There’s a new VOD available that tells the story of Chris Claremont and the X-Men. It’s a pretty entertaining 75 minutes, especially for people who admire Claremont’s comics but don’t know the full story behind them.
Consisting mainly of interviews with Claremont and many of his collaborators and critics, this documentary is in effect a biography of Claremont through his work. Viewers learn about Claremont’s childhood, his coming to America and his feelings of being an outsider in a strange country. We get to see pictures of him when he was very young, which is a neat bonus of the film, and which help make the story feel more grounded.
From there we’re shown Claremont breaking in at Marvel and his subsequent move to take over writing chores on the X-Men with the second story of the new X-Men. Original writer Len Wein is featured in this section of the video, providing insight into the chaotic state of Marvel Comics at the time and leading readers to the conclusion that this team of merry mutants wasn’t immediately preordained for stardom.
As Chris Claremont’s X-Men proceeds, readers see more talking heads discuss the comics, ranging from comics essayist Peter Sanderson to Marvel the Untold Story author Sean Howe to former editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and most especially to Claremont’s former editors Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti. Director Patrick Meaney includes Simonson, Nocenti and Claremont in the same interview, and it’s clear in every moment of their scenes together that all three are longtime good friends. We watch them laugh and tease each other as they giggle about Claremont’s notorious unfinished plots and frown as they discuss the machinations that led to the death and resurrection of Jean Grey. Shooter brings his own insight to that aspect of the story, lending a much-needed additional perspective to the controversy.
The documentary doesn’t shy away from some of the obstacles Claremont faced in his reign as key mutant writer. It delves into his concerns about sharing the universe with other writers, shows the immense pressure for annual crossover events, and accurately depicts the pain Claremont felt when he was inauspiciously pushed off the mutants after the overwhelming success of Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 in 1991.
I’m not the best critic of how well this film tells the history of Claremont and the X-Men. As the co-author of The American Comic Book Chronicles: the 1970s and 1980s, I can tell you that many of the things I emphasize are emphasized less in this film. There’s a little more mythologizing in the film than I’d like, but that certainly seems appropriate in a movie of this type. Claremont comes across as the hero of his own story, though, and though that’s expected, it also causes a small lack of balance. He never gets pushed on his never-ending storylines or his repetitious lines, for instance.
Even with that, though, Claremont does an outstanding job of speaking for himself. He comes across as extremely articulate and focused on his vision of greatness. He obviously is deeply passionate about the characters he wrote for so many years. It’s further clear that this love and passion is the basis for his friendship with his former editors, and that the longterm health of their professional relationship was very important to him.
For anyone who loves the X-Men, Chris Claremont’s X-Men is the DVD bonus you wish had been included with the X-Men films.