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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: X-Force #1

Even the cleanest communities need a functioning sewer system. That’s something that even the most wide-eyed, Utopian-seeking idealists understand. Throughout the history of the X-Men comics, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-Men have had to learn this lesson on many occasions. While they don’t outright abandon the idealism at the heart of Charles Xavier’s dream, they understand that less ideal methods are necessary.

That’s where X-Force comes in. Whereas the X-Men are the public photogenic faces of their heroic exploits, X-Force is the secretive, less scrupulous team that fights the ugly battles that need fighting. They are, in essence, the sewer system of Charles Xavier’s dream. Where heroes and idealism fails, they step in.

It’s a tradition that has gone through many eras, dating back to the X-Men’s heyday in the early 1990s. The threats and the circumstances have changed, but the tactics don’t. Even though the X-Men and the entire mutant race are in the best position they’ve been in since the Clinton Administration, there’s still a need for X-Force.

Writer Benjamin Percy, along with an impressive cast of artists, establishes the extent of that need in “X-Force #1” and does so in an appropriately brutal fashion. Charles Xavier may have set up an ideal environment for mutants to thrive, but that environment is still vulnerable to major threats who don’t stop at throwing killer robots at them.

The nature of these threats are vague, as is often the case with X-Force, but their motivations are clear. The new order that Jonathan Hickman built in “House of X” and “Powers of X” has shaken up the geopolitics of the Marvel universe. Mutants are no longer a disorganized hodgepodge of scared mutants, costumed heroes, and Deadpool. They’re a sovereign nation with valuable resources.

While this has set mutants up to prosper like never before, it also makes them a much bigger target. Instead of hunting mutants in dark alleys, there’s an entire country full of them and not all of them have trained in the Danger Room. It doesn’t take long for a shadowy group of masked mutant-haters to take advantage of that.

Initially, it’s hard to know how serious this threat even is. There have been all sorts of shadowy organizations who wear funny masks and dream of slaughtering every last mutant with a smile.  A few have a notable place in the X-Men’s history. However, they’ve never had to face mutants that are this well-organized.

These aren’t just mutant struggling to survive anymore. They have a living island to protect them. They have standing in the international community and they didn’t even need to threaten the planet to get it this time. On top of that, they have powerful psychics, living weapons, and Emma Frost’s sex appeal on their side. How can anyone threaten them?

This is where “X-Force #1” really makes its mark. It doesn’t just set up a new threat for X-Force to combat. It shows that this threat is capable of hitting the X-Men where it hurts. Their elaborate defenses, their legions of powerful mutants, and their emerging place in the international community isn’t enough. They can still be attacked. They can still suffer casualties.

It’s a rude awakening, especially after everything Charles Xavier did to make Krakoa the ultimate haven. It’s also shocking at how successful this attack is. Even those who aren’t traditionally associated with X-Force, such as Jean Grey and Beast, see first-hand how devious their enemies can be.

It’s a harsh reminder that they’re still living in a world that isn’t swayed by their idealism. While some might have their attitudes tempered by diplomacy, life-saving drugs, and Wolverine’s claws, others won’t stop until they’re dancing atop a mountain of mutant corpses.

Those aren’t people that the X-Men can confront through heroic means. This is the kind of challenge that needs X-Force and their less-than-ideal tactics. The last page of “X-Force #1” makes that abundantly clear. The only question is how far are they willing to go in order to respond?

Through its many iterations, X-Force has always had a darker tone to go along with its darker themes. Percy captures that tone perfectly in “X-Force #1.” He crafts a story that isn’t entirely built around X-Force’s harsher tactics and the lines they’re willing to cross. More than anything else, the story reaffirms the need for X-Force.

It lays a foundation that includes characters who are no stranger to X-Force’s methods, such as Wolverine and Domino. It also sets the stage for other characters to play a role, like Jean Grey and Black Tom Cassidy. In other eras, these same characters would oppose the very existence of X-Force or actively fight against them. However, in this new emerging order with Krakoa, they cannot avoid it.

X-Force #1” has most the defining traits that X-Force comics have always had. What makes it stand out is how it builds those traits around a world in which mutants have never had it better. This is as close as they’ve ever gotten to fully realizing Charles Xavier’s dream, but X-Force is still necessary.

It’s a sobering reminder. You could even argue that it’s a necessary reminder. After what happened on the final page, nobody in X-Force is going to forget that anytime soon.

