X-Men Vignettes #33 (1989)
“So Good it Hurts”
Writer – Ann Nocenti
Art- John Bolton
Letters – Joe Rosen
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Edelman, Harras, DeFalco
From: Classic X-Men #33 (May, 1989)
I feel like if you title your story “So Good it Hurts”, you’re really puttin’ it all out there. That’s a bold statement — and, of course, it’s not supposed to be describing the story quality itself… but, ehh…
In other words, I really don’t have much of a pre-ramble today. This chapter occurs at the same time as the last one. Give that one a peek if you’re interested! For a bit of context for this one — it (mostly) plays out during this scene from X-Men #127 (November, 1979).
We open with Havok and Polaris on their way to help the X-Men with the Proteus Problem. Now, it’s a weird bit of business to start — as, Alex appears to be zoning out and hallucinating these violent and horrible ends for the two of ’em. Now, I’m not 100% sure these are purely hallucinations… or, maybe they’re some sort of long-distance Proteus reality-warping? It’s one’a those, I guess! I suppose at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Or, maybe it does? I dunno, I’m ‘fused. Speaking of “fused”, Havok and Polaris wreck their car and become fused together here! In reality, Alex just zoned out and drove off the road and down an embankment. They are both unharmed. Worth noting, the love of his life, Lorna Dane calls him “Havok” rather than Alex throughout this story. Maybe it’s because he’s in costume? Maybe they’ve got a rule about that? Maybe it’s a kink they’ve got? Who knows…
Alex x-plains that, of late, he’s been thinking a lot about how quickly things can end… as in, life. He zones out and pictures himself smashing into things while he’s driving, f’rinstance. He doubles-down by revealing that he’s had these feelings ever since around the time he’d met her. He fears they’re headed toward some sort of unavoidable “smash”. These words are clearly music to any girl’s ears — Lorna tell him to put a pin in it for now, as she retrieves their hooptie outta the sump.
She then takes him by the hand and goes skyward. Havok appears to be momentarily calmed… though, it might be worth noting that he calls the love of his life… Polaris. Welp, she’s not in costume, so there goes that theory. Maybe Ann didn’t think anybody would recognize them? Ya know, it’s not as thought Havok’s costume is unique or anything? Anyway, Havok starts thrashing and freaking out — an anxiety attack is imminent. He catastrophizes the situation… assuming they’re both about to fall to their death. He asks Lorna for one last kiss… before smashing his face into hers… literally.
From here, we get the weird and awkward scene from our “cover”, and the pair’a lovers smash into the ground below. Only, ya know, not really. Turns out, Lorna didn’t even take him into the sky a couple’a pages back — it was all in Alex’s head! He x-plains that lately he’s been resenting the danger that being X-Men puts them in. All he can see is worst-case scenarios. Now that Lorna’s in his life… and the fact that he loves her, these dangers, “smashes”, and ends feel all that much more intense… and that intensity only fuels his resentment.
Polaris doesn’t appear to get where he’s coming from. I’m sure she understands what he’s saying — she just doesn’t see his point of view. She reminds him that they’re a part of something bigger than them — and that the world needs them. Havok contorts into a very dramatic pose, before blasting a nearby boulder to bits. He understands that his concerns are selfish… and acknowledges that he’s ashamed of himself for thinking the way he does. But — he just has a feeling that, the longer they’re X-Men, the more likely it is that their end is imminent. Which, sure — stands to reason, right? Gotta assume someone who fights supervillains might not be as long for the world as someone who delivers pizzas?
The conversation is interrupted by a weather phenomenon on the horizon. This is Storm taking on Proteus from the main story… immediately following the Wolverine/Nightcrawler scene. They hop back in the hooptie and head over.
We wrap up with our heroes arriving on the battlefield… just as the dust is settling. They get a good look at their fellow X-Men, and it’s when Havok locks eyes with Wolverine… and sees the fear in them, he knows that he cannot be an X-Man any longer. Havok vows to himself that he will not subject himself to such horrors… and will not ever be a part of any “last battle”.
This was a pretty good one. As we’ve seen throughout our Vignette Visits, it’s not always the easiest thing to do to organically introduce a story that occurs “in-between panels”. They often feel wildly convenient, or maybe don’t quite line up with the timeline of the main story — and, well, sometimes they’re just plain bad. I recall one’a those Savage Land Vignettes being almost aggressively dull.
Here though? This was a good bit’a business. During the main story in X-Men #127, we see Havok and Polaris arriving on the scene — but, never had any cause to give their ride over a second thought. It’s being able to see the opportunities and possibilities presented in these moments that, initially, didn’t much matter, and “filling them in” with characterizations and motivations that really make the Vignettes endeavor work. Did that sentence make sense? I rewrote it like a dozen times. Hopefully, at the very least, you get what I’m trying to say.
The work done with Havok here was interesting. I think Nocenti did a pretty good job describing what the onset of an anxiety attack feels like. Sure, these experiences aren’t universal, and we each deal with panic in our own way(s), but this was quite well done. Bolton did a wonderful job bringing the words to life… which, isn’t much of a surprise at all.
Here’s an unnecessary peek behind the curtain. I’ve long suffered anxiety/panic attacks… and not the kind that are glorified on reddit or make us feel unique and special on social media. Real… debilitating… life-altering panic attacks. I’m talking pain in places you didn’t think you had sorta attacks. You don’t think your soul can hurt? Think again. For me, personally, and this isn’t unique to me — it’s just the only story I can share firsthand — these attacks are brought on by fear (duh) and catastrophizing. Sometimes the catastrophic situation I project myself into ends in physical pain/harm… other times, it’s more a blow to the ego, feeling rejected/dejected/ejected. In either event, you (or I, rather) begin to lose touch with reality.
The worst part of it… well, there are a lot of “worst parts”, but one of them is — the acknowledgement that I’m losing touch with what’s real while it’s going on. Everything around you “changes”… or, at least my perception of it does… and I can feel myself becoming irrational… or catastrophizing an otherwise benign situation into something that’ll send me spiraling. Thankfully, I’m not quite as far-gone as our man, Alex — then again, I’ve never zoned out in the proximity of Proteus!
Speaking of which — there were a couple of things about the story that, I don’t wanna say “cheapened” it… maybe just “lessened” it. One being, the fact that this all went down during a Proteus fight. Are we to assume that Alex is actually “zoning out” on the regular… or, at least to this extreme? Was there any of the Proteus-effect at play here? Like I said at the jump, I suppose it really doesn’t matter — but, I dunno — I suppose it kinda does?
Another bit that pulled me out… and, it’s silly… is how Alex and Lorna referred to one another as “Havok” and “Polaris”. Like I said, it’s a silly criticism… but, still… it pulled me out of the story. I have a hard time accepting that these two lovers, who are not yet on the battlefield, are still calling each other by their codenames. I mean, we can’t even blame this on being a BIG Jim Shooter edict… since he’d been showed the door many months ago. Just feels unnatural — and makes me think less of the Alex/Lorna romance.
It’s weird — I kinda compare this relationship to, and this is gonna sound weird, but to Winnie and Kevin on The Wonder Years. It always felt to me that Kevin was far more into their relationship than Winnie. She often came across as somewhat aloof toward it. Felt one-sided, is what I’m trying to say — and, I kinda get those vibes here from Lorna to Alex. Does that make sense? Prob’ly not.
Overall, despite a couple’s nits that I needed to pick, I had a good time with this one. The ending was powerful… having Alex approach Logan, of all people… seeing the fear in the eyes of a man who… well, doesn’t scare easy, was more than enough to convince our man that, perhaps his X-Menning days are behind him. Good stuff!