The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters on X-men: The Wedding Special #1. Enjoy!
I know it’s been a while since I talked about comic books, comic book romances, or general life lessons from comic books. As a self-proclaimed comic book fan who loves to tie that passion into other sexy topics, I feel like I owe myself and certain readers an apology. Consider this part of my effort to make up for it.
Just because I haven’t been writing about comics much lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been following them. It also doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the major developments unfolding in the comic book world. As I write this, there’s a lot going on, from Tony Stark’s return as Iron Man to the return of Superman’s iconic red trunks.
If you’re a comic book fan, though, you already know about this and I don’t need to say anything to get you excited. If you’re a comic book fan who also happens to be a big romance fan, there are other stories that excite you. I mentioned one late last year with the big announcement that Batman and Catwoman are getting married. Now, I have another.
The big announcement was actually teased last November in the form of a wedding invitation that designated the summer of 2018 as the big day. It also highlighted some of Marvel’s most famous superhero marriages. Never mind the fact that Marvel has a shaky track record with married characters. It’s still exciting news, especially for X-men fans like me.
It’s big news for Marvel as well. They’re already promoting this as a major event for these characters and for the Marvel universe as a whole. Sure, it may just be their way of competing with the upcoming Batman/Catwoman wedding, but that doesn’t make the sentiment involved any less genuine. It also doesn’t make the promo video for X-men Gold #30, the wedding issue set to come out this summer, any less sweet.
I know Kitty Pryde and Colossus are not exactly on the same level as Superman and Lois Lane, Batman and Catwoman, Cyclops and Jean Grey, or even Deadpool and tacos. In the pantheon of superhero romances, they’re not exactly top five, but they’re not afterthoughts either.
Their romance has never been a major plot in an X-men movie, nor has it been a focus in any X-men cartoons. However, for those familiar with the X-men comics, this relationship is as special as it is unique. It’s one of those romances that blossomed in unique and sometimes controversial ways.
Chief among that controversy was the age difference between the characters when they first met. When Kitty first joined the X-men in Uncanny X-men #129, she was 14-years-old and Colossus was 19. Needless to say, it didn’t sit well with Marvel’s editors at the time when writer Chris Claremont had Kitty develop a crush on him.
That crush, however, never got as creepy as some of the other romances that Marvel had teased. As the characters grew, aged, and developed within the pages of the X-men comics, that teenage crush evolved into something more serious. Eventually, they developed one of those relationships where they always seemed to find their way back to one another.
I won’t recount all the chaotic elements of their romance. I’ll just point out there have been many times where they’ve gotten closer, been friend-zoned, ended up in other relationships, and even died on one another, which happens a lot in comics. I’ll also say that the love between Kitty Pryde and Colossus carries with it some unique insights into love, relationships, and how they blossom.
So, in the spirit of celebrating the upcoming nuptials of these fictional characters that I hold dear, I’d like to share some of those insights that translate into real-world lessons on love. Being both a romance fan and a comic book fan, I’m especially fond of the parallels that tie works of fiction into serious matters of the heart.
Whether or not the marriage of Kitty Pryde and Colossus lasts or prospers in the X-men comics remains to be seen. Regardless of Marvel’s poor track record with marriage, they’re a couple worth rooting for and this is what they can teach us.
Lesson #1: Failed Relationships Can Still Succeed
For many fictional romances, especially those involving superheroes, the romantic dynamics are often idealized, pure, and heavy on melodrama. They’re basically “Romeo and Juliet” with superpowers, built around a love that’s so pure it can only ever be corrupted by a horribly contrived love triangle.
Colossus and Kitty Pryde are decidedly not that. Theirs is a more clumsy romance, one where they sort of stumble their way towards one another. Throughout their history, they have tried to forge a relationship, but failed on multiple occasions, sometimes due to circumstances and sometimes due to hard choices.
In those failures, Kitty Pryde dated other men, like Pete Wisdom and Iceman. Colossus dated other women, like Domino. Along the way, they each followed their own stories. They each grew in their own way. They weren’t dependent on each other. They didn’t have to be together to become strong.
These failures may have derailed their romance at times, but it didn’t end their love or their desire to be together. Eventually, they found themselves in a position to act on that love in the pages of X-men Gold. Now, they’re getting married. Ironically, their past failures helped get them to that point.
Learn from failures in a relationship and build a better one from the ashes. That’s not just a critical lesson. In a world where the ideal love stories of “Romeo and Juliet” are reserved for high school English classes, it’s a much more realistic way to approach love.
