ClanDestine Classic

Written and penciled by Alan Davis
Inked by Mark Farmer
312 pages, color
Published by Marvel

When Alan Davis’s ClanDestine first debuted in the mid-90s, I remember absolutely loving it almost instantly; to me it was a perfect mix of superhero struggles and family squabbles. Davis’s run ended after just eight issues, with a later X-Men vs. the ClanDestine mini-series wrapping up his time with the characters. Now that he’s returned to them for a new mini-series, his older work with the characters is back for another outing in a handsome collection—and it’s interesting to review those stories a little later and wiser and see just how I feel about them now. Sometimes, the memory really does cheat just a bit.

Rory and Pandora Destine thought they’d discovered they were mutants, each of them with brand-new abilities that developed out of nowhere. The truth, however, was even more fantastical. They’re part of a long-reaching, largely immortal family that’s lived in secret around the world, each member with their own special ability. Unfortunately, the family’s anonymity has been breached due to one small slip up, and now all the hidden members are being hunted. Can the Destine family, scattered across the globe, reunite in time to save themselves?

The absolute basic idea of ClanDestine is a smart merging of two popular set-ups; family problems, and secret identity problems. The latter is a staple of superhero comics, the former of almost any sort of serial fiction. Davis’s strength in the writing comes through in the plotting, juggling a dozen connected characters and both their connections and differences. It’s in their interactions that ClanDestine really shines; Walter’s issues with Kay and the other wayward members of his family as well as his protectiveness towards Rory and Pandora, for instance, come across as very realistic and understandable. There aren’t any simple “character X likes Y and Z but dislikes A and B” charts to be drawn here; rather, relationships are complex and filled with a wide range of emotions that bounce off of each other. Add in that the stories themselves are entertaining and full of moments of misdirection and twist and it’s a strong backbone for the book.

The one thing I didn’t remember from reading ClanDestine well over a decade ago, though, was the clunky dialogue. A lot of the characters shift back and forth from speaking normally and in exposition. When Walter first transforms, he shouts out, “You are mistaken… in matters of life and death… I have a flair for excessive violence!” Who really speaks like that in a fight? The idea of superheroes making quips to their enemies is an old one, certainly, but this is also a series that Davis tries to hammer home the idea that the characters are not superheroes. These are people who don’t go out and fight crime, who instead stay hidden and try to blend in with society. It’s hardly the only piece of dialogue that floats like a lead balloon, either. It’s strange, because some pages it flows easily, other ones just come across like Davis is a novice to the medium. It’s very uneven, and the one weak point of ClanDestine.

Davis’s pencils (alongside Mark Farmer’s inks) just get stronger from issue to issue. There’s so much to love in ClanDestine when it comes to the visuals. The basic character designs alone are worth it, especially Hex’s costume from his time as a stage magician with all of its diagonal lines and feathers coupled with Hex’s albino skin tone and red hair, but it’s hardly the only nice look. Walter’s transformations have a great progression into not only strength but bestiality, and Samantha’s armor always manages to look both strong yet intricate. What shines even more, though, is how Davis draws the characters just as people. I love how Davis gives Walter’s wardrobe great care with its different suits and vests, or how he draws Pandora and Rory’s hair all mussed after a school fight. Even the character looks that seem a bit borrowed (Newton looking a little like Woody Allen, or Gracie being a female version of George Burns) just add to the visual fun and style of the book, and it’s something that I wholeheartedly approve of.

I’m delighted that Davis has returned to ClanDestine, so that this ClanDestine Classic collection will finally sit on my bookshelf. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s still an entertaining one. For lovers of Davis’s art, this book is a must. Otherwise, it’s certainly a good if not great book; if you’re willing to overlook its slight faults, I think you’ll find it to be worth your while. (And of course, with a new mini-series on stands now, there’s certainly a way to sample just what the book is about through it.)

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1 comment to ClanDestine Classic

  • Skye

    I have always liked Alan Davis’ artwork myself and have always appreciated that he wears his influences on the sleeve of his work. You can look at his work and you can see that the era of superhero comics that most influenced him was the later 60s to mid 70s, especially in things like Hex’s outfit (which looks like the best re-imagining of Steve Ditko’s Creeper ever) or in his clunky dialogue. That era has influenced his art and writing. If you take that into consideration, it’s forgivable even if it doesn’t make for smoother reading.
    I think one of the best things about his artwork in Clan Destine was that he had finally achieved enough acclaim that his work started getting colored well and was not one of the muddy messes that his work became. In Clan Destine, the original eight issues, you can see things like the details of Walter’s outfits much more clearly because of it. It is too bad the coloring is often muted and muddy in the newest series.