X-Men Vignettes, Chapter 15 (1987)
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Tom Orzechowski
Colors – Petra Scotese
Edits – Kavanagh, Nocenti, DeFalco
From: Classic X-Men #15 (November, 1987)
Hey everybody — I wanna welcome you all to the “new-look” Chris is on Infinite Earths! Sure, the redesign kicked in yesterday (as of the time of this writing), but I wasn’t actually planning for it to “go live” for quite some time. I didn’t realize I’d wind up getting all hyper-focused, obsessed, and “chris” about the endeavor — spending several hours of my Wednesday futzin’ and fiddling with themes and coding. I tell ya, for a lotta people, this would’ve taken NO time at all… sadly, I’m not one of those people. I mean, Blogger… the most basic blogging platform outside of a composition notebook and a crayon… was too much for me!
So yeah, as with many/all of the things I do — this took way too long, and probably isn’t a quarter as impressive as I think!
It was, however, a long time coming. I made the move from Blogger back in… ho boy, October 2021, wuzzit? Wow, that was a long time ago. I’m pretty sure, even back then, I mentioned that I was gonna give the place a “facelift” ASAP — but, I never did. This “foot dragging” was for a multitude of reasons — which, well — hell, I don’t have an actual “diary”, so I will bore y’all with the details. If you’re not interested, you’re just a finger-flick (or two) away from our Starjammin’ story.
If you’re still on this side of the dashes — I beg your indulgence, as I’m about to get into some’a that “real talk”. Back in the long ago, I really wanted to be an artist. A comics artist, and anything artist, really — but, and this might be obvious — confidence has never really been my strong suit. I would draw all the time — but I’d purposely not use “professional quality” equipment. I’d draw on notebook or printer paper with low-quality dull pencils and smeary ink-pens and what not. I never asked for “better” stuff — even after I was gifted a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which includes a, for lack of a better term, “shopping list”, for the wannabe comics pro.
But, I kept with my shoddy materials — and continued to put out shoddy work.
They say it’s the poor craftsman who blames their tools, right? Well, I was a zero-confidence-havin’ wannabe artist. I didn’t wanna face facts that… maybe I just wasn’t all that great, and so I gave myself an “out”. I could say (to myself and others) that… if only I had the “good” materials and equipment, then I’d be great. I’d never actually procure those “good” materials… because, had I done so — and I still sucked — well, then I’d have to come to grips with some harsh facts, yes?
Now, this blog — and, really, my entire “online presence” is yet another thing I have zero confidence in. Writing, talking into a mic, just being a personable human being — that comes easy to a lotta people. I… am not one of those people. And so, the longer I kept my online “home” looking like something out of 2002 or so… the longer I could blame that for the lack of attention or engagement or, I dunno — respect, that the place (and I) get — despite the tens of thousands of hours and literal millions of words I’ve poured into it. I wouldn’t have to face facts that, maybe I’m just bad at this. The poor blogger blames their blog — not him or herself for being a sh*tty blogger.
So, I put off “polishing” the place. I’d come up with excuse after excuse — don’t have the time, don’t have the technical know-how, don’t have a “clear vision” for what I want the place to look like. But, what it all truly came down to was — I was (and still am) scared I’d be losing my “out”. I’m about 95% sure that this pseudo-professional “facelift” will garner me zero new readers, and no more “respect” than I had before — but, hey — an untalented idiot can dream, right?
Anyway, sorry for that tangent — howsabout we take a look at when Cyclops’s dad met the (cat) girl of his dreams?
Our story opens on the Mineworld of Alsibar… uh-oh, I’m already feeling a yawn coming on. Okay, okay, that’s not entirely fair — at least not for this story. The fact that this story takes place in space is… well, it makes it less interesting than it could be… but, isn’t really so much of a “strike” against it. At least not for me. It’s here we see one Christopher Summers hauling chunks of crystal while a goiter-necked Shi’ar Slaver watches over him. The Claremontian narration informs us that this is sorta-kinda a case of “Be careful what you wish for” f’r ol’ Chris… as he was a big fan of Science Fiction serials, and dreamt of being among the stars. Well, here y’are, pal — howzat working out for ya? Anyway, while our man hauls his lode, a strange Mephitisoid (that is, cat-looking-woman) rushes by, crashing right into him. Our furry meet-cute is interrupted, however, as the Slaver collects her and tosses poor Chris against a wall.
