X-Men Vignettes, Chapter Thirty-Four

X-Men Vignettes #34 (1989)
“Double Negative”
Writer – Ann Nocenti
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Joe Rosen
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Edelman, Harras, DeFalco
From: Classic X-Men #34 (June, 1989)

We’re getting really close to the end of this leg of the Vignettes Project. As it stands now, we’ve only got two chapters left that come equipped with “cover images”. In case I didn’t make this clear from the start… and, I mean, if you’re reading these, you most likely already know — but, these Classic X-Men backups had their own “covers”… which is to say, the back cover would have a pin-up — which, are the images I took, and slapped a low-poly, grainy, poorly edited “X-Men Vignettes” logo on (seriously, don’t look at it too closely)… and then typed the chapter number in Bookman OldStyle Font in as near a similar shade of blue and white as I could get it.

That all changes, however, with issue #37. I’m guessing it’s due to a combination of Marvel wanting more ad revenue and not really prioritizing this project anymore… but, come that issue… the back cover will be – just an ad. Here’s a silly little “mock-up” I did for what Vignettes #37 could’a been:

Back Cover of Classic X-Men #37 (September, 1989)

So, knowing that’s headed our way… I guess I’m going to have to try and get a bit creative for upcoming covers. Creativity isn’t my strong suit… which is probably why all I tend to write about are other peoples’ creations. There’s a saying that I’ve tried to coin over the years — “Those who can, do — those who cannot, review” — it rhymes and sorta rolls off the tongue in said in the right cadence.

Anyway, all that to say — come Vignette #37, we’ll be entering the final “leg” of this project. I believe the last Vignette appears in Classic X-Men #44? I could be mistaken… but, I don’t think I am. Crazy, when I started this I could’a sworn they ran into the 60s! I guess this won’t go quite as long as our Action Comics Daily dealie from the long ago… though, there are some X-Men shorts floating around out there that might be needing some attention in the form of the Vignette treatment? What say you?

Oh well, enough pre-ramble… let’s get Hellfirin’!

We open at the Hellfire Club, where… hmm, lemme check the Wiki… ah, yes: Unnamed Servant Girl is attending to Jason Wyngarde’s drink order. We can see that he thinks of her as nothing more than a brainless trollop… an object. Speaking of objectification, he gets a big ol’ eyeful of her goods before she awkwardly backs away. She asks if there’s anything else he might need… likely expecting a very unpleasant answer — yet, gets none. Jaybird ain’t even gonna dignify her with a response. Worth noting here, and maybe it’s just me — but, Bolton draws Wyngarde to look a bit like Charlie Manson.

Unnamed Servant Girl slinks away back to her quarters… demoralized and feeling like, well, feeling like exactly what Wyngarde wanted her to feel like — nothing more than an object. In the “help” quarters, or, I dunno “ladies’ locker room” she runs into Emma Frost… who is in the middle of a conversation with her very favorite person — that being, herself in the mirror. USG asks how Emma can deal with their lot in Hellfire Life – being ogled, being a plaything, ya know… being a Hellfire Wench. Emma takes great offense to this, reminding USG that she is the White Queen. Sure, USG is nothing more than a cheap bit of eye-candy to the creepers in the Club, but Emma… Emma wields actual power. She claims that while the fetishwear of USG cheapens her… Emma’s own fetishwear cheapens everyone else. Welp, I guess it’s all in one’s own perception, eh? Least Emma acknowledges her agency.

Emma continues her monologue while fetching her cape gimmick… and finally tells Unnamed Servant Girl that sexism is an illusion… it only x-ists when you give it power. When you empowers those who you think may try and wield it to make you lesser. And, in the Hellfire Club… no one dares to play such games with the White Queen. USG comes to the realization that Emma’s just as bad as the rest of ’em. C’mon lady, is this the first time you’re meeting Emma Frost?

From here… well, the story kinda falls apart. Or, rather, kinda just ceases to be for a handful of (fun to look at) pages. Emma approaches Wyngarde for a game of chess… and, what follows is three pages of… well, them playing chess. It’s all very symbolic, and perhaps falls a bit on the “too cute by half” side of things… but, I suppose it’s somewhat successful in making the point it’s trying to make. The gimmick here is that we’re seeing their mental joust play out on the board… and, in the game, they wind up falling prey to one another. Again, neat to look at, and fine idea… just not near as deep as I think it’s supposed to be. Feel like we can sum up so many Nocenti/Bolton stories with that very line.

