X-Men Vignettes, Chapter 2 (1986)
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Tom Orzechowski
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Kavanagh, Nocenti, Shooter
From: Classic X-Men #2 (October, 1986)
Funny thing — well, not “funny, ha-ha”, but an odd bit of timing. With yesterday’s piece, I mentioned how the potentially “problematic” nature of mind-reading would come up throughout these Vignettes, and I specifically mentioned a bit of a brouhaha between Jean and Ororo. Well… we darn sure didn’t have to wait long to see it — because, it happens in today’s chapter!
I’m writing this piece a little bit before sharing the first one to the socials — so, I haven’t the foggiest idea how (or if) it landed, or if anybody’s got any interest in seeing these stories x-amined by your eighth or ninth favorite Fake-Ass Comics Historian. Hopefully folks find these fun? I dunno. As I’ve been beaten into submission, I’m already bracing for disappointment – I guess, one way or another, we’ll eventually find out?
Before jumping in, let’s do some semi-nebulous stage-setting. This Vignette appears at the end of Classic X-Men #2, which is a reprint of X-Men #94 – sorta ironically enough, the first non-reprint issue of X-Men in several years. I’ve heard a lot of folks refer to this ish as the one in which Thunderbird (John Proudstar) buys the farm… but, it’s not. John’ll sacrifice himself in X-Men #95 — this issue ends with a non-Thunderbirdian cliffhanger.
Some of what does happen in X-Men #94 was retroactively (and cleverly) lampshaded in the first Vignette. Havok and Polaris leave the team to head back to college. Three of the four remaining Originals also leave the team: Iceman, Angel, and Marvel Girl express their interest in pursuing the non X’y life. Sunfire also quits… but, honestly, Claremont didn’t even care about him enough to include even a shot of him in the Vignette!
So, that’s where we be:
- The Count Nefaria storyline is at it’s half-way point
- Thunderbird ain’t dead… yet
- Cyclops is the last of the Original Five to remain on the team
- Sunfire has taken a powder… which was only surprising because I’m pretty sure we all assumed he’d already left
- Wolverine is still kind of a dick
The focus of this vignette is on, as the title might suggest, the burgeoning friendship between two of our more prominent X-Ladies, Storm and Jean. As mentioned, Jean’s goneski from the team — but, still stays in touch, I guess? As we open, Storm is about to visit Ms. Grey in her way-too-large-to-be-affordable-even-with-a-roommate Manhattan Loft. But first, Claremontian captions aplenty! Storm takes a few panels to practice her Claremontian as well, before arriving. Jean shows her this gigantic space (I mean, this place is a warehouse — with two lofts — in Manhattan!). Anyway, Jean informs Storm (and us) that she’s sharing the space with a roommate, a certain Daughter of the Dragon-slash-Private Eye, Misty Knight.
As these Vignettes are ultimately character pieces, I appreciate this next bit. Jean mentions that, since Storm’s – ya know, not fighting evil mutants at the moment, perhaps she change out of her costume. Storm wastes no time here stripping herself out of the spandex… latex… whatever the hell her suit is made from. This serves as a nice look into Storm’s — well, let’s keep things mature here — this shows that Storm comes from somewhere else, where nudity is less socially frowned upon — and she sees no reason for there to be any shame. Jean, on the other hand, nearly chokes on her cuppa when she spies Ororo in her full glory! I like this! Sure, the main X-Book made efforts in showing us how Storm differed from her peers, but this scene really drives the point home. It was quite well-rendered by Bolton to boot!
Jean, amid her coffee waterboarding, quickly offers Storm her bathrobe… and some ill-fitting clothes, so they might at least get to the store to buy her an outfit without getting too many weird looks. Though, I mean — Storm is still a gorgeous, shapely, six-foot tall black woman with waist-length white hair. Methinks they’ll be getting looks regardless. Anyway, at this point, Misty comes home and says how much she loves Storm’s waist-length shockingly white hair — kinda making my point for me. Anyway, Jean literally pulls Storm outta there. Ya see, Misty doesn’t know that Jean is/was Marvel Girl.
We jump ahead to post-shopping, where our X-Ladies are walking back to Jean’s pad. Just then, the Bart Simpson of Midtown skateboards in and swipes Jean’s pocketbook! I mean, if you’re trying to get away with a street-robbery, maybe don’t pick the redhead walking alongside the six-foot tall supermodel? Well, lucky for Bart, nobody on the street seems to care. This is how we New Yorkers get a bad reputation — thanks, Mr. Claremont! Jean is in hot pursuit, but the little bastard finagles his way into a crowd.
