Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

26 February 2010

X-Men Forever, v. 1: Picking Up Where We Left Off

Collects: X-Men Forever #1-5 (2009)

Released: October 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785136798

What is this?: Chris Claremont writes early ‘90s X-Men two decades later.

The culprits: Writer Chris Claremont and artist Tom Grummett

Marvel has a love / hate relationship with writer Chris Claremont’s relationship with the X-Men.

They have continually touted his work on Uncanny X-Men as a tour de force ever since he left / was forced out. They love to tease his return, that he’s going to take them all back to the glory days of the late ‘80s. They allowed him to return to Wolverine for a few issues in the late ’90s. Then they actually gave him control of Uncanny X-Men and X-Men for a year or so around 2000. Since then, he’s worked on Exiles and various out-of-continuity miniseries — letting him play with knockoff X-Men but making sure none of it matters.

And the latest iteration of that plan is X-Men Forever, v. 1: Picking up Where We Left Off, which is supposed to allow Claremont to write stories as if he never left the X-Men.

X-Men Forever, v. 1: Picking up Where We Left Off coverStill, that rings hollow. The title is false advertising. Aside from the “never standing in the same river twice” school of thought — in this case, never being able to read the same Claremont you grew up with — this doesn’t really follow X-Men #3 / Uncanny X-Men #280, which is where Claremont left. Nightcrawler and Shadowcat are inexplicably back from Excalibur. Jean and Wolverine have some sort of love connection that certainly wasn’t there when Claremont left. SHIELD has wormed its way into the X-Men. As Paul O’Brien and others have pointed out, artist Tom Grummett isn’t the sort of ‘90s / Image artist X-Men would have had back then. And this doesn’t exactly jibe with the hints Claremont has given in interviews about the direction he would have gone in if he had been allowed to continue.

But none of that affects how good this story is — or should affect that. Unfortunately, it does color it a little. Claremont is … well, he is as he is today, which is to say his dialogue sounds like him and not that much like different characters. Even Beast sounds like everyone else. On the other hand, the plotting in this first TPB is nothing like classic Claremont — rapid changes out of nowhere, with seemingly little buildup or warning. That’s a function, in many cases, of the abrupt nature of the mandate — here, pick up a story you started 20 years ago, but remember, we don’t have time for that quick buildup crap — but it still rankles.

It doesn’t surprise me that it took me this long to comment on the actual story. (That’s the way it is with Claremont these days; he comes with so much baggage that the story seems almost secondary.) It starts with a fight with Fabian Cortez, which is a direction that flows from X-Men #3, but that just serves to set up Claremont’s new / old team. Once the story gets going, it’s somewhat enjoyable, with a double agent in the X-Men, a new villainous organization, and a death on the team. I’m not convinced by any of the individual revelations — who dies, who the double agent is, Shadowcat’s new power, why I should care about Sabretooth being blinded when he has a healing factor, etc. Still, it seems like an interesting framework to hang a story on.

As I said, Grummett is nothing like the Jim Lee / Whilce Portacio artists who worked with Claremont at the end of his run. I’m not complaining; I like Grummett’s work, solid as it is. It feels like it has real weight, and it’s very good at telling the story while giving the characters their classic looks. I also have to give credit to colorist Wilfredo Quintana, whose work seems bright enough for the nostalgia without letting it overwhelm the scenes.

There’s a decent amount of promise in the first volume of X-Men Forever, and I think fans who were heartbroken by Claremont’s exit from the X-Men and his successors’ efforts will find a lot to like here. I see it too, but I can’t say that it’s enough to make me want to return to the title. There are too many things that pluck at my mind, drawing me out of the story. Maybe Claremont just needs time to settle down, maybe this is just a bump in the road … but I’m not sure I want to spend another $17 to figure it out.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol (2 of 5)

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