Posted by: Brian Hibbs on January 4, 2008
I hate to kick a man when he’s down (because, really, Chris Claremont couldn’t be any further down at this point), but EXILES: DAYS OF THEN AND NOW presents the perfect argument to avoid the upcoming NEW EXILES relaunch.
I’m going to expose a bit of a bias on my part here: in earlier times, Judd Winick’s EXILES was my favorite X-book. Yes, even more than Morrison’s NEW X-MEN. To this day, I think of EXILES as the last truly good book Winick ever wrote: the characters were dynamic and engaging, the line-up was fluid and changed frequently, the premise allowed for some interesting use of the old “What If” scenario, and the pace allowed an occasional introspective issue.
The shine came off during Tony Bedard’s run – I tried to support it, but looking back I think Bedard’s mistake was shifting the focus from the characters to the plot, and the series lost something in the transition (its “heart”, if you will). I liked it, but I didn’t love it anymore.
Still, I followed EXILES for eighty-nine issues and an annual (minus the two Chuck Austen runs, of which the less is said, the better). And when Chris Claremont’s first issue came out, I took it off my pull list without a second thought.
Now, during my time as a comic critic, I’ve never concealed my belief that writers can be profiled according to their strengths and weaknesses – that they have certain qualities which travel from book to book. Any series by Mark Millar will utterly fail to understand the meaning of “subtlety” (or “overkill”, for that matter); a Brian Bendis-written comic will feature a dozen characters using the exact same speech patterns, and will most likely focus on rewriting Marvel’s past rather than directing its present; any women found in a Frank Miller comic will be… well, I’m sure you can guess. Of course, profiling isn’t an inherently negative practice: Warren Ellis knows his sci-fi, and you want Ed Brubaker on a crime/noir series, etc. Neither are these values absolute – I suppose it’s possible that Garth Ennis will one day write the world’s greatest SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE, it’s just not bloody likely.
My point is, there are certain qualities I’ve attributed to Chris Claremont over the years that make him black-list material for me. See, this is what happens when Claremont inherits a book: first he sets it up as a vehicle for his own wish fulfillment (look, Psylocke’s back! And there’s the male Mystique he always wanted!), then he spins his wheels with the old mind-control/slavery routine, then he starts dredging up decades-old abandoned plot threads (Merlyn, Roma and the Fury – AGAIN). As all this is going on, character dynamics become embarrassingly soaplike and dialogue mutates into some quasi-teen speak that makes you want to grind your teeth. It is, quite literally, “same old same old”, and there’s a healthy trail of incomprehensible comics Claremont has left in his wake to prove it, if you’re inclined to look.
How does this relate to EXILES: DAYS OF THEN AND NOW? Precisely that it’s everything Claremont’s NEW EXILES won’t be. For example, Mike Raicht’s protagonist, Quentin Quire, visits four alternate worlds in about forty pages and not once does he meet anyone from the Fantastic Four. Or Storm. Or Kitty Pryde. Raicht depicts four worlds (five counting Quire’s home reality, itself an interesting fusion of PLANET HULK and ANNIHILATION), and there’s not a single Captain Britain in sight. And the team that ultimately emerges at the end of the issue is a diverse, interesting group – one I’d gladly pick over the Claremont Cast-Off Collection.
That’s what used to define EXILES for me: unpredictability, the feeling that a beloved team member could drop dead and be replaced at any moment, that the next alternate reality could be paradise or purgatory, that their next mission could be eating a danish or murdering an innocent child to prevent genocide. For a little while, Mike Raicht brought that feeling back for me, in a GOOD show of variety and inventive decisions – things you won’t find when the next issue comes out.