X-Men Vignettes, Chapter One (1986)
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Tom Orzechowski
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Kavanagh, Nocenti, Shooter
From: Classic X-Men #1 (September, 1986)
What’s this then?
Well, for me, this little aside is actually part-learning opportunity/part-future planning. Ya see, as The Essential X-Lapsed creeps ever closer to the Giant-Size/All-New, All-Different Era… I gotta start to make some concrete plans over how certain stories/bits of lore will be included and dealt with. If you’re new to the X-Men, what I’m about to write might just be enlightening and novel — if you’re not, well… I hope I can explain this in as uncondescending a way as possible.
Classic X-Men (later X-Men Classic) was, well… just that, classic X-Men stories re-issued for an audience who may just have missed out on them the first time around. The series launched in 1986 (after a handful of random specials spotlighting the latter Roy Thomas run that hit around 1983 or so). If you were a new(er) reader in the mid-80s, who never got their mitts on a copy of Giant-Size, or the seminal Claremont works… well, this was your best opportunity to make right without breaking the (piggy) bank or saving up your school lunch money for a few weeks.
And ya know what? If that’s all these issues were — that’d been more than enough, right? You could catch up on and enjoy old Spidey’s in Marvel Tales, you can catch up with some less-old, but certainly no-less-important X-Men in “Classix”. But — Marvel didn’t stop there! Indeed, the first… err, sixty-somethin’ (?) issues of Classic X-Men/X-Men Classics actually included all-new back-up stories (written by Chris Claremont himself) to add a little flavor, and potentially pave over some gaps in continuity.
That said, it might be something of a surprise to readers that — for the longest time, I’d pass right on by the “Classix” when I’d see ’em in the cheap-o bins! “But, Chris…” you may ask, “I thought you were this self-appointed champion of comic book lore?” Well… yeah, um… ya know, I don’t even have a response! Honestly, I’ve been doubling-down on my “Classix” hunting… all the while wondering quite WHY I never bothered to in the first place!
In fact, coming full-circle (in a way), I owe my newfound obsession with these books to the X-Lapsed project! If you’ve been listening (and, who am I kidding — err, nope! Gonna remain positive here!), you’ll likely know that the character of Lourdes Chantal made her return, aboooout a year or so ago? At least into the current-day lore — it’d be several months until she actually “came back”. Anyway, her first (and, to that point, only) appearance was in the back-up strip in Classic X-Men #7! This strip would be reprinted as part of Marauders #21 (the first part of The  Hellfire Gala), which I did cover as part of an episode (click the pic below, if you’d like to check it out!).
Anyway, the realization that these back-ups might actually make for more than just some “supplemental reading” really lit a fire under me to… ya know, grab ’em all. And while I did have a smattering of ’em already — I never made it a mission to fill in the holes in my collection, until then.
So, here’s da t’ing — The Essentials show is about to enter the final stages of the X-Men’s Silver-Age Stint — once we hit issue #66, we’ll be following our Mutant Heroes through ALL (and, Lord help me, I mean ALL) of their guest-spots during the “reprint-era” — then, eventually – Giant-Size and onward. Once there, we’ll figure out how to jam these “Vignettes” into place — whether they’re just tacked on to the end of a show — or, get their own supplemental episodes… I’m not quite sure. Good thing is, we’ve still got awhile to decide! If anybody has any thoughts, please don’t hesitate to send ’em along!
Anyway, thanks for reading everybody and… oh, waitasec — despite the fact that I’ve been typing away for an hour, we haven’t actually talked about anything, have we? Alrighty, let’s hurdle over the dashes and get this thing started…
Our story picks up… right after Giant-Size X-Men #1… which, I did manage to sneak onto the blog while it was still a “DC Only” sorta thing. If you recall, that story ended with the just rescued-Angel asking what in all worlds they were gonna do with THIRTEEN X-Men! Wow, imagine that, right? Anyway… that bit of dialogue is precisely where this one picks up. Professor X uses it to segue into… well, several pages of invading people’s minds and reading their thoughts. Ya know, just bein’ a mental pervert. He worries about how he’ll mingle these groups together into a workable unit. He is… perhaps a bit TOO pleased when he finds out that Alex and Lorna plan to leave the mansion PDQ.
His mental probing then heads over to Cyclops, who is… as usual… all-business. In fact, he’s even pushing away a highly-interested Jean Grey to attend to his post-Krakoan paperwork. Disappointed, but understanding, Jean leaves him to it. She claims she knows what he’s feeling due to her telepathic powers. Listeners of The Essential X-Lapsed might remember that Professor X (somehow) “gave her” telepathic powers before he faked his own death. We’ll come back to Ms. Grey’s thirstiness in a bit. I think the Prof is just relieved to see that there might just be one less barrier between he and his formerly-statutory affection object.
