We weren’t the biggest fans of Chris Claremont and his initial 17-year writing stint on Uncanny X-Men. We were too busy reading Love and Rockets back then to care about Rogue, Storm, and Emma Frost. But we have to admit he did one thing very well—he successfully integrated the X-Clan with a bevy of strong female characters. Claremont turned the Marvel universe upside down and helped recruit an entire generation of female comic book readers.
So it’s no surprise that his first novel back in 1987 would feature a kickass heroine too. Claremont obviously felt comfortable writing from a female perspective. And overall he did a serviceable job with FirstFlight. It’s not a superhero novel, but it’s certainly “of interest” to X-Men fans of a certain age.
According to her superiors, Lieutenant Nicole Shea was “the best fuckin’ pilot to come off the ramp in 20 years.” Now she was assigned to a simple “milkrun” mission to Pluto. Eighteen weeks inbound, two weeks at the Pluto Hilton, and then 18 weeks outbound. It was her “first flight” into space and it was intended as a minimal hassle, minimal risk mission to establish traffic markers between planets.
To no one’s surprise, things go screwy almost immediately. After a few weeks in space, Shea’s ship is attacked by freebooting pirates (colloquially known as wolfpacks). Narrowly escaping their clutches, she and her crew serendipitously tumble into an alien spacecraft. And that’s when FirstFlight becomes a first contact novel.
Shea had imagined countless rescue and death scenarios during her first foray into space, but first contact with an extraterrestrial life form was something she hadn’t anticipated. She and her crew were definitely not trained in such things. But one thing they knew for sure: a simple gaffe could trigger an interstellar war. They had to proceed with caution.
Throughout the novel, Lt. Shea displays a bundle of mixed emotions. One minute she’s ruthless and bossy. And the next minute she’s quivering with self-doubt. Like a lot of Claremont’s female X-Men characters, she is cast in the role of a hero, but she’s not one hundred percent confident in her abilities.
After a few missteps, she successfully dismantles the pirate network and paves the way for smooth relations between Earth and the felinoid inhabitants of s’N’dare. She returns from her mission as a celebrated NASA top gun, but she’s not comfortable with her newly decorated status. Despite all the good things she accomplished during her first flight into outer space, Nicole Shea was still a young woman trying to find her place in the universe.
[FirstFlight / By Chris Claremont / First Printing: December 1987 / ISBN: 9780441235841]