Monday, August 15, 2005

NEW MUTANTS ANNUAL #3 Marvel Comics, 1987

Ahh, the eighties. I think I've gone on record as saying that I think the mid-eighties were the true Golden Age of Comics. Everybody who reads comics probably thinks that the comics they read when they were growing up were the greatest ever - I just happen to be correct.

New Mutants Annual #3 is from one of my favorite eras of X-Men comics, when there was just a relative handful of X-Men books, Magneto was (briefly) the headmaster of Xavier's School, Alan Davis was drawing Excalibur for the first time, and Marvel put out these great "giant-sized" annuals. And you know what? They actually were giant-sized. The X-annuals were all one big-ass story, not a weak sixteen-page inventory story and a bunch of reprints. They were all killer, no filler.

This particular issue features the "classic" New Mutants line-up of 1987, including Warlock, the naive shape-changing alien child with the strange syntax. While headmaster Magneto is away, the New Mutants receive a visit at their school from the nigh-omnipotent Impossible Man, who is sort of the Marvel universe version of the Superman foe Mr. Mxyzptlk (suck on that, Microsoft spellcheck!)

The Impossible Man basically just wants to screw with the X-Men, who are not around. The New Mutants aren't interested in playing his reindeer games, but he goads Warlock into a global shape-shifting contest - and the morphing wackiness begins.

This issue was written by Chris Claremont, naturally, with art by Alan Davis and Paul Neary. Glynis Oliver colored the book, and Tom Orzechowski lettered it. I mention all these people because the production value on this book is very high - it's just a tight, well-illustrated comic created by people who knew what the hell they were doing. Davis and Neary rule, of course, but the coloring and lettering on this book are exceptional.

Okay, enough gushing. Let's make fun of Chris Claremont.

I'm not the first person to point out that Chris Claremont's writing is often characterized by particular recurring idioms, phrases, and gimmicks that are known as "Claremontisms." You know what I'm talking about:
  • "I'm the best there is at what I do - and what I do ain't pretty."
  • "Your choice - your funeral."
  • "This is gonna HURT!"
  • "No quarter asked, none received."
  • "Body and soul."
  • "My psychic knife - the summoned totality of my psi-powers!"
  • "With a vengeance!"
  • "Mmm... corn!"
I could go on. I have to say that back in the day, Young Dave didn't really mind Claremontisms, and I still enjoy re-reading those old X-Men books. Like many geeks, my critical faculties are often impaired by nostalgia. But you know what? Claremont put a premium on character development and closet lesbianism, and that's never bad. Setting aside his writing tics and mannerisms, the man did his part to raise everyone else's game, and his focus on character was one of the main reasons his X-books were so popular.

Woah. I was supposed to be making fun of Claremont. That last paragraph reads suspiciously like praise. Quick! Let's look at an amusing panel.

The New Mutants follow The Impossible Man and Warlock to Brazil, where they blend in to the beach crowd. As usual in the dialogue-heavy X-books, nearly every character who appears in a panel gets some dialogue, some of which is quite funny. Can you spot the Claremontism?

"Please, Lord, don't let anyone notice how tight my suit is!"

Our bathing-suit clad heroes find Impossible Man and Warlock, who have decided upon a non-violent approach to their shape-shifting contest:

"Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!"

Please note that Impossible Man is wearing flesh-colored make-up during this scene. I have to mention that for reasons that will become clear shortly.

More wackiness ensues, as the New Mutants teleport around the world trying to rein in the two tussling titans. The Impossible Man and Warlock slug it out, changing shape in damn near every panel. It's not exactly funny (which I think was the intention) but it is light-hearted, and the Alan Davis art doesn't hurt matters.

Finally, our heroes figure out a way for Warlock to win the contest. The two shapeshifters are decimating a city in the form of Godzilla and Red Ronin when the mutants figure out that there is one thing that Warlock can do that the Impossible Man can't. Get your mind out of the gutter, this is an all-ages book.


Voila! Warlock changes color and wins the contest. In a lame denouement, the two aliens mention that they fix all the damage they caused during their game. Uh-huh. Riiight.

So there it is. New Mutants Annual #3: a care-free yet incredibly destructive romp from the days when comics were all good and never bad - the eighties.


Anonymous said...

For another "Warlock Creates Havoc!" read Web of Spider-Man Annnual #2, by Ann Nocenti and Art Adams. Warlock's watching too much TV, and goes out for a night on the town, and things get... complicated. Awesome splash page of Godzilla Warlock!

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, the New Mutants! Oh, how I love thee...

