X-Treme X-Men Vol. 1: Destiny by Chris Claremont (#1-9) – Comics Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius looks at the first volume of an often overlooked series, X-Treme -X-Men by Chris Claremont.
“Neither something particularly good nor bad, most noteworthy for some excellent artwork.” – The Founding Fields
Chris Claremont and X-Men are a writer and franchise with the same relationship as George Lucas and Star Wars. While both have been praised for their work in on the franchise in the past and are recognised for bringing something truly into the public light they are also known for less than stellar later involvements. Both introducing unpopular ideas or for much more visible flaws in their writing styles as time went on.
Thankfully X-Treme X-Men, despite the title, is by no means any Phantom Menace. Unfortunately neither is it up to par with something like Days of Future Past.
Set at about the time Grant Morrison was writing Charles Xavier’s evil psychic ying-yang demon twin into existence (don’t ask), this comic was running and following up on a plot recently introduced into the universe: The diaries of Destiny. Tomes which recorded the future for the Marvel universe and specifically and X-Men. Realising both the danger they pose and the problems which might arise from remaining at Xavier’s mansion, many core members of the X-Men split off to hunt down the diaries and prevent them falling into the wrong hands.
This more or less gets derailed very quickly but not quite for the reasons you’d think. Attacked and captured by an anti-mutant police force with only Rogue evading her pursuers, the team is put into a trial by fire in a desperate attempt to escape capture. Yet they quickly begin to realise that there is another foe, a far worse figure, they have yet to face.
Perhaps the comic’s biggest detriment and biggest strength is Claremont still writes as he did back in the 80s. The writing here is in his traditional style and stands out quite clearly from authors like Grant Morrison or Joss Whedon even if it doesn’t involve quite so many walls of text. It can come across as charming but less realistic than you might expect or off-putting in its more direct methods of detailing information to the audience.
So why am I also calling this its biggest strength? It’s still written like it’s from the era of when heroes actually were allowed to act as heroes in Marvel. None of the team are openly spiteful for no reason, written out of character, clearly on the verge of shooting one another in the back; instead they’re genuinely good rather than extremely ambiguous and actually feel like a superhero team. They’re people you want to see win and any internal conflict is being done for a reason not just the sake of conflict or to make the fictional universe that bit more depressing to read.
Furthermore while the start of the story is action packed it has enough twists and turns to keep you interested. As the X-Men’s enemies adapt to their powers and seem to be testing them, they are similarly having to work around them and there’s the added bonus of Rogue still being on the loose. It’s only done long enough to establish the characters for that bit more than they already are and then is pulled back to more conservative levels once the last minute surprise has taken place. Something which definitely helps to make it enjoyable rather than a slog to read through alongside Salvador Larroca’s art, which aside from some odd inking looks and cheesecake covers is some of the best about.
It’s unfortunate that once the action does stop, the plot starts to lose steam as well. There’s a clear preference towards ‘down-time’ issues which turn up frequently where no action seems to be taking place and the plot isn’t being followed up upon. While this might be good once in a while to break up intensity several seem to take up the middle part of the book and it’s only side-stories which really keep following up on the action such as Bioshop’s investigations into a murder. Rather than being front and centre as they should have been, each seems to take up equal amounts of space within some issues creating breaks in the action. That being said Claremont does still show his skill in keeping track of the characters when they do separate to follow their own storylines, managing to tie them together surprisingly well and have them keep linking together when needed. When they are all involved in action it allows for each to stand out and have their moments in the spotlight rather than just being pushed to one side or ignored. Even when the quality of said stories varies heavily.
If there is one thing which really killed the comic however, it’s the new characters. While the previously introduced Thunderbird is fine in of himself and has enough plot to keep him going, later mutants and the series’ main enemy leave little impression and don’t have the distinctive personalities to really stand out. It leaves you wanting a lot more from them when so little of them is actually explained or really defined enough for them to be meaningful.
While the first volume of X-Treme X-Men is something i’d hesitate to call bad, in terms of story it’s not that good. You’ll probably forget about it not long after reading and there really isn’t that much here which you couldn’t find being done better elsewhere either in past collections or by other writers. The only reason it might be worth recommending is for context and the introduction of characters who would be involved in the much better second volume but otherwise give this one a miss.