Lesson #2: Love Who Someone Is Trying To Be (And Not What They Were)
This kind of gets into those creepier elements I mentioned earlier. It’s true. Kitty and Colossus had a sizable age gap when they first met. Age gaps in young romances are taboo and for good reasons, beyond just the legal reasons. However, that age gap hid another important lesson that Kitty and Colossus later embodied.
Beyond the basic flirty exchanges they had in their youth, Kitty Pryde distinguished herself as a special character by how quickly she grew and matured throughout the pages of Uncanny X-men. Sure, she was a vulnerable young girl when she first joined the X-men, but she didn’t stay that way.
The same goes for Colossus, who underwent more than his share of upheavals. Some of his greatest moments involved him trying to be a kinder, gentler soul, despite having the kind of obscene strength that steroid-laden meatheads can only envy.
Again, a lot of complications get in their way, as is often the case with superheroes, but whether or not they manage those complications isn’t the point. It’s who they’re trying to be, as individuals, that makes them who they are. It’s that striving that often draws them together. It’s that constant effort to be better that fuels their chemistry.
That chemistry is built less on who they are and more on who they’re trying to be. Kitty and Colossus saw who they were trying to be in the midst of the chaos that comes with being X-men. That’s the person they fell in love with and in a chaotic world where everyone has to better themselves just to keep up, that’s an important and underrated facet of love.
Lesson #3: Seek To Grow With AND Love Someone
This also ties, somewhat, to the age gap between Kitty Pryde and Colossus, but without the taboo. Age gaps matter when two people are young, immature, and don’t have a firm grasp of their emotions. They matter less and less at time goes on. I say that as someone whose parents have an age gap that’s actually wider than Kitty and Colossus.
In a sense, the age gap worked to Kitty and Colossus’ advantage because they didn’t just see each other in their impressionable youth. They actually watched each other grow into adults. While they weren’t always on the same team, they were able to grow together within a similar environment. In doing so, that innocent crush evolved into something deeper.
That’s an important distinction that a lot of young people, myself included, don’t often realize until much later in life. We focus so much on the here and now when it comes to loving someone that we forget that we’re still growing as individuals. Sometimes, two don’t realize we’re growing apart until it’s too late.
I’ve seen this happen in the real world with once strong relationships that just drift apart as the couple gets older. I’ve also seen it happen in the opposite direction, watching two people grow closer as they actually seek to grow with someone, as well as love them. Kitty Pryde and Colossus are a perfect embodiment of the latter.
Lesson #4: Let The Moment Be Right For Love (And Guide It If You Can)
I know I keep repeating this and it’s worth belaboring, but Kitty Pryde and Colossus had a lot of obstacles when it came to getting together, the least of which involved Colossus dying at one point. It’s worth belaboring because it reflects how hard these two had to work in order to get together over the course of several decades of X-men comics.
Within those complications, though, is an important lesson that best played out in Joss Whedon’s legendary run on Astonishing X-men. The circumstances aren’t always right for two people to come together. However, when that moment is right, don’t be afraid to act on it. You can’t force those moments. You can only let them unfold and embrace them.
For Kitty Pryde and Colossus, those moments were rare, but they weren’t random. When Colossus returned from the dead, they had every reason to just jump each other’s bone in an overly dramatic moment. They didn’t do that, though. They didn’t try to force that moment. They just led each other to it.
A similar situation unfolded in X-men Gold. They had an opportunity to jump back into their relationship, but they didn’t. Sure, they made excuses at first, which I found annoying, along with many other long-time X-men fans. However, by taking it slow and letting the moment come to them, it made the eventual culmination in X-men Gold #20 that much more satisfying.
You can’t force a romantic moment, nor should you. However, you can guide the situation towards those moments. If the love is strong, like it is with Kitty Pryde and Colossus, it’ll happen and it’ll be beautiful.
Lesson #5: Don’t Make Excuses For Loving (Or NOT Loving) Someone
This is a common and annoying trope with fictional romances. For those not built on love-at-first-sight or sickeningly-pure infatuation, a romantic sub-plot in most stories will be full of excuses on why they should not be together. Given my take on excuses, it should surprise no one how much this annoys me.
Kitty Pryde and Colossus made a lot more excuses than most and not just because of the early age gap. Sometimes it was because they were on different teams. Sometimes it was because they were caught up in other relationships. Sure, some of those excuses were valid, like being dead or trapped in a giant bullet flying through space. Those that kept them apart, however, were often shallow or contrived.
Now, some of this might have been due to whoever was writing the X-men comics at the time. As I’ve noted before, there have been instances where bias writers force contrived plots to keep certain characters apart. Chris Claremont’s efforts with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine are well-documented.