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The Potential (And Pitfalls) Of Polyamory In The X-Men Comics

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Two years ago, I wrote an article that explored the idea of using polyamory to resolve the infamous Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle in the X-Men comics. I admit that it was primarily a thought experiment. It was my way of attempting to resolve what I believe to be the worst manifestation of a love triangle in all of fiction. I never expected it to manifest in any form outside head canon of fan fiction.

Then, “X-Men #1” by Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu came out, almost two years to the day that I published that article. While it wasn’t overtly stated that polyamory is now a thing in the X-Men comics, there were certain details that strongly hinted at it, so much so that multiple outlets in the world of comics have taken it seriously.

I’m not saying the article I wrote was prophetic. I certainly didn’t predict that Marvel would ever pursue this recourse or even hint at it. At the same time, it’s kind of surreal that this is something that might actually play out in mainstream superhero comics. The fact that it’s playing out in a company owned by Disney makes that even more astonishing.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. After reading “X-Men #1” and all the speculation surrounding it, nothing has been definitively confirmed. The writers and editors at Marvel have not stated outright that they’re actually making Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine a polyamorous couple. It’s been hinted at, but not confirmed on panel.

In comics, that means a lot. Like a death without a body, if it doesn’t happen explicitly on panel, then you can’t assume it did. That’s just how comics work. That extends to love triangles, polyamory, and everything in between.

That said, I think Hickman and Yu have created the right circumstances. Two years ago, Jean Grey was still dead, Cyclops was dead, and Wolverine had just come back to life. The events of House of X and Powers of X establish that the X-Men, and the rest of the mutant race for that matter, have established a new world for themselves on the living island of Krakoa. It’s a chance to do things differently.

In this new setup, the tensions and melodrama of the past are left in the past. The final pages of House of X #6 make that clear, especially with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. There’s even a nice moment between Jean Grey and Emma Frost, who have been bitter rivals for years. Hickman makes clear that these characters are looking to move forward and not revisit old drama.

The only question is what does that entail? Does moving forward simply mean moving past these old romantic complications? The final pages of “Uncanny X-Men #22,” which predate House of X and Powers of X, establish on panel that Cyclops and Jean Grey are still a thing. They still love each other and don’t hesitate for a second to embrace one another, now that they’re alive again.

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However, it’s not quite as clear that they’re content to pursue the same relationship they had before Jean died at the hands of Magneto back in 2004. On some levels, it makes sense to do something different. Both Cyclops and Jean Grey know what happens when they try to ignore these other feelings. They just fester under the surface and it hurts them both in the long run.

Even though their love for one another is very clear, the way they go about their relationship has shown plenty of flaws, going back to the days of Chris Clarmeont’s run on Uncanny X-Men. They still want to be together. They even want to be a family. The events of “X-Men #1” depict them as more a family than reunited lovers, which I thought was both sweet and overdue.

It’s also in this area that the potential for polyamory has already revealed itself. Most have pointed out the unusual arrangement of Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine’s rooms on the new moon-based Summer house. They’re all connected with Jean’s room in between Cyclops’ and Wolverine’s. They even have doorways between them, which is something the other rooms don’t.

It’s not definitive confirmation, but it certainly implies the possibility. Solicits of future issues have also hinted that Emma Frost may enter the picture as well. If Hickman, Yu, and Marvel are serious about pursuing this plot, then it could open the door for a very different kind of romantic sub-plot, the likes of which we haven’t seen in superhero comics.

While superhero comics have been quite progressive at times, and even somewhat daring, when it comes to pursuing non-traditional relationships, they’ve never attempted to tackle polyamory. Even though it exists in the real world, it’s not something superhero comics have ever taken seriously. This could change that.

A seriously, well-written polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine could effectively redefine what it means for these characters to love one another. It helps that it’s happening at a time when the X-Men and the entire mutant race are redefining themselves on Krakoa. They’re building their own homeland and culture. Why wouldn’t they redefine how they handle relationships while they’re at it?

It could address some of the most egregious flaws that the love triangle has propagated over the years. Jean Grey would no longer be a prize to be won by Cyclops or Wolverine. Cyclops would no longer be an obstacle for Wolverine. More importantly, it would allow Wolverine to have his romantic connection with someone without being limited by it. For someone with his extensive romantic history, that’s very important.

However, that’s the best case scenario. It also assumes that Hickman is serious about pursuing this sub-plot. Like I said earlier, it has not be confirmed on-panel. There’s no hint in House of X, Powers of X, or “X-Men #1” that there’s something elaborate going on with them. They just carry themselves as though they’re on much better terms than they were before they all died on one another.

