In the garden of legendary comic book scribe, Chris Claremont, Review Fix Associate Editor Olga Privman had the pleasure of learning exclusive, behind-the-scenes information about the background of one of the “X-Men’s” most iconic stories and about the brain behind the mighty pen of the House of Ideas’ most mainstay writer.
Most importantly, in Mr. Claremont’s universe, mortality garners some serious respect. Dead means dead – deader than the recently-resurrected Bucky.
REVIEW FIX: Mr. Claremont, can you tell us about some of the things you’ve written?
CHRIS CLAREMONT: In terms of comics? It seems like just about everything – for Marvel or DC. “Spider-man,” the “X-Men,” the “Avengers,” “Captain America,” “Thor,” “Iron Man,” “Superman,” “Batman,” the” Justice League” and more than a decent amount of prose as well – some of it mine; some if it licensed properties.
RF: If you had to pick a favorite.
CC: Well, if I had to pick a favorite, I would choose my stuff over everything else – things like “Black Dragon,” by myself and John Bolton – or “First Flight,” which is my first novel. If I had to choose licensed property, I’d have to say the “X-Men.”
RF: You’ve been responsible for some of the strongest X-Women ever written: Jean, Storm, Psylocke, Rogue, Kitty. What’s your reasoning behind that?
CC: People I’d like to know. I’d like to think I don’t think I don’t treat them any differently than I would treat – for example – Scott or Kurt or Hank. It’s just that the male characters, especially in comics, have been so well-treated over the years by a variety of writers that doing a strong, dynamic male character doesn’t seem as great a departure as it does when you’re doing that with a female character. I just try to write characters that I like – people that I want to know and my egotism-slash-arrogance-slash-hope is that if I like them, the readers will like them and so far – knock wood – that has predominantly been the case. I mean, one of the great surprises and comforts of the “X-Men” over the years was that it has always been an extremely strong book for women readers and for a vast variety of them – I mean, not just East Coast literature heads. You know, you’d be surprised, because I am astonished sometimes at the breadth of the series’ fans and in a way humbled, too – because, it’s like, “wow,” all these different people are intrigued by this. A: I must be doing something right; but, God, that means I have to keep it up. It’s a challenge.
RF: Well, we hope so.
CC: Well, me too. The chief rationale being: it’s a long way until my kids get into college, much less out of it. I mean, they just finished elementary school.
RF: Are they comic book fans?
CC: No, they’re book fans, actually.
RF: Oh, that’s great.
CC: I think it’s wonderful. They devour everything.
RF: Do they have a favorite writer? Genre?
CC: No. One loves history; the other loves cooking. They both love aviation; they love mystery; they love fantasy; they love just about everything they can get their hands on, so from my point of view, more power to them.
RF: Great. Starting to read very seriously at that age is fantastically rare.
CC: I don’t know. With me, it just came naturally and fortunately it seems to be the same with them.
RF: Must be in the genes then.
CC: I guess.
RF: Well, I actually wanted to ask you: if you had to pick a favorite character that you created, who would it be? I know it’s a tough question.
CC: My character? Marvel characters? “X-Men” characters?
RF: Let’s go with “X-Men.”
CC: It’s hard because there are a couple of answers that come immediately off the top of my head, but hot on their heels comes the qualification: “yeah, but there’s also this one and this one.” I mean, part of me says “well, I loved Storm, but I’ve just spent the last five issues of ‘X-Men’ messing her up as a character and literally bisecting her – a grown up, evil version of herself and an 11-year-old thief and none of the X-Men know which one of them is a real person – which one’s a clone and which one isn’t. They may both be clones; they both be real – I just don’t know.
I have always had a special affection for Kitty because she was the first of my characters, as opposed to the ones I’ve to the ones I’ve inherited from Dave Cockrum and Len Wein – and Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby]. And yet I also feel strongly about Gambit and Sabretooth and Rogue and Mystique and suddenly the list starts cascading down the hill.
RF: That’s understandable – they’re all your babies. Getting back to the strong X-Women, a lot of people feel that they were severely de-powered in the movies. Do you think that’s true?