This takes us to the wrap up, where we can see that… this entire “game” took place on the astral plane — not a single chess piece was moved. Unnamed Servant Girl is watching this play out… and realizes that, while Ms. Frost claims superiority to all — she is but a slave. A slave… to games.

Okay, I didn’t dislike this. I know that’s like the usual levels of “praise” I’ve been giving our trips into Nocenti-land of late… but, it’s really about all I can say. I don’t have any personal stories I can relate-n-conflate into this… and, I’m not x-actly sure what it actually accomplished. It enlightens us to the “power dynamic” of the Hellfire Club… but, I didn’t think that was ever in question in the first place? Maybe it’s just all the years of hindsight getting in the way?

Something that really struck me is what Emma said about the nature of sexism… especially in the post-social media world we’re currently living in, where it feels as though folks often comb over any statements being made for any traces of sexism… or, ya know, whatever else they’re looking to be offended by. Here, Emma tells our Unnamed Servant Girl that — sexism isn’t a thing, unless you make it into one. It simply doesn’t x-ist… to her mind, anyway. Well, it x-ists, just not in the way the USG thinks it does. My takeaway here is that it comes down to agency — and, I could be completely wrong here, because it isn’t terribly often that I find myself trompin’ around a swingers club in showy lingerie and heels.

Emma appears to know what putting on the outfit means. She says as much to the USG. You put that outfit on… and, you’re going to be ogled… you will be objectified… but only if you allow yourself to be. As we saw in the opening scene, USG does not appear to carry herself with any confidence… she’s meek, she’s clearly uncomfortable. To a sadist or creep at the Hellfire Club, she may as well be wearing a sign that she is someone who can be easily used, dominated, wrung out… what have you. Emma, on the other hand, well… she compares her slinky get-up to the war armor of a samurai. It’s her protection, it’s her weapon… it’s how she gets stuff done.

Emma isn’t meek… and like the new guy/gal in the prison… she approaches one of the biggest, baddest dudes in the yard to make a name for herself. To show off her mental toughness. She matches mental-wits with friggin’ Mastermind… and is able to battle him to a draw. It’s not a win… but, at the same time, it kinda is.

Thing of it is though, Emma’s so wrapped up in her “persona”… that she doesn’t even realize what a prisoner she’s become. Like, what does it matter if you’re king or queen… when what you rule over is… this? Emma’s in too deep. She’s like someone who fought their way to a middle-management position, who then lets that position define who they are. They become the job… and begin to think lesser of those around them. And, no, this is one of the rare times I’ll assure you that I’m not projecting — at least not my own behavior, anyway. What happens when you take this person out of “the machine”? What do they become? What/Who is Emma Frost without her position in Hellfire?

She doesn’t appear to want to find out. And so, as the Unnamed Servant Girl said, Emma — whether she realizes it or not — is also a slave.

Ya know what — this might be one’a those odd stories where, when I started jotting down my thoughts I didn’t really care for — but, after breaking it down (as only I can… which is to say, sloppily and stream-of-consciously), I found that I rather liked it. Oh well!

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2 thoughts on “X-Men Vignettes, Chapter Thirty-Four

  • April 25, 2022 at 2:24 pm
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    I think that sexism speach Emma gave may be Nocenti casting a little meta commentary on how she herself was treated and how she viewed the world. I have seen an interview with her and Louise Simonson and Chris Claremont talking about working in the Marvel X-office in the 80’s, and she tells a story of one Christmas when Jim Shooter gifted her a dominatrix outfit. She was a very attractive woman back then (And still is today) so I’m sure she has dealt with her (un)fair share of sexism.
    As a story in and of itself, I liked it. But then again I like to see stories where the villains are the protagonists.
    If they are still doing the black & white sketches on the inside front cover, maybe you can use those as “covers” for when the back covers go away.
    I would love for the Vignettes project to continue on after the Classic X-Men Vignettes end. Those little stories are lost pieces of X-Men history and need to see the light of day again.

    Reply
    • April 26, 2022 at 6:53 pm
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      I think you’re right — a lot of Nocenti’s writing seems to be informed by her experiences (which totally stands to reason). I thought it was quite interesting how she was able to both empower AND minimize Emma all in the same short story! She’s so wrapped up in her strength, that she can’t even see her most obvious weaknesses

      Reply

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