X-Men Vignettes, Chapter Eleven (1987)

X-Men Vignettes, Chapter 11 (1987)
“Hope”
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Tom Orzechowski
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Kavanagh, Nocenti, Shooter
From: Classic X-Men #11 (July, 1987)

We’ve got a particularly odd Vignette to visit with today. One I read while in a waiting room yesterday afternoon — that, I actually scanned through twice, as I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true — I’ll approach it the same way I approach any comic… by overanalyzing it, attempting to sound intelligent as I do so, and dropping little passive-aggressive digs at the fact that ain’t nobody gonna bother reading this.

My real dilemma, and this might just become a “thing”, is — I honestly can’t tell ya whether I liked it or not. We talk about X-Men side-stories a lot, yes? We discuss how there’s a spectrum that goes from “Essential” to “Unlimited“. Unlimited, of course is referring to X-Men Unlimited… which, I’m pretty sure hasn’t told a story anybody would consider “Essential” since… well, that first one back in 1993, where Magneto came back! If you’re following along with/listening to X-Lapsed [insert passive-aggressive comment here], you’ll know that the current X-Men Unlimited Infinity Comic hasn’t fared all that much better in the relevance department.

I say all of that, so that I might say this — writing a new backup story every month, with an emphasis on (relatively) quiet character moments, isn’t always going to result in “must-reads”. We’ll probably vary on how we receive these stories… which, is totally cool. I’d love to hear and discuss your thoughts on each and every one of these. Is this where I jam a passive-aggressive comment about how little engagement I get? Nah, I kid, I kid. Sorta.

Anyway, I’ll stop wasting yer time pre-rambling here so we can get into a… weird, and, in my opinion, viery “Unlimited” feeling Vignette.

Our story begins in a London Office, not that anyone’d bother to tell us that just yet. Heck, not that it really matters either. It’s here we meet a writer named Phil Halloran. He’s suffering from… well, a few things, writer’s block and depression among them. We see his bin (that’s London for garbage can, no?) full of crumpled-up paper and we witness him screening his phone calls. He ain’t interested in talking to anybody… especially about having to hit his upcoming deadline. Our man decides to get up and take a late night walk around the city to clear his head. Here, we find out a little bit more about him — he speaks, via narrative captions, with a thick Claremontian accent. He’s evidently a very successful news writer… who has been driven to hopelessness due to what he’s been forced to write about all these years. Ya see, reporting crimes isn’t a) pleasant, or b) his dream. He wants to be known for writing what he’s passionate about… but, nobody cares. Wow, join the club, pal!

Phil tells himself to “quit whining”, which is like he’s actually participating in self-talk I engage in daily… he thinks to himself why he got into writing in the first place… and cites reading Eagle as a child. He namedrops its flagship character, Dan Dare. By now, his walk has taken him to the closed-to-the-public GPO Tower. GPO (General Post Office) Tower now goes by BT (British Telecom) Tower, and was the tallest structure in England until 1980. And with that, I’ve done more research on London than Tini Howard did during the entirety of her Excalibur (vol.4) run!

The Tower’s been closed off for a bit due to a terrorist bombing. Not sure exactly when this story is meant to be taking place, but the actual real-world bombing occurred on Halloween, 1971. The bombing was performed by the Angry Brigade… which, sounds like a group of silly-hatted supervillains in a Marvel-UK comic — but under the guise of it being pulled off by the IRA. Since then it’s been closed off. Our man Phil decides to try jigglin’ the door handle, and is shocked to discover that it ain’t locked. He figures “what da hell?” and goes inside to give it a goo. The top level of the tower is one’a them rotating restaurant gimmicks. Our man mentions that his folks promised to take him her for his birthday dinner… but, that was before the attack. He continues his climb, and winds up on the roof of the place… noting that it’s a lonnnnng way down.

He stands there, contemplating his next move. It’s pretty clear he’s trying to make peace with the idea of ending his own life. He’s got nothing here but wants… and he assumes that he’ll never be happy. Just then, a soft gust of wind… and the arrival of: Storm! Oh yeah, this is an X-Men ditty, innit? Did she detour through this part of London after dealing with the Leprechauns of Cassidy Keep?! Let’s assume that’s why she’s here — otherwise, this doesn’t make all that much sense. She inquires as to why Phil’s up here… to which, he shuts her down by simply saying “My business.”