CC: I think the movies operate on a different level of reality than the comics. Dave [Cockrum] and I were sitting around one afternoon. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
And then Dave said, “I want to start with this!” And the image he came up with was a double-spread of two great star fleets tearing each other apart – bodies cascading all over. I mean, we’re talking back in the very early ‘70s – pre-“Star Wars,” pre-“[Battlestar] Galactica,” pre-everything. The first “Star Trek” movie hadn’t been made. “Star Trek” had literally only just gone off the air as a TV series. The paradigm we had to work off of was “ Space Odyssey” and Dave just said “let’s do it.” And I thought, you know, “this is outrageous.” And we came up with these two star fleets – one of which had kind of traditional starships and the other of which, the Shi’ar, had starships that looked like giant bugs, which was so cool – we hadn’t done that trope before. And, oh yeah, there was a binary star. I mean, we were throwing everything up there, including the kitchen sink. And this was the first image of Lilandra reaching out to Charlie.
And that sort of, for us, set the stage for the next 20 years because what we wanted to say was “you may think you know what the ‘X-Men’ is all about. We are in the process of showing you, right off the bat, that the sky is not the limit – the sky is just the jumping off point.” And that pretty much set the stage for Lil’s flight to Earth, her meeting with Charlie, the Shi’ar, the transition of Jean and the Phoenix and there we go. And that sort of became the defining parameter of the “X-Men” from then on – that nothing was off limits and no setting was too big; no concept too outrageous for us to play with and have a good time. And, along the way, we wanted to push the outline borders of the envelope as far as we could.
In Jean’s case, originally, we pushed it a step too far and got our heads handed to us in that she consumed a star with an inhabited, settled planet, exterminated eight billion people and had to suffer the consequences. And yet, in retrospect, even though it was a heartbreaking moment – because it was a heartbreaking moment for us as creators and because Jim Shooter’s decision that Jean had to pay for that came at the last moment, out of the blue, it became a serendipitous surprise for us and a totally unexpected, blindsiding revelation for the readers. It caught everybody off guard and by surprise and they didn’t believe it – they didn’t want to believe it was true. And yet, as time passed and we began to convince them that it was, it became the foundation of more stories and more transitions as we went on, until of course, policies changed and Jean got resurrected.
And of course, with “Forever,” we flipped the template and taken the one character that everyone assumed would live forever and could not die because of his healing factor and we killed him.
RF: Is he coming back?
CC: He’s dead.
RF: He’s dead? Dead-dead?
CC: Yeah. In “Forever,” if you die, you die.
RF: That is gutsy, I have to give you that.
CC: I’d love to sit here and say, “Yes! I am brilliant; I am great; I am daring,” but “Forever” is not “Uncanny.” Wolverine lives in “Uncanny” – he lives in the core Marvel – in Axel’s [Alonso] “X-Men,” which is the franchise as far as Marvel’s concerned. I would, in my own, egocentric heart of hearts, love to come back in five years and discover that “Forever” is the franchise and then of course have to deal with “oh, we’ve got to bring him back.” But, at this point, we’re not – we’re a sidebar. On the other hand, being a sidebar means we have the freedom to do something like kill off Wolverine – which – yes, it’s shocking – which is good because it gets everybody’s attention, but more importantly, it also takes this huge weight out of the center of the series and into that space is now the opportunity for Nightcrawler or Scott or Beast or Jean or Gambit or Rogue or Kitty or characters we haven’t even thought of – Sabretooth – to step center stage and establish themselves in their own right through a level that hasn’t been possible in “Uncanny” because of the predominance of Wolverine. From my point of view, it’s a nice, structural irony because on-screen the casualties are Xavier, Scott and Jean. In the comic book, the casualties are Storm and Wolverine. So, there’s a certain, structural, thematic balance between the two.
Additional installments of the Q&A will be posted within days, with the following focusing on Mr. Claremont’s current title, “X-Men Forever,” taking place immediately after his departure from Marvel Comics after “X-Men” no. 3.
Complete video footage of the interview can be accessed here.
Photo by Patrick Hickey Jr.