TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 7 – Spotlight on Chris Claremont (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Chris Claremont

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 50 Minutes

Review:

I’ve really been enjoying going back and watching this series. Most of the episodes I haven’t actually seen as I only owned five of the 13 videos. This is one of the ones that I missed back in 1992 because I was much more into the artists than the writers back then.

Unfortunately, out of all the ones I’ve seen, this being the seventh, this one was definitely the slowest and least interesting. I think that part of that is because it was just a straight up interview for 50 minutes and there wasn’t a large portion of it devoted to art and comic book creation.

I was pretty surprised by how detached I was, as I do love Chris Claremont and I thought that his documentary from a year or so ago was damn good. He is, hands down, one of the best writers I was reading on a regular basis when I was first getting into comics.

Now this isn’t a bad episode of the series but it’s probably not going to excite kids that are interested in comic book creation.

Chris Claremont is a class act and you certainly shouldn’t miss this episode if you want to watch through all of these but I wouldn’t call this a good starting point.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Comic Review: X-Men: Inferno

Published: 1988-1989
Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, various
Art by: Marc Silvestri, Walter Simonson, various

Marvel Comics, 600 Pages

Review:

This was actually the first big X-Men crossover event that I ever read. Unfortunately for me back in 1988 and 1989, I wasn’t able to get every single issue in this massive event. But I do own them all now, so I wanted to revisit this huge story in its entirety.

It is really good but it also has some problems.

In regards to the positives, the writing is pretty solid. The bulk of this event is written by Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson with other writers contributing to some of the tie-ins. The art is also great, most of which is done by Marc Silvestri and Walter Simonson.

The story sees Mr. Sinister unleash literal Hell on Earth with many weapons at his disposal: Madelyne Prior, S’ym, the evil version of Polaris, the Marauders and the big bad demon, N’Astirh.

Sinister also finds ways to trick the X-Men and X-Factor into fighting amongst themselves and manipulates the stage to pit brothers Cyclops and Havok against each other.

There is a lot at stake here and it changes many of the characters going forward. One of my favorite characters, Magik, dies here. Granted, we all know she comes back because she’s basically a demon queen of the underworld but the weight of it is very heavy and at the time, we didn’t know if the young heroine could return.

This crossover also includes the New Mutants and the X-Terminators. The story serves to merge those two teen teams into one. This set the groundwork for what was to come once Rob Liefeld came into The New Mutants and gave us Cable, Deadpool and eventually, the hugely successful X-Force.

What I love about this story is that it merges superhero Marvel with fantasy Marvel. Like the Magik miniseries a few years earlier, this takes Marvel’s mutant heroes and makes them deal with fantastical and occult evil but on a much grander scale. Also, Mr. Sinister was damn cool in this period of X-history.

Looking at the negatives, my only real issue is that the story drags out in places. That could be due to me also reading all of the tie-ins apart from the main body of the central story. Some of it felt really unnecessary and it also felt poorly organized. The New Mutants issues were on the orbit of the main story but with the death of Magik and how that effected her brother Colossus, I feel like that should have happened within the framework of the stories actual main chapters.

Shaky narrative flow aside, this is still a better crossover event than what the Big Two comic book publishers give us in modern times.

Inferno was my first big crossover event. It’s not the best but it’s still a lot of fun and it came out in a time where the X-titles were at their absolute creative peak.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossover events of the late ’80s and early ’90s like X-Tinction Agenda and X-Ecutioner’s Song.

Comic Review: X-Men: Black

Published: October 3rd, 2018 – October 31st, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 160 Pages

Review:

Part of me wanted to be excited when I first heard about X-Men: Black, an anthology of five issues, each of which showcased a famous X-Men villain, along with a sixth story that was broken up over the five issues.

However, I knew that it would probably miss the mark, as X-Men comics, outside of Old Man Logan, haven’t been good for quite some time. I did have a little light of hope though, as Chris Claremont returned to pen the Magneto issue.

But unfortunately, this did miss the mark almost completely.

Most of the stories were beyond awful. The Apocalypse tale was the best one and the Juggernaut story was pretty darn good. Now Claremont’s Magneto issue was okay but it didn’t really cut the mustard and didn’t live up to the great standard that Claremont set in the X-Men‘s heyday.

The Mojo issues wasn’t completely terrible and it was entertaining and certainly not a bore. But it still felt out of place and didn’t work in the grander scheme of things.

