X-Men Vignettes, Chapter Zero (1983)

X-Men Vignettes, Chapter 0 (1983)
“a day like any other”
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – Dave Cockrum & Hilary Barta
Letters – Tom Orzechowski & David Cody Weiss
Colors – Andy Yanchus
Edits – Jones, Shooter
From: Special Edition X-Men #1 (February, 1983)

Hey, it’s Sunday… least if I’m reading this calendar right — if you’ve been following me, o these many years, you’ll know that calendars are my Kryptonite — just can’t figure ’em out. But, if I’m right — today’s Sunday. And, Sunday is a day where I’ll sometimes try and fit something a little “odd” into the rotation.

Enter: today’s Vignette offering. First, how ya like that awesome(ly bad) cover I mocked up using a Cockrum pin-up? Eh? Eh? Pretty badass, right?

Now, what’s our plan here? This isn’t out of an issue of Classix… so, what’s the deal? Well, here’s da t’ing. I was out and about the other day, fishing thru the bins looking for a copy of Classic X-Men #19… which, I’ll eventually be needing to track down for an upcoming post. As I’ve mentioned, I’d only recently prioritized collecting the Classix… and, as such, I don’t yet got ’em all. Sure, I could just use the Marvel Unlimited digitals… but by now, y’all know that isn’t my style. So yeah, I was trawlin’ the bins for a copy of #19.

Now, da t’ing about Classix is… well, they’re easy to find — but, you can never be quite sure where you’ll find ’em. Lemme x-plain. Just like when I was trying to track down my last few issues of 1st Issue Special, the back-issue bins can be a rather frustrating place. Let’s take our ol’ favorite 1st Issue Special #4… better known these days as the “lolz, Lady Cop issue”. If you’re bin-diving… this issue could be filed ahead of the A’s… as in the “#” books for “1st”, or it could be filed in the F’s for “First”, or it could be filed in the L’s for “Lady Cop”. I’ve even found some 1IS‘s filed in the D’s for “DC”! So, kinduva pain in the butt. Add to the fact that most shops could give a crap about a title as offbeat as 1IS (until now, when it’s suddenly en vogue to care about it), and you’re in for a hunt.

Applying that to this run… we’ve got Classic X-Men… which changes to X-Men Classic. Which means you might find these filed under the “C” (singing crabs optional), or under the “X” — sometimes they’re jammed after the Uncanny’s… sometimes they’re crammed in the “X-Men Miniseries/Etc.” bins. I mean, these are “caviar problems” for me to be kvetching about, to be sure — but, what can I say?

Anyway, so I’m lookin’ fer #19, right? And, I’m in the “X-Misc.” region of the bins, and I happened across Special Edition X-Men #1… which I’ve seen like a million times before, but never felt the need to nab. I usually associate this one with those other X-Men Classics… ya know, the three-issue dealie from 1983 (below) that reprinted some of the Thomas/Adams Savage Land stuff from outta the original 66? I see those all the time too… but, only recently pulled the trigger outta “Classix completionism”.

I’d long heard that this Special Edition has “x-tra pages”… which, as it’s a reprint of Giant-Size #1, I assumed meant that it had those added pages that were also a part of the lead-story in Classic X-Men #1 (1986). And, since I need another reprint of Giant-Size like I need a hole in the head, I never thought to pick it up — especially not at the twenty or so bucks I regularly see it going for.

Well, during this recent bin-dive, I managed to find a copy of the thing for… well, cover-price – two bucks! Figured, “eh, what da hell?” and picked it up as a curiosity. When I got home and de-bagged it, I noticed the “All-New” story promoted on the back cover… and, well — this might make me seem like an even more Fake-Ass Comics/X-Men Historian than ever, it was a story I never realize x-isted! Cracked it open — saw the weird little story — saw the very recognizable “climax” panel… and, figured I might as well add it to the Vignette pile.

Which… some several hundred words later, finally brings us to actually talkin’ about the thing.

We open on… well if the title is to be believed (and it really shouldn’t be), a day like any other, where Kitty Pry… err, waitasec… what happened to her face? I know Byrne mentioned that he used Sigourney Weaver as inspiration for Kitty’ facial design, but I didn’t realize he meant “current day”. Lemme just get this outta the way — the art here, though we’ve got Cockrum’s name in the credits — ain’t gonna be the most pleasant to behold. I feel bad saying so — but, well, it has to be said. Anyway, she’s practicing some of her gymnastics in the Danger Room, when she overexerts herself and misses a reach of the uneven bars — resulting in her slamming to the ground shoulder first. She was so shocked by the miss, that she didn’t even have the chance to phase through the floor before hitting it. Lucky (?) for her, Illyana is there to check and make sure she’s not too dinged up. Well, let’s hope she doesn’t look Kitty in the face.

