Saturday, 10 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 2

I was trying to think if there was one thing most people who have heard of me would remember about me. Would it be as the guy who invented Borderline (hopefully), the git who worked on Comics International (probably), the bloke that spent a lot of time talking about The X-Men (doubtful, unless you've known me a loooong time) or even the man who is best known for telling people what he's most known for, just to remind them, in case my name has slipped their mind or they just remember me as the long haired fella with the big nose who loved himself? Whatever.

Most people who remember me as, first and foremost, a comics fan will probably associate me with the X-Men; it is, after all, one of the key obsessions in My Monthly Curse and yet, I've often said I can't think of a single X-Men story or arc that I would include in a favourite top ten comics - no, not the Death of Phoenix* or the Roy Thomas and Neal Adams issues, even Jim Steranko's brief cameos; most of them were either rendered redundant or were big dollops of shit with a dusting of loveliness to disguise the fact that the story was about as interesting as counting the amount of hairs on your forearm.

The X-Men was a bit strange. it got canned because, essentially, it was neglected and had stories that made Millie the Model worth reading. It was one of those comics that seemed to get passed around the Marvel Bullpen in a Russian Roulette fashion and I think Roy Thomas returned to it because it was the first comic he really got the chance to have a good run on, but he did it much too late. Another problem with the X-Men was, despite it being pretty much cutting edge upon its return, Chris Claremont recreated a comic as a soap opera, so while you had story arcs, you had other stories running in the background all the time, so even if separate issues were defined, it was difficult to pick any one specific issue or story arc as stand out. To be fair to it though, in the late 70s, when the book was having its renaissance it was pretty much unique compared to most of the rest of the major companies stable of titles. Plus it had had a major character's death happen inside 6 months, which sort of made it a bit edgy - who would die next?

It was also a book where the characters were so well developed that it wasn't about the stories as such, but about the way the characters were progressing and growing with the reader. People will nominate favourite stories such as the first Savage Land tale or the Hellfire club, the Brood, Inferno, Nimrod, the Starjammers, the Sentinels, etc etc ad nausea, because people have their favourites. However, I found most X-Men comics to be enjoyably frustrating and having left with most of those frustrations intact, I wouldn't return to it now if someone offered them all free of charge and threw in their beautiful wife to give me oral pleasure. Besides, I've seen your wife's teeth and frankly I wouldn't want those teeth anywhere near me.

Do I have a favourite X-Men comic? It depends what you class as an X-Men comic. If I had to pick one for a collection on pleasure value alone it would either be X-Men #66 by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger; as it was the first US X-Men comic I ever bought, therefore it has some weird sentimental value. If I had to pick something else, it might be Uncanny X-Men #200 by Chris Claremont, John Romita jr and Dan Green, not because it was particularly stunning, but because it promised so much. Apart from those two I'm hard pressed to remember anything that sticks out like a sore thumb. It was a comic book that did more for your imagination than it did for your reality (or your finances).

However, I think there have been some awesome spin-offs - which is weird considering I've never been a fan of spin-offs. Some of the Claremont and Alan Davis Excaliburs were pretty funky; some of Peter David and Larry Stroman X-Factors were worth another read. I, perversely, liked Louise Simonson and Brett Blevins's New Mutants, thought the 6-part Longshot series was fantastic eye candy and didn't have a bad story (Ann Nocenti again) and Art Adams's X-Men annuals always looked fantastic even if the stories were always a bit twee. The populist in me likes the Peter David and Todd McFarlane issue of The Incredible Hulk where the green (or grey as he was then) giant had a rematch with Wolverine, even if it was one of the most popular and expensive comics of the 1990s (and only in this list by virtue of its guest star).

The other real enigma about the X-Men is the fact that there are so many great characters in search of the ultimate storyline. Over the years, heroes such as Nightcrawler, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Rogue, to name just a handful, have been strong characters as 'humans' as well as heroes, with interesting back stories and likeable personalities; but... you know... it's like reuniting the cast of a brilliant TV series and getting them to do something else; the chemistry might be there, but the scripts just make it a novelty item.

The X-Men was more about a way of life rather than a battle every issue. It was probably the first comic ever to ponder; to take 5 between massive stories. It could have issues where nothing particularly happened apart from conversation and some fans would have gladly had this every month for a decade if it untied some of the convoluted and knotted history; because people who have never read this comic or all its family of titles cannot possibly understand the miasma it created and if you think that's a harsh or even wrong definition, then think again.