Now the Mystique and Emma Frost issues were atrocious.

Mystique was a terrible person, doing terrible things and didn’t act like Mystique at all. The book read like a violent and vindictive fantasy of the author without any real purpose other than to make you hate the character, hate the author and hate the issue. This chapter alone really drags this entire series deep down into the muck.

The Emma Frost story wasn’t that different from Mystique’s and also didn’t do this series any favors. Plus, Emma looked like an anorexic college freshman and felt more like Emma Roberts from Scream Queens than Emma Frost, the voluptuous blonde that’s almost naked and has melted boys hearts since 1980.

Overall, this had potential but only two writers even seemed to actually try to write something worth anyone’s time. The rest phoned this in and obviously didn’t give a shit.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: modern X-Men schlock.

Comic Review: Magik: Illyana and Storm

Published: December, 1983 – March, 1984
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Buscema, Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Tom Palmer, Glynis Wein

Marvel Comics, 128 Pages

Review:

Illyana Rasputin a.k.a. Magik is one of my favorite Marvel characters of all-time. I loved her in The New Mutants and in her many appearances since. I never read her origin story, however.

Before getting my hands on this series, I read The Uncanny X-Men #160, which bookends this miniseries. At the start of that story, Illyana is a small child. She gets caught on the other side of a portal. When the X-Men pull her through, just seconds later, she is seven years older. This miniseries fills in that seven year gap and shows how she went from just being a young mutant with teleportation abilities to a powerful sorceress with a magic sword.

Chris Claremont did a damn fine job with the story and each of the four issues were great from cover to cover. This also got away from standard Marvel fare and tapped into a tone and style that was much more in tune with hardcore fantasy fans of the ’80s.

This looks and feels like a comic set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, which was at a peak in popularity at the time. In fact, maybe I never got my hands on this comic because my mum was pretty adamant that playing Dungeons & Dragons with my cousins was going to punch my ticket to Hell. She’s less crazy about that stuff now and weirdly, she’s a big Harry Potter fan.

Anyway, this story kind of reminded me of how I felt when I used to watch the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon on Saturday mornings when my mum wasn’t paying attention to what I had on TV.

This story is pretty damn dark. While it is a coming of age story and very much written for a teen audience, Claremont’s greatness transcends that demographic and I think that most people that love ’80s X-Men or ’80s D&D will enjoy the hell out of this.

It does some really disturbing things to some of the core X-Men characters too. Kitty Pryde is transformed into a werecat creature and then dies, Storm is a badass sorceress and then dies, Nightcrawler is a demon slave and then dies, Colossus, who is Magik’s older brother, is found with his metal shell ripped open and yes… he’s also dead.

Illyana has to figure out her predicament, battle a powerful warlock, take his power and also fight several other demonic and magical forces. Ultimately, she becomes a demon goddess of the awesomest caliber. She may also have had the most screwed up childhood of any X-Men character that wasn’t present at the Holocaust.

I f’n loved this story. It also motivated me to get back into those early New Mutants tales, as it’s been a really long time since I’ve read them.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The Uncanny X-Men #160, which bookends this story and the early New Mutants stuff featuring Magik as a member of the team.

Comic Review: X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda

Published: November, 1990 – January, 1991
Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson
Art by: Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, Jon Bogdanove, Rick Leonardi, Guang Yap

Marvel Comics, 299 Pages

Review:

I have wanted a collected version of this story for decades. I have a lot of the single issues but have always been missing a few and haven’t had much luck being able to complete the set over the years (mainly because of the highly sought after New Mutants issues). Plus, the trade paperback version was out of print for a really long time and good copies of it got pretty expensive. But, I was able to get this off of a sale on Comixology for around $5. I think the regular price, even for digital, was a whopping $25 or so.

Anyway, I’m glad that I got this version because it has a whole four issue prologue to the actual X-Tinction Agenda event. The first third of this book is a four issue story arc that happened in The Uncanny X-Men a few years before X-Tinction Agenda and it helps set the stage nicely. Plus, that story was heavy on using Wolverine and Rogue, which are two great characters from that era. You even get some Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel before anyone even really cared about the character.

