X-Men

Chris Clare­mont, the writer who reimag­ined the X-Men, talks to Joseph McCabe about tragic he­roes, strong women and his favourite X-Movie

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

Few post-Sil­ver Age comic cre­ators are so closely iden­ti­fied with a team of su­per­heroes as Chris Clare­mont, but then few cre­ators have cre­ated so rich a uni­verse as Clare­mont has within the graphic sto­ry­telling medium.

Start­ing with Un­canny X-Men #94, the writer brought an un­prece­dented level of char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion to main­stream comic books, de­vel­op­ing the “new” X-Men team in­tro­duced by Len Wein in Gi­ant

Sized X-Men #1 and in­tro­duc­ing a host of other char­ac­ters through­out his suc­ceed­ing 15 years – yes, 15 years – on the book. Yet un­like many of his Amer­i­can peers, Clare­mont’s chief in­flu­ence wasn’t found in the Marvel and DC comics of the ’60s, but rather in his na­tive home­land, the UK.

“I ac­tu­ally grew up as a fan and a reader of an English graphic weekly called Ea­gle,” says Clare­mont, who spent his first three years in Lon­don be­fore his fam­ily em­i­grated to New York City. “My grand­mother sent me them ev­ery week as a way of stay­ing in touch. Ea­gle was a comic news­pa­per that had been founded by a min­is­ter of all things, who was a writer. His sig­na­ture char­ac­ter was Dan Dare, Sky Pi­lot of the Space Waves, or Colonel Dan Dare of Space Com­mand as he was prop­erly known. It had some of the most bril­liant and cre­ative vis­ual art of its day. Two pages, a front and back cover, of full pho­togravure colour and re­ally cool sto­ries. And some of the best alien vil­lains of the time. It was great.

“They had sto­ries about heroic Bri­tish soldiers dur­ing World War II. They had sto­ries about stu­dent ath­letes. They had the life of Win­ston Churchill, the life of Je­sus. And a bril­liant Ralph Bel­lamy se­ries called He­roes Of Sparta, about a young Spar­tan who was adopted into a Ro­man fam­ily and be­came a hero of the em­pire. It was ex­tremely eclec­tic and just plain beau­ti­ful. I loved it. That was my in­tro­duc­tion to the con­cept of graphic sto­ry­telling and what you could do with comics in print.

“Marvel was some­thing I came to when I was in high school,” Clare­mont continues. “I got hooked by Stan and Jack’s in­tro­duc­tion of Galac­tus in

Fan­tas­tic Four #48-50, which I think I still have. That was Jack at his best, Stan at his best, the se­ries at its best. That drew me in, so I be­gan to look for more like it, and found Thor. That led me to Roy and John Buscema’s work on The Avengers.”

x-women

Like the Avengers, Clare­mont’s X-Men would of­fer a mot­ley collection of cham­pi­ons em­broiled in ad­ven­tures both in­ti­mate in their emo­tional pull and cos­mic in scope. But un­like most team books, its ros­ter of women mem­bers grew steadily,

even­tu­ally boast­ing some of the most iconic fe­male char­ac­ters in comics. In ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing per­son­al­i­ties for Jean Grey and Storm, Clare­mont cre­ated Phoenix, Emma Frost, Mys­tique, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Psy­locke and Ju­bilee.

“I guess part of it is the women I know in my life,” says Clare­mont. “My mother was in the RAF dur­ing the war. She was part of the crew of a radar sta­tion on the south coast dur­ing the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, which was, to put it mildly, a prime tar­get. So ev­ery morn­ing the lo­cals from across the wa­ter would come over to visit, leave sou­venirs, and then ev­ery af­ter­noon they’d patch ev­ery­thing up and turn the radar back on and let com­mand know how to prop­erly greet the guests.

