The X-Men have been one of Marvel’s most successful franchises for some time, both in the comic pages and on the silver screen, but that was not always the case. Created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the famed team of mutants was a second-tier book at best and saw cancellation after just 66 issues, with the last new story published in 1970. In 1975, a young writer was given the opportunity to have carte blanche on the X-Men, publishing the team’s first new stories in five years. His name is Chris Claremont and he jumped at the chance, turning the team from also-rans to A-listers. Chris Claremont’s X-Men, now available on VOD, tells the story of his remarkable run on the X-Men.
Claremont was born in London, but brought to America as a young boy. A product of a military family, he moved several times during his formative years, leading to trust issues with the budding writer. He didn’t want to make friends for fear of losing them and this sense of alienation eventually made its way into his books. The X-Men have long been a metaphor for those who felt left out or those who have been treated differently and this suited Claremont well.
Claremont was in school to be an actor, which made him think a lot about character development. He decided he wanted to work in comics and his parents were friends with Al Jaffee of Mad Magazine fame. Claremont thought Mad would have been a great place to work but Jaffee said under no circumstances would he let him in the office due to the goings-on there but that he’d put in a good word with his friend Stan Lee. Claremont cut his teeth working for free and eventually was handed the X-Men, a book no one really cared about, but one that had recently been relaunched with an all-new team created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. When Wein couldn’t commit to writing the book full time, Claremont was in and he wrote the book consecutively until the early 1990s.
Besides Claremont, the documentary interviews many of the major players instrumental in the book’s success during his run. Some of these include his former editors Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti as well as Wein and former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter. We learn from the film that Claremont and Shooter often fought like cats and dogs, but always over creative choices and for the good of the books. We also learn that Claremont’s freedom was nearly unprecedented. He was able to pull off killing Jean Grey after turning her into a villain first, both of which would have been unthinkable in most other comics.
While Claremont did not create Wolverine, Storm, or Colossus, he may as well have, as he was the one able to develop their personalities. It was Claremont who suggested that Wolverine’s claws come out of his body rather than be a part of his costume, making it painful for him every time he “popped” them. It was also Claremont who created characters such as Kitty Pryde and gave Magneto his backstory, eventually reforming the villain and making him more sympathetic.
It was not all good however. When Marvel decided to write X-Factor, they wanted to reunite the original X-Men team, which meant resurrecting Jean Grey, something Shooter had promised would never happen. Big sales also meant bigger demand for more titles. Claremont, who was feeling protective of his babies, wanted to write as many of these books as possible, which spread him thin. When Marvel decided to launch a new X-Men book in 1991, they listened to the likes of artists such as Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, who thought the X-men should return to the old status quo of having the team in New York and Magneto as a super villain. Many years of growth were now ignored and Claremont was gone soon after.
While the documentary does an excellent job of focusing on the primary years of Claremont’s run, it only glosses over the period since. No mention is made of his returns to Uncanny X-Men or his run on X-Treme X-Men for instance. The film does state that he never reached the heights of his original run, which is arguably true, but he has still been a working writer during that time and many of those stories were still popular and written at a high level.
It is safe to say that the X-Men would not be where they are today without Chris Claremont. The films borrow heavily from his stories and use many of his characters. X-Men #1 is still the biggest-selling comic of all time and Uncanny X-Men was a top seller during his time and since. Claremont gave voice to many of the book’s most beloved characters. Fans of the X-Men should give Chris Claremont’s X-Men a look.