The efforts surrounding Kitty Pryde and Colossus, though, never got that extreme. They also never undid the chemistry between them or fundamentally changed the elements that attracted them to one another. In that respect, they didn’t make excuses. They didn’t hide from those emotions, even if they avoided them. That ended up strengthening their relationship in the long run.
It’s another important lesson about excuses and reasons. When your reasons for not being with someone are built on excuses, then you’re missing the point. Kitty and Colossus stopped making excuses in X-men Gold #20. If they can do it, then there’s hope for everyone, real and fictional alike.
As kids, it seems as though everyone is trying to teach us morality lessons that’ll help us grow into functioning adults. Those lessons aren’t always effective, though. Just ask the potheads who sat through the DARE program in school.
As adults, we tend to pay less attention to those kinds of lessons because we arrogantly believe we’ve figured it out. We think we know enough about the human experience to determine what is right and what is wrong. People who think that way tend to be the arrogant assholes who refuse to admit that Dr. Oz is a quack and a fraud.
Truly functional people, be they kids, adults, or adults who still act like kids, never stop learning important life lessons. Life is a constantly changing, obstacle-filled struggle where you never see the finish line and are guaranteed to fall flat on your face at least once a week. That’s why lessons that really deliver a powerful message in a compelling way is a special, precious thing in this chaotic world we live in.
That brings me to comic books, superheroes, and the X-men. Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. Yes, that means I’m about to extrapolate a major philosophical insight into the human condition from an X-men comic, most likely in a way that applies to love, sex, and everything in between. You’re welcome.
It’s not the first time I’ve gleaned such lessons from an X-men comic. A year ago, I singled out X-men 92 #5 as a testament to just how powerful a romance between equals can be. Chances are, I’ll single out more comics in the future and there’s a high possibility that they’ll involve the X-men, Deadpool, or Wonder Woman.
The comic in question today is Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1. It’s actually not part of any ongoing X-men series. It’s a single, self-contained story that’s part of an major promotional effort by Marvel called Marvel Generations.
The goal is as simple. Marvel seeks to bridge the gap between its older incarnations of iconic characters with the newer versions. While some of those newer versions have already caused controversy, the goal is always the same. Marvel hopes to appeal to their long-time fans while appealing to newer fans who are just getting into the world of Marvel.
Comic companies do this fairly often, trying to please old fans while creating new ones. Having followed comics for a good chunk of my life, I’ve seen more than my share of efforts. DC Comics, Marvel’s chief rival, did it last year with their DC Rebirth initiative. By most accounts, it was a success. Now, Marvel is attempting to achieve similar success.
There are many challenges to that effort, but for Jean Grey of the X-men, those challenges are more daunting than most. I’m not talking about the kind of daunting that involves dragons, killer robots, and Brett Ratner movies. I’m talking about convoluted complications involving time travel, evil clones, and cosmic forces. Trust me, it’s way more complicated than it sounds.
For this particular issue, though, you don’t need to know the fine print of those complications. You only need to know that Jean Grey’s story, after 50 years of X-men comics, got so crazy that one of her teammates, Beast, traveled back and time and brought her and the rest of the original five X-men to the future.
Now, since 2012, Jean Grey has basically been Marty McFly from “Back To The Future,” minus the incest sub-plot. She knows that her future sucks in that she ends up dead, and multiple times, no less. On top of that, she finds out she’s destined to become corrupted by a cosmic power known as the Phoenix Force, which will go onto cause all sorts of headaches, heartbreaks, and overall frustration.
That destiny is a huge part of the X-men mythos. That’s the part that “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” a movie I’ve talked about extensively, is going to try and capture. In this comic, Jean Grey has already read the spoilers to that story. She knows it doesn’t turn out well.
In fact, she has an ongoing solo series where the primary theme involves her preparing herself to face the Phoenix Force so that she doesn’t become that cute redheaded mutant who constantly dies and ends up on the wrong side of a bad love triangle. That’s entirely understandable and Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1 gives her the best opportunity she’s had to date to change her fate.
This is where the lesson that Marty McFly learned the hard way comes in. Through elaborate space-time machinations that would give Doc Brown a migraine, Jean Grey is transported to a critical moment in the history of her character. It’s a moment that puts her in a position to change a lot more than just her fate.
That’s because she’s plopped in the middle of the iconic Phoenix Saga, also known by fans as the greatest X-men story ever told. It’s after her older self gains the cosmic power of the Phoenix force, but before it corrupts her in a way that destroys an entire star system and dooms her to a life of death and resurrection. There’s no part of that last sentence that’s exaggerated.