“I have close fe­male friends who have spent their time in the heart of Africa re­search­ing dis­ease or help­ing re­port the news from some of the most dan­ger­ous places in the world. When you know people like that, as a writer you can’t help swip­ing the best as­pects of who they are and how they do things and ap­ply them to char­ac­ters. That said, I ac­tu­ally like to think I don’t treat the women as heroic icons any more or less hon­estly, hon­or­ably or truth­fully than I do the men. My ba­sic in­stinct when I took over the book was, ‘Why is it a boys’ club? Why shouldn’t there be an equal num­ber of women who are at­trac­tive as char­ac­ters and as phys­i­cal en­ti­ties and, from a purely mer­ce­nary stand­point, open the po­ten­tial to a whole broader sweep of au­di­ence?’”

Sec­ond com­ing

Though Clare­mont’s best known for his comics – writ­ing not only X-Men but cre­at­ing spin-off ti­tles New Mu­tants, Ex­cal­ibur, Ex­treme

X-Men and Wolver­ine – his first pro­fes­sional sales were short sto­ries. “And, sur­prise!” he laughs, “I dis­cov­ered that I was re­ally, re­ally good at writ­ing comics, and I was re­ally pop­u­lar at it, and sud­denly I was do­ing a lot of it. Some­times steady pay­checks can trump am­bi­tion… Then once X-Men took flight, once we got over the ini­tial hump and the book re­ally be­gan reach­ing out to the au­di­ence, there was no look­ing back.” Af­ter prov­ing his abil­ity on ti­tles such as

Dare­devil and Iron Fist, Clare­mont be­gan his X-Men run paired with the late Dave Cock­rum, the artist who’d co-cre­ated the team in­tro­duced in

Gi­ant-Size #1. “One of the things that X-Men had go­ing for it that made it unique at the time was that it

My ba­sic in­stinct was, ‘Why is it a boys’ club? Why shouldn’t there be an equal num­ber of women?’

was the re­launch of a failed se­ries, but it was a re­launch that in­volved a sub­stan­tial re­think of the con­cept. The idea be­ing that it was go­ing from the tra­di­tional all-Amer­i­can ag­glom­er­a­tion of char­ac­ters – four guys and a gal – all of whom were white, all of whom were mid­dle class, most of whom were from the north east, com­ing to­gether and form­ing a team of he­roes. Cool. They were great char­ac­ters, but it was limited by the time and the so­ci­ety. With the new X-Men, you sud­denly had Scott from the Mid­west, you had Ororo, who’s from Kenya, you had Kurt, who’s a Ger­man, you had Peter Rasputin, who’s Rus­sian, you had John Proud­star, who’s a Na­tive Amer­i­can, you have Lo­gan, who’s Cana­dian, as well as Ban­shee, who’s Ir­ish, and Sun­fire, who’s Ja­panese (he was there for the first two is­sues and then moved on). You had seven char­ac­ters from dif­fer­ent places and dif­fer­ent cul­tures and dif­fer­ent so­cio-eco­nomic re­al­i­ties.”

Clare­mont took each mu­tant apart with one eye on truth and the other on what would most ap­peal to read­ers. No bet­ter ex­am­ple can be found than in

X-Men’s most pop­u­lar char­ac­ter, Wolver­ine. “Len’s orig­i­nal con­cep­tion of Wolver­ine, that he had started with in The Hulk and car­ried over to X-Men, was that of a late teen, and that the claws were part of the uni­form, not part of him. Yet when I looked at the pages that they gave me for the Gi­ant-Size, when I was proof­read­ing Len’s script and the inks (be­cause Len was edi­tor-in-chief of Marvel and I was as­so­ciate edi­tor, which meant I was num­ber two), I thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got a guy who’s an of­fi­cer in the Cana­dian Armed Forces. That’s means he’s got to be a grown-up.’ As Dave Cock­rum and I kicked around the who, what and

why of Wolver­ine, Dave came up with the idea of, ‘What if the claws weren’t from the cos­tume? Be­cause if you took off the cos­tume he’s got no weapon left. That’s pretty stupid. What makes him scary? He’s a kid with an at­ti­tude? Big deal.’

