Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This quasi-week: Chris Claremont. Today's page is from The New Mutants Annual #2, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated October 1986. Enjoy!
On a personal level, when I first got into the X-Universe in 1989/1990, I immediately fell in love with Elizabeth Braddock, and this is one of the comics that fueled that love. She's awesome in this comic, I must say. But that's not why we're here!
The raison d'etre of this comic book and Betsy's inclusion in a comic starring the New Mutants is fairly convoluted. Claremont invented the character back in 1976, and Alan Davis first drew her with purple hair (perhaps with Alan Moore's instruction, as Moore was writing the character at the time) - originally she was blonde, just like her brother, Captain Britain. Writers and artists today might not know that the only reason her hair is purple is because she dyed it in the early 1980s, when New Wave was the thing. Davis blinded her, too, when he was writing Captain Britain's adventures not too long before this annual came out. Claremont didn't expand the X-Men internationally originally back in 1975, but he made the international team the best-selling book on the planet, so presumably he wanted to keep that flavor and use a character with whom both he and Davis had some history, but with whom American audiences might be unfamiliar. Hence, Betsy showing up in American comics and immediately becoming one of the three best X-Men in history (the others, of course, are Rogue and Dazzler).
Claremont, with his inimitable style, tells us when and where this page takes place, and then the caption box says "It's hard to be a hero." This is the name of the story in which Betsy is blinded, so Claremont is doing a nice little call-back to that episode, even though the words fit with what he wants to say. As you can see, he takes his time getting there, but we learn that Betsy had been Captain Britain for a time, and she was blinded as a result. Betsy is a telepath, however, so it's not as sad as you might think. Still, sucks to be her, don't it?
Davis, of course, is marvelous (as are Tom Orzechowski and Glynis Oliver, who lettered and colored the book). The establishing shots show Betsy schussing down the slopes, with both panels giving us a fine sense of motion that Davis excels at. In the second panel, we get the trademarked Davis smile, as Betsy enjoys the sensation of skiing. Davis deliberately shows her going away from Claremont's caption boxes so that we take in the entire scene - the stacked boxes on the left side don't crowd Davis's art, which is nice, and even though we want to ignore Betsy in the second panel and get on to the rest of the page, Davis doesn't let us. She finishes the run to applause, and then Davis drops in a carousel for no apparent reason ... except it's foreshadowing!!!! Yes, a carousel figures rather importantly later in the book, so Davis incongruously sticks one in the lobby of the resort. Claremont, once again the master of foreshadowing, has Betsy wish she could ride the carousel with "a child's joy ... a child's innocence." It's heavy-handed, but considering what happens to the New Mutants in this book, ominous.
The reveal of Betsy's blindness is somewhat annoying, because although it's a dramatic moment, a reader might be forgiven for wondering what the deal is - so her eyes are in shadow, so what? Remember, that this was a time when the Comics Code was still in effect, so Davis can't show too much, and Claremont quickly clears up any questions about the "cost" of Betsy's time as Captain Britain. You'll also note that Davis pulls back in the penultimate panel, showing Betsy alone in the room. This is so the turn to the audience and the blazing eyes in the final panel are more dramatic, because something is happening suddenly. It's a nice touch by Davis, because the reader knows that Betsy was alone, and when she senses that someone is there, it's a shock not only to her, but to us. The way she turns - to her left - also propels us from the left side of the panel to the right side, providing the impetus to turn the page (where Davis gives us a gorgeous and terrifying splash page).
This is a very well-constructed first page. Sure, Claremont is verbose, but he does at least give us a lot of germane information. Meanwhile, Davis packs a lot of visual information onto the page, but it's never cluttered and it flows very well. This is one of my favorite comics, and I think this first page shows why.
Next: Claremont at DC? What madness is this? Steel your nerves by checking out the archives!