Illyana tells Kitty how overwhelming the Xavier Mansion is… and how she’s been exploring it bit-by-bit. Now, let’s try and match this up in “real-time”… well, Marvel-real-time, anyway. This Special Edition X-Men has a February, 1983 cover-date — which lines it up with the release of Uncanny X-Men #166. Yup, it lines up — (teen-age) Illyana was still quite new to the mansion at this point. Anyway, so it’s here that Kitty decides that she’ll give her pal the grand tour of the place — starting with a chat about the Dangerous Room they currently occupy. Now, there’s something to be said about subtlety, yes? And how it’s possible to write an info-dump without it immediately feeling like one. Well, Claremont kinda straddles the line here — some bits feel like organic lines of conversation, while the rest are text-book citations. Oh well, I suppose that sorta was the mission of this short story, eh?

After a once over of the Danger Room, including a brief comparison of the new Shi’ar version and the Original “wrecking balls and spiked walls” version, the gals head into Professor X’s office. Well, I’m actually getting a bit ahead of myself. Kitty tells Illyana that the School is broken up into three segments. In addition to some “common areas”, there are areas for the X-Men, the New Mutants, and for Xavier himself. Okay, with that said, it’s into Xavier’s study. Kitty points out that there’s a lab in there that no one’s allowed to enter — so, that’s probably where the Juggernaut’s hanging out. Also, Cerebro, which Kitty describes as being something that the Professor doesn’t use very often because of the massive strain it puts on his brain. I mean, it’s not like he’ll ever wear the thing as a helmet, right?!

Since there ain’t all that much more to look at here, the girls next head up to the attic to admire Storm’s indoor garden. Kitty says that she’s responsible for taking care of it while Ororo’s away — and that includes having full-on conversations with the plants! Well, it works for my mother-in-law. I tell ya, her plants grow alarmingly fast — whereas ours refuse to. Only difference seems to be that she talks to them all the time. I ain’t no botanist… not even a fake-ass one, so I couldn’t say what’s what. Kitty also shares a story of Ororo’s past with Illyana, which I cannot off the top of my head, pin-point. Though, since it’s Claremont, I’m sure it’s a legit nod to his own prior work.

Next up, we’ll do a two-fer, since there ain’t much to this next leg of the tour. First stop is the “Guest Room”, which formerly belonged to Jean Grey. Kitty mentions that she’d only ever met Jean once, and it was right before she died. During that meeting, however, Jean did save her life. The next room over, belongs to Cyclops — who, Kitty doesn’t really seem to have a whole lot to say about. We see that he’s got some rocketship paraphernalia on his shelves, a framed photo of he, Corsair, and (assumedly) Alex. There’s also a portrait of Jean on his desk. Like I said, Kitty is quite disinterested in this leg of the tour, probably because “eww, original five”.

Next stop is Wolverine’s room — which, is far more romantic and samurai-ish than Illyana expected. Wolverine’s original miniseries (Claremont/Miller) had already run by this point — which, I suppose defined Logan’s personality as a dude who’s into Japanese culture. He’s got a couple of framed photos on his table… which, if the wayyy overused (and not half as funny as folks seem to think) meme can be believed, he probably snuggles up with ’em in bed regularly.

Next, we’ve got another two-fer. Nightcrawler’s room is equipped with a jungle gym, which he sometimes lets Kitty use. He’s also got a tiny pterodactyl in a birdcage. The dino’s name is Colonel Pterydactylee… and this is apparently the only time we’ll ever see the li’l feller. Then, it’s Colossus room, which as you might imagine looks kinda artsy. It’s here we get a bit of icky statutory chatter among the gals. Illyana really seems to wanna see Call Me Kitty get it on with her big bro. It’s… ya know, icky.

From here, we head to Kitty and Illyana’s shared dorm… and it’s a mess. It’s full’a fun pop culture relics of the day — and, a bit more icky “you ought start banging my big brother” chatter. Kitty feels about as weirded out as the rest of us do about this proposed coupling. She states that Piotr is 19… and she’s only 14. Wow, before we get into the Chris Hansen-ness of that line, let’s talk about Katya’s age for a beat. Here, in 1983 (our time), CC tells us that she’s 14. From here, we’ll have the Mutant Massacre… Kitty’ll leave to join Excalibur, where she’ll stay for the entirety of its 125 issue run (including a romantic… and physical relationship with Pete Wisdom), she’d also join S.H.I.E.L.D.! Then, she’d be brought back (with Colossus and Nightcrawler) during that weird Children of the Atom dealie — then, a couple’a years after that, CC would return to the X-Books, and have Kitty say that she’s “only 16”. Hrmm. I’m all for “sliding timelines”, but… c’mahhhhhhhn, Chris. Okay, with that outta the way, Illyana continues to badger Kitty into boffin’ her brother, even going so far as to say that Romeo and Juliut had a bigger age gap between ’em. Oy.

Howasabout we move along before we’re added to a watch-list, yes? Okay, lets. Kitty and Illyana then head out to the pool, where… speaking of creeps, a bald man is watching them via monitor… and he’s quite pleased by what he sees. Sinisterly, she posits that he’ll give them a return home they won’t soon forget! Uh-oh.

