Hot take: Chris Claremont’s prose is...not good.

I recently bought the graphic novel of the Dark Phoenix Saga, compiling Uncanny X-Men #s 129 to 137. I owned those issues years ago, but sold much of my collection in the 1990s to help finance a backpacking trip through Europe. After watching the 2019 movie, which I liked more than most people did, I wanted to revisit the original.

First of all, the John Byrne artwork is stellar (with help from Terry Austin and Bob Sharen). And Claremont may well have a talent for plotting and character creation, depending on how much of that should be credited to him rather than Byrne. But the endless verbiage cluttering up the panels…oy. It would be cool to see someone erase all that nonsense and replace it with less than half the word counts in the captions and bubbles. The thought bubbles in particular need to be hacked away like noxious weeds.

“Still, Jean Grey is the woman I love. I’m the man she loves. That has to count for something. “

“There she is!”

“She’s dressed as the Black Queen – that’s not good.”

Three redundant thought bubbles, before he even starts speaking. :smack: His actual voice, crying out to Jean, is the fourth bubble (and ought to be the only one), all within one small panel.

I know some of this was because they had to catch up kids who may have just happened upon the title for the first time in a drugstore and did not have access to back issues in those days. But then why did they not rework it when it was made into a graphic novel? The constant thought bubbles about the characters’ own powers, their relationships to other characters and their powers, etc., gets really old and most importantly undercuts the art.

I agree.

I bought the trade paperback a few years ago - I’d had the original run somewhere in a longbox for decades - and realized that…it’s not all that great. It’s just not.

The thought balloons, as you say, are redundant. The dialog is just terrible. Everyone announces what they’re doing as the do it. Ugh.

The story is not bad - though there are better - but it’s really ill-served by the words coming out of the character’s mouths.

I’ve been re-reading Frank Miller’s Daredevil run–the one that introduced Elektra–and thought the same thing. I think a lot of it was the constraints of writing comics for the big 2 back in the day. Characters announcing things and repeating themselves was just part of the style. I loved DD in the 80’s, but it’s hard to read now.

Claremont also wrote a handful of novels, including a continuation of the movie “Willow”(!). It’s not just the medium or the house style or the other constraints he was working under. His prose is just not very good.

He is my all-time favorite comic book writer. I grew up on Uncanny X-Men. His take on those characters were, are, and always will be the definitive takes on those characters, both the ones he created and the ones he inherited. I think he is a masterful storyteller.

He created an emotional depth to the characters and the plots that very few other comic book creators have ever equaled. The graphic novel “God Love, Man Kills” is still, for my money, one of the most emotionally powerful super hero stories ever written.

There are any number of moments from the comics he wrote that have been seared into my memory, even my identity. When Cyclops looks on in helpless horror as Jean Grey kills herself because she knows she’s losing control and is going to revert to Dark Phoenix. When Kitty Pryde faces down Reverend Stryker, who is about to shoot her, and a random cop shoots Stryker. In one of his post-X-Men series, Sovereign Seven, one character talks to the team leader about the issue of missing and exploited children, and says, “It’s a big problem. What are we going to do?”, and the other character replies, “Whatever we can.” A small, simple moment, when Nightcrawler is discussing his Christian faith with Woverine, an atheist, and says of Wolverine’s atheism, “You must feel so alone”, and Wolverine replies, “Nah, not as long you’re around to share a brew.” And on, and on.

But, yeah, even by contemporaneous standards, his dialogue was often overly verbose and clunky, and going back to read it now, it can get positively cringey.

I still love his work.

He (and Bryne) also had a thing for ‘corruption porn’…you get Jean, Kitty, Illayna (!!) Storm all turning evil/ getting possesed multiple times

Huh. Somehow, I never quite noticed that. Or at least never thought of it as specific to Claremont. But, yeah, thinking back, that’s definitely true.

Also, IIRC, Danielle Moonstar in the X-Men and the Micronauts limited series that was somehow a thing that existed (the weirdness that was 1980s Marvel toy comics that were written as completely serious dramas that were somehow part of the official Marvel Universe canon is a topic for a whole other thread…)

Comics in general were a lot wordier in those days, particularly Marvel comics. The whole business of characters narrating what they’re doing goes back to Stan Lee himself. Reading the original Lee-Kirby run of Fantastic Four, it’s fascinating to see how often the panels are absolutely stuffed with word balloons, as the characters continually tell us what they’re doing. Unless it’s Black Bolt, who didn’t talk. In that case, the other characters tell us what Black Bolt is doing. It’s like Stan didn’t trust the art to speak for itself. Marvel retained that style for a long time, even after Stan had given up the writing.

That said, Claremont did have a particularly labored prose style, and a tin ear for dialogue. There are any number of web pages that compile “Claremontisms”–his particular phrases that he went to again and again. Examples include Wolverine’s famous mantra “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.” Psylocke’s “The focused totality of my psychic powers.” His description of fights: “No quarter asked, none given.” Or this heartfelt emotional exchange: “I love you.” “And I, you.”

I dare you to respond “And I, you” the next time your S.O. tells you that they love you. :slight_smile:

But beyond those stock phrases, which many writers have, his prose was often tremendously overwrought. He was writing about big concepts, and tended to use big, bombastic words to convey that. Much as we praise Claremont’s X-Men for digging into the prejudice and hatred against people just for existing, which is a very realistic, street-level issue, the X-Men just as often found themselves going into outer space, getting involved in wars between competing galactic empires, playing on a stage where entire solar systems were at stake. Those kind of stories don’t leave a lot of room for subtlety. It’s surprising sometimes how often X-Men was not about hatred and bigotry, but about swashbuckling space pirates.

I agree with most of what gdave says. Claremont’s importance to the X-Men, and to comics in general, cannot be overstated. He laid the groundwork that everyone who writes those characters is still using. In particular, he changed Magneto from a standard conquer-the-world pulp villain into a complex, multi-layered anti-hero, which makes every story about him immeasurably better. He was part of a generation of younger writers (he was only 24 when he started writing X-Men, and 29 when the “Dark Phoenix Saga” was written) who set a new standard of what comic books were capable of.

But yeah, we also have to acknowledge that his actual prose was often pretty poor.

well that and they figured they were writing for kids mostly i think stan lee made the remark in the 90s that " we never figured we were ever writing for anyone over 16 and if anyone had told us we would be one day wed of told the adults to basically get a life and read real books "

I get that, but there were too many “vocab words” for it to be just aimed at kids. And it had the reputation of being “adult” at the time compared to other comics. I guess maybe it was aimed at 13 year olds instead of 9 year olds?

There is also “If all of your memories and personality are erased, are you still guilty of mass murder?” He did that with Magneto and the Black Dragon, and probably others.

I think he’s better at fantasy than science fiction. When he just wave his hands and say “A wizard did it”, he’s more comfortable. When he feels obligated to come up with a pseudo-scientific explanation, the thought-balloons proliferate. I liked The Black Dragon, Magik, and Man-Thing better than his conventional super-hero stories.