Best Shots Extra: X-Men Forever #1 - Most Divisive of '09?

Marvel Preview: X-Men Forever #1

X-Men Forever #1

From: Marvel

Writer: Chris Claremont

Art: Tom Grummett and Cory Hamscher

Review by Troy Brownfield; additional research by David Pepose

Preview here

In all honesty, with no hyperbole intended, I think that we’re probably looking at the most divisive mainstream book of the year. Some people are going to love this like a preschooler loves his mommy, and some people are going to hate this like bugs hate Raid. This probably sounded like a great idea on paper in the Marvel offices, but man, if you’ve followed the books at all in the intervening 18 years, it opens up many cans of worms.

Let’s start then with the intent: the idea here is that Chris Claremont, who helmed the X-Men for 17 years and left after the third issue of gazillion-selling adjectiveless X-Men, gets to pick up where he originally left off. That book launched in summer of 1991, along with X-Force, which had kicked off two months prior. This was all prior to the launch of the X-Men animated series. I’ll add here that I was quite the X-fan growing up, and that I’ve always at least kept an eye on the books, even if I wasn’t actively reading them. In that era, I was.

Part of the problem with the “Claremont Returns!” premise is that he’s already “returned” to the X-Men a number of times. In 2000, he took over both X-Men and Uncanny for a lackluster storyline featuring “The Neo”. He segued later to X-Treme X-Men. In 2004, he came back to Uncanny another time with #444-473, clearing out before Ed Brubaker’s arrival. He also had runs on two reboots of Excalibur in the past few years, a swing at New Exiles, the X-Men “The End” cluster of mini-series, the GeNext spin-offs, and more. Fans between 1991 and 2000 may have been wanting for Claremont-related X-content, but it hasn’t been in short supply this decade. The problem, of course, is that many of those books have been divisive in their own right. Many believe that the underlying cause to this is that Claremont never got to continue his vision for the mutants past #3 back in 1991. Therefore, this books is, essentially, “What If Claremont Never Left?” Therein lies many cans of worms.

First off, let’s do a bit of a mental reset here: Claremont wrote the “wind-down” issues of the original premise of X-Factor (#65-68) that shipped little Nathan into the future to become Cable. Peter David officially took over that book with the government sponsored team with issue #71 (issues 69, scripted by Fabian Nicieza, and 70, scripted by David, tied into the Shadow King battle that brought the larger team back together and planted the seeds for David’s run). SO . . . if we are to assume that X-Men Forever is actually “X-Men 4”, then we have to think that all of the Marvel universe concurrent with this book has also rolled back to that time. As we read this issue, X-Force is fighting Masque’s group of evil mutants, and X-Factor is getting rolling. Scott Lobdell was writing Excalibur, and there would be a meet-up of the various X-Teams there in #41 (which came out a month after X-Men #1). As for Uncanny, the action of #281, the first post-relaunch issue, begins in the middle of the actually published X-Men #5; therefore, nothing there would have “happened” yet either. We all got that? Good.

So, to my mind, the operant premise for this book is that nothing that happened after X-Men #3 EVER happened in THIS X-Universe. Forget Omega Red, Bishop, the Age of Apocalypse, the Legacy Virus, the X-Tinction Agenda, Morrison’s run, Emma’s conversion, the Messiah Complex, Onslaught, and, for that matter, Claremont’s other runs. None of it has happened. Same with all of the other X-books. Anyone dead past this is alive, and anyone new hasn’t been seen. Granted, that’s going to be confusing as hell for some readers, and it’ll bug you a few times during this issue whether you want it to or not.

With that heavy lifting out of the way, how is the book on its own terms? Well, because of the very nature of the thing, that’s nearly impossible to calculate. Why? Because this book, possibly more than almost any other book, doesn’t exist on its own terms. More on that in a minute.

What we can look at first is the art. Tom Grummett has always been an excellent super-hero artist. That hasn’t changed. Even if some find his look “old-school”, it fits this idea perfectly. He’s got a strong, clean line and “gets” the personality and expressive nature of the cast. It’s mildly ironic that when X-Men #4 actually dropped, he was working on DC’s New Titans. But yes, Grummett’s a competent, assured artist, and he’s actually massaged his style a bit to make it look like it would have fit seamlessly alongside the other X-art of that time.

In terms of story, let’s cut that into thirds: Claremont, concept, and continuity. We’ll start with Claremont. I’ll say this: it’s like he never left, and that’s both good and bad. If you’re looking for a complete stylistic continuation, then it’s right here. All of Claremont’s strong and weak points are display, and that’s really for individual readers to take away. Some hate his lengthy captions and thought-balloons, and others do not. Some dislike his particular voice, and others do not. I think that at this point in comics overall, this issue feels distinctly overwritten. Claremont could have trimmed some of the excessive length and let the art work for him, particularly since he’s got a solid artist here. Working against Claremont, through less fault of his own, is that some of the beats that he’s chosen to tackle here are beats that have been, well, beaten to death by subsequent writers. It’s hard to look at the Wolvie/Jean/Scott triangle as anything resembling fresh.