Storm lands next to our man, and tells him that he looks familiar. He introduces himself as Phil Halloran, a name Storm immediately recognizes. Okay, now that might be the most unbelievable part of this story. Storm expresses that she’s happy to meet him, to which… he tells her that it’d be best that they remain strangers. Worth noting, however, Phil does appear to be immediately smitten, however… because this is a Storm story written by Chris Claremont.

What follows is a page and a half of Phil contemplating suicide, in a very Comics Code Authority approved sort of way. Nebulous and non-committal to say the least. Storm tells him that he’d be missed — he replies that, those feelings will pass with the quickness. Storm then grabs our man by the arm, and flies with him over the skies of London.

While (or is it “whilst”… or is “whilst” just a word jagoffs on Reddit use to appear intelligent?) in the sky, Phil relaxes a bit, and shares with Storm some of his current dilemma. Words were his “gift” — like flight and weather-manipulation are hers — but now, all his words do is bring pain. He’s only ever been good at one thing… and it’s the one thing that’s driven him batty. He has no love nor passion for his craft anymore. Writing, to him, has become rote. Wow, welcome to the club… again, pal!

Storm lets Phil back down on the roof of the tower. She encourages him to try and find a new passion — to which, he reminds her that he’s a writer… this is all he’s got. With his back turned to her, he asks how she would feel if he was able to take her powers away. Hey, who does this guy thing he is, Forge? Storm… does not reply… but, that’s only because he’s just been clubbed over the head by some dude in a rent-a-cop outfit!

The security guard is revealed to be a wanted serial killer. He drags Storm inside to finish the job while encouraging ol’ Phil to swan dive into the afterlife. Our man picks up Ororo’s bloody headdress and… proceeds to walk to the edge of the tower! Wow, I didn’t realize that this security guard was Superman, as written by J. Michael Straczynski!

Fortunately (for Storm), Phil briefly comes to his senses — and heads back into the rotating ress’arant to confront the creep. Phil… gets his butt kicked. But, he’s the killer’s punching bag just long enough for Storm to somewhat recover from the clubbering. She manifests a bolt of lightning and zaps the baddie.

We wrap up with Phil tying up the killer. Storm thanks him for running interference, and begs him one more time not to end his life. We actually close out without clarification as to whether or not he did! He says something very “teen-age deep” about what it means to throw ones life away — do you “throw it away” by dying… or by staying alive. Like I said… very deep. And, well — that’s that!

So… pretty odd little ditty, yes? Now, what’d we think?

Well, I’m of a couple minds on this one. First: did this need to be an X-Men story? Probably not. This is definitely in the vein of “Nightcrawler sees dead people” — which, is to say — decent enough, but wildly inessential. Hey, that oughta be the tagline for this site! Though to say my stuff is “decent” might be overselling it.

Storm’s appearance here… was, I dunno — I don’t wanna say “forced”, because — I mean, it’s fiction — everything in fiction is forced, yes? It’s just the odd way in which this story came together. Phil’s on the roof of the tower, contemplating taking the quick way back down — then, Storm just… appears? It’s like we’re seeing a couple’a cartoon kids thinking about playing with matches, when they’re suddenly met by Flint and Lady Jaye. Just so inorganic and outta nowhere.

Just like with the aforementioned recent Nightcrawler Vignette, this really could’ve been any character (with the power of flight — except maybe a JMS-written Superman). It didn’t have to be Storm… it didn’t even have to be an X-Man. It’s these stories that I have the hardest time connecting with, as they feel as though (and I might be/probably am projecting) they were just sitting in Claremont’s desk drawer collecting dust before he realized he could apply it to a Classix backup. Like I said in the pre-ramble… this one’s more “Unlimited” than Essential.

And, while it might sound like I’m bashing or that I didn’t like the story… and well, to be honest, it’s sorta-kinda the opposite. I can’t rightly say that I “enjoyed” it… maybe because it was a bit too relatable? It was good/enlightening, however, as a look into the mind of a depressed writer. A writer who has perhaps lost that spark — that twinkle in their eye — their passion. We see Phil’s plight/struggle here — and his dissatisfaction with what makes for “good reading”. As a news writer, he’s gotta deal with the concept of “if it bleeds, it leads”. As we saw during his walkabout, the front pages of all the papers had to do with the “Woman Killer” still being on the loose.

