The X-men are, by far, one of the biggest names in the comic book industry. It’s hard to believe that they were once on the brink of extinction. In 1970, Marvel ceased putting out any new X-men stories. Issues 67-93 were nothing but retellings of previously told X-men stories. After five years of reprints, the X-men appeared to be doomed; however in May of 1975 the X-men were given one last shot with X-men Giant size #1. With this one issue, the entire face of the team had changed, adding characters from other comics such as Wolverine (previously of the Incredible Hulk), and creating new characters like Nightcrawler, Colossus, Storm, and Thunderbird. The book was met with enough success for Marvel to justify publishing new X-men stories, and with issue number 94, everything changed.
Young writer Chris Claremont took over the helm with Dave Cockrum on art duties, and the world of the X-men as we know was born. Chris Claremont had a no holds barred approach to the comic, killing off new member Thunderbird in the very next issue. A mere six issues later we witnessed the rise of The Phoenix, followed closely by the Days of Future Past story arc which have become the cornerstones of the X-men lore.
Chris Claremont wrote the Uncanny X-men for the next sixteen years, which is completely unheard of in the comic book industry. In addition to his run on Uncanny X-men, he launched the spinoff series New Mutants, Excalibur, Xtreme X-men, Wolverine, The standalone X-men title, and most recently Nightcrawler. In addition to all of this, he has written countless other X-men stories and whenever the X-men book or characters need revamping, they call in Chris Claremont. His story telling is undeniably the best in the business, and his treatment of each and every character is appreciated by fans and industry professionals alike.
Geek and Stuff: Almost every single adapted story of the X-men, whether it is movie, cartoon, or even video games, revolves around your writing. Why do you think these stories are, by far, the most popular?
Chris Claremont: I think that I had the advantage of getting there first, and the work I did, I’d like to think, set the tone for the series as a whole. I’d also like to think that the stories resonate with readers in terms of affection for the characters, and the stories themselves, in terms of inspiring other media to adapt them. Partly because they are the foundation for the canon, but also partly because they are considered really good.
G&S: That being said, is there a portrayal of your work that you have enjoyed more than others?
CC: Honestly, There’s a part of me that always thinks “That was really good, but…” In terms of media presentations, I still find a “but” in just about everything. That was almost there. That was really, really good. Couldn’t it have been a little longer? Couldn’t it have been a little this or that? Couldn’t we have seen Dark Phoenix done right?
G&S: Over the years, you have written stories for various other titles and publishers. It seems that you always circle back to the X-men.
CC: It’s kind of sixes and sevens. When I came back to Marvel in 1997, I specifically said that I didn’t want to write the X-men. My point was that I had my run on it and I didn’t want to start second guessing writers on the canon. I had no problem doing that on the Fantastic Four, but with X-men, it was such a long run and such a personal connection, I just figured I’d let it go and try something new. But the problem was, “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in”, so to speak. [laughs]. I had a couple of years writing the Fantastic Four, which was a lot of fun writing with Salvador [Larroca]. Then in 2000, some circumstances arose and Bob Harras, who was Editor in Chief, felt it would be advantageous for me to take over Uncanny. I took over Uncanny and Scott Lobdell was writing X-men, but for whatever reason, Scott decided to leave and I ended up with both books. In 2001 Marvel was sold and the whole structure of the comic book company was changed. When Joe [Quesada] came in as Editor in Chief and Bob and I were fired, they obviously went with a different direction in terms of the X-men canon. Grant took over Xmen, and I don’t remember who took over Uncanny, and I ended up with Xtreme. In the context of the moment, that was fine by me. It was an opportunity for me to work with Salvador again, and it was an opportunity for me to work with some quintessential characters. We had a pretty good run. We went about fifty issues before everything changed again.
G&S: Is there a particular artist that you preferred working with or that you felt brought your vision to life better than others?
