It’s comic creator month here on geekhardshow.com, so what better time to take a look back at some of my favourite creators and their greatest creations. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a selection of creators and listing what I think are some of their most masterful works. Since our interview with Chris Claremont will be airing on the show this Friday, it only makes sense that I begin with a list of his best works. What follows are six of the best stories by Chris Claremont to hit the comic racks. Some are beloved classics. Others are hidden gems. All are MUST reading for Chris Claremont fan. So take a look True Believers, you just might learn something.
(Iron Fist #s 1-15 – 1975 to 1977)
Artist: John Byrne
Iron Fist is one of my favourite creations of the seventies. Debuting in 1974 within the pages of Marvel Premiere, the character was given his own title a year later which ran for 15 issues. This was one of Claremont and Byrne’s first collaborations and really helped cement their style. These stories did a great job of fleshing out Danny Rand’s (aka the Immortal Iron Fist) past in the hidden city of Kun Lun and establishing his new life in New York. What I always found most interesting about this series was the narration choice. Instead of going with the standard first person narration that seemed like the obvious style for this type of personal story, Claremont went with an omnipresent storyteller that was telling the story directly to Danny Rand himself. Instead of “I made my way into the cave of the beast,” it would read “You made your way into the cave of the beast.” This style choice made the story feel more like a piece of ancient text being read by a high priest. The perfect mix of action and character work, the original Iron Fist series is one of those rare works of comic art and storytelling that felt ahead of it’s time. This book also marked the first appearance of Sabretooth and introduced the Steel Serpent, one of Danny’s fiercest opponents.
The Dark Phoenix Saga
(Uncanny X-Men #s 129-138 – 1980)
Artist: John Byrne
When it comes to Chris Claremont, most folks know him for his work on the X-Men. When it comes to the team of Claremont and Byrne, the one story that immediately springs to mind is The Dark Phoenix Saga. Considered one of the stories to get people back into buying comics at a time when the industry was almost at its end, The Dark Phoenix Saga took risks with its characters and plot that were unheard of at the time. Jean Grey was inhabited by the Phoenix entity for a long time at this point so it was shocking when these new found powers continued to advance and corrupt her. After being manipulated by Mastermind for a period where she joins the Hellfire Club, Jean is out of control with the immense power at her disposal. She ends up fleeing to the cosmos and causes a great deal of damage in other sectors of the galaxy. Her eventual return to Earth and reconciliation are too late as Jean must pay for her crimes off planet…..at least that’s what the Shi’ar have decided. This leads to a exciting climax involving the X-Men and the Shi’ar’s toughest warriors in a game of combat on the moon. Some say this story is the defining moment of the X-Men, so much so that the story has inspired and informed the X-Men films (but let’s not talk about that, ‘kay?) and are still informing the comic series to this day (at least in All New X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy). For me, this story was my introduction to the team (thanks to the Classic X-Men Comic) and what an intro it was. Not only did we get this great piece all about Jean but we’re also introduced to The Hellfire Club and Kitty Pryde. Throw in appearacnes by the Linlandra and the Shi’ar Empire and even a cameo by The Watcher and you’ve got the makings of a Marvel Classic.
Days of Future Past
(Uncanny X-Men #s 141-142 – 1981)
Artist: John Byrne
The number two story when it comes to Claremont and Byrne. The X-Men comic was going through some big transitions. Storywise, the lineup had some big changes as Jean was now dead and Cyclops had left the team to find himself. Taking their places were Kitty Pryde (codenamed Sprite at the time and wearing the traditional Blue and Yellow X-Men uniform of the sixties) and a returning Angel. Behind the scenes, John Byrne was about to leave the book due to editorial issues regarding the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga. This was Chris and John’s last big story before going their separate ways (there was one issue after this but it was a Christmas-themed one-off that while good, was nowhere near what they did here). Jumping forward in time to a dystopian future where Sentinels control the planet and the Mutants have been killed off or imprisoned, an aged Wolverine leads a resistance to save the sons and daughters of the Atom. Kitty Pryde, Colossus and Storm are also alive and living in a work camp. Together the four of them, along with an adult Franklin Richards, hatch a plan to reverse the wrong that has been done. Kitty must go back in time (by travelling back into her younger body) and stop the assassination of Senator Kelly, the leading force behind the advancement of the Sentinel program. With exciting battles and drama in two different timelines, it’s amazing how much story was packed into just two issues. A fan favourite of most X-fans, this story will finally see its theatrical debut on the big screen this summer. If it’s a tenth of the enjoyment of this comic, it will be a home run.