After dipping in the pool, the gals dip into the lake. It’s a very swimmy afternoon, ya see? From the lake, they reach a secret underwater entrance to the Blackbird hangar. They then head off to the adjoining “dressing room” to change clothes and blow-dry their hair — before taking a peek at the Mansion’s “holography system” — basically a way to keep tabs on the entire property and ensure nobody breaks in.

Speaking of which — they just so happen to see an intrusion occur right before their eyes! Someone has broken into the main house! The girls hop into the tram-monorail-gimmick to rush back and see what’s up. On the way, Kitty tells Illyana about that N’Garai monster she had to fight on that one Christmas Eve — a story I discussed during Merry X-Lapsed, Year One.

Anyway, they finally make it to the main house… and come up to the room where the holographic alarm sounded. Kitty goes to open the door… at which time, Illyana shoves her into the room – where… the entire X-tended Family are waiting to spring a Surprise Birthday Party on Ms. Pryde. Gonna guess she turned 14… today then? Worth noting, if you’re a part of the X-Lapsed Facebook Group… this is the image I usually post anytime a member has a birthday. I never stopped to think about what issue it actually occurred in… but, now I know!

Kitty blows out her candles, kisses a confused and uncomfortable Piotr on the lips, and thanks Illyana for keeping her off the scent long enough for the party to be sprung, thereby gifting her the best day of her entire life.

So… that was our look into the “Secrets of the Mansion”, courtesy of Kitty and Illyana — what’d you all think of that one?

I… kinda dug it. Looking at it in the Gestalt of when it was released, it stands to reason that Marvel would wanna properly introduce the new/then-current cast of characters to a potentially new reader, who might’ve heard a bit of a buzz about Giant-Size. So, in this Special Edition package, you’re getting Giant-Size in its entirety… plus, something x-tra. Now, as I’ve mentioned time and again — Giant-Size ain’t all that great a story. It’s basic, it’s formulaic — it’s a means to an end, and not much more. It’s quite surprising how Claremont was able to springboard from it into his seminal and legendary run!

Now, the transition from Warren’s famous “whattawegonnadowi’tirteenecksmen?” line into Kitty stumblin’ and fumblin’ in the Danger Room might be a bit of a shock to the system for a newbie — but, the story itself (while not pleasant to look at) does the job of familiarizing us with the current-day status quo quite well. Using Illyana as our POV character was a great idea as well. At this point, she was “new” enough of a character to come across as somewhat na├»ve… while being familiar enough with all things X to be able to follow along and interject when context was needed.

This was also a fun reminder of Kitty and Illyana’s friendship… which, in my opinion, hasn’t felt this genuine in ages. Nowadays… well, nowadays, the characters change personalities just as often as the writer needs ’em to in order to tell their story — so, it’s probably not a fair comparison. In any event, it was fun to see ’em chummin’ it up here. Even if the “hey, you oughta go bang my adult older brother” discussion was perhaps a bit too “take a seat” for my tastes.

The quick ‘n dirty on the current slew of X-Folks was, as mentioned during the spoilery synopsis, a decent enough straddling of organic discourse and infodump lecture. It served its purpose… though, I tell ya what, it was very weird at how (comparably) little discussion Jean and Scott got here. I guess it’s all about when you discover the team, eh? As you (may) know, I came in with the 1991 series, where Scott and Jean loomed large — and characters like Nightcrawler and Kitty were off in that other weird book I couldn’t afford to add to my meager pull.

The ending with the reveal of Kitty’s surprise birthday party was cute. I’m happy to finally know where that “SURPRISE!” panel came from — lord knows I use the thing often enough over at the FB group! Weird that I never stopped to think where it first appeared! I guess I probably just assumed I’d read it somewhere. Sometimes these stories blend together.

I don’t wanna dwell too long on the art… because, ya know — I’m not an artist, and I feel bad bagging on the work of others, but… woof. Not sure if this was a rush job, or perhaps Cockrum didn’t blend well with Barta… but, the difference between that final page of the story from Giant-Size and the first page of this? Man, that’ll send ya into some weird ocular whiplash! Not the finest outing art-wise.

Overall, glad to finally own this Special Edition… and very pleased to be able to x-perience and share an X-Men ditty I never knew x-isted! Hope you all dug this dip into the weird… and, I’ll get things more back to “normal” next time out.

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One thought on “X-Men Vignettes, Chapter Zero (1983)

  • March 27, 2022 at 12:02 pm
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    This special was the first time I ever read Giant Size X-Men. I bought it off a drug store newsrack back in the way back.
    I have always been a fan of those diagrams of secret headquarters and the like, so this story was right up my alley. A tour of the X-Mansion of the day was a cool thing to me.
    My favorite part is when Kitty in a swimsuit pushes Illyana in shorts and a tank top into the lake to access the secret entrance to the Blackbird. And Illyana gets pissed at her for it. Fun times at the X-Mansion.

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