Monday, 14 September 2009

Chris Claremont

Ok, I'm ready. I'm currently writing this post from the safety of an adamantium bunker buried six miles underground at an undisclosed location. I'm wearing protective headgear and I'm armed to the teeth. I'm finally ready to tell you why I have a problem with Chris Claremont.
Firstly, lemme start with saying it's just The Claremeister's Bronze Age work we're talking about here. If Chris has written The Great American Novel in the last couple of years, sorry, but I missed it.
Secondly, I have to preface by saying that, as a plotter, I think Claremont's fine. Of course I enjoyed his deservedly classic X-Men run with John Byrne just like everybody else. Along with Frank Miller's Daredevil, it was one of the main reasons I kept reading mainstream comics at a time I might otherwise have given up.
BUT it doesn't alter the fact that Chris is the most irritating writer I've ever read.

Like I say, that whole run on X-Men, that defined our mess of merry mutants ( and particularly Wolverine ) for years to come was one of the best ongoing serials in comics at the time: The Hellfire Club, Mutant X, Dark Phoenix, Alpha Flight, Days Of Future Past. The whole thing as exciting and action packed as comics could be. But that's the plots.
It's the dialogue that gets me. And more importantly Claremont's bag of writer's tics.
Maybe I just notice it more with him, maybe every writer has stock phrases and setups he uses for every occasion, but Chris sure has a bundle of 'em he's willing to share.
Let's look at the one that drives me absolutely bug-fuck crazy: I don't know the literary term for this, but I'll show you a few examples and you'll see what I'm saying.

See what I mean? He sets up a proposition in one caption, then caps it off with that same type of punchline in, well, it seems like every single damn story. I'm sure it's supposed to be deadpan or cool or something, but it's just incredibly annoying. I think it all started with a panel in X-Men where Nightcrawler was falling off a cliff, or had to teleport farther than he'd ever done before, or something. It went: He teleports farther than he ever has before. ( pause / seperate caption ) The effort nearly kills him.
I thought it was cheesy then, and everytime I've seen it since, it's like fingers on the blackboard of what I laughingly like to call my soul. And he does it ALL. THE. TIME. It's a tic. And worse, it's a lazy tic.

Here's another one:

Again, Chris uses that line all through The Bronze Age, regardless of which character is speaking. It's the same thing that annoys me about Tarantino. All his characters speak exactly the same way regardless of who they are. It's really, really lazy writing. I can't--I won't--face that again.

You're still staring at me like I've grown antlers. Still not feeling the fire. Ok, a smaller point, that I can live with 'cos I know it's down to me and my lack of tolerance, is Claremont's sheer cheesiness. Before X-Men, Chris & John worked on Iron Fist, another great character. And it's a really good, involving, exciting series. But the way the characters talk to themselves is so cheesy.

Who would ever refer to themselves in the third person as 'Young Dragon'? Do you guys secretly call yourselves 'Middle-Aged Comic-Book Fan' 'cos I sure as shootin' don't. It's just painful. And here he is, doing the same thing with Ms. Marvel.

Stop it! NO ONE, Kree or human, calls themselves 'warrior' EVERY TIME they think a thought! I know, I know it's me, but I just really hate it.

And I don't need to know every emotion and every thought a character is experiencing in every panel either. I know Chris kind of made an art of that, particularly in X-Men, but it got really old, really quick for me. Everybody, and I mean everybody, was touchy-feely and in touch with their emotions, and was more than willing to share them with the world at large. Everybody? Really?! It became like the superhero equivalent of 30 Something, just reams & reams of thought balloons full of emotional minutia. I felt like I was being spoonfed story points. At first it was refreshing, but he just stuck with it too damn long. It became a cliche, and all his characters became the one Chris Claremont character.

How many panels have you read EXACTLY like that?
And I also know, and accept, that all of this is down to a matter of personal taste. All of these things that drive me crazy about Claremont's writing, I'm sure no one else even notices, but I just can't get past 'em, dammit. I honestly think he's a very lazy writer, happily stuck in a rut, repeating himself over and over ( at least he was in The Bronze Age ). A really good plotter, if only he'd sort out his dialogue.

