Though all of my instincts — meticulously steeped in self-consciousness and boomeranging snobbery — prod me to reserve this particular feature for scribes who convey a veneer of intellectual credibility to my reading selections, there are times when I am compelled that many of the most formative writers in my life primarily tapped out words for comic book adventures. When I was rolling my eyes at whatever English class drudgery I was assigned (my school wasn’t astute enough to realize that maybe teenagers would respond positively to the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and J.D. Salinger), I was rushing eagerly back the colorful exploits of superhumans in spandex suits, devouring every last mellifluous word. And it’s probably reasonable to say that one of the first comic book writers whose name locked into my brain as a titan of his craft was Chris Claremont.
Admittedly, my devotion to Claremont was partially due to the fact that he had a clear creative identity within Marvel Comics, my publisher of choice. He wrote The Uncanny X-Men, which meant he was in charge of the mutants. I started reading his comics right at the point those characters began an astounding rise in popularity. Once little more than a fringe subset within the Marvel Universe that gave the publisher’s foundational writer Stan Lee the chance to make an admirable arguments condemning bigotry, the characters all but took over in the nineteen-eighties, presumably in part because the aging of the readership base meant their were a few more outcast teenagers who found useful avatars in the residents of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
There was probably some timely happenstance to the rise of the mutants, but surely some of it could also be ascribed to Claremont’s approach to the characters. He had a gift for enlivening melodrama, accentuating the woes of the tragically different heroes and grandly carrying them from one wrenching setback to another. He tilted toward the sort of anguished philosophies that could fill a Mead notebook with bad high school poetry and paced the interpersonal adventures with the impeccable timing of the most seasoned soap opera scripters. It was silly and florid and, to my young eyes, flatly perfect.
As the X-Men grew in popularity, so did Marvel’s desire to make sure every slot of the the spinner rack was stocked with a tie-in title. At least initially, Claremont wrote most of the film, engaging in arguably the most robust world-building in that particular fictional universe since the heyday of Lee’s collaboration with artist Jack Kirby. The sprawl did Claremont no favors, and eventually keeping tracking of everything became exhausting to me as a reader. But I still remember those heady days when keeping up with the mutants was manageable and consistently exciting.
Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “My Writers” tag.