X-Men Vignettes, Chapter 6 (1987)
“A Love Story”
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Tom Orzechowski
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Kavanagh, Nocenti, Shooter
From: Classic X-Men #6 (February, 1987)
Deja vu all over again!
When I sat down to read today’s little ditty, it actually took me a few pages to realize what I was looking at had… no words. I mean, once I did realize it… I realized it — but, it was so well-crafted that it didn’t matter. Compare this with that other silent story we recently discussed, and well — nah, let’s just forget that one ever happened at all, eh?
Worth noting that this back-up appears in the same issue of Classix where X-Men #98 (April, 1976) is reprinted. This is the “Merry Christmas X-Men — the Sentinels Have Returned” story, which I’d covered back in 2020 as part of Merry X-Lapsed Year One. If you recall (or are just familiar with the ish yourself), the X-Men were hanging out in New York City during Christmastime… and were attacked by Sentinels — some of our heroes were even dragged into space! One in particular might just be returning to Earth via a dip into Jamaica Bay. So, yeah — there’s our set-up… even though this backup appears to occur earlier that evening, it’s chock full of… hmm, can we call it foreshadowing when it’s as blatant as this? We’ll get there — and, when we do, you can be the judge!
Anyway… I don’t think this’ll be a long one (famous last words), so let’s get to it!
Our story opens in the afternoon of the day where the X-Men got all merry at Rockefeller Center. Jean’s headed back to her apartment with some shopping bags to prepare for her big date/outing later on that evening. Once inside, she… uhh, visits the Wikipedia page for mutants? This was the point in which I realized we were getting a more gimmicky story this time out. We see casual definitions for Mutant, Telekinesis, and Telepathy… on the inside of the refrigerator or pantry door? I think? I dunno…
From here, we follow Jean in for a bath… where she spends a half-hour soaking. The grandfather clock starts BONGin’ at 6:30pm… which, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one do that when not “on the hour”. Oh well. From here, Jean spies a framed photo of she and her roomie, Misty Knight painting a wall of their ridiculously gargantuan apartment. Under the pic is a note from Misty, basically telling Jean to “get some” tonight.
Our gal then heads over to her nightstand to confirm that she does… maybe… possibly… have dinner plans with one Scott Summers. She looks at another framed photo — which is of Scott, and… is signed by Scott. Jean better get that sucker CGC slabbed and sold before Marvel decides the X-Men ain’t worth anything anymore! Here’s a question for y’all… have you EVER (outside of a yearbook situation) signed a photo of yourself for someone? Maybe I was born too late for this phenomenon? Anyway, we learn that today’s date is December 21 (1975?)… which was a Sunday. Paloma Herrera, whoever that is, was born this day. The Number One Song in the United States was That’s the Way (I Like it) by KC and the Sunshine Band… Number One in the UK was Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Finally “Very Good Eddie” opened at the Booth Theater in New York City — maybe Jean and Scott were planning on taking in a show before the Sentinels struck?! Okay, enough’a that…
Next, Jean shares a dance with her telekinetic Scott puppet — which, I don’t wanna say this is weird or nothin’… it’s actually kind of sweet. But, yeah — also a bit weird. Then again, as far as I know, I’ve never been a teen-age girl, so maybe this is completely normal behavior?
I promised some blatant foreshadowing, yes? Let’s get to it. After wearing herself out making out with the invisible Scott, Jean heads back to her bedroom, where there is a poster for The Phoenix and the Carpet, a (1904) British children’s novel by Edith Nesbit, with illustrations by H.R. Millar. This is the second of a trilogy of novels, wherein some kids accidentally burned up a carpet by playing with fireworks… and they’re given a second-hand rug that just so happens to have a Phoenix egg rolled up on it? Okay. The Phoenix hatches, and offers them wishes. There was a BBC adaptation in 1997 — which makes Jean’s poster here seem even weirder. I’d assumed there’d already been a film… hence the poster. Anyway, Jean spies yet another framed photo… this one is of her family. She places it in a drawer, so they can’t watch if she and Scott decide to get busy later on that night.
Our gal then spends some time trying to decide between a black dress and a white dress. She ultimately chooses the black one. Now, since this was written (assumedly) in 1986/87… might this be a reference to her eventual Black Queening? Maybe? Maybe not? Does it even matter?
Then, Scott arrives! Worth noting, there’s some x-cellent attention to detail here. Scott’s wearing the same coat that he’d be shown wearing in at Rockefeller Center.
Our man presents Jean with a rose… then they make out for a bit before leaving. Jean does grab her fur coat… which is the very same one she’s seen wearing at Rockefeller in the original ish.
They leave… evening turns into night… and, CH-BOOM! we’ve got a big x-plosion! The window of Jean’s bedroom shatters… and through the bits of broken glass we can see a flaming figure soaring. Now, in case what we’re seeing isn’t totally clear, the camera zooms up to Jean’s The Phoenix and the Carpet poster… really zeroing in on the first half of the title.