Jean catches up, just in time for Bart to skate down the steps of the subway. Wow, this kid’s got talent! I couldn’t even take a curb — much less an entire flight of stairs! Anyway, Jean follows — but Storm, cannot. Now, we tenured X-Fans’ll know that one of Storm’s key traits is her claustrophobia — stemming from her being nearly buried alive as a tot. She takes one look down these steps… and her world begins to warp. This is quite well done — and, potentially the first time (retroactively, of course) that Ororo is dealing with this fear.
Let’s get back to Jean, who — and, I gotta say — I hate using words like “brilliant” of “genius” since both have been rendered beyond meaningless in the internet age — but, this bit is brilliantly done. Ya see, once Jean gets down there, she finds herself overwhelmed by the thoughts of every New Yorker in the area. The juxtaposition between Storm’s physical claustrophobia, and Jean’s unwitting mental claustrophobia, is just so well done! Jean’s so overwhelmed she almost can’t breathe. In her words, she got “clobbered” — and, in the process, she lost Bart and her purse.
Jean’s pissed — mostly at herself, but — that’s not going to stop her from laying a bit of misdirected aggression at the feet of her new friend. As she steps out of the subway, she sees Storm standing there… still kind of shaken. She lays into her for not being there when she needed her. Storm is stammeringly apologetic, as in — she doesn’t understand quite why she’d been rendered so useless in that moment.
It’s at this point that — Jean barges into Storm’s mind to do a bit of prying without consent. Not only that, but the way in which she does so — it comes across as less “caring friend” and more “prying analyst”. Jean reveals that she found out that Storm was buried alive as a child — and that her mother died right there beside her. Which… completely sets Ororo off! How dare Jean invade her thoughts! Storm’s own rage manifests in an explosion of her weather-manipulatory powers — including a wind the likes of which no one but Marilyn Monroe has ever seen!
Amid the torrential downpour, our X-Ladies take to the skies to hash things out. Well, if her outfit is any indication, Storm seems to be up there for a fight — Jean’s more interested in talking things through. And, well, once in the sky, that’s exactly what she does. Jean instills in Storm that, sometimes her power is more of a curse. This is a concept we’ve seen played with from time to time — even to this very day when it comes to telepaths. Jean says that — her power isn’t so much about reading minds and taking thoughts “in”, it’s about the constant struggle to keep people’s thoughts out.
Just as Storm felt the physical walls of the subway closing in on her — Jean is under similar sensations of being “closed in on”. She admits that, in the heat of the moment — having her purse stolen, being “clobbered” by the barrage of New Yorkers — she kind of lost her cool. Maybe she took it out on Storm — rather than blaming herself. Heck, maybe she’s feeling a bit foolish for leaving the Xavier School while not being in complete control of her powers? In any event, the X-Ladies make nice, realize that they have much in common, and ought to be there to support one another — and, we close out with the two of ’em heading down into the subway, hand-in-hand.
Okay, now – if you read the first Vignette, a) thank you, and b) you might recall how I spent the first few paragraphs of my analysis discussing how little I cared for John Bolton’s artwork the first time I saw it. Well, it’s time for ya boy to eat a bit of crow — because, ho-lee cow, the art in this piece. I mean, just look at the faces in this chapter! They’re gorgeous. So full of emotion it’s ridiculous! Just the other day, we looked at the NUFF SAID! issue of Uncanny X-Men (#401), and saw how the art really didn’t convey… well, much of anything. This chapter of Vignettes could have very easily been “silent”, and on the strength of its visuals (and proper context, of course), I don’t think we’d miss a beat! Naturally, this is a Chris Claremont story… so, the art is ultimately fighting for whatever space it can get amid walls of text — but, damn — this is a fine-looking bit of comics!
I mentioned during the spoilery-synopsis how I loathe using words like “brilliant” when I discuss… well, anything. I’m not the sort of guy who’ll try and butter up a pro for a retweet or pat on the head (which is probably why nobody bothers to read or listen to my shi–, err, stuff), so I find little need for positive hyperbole. But… lemme take a big ol’ swallow and just say it – the way in which this story was laid out… was… ugh… brilliant.
