More on X-Men Essentials

Sun Mar 28, 2010

When in periods of extended sleeplessness, such as after the birth of a child, I have found myself more interested than usual in comic books. I read almost all of the various Ultimate omnibuses shortly after Henry was born, for example, and this time with Clara I read one of those black-and-white compilations covering 1978-1980 or so of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men.

This sequence contains the “Dark Phoenix” storyline, about which I actually wrote a paper in graduate school. (The premise had more to do with what I thought were interesting ideas derived from cognitive psychology about the narrative construction of the panels [or, how narrative sequence is constructed from them, a common topic in the secondary literature on comics] combined with some ideological analysis. Such syncretism informed a lot of what I wrote in graduate school for a certain period, and I can now identify it as a stage.)

Anyway, the main thing that I noticed about it this time was how heavy the sadomasochistic imagery involving the Hellfire Club (with some mild historical warrant, I would guess) and Jean Grey’s seduction was, esp. given the code which restricted content at the time. The costumes and such already lend themselves to this interpretation, and, had I not exhausted my snark with the Alpha Flight panel reproduced below, I would reproduce some of the White Queen/Black Queen imagery to show how blatant this is.

The imaginary geography of Scotland and Calgary (by which I mean being constructed out of popular ideas or brochures) contrasted to the way that New York is portrayed is also interesting. (The introduction of Dazzler was especially memorable here, coming as it did in 1980, long after the agreed-upon death of disco.)

The films would have been more interesting (and commercially successful) had they been period pieces that tried to recreate frame-by-frame the original panels, complete with excursions to the distant stars, etc., even if this involved the cheapest effects imaginable. With some more perspective on the matter, however, I’m now mostly interested in trying to recreate the influences and context for these plots. What variety of space opera could have been in the back of their minds, for example, or was the genre so medium-specific as to have long since cast off any effect from the text-heavy medium?

Also, what are inkers good for? I never figured this out. (I know what they do, but it seems less noticeable to me in the final product than the lettering.) Is there a chapter in McCloud about it? I don’t remember.