I’ve been going through the entire Claremont run on Uncanny X-Men the past few months, starting with his first issue, including the annuals and the mini-series’ and The New Mutants and all the rest. I’ve read about a hundred and fifty issues now, give or take? And I really do think that he is very much responsible for the fact that superheroes have evolved and remained relevant parts of the culture. The first dozen issues of X-Men, when Dave Cockrum is still drawing it, read pretty dated, but the series makes a quantum leap in sophistication once John Byrne comes on as the artist. I think Marv Wolfman may have been the editor for at least some of that run, but he clearly took his cues from Claremont on New Teen Titans, which was the only superhero book of the era that was on par with it. Early Alan Moore is a pretty serious Claremont imitation, too.
Anyway, I found this Phoenix: The Untold Saga issue that they put out around 83 or 84, that revisited the Dark Phoenix Saga (also: Buffy season six? Should owe Claremont and Byrne royalties.) and featured an interview with the creators where they talk about how they had planned for Phoenix to live until Jim Shooter insisted that she had to die to atone for her sins. And then there was this quote from John Byrne, about how he’d have treated Jean if she’d lived.
“Scott’s wife, as important to the story as the left front tire of the Blackbird.”
And you get the feeling that part of why the Claremont/Byrne run didn’t last is because those dudes had vastly different ideas about how to use the woman characters they had. Claremont was exceptionally progressive in the way he approached writing women, and he did it at a company that had a truly awful track record for it. There was not a good female character at Marvel until he showed up — The Wasp and Sue Storm literally spend their entire first ten years apologizing for being stupid and useless — and Claremont flipped that entirely. Reading the series in order like this, I finally get why people were so attached to Storm — the way she goes from being this untouchable, earth-mother goddess who’s a woman and a leader but sanctified and unnaturally pure, into a real woman who’ll get her hands dirty and laugh and bone Forge and wear her hair in a mohawk if she wants to, that’s serious stuff. And Byrne — whose treatment of Lois Lane and Sue Storm when he wrote Superman and Fantastic Four were iffy at best — saw the character of Scott’s wife as being as important as one of their jet’s tires. Yikes.
(Correspondents in the letters pages, incidentally, make fairly frequent references to Claremont’s “feminism.” Some of them disparagingly, some of them not so much. One who probably approved was a young Colleen Doran, who wrote in during the first appearance of the Morlocks seeking a no-prize.)
Anyway — apologies to people who read this because of the music posts, or the sports posts, or whatever, because the next week or two will probably involve a good handful of scanned panels from a dozen or so years’ worth of X-Men comics. Fly your nerd flag high!