Away from the shop #1: Jeff Talks About X-Men Forever

Hey, whattup? I have somewhere between three to six deadlines barreling down at me but I've been itching to write a post since forever. And I've got a couple of books under my belt, so.... why not, right? What's a few posts going to hurt? Doesn't matter that some of what's being reviewed is, between a year and four decades old, does it? First up, behind the cut, the first trade of Chris Claremont and Tom Grummett's X-Men Forever.

X-MEN FOREVER V1 TPB:  So I followed Graeme's advice and have started checking books out of the local branch of my library.  I'm finding I'm absolute crap when it comes to logging on to the system and trying to think of stuff I want to read and requesting it, but if I just visit my nearby library, there's usually a few items on the shelves I wouldn't mind taking the time to read. (Actually, I have to *make* the time to read 'em--which isn't the same thing at all--but there's enough of a surreptitious thrill to getting a big ol' comic book for free(!) that I make a point to read it, even though I've got plenty of other fine stuff lining my own shelves I haven't checked out. The deadline and the late fees probably help.)

I also followed Graeme's advice in that one of my library choices was the first trade of X-Men Forever, which collects the first five issues of Chris Claremont's surprisingly fiscally viable "what if we just let the guy do what he wants and pretend that he didn't leave the title back in 1991?) reboot/retcon/whatever-it-is series.

As you probably remember, Graeme found it weirdly readable and recommended it (both on our podcast and here on the pages), and I gotta say, I pretty much agree.   I won't waste your time with all the crazy plot twists that happen in these pages since you can use Wikipedia or a million other sources on the web to find out for yourself (if you don't already know about it), but what I will mention  is that it has a whole bunch of stuff I like about Claremont and none of the stuff that skeeves me out.

For example, on the first page of the second issue, there's a page with a couple of cops chewing the fat--they only exist to both kill time until the splash page on the turn and to be the discoverers of the revelation on that splash, but Claremont gives you their names (Ahmet and Gary), the fact that one of them has a kid who loves Latin, and the other is Muslim (hint on the latter: it's not Gary).

Now while there are people who might roll their eyes at both Claremont's political bias, to say nothing of all the unnecessary verbiage spent on two characters I feel comfortable saying we will not see again...that's precisely what's great about that page for me. Coming as it does after a panel talking about the joys of Central Park after dark, the page with Gary and Ahmet does a great job of underscoring the melting pot nature of New York.  And New York, in the Marvel comics I grew up on, is probably the best character Marvel comics ever had, as valuable to the line-up as Spider-Man or Doctor Doom.

There are times when having something like Gotham, your own imaginary city to destroy and rebuild, has its appeal--and in these days, where you can just sit down at your computer and virtually scroll through a 3-D representation of NYC whenever you get the urge, having an imaginary city may  well be preferable--but back in the day, having imaginary characters move in and out of real locations aided in the delight that blurring of what's real and what isn't. I'm sure you've seen those comments by Grant Morrison at his SDCC panel dismissing Batman's real age, and I'm definitely not the guy who's playing for Team Internal Consistency but I do think part of the hook of superhero books with the Big Two is the idea of this vast collective universe and the way all the pieces of that universe fit together.  And what I think Marvel Comics brought to the table wasn't slotting in the pieces of their current mythos with its previous mythos (the way DC did with its Earth-1 and Earth-2 mythology) but the way the pieces of Marvel Comics seemed to fit with the real world. For those of a more literal mindset, this led people to start thinking that the appeal of a good superhero book was how "real" it was. And for people like me, it was a ball of string in the labyrinth, something I could follow out of the maze of superheroes and into the real world, even as sketchy a representation as it might two cops you never see again talking about their kids before discovering the shocking reveal on page two.

Beyond that, there were a few things that felt like "classic" Claremont X-Men for me in this book, stuff I won't enumerate to the point of exhaustion.  But when the X-Men's Blackbird Jet gets shot out of the sky in the first few pages of the first issue/chapter, I realized there's something awesome about a superteam that continues to insist on flying around in a jet, even though no more than a third of its team can fly at any given  time.  It's a good two+ page action scene gimme (and always a nice way to have everyone sum up who can do what) that Claremont goes to so often, I'm kinda bummed Morrison's run didn't have the characters build the Blackbird train or an armored humvee or something.  Why the X-Men seemed so tied to a simultaneous reliance on, and underlying fear of, air travel is something I can't wrap my brain around fully.  (Was it those damn Airport movies from the '70s, when the team first came into its own?  All those stories Claremont wrote on a plane, flying from one con to the next?)

And, finally, despite all the good characters turning evil, and evil characters turning good, and secret love affairs, and shockign revelations, what was great about this first volume of X-Men Forever is how refreshingly free of psychic rape and all the mental BDSM stuff Claremont dumps into his work.  (Although weirdly, what struck me as off about the Claremont/Manara issue of X-Women that just came out here was how it dodged what the two old pervs most have in common--an obsession with submission--and went with a half-baked adventure caper with Manara drawing upskirt shots and panting mouths of rapture on the women whether it suited the action or not. The whole thing was annoyingly coy and kind of chickenshit, especially given how long Mr. C has been sticking our collective comic book bar of chocolate into his personal peanut butter jar of fetishes.)  X-Men Forever feels free, not just of the baggage of continuity of other X-books and the Marvel universe as a whole, but free of Claremont's own sexual fetishes, and the feeling really is like re-reading the comics of my childhood--except while they were already there way back then but I was too young to notice, here they just seem gone.  And I'm glad, because they were--like any unshared fetish--dull and predictable.

So yeah--I'm going to be hunting down more.  And although I can't really say, whether it's worth it to shell out $16.99 for the trade ($16.99? Yowch), I will say it's surprisingly GOOD work.  A person looking at library shelves could certainly do worse.