CC: I’d like to think that it’s the artist that I haven’t worked with yet. I could run you down a list of the men and women I have worked with and in many respects; it reads like a who’s who of key talents in comics through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. You can’t really choose who is the most fun when you are dealing with a list that starts out with Dave Cockrum and john Byrne. It just goes on from there. For me, it’s far more tactful and practical to say the truth which is that they are all brilliant. I’m not going to choose. My preference is to look ahead, which is in the case of Nightcrawler, Todd Nauck, who is absolutely wonderful. He’s the right guy for the right book, and I hope that the audience feels the same way and that we come out with sales that justify a long and successful run.
G&S: I’m really glad that you guys are on the Nightcrawler title. Growing up, he was my favorite of the X-men. The story is coming along great and the artwork is fantastic. I feel like Nightcrawler is kind of an underrated character that over the years has been left by the wayside at times.
CC: There’s a line at the end of Giant Size X-men #1 that Angel asks, quite tellingly, “What do we do with fifteen X-men?” You can’t really use fifteen lead characters in one title. It’s just not practical. The ideal team comes out to around five to seven characters. That’s enough to deal with the variety you need to keep the action inventive and intriguing. It will also give you a decent enough swath of character interaction. The challenge is then you have to come up with adversaries who are on that level. With seven heroes, you either have to have one really awesome villain like Doctor Doom or Magneto at his peak, or you have to come up with a group like the Hellfire Club. The difference can really be seen in who the artist appreciates the most. Kurt [Nightcrawler] was very much Dave Cockrum’s signature character. He loved Kurt. He loved playing with Kurt. For John Byrne, drawing Kurt was cool but the character didn’t seem to speak to him on the same primal, passionate level. The character that fulfilled that for John was Logan. So what you ended up with John was the scaling back of Nightcrawler and the ascension of the Wolverine. When Frank [Miller] and I, did our run on Wolverine, we realized that we had a character that everyone bonded with, both readers and creators, and everybody wanted to use him. You could see him everywhere and he has become the signature image of the X-men franchise. That applies to both the comics and the movies. You can’t really argue with Hugh Jackman in terms of heroic presence and in making him a dynamic, empathic, kick-ass hero. That being said, in regards to Nightcrawler, using the Mutant Massacre storyline allowed me to take the characters who were being overlooked in the book and slide them over to Excalibur.
G&S: I’m glad you brought up Excalibur. I was wondering if you had control over which mutants were brought to the team upon its inception.
CC: Both Alan [Davis] and I did. Absolutely. It was a different era back then. Nobody really cared. They only really cared about whether they wanted them in the foreground book or in a parallel book. The writer and editor of a series had a lot more influence on the overall dynamics than they do today it seems. In terms of creating Excalibur, it was a decision that Louise Simonson and I made. The core cast of Excalibur were characters that Alan or I had been involved in creating or developing. So, it was as close to a creator inspired book as possible. In those days it also allowed us to each get an extra percentage of royalties for creating an original title. Kurt was an X-men transfer. Kitty [Pryde], who I created. Rachel [Summers], who I created. Captain Britain, who I created. Then there was Meggan, who Alan created. We had our five core characters and in one way or another, their genesis had come from the two creators of the book. It worked out beautifully. It was an opportunity to move Kurt out of the sidelines and onto center stage as defacto leader of the team.
G&S: We’ve talked about a lot of your characters. You’ve created so many over the years. Phoenix, Emma Frost, Mister Sinister, Psylocke, Kitty, the list goes on and on. Do you have a favorite?
CC: I prefer to think of it in terms of the one I haven’t created yet, or haven’t had a chance to play with a lot yet. For example, in the issue of Nightcrawler I’m currently working on, I’m bringing back a clutch of villains I created back in 2000 for the brief run I had on Uncanny and X-men, and another character which will remain a surprise for now. I’m going back to my canon and pulling characters that I thought had potential but only had one appearance and never really got a chance to show off.
