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Jan 16

Chris Claremont Anniversary Special #1

Posted on Saturday, January 16, 2021 by Paul in reviews, x-axis

by Chris Claremont, Bill Sienkiewicz, Sean Chen, Diego Olortegui, Brett Booth, Marc Deering, Roberto Poggi, Adelso Corona, Chris Sotomayor, Rachelle Rosenberg, Erick Arciniega & Guru-eFX

Now there’s a title. You don’t often get creators named in the title of a comic – not unless they’re Stan Lee, at any rate. But Chris Claremont is a special case, and this issue is intended to celebrate five decades of his contribution to Marvel Comics.

I confess to being a little unsure what exactly this is taking as the starting point for its anniversary. His first credited script wasn’t until 1973; his first uncredited contributions were for stories that came out in 1969. But whatever. When you’re talking about a half-century career, a year here or there is no big deal.

What we have here is a new Claremont story, but illustrated by a range of artists. Of those creators, Bill Sienkiewicz has the closest links to Claremont’s career, from their classic run on New Mutants in the 1980s. Sean Chen worked with Claremont on X-Men: The End. Brett Booth doesn’t have any particular links to Claremont’s back catalogue, but he does do a respectable rendition of the style of 1990 and general and Jim Lee in particular, which is clearly what his segment ought to look like. Diego Olortuegi is a more curious choice – his only previous X-books work was an arc of X-23, which felt a little more polished than his pages here.

The plot involves Hela testing Dani Moonstar as a new Valkyrie, by sending her through time and space to deal with the Shadow King as he tries to interfere at various points in Marvel history. In other words, it’s a framing sequence in which to revisit parts of Claremont’s back catalogue.

So it’s a greatest hits story, then? Well… yes and no. Claremont selects three stories to revisit, and they’re not the obvious choices. After all, this isn’t a celebration of his 15 year initial run on Uncanny X-Men; it’s meant to celebrate his whole 50 year career. So instead of opening with the X-Men, he kicks off by reprising his late 90s run on Fantastic Four, which had its merits but is hardly the book that springs to mind when people talk about his career. The middle section involves Binary fighting a holodeck version of Rogue aboard the Starjammer, Carol Danvers always having been one of his favourite characters. And then we have pre-X-Men Rogue with de-aged Storm, during one of the Shadow King’s earliest arcs.

So no Wolverine, then. No X-Men, if by that you mean characters who are actually in the X-Men at the time of their appearance. We’ve got Gambit and Storm from a time when they weren’t on the team, and we’ve got one of the New Mutants serving in the framing sequence, but that’s as close it gets.

Which is an interesting choice, isn’t it? Not that Claremont is downplaying the series that made his name – New Mutants was effectively the second X-Men title in its heyday, and Claremont seems to think of the Shadow King as a classic X-Men story. But he doesn’t need the actual X-Men to make that point; he wants to nod to the breadth of his career by doing at least a little off the beaten track.

It’s not the clearest story in the world. Of course, it won’t mean all that much to readers who are unfamiliar with Claremont’s work, but it’s hard to imagine many of them picking Chris Claremont Anniversary Special #1 as their entry point. It’s fair enough to assume that the audience is broadly familiar. Even so, the Fantastic Four segment is a bombardment of story ideas I hazily remember from 20 plus years ago. And the Rogue/Binary segment is confusing, even after the holodeck reveal. Was the Shadow King… possessing a hologram? Why on earth does Dani’s arrow make Binary briefly turn into modern Captain Marvel?

The upshot is meant to be that by driving off the Shadow King repeatedly, Dani proves to Hela not only that she’s fit to be a Valkyrie, but that she’s a hero who can be more than that, and (thanks to her new mythical status) has the potential to transcend the duality of life and death, good and evil and all that. It’s a reasonable way of getting the framing sequence to pay off, and it feels like Claremont is tying back to the anniversary theme by restating one of his pet themes, however blatantly.

The format of these things never exactly lends itself to a great story, and there’s an obvious tension between letting the nostalgia play out and getting on with the Shadow King plot. For the first couple of segments Claremont errs in favour of nostalgia, which is fair enough; the Gambit section builds more directly. The ending feels abrupt, but it’s got Sienkiewicz art, which is always a pleasure.

It’s a bit of a mess, but mostly in the ways that come with the territory with this sort of reprise story. As against that, it’s very Claremont indeed, and if ever there was a comic where that ought to be a selling point, this would be it.

Bring on the comments

  1. SanityOrMadness says:

    Didn’t Brett Booth do something at the end of Claremomt’s 2000 “Revolution” run, c. Death of Moira [Golem]?

    > And then we have pre-X-Men Rogue with de-aged Storm,…

    Gambit, oui?

  2. Chris V says:

    Thanks for reviewing this. I wasn’t sure if this was all new story or just a new short story with a bunch of reprints.
    So, I didn’t bother to have it saved by the shop.
    It sounds like I didn’t miss much, even though I do love Claremont.

    Plus, the use of young Storm again made me wary. Why is the guy so obsessed with that plot? It was stupid at the time, but wasn’t anything that really stood out either. It just sort of was, I thought it was a misstep by Claremont running out of ideas.
    Since then, it seems like Claremont thinks this is a very important idea he keeps wanting to return and make work.
    Make work exactly how, I have no idea, because I don’t know what it’s supposed to even represent.
    Frankly, I’m baffled at this point.

  3. Mark Coale says:

    I flipped through this quickly and at first thought they had retconned the carol vs rogue fight from Avengers Annual 10 to make her Binary instead of Ms Marvel.

  4. K says:

    And Salvador Larocca on the cover to celebrate… early 2000s CG-colored art?

