Last week, I covered a character that was mostly used by one creator during a comic run for a team book. That was DC’s Faith. It seems only fair to do that again this week for Marvel. Only this time, the creator in question was writing that team for a very, very long time.
This may also just be a retcon gone wrong. This week, we’re looking at Sage.
Writer Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men’s adventures for, well, a very long time. He came and left a few times, but much of what we associate with the X-Men came from his mind. He didn’t create the X-Men, but he did refine them into the mega-popular team they are today. Working with a team he was given (Cyclops, Banshee, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, various others), he gave the world the Dark Phoenix Saga and the Days of Future Past. He made Magento a more morally complex villain than had ever been seen before. He made various female X-Men like Storm, Rogue, and Kitty Pride the tough, capable women that were a hallmark of the X-Men. He’s even at least partially responsible for making Wolverine so popular.
Even if all his ideas weren’t winners, he’s still one the creator names most associated with the X-Men. When he left the book for the first time, various other writers who followed him seemed to be trying to duplicate his storytelling style. It would take Grant Morrison to break that pattern and come up with some truly groundbreaking areas to take Marvel’s merry mutants with concepts like secondary mutations and humans who wanted to be mutants as opposed to wanting to kill mutants.
Claremont returned to the fold after Morrison did his stuff, and resurrected a character he’d been using in the background for ages. At first glance, Sage would be another in a long line of tough X-women that is still a trademark for the X-books.
So, who was Sage?
Yes, Sage was actually a very minor X-Men character for a very long time. Originally Sebastian Shaw’s personal assistant, Sage, going by her real name of Tessa, was generally hanging out in the background doing Shaw’s errands and stuff like that while dressed in an outfit that probably made breathing comfortably a luxury.
Tessa never seemed to do much, and indeed didn’t even get any more of a name than that. But Claremont returned to the X-Men, writing a new book called X-Treme X-Men with a team of mutants doing global missions under the leadership of Storm. And there was Tessa, now going by Sage. What was her deal?
Well, if Claremont intended this all along or not, I have no idea. I don’t actually care. I found Sage rather off-putting. Maybe it was because she was there, and Claremont was treating her like she was a longstanding member of the team, someone the others deferred to in a wide variety of ways, or maybe just because she came across as a know-it-all that knew better than more established X-Men what was what.
Yeah, it was probably that last one.
See, Tessa/Sage’s new backstory was that Xavier had found her while setting up the original X-Men team, at roughly the same time he found Hank “Beast” McCoy. Sage’s mutant powers were basically she was a living computer: photographic memory, ability to calculate a lot of data very quickly, minor telepathy, and some other stuff. As such, Xavier slipped her into the Hellfire Club to act as a spy. So, all those old issues of X-Men that Claremont wrote where Tessa was just hanging out in the background was actually her spying on the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club.
That’s about all Claremont gave for a background. She came from a place where there was a lot of war going on, but even that part of the world has never really been identified. Xavier found her in Afghanistan for what it’s worth.
Oh, she could also activate mutant powers.
The problem with Sage, for me, was that Claremont stuck her on a team with members like Storm, Rogue, and Psylocke, characters he had already made tough and formidable, and he was clearly writing her as someone who was supposed to be cooler or better than those other characters. Factor in also that Claremont’s writing style had, unlike the X-Men themselves, not evolved over time and the character just never worked for me.
Not that Claremont didn’t try. He stuck her on any team book he was writing. The character more or less disappeared when Claremont left again, but she’s apparently poised for a comeback under writer Greg Pak for the post Secret Wars era. Hey, that guy made Amadeus Cho interesting. I’m sure he can do the same for Sage.