The Slaver then proceeds to pummel the poor rebellious cat-lady for a bit while our man looks on. He attempts to intervene on her behalf, but finds himself on the business-end of a “Neurolash”… which is fancy-speak for a Shi’ar Shock Whip.
From here, the Slaver appears to take great pleasure in breaking poor Mr. Summers down. He beats the stuffing out of him until Chris literally begs for mercy. He promises the oaf that he’ll be good… that he won’t step out. He’ll just do his work and won’t be a problem ever again. With Chris’ spirits affectively broken, the Slaver and a partner grab the Cat Lady and drag her away, where she is going to be eaten alive.
Huddled broken in a corner of the mine, Summers starts singing along with a certain song many of us are familiar with… goes a little something like “Well, how did I GET here?”, which shifts us into Flashback Land… and shares a story many X-Fans are already well aware of. That being, that our slave here is the father of Scott and Alex Summers (also those other Summerseseses, but we’re not gonna worry about them right now). We’re taken to that scene where the (at the time) entire Summers family are in their small plane, when it is spotted by one of Emperor D’Ken’s ships.
Chris and Katherine Summers are beamed on board to be added to the Shi’ar Zoo or something, leaving the boys behind on a jet that’s, ya know, dropping out of the sky. The boys load into a single parachute and jump — as they fall, their chute catches fire. Chris and Call Me Kate see this via D’Ken’s monitors… and assume that their boys are, ya know, goneski. D’Ken also takes a bit of a liking to Katherine — but, when she doesn’t return those feelings, he kills her. Of course, nowadays, we know she’s gets a li’l somethin’ “in” her before this happens — but, for the purposes of this story (coming from Corsair’s point of view), it’s all we need to know.
So, with his entire family seemingly wiped out, Chris is sent to the Alsibar Mines. Back to the “present”, and our man is shaken awake by a large Saurid… that is, a big scaly green critter. Chris, as you might imagine, recoils at the sight of him. First, dude’s kinda scary looking — second, Chris has just had his butt-kicked repeatedly, so it stands to reason he might be a bit froggy. Anyway, the Saurid has a ponytailed Cyborg Pal with him, and they assure our hero they ain’t here to hurt him. In fact, they’re just here to try and find that Cat Lady. Poor Chris is of very little help to them at this point, however, having been spirit-broken by the Slavers. He just mutters about cleaning his mess and carving the crystal.
Raza and Ch’od give each other a look as if to say “geddaloadadisguy”, before talking a bit more about their plight. They have an aside where they comment that this sad, broken, mustachioed slave has been rendered into nothing more than a “grub”. Oh, the Slavers called him a grub a few times already, by the way. Now, this has that “calling Marty McFly a chicken” effect (or is it affect? I dunno) — in either event, Chris Summers has decided that he’s a Grub No More. He grabs a couple of crystal shards and shouts “No!” into the echoing caverns… which, I mean… if you’re not wanting to attract attention, maybe don’t bellow in the mine?
From here, our man sneaks into the Slavers’ quarters, where he sees Hepzibah tied up and… well, ready to be eaten, I guess. Minds out of the gutter, friends. Raza and Ch’od look on from above. Chris is able to enter pretty easily, being as though he’s nothing more than a “grub”. He’s considered so broken that none of the slavers even give him a second glance. This would be their (last) mistake. Chris stabs the Goiter Man in the back with a sharpened shard before snagging a Neurolash and wielding it like a mad man.
Now, Mr. Summers isn’t the most experienced brawler or nothing, so he pretty much leaves himself wide open to the rest of the Slaver Brigade. Lucky for him, his new associates know a thing or three about tearin’ stuff up. Raza and Ch’od get involved in the brawl, buying Chris enough time and space so that he might free Hepzibah from her bondage.
Once free, Hepzibah… uh… bites Chris’ forearm? Like f’real. She calls this act a “Lifebond”… and/or “Bloodbond”. Not sure why it needs two names — maybe Claremont’s getting paid by the word here? In any event, they’re now bonded by blood, or something. Might make it a bit awkward (well a bit more awkward) when they start bangin’, but what do I know? I’m not here to kink-shame. Anyway, Ch’od helps the lady up to her feet… and suggests that it’s probably not the most opportune time to celebrate, since they’re still kinda stuck on this Mine Planet. Ya see, they don’t have a pilot.
