“It’s all one story.” – Chris Claremont Sequart Organization is a group that has dedicated themselves to bringing an academic approach to comics scholarship through the publication of their magazine, books, and, since 2010, documentary filmmaking. Their first outing in film was Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, followed two years later by Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts. Then, in 2014, they released Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men, a 42-minute short documentary interviewing the famed X-Men writer, along with his editors, Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti, and former Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter. Since then, they’ve also been responsible for The Image Revolution (2014), Diagram for Delinquents (2014), the highly-recommended She Makes Comics (2014), and Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously (2016). A new extended version of the film, which was written, directed, and edited by Patrick Meaney, is set to be released on VOD this Tuesday, February 6, which features over 40 minutes of new footage, including never-before-seen interviews with Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, and a number of fans who talk about the impact that Claremont’s legendary time on The Uncanny X-Men had on their lives. Chris Claremont began his run on Uncanny X-Men in 1975 with issue #94 and continued to write the book until 1991, taking the title from a niche comic to the heights of mainstream popularity. While he didn’t create the classic core lineup of X-Men that had just relaunched that year with Giant-Size X-Men #1 (by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum) – Cyclops, Banshee, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Thunderbird, Sunfire, and the soon-to-become-Marvel Icon, Wolverine – it was Claremont’s work weaving complex extended storylines, mature themes, and putting an emphasis on developing strong female characters, that made the series the groundbreaking masterwork it became. I was seven years old in 1975 and had taught myself to read with comics books a couple of years earlier. I missed the first couple of Claremont issues, but started reading with #96, where the team was mourning the death of team member Thunderbird and are attacked by a huge demonic entity. I was immediately hooked. I missed a few more issues around that time, since I had to rely on my parents to buy my comics, but by #104 – the reintroduction of Magneto – I made it my mission to not miss any more. What you have to understand is that up until the relaunch and the beginning of Claremont’s run, X-Men was a failure. From 1970 through Giant-Size X-Men it had been publishing reprints, with no original material. The characters would occasionally show up in other comics, but for all intents and purposes, The X-Men was considered dead in the water. When Len Wein decided he didn’t have enough time to write the new book, he handed it off to rookie writer Claremont, who took full advantage of the fact that nobody in management really cared what he did with the title. One of the greatest joys of this documentary is getting to watch Claremont, Simonson, and Nocenti sit on a couch and reminisce about those days. All three are clever, funny, blunt, and extremely entertaining. They make you want to sit around with them, share a bottle of wine, and just shoot the shit about when Marvel Comics were actually about the characters instead of about the events. Nowhere is this made more evident than when the documentary makes it to the Nineties and Bob Harris took over as the X-Books editor. From that point on, it was all downhill. Marc Silvestri’s interview is a nice touchstone, as he was an artist who didn’t really have a comics background before getting the Uncanny X-Men gig in 1987 (he penciled until 1990). He’s humble and acknowledges that he didn’t really appreciate at first, just who Claremont was and what he’d done. However, it’s the other future Image Comics co-founder, Rob Liefeld, who comes across poorly, both praising and dismissing Claremont’s and Simonson’s work (this is an unfortunate result of editing, though, as Liefeld has raved online about the Claremont/Byrne run being a seminal work in comics history). When Harris and Liefeld essentially drove Louise Simonson off of New Mutants (and out the door to DC), it was the beginning of the end. It was the 1991 launch of a second X-Men title, simply called X-Men, that finally pushed Claremont out, too. He wrote the first three issue arc (with Jim Lee on art), but the stories were being handed down from editorial (Harris) and Lee. Claremont’s heart just wasn’t in it anymore. While the first issue ended up setting a sales record that stands to this day, he left, after seventeen years writing the characters, and Marvel didn’t even acknowledge his departure. There was no goodbye, no editorial send-off, nothing. The fuckers just acted like he was a typical work-for-hire writer and that was that. Claremont is clearly hurt by the way things ended and while he came back to Marvel a few years later as an editorial director and writer of Fantastic Four, things were never the same. The shift to a more corporate environment at Marvel really led to a creative collapse (in this writer’s opinion) that really took Marvel a decade or more to recover from. All in all, Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men is a documentary about a seismic shift in comics storytelling that laid the groundwork for the Marvel Comics of today. Claremont was involved with the creation of Phoenix, Dark Phoenix, Kitty Pride, The Hellfire Club, Alpha Flight, The Shi’ar Empire, Proteus, Mystique, Rogue, Moira MacTaggert, The Starjammers, Psylocke, Mariko Yashida, Emma Frost, Dazzler, The New Mutants, Sabretooth, Gambit, Mister Sinister, and dozens more. He wrote or co-wrote “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past,” and introduced major mutant title crossovers to Marvel with “Mutant Massacre,” “Fall of the Mutants,” and “X-Tinction Agenda,” as well as writing the classic graphic novel “God Loves, Man Kills” which was loosely adapted in X2 (2003). It’s sometimes very easy to forget about Claremont in a post-Frank Miller / Alan Moore comics landscape, so I’m extremely thrilled that Sequart included him alongside Morrison, Ellis, and Gaiman in their documentary series. This entire film is a love letter to the comics that made me to want to tell stories and I hope it will inspire others to go back, read these works, and take up the mantle of writing complex, conflicted, and ultimately inspiring characters of their own. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.