Good evening folks. This week saw the launch of the ongoing Nightcrawler title, marking the return of Chris Claremont to the mainstream X books after an absence of almost eight years. Accordingly, my focus this week is on these creators that return to titles or characters where they have made their mark. Unfortunately, lightning is not always guaranteed to strike twice.
Despite his long absence from the X-books, the characters and concepts created by Claremont continue to drive the franchise. Although he commenced work on Uncanny X-Men shortly after the introduction of Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler, it was his work in developing and guiding these characters that helped them become mainstays of the franchise. Characters such as Rogue, Gambit, Psylocke, Havok and Magneto were either created by Claremont or under his writing developed a complexity and depth that they had seldom enjoyed in the past. Claremont’s villains, including Mr Sinister, the Hellfire Club, Nimrod and Dark Phoenix continue to be used by successive writers, while concepts and locations he introduced such as Genosha, Muir Island and Madripoor are rarely absent from the comics for long.
With such an impressive pedigree it would seem natural that Claremont’s position as an X-legend would be secure, with fans and creators alike paying tribute to his work in the wake of his controversial departure from Marvel in 1991. The years following this saw the core titles struggle to emerge from Claremont’s shadow, with writers such as Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza making a conscious attempt to imitate his writing style. Fast forward 20+ years and the return of Claremont to the X-universe, chronicling the adventures of one its most beloved characters, is met with what appears to be generally low expectations from the fan base.
A large part of the reason for this is that this is not the first time Claremont has returned to chronicle the adventures of Marvel’s merry band of mutants. His first return, in 2000, saw him take over both X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. Released at a time when the first X-Men movie was generating unparalleled exposure for the brand, this run - cut short after only nine months - is generally regarded as a disaster. Featuring uninspired villains, countless generic fight scenes and random changes to the status quo (Nightcrawler as a priest; Rogue and Colossus kissing), this run must have tested the patience of even the most fervent Claremont fan.
Claremont’s other X-Men work since this point has ranged from solid to terrible. While X-treme X-Men was better than the horrific name implied, his run on Excalibur (and later, New Excalibur) was poorly received. The stories in his later return to Uncanny X-Men in 2004 were examples of solid super heroics, but rarely inspired. Marvel’s decision to launch X-Men Forever, in 2009, was an attempt to allow him to play to his strengths by continuing his stories from where his original run left off in X-Men issue 3. This concept did not last long and it quickly became apparent that he was taking the opportunity to write a new version of the X-Men, one that acted as mutant marmite, dividing fans as to its merits (my view? Goofy as heck, but compulsively readable).
Claremont’s not the first writer to find that there are huge risks involved in returning to titles or characters where they have enjoyed past success. Jim Shooter’s return to the Legion of Superheroes was short lived after being poorly received by fans, and by the end of its run Frank Miller’s All Star Batman and Robin appeared to be purchased by readers primarily so they could discuss the increasingly outlandish events depicted within. Even Stan Lee’s aura has been diminished by his more recent works. While his involvement in Marvel anniversary issues is always welcome, the tongue in cheek nature and corny dialogue of his modern contributions have tended to minimise the huge contribution he made to Marvel in the 1960s, retroactively assigning his storytelling partners with an even greater share of the credit for success.
There are many reasons why creators may wish to return to titles. It may be a sense of unfinished business, it may be a love of the characters, it may even be a large financial incentive. Regardless of the reason, it’s often a huge risk because these creators aren’t just competing against their peers, they’re competing with their own reputations. Much of the time this places such creators in a no-win situation. Attempt to write in their own style and they’re accused of being outdated, relying on stock phrases and situations. Attempt to try something different and they’re left open to the inevitable accusation that ‘their old stuff was better’.
This isn’t just confined to comics. The return of Kenny Dalglish to managing Liverpool, the decision of George Lucas to make Star Wars prequels, the return of Only Fools and Horses. In each instance the success of the initial endeavour has created a mythology that each returnee must live up to. Unfortunately, in such instances the vagrancies of memory ensure that after the fact, only the triumphs are remembered to be compared. Hence why when Kenny Dalglish returned as Liverpool Manager the fan base expected him to live up to the nine trophies he won during his initial spell, not live down to the defeats or the dull no score draws.
In Infinite Crisis, Batman confronts Superman with the statement that the last time he really inspired anyone was when he was dead. For those brave creators that return to their seminal titles, that is the difficult challenge they face. Absence may well make the heart grow fonder, but it also means that upon their return, even their best may no longer be deemed good enough.
Are you looking forward to Chris Claremont’s return to Nightcrawler? Are there any creator returns that have disappointed you, or are there any that have surpassed your expectations? Let me know in the comments below.