Claremont takes us on this weird and wonderful ride, that I don’t think we even realize we were on until the story ends. Let’s start at the start — the story is almost hyper-focused on how different Jean and Ororo are. Everything from Storm’s initial reaction at seeing New York City, to her lack of modesty when Jean asked her to change clothes. These beats were all predicated in x-amining the differences between our X-Ladies.
And at this point in their relationship, differences would (and should) be easier to spot. They hardly know each other here. Jean even says as much upon Storm’s arrival at her ridiculously large apartment! “We X-Ladies need to stick together” is the mission statement for this little social outing. It’s not that they met and became fast-friends — there’s actual effort being put into forging a relationship between them, simply because they’re the only X-Ladies (sorry, Lorna!).
From here, the gals go on their shopping trip — but, are still sort of at arm’s length of actual friendship. The conversation is kept light and impersonal… Storm talks about liking ice cream. There are no deep bonds being formed here, and — at best, the two might be looked at as “work-friends”. Which, no matter how we may feel by reading this with decades worth of hindsight, comes across as real — and human.
Then, once we’re passed x-ploring their differences, and their shallow small-talk — Claremont smacks us upside the head with something that will bond them together as, for lack of a better term, sisters. Juxtaposing Storm’s phobia of enclosed spaces with Jean losing control of her powers and focus while being bombarded with countless psyches was absolutely wonderful.
As a fella who has had his fair share of panic attacks… and has spent much of his adulthood on-and-off anti-anxiety meds, I can sympathize with the heart-pounding horror that Jean was dealing with (well, sorta-kinda — I may be delusional, but even I know I can’t actually read minds). Anxiety can lead to a panicked sensation not unlike claustrophobia. The way in which this scene played out — Claremont’s top-tier x-planations paired with the absolute deadly art of John Bolton — it’s actually somewhat hard not to have a gut reaction, even if you’ve never suffered a panic attack.
I love this scene. I love seeing our characters having to face their own perceived weaknesses… even when they don’t quite understand them. Storm’s fears, ironically enough, have been buried in her psyche. Whether she’s simply chosen not to address them, or has successfully blocked them from her memory, I couldn’t say. In any event, this is a wonderful way to (subtly?) address them.
Let’s consider Jean for a bit — we saw her overwhelmed in the subway. Which, not only caused her to lose focus (and her purse), but may have also given her a bit of regret for some recent decisions she’d made. Now, if you allow me to project a bit (more than I usually do), Jean just left the Xavier School. Until these Vignette backups were written to fill in some holes, all’s we got of this was (in X-Men #94) Jean telling the Professor that she, Warren, and Bobby were now adults who no longer needed his guidance. It wasn’t said in a hurtful or antagonistic way, it was just a “matter-of-fact” statement.
And yet, here she is… maybe not quite as done-cooking as she thought. She doesn’t have (complete) control of her powers — and, in fact, views them as something of a curse! I think we’ve all been in a position where we’ve made a hasty (or just plain bad) decision… one we wish we could take back, however, our bravado just won’t allow it. I know I’ve made my fair share… especially when I was Jean’s age! I think this is a subtle way for Claremont to show some of Jean’s vulnerability and perhaps even regret.
Last time out we discussed the potential ethical dilemma telepathy presents. In that chapter, our focus was on Professor X — one of, if not the, most powerful telepath on the planet. When looking at him, it’s easier to “posit the problematic”. It stands to reason that he’s in complete control of his powers… so, any mental-perv invasion is, ya know – intentional. With Jean, however, she’s still in her relative infancy as a telepath. Remember, Xavier “gave her” those powers before faking his death.
I find that Jean’s inadvertent abuse of these powers to be far more innocent than Xavier’s purposeful use. However, the context of this story really drives the point home that, x-perience level doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when your power manages to hurt somebody. Storm’s reaction to the mental invasion — while, admittedly perhaps a bit over the top, really worked for me. I posited above that Storm may have chosen not to address her childhood trauma… or, that she successfully put it out of her mind. In either case, having Jean bring that up, in effect, forces Storm to face it. Maybe she had “forgotten” it… maybe she had “reframed” it. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter — because, it’s no longer just HER memory. It’s now something she’s (unwittingly) shared with Jean. Does that make sense? Am I making too much of this? Maybe… but, I definitely think there’s something to it.
Just an absolute rollercoaster — which, might sound like I’m really overselling what was, in essence, a simple story featuring a shopping trip in Manhattan — but, it’s one that I believe will stick with ya. And, as mentioned several times already — mea culpa for my initial reaction to your art, John Bolton — your work here is absolutely phenomenal!