Here's one last example, which I hope shows what I'm saying. In Marvel Preview 11, Chris & John took over the character of Star-Lord from Steve Englehart, who'd scripted the origin in ish 4. Now, Marvel Preview 4 is one of my favourite comics ever, and Star-Lord a character with bags of potential, but that honestly doesn't matter in this instance. (No really!)
What does matter is the introduction to Star-Lord's second appearance. In his origin, this character was an absolute unredeemable arsehole. By the second time round, he was ( you guessed it ) in touch with his emotions and happy to tell all and sundry about them, like some intergalactic passive / aggressive holistic therapist. Here's editor John Warner from that introduction: We also set the story some bit of time after Starlord's first appearance. We did so because both Chris and I felt uncomfortable with Quill being quite as twisted as he was in the first story.

In other words, rather than try and work with an unsympathetic character by another writer, and try to change him gradually while still being true to what's gone before, let's go forward enough in time so he can be a totally different character. A touchy-feely Chris Claremont character, exactly like all the others. Lazy.

' You're my friend. Something that Peter Quill never had. ' BLEEURGH. You two wanna get a room? So that's why Chris Claremont irritates me. BUT it is just comics. As I've said in other posts, I don't waste my time getting angry about this stuff, too old and ugly for that. And if you think Claremont rocks, fair play to you. And anyway, I bought Essential Ms. Marvel and Essential Iron Fist, and I'm sure I'll buy Essential X-Men. In fact, I love that Iron Fist run, so he must have something I like, but he's so irritating!!! I could go on, and mention how Claremont loves to go on (and on) about his Irish heritage, what with Ship skin-crawlingly referring to Star-Lord as 'M'Love' and every other character in every other comic doing much the same, but I feel like I'm losing the room here and maybe I should try a few magic tricks or something, get you back on my side. As I say, I know all this is nitpicking at best, but I JUST CAN'T GET PAST IT. Am I the only one? C'mon, I can't be, can I?


  1. I don't have a particular beef with Claremont because I never read any of his books, but I know EXACTLY what you mean when writer's tics like that can become so distracting. I just read a book that, while I enjoyed the premise and much of the storytelling, the fact that every exchange of dialogue was an exercise in snappy one-upsmanship between the characters made me insane. It soured the overall experience for me, for sure.

  2. It does rather remind one of "emo-twittering", doesn't it? The stories and characters that he writes are great, but the actual construction I always found overwrought and actually a bit trivial. I don't need to know what Storm's thinking all the time (the artwork should show that), but when she thinks something it had better be important. And really, not that encyclopedia in a mellerdrammer way (please no more of the "Oh No, I'm locked up in a box just like when I was a little girl and I've never gotten past that and Daddy why didn't you love me" thought dialog!). I've read most of Claremont's early work (I had dropped Marvel by the time that he returned to the X-Men), but reading a batch of his stuff is a bit difficult.

  3. One thing that irritated me about Claremont's scripts was the way characters would stop in the middle of a fight scene to lecture each other for about a page and then start fighting again. Magneto and Storm being the worst offenders. You could just imagine Colossus and Nightcrawler yawning and checking their watches: "Come on guys! We've got three more pages of exposition and two subplots to get in yet. Let's get a move on!"
    I must admit that I loved the "New" X-Men when I was a teenager in the early '80s. It was adolescent, melodramatic and romantic with great art by Cockrum and Byrne/Austin, and I was just the right age for it. But now I find it hard going and really only revisit it for the artwork.
    Anyway, Young Dragon, that's enough commenting :-)

  4. This is the reason I stop reading X-men during that time. I thought it was me. Now, have you
    try reading the X-men when Jim Lee had his heyday.
    Whew!...Yes,Warrior it is annoying too. Keep this up and you will focusing on Don Mcgregor soon.