Okay, not gonna lie — this one took a whoooooole lot longer to write than I thought it would! Last night, when I “read” this one, it took… I dunno, two minutes? That’s certainly no indictment on the quality of the writing and art — because it’s good stuff. It’s just a brief, (largely) silent story. So yeah, read it in two minutes — smirked in a satisfied way, figuring I could knock out a discussion post on it in like… fifteen minutes, and, well — here I sit, two friggin’ hours later, and I’ve still gotta compile my actual thoughts about the thing!
Now, before we get into it – I wanna mention something that was pointed out by Chris U. in the comments (I promise I’ll get around to responding to the comments soon — I’m a bit outta practice) – also, I’m beyond happy to see Chris U.’s comments again! What he mentioned was that, Claremont seems to be alternating between writing “value-added” beats to enrich (without contradicting) the earlier/original stories – and giving us some neat character-focused “flavor”. This little ditty blends the two columns, falling somewhere in-between.
This is very much a story we can “place”, right? It most certainly occurs right before X-Men #98 opens. It enriches the story (a bit), but doesn’t muck about/confuse/contradict anything. If anything, it makes the story the Classix series is about to cover all the more tragic. It also felt like it built on the Storm/Jean back-up from a few issues ago, wherein we’re getting this unique look at Jean’s “new normal” – away from the Xavier School, living with Misty Knight. It’s all very neat.
Now, as much as this adds to the overall lore of the era, it also serves as a wonderful little character bit. As mentioned, it gives Jean and her “new normal” some screen time, but we’re also getting a feel for Jean’s maturation. As she pointed out a few issues back, she’s not a kid anymore. She’s now an independent young woman, involved in a (relatively) healthy romantic relationship — living (mostly) on her own. This story could serve as one’a those “first day of the rest of her life” sorta things.
Only… it’s not. What Jean doesn’t know… and couldn’t possibly know, is — this is basically the last day of her life. At least for awhile. We seasoned X-Fans know how this arc goes — the X-Men go to space… there’s the Jamaica Bay scene — Jean bursts out of the drink as the Phoenix! Of course, originally — this was meant to actually be Jean — and there was no cocoon gimmick at play.
Post X-Factor/Busiek-retcon, we know that this wasn’t Jean but the Phoenix entity itself. The Phoenix would go on to become Dark, barbecue some
broccoli asparagus and, ya know – die. Now, we could talk at length about that whole mishigas, but we won’t — at least not yet. I mean, a) it’s been talked to absolute death, and there’s very little I can possibly add to it, and b) we’ll undoubtedly get there when we get there.
What matters for this Vignette is, we’re seeing some of Jean Grey’s final moments (again, for now). And, ya know — it didn’t even dawn on me until sitting down to collect my thoughts on the story! Now, this is important (to me) for a couple of reasons. First, narratively speaking — it’s quite powerful. What we see here is a woman bursting with love, excited for her future — all the while, we readers know what her future actually holds.
Second, focusing on the “sausage being made” aspects of this story… gotta hand it to Claremont for playing ball here. Again, we’re not gonna go too deep on “the Phoenix mishigas” (yet), but — Claremont’s original plans for the Phoenix were quite different than what we saw play out on panel. The way in which he crafts this story — kinda straddles the fence, in a good way. Lemme x-plain. Sure, we get the anvil-dropping Phoenix foreshadowing — but, it doesn’t actively “hurt” anything.
This story could work using Claremont’s original plans… or the Jamaica Bay-cocoon retcon. I, personally, feel it’s more tragic with the retcon, but it works both ways. Something I’d neglected to mention since starting this little dip into the Vignettes is the Shooter Effect. I’ve talked about my respect for Jim Shooter a whole bunch, both here and on the air. Among other things, I respect Jim’s… respect for the characters he’d been tasked with stewarding and protecting. You know this fella was x-amining these “yester-tales” with a fine-toothed comb to ensure they properly “fit”. That’s just the kind of Editor-in-Chief Shooter seemed to be. He knew that the characters came first — and, while nowadays – in the age of twitter-bait, fashionable faux-outrage, and superstar writers, that’s almost a laughable statement to make — it doesn’t make it any less true.
It’s almost a statistical impossibility that Classix was given these extra pages to add flavor to existing stories and characters at all — especially when we consider how Claremont and Shooter bumped heads with regularity (at least as the stories go). That said, the fact that these stories x-ist in the first place, and perform at such a high-level really adds to my enjoyment in this endeavor.
Overall — I mean, like I said — this’ll take ya under five minutes to read twice. The story it’s telling and the gorgeous art it gives ya, is well worth your investment of time. Next time out, we’ll be taking a look at the Vignette that kinda forced my hand in actively hunting and collecting the Classix!