In Part 1 of our exclusive talk with legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont, we discussed his new series X-Men Forever and where he hopes to take it. In Part 2, Claremont spoke about the challenges Jean Grey faces as an eternal being, defying character expectations, and which artists might work on X-Men Forever. And now, on to the third and final part of our interview.
Andy B: I wanted to travel back in time a little bit because Marvel recently released a Secret Wars II hardcover compilation, which contains the first Uncanny X-Men issue I ever bought, which was #196, “What Was That?”. I believe it was the first time you had to write The Beyonder. I’m wondering if you have any recollections of that time period? Having reread it, it seems that incorporating The Beyonder was a very natural fit. It didn’t feel like a character had been forced into your series.
Chris Claremont: Well, that was always the challenge. The stories that actually resonate more strongly at that time are LifeDeath and LifeDeath II that I did with Barry (Windsor-Smith). The whole idea behind it was that everything about the characters was, in a lot of respects, in a primal state of flux, with Storm going back to Africa, dealing with the fact that she had no powers, to find out who she was. With The Beyonder, it was again a primal revelation in terms of Rachel’s reality with the team and her relationship with Kitty and what that meant. And oddly enough, the X-Men relocating to San Francisco for a while. History repeating itself for a while, beforehand. The idea was always that just because they’re mutants doesn’t mean that they can’t grab onto cosmic concepts as easily as Stan (Lee) and Jack (Kirby)’s FF did. And again, going along with the whole idea of the series at that time, as I recall, Rick Leonardi and I did some beautiful New Mutants issues where they were caught up in the whole Beyonder thing.
Andy B: That was devastating, where The Beyonder came and killed them all and then their resurrection.
Chris Claremont: Wonderful cover with them just climbing into their graves.
Andy B: As a writer one subject I’m quite keen on is kids and comic books. I’m 32 years old. One of the things I really enjoyed about X-Men Forever is that you can pick it up and give it to a pre-teen or a teenager and they can appreciate it as well. I’ve talked to creators about the notion of a change in mainstream comics, specifically to the Marvel Universe over the past ten years or so, where things are, for lack of a better term, a little more risqué…
Chris Claremont: The thing that Frank Miller and I enjoyed back in the day dealing with (Jim) Shooter, rightly or wrongly, was that we had the Comics Code Authority. We had to deal with it. It was a roof over our heads, but it was not an impervious roof. You could, with a little facility and a little subtly and a little grace, do damn near anything.
Andy B: Absolutely.
Chris Claremont: In some circumstances is it easier to show two characters in bed together? Yes. But on the other hand, Walt Simonson and I did what I thought was a wonderful scene with Madelyne Pryor where she wakes up in the middle of the night and she’s screaming and the reality is very simple. She’s in his (Scott’s) bed; it’s a double bed. And the next panel Scott runs in and they embrace and the scene moves on. But if you blink and take a second look, you think, wait a minute. She’s wearing the pyjama tops and he’s wearing the bottoms. Well, that’s ok. People do that. Wait a minute. That’s a big bed. Wait a minute. It’s clear if you take a second look that someone else was sleeping in the bed with Madelyne because the pillow next to her is dented and the sheets are messed up. And if you follow the logic train, it’s obvious. Scott got up in the middle of the night and went into the next room for any number of reasons. When she cried out he rushed back in. Had we entered the scene a minute earlier we’d have seen them in bed together. But because we chose that moment and that sequence of panels, the reality is not denied, it’s just not shoved into the face of the reader.
If you want to read the scene and take it for what it is, well there’s a room, guy runs into room, they have a scene, we move on. Wonderful. But if you want to flesh out the grace notes that are around the edges so that you can have a more comprehensive and satisfying vision of the moment, then its up to you, the reader. The option is presented. It is not made graphically plain. I find that a whole lot more fun, actually. I like the idea of the reader having to make a little bit of the effort to figure out what’s going on. My feeling is it draws them that much deeper into the story, and it treats the reader as an adult.
Andy B: You mention Madelyne. I always think of the prelude to Inferno, where Madelyne seduces Havok. There a scene where she leads him into the shadows. You don’t see anything but you can figure it out. A little while later you see Havok sleeping, and she’s in the same room. It’s almost like a 30’s or 40’s fade to black sort of thing.
Chris Claremont: You don’t need to see it to know what’s going on. It allows you to use your imagination. Now what I’ve always loved about that setup was the shot of the two of them walking through the restaurant and in every panel her clothes are different. She’s wearing basic black but it changes from panel to panel to panel, and Alex never notices. No one notices, except the reader has the option of noticing it.
Andy B: I remember reading that and noticing it. It was brilliantly done.
Chris Claremont: What law is it that you can’t try to a) be a little bit subtle and b) try to have some humour? We’re making still picture movies and part of the fun is that it is fun. It shouldn’t just be characters standing and talking for a hundred panels or hitting each other for a hundred panels. There should always be a blend of light and dark, and action and stillness. Otherwise, you have no contrast from which to draw your dramatic conclusions. The other fundamental thing is that all it takes here to create as visually primal and exciting a vision as you can get watching Michael Bay’s Transformers trailers is a really great artist and 22 pages, and we can go to town.
I remember thinking back to when I was a kid and seeing the coming of Galactus and realizing after the fact that Stan set up, introduced, and resolved Galactus in essentially…it was one issue of set up with the Silver Surfer…and then from Galactus’ entrance to his exit it was an issue in a half. Not even two. Then The Human Torch went off to college. And that was a big event. And I thought, you get on, you say your piece, you get the hell off, and then you move to the next thing and you leave the audience sitting there thinking “Holy cow! What happens next!” And the advantage with X-Men Forever is you only have to wait two weeks.
Andy B: I realized that when I finished the book. “Oh, two weeks. This is fantastic”.
Chris Claremont: I’m all for it. It’s perhaps not as cool as weekly comics, but that gives us something to aim for. Perhaps we can increase our output to a weekly down the line.
Andy B: Well I’m happy to see you come back to where you left off. I would imagine its been strange over the years returning to Uncanny not where you left it.
Chris Claremont: Well, they’re different. This has turned out to be more fun than I’d anticipated. And yet that seems totally right and totally appropriate. Heck, I figure enjoy it while I can, and ideally leave the audience desperate to see what happens next.
Thanks for Beth Fleisher for her assistance and to Chris Claremont for his time.