He’s made his name writing about tragedy — to the point where he’s become dull to it. As his crumpled up attempts at writing pile up to the point of overflowing his garbage can bin, he realizes that — maybe, he’s just outta words. He’s got no more to write/say. Back in the long ago, when I was toying with the idea of writing “professionally” — I’d say, when talking about how difficult it is to get noticed — “Everybody’s got words, and we were all born with a lifetime supply.” Perhaps it’s here that Phil’s realized that his supply has dried up?

When Storm suggested he find a new passion… our man kinda laughs it off. I appreciated this, as it — not so much puts Storm in her place, but speaks to the differences in their mindsets. To Storm, writing is a vocation — not something to define one’s life by. To Phil, however, that’s all there ever was. To simply say “just find something new” is tantamount to an insult… though, Storm certainly didn’t mean it that way.

Writers, and I’m sure a lot of my blogging peers would agree, are a precious bunch. For many of us, this is all we’ve got as a creative outlet. For many of us, like Phil, it’s something we (can) find joy in… but, it’s also something we have a measure of control over. I might be projecting… or, maybe even pulling my own personal curtain back a few inches too far — but, the ability (or, at least the passion) to “create”, is almost something you can become a prisoner to. Phil speaks of losing the spark… he sees what “sells” as far as stories go, and realizes that, if he were to follow and write his heart — it would never be able to compete with a “bloody” front page.

This is… relatable. Ask any writer you know — real or, in my case, fake-ass. In serious news, prose, or even stupid-hobby sh*t — we all know how to get noticed. It’s mostly a matter of the writer’s willingness to do what needs done in order to compete. In our story here, it’s as though Phil’s been unconsciously denying these inconvenient truths… until right this very moment. It was with this realization he realizes that… he’s done. He’s said everything he’s going to say. He’s… outta words.

Ya know what… I think I’m probably projecting a bit too much of myself onto poor Phil… so, I think I’m gonna tug the reins a bit. Suffice it to say, if you’re a writer or know any writers, this story will be relatable… though, perhaps not to the extremes that Phil seems/seemed willing to go to. For this reason, I can say that — while I liked this story… I didn’t really enjoy it. Does that make sense?

Probably not… but, when does anything I say?

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4 thoughts on “X-Men Vignettes, Chapter Eleven (1987)

  • March 28, 2022 at 9:11 am
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    I completely understand (Phil and you). When I first started writing in 2009, I went absolutely crazy doing so. There were weeks I’d have two columns that sometimes exceeded 2-3k words, plus multiple comic book reviews (I think 5-6, if not more), news blurbs (I wasn’t really big and n them, though), and so on. I didn’t realize until 1-2 years in how taxing it had become, and it sucked all the joy out of it for me by 2012/3.

    So, in short, I completely understand. Obviously I can relate to you and other bloggers/podcasters more than “Phil,” but burn out is something that happens to everyone at some point. I’m sure it’ll happen to me again sooner or later, and I’ll take a step back, but as long as I’m enjoying it, I’m gonna push forward. Knowing when to take a break is the toughest part.

    Reply
  • March 28, 2022 at 3:48 pm
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    I wonder what the meta message was behind this story for Claremont. Was he starting to feel burnt out? Was a friend and fellow writer having the feelings that Phil was espousing? The motivation of a writer, writing about a writer no longer wanting to write any longer poses so many queations to me about their personal mindset.
    And on a personal note, your writing and this blog has become destination reading for me once again. I loved comics for most of my life and being able to read about those great comics from days long past is my favorite thing at this point in my life. There are a few different sites where I get to do this but when you are writing, this is my favorite place to read about old comics and interact with someone else who loves those old comics too. Thank you for continuing to write and bringing so much joy into my life.

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  • April 24, 2022 at 2:25 am
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    I wonder if there is a link to the narrative in the fact that this issue comes out at the same time as New Mutants 54 which is Claremont’s last issue. I remember at the time it was announced that he was taking a few months off to write a novel. Maybe this is Claremont processing moving from comics to prose.

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    • April 26, 2022 at 6:57 pm
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      THAT is an interesting theory! I didn’t realize this story hit around the time that CC was taking a step back. It’s always interesting to me to read a writer… writing about writers and writing. It may be kind of a tired trope at this point, but when it works — it works!

      Reply

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