05/11/2018

Bryce Davidson here with thoughts on Chris Claremont, The New Mutants, and the almighty thought bubble!

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Bryce Davidson here today, with thoughts on Chris Claremont, the New Mutants and the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Over the weekend I went to see Avengers: Infinity War, as I’m sure many other people did. I liked it. I even saw it a second time. I really thought it was a good movie. On the ride home a friend and I tried unraveling it to try and figure out why it worked so well, as we both agreed that it shouldn’t have. It was too big, there was too much stuff going on, too many characters, too many motivations, it was an absolute cluster f***. Even the nearly 3 hour duration shouldn’t have been enough to house it all.

Now granted there have been other movie franchises that have operated on this level – The Lord of the Rings is the first one that comes to mind – but Infinity War feels different. Denser maybe? More tangled, web-like? Sure, a large part of that is the fact that its been built on by over a dozen films, but surely if that’s the case then Infinity War should have been some incomprehensible, jargon filled slog. But it wasn’t! It was great! And not just for big nerds. It was a genuinely good movie.

So my friend and I talked about it a bit and I began thinking about the New Mutants comics I have been binging on lately and more importantly, Chris Claremont. I assume most people who read this blog are familiar with him. For the few who don’t he’s surely worth a google. At one point Claremont was writing upwards of 6 X-Men titles and spin-offs at once – each one containing god-knows how many characters. His writing has been highly praised for it’s complex narrative structures and endless sub-plot stacks. X-Men editor Louise Simonson, recalled about Claremonts’ writing, “that whenever he was at a loss for story ideas, “All I’d have to do was go through all of the plot threads that he had left for the last year or two (Grant, 1993).” Everyone’s favorite cartoonist, Ed Piskor also talks about this a lot in his work on Hip-Hop Family Tree and X-men Grand Design. A lot of it can be found HERE in his interview with Claremont for Paste Magazine.

Ed Piskor and Chris Claremont

There is just so much there in those stories. The depth of the characters, the breadth of the world (or worlds) they existed in, and the delicate intricacies of how each part interacted with each other. It looked like a mess, at times it could even feel like a mess (intentionally though I think, as to increase drama and friction.) If I was going to try and describe it, it feels like zooming out from a microscopic view. It all looks odd and crazy until you see the larger picture. This is how they did it. This is why the MCU feels ok to me. It’s certainly not an easy task, but it’s all there in the Claremont’s work. They’re using the “Claremont Method”. Small fringes of plots that end up being (literally) universe shattering events would start out as small whispers in the background years before (Magik anybody?). Obviously the people behind the MCU aren’t stupid and have done their research. Sure, they’re pulling from lots of source material, none of which is really the X-Men, but the structure’s feels so similar to me that I hardly believe its a coincidence.

On the other hand something interesting to note that I picked up on is how Claremont leans into the comic book form, which contrasts with how the plots are presented in the MCU. It’s called the almighty Thought Bubble. It’s a staple of comics, and a very effective tool. Like life, people think in an instant. You can have an entire conversation with yourself or recall entire events in a fraction of a second, a small slice of time. It’s why thought bubbles work. We can see how it’s used by Claremont in this page from New Mutants #1 where Daniel Moonstar finally summons up her courage enough to enter the Danger Room and fight some robots.

There is a lot of character being fleshed out here that is exclusively told through the thought bubbles. Could this scene work without the bubbles? Sure. Would we know that she’s grown up in the mountains hunting and tracking animals? No. You can’t do that in a film, as it operates within time. Comics allow the viewer to slice up time into moments, where thought bursts like these can exist. Does that mean it’s trickier to write that it in film? Eh, I don’t know. More showing, less telling I guess. You do lose a lot of detail. Although with that said, I am genuinely impressed by how much they were able to pack into Infinity War. I would say there is almost as mush as Claremont can pack, though not quite. Either way I think it’s a good study on narrative structure and storytelling approaches through different mediums. I’m curious to see if the Claremont Method continues to shine though. – Bryce Davidson

Grant, Paul J. (August 1993). “Poor Dead Doug, and Other Mutant Memories”. Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. pp. 66–69.

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