Next stop: the Den. Here, we see Banshee ticklin’ the ivories and Colossus working on a sketch. They share a bit of small-talk before Piotr is started by the sudden arrival of a certain Fuzzy Elf. This shock causes the big man to armor up, and ultimately tear his clothes up. In a neat bit, Pete worries about not having his mother here to mend his shirt. Ya know, coming into the X-Books when I did, I never had an appreciation for the youthful naivete of Colossus. He always seemed like a brooding adult to me… which made his romance with Call Me Kate seem… ya know, icky. Here though, Claremont is really playing up his youth… and I dig that!
From here… ooh boy, this is where the story gets a little bit odd. At least to me. So, we’ve got the trio of New X-Men discussing their futures in the hero biz, when they’re interrupted by the arrival of — Bobby Drake. Okay, well, Bobby lives there too… so, what’s the big deal? Well — to say that Bobby is P.O.ed by the presence of the newbies would be putting it lightly. He absolutely lashes out at ’em! He tells ’em that they’re NOT X-Men… and more or less demands that they get the eff out.
Then, like the petulant teen-ager that he is, he stomps his feet and slams a door on his way out. The newbies kinda just bewilderedly look at each other to process the tantrum they just had dropped on ’em. We wrap up this scene with Kurt and Sean announcing their intentions to stay… and Piotr still not quite sure what his future holds.
We follow Iceman into the hallway, where Thunderbird is admiring some framed photos on the wall of the Original Five. Proudstar attempts to make nice to the steaming Drake… but, isn’t exactly met with kindness in reply. In fact, Bobby asserts that John’s an illiterate… who is in dire need of an icing up! Good grief, but Bobby’s pissed!
From here, Xavier’s pervy mind finds its way back to his unrequited passion, Ms. Jean Grey… who, like ya do, is somewhat seductively leaning up against a tree somewhere on the mansion’s grounds. Here, she’s approached by — Wolverine. He’s still just Wolverine here, by the way… we don’t know any of his gaggle of names just yet. And, in case you’re wondering – this is the scene that unwittingly launched us into the Cyclops/Wolverine/Jean love triangle… which (Lord help us) we’re still dealing with to this very day.
Speaking of creepy romances… we shift scenes to the soarin’ Storm, as she soliloquizes to herself in Claremontian. She is soon joined by a very… I wanted to say “eirie” (sp?) instead of “horny”, but I haven’t the foggiest idea how to actually spell “eirie” — so, I’ll just say “horny” Warren Worthington III. He’s happy to have someone to share the skies with, and suggests that they seal the deal with a mid-air makeout sesh. Dude’s comin’ across like Dennis on It’s Always Sunny…!
Anyway, before Warren can force himself on Ororo, he spies… from the corner of his eye… the Wolverine attempting to, uh, ya know — do the same thing to Jean! And so, he divebombs the li’l Canucklehead and hurls him into a tree. Jean is appalled by this behavior… as, she actually seemed to appreciate getting some actual attention from a member of the opposite sex. Ya see, ol’ Scotty’s too busy brooding and blaming himself for everything in the world to pay her much mind. And, well… ya gotta get it from somewhere, no?
From here, Wolverine pulls himself up… and enters into, what we’ll eventually refer to as a “Berzerker Rage”. He swipes at Warren with his claws out… which, if you’re familiar with the Claremont run, you’ll know that Wolverine ALWAYS attacks with his claws out… even when he’s play-fighting a buddy! Thankfully, Storm is still nearby… and with a burst of lightning manages to settle everybody’s tea kettles.
Jean rushes over to the fallen Wolverine to make sure he’s okay… to which, he tells her that he’s bad news… he’s a killer… and it’d be in her best interests to stay as far away from him as possible. Warren’s all “preach on, little man”, which doesn’t win him any points with either of the lovely x-ladies in his presence.
So, Jean’s left with a lot of stuff to process… and she ultimately decides to do so… far away from the Xavier School. She loves Scott… but has this odd attraction to the mysterious Wolverine. She reports into Charles… who, mind-perv that he is, already knows the decision she’s come to. We close out with the two in embrace, saying goodbye (for now), but also hello to a new beginning.
Now, full disclosure… the first time I read any of these Classix back-ups was in the X-Men Vignettes trade… probably mid-2000s or so. And, one of the things that most stuck out to me then was… the art. Oh boy, did I NOT appreciate this art. In fact, I just plain disliked it! It felt too “loose”, and not comicbooky enough for me — but, in retrospect, that’s exactly the reason why it works. One of the hallmarks of Claremont’s X-Men was its tendency toward soap opera. Depending on your opinion, that could be a very good thing… or something you just tolerated, because you were mostly there to be treated to the art of Dave Cockrum, Paul Smith, Johns Byrne or Romita, Jr. anyway.