“Then Dave came up with the vis­ual that the claws ac­tu­ally came out of his body. They punched out of his hand. Each time he used them he sliced his hand open, and his heal­ing fac­tor put him back to­gether again. Then you have that won­der­ful mo­ment – I say won­der­ful, but when you think about it it’s re­ally hor­rific – in X-Men #99 when he cuts him­self loose on the spaces­ta­tion, and Ban­shee and Jean look at him and say, ‘The claws – they come out of your hand. They’re part of you. You never told us.’ Lo­gan looks back at them and says, ‘You never asked.’

“To Dave and I, that de­fined him and set him apart from ev­ery­one else. Be­cause it added an el­e­ment of hor­ror and tragedy to him, be­cause ‘Holy cow! He’s got a mu­tant power that re­quired him to mu­ti­late him­self ev­ery time he uses it.’ As Anna Paquin’s Rogue says to Wolver­ine in the first

X-Men movie, ‘Does it hurt?’ And he looks back at her and says, ‘Ev­ery time.’ That’s the mo­ment that that in­spi­ra­tion cre­ated, and that be­came the defin­ing el­e­ment of his char­ac­ter.” Among such clas­sic sto­ries as the orig­i­nal

Wolver­ine Wolver­ine minis­eries (pen­cilled by Frank Miller), the epochal Dark Dark Phoenix Phoenix Saga Saga (drawn by John Byrne), and the two-is­sue time-travel saga “Days Of Fu­ture Past”(Byrne again), per­haps Clare­mont’s mu­tant mas­ter­piece is the graphic novel God God

Loves, Loves, Man Man Kills Kills (il­lus­trated by Astro Astro City’s City’s Brent Brent An­der­son). The book served as the ba­sis for the film X2: X2: X-Men X-Men United, United, Clare­mont’s favourite of the mu­tant movies thus far.

“I thought X2 X2 was a won­der­ful film. I self­ishly would have pre­ferred the op­por­tu­nity to see God God

Loves Loves in and of it­self. I’d have pre­ferred to see the Dark Phoenix story told more com­pletely and richly than it re­gret­tably turned out to be. With the end of X3 X3 what you have is a great set of re­vi­sion notes. It was good, but it could and should should have been a whole lot bet­ter.

“But that’s the movies,” he adds. “Dar­ren Aronof­sky and Chris McQuar­rie’s draft of the screen­play of The The Wolver­ine Wolver­ine was far, far more faith­ful to the orig­i­nal minis­eries than the film turned out to be. But un­for­tu­nately he left the project fairly early, and the di­rec­tor that Fox found to re­place him had dif­fer­ent in­stincts and dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests. So the fin­ished prod­uct, while it con­tained a num­ber of foun­da­tion el­e­ments from Frank’s and my story – and the Paul Smith se­quel in Un­canny, plus some as­pects of Larry Hama’s work among oth­ers – was a di­ver­gent vi­sion of the story. But it’s not my $150m.”

Curse of the mu­tants As for Clare­mont’s opin­ion of Marvel’s mu­tant comics in the years since he left them, the writer re­marks, “I guess I look at it from within my time bub­ble as the way they were, and the way I, as a cre­ator, think they sim­ply should be; whereas ed­i­tors, writ­ers to­day view them as ‘This is the way I’m writ­ing the char­ac­ter. Take it or leave it.’ Be­cause un­for­tu­nately, much as I tried to do when I came back a cou­ple of times on X-Men, you can­not turn back time. You can­not undo what has been done. Which is a shame. Be­cause part of me would love to redo the whole thing and start over.”

“But that,” he says, “is why I’m not any­where near re­spon­si­ble for writ­ing or edit­ing any of this stuff. I’m just too darn rad­i­cal.”

The New Mu­tants chan­nel Bo­hemian Rhap­sody.

Dave Cock­rum teaser

for Un­canny X-Men.

In­tro­duc­ing a new

team of X- Men!

An X- Men and Cap­tain

Bri­tain team- up.

An adaman­tium claw in the eye for this Sen­tinel.

Mag­neto takes on mu­tant-hat­ing Stryker in 1982’s God Loves.

For pity’s sake, in­deed Jean Grey.

That Wolver­ine, he’s

such a gent.

Barry Wind­sor-Smith art for Un­canny #198.

Some­thing wicked this way comes!

Teenage X- Men spin- off New Mu­tants.

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