Chris Clare­mont

Re­live Un­canny X-Men and the power of great women.

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

Emi­grat­ing from the UK to the United States when he was a child, Chris Clare­mont was made to feel like an out­sider, but that would even­tu­ally feed his cre­ativ­ity when work­ing on, and ef­fec­tively sav­ing, the X-Men books. Dur­ing his ten­ure he penned a num­ber of books that are still, to this day ar­guably the best in the char­ac­ter’s his­tory, and some would go on to be the base for the block­buster films such as Days Of Fu­ture Past, The Dark Phoenix Saga and his mini-se­ries, Wolver­ine. We caught him as he was sit­ting down with a cup of tea…

Go­ing into the X-Men book what were your goals?

Ba­si­cally, to have a re­ally good time. You have to un­der­stand this was 1975, we had no ex­pec­ta­tion that the in­dus­try would sur­vive for much longer at that par­tic­u­lar point in time. The X-Men re­boot, when I man­aged to grab hold of it, gave me the op­por­tu­nity to work with one of the finest cre­ators and con­cep­tu­al­ists in the in­dus­try, Dave Cock­rum, on some of his best cre­ations. Ev­ery­thing about them was, to use the clichéd phrase, vir­gin ter­ri­tory. Noth­ing other than the ba­sics of who they were, what they could do and per­haps where they came from, had been es­tab­lished. So all of the ex­cit­ing stuff, from a writer’s per­spec­tive, was just wait­ing to be played with. It was one of those once-in-a-life­time mo­ments to grab hold of some­thing at the most unique part of its ex­is­tence, ut­terly un­like tak­ing over al­most any other ma­jor char­ac­ter at Marvel or DC.

Su­per­man had been around for a gen­er­a­tion, the Fan­tas­tic Four had been around for al­most ten years, Spi­der-Man the same way. All of these char­ac­ters had a num­ber of writ­ers af­ter their ini­tial pro­gen­i­tors work­ing on the con­cept, so

It was one of those on­cein-a-life­time mo­ments to grab hold of some­thing

there was so much es­tab­lished back-story that it was fun but it wasn’t unique. With the X-Men, there was noth­ing other than Cy­clops and Pro­fes­sor Xavier, the uber­con­cept of the School for Gifted Young­sters and them be­ing mu­tants, lit­er­ally feared and hated by the world they are sworn to pro­tect.

What was it like to have such a wide va­ri­ety of char­ac­ters to play with?

It meant that every­one al­ways had some­one to talk to. The prob­lem with do­ing a solo book is that, for ex­am­ple, much of Pe­ter Parker’s life was spent in mono­logue, be­cause who is he go­ing to talk to other than him­self? The Fan­tas­tic Four at least had Reed, Sue and Johnny who could in­ter­act. Iron Man could talk to Jarvis, but the beauty for me of a team book was it al­lowed for the op­por­tu­nity to play with dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives.

You had an African with Storm and Pe­ter Rasputin as Colos­sus – hav­ing a Soviet as part of a su­per­hero team was a rad­i­cal move in those days. Nightcrawler could have eas­ily have been a clichéd Ger­man, full with clichéd Ger­man his­tory, ex­cept that Dave and I both de­cided that we didn’t want to go with the cliché, we wanted to ba­si­cally try some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. So in a fact he be­came the ra­tio­nal, moral cen­tre of the team. Of course there was Thun­der­bird, who was the Amer­i­can, even though he only lasted an is­sue and a half. And Lo­gan, about noth­ing more need be said.

There was a re­mark­able mix of sig­nif­i­cantly con­trast­ing char­ac­ters with dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes and dif­fer­ent ori­gins and dif­fer­ent opin­ions that I found ir­re­sistibly fun to play with. And ba­sic at­ti­tudes such as how does a young man from a so­cial­ist col­lec­tive deal with liv­ing and work­ing in the coun­try that is, for a want of a bet­ter term, his coun­try’s sworn geopo­lit­i­cal adversary? How does Ororo [Storm] deal with be­ing an out­sider, not sim­ply by be­ing a mu­tant or be­ing a woman, but be­ing African in a nonAfrican so­ci­ety? The whole di­chotomy of Lo­gan con­stantly chal­leng­ing Nightcrawler to walk down the street with­out us­ing his im­age-in­ducer to hide what he re­ally looks like just to see what would hap­pen. To see if he has trust, if he has faith in his fel­low hu­man be­ing, and some­times it works and some­times it doesn’t. They are very much aware of their po­si­tion as out­siders and at the same time very much play­ing against it to achieve a stronger, more pos­i­tive end.