  5. Sir, I totally agree with you. Claremont's and Tarantino dialogues are totally irritating.

    "Will I see Wolverine again? Who can say? Do I wish to? Yes."

    Nobody thinks like that or talks like Tarantino's characters.

  6. Pete:

    We used to be so close. You were like a brother on the other side of the pond.

    Then Gerber came between us.

    And now Claremont.

    Once it seemed we were destined to bring Bronze goodness to the great, unwashed masses.

    We never stood a chance.

    Kiddin’, of course. Nice piece on Claremont with great specifics. It really points out how different people react, well, differently, to certain writers. The tics that annoy you to no end about Claremont’s Bronze Age work are some of the very same things that make his stories feel like slipping on a pair of comfy slippers to me. (And, I’m ashamed to admit, I find Claremont’s cadence sneaking into my own, presonal thought bubbles way too often; the sad byproduct of devouring his work at such an impressionable age, I suppose!)

    As I said in a post on my site a while back, Claremont can be blamed for my “lifelong comic-book addiction. Complex plotting and strong characterization were keys to Claremont’s work, as was his ability to pull readers into exotic settings. For the tweens and teens of the late Bronze Age, Claremont’s comics seemed like a passport to a bigger world.”

    Sigh. I think I’m going to go pull out my Uncanny X-Men Omnibus and get comfy.


  7. Like cerebus660 above, I was reading Claremont & Bryne's X-men as a pre-teen and then teen and was just swept away by the melodrama, etc. But I actually got sick of Claremont and stopped reading the X-men sometime in the mid-1980s (sometime after Paul Smith left the book), not because of the writing tics you mention but because he seemed to be running out of ideas and it was all becoming so tiresome: he kept mining old ideas for stories, i.e. using the set-up in "Days of Future Past", an excellent 2-issue story arc, to create those incredibly messy alternate future timelines for years to come. Or bringing in Belasco/Limbo, and having Illyana Rasputin becoming an adolescent overnight with magical powers and oh, god, when does it end? Anyway, that's my rant. Still, can't say I'm a Claremont hater, as I still like to go back and occasionally read his non-X work, like his run in Marvel Team-up. And I actually like his Starlord. So I guess I'm somewhere in the middle on this one.

  8. I'm not a great X-Men fan. I liked the Claremont/Byrne ones the first time 'round, but mainly for the art. I could never get on with the touchy-feely thing. If I wanted touchy-feely, Steve Gerber or Don McGregor were my go-to guys. Some times, all I needed/still need is a a good punch-up. I agree with pretty much everything you say, but Starlord is one of my all-time favourites, so I gotta cut the man some slack.

  9. Well, warriors, looks like we've split the room again. To be honest, I didn't expect anyone to agree with me at all, so it's nice to find I ain't alone in the wilderness. It is all personal opinion anyway, 'cos I can see why people like Claremont, just as I can see why people might not like Gerber or McGregor. Cursed with the mutant power of even-handedness, that's me. Still, as Andrew mentioned before, it's good there's none of that 'this writer /artist is a dick' stuff on this blog like you see elsewhere on the net. It's just comics,young dragons...

  10. In addition to the scripting, Claremont also has plotting tics. Any X-Men fan can probably list a litany of mind control/psychic rape plots he's run over the years :)

    I've always felt that what Claremont really needs more than anything is a strong artist to challenge him and counter his tendency to fall into old lazy habits. His best works seem to come in conjunction with artists known for being good storytellers on their own, like Byrne or Alan Davis.

  11. "a litany of mind control/psychic rape plots"

    Ohhh, and psychic rapports! Don't forget the psychic rapports!

    Andrew (still snuggling with his Uncanny X-Men Omnibus, wishing Marvel would hurry up and put out Vol. 2)

  12. Pete m'boy, I'm with you all the way on this. I bailed early, around the #160s when at the end of an issue, Colossus was killed. Next issue - well, no he isn't. Early days, but that was getting old mighty fast.

