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"The Best There Is At What He Does"

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sixhoursoflucy
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"The Best There Is At What He Does"

Post by sixhoursoflucy » 04 Jan 2017, 06:10

So I just finished reading Jason Powell's new book The Best There Is At What He Does: Examining Chris Claremont's X-Men and wanted to throw out a recommendation for all the fans of Claremont's original Uncanny X-Men run (which should be all of you, but somehow people always find a way to surprise me). I used to follow Powell's blog back when I was much more engrossed in X-Men stuff and was routinely stunned by the depth of insight he brought to old X-books. He has a knack for noticing themes and hidden subtexts that seem super-obvious in retrospect, and for providing sort of meta-commentary on what was happening with the books behind the scenes and how that manifested in Claremont's writing.

Anyway, when I saw this book title pop up on my feed, the first thing I thought upon seeing it was (no joke) "Man, this book better be written by Jason Powell." And it turns out, it was! So I ordered it right away and just tore through it. It's an issue-by-issue analysis of Claremont's run (don't worry, he doesn't go into excessive detail about the plot of each issue... if you're familiar at all with the 16-year run, it's easy enough to follow) and is filled with so many nuggets of insight it'd be fruitless to start listing them here. So if you're a fan of that run and want to go deeper, definitely check it out. And if your username is Nu-D, you have no excuse not to have already read this.
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Nu-D
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Re: "The Best There Is At What He Does"

Post by Nu-D » 04 Jan 2017, 16:09

sixhoursoflucy wrote:So I just finished reading Jason Powell's new book The Best There Is At What He Does: Examining Chris Claremont's X-Men and wanted to throw out a recommendation for all the fans of Claremont's original Uncanny X-Men run (which should be all of you, but somehow people always find a way to surprise me). I used to follow Powell's blog back when I was much more engrossed in X-Men stuff and was routinely stunned by the depth of insight he brought to old X-books. He has a knack for noticing themes and hidden subtexts that seem super-obvious in retrospect, and for providing sort of meta-commentary on what was happening with the books behind the scenes and how that manifested in Claremont's writing.

Anyway, when I saw this book title pop up on my feed, the first thing I thought upon seeing it was (no joke) "Man, this book better be written by Jason Powell." And it turns out, it was! So I ordered it right away and just tore through it. It's an issue-by-issue analysis of Claremont's run (don't worry, he doesn't go into excessive detail about the plot of each issue... if you're familiar at all with the 16-year run, it's easy enough to follow) and is filled with so many nuggets of insight it'd be fruitless to start listing them here. So if you're a fan of that run and want to go deeper, definitely check it out. And if your username is Nu-D, you have no excuse not to have already read this.
:oops:

I'll get right on it. Any reason not to buy the kindle edition (for an old-school B&W kindle?) Are there illustrations that are valuable?

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Re: "The Best There Is At What He Does"

Post by sixhoursoflucy » 04 Jan 2017, 18:39

Not really. A few black and white reprints of some panels but nothing you need to reference to understand the text. And you're already familiar with the material so you don't really need to see it. Anyway, let me know what you think if you do read it!
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Re: "The Best There Is At What He Does"

Post by Nu-D » 05 Jan 2017, 02:40

So I've enjoyed it so far (up to the Outback era), but my interest is waning. I think the author has some good insights, especially through the Smith-Romita eras, and has introduced some ideas and insights I had not thought of before. He certainly notes some thematic turning points that I had not viewed quite as he does. For example, the view of UXM 167 as a transition from superhero action oriented to soap opera. I had not really pinpointed that issue as a turning point before, but I can see where he's coming from.

I do have a lot of criticisms of his writing. In particular, I think his choice to follow Uncanny issue-by-issue was a mistake. He should instead have selected four or five of his themes, defined each with a clear thesis, and then written a chapter on each going through the history of Claremont's development on that theme. Doing so, he would have been more specific and could have addressed the material more deeply. As it is, it feels like a lot of the treatment is perfunctory because he has to rush along to the next issue. I often find I have to look up the issue on UXN.net to figure out exactly what he's writing about. If he took more time examining the specifics of the material, that wouldn't happen.

He also is too prone to purple prose. If he would provide quotations and more specific descriptions of the events in the comics, it would speak for itself and he wouldn't have to resort to so many superlatives. He is quick to call such-and-such an issue or panel or story "perhaps the best ever," which adds little insight. I tend to disagree with him when he gets so hyperventilating about one aspect, and that distracts me from how good it actually is. Instead, he should try to stay focused on just explaining what precisely makes it so wonderful.

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Re: "The Best There Is At What He Does"

Post by sixhoursoflucy » 07 Jan 2017, 20:45

I think the issue-by-issue structure of the book stems from the fact that it started as a blog. I can definitely see the appeal in writing it more like a thesis and examining it by theme, but I was okay with him keeping his initial structure intact. As for the purple prose, I think that's totally appropriate when writing about Claremont!

But to me the value in the book as more in his examination of the themes. I like how he charts the X-Men's evolution from an inherently conservative group at the start of Claremont's run to a more revolutionary group by the end of the Outback era (in particular with the first Genosha arc). That's the stuff I dug.
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Re: "The Best There Is At What He Does"

Post by Nu-D » 10 Jan 2017, 17:38

sixhoursoflucy wrote:But to me the value in the book as more in his examination of the themes. I like how he charts the X-Men's evolution from an inherently conservative group at the start of Claremont's run to a more revolutionary group by the end of the Outback era (in particular with the first Genosha arc). That's the stuff I dug.
Absolutely. In particular the evolution of the X-Men from Uncle Toms to Black Panthers, as you've noted, was an interesting insight and one I hadn't quite put my finger on before.

Likewise, he has a good grasp on the evolution of Magneto. Inexplicably, he almost completely ignores God Loves, Man Kills (it gets a brief mention in a footnote, but no extended discussion). This story is, IMO, fundamental in both of these arcs; how he could skip it is beyond me.
sixhoursoflucy wrote:I think the issue-by-issue structure of the book stems from the fact that it started as a blog. I can definitely see the appeal in writing it more like a thesis and examining it by theme, but I was okay with him keeping his initial structure intact. As for the purple prose, I think that's totally appropriate when writing about Claremont!
Yeah, I can see why he wrote it like he did. It's really just a compilation of blog posts, albeit posts written sequentially with a narrowly-defined reason d'être. As I said, I would have preferred he take the ideas here and actually write a book or several essays. I think he could have developed his ideas more effectively and more persuasively if each had received more concentrated attention, rather than this slow-burn of development over a hundred+ posts.

I appreciated his appreciation of the less hyped artists on the run, including JRJR and Silvestri, not to mention the regular shout-outs to Orchoweski, Green, Austin and Nocenti and Simonson. I thought his knowledge of how these other creators impacted CCs stories was really valuable.

More often than not I found myself de acuerdo with his assesments of the quality of particular issues. For example, as he talked about the original Brood story, I found myself thinking, "oh yeah, that's why I never really liked this part of the run." On the other hand, some issues he really hyped up that I couldn't really get behind, and there were a few he denigrated that I love.

He wasn't afraid to be iconoclastic--calling the Silvestri-era Brood, the first Genosha story, and the Outback era in general Claremont's most mature and sophisticated storytelling--an opinion few fans share but that I find myself agreeing with.

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