Man, I loved the NMs. The Annuals, especially were great- and this and the one before, both with Alan Davis art were classic. I've reread these issues like a billion times!

Anonymous said...

Oh, those were sweet, sweet days of Marvel Comics. Sure, the story wasn't funny, but it was fun. And Claremont was really at the peak of his X-writing about this time. Claremontisms were fantastic in the 80s, like so much else in the 80s that seem dated now. But Claremont had a distinct voice, much like Stan Lee and Roy Thomas before him. And I'll take an 80s Claremontism over a modern Bendisism any day of the week. :)

Edward Liu said...

Actually, this story reminded me of the X-Men Annual #7 (thank you,, which happened during Assistant Editor's Month and had the X-Men chasing Impossible Man around the globe. The end of the chase involved Impy riding Zabu the Saber Toothed Tiger through the Marvel Bullpen.

I can't even imagine anybody doing a story like that now.

And, even knowing all of Claremont's writing tricks, I am still unable to view the work I grew up on with any kind of critical eye. That must be his strange mutant power.

David Norman said...

Thanks, Dave, you've just given me a Nostalgasm... :)

David Campbell said...

"Nostalgasm," I like that.

I have a confession - I stole the little spellcheck joke from Beaucoup Kevin. And I do steroids.

Kevin Church said...

I have a confession - I stole the little spellcheck joke from Beaucoup Kevin. And I do steroids.

And I'm very, very intoxicated right now thanks to MacAllan's and your inability to write a review of Batman: The Scottish Connection per the demands of myself and another, not as handsome reader to your blog.

PS> Your penis is already small enough, so knock off the steroids!

PPS> Don't ask how I know that.

PPPS> I really like french onion dip.

David Campbell said...

Fine. I'll admit it. I don't actually own Batman: The Scottish Connection. Stop drinking, I'd feel terrible if anything bad happened to you. Get help.

Angry Android said...

Pretty fun post. I admit I only got into Claremont at the end of the 80's, so I didn't really catch those "Claremontisms" at first. What really boggles my mind is that there were instances of closet lesbianism. Where are they? My brain doesn't remember scenes of sapphic love. Then again, I was only 12 and I thought babies were made when people kissed with their tongue.

Marionette said...

Looking at the pictures included here reminds me why I like Alan Davis' art. It's the little touches. Note how each of the New Mutants has a different style of swimming costume that defines the personality.

It also suggests that in that posing pouch, Sunspot is even more of a slut than Ilyana.

David Campbell said...

Mom, don't read this.

I think perhaps I was overstating the closet lesbianism thing in the pursuit of a cheap joke, but I always thought that Claremont liked to insert sapphic elements now and then. Perhaps my adolescent mind was oversexualizing everything, but some stand-outs for me were:

- Storm and Kitty's relationship. Man, they love each other.

-When Kitty was known as Sprite, she had a line that I remember to this day: "Nobody's going to pop the tab on this Sprite!" Which of course I interpreted as indicating her preference for sex of the non-penetrating variety. I know! Something is wrong with me.

-Storm and Yukio's relationship after Storm loses her powers. She learns to walk on the wild side with Yukio and gets that mohawk and stuff. It's like Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.

-Numerous scenes of Rogue stealing other X-women's powers by kissing, touching, often with orgasmic intensity.

-The Caged Heat style knife fights between Storm and Callisto.

I don't know, I'm sure there's more. Again, this is seen through the filter of hormonal Young Dave, but I always thought there was some definite subtext in the Claremont stuff. Is it just me?

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave's Mom!

Mark W. Hale said...

You know, I'm not one of "those guys" or anything... you know what I mean, right? "Those guys"? But... I like it when Alan Davis draws the ladies.

And pretty much anything else for that matter.

Anonymous said...

"I always thought there was some definite subtext in the Claremont stuff. Is it just me?"

From the stories I've heard, believe me, it ain't just you. I've heard Claremont wanted to do out of the closet lesbianism but was continually shot down by editorial.

There's an issue of Mutant X by Ben Raab where Kitty tries to kill the vampire Storm but can't, because it's very heavily implied that she loves her too much to destroy her.

thekelvingreen said...

I love the green Mr T. not enough comics nowadays have green members of the A-Team.

And Red Ronin! Huzzah!

Chris Arndt said...

I don't know about nigh-omnipotent.

People keep comparing Impossible Man to Mr Mxyzptlk, but all Impy can do is change shape!

He's a dimmer, amoral, alien version of Clayface II.

and he's immune to telepathy, but he's not nigh-omnipotent. Like we saw, at least Warlock can change color!