By Friends – Betrayed!
(Avengers Annual #10 – 1981)
Artist: Michael Golden
Talk about more bang for your buck, this Avengers Annual had it all. A story mainly focused on Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel back then / Captain Marvel now) and her return to comics, this tale brought Mystique’s Brotherhood into play and introduced Rogue for the first time in comics. After finding Carol almost lifeless and in a coma, Spider-Woman takes her to Professor X of the X-Men to see if he can discern what happened to her. Only one image is left in her mind – that of her attacker, Rogue. After doing some investigating, Spider-Woman finds out her connection to the Avengers and goes to them for help only to find that Rogue is already at their mansion and on the attack. She’s able to steal the powers of Captain America and Thor before fleeing. At the same time, Mystique is disguised as The Wasp in order to plant a device on Iron Man’s armor. She’s successful and Rogue is able to control Iron Man, turning him into a missle that she points at Rykers Island. This leads to the breakout of the Brotherhood and a showdown between them and the Avengers. Unlike most Annuals, this story actually has the guts to have a unhappy ending. Once Carol Danvers’ memories are restored, her character doesn’t fall into the “Everything is fine now” writing trap of the time. Instead, she’s very vocal with the Avengers about how it was their fault she found herself in this mess in the first place. A ballsy story that brought us a great new character and re-invigorated an old one. And there’s lots of Spider-Woman in this one which is never a bad thing if you ask me.
Marada: The She-Wolf
(Epic Illustrated – 1982)
Artist: John Bolton
A warrior woman who’s spirit is strong but her heart is very loving and passionate, Marada the She-Wolf is a cult favourite, creator-owned hero from the early eighties. Claremont and Bolton were originally hired to write a Red Sonja story that would redefine the character and give her a bit more depth. When Marvel lost the license, the duo repackaged the story for the Epic Line and brought forth a new hero that lived in the Roman Empire. The secret granddaughter of Caesar, Marada is a warrior born who fights for the good of man. After a series of unfortunate events that leave her with nothing, she must battle against those that would try to oppress her and become the hero she once was. Beautiful in both artwork and story, this truly is a forgotten epic that has now seen print again in a fantastic hardcover through Titan Books. Definitely worth checking out to see Chris’ take on historical fantasy.
(Wolverine #s 1-4 – 1982)
Artist: Frank Miller
By far, one of the greatest Wolverine stories of all time and like the Dark Phoeinix Saga, is considered one of the greatest comics, period. This book isn’t just a superhero story starring the ol’ canucklehead, it’s a cross-genre epic! A revenge story, a samurai tale, a spegetti western – Wolverine is all of these things. I’ve sung its praises previously on my list of Greatest Wolverine Stories. Elements from this tale were used in last year’s film The Wolverine but I think the director and writers greatly missed the simplicitic message of this story. It’s a tale of man vs. himself as he tries to find his place in society by doing the only thing he knows to do – Fighting for it. His fight is not just out of aggression but also for love. It’s definitely the most deep and emotional we’ve ever seen Logan and because of this it’s also the most real. Without a doubt, one of the modern classics of comics.
So that’s the list. Some of you might disagree with a few of my choices or omissions, but these are the Chris Claremont stories that stand out as the hallmark of quality. So check ‘em out and enjoy.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!