For the concept, X-Men Forever wouldn’t be a bad idea for, say, a mini-series. As an ongoing, though? If Claremont chooses to hit any of the big notes that later writers hit, there’s a danger of turning off readers who might interpret that as Claremont doing the story his (read “the right”) way. There’s already a tiny piece of this in the renaming of Gambit to “Remy Picard.” Recall that Gambit’s last name had not been revealed under Claremont; that happened in the next arc. But of all names to choose . . . Picard? It sticks out like a sore thumb for the obvious association, and comes off as almost petty in the reading, as if the assigned name that the character has borne through almost two decades hence, including his own series, animated and film appearances wasn’t good enough because it wasn’t Claremont’s. And, really, like Picard is that much ¬better than LeBeau?

As for continuity, if you can push all that aside . . . this is an okay X-Men comic. It’s not abjectly terrible, and it’s not terrific. It’s just . . . kinda there. Sure, it’s got action and soap-opera drama, but it’s nothing new set against what we’ve seen since, and it’s nothing so mind-bogglingly cool that you would think that it merits its own thing. It’s drawn well, and if you can look past the somewhat outdated stylization behind the writing, then you might well be entertained.

Then again, if you’re new to the X-books, then this isn’t the place to start. This book is constructed almost specifically for the core audience of 18 years ago. If you’ve been nursing a grudge that Claremont left for the time that it takes an infant to work their way through high school, then you’ll probably love this. If you’ve read and enjoyed the X-books in the interim, then the luster might be lost on you in terms of this book’s rather focused appeal. I guess part of it really comes down to age. I do not see the young audience, especially with the First Class books out there, gravitating to this. I do not see the people that enjoyed Morrison or the current titles trying to wrap their heads around the “story-ignoring” leap you have to take. I think that this book’s audience, if it finds one, will be stocked from the readers that remain from those halcyon days when 90210 was young, Nirvana was exploding, and Geoff Johns was a freshman in college.

Notes:

Upon my request, David Pepose compiled the following info to give you a feel for the time in which X-Men Forever takes place in the 616. The dates are “cover” dates, as opposed to actual ship dates.

X-Men #1 came out dated October 1991, with Claremont's final issue (#3) dated December 1991. John Byrne then came after, with his storyline revolving around Wolverine and new villain Omega Red. Here's what was coming out across the Marvel Universe during that time:

X-Men #1 (Rubicon) -- October 1991

X-Men #2 (Firestorm) -- November 1991

X-Men #3 (Fallout!) -- December 1991

Avengers #339 (Final Redemption) -- Early October 1991

Avengers #340 (Clay Soldiers) -- Late October 1991

Avengers #341 (Rage of Angels) -- November 1991

Avengers #342 (By Reason of Insanity?) -- December 1991

Avengers #343 (First Night) -- January 1992 [Crystal and Eric Masterson join Avengers]

Captain America #393 (Skullbound) -- October 1991

Captain America #394 (The Crimson Crusade) -- November 1991

Captain America #395 (Rogues in the House) -- December 1991

Captain America #396 (Trick or Treat) -- January 1992

Thor #437 (Tales of Asgard: Clash With Quasar!) -- October 1991

Thor #438 (The Thor War!/Tales of Asgard: Yesterday Must Die!) -- Early November 1991

Thor #439 (The Thor War!/Tales of Asgard: When Hammers Clash!) -- Late November 1991

Thor #440 (The Thor War!/Tales of Asgard: All the Rivers Run!) -- Early December 1991 [First appearance of the Thor Corps]

Thor #441 (The Thor War!/Tales of Asgard) -- Late December 1991

Thor #442 (The Day of His Return) -- Early January 1992 [Don Blake returns]

Iron Man #273 (Here There be Dragons) -- October 1991

Iron Man #274 (Dragon Lord) -- November 1991

Iron Man #275 (Dragon Doom!) -- December 1991

Iron Man #276 (With Friends Like These...) -- January 1992

The Amazing Spider-Man #352 (Death Walk!) -- October 1991

The Amazing Spider-Man #353 (When Midnight Strikes!) -- Early November 1991

The Amazing Spider-Man #354 (Wilde at Heart!) -- Late November 1991

The Amazing Spider-Man #355 (Total Eclipse of the Moon... Knight!) -- Early December 1991

The Amazing Spider-Man #356 (After Midnight) -- Late December 1991

The Amazing Spider-Man #357 (A Bagel With Nova) -- Early January 1992

The Amazing Spider-Man #358 (Out on a Limb) -- Late January 1992

Spider-Man #15 (The Mutant Factor) -- October 1991

Spider-Man #16 (Sabotage Pt. 1) -- November 1991 (Guest-Starring X-Force!)

Spider-Man #17 (No One Gets Outta Here Alive!) -- December 1991

Spider-Man #18 (Revenge of the Sinister Six: Part One) -- January 1992

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