Question about milestones in comic-book writing

I’m surprised that I don’t know this, but did Chris Claremont and Alan Moore independently decide, at around the same time, that comics could be written with realistic dialogue/narration and a general approach in which the author “plays it straight”?

In other words, I know the Golden Age was full of some pretty adult subject matter, but (correct me if I’m wrong) the dialogue is often simplistic. The Silver Age material was overwhelmingly silly, though not wholly worthless. The Bronze Age featured a lot of real-world controversial issues as topics, but from what I’ve read recently, there is still a veneer of silliness about. Am I missing something? The change seems so abrupt. Was there a transition? Where did Claremont and Moore (and others) find their inspiration?

While Claremont and Moore were both popular comic book writers, I wouldn’t otherwise link them together.

In my opinion, people like Claremont, Marv Wolfman, and Mike Grell were essentially the culmination of the Silver Age. They were trying to prefect the medium not re-invent it.

On the other hand, people like Moore, Frank Miller, and Bill Willingham were looking to explore new territory. They wanted to step outside of the stereotype of the heroic protagonist and explore the idea that the heroes could have the same psychological problems as the villains they were fighting.

Isn’t it true that when Claremont began writing for X-Men in 1975, in the midst of the Bronze Age, he touched off (or perhaps re-birthed) the convention of looking into the personalities and psychologies of his characters, and attracted great acclaim for doing so? For that and other reasons, such as diction, doesn’t his work seem much less hokey than what “mainstream” comics had by then contained for roughly twenty years?

I recently read the book that collects the early appearances of The Black Cat, a distaff foil for Spiderman. The first few issues are written by Marv Wolfman, and I have to say that I found them very tacky indeed. I can’t remember who wrote the later issues, in the late seventies and early eighties, but I saw a substantial improvement. It was a few years ago when I read some of Claremont’s most famous work, but I didn’t think they had much in common.

I notice that Moore didn’t arrive on the scene for a few more years, so I’m wondering where the other missing links are.

Chris Claremont writes realistic dialogue?

Which Earth did this happen on?

Let’s not overlook Steve Gerber who was Moore before Moore was Moore.

Also, Jim Shooter’s Legion work may be fanboyish, it also can be very interesting. Walt Simonson’s Thor seemed to arise independent of any Moore inspiration. Jim Starlin certainly did his thang before Moore.

Not really. In terms of his writing style, Claremont bears much more resemblance to Stan Lee than to folks like Alan Moore, or almost anybody working for the Big Two today. “Looking into the personalities and psychologies of” superhero characters is the hallmark of classic Marvel Comics in general, and really starts with Lee/Kirby/Ditko in the 60’s. Claremont may be the apogee of that style, but his dialogue and especially his narration is so overwrought that I think many readers today have more trouble with it than they do with the average book of the time period. And Claremont’s protagonists may be more psychologically complex than the average superheros of the 1970’s, but they aren’t much like “real” people. The small press writers of the 80’s already thought of Claremont as being a dinosaur.

Those later Black Cat stories are probably by Roger Stern and they are very good. Wolfman wrote The New Teen Titans in the 80’s, which was very much DC’s answer to the X-Men, with a heady dose of psychological turmoil and soap opera. The book has aged some, but it reads more modern than Claremont’s Uncanny.

The real missing links are probably the increased availability of Japanese manga, American underground or small press comics, and British comics in the mainstream marketplace, and the effect these things had on writers like Miller, who incorporated many manga influences into his Daredevil runs.

This exactly. I recently found a whole stack of Classic X-Men, which reprints the early Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne run, and I love them, but they are rough going at times. You have to selectively edit the narration boxes as you go so as to avoid re-reading the same basic information a half-dozen times per issue. That said, there is also original material in each issue, by Claremont and John Bolton, and some of that stuff is fantastic and much less wordy.

Gerber is more like Morrison is now. I’d say Steve Englehart is the pre-Moore Moore, especially in his early Dr. Strange with Frank Brunner on art, which is just like Swamp Thing or Gaiman’s Sandman.

I remember Spider-Man actually being advertised in the '60s as “the world’s first neurotic superhero.”

Writers like Claremont, Wolfman, and Grell were still writing the hero archetypes. Their characters were heroes who fought crime for noble reasons. Even if they had some quirks or attitude, they were fundamentally heroes.

Writers like Moore, Miller, and Willingham introduced the real anti-heroes. Their characters might be fighting crime but it was more a matter of circumstance. They would fight a villain because they wanted revenge or fame or money or just because they liked beating up people. They eliminated the line between good guys and bad guys. These were “heroes” who had little moral difference from the “villains” they fought.