Be­fore you took over with writ­ing the char­ac­ter, what was your per­cep­tion of Wolver­ine?

Well I had no per­cep­tion, he had just been in­vented. Be­fore his ap­pear­ance in X-Men he had one ap­pear­ance in The In­cred­i­ble

Hulk and then Len Wein in­tro­duced him in Gi­ant-size X-men #1. He was what he was. Dave Cock­rum’s vis­ual per­cep­tion of him was very much add odds with Len’s con­cep­tion. Len en­vi­sioned him as an ado­les­cent, as a 16 or 17-year-old teenager, whereas when we first see him in Gi­ant

size X-men # 1 he is an of­fi­cer for the Cana­dian Armed Forces, which to my mind made him a grown-up. And the way Dave drew him to­tally sug­gested this is

not a kid, he was a grown man and we went with that. Once we de­cided he was a grown man we thought, “If he’s got a heal­ing fac­tor, how grown-up is he?” We pushed that as far I could get away.

Did you view it (sim­i­lar to how you viewed the X-men team) as a blank can­vas you could work on?

Oh to­tally. For me the key to Lo­gan has been his past, as far as he is con­cerned, is done. He doesn’t re­ally care about where he has been, he is much more in­ter­ested in where he is and where he is go­ing. He is al­ways look­ing ahead, never be­hind. So that was ba­si­cally my ra­tio­nal, I never wanted to do an ori­gin for him, be­cause once you’ve nailed some­thing down as an ori­gin, even if it’s the best idea imag­in­able at the time, come back ten years later and some­one may look at it and say “Eugh, that’s dum­b­ass”.

For me, I wanted it to be a mys­tery, I wanted ev­ery reader to have the op­por­tu­nity to come up with their own ori­gin for Wolver­ine and I would just smile po­litely and say, “OK, if it is good for you go with it. I have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion and I’m go­ing to go with mine, be­cause I am writ­ing the book.” For me, the fun of Wolver­ine is “What hap­pens next?”, then as it evolved, the di­chotomy be­tween the an­i­mal and the man.

In my con­cep­tion of the char­ac­ter my se­cret ori­gin of Wolver­ine is that his fa­ther is Sabre­tooth and his mother is Ser­aph, the Fallen An­gel who runs the Princess Bar in Madripoor, who is a short per­son, hence Lo­gan’s size. He gets his size from his mother, which re­ally pisses Sabre­tooth off be­cause to him that means Wolver­ine is flawed. Sabre­tooth, as far as Sabre­tooth is con­cerned, is ut­ter per­fec­tion; he is the epit­ome of what­ever he is, he is the best at what he does, which is why ev­ery year on Lo­gan’s birth­day he comes and trys to kill Lo­gan. It’s a fair fight, Lo­gan has ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to kill Sabre­tooth, and he fully ex­pects that some day his kid will kill him, be­cause that’s the way of things,

but un­til he does Sabre­tooth is go­ing to keep com­ing ev­ery year. Sabre­tooth is a bi­nary equation – one is or is not. He is the quintessen­tial preda­tor – “I will prey be­cause that is what I do and that is what I am” – and has no re­grets what­so­ever.

Lo­gan has re­grets be­cause of his mother’s in­flu­ence and that’s why you have, in my con­cep­tion of him, the eter­nal di­chotomy of, if you walk in his room, half of it is an ut­ter shite­hole and the other half is the quintessen­tial em­bod­i­ment of min­i­mal­ist samu­rai cul­ture. It’s just two or three per­fect el­e­ments: a katana, a ta­ble and some­thing else. You look at them, and the har­mony of ma­te­rial and space is per­fec­tion, and that’s his prob­lem. Half of him is one, half is the other, and he wants his life to be the ra­tio­nal, civilised per­fec­tion, but the an­i­mal keeps claw­ing him back. It’s a never-end­ing strug­gle that will prob­a­bly never be re­solved, but that’s what makes him so much fun as a char­ac­ter.

Would you say that the core of the X-men isn’t sav­ing the world or stop­ping the bad guy but the re­la­tion­ships be­tween the char­ac­ters or the team with the out­side world?

That should ide­ally be the cen­tre of any group en­ter­prise. Sav­ing the uni­verse is a day job but what mat­ters is what hap­pens in the off mo­ments, what hap­pens be­tween the cos­tumed ad­ven­tures, be­cause those are the things that you carry with you for the rest of your lives.