For me? I love the soap opera aspects… and, also love that the Claremontian “Method of writing team books” kinda infected the industry there for a while. The Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans and Barr/Aparo’s Batman and the Outsiders are some of my very favorite comics for just this reason. Those were books, with their own identities — but, almost certainly drew a bit of inspiration from Claremont and his X-Men.
That said — and the fact that these Vignettes will mostly feature these previously unseen quiet, character-focused tales — John Bolton’s less “comicbooky” art might just be the perfect fit. I most definitely have a much greater appreciation for it now than I did as a stupid early-twentysomething.
Now with the art discussion outta the way (for today), let’s break down this “character-focused tale” a bit.
I wanna start with our focus-character: Professor X. At the time this issue hit, the actual Uncanny X-Men book was at around issue #209… by which point Xavier was outta the book for just shy of a year. It’d been a minute since Claremont wrote him, but I feel like his use here is equal parts fitting and (as much as I loathe the word) problematic. One thing I DO remember from the Vignettes trade is the care and attention Claremont paid to mindreading-without-consent. I’m pretty sure very early on there’s a pretty intense scene between Jean and Storm about this very thing.
So here, Claremont is using the Professor’s powers to kinda set the tone. We, as readers, feel more voyeuristic than usual… as we’re actually seeing things we (probably) shouldn’t. Xavier’s worried about how these disparate teams of mutants will coexist… or, even IF they can. Granted, he doesn’t seem all that worried about Vulcan and all ’em he sent first… err, nevermind – uh, I didn’t say nuthin’!
So, Xavier’s doing his mental perv thing — which gives us all a glance into some candid moments among the groups. And, ethics aside, it does facilitate a fly-on-the-wall view on some very interesting scenes. So, let’s talk about ’em!
Starting with Bobby Drake. Boy, this was kind of jarring, wunnit? I wasn’t prepared for him to come across as such a petulant ass — but, ya know… I can’t hate the portrayal! As someone who might be a tad bit sensitive from time to time (as the poor souls who actually know me personally and have to deal with me one-on-one can attest), I’m no stranger to “flying off the handle” or lashing out, just like Bobby did. He mentions here that he’s not yet of drinking age… and while, youngifying characters is a Claremontian “thing” (see Kitty Pryde post-Revolution), I think it works okay here.
This Vignette really allows us to see how these newbies were received by the “old guard”. This wasn’t entirely glossed over in the original early issues of Claremont’s run… but, we certainly didn’t get this deep a look. I think it definitely serves the overall X-Men lore by including these bits into the canon. Rather than just seeing tenured characters amicably leave the team… we’re seeing here just how stressful this change really is to everybody involved. Replacing teams wholesale with new characters really wasn’t done so much back then — it stands to reason that, there are going to be some hard feelings… there’s gonna be those emotions an only child might feel when their younger sibling is born. It’s not always going to be the smoothest transition. I definitely dig that we’re being allowed to see that here.
I think the other big takeaway here is… well, the one I’ve never really liked. It’s the start of the Wolverine/Cyclops/Jean love-triangle. I get that it’s important to X-History… and, regardless of what I think, is still relevant even today — I’ve just never cared for it. After revisiting this story… well, I still don’t.
Maybe it’s the fact that Cyclops is “my guy”. Maybe I see a bit of myself in ol’ boring, stuffy Scott — and I project a lotta that onto Wolverine making a move. I dunno… but, I’ve always been irked that Logan, a character we’re all supposed to like — pulled this dick move. Even Angel, upon seeing this go down, chooses to intervene. He’s been on the losing end of a Jean and Scott love-triangle before, but even he seems to respect what it is that Scott and Jean have together.
I dunno… maybe we’ll see more of this as we work our way thru the Vignettes… maybe I’ll come around. Who knows? As for now, though — I still can’t get on board wit’ any’a dat mess.
Overall, my misgivings about Logan/Jean aside, I really enjoyed my time with this. Some of the most special X-Men stories to me are these (relatively) quiet “evenings at home”. These are the sort of stories that initially hooked me (though, those were more Lobdell-flavored) — but, it’s still these types of stories that truly showed me what comic books could be. Comics don’t always need to be punchy-punchy… and our heroes don’t always need to be perfect. At the risk of severely overselling it, stories like these are what transcend comics as a medium — and turn two-dimensional characters into three-dimensional people.
Thank you for reading — and, if this is your first toe-dip into the Vignettes, I hope you enjoyed and might come back for more — or, check ’em out yourself. If you have Marvel Unlimited… well, then you’ve got these too!