X-Men Vignettes #43 (1990)
“Flights of Angels”
Writer – Chris Claremont
Pencils – Mike Collins
Inks – Joe Rubenstein
Letters – Joe Rosen
Colors – Bob Sharen
Edits – Edelman, Harras, DeFalco
From: Classic X-Men #43 (January, 1990)
Well, this was a pain in the ass. If you read yesterday’s piece, you’ll know that this issue of Classix is one that I was prrrretty sure I owned, but was unable to actually locate. If you’re familiar with the ridiculous rules I have for this place, you’ll know that I only cover books that I physically own… in some form or fashion. Could be original issue, collected edition, whichever — though, at the start it was even more rigid than that. I tell ya, I’ve got problems.
So, I spent the better part of a couple of hours yesterday tearing apart a few rooms across two residences trying to find it. This is the kind of stupid stuff I spend my time doing. I could be out there trying to make the world a better place, could be volunteering, could be actually productive… but no, that kinda stuff can wait — Classic X-Men #43 is missing!
All that to say — I didn’t find it. I even hit a few shops (including two horrendous swap marts) to try and procure a second copy… but, alas, no. Time well spent, eh? What is my life anyway?
So, while I was unsuccessful in search… I do own it. It’s in my Excel Spreadsheet… and, books don’t get added to that by mistake. I literally type up the information from the credits and indicia for every single comic that gets added… so, it’s somewhere in the house. That said, I don’t feel too bad about resorting to snipping the pics from Marvel Unlimited. I’m sure I’ll probably find the hard copy… in about an hour and change when I’m done writing up this piece.
Was the search, the headache, and the hassle worth it? Welllllllll… read on.
We open with a recap of the life of Jean…ix. And, I wanna get my overall density out of the way right from the jump. As we discussed when she was shoehorned into Cyclops’ story yesterday, Jean’s backstory is “conveniently inconvenient”… which is to say, it’s whatever the hell whoever is writing it wants it to be. Ya dig? Maybe I’m just a tremendous idiot, but I feel like they play way too fast and loose with her… even this (relatively) early on. So, is this Jean? Is it the Phoenix? Is it both? Is it neither? Yes. Anyway, after this photo album-in-the-shape-of-a-woman burns to ash (with flaming bird imagery, natch); she, they, it wakes up… somewhere.
Nearby on this barren patch of cosmic land, is a flight of stairs leading down. From those stairs climbs a man, holding a whole lotta steel girders and whatnot. Jean’s understandably confused, and goes to ask him the whats and wheres. He isn’t too forthcoming with that information… perhaps these are answers she’s going to need to discover herself?
After petulantly stomping away, Jeanix realizes that she’s now wearing white. She is, once again, confused. The Green Phoenix was the “good” one, the red the “bad”… so, what does white mean? Before she can figure it out, she slips and bumps her butt on the ground. She takes in the sights around her… seeing hundreds, if not thousands of stars all around. Only, they’re not stars… each little glimmering “pin prick” is an entire galaxy. Jean is stood before the entirety of the universe.
The Construction Worker at the End of Time approaches to comfort her, bringing with him a cuppa hot somethin’. Jean indulges her inner-Claremont, talking so much poor Joe Rosen likely had to use one’a those jeweler’s eye piece gimmicks while lettering. She compares herself to Alice in Wonderland… which, I mean… that’s usually the “go to” when a writer wants to implement a level of depth to their story, right? She then goes to dive off the side of this odd construct — but, the Village Person stops her. Ya see, if she were to jump — she’d fall… forever.
He then leaves her to return to his work. Jeanix talks about having died once before… on her way, to Jamaica Bay (I’m guessing). But that death was nothing like this. That’s probably because you didn’t actually die? Again, fast ‘n loose. Jeanix doesn’t care to speak with this fella anymore, and so she heads down the stairs he climbed up from. Only, it brings her right back to the same place. The dude tosses her a tool belt so she can help him build… whatever it is he’s building.
A little while later, Jeanix has built a small tower gimmick. Satisfied with her work, she gives it a closer look. From it, bursts a blast of light… followed by a vision of the time Dark Phoenix wiped out the Asparagus People… or, in the words of current-year writers, who likely never read The Dark Phoenix Saga (or anything X, pre-2019)… the “Broccoli People”. Whatever veg ya wanna refer to ’em as, it’s the D’Bari… and Jean is there with them for the horrible event.
Jeanix’s “This Was Your Life” doesn’t end there, however, as next she finds herself on board the Shi’ar Starship she’d destroyed as Dark Phoenix. She’s being forced to relive the atrocities… by actually experiencing them. She recalls the hunger, and pleasure she felt as Dark Phoenix during all of this, causing her to shout out.