    And the dialogue, boyo - all those little touches: this is sophisticated stuff, so we don't have demons, we have daemons; no vampires here, but vampyrs aplenty.

    An interview with John Byrne indicated that Claremont had a habit of throwing in such bits and pieces at the last minute on account of "it sounded cool at the time" (I'm thinking of that silly pet dragon that came along after I stopped reading)- problem is, once it's in you're stuck with it. And I recall The Comics Journal reviewing that Starlord story and having exactly the same problems with it that you've described (plus some - the tough young street lass who can turn soft and tender for the two panels need to show some love interest).

    Back then I was still impressionable enough to be dazzled by such blather - let's face it, it really was different to anything else at the time..but with Claremont repeating himself ad nauseum it was just too much in the end.

    (and he must have had a character list to check against to make sure that they all said at least once "I hurt.")

    B Smith

  13. Yeah, 'I hurt', that's another one. You might ache or you might get hurt, but 'I hurt' is simply bad english ( not like wot I talk ).
    Y'know all this has given me a hankering for soem prime cheesy Claremont. I might just go & score a copy of Essential X-Men this weekend...

  14. "Throwing stuff in" might also explain the leprechauns that show up to first reveal Wolverine's name is Logan in X-Men #103. Even at Little Me gave that one a WTF!

  15. Pete:

    One bonus about the Essential X-Men: Getting to see Terry Austin's line work in B&W. I've always thought his inking on the Byrne X-Men was amazing, but seeing without the color gives a whole new appreciation.


  16. I thought I was the only one . We all have are prime Claremont saw his when he was doing X-men with John Byrne. THAT combination made great comic reading.
    I've traded all my comics that Claremont has written after because of the "cheesness".
    Example : Xtreme X-men , almost every issue you get a close up of the heroe " for I am Psylocke" " for I am Storm" , common!!
    Everyone is a bad ass when they get angry. "i have to use the focused totality of my powers" when in a couple of panels before she didn't have that.
    Sovern Seven : Same characters using same phrases to act cool , "perish the thought"
    Shoving characters in your face just because HE likes them . Example : Psylocke everywhere when he writes X-men. He starts writing Exiles and she starts playing main character. He is not the best judge of popular characters , he didn't think much of wolverine till J.B. insisted, he had rather focused on nightcrawler. Time proved J.B. right.

  17. He WORSHIPS women, yet ruined the fun-fun-sweet Gruenwald/Infantino SPIDER-WOMAN as well. Everything so damned PC, including Ms. Marvel. I too hate the flatline-"cool" one-liners, and how everybody got to do the berserker-smile face. And my god, the psi-this and psi-that...dumbest vaguest powers, this making them mutants. So precious and twee. But, uh...on first reading years ago I pretty much dug the whole thing. I hate Byrne's neck-protruding & other tics, too.

  18. I loved the run of x-men through Byrne's tenure. I thought they were re-inventing the comic book much like Lee/Kirby (yes, I am old). But you are dead on in everything you wrote and there are so many more you could have quoted "I'm the best there is at what I do," How every villian was also "noble" (dr. Doom/storm), and on and on. And he took the same dialogue to every character he wrote. Every woman was "strong" and on and on ... aughh. If all I had read was that early run on X-men I would have argued he was one of the best comic writers of all time. Unfortunately, I think when his total body of work is examined he does come off as a hack.

  19. Spot on, this stuff is why I'm the only guy I know who doesn't think Claremont/Byrne X-Men are anywhere near as good as claimed. Add in Byrne's stock poses and inability to draw more than two faces...

  20. Just finished reading Claremonts run on the fantastic four and I was so annoyed I googled "all chris claremonts characters talk the same" and it brought me here. Everything is "magnificent," everyone is suddenly the best at what they do, he focuses (almost exclusively on the FF) on female characters. I loved the byrne/claremont x-men run like everyone else but he really was a one-trick pony. Seriously did anyone read his run on the FF? They talked exactly like the X-men.