Chris Arndt said...

And a lot of those Claremontisms actually work.

None of the Bendis-isms are really all that entertaining. Those are mostly tools to pad out the story and simulate "Realism". Neither of those effects are part of genuine entertainment.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add to the list of Claremontisms:

"Glad I am that's over."

"Much obliged."
(or just "obliged")


"Storm is a weather witch - this must be her doing."
(it always amazed me how many X-characters - heroes, villains and bystanders - referred to Storm as a "witch" or a "weather witch".)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I remember this annual very, very fondly. I've got eight long boxes in my crawlspace (that doesn't sound right at all), I wonder if it's in one of them?

I must find it!

Kevin Church said...

And can I just give some props to Tom Orzechowski, who is one of the few people that can fit all those words that Claremont insists on putting into people's mouths in the proper place without ever making it looked forced? He's also quite good at the
onomatopeia action as well, including a "Sigh" with a heart shape that doesn't look stupid and the like.

He and Bob Lappan. Fuckin' masters.

thekelvingreen said...

Oh, and yuo've got to love the smug look on "Red Ronin"s face. Classic Alan Davis shit-eating grin that.

Anonymous said...

Totally off topic but over the past 3 days I've become addicted to Dave's other blog, which he has apparently abandoned?


Anonymous said...

My favorite Claremontism:

Women insulting each other with the word "cow".

I don't think I've ever heard a woman insult anyone with "cow". Maybe another female animal name.

David Campbell said...

"I've become addicted to Dave's other blog, which he has apparently abandoned?"

I actually haven't abandoned it; I'm just way behind and didn't want to skip ahead in time with some lame plot device. So although chronologically the Velvet Marauder is still in July, the last post I did was just this past Sunday. I'm glad you like it!

Woody! said...

Thanks for the breakdown. The coever alone brought me a smile that only the 1980s could deliver.

zack soto said...

He and Bob Lappan. Fuckin' masters.

Bob Lappan did some really amazing work on Atari Force, which I finally re-read this last week.

Kevin Church said...

I don't think I've ever heard a woman insult anyone with "cow". Maybe another female animal name.

Get a group of British women who don't particularly like one another drunk. Wait. It will happen.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the New Mutants. Such fun memories...

Claremontisms aside, the guy gets a lot of flack these days. It's actually quite a shame how many people ridicule his style, his dangling plots, his wordiness, what have you. But you know what? He was the best there was at what he did for a very long time. It wasn't Cockrum or Byrne or Lee who made the X-Men THE X-MEN. It was Claremont, he of the 17-year run, the four titles, the 300+ issues--of Dark Phoenix and Genosha, Gambit and the Cross-Time Caper, the New Mutants and a "human" Magneto. He should be up there with Stan and Jack in the Marvel pantheon and I don't understand why not. Have we, as a comics culture, become too "sophisticated" for him (at least, the pre-90's version)?

Oh, and IIRC, the Asgardian Wars weren't in the New Mutants annual, it was in the Special Edition. Don't know why they called it that, as I think it served as that year's annual, but that's 80's Marvel for ya.

Martin Wisse said...

Don't forget that classic Claremontism:

"I ...hurt"

Loved New Mutants: first X-title I bought.

Anonymous said...

I think it's "the best there is at what I do" . . . "I'm the best I am" makes even less sense.

Yeh, "cow" was only credible when the English heroines --Betsy or Courtney or Meggan-- said it.

Which reminds me, do the Token Foreign Words (Unglaublich, Bozhe moi, Bub, Ye, etc.) count as "Claremontisms"? And why no Yiddish among them? It would have been so nifty to hear Magneto when headmaster say, "A ken meshugge vern." Or Kitty, "Bye, 'Roro. Abi gesundt!"

--Mr Ripley

Brian Cronin said...

Yukio and are reading nothing into that.

In fact, the only scenes that were more over the top than that (without actually BEING lesbian scenes) was Gerry Jones with Ice Maiden and Fire in his shitty, shitty JLA run.

Philip said...

"But you know what? He was the best there was at what he did for a very long time."

And what he did wasn't pretty.

Sorry, but it had to be said.

I loved Claremont's X-Men & New Mutants in the 80s. But when I re-read them now, they just don't work for me anymore. (Having said that, I would love to have a collection with all of the Seinkeiwicz New Mutants issues.)

Anonymous said...

More Claremontisms:

"lady" for "girlfriend"

Khan said...

A favorite ish of mine as a child myself. You are a man after my own heart...

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