  5. Eric G says:

    For me, the selling point on this one was Claremont/ Sienkiewicz teaming again, even if only for a few pages at the beginning and end.

    I’m still amused at how much I didn’t care for Sienkiewicz when I was younger; it wasn’t until a few years after his New Mutants run that I figured out how awesome his artwork was.

  6. Thom H. says:

    The special’s focus on minor stories and characters probably also reflects Marvel’s desire to keep Claremont from retconning anything major. The point of using child-Storm and Binary-Carol is probably that no one cares about or references them anymore.

    Even if Claremont had to stay in the margins of his own work to make this special happen, it still would have been nice to see a couple more prominent X-associated artists contribute. JRJr is still working, as is Paul Smith (I think) — Marvel couldn’t spend a few extra dollars to entice one of them to participate? Or maybe there’s a specific X-themed Claremont special on the horizon. I’d be more interested in that than revisiting his Fantastic Four run.

  7. JCG says:

    Wouldn’t editors be enough to keeping unwanted retcons away regardless of the story and characters?

  8. SanityOrMadness says:

    @Thom H

    JRJr’s DC-exclusive still, no?

  9. Thom H. says:

    @JCG: Claremont’s current deal with Marvel (as I understand it) depends on him not writing anything. I’m assuming when he does get to write something, there are plenty of restrictions. I could be wrong.

    @SanityOrMadness: Fair enough. I just thought Claremont deserved one more high-profile X-artist for his big 5-0. Art Adams? Alan Davis?

  10. Chris V says:

    Wait. Did you just say that Marvel offered Claremont a deal with the provision that he not write anything?
    If I were Claremont, I would be incredibly insulted by that contract.
    What is it? Like a legend’s contract? They just trot him out to hold up as the guy who wrote all those Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants comics you love, but is now old.

    Can Marvel do the same for poor writers in the comic field?
    “Great news! Marvel has signed Chuck Austen and Howard Mackie to life-long contracts specifying that they must never write a comic book again.”

    Claremont can still write a decent comic here and there. The X-Men Black: Magneto one-shot was the best work I’ve read by Claremont since 1992.

  11. Walter Lawson says:

    From what Claremont has said, I gather his Marvel contract prevents him from writing elsewhere: he’s Marcel exclusive. But Marvel doesn’t use him much, just for a few specials a year lately.

    Claremont has grumbled that he’d like to write more and has done non-Marvel ideas, but I assume his Marvel retainer is too good to throw away. Why? Maybe some creator rights to x-properties are tied in with it. Claremont’s contract negotiations when he came back to Marvel in the late ‘90s were quite complex, from what I hear. Anyway, I do t think he’s forbidden from writing anything at Marvel, he just isn’t asked to do so very often.

  12. Thom H. says:

    I agree — he’s obviously not forbidden from writing anything at Marvel, but for someone who can be incredibly prolific he writes very little for them.

    I assume he’s kept on a fairly short leash so that he doesn’t muck with any of the main X-characters or simply create X-character analogues at Marvel or somewhere else.

    Again, that’s an assumption on my part. I just think a 50th anniversary special with his name in the title would be the one occasion where he got to play with the big toys. And since he avoided them, I assume that’s because he was told to by an editor or contractually forbidden.

  13. Chris V says:

    I would guess it was more that an editor was involved, since the X-Men are currently under the purview of Hickman.
    There might have been some concern that Claremont would write something at odds with Hickman’s plans, and since only Hickman knows the full extent of those plans, it would be too hard for an editor to correct potential continuity mistakes.

  14. Nu-D says:

    “ It’s not the clearest story in the world.”

    That’s been my experience of Claremont’s books at least since his initial departure from the X-Men in 1991. There were certainly some “unclear” stories in the latter half of his initial Uncanny run too, but most of those were working off or building to other parts of the same run. These days, there’s just a lot of gaping holes where he wants you to plug continuity that even Al Milgrom doesn’t remember.

  15. John Wyatt says:

    This is the most I’ve seen about Claremont and getting paid to not write:

  16. Dave says:

    I thought Claremont’s (post resurrection) Nightcrawler solo showed he could still do a decent-to-good ongoing.
    Is there a best spot to put this in Dani’s timeline, or just ‘some time not long after she becomes a Valkyrie’ ?

  17. Walter Lawson says:

    I don’t think its difficult to explain either Claremont’s Marvel exclusivity or why he doesn’t get to write much. The reason for the second point is that his books don’t sell very well. He has a loyal fan base, hence things like this book, but it’s not enough to sustain an ongoing title.

    So why keep him under contract? He’s created a lot of IP value for the company over the years, and at some level of Marvel/Disney there may be a belief that whatever further ideas CC might generate should be Marvel/Disney property not DC prosperity or someone else’s. Even if comic editors think he won’t generate more IP value, corporate may consider the expense of keeping worthwhile just in case, or just to forestall the competition.

    The exclusive contact may cover consulting as well as writing, so Claremont may be doing some work for Marvel even if he’s not producing many books. And the contract might also include non-disparagement clauses and provisions for any disputed IP. Marvel has had plenty of lawsuits to settle with work-for-hire creators from Jack Kirby on down. The exclusivity contract might help prevent any rights challenges from Claremont. Keeping CC on the team might help with other cases as well: his long history with the company means that if he did cause legal trouble, it could open doors for others who have much weaker precedents to draw upon now. But that’s just guesswork. Mostly, I think the company just wants to keep an asset under control, even if CC is a legacy asset rather than a current moneymaker.

    Ironically, of course, a big theme CC wanted to explore in his original X-Men run was “mutants as commodities.” For Marvel/Disney, creators are commodities…

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