It’s an understandably confusing situation, but it’s one that puts Jean Grey in a position that even Marty McFly never dealt with. She doesn’t just have a chance to change her fate or learn more about her older self, who she’s only really known through the memories of other X-men. She has a chance to learn more about the cosmic power that she knows will doom her.
It makes for a series of colorful interactions between her and her older self that will bring tears of joy to the eyes of X-men fans of any generation. It’s hopeful, sincere, dramatic, and impactful. It fits perfectly within the narrative of Jean’s ongoing story in other X-men comics, as well as the story of her past self.
There’s so much to love about this comic, but I’m not going to spoil the entire thing here. I’d much rather have people go out and buy the issue. It’s money well-spent. Even if you don’t know much about comics or only know the X-men through the movies, this comic will appeal to you.
Beyond that appeal, though, I want to highlight an important theme within this comic. It’s a theme that applies to stories beyond comics and is relevant to life, in general. It especially applies to matters of love, passion, and intimate connections, which are major topic of this blog and the novels I write.
At the heart of Jean Grey’s struggle in Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1 is a difficult decision that everybody who isn’t a psychotic dictator faces at some point in their lives. It has to do with having the power to effect a situation and choosing whether or not to exercise it.
In the comic, Jean Grey has a chance to tell her older self everything she knows about her fate. She could, in principle, warn her about how the events of the Phoenix Saga play out for her. As a result, she could ensure it turns out differently, preferably in a way that doesn’t leave her dead and subsequently cloned.
On the surface, it seems easy. We saw what Marty McFly chose. We saw what the entire cast of “Hot Tub Time Machine” chose. They chose the easiest, most obvious path. They understandably wanted to improve their situation. In doing so, they created a lot more problems that they had to solve. The stakes for Jean’s problems, though, are much higher.
The problems she could create by changing her fate might be far worse than simply ending up dead. She’s not dealing with incestuous infatuations here. She’s dealing with a cosmic force that eats entire stars just for the fun of it.
She already knows the consequences of not changing anything. That has been hard enough to deal with. However, she has no idea whether she’ll fix anything by choosing otherwise. Given the Phoenix Force’s mixed track record, the odds are not in her favor.
I won’t spoil the choice she makes or what goes into. Again, I’d rather people read this comic to appreciate the full weight of its message. I’ll just say that the decision Jean makes is one that we all indirectly make when we have any kind of power over someone and can affect the course of their life.
Whether you’re a parent, a spouse, or an authority figure of any kind, you have an ability to make choices that affect other peoples’ fate. This is especially true when you’re in a relationship with someone. Your love for them and their love for you effectively links your fate. That makes your ability to make the right choices for the right reasons so critical.
It happens all too often, people using their position of power over others to abuse them. We see it when police harass minorities. We see it in crimes of passion. We see it in cases of spousal abuse and child abuse. When someone else trusts us with authority, we impact their lives in so many ways, often in ways we can’t see.
It can bring out the best and the worst in people, as the Phoenix Saga famously demonstrated. Real life demonstrates it too. Power does corrupt people. Sometimes the hardest choice to make is to not exercise that power to avert the potential consequences it might incur. It’s a choice that a lot of crazy dictators fail to make.
It’s a choice ordinary people fail to make as well. Parents find this out the hard way when they try to make decisions for their children. Sure, it seems like the right thing to do at the time. They may see it as them just protecting their child, as every parent should. However, they don’t realize until it’s too late how much damage that can do.
When you’re in an intimate relationship with someone, it can be just as powerful. If someone loves you implicitly and is willing to trust you so completely, you have the power to guide their lives in profound ways. That guidance, though, can be detrimental to the both of you.
When you have the power to influence a person or a situation, it’s easy and tempting to bend it to what you think will be more beneficial. The problem is that, without the benefit of hindsight, it’s impossible to know whether you’ll actually make things better or much worse.
The hardest decision in that situation is to acknowledge the problems as you understand them, bear the burden of solving them, and focus on the future rather than agonizing over the past. It’s rarely a preferable decision because it means accepting a situation and your role in it. It may feel like a missed opportunity, but it can just as easily be an averted crisis. Hindsight may be painfully clear, but possibilities are painfully vague.
Jean Grey, who is a teenager, mind you, in the story that plays out in Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1, has to make this decision in the face of impossibly high stakes. What she does is a testament to the kind of character she is and the values we cherish in our heroes.
It’s a short, but powerful story that teaches an important lesson to children, adults, comic fans, and non-comic fans alike. Whether you’re a comic book character, a celebrity, an authority figure, or just someone with the slightest bit of leverage over someone, it’s a lesson worth learning.