Chris Claremont and the Legacy of the X-Men

The legendary comics writer looks back at his long history with the X-Men and the future of the franchise.

Out now on VOD is an expanded version of Chris Claremont’s X-Men, a documentary by Patrick Meaney that was originally produced in 2013 and has now returned with more than 40 minutes of new footage, including interviews with Claremont himself, as well as other Marvel alumni like former editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, editors Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson, artists Marc Silvestri and Art Adams, fellow creators Len Wein and Rob Liefeld, and more.

The film delves into the story of how Claremont broke into comics and got the task at Marvel of reviving a title, X-Men, that had been left nearly for dead and on the verge of cancellation. He not only resurrected the book but made comics history with it, writing it for 16 years (1975-1991) and penning such classic stories as “Days of Future Past” and “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” He also created or co-created many new mutants during his run, including strong female characters like Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Mystique, and Jubilee, plus male personnel such as Gambit, Legion, Pyro, Sabretooth, and more.

We spoke to Claremont via phone recently to discuss the documentary, and while there’s no way to cram this writer’s storied career and accomplishments into 10 minutes, we did our best, touching on his history with the X-Men, his favorite films based on his work and what he thinks the future holds for the franchise.

Den of Geek: This documentary is called Chris Claremont’s X-Men. It’s not called The Chris Claremont Story or Chris Claremont Unveiled or something like that. Were you more interested in exploring your work as a subject rather than just a telling of your life story?

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Chris Claremont: Oh, the most egocentric response is my life story’s not even…no one would have done that, I hope. The X-Men is a significant chapter. So, if people want to look at it, mazel tov.

How has the meaning of the X-Men changed for you over the course of 40 years? Or has it?

I suppose it comes down to what one means by meaning. There’s the meaning that, it was a tremendous and in some way a very long living for a good long time, and hopefully again. They were cool characters. It was an unparalleled opportunity to work with some of the finest artistic talents in the comic book industry of those days and, in my opinion, of any day. So the pluses are ridiculous and undeniable.

Has the industry changed in such a way that it’s more difficult for somebody to stay like for 16 years or 17 years on a book like the way that you did?

The problem is not staying on for 16 or 17 years — I mean, theoretically anybody could do that. But the thing that made X-Men unique in its day was that the first iteration of the series that Stan and Jack created in 1962 had run its course. It wasn’t a success. So when Dave Cockrum and Len Wein worked together to build the new X-Men, we were essentially starting with a clean slate.

Aside from Charles Xavier being the mentor and Scott Summers showing up to run the shop, everything was brand new. And the way the industry is structured now, the way that Marvel or DC or Image are structured now, that’s unlikely to happen again. You don’t have that mainstream series that you can recreate in public before everyone’s eyes and come up with something completely new and different. So I don’t think that opportunity will come again. I just happened to have the ridiculous good fortune of being in the precisely great place at the precisely great time, and I got to run with it.

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Watch Chris Claremont’s X-Men on Amazon

As the franchise expanded onto the screen, which of the films or animated series do you think maybe came closest to the vision you had of the characters and stories?

So far, I would say Days of Future Past is certainly the film I’ve enjoyed the most out of all of them so far. Legion (the TV series) is right up there with it.

I can’t say anything about the ones that haven’t come out yet. There’s some good films, there’s some films that could be improved. So we keep trying until we get it right. That’s the nature of storytelling, whether it’s on paper or on film. On the other hand I’ve seen my characters portrayed by some of the finest actors in modern cinema, so I’m not going to argue with that.

It’s generally agreed that the first X-Men movie was the one that kind of heralded the new era for these films.

Isn’t it amazing how the X-Men always managed to be ahead of everybody’s curve no matter how they look at it? (laughs)

Are you glad to see that the Dark Phoenix story is getting a second chance on the screen?

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Have you gotten a chance to see any of it or get a handle on how it’s being done?

I know Simon Kinberg is working hard on it. I’ve seen the stills that been publicly released and they look really cool. I’m intrigued. But like everyone else I’ll find out what’s happening when it’s out in November.

What are your thoughts on the merger of Disney and Fox and the X-Men universe potentially being folded into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and how do you think that’ll affect them going forward?

I think it would be cool if Hugh Jackman showed up in Avengers: Infinity War, even if just for a tryout. Technically speaking it’s 20 years before Logan, so he’s not old yet, no matter how Hugh feels himself.

I guess I think it’s cool. I mean, if for nothing else than the sheer economic rationale that once the X-Men are back in the Marvel pantheon, top bottom and sideways, ideally Marvel and Disney will promote and merchandise it. And since I’ve created more characters in the X-Men franchise and the Fantastic Four franchise than I care to think of or Marvel cares to count, that is not an inconsiderable amount of possibilities. So fingers crossed. We’ll see. But it’s like anything else, there are many pitfalls between point A and point Z. So hope for the best and expect the worst.

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When you look back, are there any stories that you feel were sort of left unfinished or that you would go back and change if you had a chance?

I don’t know about change. I think there are always unfinished stories. The problem for me is my version of X-Men is very specific and very focused and, at this point, totally divergent from the vision of the characters and the concept that is currently in print. But that’s the difference between me as the writer and the current editors and writers that are responsible for the titles.

It would be the same, I would suspect, if Len were coming back to write X-Men himself, or Stan, or Roy Thomas. Everybody has their own unique version of who the characters are and where they’re going and how they’re getting there and what should happen along the way. Every new writer has an equally different vision.

What are you currently working on yourself?

Stories that are unique and fun, I hope. I never talk about work in progress because once I talk about it I don’t do it anymore. When it’s done and sold, then I start shouting from the rooftops but until then, it’s bad luck.

Chris Claremont’s X-Men is out now on VOD.

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