One of the things I al­ways wanted to do and ended up do­ing in spe­cial sto­ries af­ter the fact is to em­pha­sise the X-Men is not a be-all and end-all; it is a point in peo­ple’s lives. Kitty Pryde comes to the X-Men as a barely-13 year old; at some part down the line she will leave and go to univer­sity and get on with the rest of her life. If you read the book on #100 you would see one team of char­ac­ters; if you came back for #200 maybe you would see the same char­ac­ters but maybe there would be a new one here or there. If you came back for #300 you’d see Gam­bit, for ex­am­ple. Peo­ple would move on. The idea be­tween Scott [Cy­clops] and Made­line Pryor was that he was go­ing to meet his true love, Made­line, fall in love, get mar­ried and get on with the rest of his life. He’d be avail­able to come back to the team on spe­cial events, which would of course be re­ally cool, unique sto­ries, but for the most part he would be do­ing what real peo­ple do, which is you get a job, you raise a fam­ily and you ide­ally live hap­pily ever af­ter.

My flaw as a writer, as a cre­ator of com­pany-owned sto­ries, is that for cer­tain char­ac­ters and cir­cum­stances I al­ways had endgames. Cor­po­ra­tions don’t like end games be­cause that de­prives them of an ex­ploitable char­ac­ter, so there in lies a pri­mal con­flict that the cre­ator does not win. Ever.

Did you have a be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end in mind when you started work­ing on X-Men?

I as­sumed that I would run out of sto­ries at some point but at each point I thought I would, I never did. I fig­ured when I had done it for 15 years, I’ll go to 20 and then I’ll re­tire. But I fig­ured if I got to 20 and I was still go­ing strong I could stick around for 25. Un­for­tu­nately the com­pany had other ideas be­cause if I’m writ­ing it, they can’t of­fer it to Joss [Whe­don] for ex­am­ple. While the fan­boy in me un­der­stands the ra­tio­nal – “Joss Whe­don is very cool, let’s give him the X-Men” – I was pissed be­cause I re­ally wanted to play with the

char­ac­ters. And what has he [Joss] ever done any­way?

Marvel or Dis­ney as a com­pany has a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the prop­er­ties than some­one like me, and I was the anom­aly, as most cre­ators, with very rare ex­cep­tion, will only hang around a con­cept or char­ac­ter for three or four years; they’ll end their run and move on or some­thing in­ter­est­ing will catch their eye. With me I just kept com­ing up with new stuff be­cause it was fun. X-men be­gan New Mu­tants, which be­gan Ex­cal­ibur be­cause it was an op­por­tu­nity to work with bril­liant artists, but more im­por­tantly it was an op­por­tu­nity to play with all these cool peo­ple I in­vented and I wanted to find out what hap­pened next.

You in­tro­duced ar­guably the most in­ter­est­ing and mem­o­rable fe­male char­ac­ters in comics. Was that some­thing you wanted to do when tak­ing over the book?

I wanted to tell sto­ries about peo­ple who re­minded me of peo­ple I knew, and I’ve had the for­tune of know­ing some re­ally cool peo­ple, start­ing with my Mum. When she was a kid she had a fight with her mum, went out and ended up join­ing the RAF be­cause she liked the uni­form. Only af­ter the fact did she dis­cover that they wouldn’t let her fly be­cause women weren’t sup­posed to, men did that, which re­ally pissed her off, so she ended up on a radar sta­tion in Dover through the Blitz.

As the story goes she made Sergeant three times and got busted four, which sug­gested she had a good war. When my par­ents im­mi­grated my mother ended up get­ting a pi­lots li­cence and she’s been a pi­lot now for the bet­ter part of a half­cen­tury if not more. But the thing is I have fe­male friends who are war cor­re­spon­dents, I have friends who are part of the coun­cil for for­eign re­la­tions, one of whom is a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning spe­cial­ist in Ebola who back in the day if she heard of an out­break in Africa, would grab her MOPP [Mis­sion Ori­ented Pro­tec­tive Pos­ture] suit and head for the coun­try to find out what was go­ing on. To know peo­ple like that, how could you not try to find ways to cre­ate char­ac­ters to re­flect as­pects of their lives and their char­ac­ters just like I would for men?

If for no other rea­son than for a purely solip­sis­tic vis­ual stand­point, fe­male char­ac­ters can be a much more en­tic­ing vis­ual on the page, but more im­por­tantly

Clare­mont’s sto­ry­lines saw the team turn against it­self at times

It’s es­ti­mated that Clare­mont has sold 7.5 mil­lion comics to date

Clare­mont is cred­ited with the cre­ation of some of the best fe­male char­ac­ters of all time

Clare­mont wrote var­ied and in­ter­est­ing fe­male char­ac­ters

His favourite thing about Wolver­ine is his mys­te­ri­ous past

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