It’s been 18 years since Chris Claremont, the architect of the most enduring stories in the history of comics, concluded his 16 year run on The Uncanny X-Men. Since then he has returned to the characters on numerous occasions, but always in the current Marvel timeline. But with the release of his new bi-weekly series X-Men Forever, things are a little different. Claremont is picking up exactly where he left off in 1991, when he left the characters following the launch of the second X-title, X-Men. At the conclusion of Claremont’s run, the team had been split into two and their arch villain Magneto was killed following an explosion on Asteroid M. X-Men Forever begins with the teams working together, under the watchful but not necessarily welcome eye of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.
On the day of the release of X-Men Forever #1, I had the huge privilege of a phone conversation with Chris Claremont. As you can imagine, this was an amazing opportunity for someone like me, who grew up on Claremont’s Uncanny run. Throughout our hour long conversation, we discussed Claremont’s return to the characters he helped define and what the long term goals and possibilities of the new series are. We also discussed some of his favourite comic book memories, the place subtlety has in comics, and much more. I’ll be posting our conversation over the next few weeks, beginning today with Claremont’s feelings about returning to the X-Men one more time.
Andy B: I feel like I should be saying welcome back, because I read X-Men Forever today and it was great. It brought me back to a specific time, so I’m wondering what it was like for you picking up where you left off?
Chris Claremont: Like putting on a very comfortable suit that’s just been sitting in the closet waiting. It’s basically picking up where I left off and it feels quite natural, surprisingly, given the passage of time.
Andy B: As a writer did you find, in returning to the characters, that your approach had changed over the years? I know you’ve come back to Uncanny over the past few years…
Chris Claremont: It’s not so much coming back to the characters; they were always there, even as they evolved and twisted around in Uncanny and up through the current run of the book and the ongoing major titles. With Forever, it was picking up where I left off. It felt surprisingly natural in a lot of ways. The characters were right where I left them and right who I’d left them, with some surprises and exceptions. It was a lot more natural than I’d anticipated.
Andy B: I can’t recall a creator being given an opportunity to revisit a comic book which they defined and then being able to pick up, like you said, where you left off. How did it all come together?
Chris Claremont: Over the last few years I’d built up a listing, a selection of concepts and characters I’d proposed doing. This was on the list. It wasn’t editorial’s first choice, that went with GeNext. But along the way Mark Pannicia sat down with Joe (Quesada) and they put their heads together and this is what surfaced as an idea of giving me a book that fulfilled my responsibilities to Marvel and Marvel’s to me, but also didn’t, to a certain extent I suspect, interfere with the ongoing evolution of the series that Axel (Alonso) and his editors were taking care of on Uncanny and the related books. From a commercial standpoint it worked because it gave Marvel the opportunity of presenting a specifically different vision of the team and the characters that might attract a whole different audience from that which is reading Uncanny. It was a way that they thought everyone might benefit.
Andy B: Because X-Men Forever is outside of the regular Marvel continuity, do you find that you’re able to approach it in different way, that you might be able to do things that, because you were previously writing in the regular Marvel universe, you may not have been able to do?
Chris Claremont: We are working in the regular Marvel Universe. We aren’t separate from the Marvel Universe, it’s just that we’re looking at it from a specific perspective. We only have one title so you’ll look at the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man from the point of view of the X-Men. This group of X-Men. You’ll look at the X-Men from the point of view of these eight characters. There’s a whole world out there that is fully realized and consistent with the Marvel that readers are familiar with. It’s just that we’re only seeing it from one point of view. What’s different is that the last dozen, sixteen years of continuity hasn’t happened. Because we’re picking up where we left off, we don’t have, in the Forever world, all of the events and the changes and the realities that are part of Uncanny to deal with. That’s where the roads part company. We have a whole new history that this is a part of.
In Forever, as I’ve said many times at conventions the last few months is, we’re asking the question, “have you ever wondered why there are no old mutants?” If you look at my run of Uncanny, there are maybe a half dozen characters that might be considered old. There’s Charlie, there’s Magento, except now Magento’s dead.
Andy B: Right.
Chris Claremont: There’s Apocalypse, I guess, but he might be the exception that proves the rule. There’s Mystique. There’s Sebastian Shaw, who’s roughly Charles’ age. There are a couple or three characters that are left over from World War II, but we haven’t seen them in a while. There’s Harry Leland of the Hellfire Club, who was a mature character except now he’s dead. Charles was approaching, if not in his 50’s, but then he was given a brand new body thanks to the Shi’ar because his natural body was possessed by the Brood. Except that now something seems to have happened. If you went back to X-Men 275, 276, 277 he could walk, now he can’t. What’s going on with that? Why has that changed? What is happening? In the first half-dozen issues Hank (McCoy, The Beast) is about to discover a reason for that, which is going to, as the saying goes, shake the X-Men’s perception of themselves and their world down to its foundation.
The other half of the question is “why have the X-Men from the beginning been kids?” This isn’t a world where Scott (Summers, Cyclops) and Hank and Jean (Grey, Phoenix/Marvel Girl) are people in their 30’s. They’re still in their 20’s and the reason why there are no old mutants is a functional fact of their existence and not a very pleasant one.
Andy B: It’s easy for readers to forget that they’re only in their 20’s, since the characters have been around for such a long time.
Chris Claremont: That’s true, and I intend to bring that reality to the front and centre of the stage with consequences.
Coming up in part 2 of our conversation with Chris Claremont: Death, Plot, and the relationship between Wolverine and Jean Grey. Thanks to Beth Fleisher for her assistance and Chris Claremont for his time.