective. I'm going to save Kitty for an upcoming Excalibur retrospective, and save you all from hearing me gush about her some more in this blog.


Nightcrawler

As I'm reflecting on the core X-Men (saving the original 5 for my X-Factor reflections), I find that Nightcrawler might be the character who evolved the most. I would bet it's because he is a character who captured people's attention but unlike characters like Storm, Cyclops, and Wolverine, he didn't become as beloved of a character.


Like many characters, Dave Cockrum had intended to use the character in another series, as he described in the following way:“My idea at the time was that Nightcrawler had screwed up on a mission for Hell, and rather than go back and face punishment, he stayed on the mortal plane and hung out...” When Cockrum agreed to utilize Nightcrawler in the All New, All Different X-Men relaunch with Len Wein in Giant-Sized X-Men # 1, Wein had planned to make Nightcrawler a character who was constantly embarrassed by and persecuted for the way he looks.

When Claremont took over, he decided to take Nightcrawler in a completely different direction. In Peter Sanderson's X-Men Companion Volume 1, Claremont explains that he wanted Nightcrawler to not only accept his mutation, but to revel in it. He created the circus backstory to help explain how he grew up in an environment where looking different was more easily acceptable.

We see Claremont's narrative pushed even harder in Classic X-Men # 4, where we see Wolverine encouraging him to walk on a busy street proudly. Most people accept him because he accepts himself, but when someone starts to give him attitude, Wolverine tackles him.

In the Claremont X-Men run, Nightcrawler is perhaps best defined by his relationships. He develops a bromance with Wolverine which is truly endearing as the two of them often go to the local watering hole together to debrief. At first Kitty is scared by him, but the two of them turn into great friends.

Nightcrawler is also seen as a bit of a ladies man. His longtime sorceress girlfriend Amanda Sefton is a mainstay throughout the title and #204 is an entire issue dedicated to him saving the damsel in distress.

Speaking of Nightcrawler being a ladies man and confident in himself, Nightcrawler was given a solo comic where his persona as a carefree swashbuckler was cemented into stone. While solo comic itself isn't great, it's iconography helped permanently shape how future authors and writers would characterize Nightcrawler.


Everyone needed a defining schtick on the team. There were a few failed attempts to make him unique such as making him the team medic, the team engineer, and even showing that he was a devout Catholic. While the relgious angle really didn't stick during the Claremont Run, it does seem to be something that took a more prominent role in defining him in futures years (I haven't gotten there yet).

In one of the best turnarounds for a character, Nightcrawler was asked to be leader of the team for a time. Cyclops was off with Madeline, Charles was in space, Storm was powerless and away, Wolverine was refusing to take charge, and Kitty was too young so Nightcrawler was put in charge by default. He really tried hard, however he was pressing too hard for perfection and this era is largely seen as a failure.

When Nightcrawler joined Excalibur, things changed. It actually took me (and probably the writers and the characters themselves) a while to realize that Nightcrawler was actually the true team leader. In my first bunch of blogs, I assumed the leader was Captain Britain, but in truth it's been Nightcrawler's steady hand from Day 1.


Storm

While Nightcrawler may have evolved the most, no one's character journey has been more fascinating than Storm (at least the first half of her journey). At the beginning, Storm was introduced as a mutant who was revered as a Goddess in Kenya before joining Xavier as a member of the new and improved X-Men. In her early appearances, she constantly wanted to walk around naked, a racial stereotype that I doubt would make it past editing in today's age.

In the early years, Storm was mostly defined by her innocence and purity. I'll never forget seeing her dive into an endless pit to save the villain Garrok, and then being beside herself that she couldn't save him.

When Cyclops stepped away, Storm easily stepped into the role as leader of the team, however it wasn't without it's struggles. Over time, she found her reluctance to take a life was at odds with her responsibility to keep her team safe.

Never was this contradiction more present than when she made the choice to fight Callisto to the death (without hesitation) in order to save Kitty and Warren's lives. This was the final step in a long forming transformation where Storm the leader had to be more in control than Storm the innocent.

Eventually, this change in personality manifested itself physically with a brand new punk look that told the world this is a new version of the character you have grown to love.

I really don't know if any other character's journey could be as compelling as Storms (although Magneto is up there), however Claremont tried to find new ways to change her status quo that I personally wasn't a fan of. Storm lost her powers and spent YEARS powerless, away from the team, and then later leading the team as a normal human.

Storm eventually got her powers back, but was quickly de-aged into that of a pre-pubescant child. While this arguably lasted too long (the fact that it happened was the problem), it didn't last nearly as long as the de-powered Storm arc.

And with the present (early 90's) incarnation of Storm, she is once again an adult, fully powered, and leading the team.


Wolverine

Wolverine actually started out quite boring in his yellow and blue outfit. He was simply a madman who was a bit too violent and never took his mask off.

Eventually Wolverine switched to his brown and orange outfit, and took his mask off. He began to get some characterization other than just growling at people. He began to show feelings for Jean, developed a bromance with Nightcrawler, and took Kitty under his wing.

One theme you will see permeating my blogs is the concept of "Philosopher Logan." Logan is a tough guy, but he also has a lot of wisdom. As time went on, Claremont really got on a roll with Logan philosophizing left and right, typically while putting his team-mates in their place. My favorite example was during #183 when Wolverine forced Colossus to go to a bar with him so he could ream him out for breaking Kitty's heart and being selfish.

We also see Wolverine as lover. He falls in love with Mariko and spends quite a bit of time in Japan. During his solo series, he is spurned by Mariko and also falls in love with another Japanese woman, this time an assassin named Yukio.

When Storm took off to get her powers back (UXM #220), she put Wolverine in charge of the X-Men. While he comes off as a loner, he would rather follow in someone else's footsteps than be the leader himself. In this case, she literally slaps him around and tells him to man up.

Rogue

Rogue started off as a villain, first appearing in Avengers Annual # 10 (one of my favorite issues of all time). Oddly, she first appeared as a short haired cruel looking woman in her 30's.

Eventually (UXM # 171), Rogue needed help controlling her powers so she showed up at the mansion asking for help. After sensing that her intentions were genuine, Xavier approved her to join the ranks of the team.

As time went on and it became clear that she would remain as a core X-Man, the artists began to draw her younger and sexier. She constantly struggled with having Carol Danvers personality inside her brain, but I believe that has now been eliminated going into the re-launch.

And now this is what Rogue looks like, something which has stuck as her default look. An early 20's sex symbol with long hair.


Psylocke

A relative newcomer to the squad, Betsy started off simply as a British telepath. She stepped away from her brother, Captain Britain, and joined the X-Men, embracing her mutant powers.

Psylocke's look changed slightly when she started wearing body armor. She was always portrayed as a wise, stable personality, even leading the X-Men for a brief period of time.

And of course, only very recently (in the context of my blog coverage), Psylocke has been transformed into her sexy ninja Asian body, which is, of course, her most recognizable look nowadays. Her personality seems to have changed as well as she is suddenly a fighter, a flirt, and a bit conceited and mysterious.


Colossus


Poor Colossus, the wet blanket of the team. Similar to Storm, he has a gentle heart and it breaks our heart a little every time he is forced to kill. He had a relationship with Kitty and he gets good moments with his sister Illyana, but unfortunately he often gets the short end of the stick in regards to characterization. Claremont did eventually decide to make him an artist, but that hasn't really added much to his character arcs. Maybe the re-launch will be better?


Next up, we'll dive into the Infinity Gauntlet!