Let me put it another way: I remember reading the *Dark Phoenix Saga *a few years ago, and, while there is still some goofy stuff (the way the Shi-ar are portrayed, and such), it seemed like Claremont, and thus his characters, was/were playing it straight. The story was serious business, a matter of life and death, and it really seemed like it mattered. The dialogue is indeed melodramatic, but it seems to fit the subject matter, and it didn’t make me cringe nearly as much as the material I’ve read from the years immediately preceding it. I’m almost done reading The Essential Captain America vol. 4, which is mostly written by Steve Englehart. The (clever) plots are amplified versions of what was happening in the US at the time, and yet everyone’s dialogue is so wooden (and the villains’ costumes so silly) that I find it more “interesting” than “good.” It’s the same as the Black Cat transition I noticed.

Here’s how wikipedia, drawing on a* New York Magazine* article, puts it: Claremont approached the job as a method actor, developing the characters by examining their motives, desires and individual personalities. This approach drew immediate positive reaction. According to former Marvel editor-in-chief Bob Harras, “He lived it and breathed it. He would write whole paragraphs about what people were wearing. He really got into these people’s thoughts, hopes, dreams.” Claremont’s take on the series has been likened to writing “the Great American Novel about complex characters who just happened to fly”, incorporating surprise character developments and emotional nuances amid the operatic battles that otherwise typified American superhero comics.[6]

I don’t intend to limit this to superhero comics, either. I’ve been gradually reading The Best of Battle, the celebrated British war comic, and I’m baffled (and a little offended) to see real wars treated in such a silly manner. I haven’t given up, though, because the book later includes some of Charley’s War, which is supposed to be outstanding. I have read and loved so many comics of the 1980s and 1990s that it seems implausible that there was a sudden epochal change that made the medium enjoyable for me,* irrespective of genre/content/subject matter. *

There’s a bit more:

“Claremont’s approach to storytelling during his run on X-Men is considered groundbreaking. According to writer/editor Paul Levitz, Claremont’s complex story structures, “played a pivotal role in assembling the audience that enabled American comics to move to more mature and sophisticated storytelling, and the graphic novel.”[5] Claremont’s editor on the series, Louise Simonson, attributes the X-Men’s success to his approach to the characters: “Chris took them very seriously. They were real people to him.”[19]”

It’s very similar to the way I feel about alternative rock. I know it didn’t spring out of nowhere, but it often seems like it.

He’ll own you body and soul!!!

Ugh. No kidding. Claremont when he first started the X-men considered characterization to be SHOUTING! and maybe having a non-USA origin. John Byrne took the reigns and Claremont learned a boatload about writing dialogue from him, but he is by no means the king of it. Claremont was especially bad when he got a fetish about something (“I’m gonna mention Poker in every issue for the next 8 comics!”)

If anyone cares, my comic-book history is thus:

As a kid started with late silver age and bought pretty much any DC on the rack that had 20-30 cent covers. LOVED them. Loved the 100 page books. The 100 page JLA with Santa dead on the cover and also featuring John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan is my fave JLA ever. However, once we get into 40 cent books, and stuff like Terra-Man, I bowed out. The covers were horrible with bike ads, the stories just too silly. Cary Bates writing himself into JLA stories…ugh.

Ironically, I missed the Englehart JLA books.

I got back into comics in what I guess is called the “Gilded Age”. Shooter’s heyday. Teen Titans. LSH. Crisis on Infinite Earths. Suicide Squad. The first Moore book I picked up was the JLA one and I was just blown away how one panel could provide a ton of characterization. Then Shooter was fired, DC collapsed under its own weight, the likes of McFarlane and Liefield drove me away. The final straw was decompression.

I stayed with Hellblazer until Ennis finished and bought Sandman to the end. Those were the last two regular books I read. "Flash"forward (heh) to the SERIES “52” and I was VERY impressed what was being done with that series, and Batman and the GLC, the Brother Eye stuff. And what does DC do after they are just about to rope me back in? They reboot their universe. No red underwear for Supes? There was a time where he wore blue-jeans as part of his costume? Amanda Waller is hot and skinny now? Go take a flying leap DC.

As for Marvel, I dabbled in Bendis’s stuff. I like him. I generally liked the events, but nothing has convinced me to actually invest money and time beyond staying abreast of events. Decompression is still a big problem. 22 pages, 33 panels? No thank you. I haven’t seen lazier work since John Byrne staged a fight in a snowstorm.

Often, this is true. Sometimes, not so much. Like when Arcade brainwashed Colossus into becoming “Proletarian,” a Soviet’s People’s Hero. Low comedy.

FUN low comedy, to be sure, but impossible to take seriously.

But, yes, at other times, Claremont was very serious, and his dramatic touches were brilliant. He was the one who (I believe) crossed the line to write Wolverine as an actual killer. Until then, Wolvy was a walking death-machine…who never actually clawed anybody’s face off. Now? The bodies are stacked like cordwood.

One quirk Claremont had was foreshadowing events for future plot lines…which sometimes he never got around to making use of! He’s throw a clue way out ahead of himself…and then not follow it up! His tangled plot-lines sometimes unraveled a bit. But I won’t blame him too much for this: writing a monthly title is brutally hard work, and he did a better job of it than 95% of the others, before or since.