Friday, 9 January 2015

TWTYTW: 1985

Like all years, 1985 was stuffed to the metaphorical chrono-gizzards with beginnings and endings.  Let's start, as we more or less have to, with Claremont.  I mentioned last time that 1984 saw him at the peak of his time on the X-books, in the sense that never again would he have such total control over the franchise he had inherited during its first uncertain post-relaunch steps and forged into an apparently unstoppable force. I stand by that assessment, but it's worth noting how little sign there was of impending change there actually was in 1985 itself.  As my chart shows, Claremont's output in '85 eclipsed even his staggeringly prolific previous year. Two miniseries (albeit one that kicked off in '84), two ongoings, multiple annuals and special editions - this was still very much a man in charge.

As I've argued before, though, Claremont here is about to become the victim of his own success.  The problem with making a franchise so lucrative is that sooner or later people are going to want to expand it, and they're not likely to be all that concerned about how you feel about that. It seems almost a law of nature that any halfway successful franchise will either shrink to nothing or rampage out of control. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the only way the falcon doesn't get too far from the falconer to hear him is if it falls dead from the sky.  At this point in the story of the X-books, the hawk isn't quite out of range just yet, but it's certainly realised it'll have to leave the aggravating shouty mammal behind if it's to get a chance at the tastiest rodents.

(Here tasty rodents are standing in for money. Metaphors are fun!)

The actual zero hour for Claremont having to share his toys hasn't yet quite arrived. Bob Layton's X-Factor #1 won't be released until the early days of 1986. But the change is in the air for those who can see it. A child doesn't get to wait until a new baby actually shakes loose before it finds its world adapting to support the new arrival. Parents with foresight will want to start more fiercely promoting the importance of sharing before the first meeting of siblings across the battlefield of enchanting toys. We see this here as Claremont eases Cyclops out of the retirement/happy ending he had planned, so that he could be reinvented as a colossal douche in the early issues of X-Factor. Given how universally this move was panned, it might be tempting to argue that Claremont should have been left in charge indefinitely of the X-books (and it arguably took six years to find another writer who matched him in terms of reputation and importance). That would be a mistake, of course. Sooner or later Claremont needed to be left behind as surely as Cyclops did (not that we've seemingly learned either lesson). Not just because no-one can remain at the peak of their creative powers indefinitely, or that sooner or later the best of us start to run out of ideas about what to do with the same franchise, but also because - again as with Cyclops - if no-one ever gets to retire, there's steadily less and less space for others to shine.

Which neatly brings me on to Ann Nocenti. I was rather down on her Beauty and the Beast mini which straddled '84 and '85, but her Longshot series, the majority of which came out in this year, was a genuine revelation. A coherent overall theme explored in its various facets each issue? This was the face of the future.  As soon as this arrived, Claremont's approach of endlessly repeated emotional beats against a randomly shifting backdrop looked dated in comparison. Somehow whatever was destined to replace the Modern Age in comics (which of course we've not settled on a name for yet) found itself being born at the same time as the Modern Age itself. Alas, some combination of growing '80s cynicism and veneration of the sacred cash-cow would smother the Nocenti approach of postmodern dissection in favour of dragging us into the darkness of the 1990s, where forests of dead trees displayed forests of dead bodies, and - if I may enrage Yeat's shade twice in one post -everywhere the ceremony of innocence was drowned in stale coffee and crocodile tears.

Speaking of death, despite there being two Dazzler issuea with an '86 cover date, this post seems the right place in which to mark that title's passing. Dazzler was always going to be a hard sell; a single lead in a franchise defined by team books, and a female protagonist in a male-dominated landscape without the benefit of legacy, history (Dazzler made only three or so appearances before DAZ #1 was released) or, if we're being honest, a particularly interesting power set.

For all of that, though, Dazzler in its early days was frequently a pleasant surprise. In some ways it was a twisted mirror of the Spiderman titles, in that it focussed on how superpowers would likely regularly interfere with one's attempts to find love or get a career off the ground. Whilst Spiderman thoroughly mined out his famous power/responsibility formulation, though, Dazzler replaced those words with "uniqueness" and "tribulations", respectively. Issue by issue, it probably did a better job of exploring the mutant metaphor than even Claremont's UXM, and no small part of that stems from how often the comic focussed on the small scale. "Microaggressions"is the term. In this regard, Dazzler was no less refreshing than Nocenti's Longshot mini, and just as destined to be buried beneath the detritus in the coming storm of bullets and boob-socks.

But never mind. Sometimes an idea needs to be exposed to the light more than once before it starts to grow. 1985 was a fascinating year in the margins, but the (bad) writing was on the wall. The X-Books have been noticed. The strip-mining must now begin. And if there's something that's inevitable about mining, it is this: there is no way to go but down.

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