The main part of this story deals with the X-Men, X-Force and the New Mutants returning to Genosha where mutant genocide is taking place. The villain of the story is Cameron Hodge, considered long dead since Archangel decapitated him with his wings several years earlier. Hodge is such a good villain and frankly, this is my favorite version of the character and the one I experienced first. He hasn’t had the staying power of Magneto, Apocalypse or Mister Sinister but he is, by far, one of the most formidable adversaries any X-team has ever faced.

This has been one of the all-time classic tales in X-Men lore. It was a huge event when I was a kid. And it may not be talked about as much in modern times but this was really where I jumped on to all the other X-books outside of the standard X-Men title. It also set the stage for a lot of major changes to all the books and teams going into the ’90s.

I could talk about the art and the artists that worked on this crossover event but just look at the credits I posted above. Look at those names. This book sells itself just on the merits of that talent level. Add the fact that this is written by both Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson is also pretty f’n incredible.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other major X-Men related events of the era: X-Cutioner’s Song, Mutant Massacre, Fall of the Mutants, Muir Island Saga, etc.

Documentary Review: Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (2013)

Original Run: October 8th, 2013 – October 15th, 2013
Directed by: Michael Kantor
Written by: Michael Kantor, Laurence Maslon, J. David Spurlock
Music by: Christopher Rife
Cast: Liev Schreiber (host), Mark Waid, Stan Lee, Adam West, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrision, Lynda Carter, Jeph Loeb, J. Michael Straczynski, Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder, Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Tim Daly

Ghost Light Films, National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, 3 Episodes, 55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

A few years ago, PBS did this three part documentary series on the history of comic books. It was hosted by Liev Schreiber, which was really cool, and featured a ton of creators, as well as notable celebrities who have played some of the iconic comic book characters in television and film.

The history of comic books is incredibly vast. Narrowing down what to cover in three episodes, each of which ran just under an hour, couldn’t have been easy but the people behind this did a good job of focusing on the important stuff. I wish there was more time given to the challenges of the Comics Code Authority but that’s probably boring subject matter to most modern fans.

Superheroes spends a lot of time talking about the creation of Superman, Batman and the early heroes that would be at the forefront of DC Comics. They then spent some time talking about Stan Lee and his creations, which helped to put Marvel on the map. To my surprise, even though they didn’t spend much time on it, they covered some of the story that lead to the formation of Image Comics in the ’90s, which was the biggest thing in comic books during my most formative years as a comics fan.

I wish that this would have been bigger than it was. Three episodes just weren’t enough. This could have easily been one of those 10-part Ken Burns style documentaries with two hour episodes and they still wouldn’t have run out of material. I’m hoping that someone does do a comic industry documentary like that at some point; it’s long overdue.

But at least we live in a time where this wonderful medium isn’t considered low brow shit. It’s become a respected art form and format for storytelling. A lot of that has to do with the success of comic book movies the last few decades but at least fans don’t have to feel like they need to hide their fandom when out in public anymore.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics and recent comic book documentaries Chris Claremont’s X-Men and The Image Revolution.

 

Documentary Review: Chris Claremont’s X-Men (2018)

Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Directed by: Patrick Meaney

Respect Films, J2 Films, 71 Minutes

Review:

I saw this drop on Amazon Video for rent a few weeks back and added it to my queue because I loved Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men. I mean, if you like X-Men at all, it is probably because of what Claremont created. Also, this was directed by the same guy that did The Image Revolution, which I really enjoyed.

The story behind how X-Men was initially a failure and how it evolved into a mega franchise under the Marvel banner is an interesting one. This shows how all the major players involved came to work on the series and it isn’t just about Claremont’s sole contribution to X-Men.

The X-Men comics of the ’80s had some of the best comic stories of all-time. Claremont and others at Marvel gave us some of the most iconic moments that would also go on to inspire the animated series as well as the big live action motion pictures throughout the ’00s and ’10s. Claremont also gave us some of the most iconic characters to be associated with the franchise.

His storied run is pretty much unparalleled in an industry where writers, artists and other creators are swapped around like pogs in a ’90s middle school lunchroom.

I love that this documentary interviews so many of the key people who were there. We even get to see Marc Silvestri and Rob Liefeld chime in on some of the events that they were there to witness firsthand.

For fans of comics, especially from this era, you won’t be disappointed with this documentary. After seeing this and The Image Revolution, I want to check out some of the other comic industry documentaries that Patrick Meaney has done.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Another comic book documentary by Patrick Meaney, The Image Revolution. Also, flows well with Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics.