X-Men Vignettes, Chapter Five (1987)

X-Men Vignettes, Chapter 5 (1987)
“Prison of the Heart”
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Tom Orzechowski
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Kavanagh, Nocenti, Shooter
From: Classic X-Men #5 (February, 1987)

While yesterday’s piece took a pretty optimistic and pollyannaish look at how our Mutant friends might be viewed by the public, today’s is… well, today’s is gonna take a different tack. Today, my friends, we’re getting a sippa some’a that good ol’ fashioned “Fear and Hate” cocktail.

Will it be as painfully contrived as we’ve come to x-pect? Well, yeah — sorta. But, let’s chat it up all the same!

We open at Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn — also referred to as “Little Odessa”, known for its high population of Russian-speaking immigrants… which is probably the perfect place for a homesick Colossus to spend a little time during this first stint away from the Motherland. And yes, here he sits, lookin’ kinda like a young Elvis — sketchbook in hand, drawing some of the folks he sees. But, since this is a superhero ditty, his peace is short-lived. Ya see, he overhears a screaming woman… and when he goes to investigate, he witnesses this poor gal getting stuffed in the trunk of a car by two Russian baddies (I think this might be Ben Percy’s favorite Classix back-up!).

After several dozen Claremontian captions, our man armors up, and begins — ya know, punching the car. The baddies swerve a bit, before deciding – screw it, I’mma just run this hooptie into that there brick wall! Which, is exactly what he does. Unfortunately for him, however, he’s not trying to shake off just any Coney Islander… he’s dealing with a metallic giant. Colossus easily hoists the rig up, and — I dunno, crushes the front end of it?

The Russians are all “screw this noise, you can keep her!” before scurrying away down an alley. Piotr metals-down to his flesh-and-sinew Young Elvis visage before popping the trunk and informing its occupant that she is now safe. At first, she freaks out a bit — fearing that our hero is one of the baddies, but she comes around to her savior pretty quick. Pete helps her out of the trunk before returning to the beach to fetch his sketching materials. There, some Coney Islanders tell him how gifted an artist he is — he awkwardly takes the compliment, but assures them that he’s just doodling these bits to send back home to his sister, Illyana. He claims that he can speak much better through his art than his words.

Next we know, Pete and the former hostage, Anya Makarova, are swappin’ stories on the boardwalk. Well, Anya is — Piotr’s just standing there listening like a lovable goof… more on that in a bit. He and we learn here that Anya is a ballerina, in fact, the youngest prima ballerina ever to perform in the Kirov Ballet. Now, the Kirov Ballet was a real dance company, which is now known as the Mariinsky Ballet. Kirov was its “Soviet Name”. As this is a story written before the fall… we’ll stick with callin’ it the Kirov. Interestingly (well, maybe interesting), in 1989 – the Universal Ballet Academy in Washington, D.C. would be renamed the Kirov Academy of Ballet. As of this writing, the Kirov will be shutting its doors in May due to lack of funding. Now ya know! Anyway, so yeah – Anya left the Soviet Union to come dance in the United States. This, back then, was seen as an act of defection — and, one that wouldn’t go ignored. Hence the heavies who chucked her in the trunk.

Piotr points out that such an act may preclude her from ever going home again — which, she seems cool with. She asks what he’s doing in the States… and he gives a pretty surface-level response. He’s “a student”… who came here with his parents’ full blessing. Here we learn that Anya is planning on performing at Lincoln Center for the Handel Company that night, likely named for George Frideric Handel, the German composer.

And so she does. And she’s wonderful.

Following the performance, Piotr meets up with Anya backstage to present her with a sketch he’d drawn of her while she was performing. In return she plucks him a single rose from on of the several bouquets that’d been left in her dressing room. They share a kiss… half-worried and half-excited that their romantic relationship might be moving a little bit too fast.

From here — well, I promised you some FEAR AND HATE during my pre-ramble, so it’s high time I delivered, eh? To this point, it’s just been a lovely little story… well, let’s jam a fork into the electrical socket and change the tone with the quickness! It’s here where Anya is once again confronted by one of the Russian Thugs. I’m not sure I mentioned this yet, but they were sent here to collect Anya… by her father. These goons are a little bit higher in the Thug-Pecking-Order, and this time, they’ve decided not to take no for an answer. And so, Colossus armors up to let them know that, if they’re planning on taking the gal — they’re going to have to go through him.

Pete makes with the punchin’ and scares the — I don’t think I’m allowed to refer to them as “Commies” anymore, am I? Whatever the case, he chases the Russian Thugs off. When he turns to Anya, she — well, she freaks the eff out! She calls Piotr a liar and a monster. She thought she was falling in love with a human dude — not a steel-skinned, heartless [insert word for freak here]! She shouts a bit… she gives him back his sketch… and runs off into the neighborhood.

We close out with Piotr back at the Boardwalk where he and Anya had their first chat. He stands there for several hours… before tearing his sketch in two and walking off into the night.

Ya know, it’s funny — I’ve talked/written a time or two how long it takes for me to put together a piece for the site/channel/wherever — but, it’s with a written bit like this where it’s most “visually” apparent. Hopefully it isn’t quite that noticeable to y’all, but as I roll back through my photos to get ’em ready for uploadin’, I can tell that — during the course of my synopsizing, the Sun’s come out! If you’ve been following my stuff for any length of time, you’ll be somewhat familiar with my “process”. I try and get all my content-creation hoo-doo outta the way before beginning “the day proper”. That is to say, before the wife gets up — before the work-day begins.