Another problem the X-Men had was Wolverine - the puzzle within the enigma. It got to the stage during the 1990s where Logan was appearing in just about every Marvel comic being published at some point in a calendar year. Wolverine sold, so Marvel put him everywhere and rarely was it more than just a gimmick or a poorly executed attempt to boost sales with a piss poor story with shit artwork. The X-Men weren't the X-Men without Wolverine; more of a cash cow than a vicious predator. It also kind of made a mockery of Marvel's famous continuity.

Of course, one of the reasons that the X-Men was successful was its similes to race problems, oppression, and the analogies and parallels it used - mutants were blacks, Jews, gays and Muslims all wrapped up in spandex and prejudice became the watch word in the series - no other comic could focus on the differences and how unsettling they were to normal people more than X-Men. It also allowed Chris Claremont to get subtly political by portraying Republicans as fascists and kind of made The X-Men the first oppressed minorities comicbook - I mean, it had a black chick, a Jew, a lesbian couple and balanced it with a fuzzy blue German, a Russian (therefore a communist) and worst of all... a Canadian...

It wasn't just the themes and the writing that made the comic popular. The X-Men's list of artists is like a veritable who's who of comics legends: Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita jr, Marc Silvestri, Arthur Adams, Michael Golden, Frank Quitely, Alan Davis, Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, Whilce Portacio, Joe Madureira, Terry Austin, Dan Green, Scott Williams and probably a lot more since I last read an issue - approximately Uncanny X-Men #380, (I'd pretty much stopped collecting it by #350). Looking at it now it seems like an even greater mess. Which is probably one of the biggest reasons why I no longer want to read comics.

* Oddly enough The Death of the Phoenix is something I was discussing at work today with a couple of new comics fans - two 15 year olds - both relatively new to comics and spending over £10 a month on just FOUR comics each! They had both been told that probably the ultimate X-Men story was the death of Jean Grey - the first death (she gets better and dies again later I've been told) and neither of them regard it as anything more than a slow paced story that didn't really install any interest in the supposed 'classics'. They were more into Spider-Man (which isn't a bad thing, really), so I recommended they read Kraven's Last Hunt.

One thing I was quite interested in was their reaction to the fact that I used to collect comics and worked in them for years. They were impressed, but of course, it meant little to them. They were intrigued that I'd worked for Marvel UK writing a 52-part biography of all the X-Men in the Marvel universe, which is part of my original tale that managed to slip through the cracks...

I got approached by Marvel on the recommendation of Steve Holland, the editor of Comics World and my other boss - because I wrote a monthly column for that magazine for almost its entire life. The Marvel UK editor's name escapes me - that impressive - I think it was Scott something. Anyhow, he was highly critical of my contributions - and rightly so - because I was lackadaisical and submitted pretty shoddy copy. If I wanted to be pissy, I'd say he wasn't an editor and didn't know how to edit. He seemed to expect word perfect copy and everyone needs an editor; my mistakes were pretty fundamental, yes, but that's what a copy editor is for. Marvel UK didn't have any of them by the time I worked there.

Anyhow, I got about 20 weeks into the assignment and I was getting hassled by Dez Skinn because I was spending too much time on this 'other job'; a job, incidentally, that he hated me having and virtually admitted so one night when he drank most of a bottle of ouzo. I rang the editor and basically said he wasn't happy with me, I wasn't happy with him, so perhaps he should find someone else to finish it; he already had a replacement lined up and was going to tell me. Oddly enough, the replacement had been busy working for weeks on future contributions and yet this Scott fellow, from New Zealand, was going to tell me. But this was my fault; I didn't treat the job serious enough and besides I already had my own arsehole; I worked for an arsehole, I didn't need my own personalised mutant power of having no less than 3 arseholes.

The sad thing is I have all the issues of Comics World, Comics International and all the other magazines I was published in, but I never kept those British X-Men comics, which had my name in bold on the contents page for 20 weeks. I can't think why.

Next time: having got t'mutants out of the way, the rest of my recommendations (possibly).

1 comment:

  1. I dumped my entire CI collection in the paper recycling bin last October. I'm sure you'll be strangely gratified knowing your years of hard work will be packaging eggs or being the infamous brown paper wrappers in the near future.