Editor's Note: New Exiles #18 arrives in stores tomorrow, February 18.
All is well that ends, I suppose. Chris Claremont's run on New Exiles is perhaps the best example of the fact that just because you created a hit once before, lightning will not always strike twice. I think a lot of editors and chief editors bank on that fact. Look at some of the really great writers currently on the scene: Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Robert Kirkman and so many others; there is no question they keep getting hired because they have a track record of producing good work. However, for every Grant Morrison or Robert Kirkman, there is at least one (and perhaps many more) like Chris Claremont. He was invited back into the X-Men universe during what can be labeled as a new Golden Age for the books about Marvel’s merry mutants. And Chris Claremont has categorically failed to capture the fans' attention. Indeed, one might ask if Joe Q knew that there was a chance of this happening. I say this because Claremont had been assigned a book that is isolated from the X-Men universe. It is independent, and no other book could be spoiled by the New Exiles' characterizations or the larger story arcs. Indeed, maybe Claremont was … dare I say … exiled? Hard to say, and we likely will never know.
As I see it, this experiment with the Exiles has categorically failed, and let me explain why. I will explain it in terms of this final issue, but the following problems have haunted every New Exiles issue. Consider this a review of the entire series as well as the final issue, because it has all been a horrid mess of disconnected ideas and scene changes that make you wonder if it is even worth starting up the Exiles line ever again.
- Poor characterization: One of the strengths of the Exiles idea is that any established character could be turned on its head. The writer has the opportunity to play with the core aspects of the character while changing some of the details. The introductions of characters like Rogue and Kitty Pryde should have riffed on the well-known versions of those characters and highlighted the differences. These differences should have been contrasted against the mainstay members of the team, such as Psylocke or Morph, where people knew exactly who they were and what they stood for. These long-term characters provided grounding for the reader while giving the appearance of drastic changes to the line-up. This was the formula for 100 issues of the Exiles, and on the whole it worked.
In the Claremont version of the Exiles, characters were introduced haphazardly with no real role on the team. There was no understanding of how people came together to become a team, and in the case of Gambit, there seemed to be little more to him than "Hey, what if an African American Namor and Sue Storm had a kid? Or a whole bunch of kids? That would be kind of cool… right?" You never really found his true character. Instead, Claremont focused the series on Psylocke and Sabretooth, mainstay characters, and to put it simply, Claremont characterized them wrong. They were shallow versions of what they were before, with no history, no nuances and no real motivation over 18 issues beyond getting themselves into bed. As a result, the reader was left reeling from the changes with nothing tying the book together.
- Pacing: The book never seemed to find its stride. With character introductions, including on the new worlds, the book would move painfully slowly providing so much information that the reader stopped caring, or would gloss over particularly interesting parts. The first story arc had this problem, with no real motivation becoming apparent for the Black Panther (Storm) or for the war with Namor. You had to piece it together, and not in the fun "I think I'm on to something interesting here" kind of way, but in the "What the heck? Why did that happen? What is going on?" perplexion. In issue #18, there are transitions that are supposed to show the passage of large amounts of time, but they do not tie a coherent story together within that passage of time, so it just seems sloppy.
- Exposition: Talk, talk talk. Normally, I enjoy a good healthy chunk of dialogue that I can sink my teeth into and dissect. In this book, the talking often did not further the story; instead it explained matters that were obvious from the art. With a graphic medium, one does not have to explain every action. The reader (and arguably the artist) has the opportunty to piece together some of the story from the art itself. The amount of exposition found in issue #18 about why various characters were leaving the team leaves the impression there was a narrator missing from the book as a whole, or that Claremont did not trust his artists (or does not know how to use them properly).
- Art: Perhaps the reason for exposition is the unevenness of the art. While not Claremont's domain, certainly it came into play in this series. Problems with colouring (as with Gambit's skin), anatomy (such as Sage's bossum in issue #18 in her reveal as "Madame Computer"), or perspective problems that extended all the way back to issue #2 where I first noticed it, damaged this series. The thing that really bothers me is that there is really good panels in here, leading me to believe that there were portions that were rushed or changed arbitrarily at the last minute.
Overall, this series has been a disaster. While not the worst comic series I have ever read*, it was pretty bad. I think that before Claremont is ever given a series again, someone needs to sit down with him and explain to him how modern comics work, and that it is a team effort between the writer, the artists, the editor and, most importantly, the fans, who have been telling Claremont what is wrong with this series for 18 painful months.
*Interestingly Judd Winick, a former Exiles writer whom I enjoyed, holds that dubious honour.
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