This brings our Construction Worker back from the YMCA to check in. He tells her to let everything that happened go. Jeanix realizes that this dude… is Death. He tells her that the place they’re at is the… ugh… Alpha and Omega… the beginning and end. Ya know, considering how often we hear that line in comics… there sure are a lotta people, places, and things that are exactly that. Jeanix also deduces that… she might be death as well. Oh, please be done.
No, it’s not done… we got more retconnin’ to do. Ya see, Jeanix is preoccupied with all the death and destruction she’d caused — to which, our Blue-Collar Grim-Reaper tells her that she’s not looking at the entire picture. Sure, there was destruction and loss of life… however, over the course of her existence, she’s saved countless lives as well. Fair point… but, then it gets weird. Remember how in yesterday’s chapter, Jean and Professor X just showed up at the end of Cyclops’ story? Remember how unnatural and forced that felt? Well, there was reason that happened… I think. Death asks if Jeanix thinks it was an accident that she “touched minds” with a young Scott Summers… who had become an orphan due to that actions of Emperor D’Ken. Death explains that the mental contact they shared was what drew Scott to Xavier’s School where they’d meet and fall in love. Then… some time later, they would work together to stop that same Emperor D’Ken from effin’ around with the M’Krann Crystal. So… um… yeah.
Jeanix’s just as displeased with this reveal as I am… unhappy that her entire life has this preordained or fated framework to it. She asks if their entire lives have been spent as nothing more than playthings for Death’s own “celestial amusement”. Our man doesn’t really answer the question, instead giving her a lesson on what the Phoenix actually is… not a “being” or an “entity”, but instead… a force. “The sum and substance of all that lives”. Clear as mud, right? This is starting to feel like nothing more than a string of impressive-sounding-but-ultimately-meaningless phrases Chris Claremont had scribbled on Post-it’s and stuck all around his office.
Anyway, this appears to be enough for Jeanix to embrace her Phoenixhood. She lights up into the flaming bird, feels the “life force” and the cosmos singing at her… and she leaves to… I dunno, secretly spread her Phoenix-ness around the universe?
We wrap up with Death the Builder left all alone on his planetoid looking at pictures of various Jean life events… including several that feature… Mister Sinister. Not sure if these photos are in any sort of order, as take us from Jeanix getting vaporized… Jean’s first run-in with the Phoenix… Jean winding up in Jamaica Bay… Mr. Sinister mucking about with, what I’m going to guess are several attempts at “makin’ Maddy”. In any event, Death apologizes — knowing that Jean’s got some very tough lessons yet to learn.
My Lord, but that was endless…
This might just be a “you had to be there” sort of story. I mean, as I’ve said, Jean’s history is what it is… it also what it was… and finally, it’s whatever the hell whoever’s writing her wants it to be. She’s a hard character to peg down… especially considering how little effort’s been put into doing so over the years. Perhaps, had I read this back in ye old 1989/90, I’d have a better appreciation for it. For all of Claremont’s efforts in trying to make sense of the “was she?” or “wasn’t she?” of the Jean/Phoenix/Jeanix situation. Instead, I’m reading this (for the first time) over three decades later.
In the time since this story came out, Jean’s actually died — and was off the board for well over a decade. The Phoenix has found several different hosts, been stolen as a concept from the X-Men by the Avengers… and even spent some time in the friggin’ Ultraverse! Several non-Jean characters have wound up visiting the White Hot Room. What I’m trying to say is… there’s been a lotta sh– stuff gone down that makes a story like this feel both painfully overwritten and almost quaint.
Let’s set all the Jeanix bits aside… cuz, gun to my head, I couldn’t tell ya what her story is or was… or what it was supposed to be in 1980… 1990… or 2022! Instead, here’s my main takeaway… the idea that the Jean/Scott relationship was preordained. I’m really not sure what Claremont was going for here… or why he went to such lengths to retcon that into their histories. In fairness, it’s been a minute since I’d read Inferno (the first one)-era X-Men — by Classix #43, Inferno and the Maddy reveal were already in the rear-view — maybe this was odd “fated” deal was mentioned during that? I honestly couldn’t say. In any event… I don’t like this addition. To me, all it does is lessen their relationship. Maybe I’m just an idiot. You tell me!
Overall… I did not care for this one. It was cool seeing the White Phoenix costume, as I’ve always felt that was a pretty striking look… but, everything else? Ehh. At least it tied in with the main story of the issue, I guess?
Next time out, we wrap up our look at the Vignettes proper, with the story you may all be more familiar with from the X-Men Animated Series. It’s Rogue an’ Codeh’, sugahs… don’tcha dare miss it!