G&S: Is there an actor or actress in the X-men franchise that you feel took the time to really understand the character? I mean, obviously Hugh Jackman is an easy one. There’s a reason he’s in all seven X-men movies. Is there anyone else you think really got it?
CC: The actual true answer to that question has to be Lauren Schuler Donner, the producer. Just look at the cast of Days of Future Past. On one hand is Patrick Stewart and on the other James McAvoy. On one hand Ian McKellen, on the other Michael Fassbender. You’ve got Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Paquin, and Ellen Page. You’ve got Kelsey Grammer for crying out loud reprising his role as the Beast. Who would have ever thought of Kelsey Grammer as the Beast and yet, he is so right. It’s Lauren’s ability to get the right person in the right place to be the right character that has provided the performing foundation that allowed Bryan to build the structure of the film. Playing with that level of talent and that level of ability gave him such a wealth of potential and possibility, that making a good film was automatic. Making a great film was definitely within reach, and I think for the most part I believe he came through. My one selfish regret was that he was not able to do the third chapter of the original trilogy, which was the end for Dark Phoenix. Sadly, that just turned out to be a less than ideal circumstance all the way around, due to scheduling, other circumstances, and fubars galore. It was not a bad film, but it was nowhere near what I, as one of the creators of the source material, and as a fan, might have wished it to be.
G&S: I don’t think many comic fans would disagree with you on the treatment of the Phoenix story. It seemed a little rushed and underdeveloped. Or maybe it’s just me. I know I’m always the guy at the comic book movies saying “that’s not how that happened” or “that character didn’t even exist yet”.
CC: The problem is that you really have to approach it from as fresh of a perspective as possible. Does it follow the story? The overall structure? It does follow the story. Why is it Logan that goes back instead of Kitty? I figured there are two basic reasons. Hugh Jackman, whether anyone likes it or not, is a far more bankable name than Ellen Page at this point. He’s been the one consistent character in all seven films. If you are looking at it from a story telling perspective, Kitty isn’t even born yet. Not in 1973. It works in the comic because we were doing it in 1979 and she was a thirteen year old. The comic also operates under a different structural reality. There’s no way that there is a fifty year old Kitty running around in 2015 fighting Sentinels. Rather than going through providing a rationale for her being the link back to the seventies, the simplest answer is to send Logan. We don’t have Rachel, she doesn’t exist in the films, so we’ll use Kitty to replace her role, and we’ll send Logan because he was there. We can’t send Charlie [Professor X] because he’s the one you have to act on.
G&S: I have one last question for you and it’s from my daughter Madison. She’s eleven years old and is just really getting into comics, and she’s a big fan of your work.
CC: Tell her she has extremely good taste. [laughs]
G&S: I absolutely did. She wants to know if you could have any super power, what would it be?
CC: I think I’d rather have a TARDIS.
G&S: You have no idea how much cooler you just became in her book. She’s also a huge Doctor Who fan.
CC: For me, it was never the powers that were fun to play with. It’s the characters that make it interesting. Pa
rt of me thinks it would be fun to have the powers of the Phoenix, but then what? You eat planets. You read minds. Then what? It’s always been my raison de etre [reason for living] to think of a really great power, then think of as many varied ways as humanly possible to screw it up, and to make the character’s life utterly miserable. Why would I wish that on myself?[laughing] I would much rather have the ability like Doc Brown in Back to the Future to see what lies over the next hill. With a TARDIS I could move front to back, from the beginning to the end, but I could only do it in one dimension. Kitty can’t move forward or backward in time, but she can move right to left to infinity and beyond. They each have their own infinite amount of variables to play with. Kitty can go into as many dimensions as she wants, but the Doctor will always know what’s going to happen next. It all works out in the end.
For Chris Claremont and the X-men it has all worked out in the end. With his stories spawning seven blockbuster movies, more planned for the future, and countless comic books, the X-men have secured their rightful place in pop culture history.
Keep up to date with Chris Claremont at his website www.chrisclaremont.com