Did somebody say “pilot”? Well, hell — ol’ Chris Summers just so happens to be one of those. He offers to join up with this group of intergalactic rag-tags… and give them everything he’s got. We close out with him introducing himself using his old Fighter Call Sign: Corsair! And the rest is… well, maybe not “legendary” like the story suggests… but, it’s history all the same.
Well, howsabout that – a space-centric story that… I didn’t hate!
Like I said early on in the spoilery synopsis — the fact that we’re in space wasn’t the instant eyeroll that it usually would be. This story was more personal than anything — and could’ve just as easily occurred on some uncharted Earth slave island or something. This was a story of a man — a man who (thought) he’d lost everything — and was able to get over himself and find purpose.
It’s nothing (thematically) that we haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing at all. If you’re reading the “front-half” of the Classix, you’ve just recently met Corsair and the Starjammers — so, this Vignette would greatly add to your x-perience. If you first discovered these stories during their “original run”, you’ll still get something out of this. It’s worth noting, this issue of Classix reprints X-Men #108 (December, 1977), where it is ultimately revealed that this strange mustachioed space pirate is indeed Major Christopher Summers, father of Scott and Alex.
That, in and of itself, makes this Vignette something of a “must read”, which, if we’re being honest — isn’t always the case, right? I feel like a lot of X-Fans have that knee-jerk reaction to these stories — it’s almost as though when we see ’em, our brains go on autopilot — and we wax on about how great (and essential) they are. That sort of thing happens a lot in comics fandom, and isn’t x-clusive to the X-Books. But this one — not only is it a decent little story, it also manages to add a bit of context and import to certain beats of the front-end reprint.
As for the “decent little story” — it’s one that, I can’t for the life of me remember ever reading before. That said, it felt familiar. Perhaps it’s the “tropeyness” of the thing — maybe I just knew it from osmosis or something. We’ve talked in recent visits about the concept of “decompression” within a single story. Ya know – like, stretching even a short “oner” to its very limits. That, in my opinion, is not the case here at all. In fact, I probably could’ve gone for another page or two. Seeing Chris Summers broken down emotionally by the Goiter-necked Slaver was so well done. Heartbreakingly so, even.
When you first think of Chris (and the Starjammers), you’re probably going to think of swashbuckling and smiles. This is a fun rag-tag group of space pirates, after all. Even knowing the traumatic events that led to Major Summers being off-planet, we (or at least, I) tend not to think of it so much. It’s important, but it’s not quite “in your face”. Does that make sense? Seeing how this all played out here — you truly get a feel for Corsair. He’s been broken — mentally, emotionally, psychologically. He’s been worn down to the point where he’s considered nothing more than a “grub”.
The one time he attempts to stand up for something, we see him decisively put in his place. We watch as he’s beaten to the point where he’s basically babbling, begging for mercy, saying anything and everything he thinks his abuser might wanna hear. He’ll be good… he’ll clean his mess… he won’t be a problem. The Slaver doesn’t even consider for a moment the possibility that it might come back around and bite him — he leaves our man whimpering in the corner like a scolded dog. That says so much. We talk about subtlety in Claremont’s writing — and this, to me, is another perfect example. It would’ve taken the Slaver very little effort to just kill Corsair for stepping out here — but, he doesn’t. He thinks so little of our hero, that he doesn’t even find him worth the effort of offing! He sees him as a “grub”. Less than nothing.
Then, left alone at his lowest point — our man’s mind recalls how he got here in the first place. The trauma of losing (and not being able to protect) his family. Seeing his sons falling toward Earth attached to a literally-flaming parachute. Seeing his wife taken away — knowing she’s been killed. That’s bound to do a number on a man’s self-worth, no? He’s just being pummeled here with reminders that he’s been rendered into… less than nothing. This was very well done… and, if you’re a weirdo like me and read the Vignette before the “main story”… it made the scene I included a few paragraphs up carry a whole lot more weight.
Overall – space or no space, I had a great time with this. Like the Storm-centric story we discussed not too long ago, I can say I liked this… but didn’t enjoy it. Which, trust me, may not sound like praise — but, it is!