So yeah, I’m up before Sun-up to get these addled words committed to digital paper. Over the course of the past couple of years, those efforts have been mostly focused on audio output — so, a Google Doc script that I’d take into my fake-ass recording studio to spit into a microphone. For the recent li’l while, however, it’s been text-and-pics based — so, I’m snapping panel pix in the dark — by the time I’m done, however, it’s light outside. When I’m prepping my pix, it’s crazy to see them go from dark to light — as mentioned, I hope it’s not too noticeable after the half-assed tinkering I do on ’em!

And wow, that might’ve been among the more boring couple’a paragraphs I ever bothered to include in a post here! Thanks for stickin’ around, if in fact ya did!

Let’s actually talk a bit about this story, eh?

It was… ya know, fine. As a long tenured reader of X-Men comics, it felt like any old “Fear and Hate” story… nothing we haven’t seen before. Nothing we won’t be seeing again… and again… and again. It’s such an “evergreen” (and overused) trope in the X-Books that it’s difficult for your dimwitted host to frame it in its proper context.

Sure, we’ve seen it before — and, as usual — it’s a bit heartbreaking. Like I said skatey-eight times in yesterday’s post, “I get” what Claremont’s going for here. Does it land? Well — yeah. It definitely lands a bit better than Nightcrawler [not] creeping everyone in Salem Center out. It makes more sense for Anya to be freaked out and repulsed by Colossus’ sudden steely appearance — though her more “hateful” reaction here might’ve been a bit overblown for my tastes.

Should Anya feel betrayed here? I suppose… maybe? I mean, she’s away from home — a “defector” — so, we might assume that she’s always kinda “on edge”. In Piotr, she’s found a protector… and now, she finds out he’s not x-actly what she x-pected. I get her being freaked out — but, pounding on Piotr’s chest, proclaiming that (for whatever reason) he doesn’t have a heart? I think Mr. Claremont might’ve been piling it on a bit much here.

I almost feels like the final scenes were written in reverse — Claremont wanted to end with the poignancy of Colossus saying that he in fact, does have a heart — and needed a semi-organic way of getting there. Nothing wrong with that tack… but, it makes the story feel a bit spasmodic. Maybe it’s just me, but I lost any ability to relate to either of our spot-lit characters by the end of this.

That said, up until the (extreme tonal shift of the) ending — I really enjoyed my time with this. It’s not often we get a Piotr-centric story… especially one where he isn’t just spending page upon page whinging about Illyana. So, this was nice to see. Now, if I can try and take my cynic-cap off and replace it with my context-sombrero – let’s explore Anya’s reaction from Pete’s point of view.

Piotr is still a very young man. He mentions in the Claremontian Captions that open this story how he’s new to the Western World. He’s new to anywhere that isn’t his old Soviet farmstead. We could assume that he is quite unfamiliar with the concept (at least first-hand) of the ol’ FEAR AND HATE Machine.

We might assume that this is the first time Piotr’s had to face this sort of prejudice. We talked a bit yesterday about judging folks by the “content of their character”… and how, we — as tenured X-Fans — know that Nightcrawler is a top-tier dude. Here, we get a bit of a play on that as well. If nothing else, Colossus proved that he’s a solid fella (pun possibly intended) in his attempts to protect Anya. He led with his heart… he led with his character. He’s a caring individual.

But, he’s also a dude who can summon up an organic steel hide… which, literally and figuratively conceals his heart (and, if I can get a bit precious, his soul?). He’s judged here by his literal surface-level. All of the good he’d done is reframed as some sinister sort of misrepresentation. Colossus is still a very young and naïve man — who isn’t equipped or prepared for Anya’s rather extreme reaction.

Which may be why he spent such a long time processing it. While I feel as though they may’ve skimped a bit in the subtlety department with Anya — Claremont and Bolton brought it in spades with Piotr. We see him standing there at the Boardwalk… motionless, expressionless… absorbing the realization that, no matter how he behaves, he’s going to face challenges with relationships. Even those who come from the same Motherland — and have shared similar upbringings, can (and will) view him as being different — and will, as a result — instinctively, FEAR and HATE him.

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2 thoughts on “X-Men Vignettes, Chapter Five (1987)

  • March 21, 2022 at 7:16 am
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    When Commies collide! And yes, you can still say Commie. More relevant now than the past 30yrs I’d say. Anyways- good spotlight here, as Petey definitely doesn’t get a lot of love for years to come in the X-books.

    Reply
  • March 22, 2022 at 2:58 pm
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    When you think about it, this is really a heartbreaking story. We have young Piotr, a stranger in a strange land, who finds a small something that reminds him of home and makes him feel more at ease. Then he is completely and harshly rejected by the only thing close to what he has known his whole life. It would be different if it was Americans who feared and hated him for being a mutant, after all they feared and hated him just because of him being a Soviet. But to be hated and feared by one on the few people from your homeland that you have encountered in this foreign land is absolutely crushing. To think that you have found a part of what you miss of home only to have it be the thing that abhores you the most is crushing. No wonder he stood in the same place for hours before finally deciding to throw away any feelings he had for this part of home he found in this strange land. Tearing the picture is Piotr’s way of casting off any connection to his home in the Soviet Union and embracing his new home with the X-Men.

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