There are risks associated with pursuing this kind of relationship. While Hickman is a great writer with a great pedigree for superhero comics, he’s never tackled a love triangle with this much baggage. If handled poorly, it could do serious damage to all the characters involved.

It could devalue the depth and history of the Cyclops/Jean Grey romance, which is one of the most iconic in all of superhero comics. It could also take a character like Wolverine, who has a complicated history as a loner who rarely gets tied down by one relationship, and make him seem out of character. Him becoming a part of the Summers/Grey family would be like James Bond joining the clergy.

There’s also a chance that a polyamorous relationship with these three could devolve into something that is just played up for novelty. The fact that it’s so different can’t be the only reason for doing it. If it is, then it’s not going to be believable and the characters involved will suffer because of it.

Given how these characters have already suffered, I don’t think the time is right to deconstruct their relationships and romantic sub-plots the only reason for doing so is shock value. These are characters poised to enter the MCU at some point. I doubt Disney will want them overly complicated before that occurs.

Personally, it’s for that reason that I doubt Marvel will seriously pursue a polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. They may hint at it. They may tease it. They’ll do everything possible, except depict it on panel, which will keep readers guessing and speculating. It’s something they’ve done before, much to the chagrin of fans.

If they do try it, though, I sincerely hope that Hickman, Lu, and the rest of Marvel’s creative team takes the concept seriously. The X-Men, throughout their history, have depicted characters who are very different, if not downright weird compared to the rest of the world. If that’s going to extend to how they pursue romance and relationships, then it deserves a serious effort.

However, it cannot and should not come at the cost of the characters or the iconic romances that came before it.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #1

Ever comic book fan has been conditioned to revere Wednesdays as New Comic Book Day. It’s basically Christmas every week. However, much like Christmas, not all Wednesdays are equal in terms of the presents they bring. Every now and then, a Wednesday comes along that a certain segment of comic fans come to revere for years to come.

For X-Men fans, this will likely go down as one of those Wednesdays because “House of X #1” is just that astonishing. Every now and then, a book comes along that is presented as a major paradigm shift for the characters, the themes, and the over-arching narrative of a series. In superhero comics, books like that are hyped up at least once a month. Very few deliver on that hype. “House of X #1” is one of those select few.

To say that the X-Men comics needed a book like this is like saying an insomniac needs a good night’s sleep. For years now, going back to the days of “House of M,” both the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe has been in a constant state of extinction-level crisis. Even when they’re not about to go extinct, they’re caught up in something that has them just one slip-up away from another dytopian future.

In “House of X #1,” writer Jonathan Hickman dares to rebuild the X-Men’s world without first sending them to the brink of extinction. For anyone who has followed X-Men comics for more than two years, this is like a breath of fresh air, a massage, and a chocolate milkshake all rolled into one. It shouldn’t be that radical a concept, but between Hickman’s vision and Pepe Larraz’s beautiful artwork, it sure feels like it.

This bold new world for the X-Men isn’t built around mansions with high-tech jets hidden below the tennis court. You won’t find orbiting asteroids, isolated nations, or island sanctuaries in the middle of San Francisco Bay. This world is more than a nation or sanctuary. It’s a bold new form for Charles Xavier’s dream.

It comes courtesy of Krakoa, a name right out of one of the most iconic X-Men comics of all time. This living island has evolved and Charles Xavier is maximizing its potential with intriguing results. He comes off as more than just a visionary or messianic figure in “House of X #1.” He has a bold new plan for the entire mutant race and it’s big.

By that, I don’t just mean it’s big in terms of goals and scope. This plan is something that changes the way the X-Men operate. It’s not just flying around in X-Jets anymore. It’s not just peaceful protests and confronting bigotry. Charles Xavier is rallying mutants to his cause in a bold new way. He’s also dealing with humans in a new way, as well.

It’s here where “House of X #1” explores some very interesting concepts that take the X-Men into uncharted territory. For much of their history, the X-Men have been either reacting to attacks by their enemies or trying to counter intense hatred and mistrust of mutants. It hasn’t just hindered Xavier’s efforts at peace and understanding. It has kept them isolated and always on the brink.

Rather than simply brace for the worst, Charles Xavier decides to offer something tantalizing to both humans and mutants alike. I won’t spoil too many details. I’ll just say that he puts the X-Men in a unique position, in terms of how the world sees them. It may not win them the love and adulation that the Avengers get, but it does provide some bold incentives.

That’s something that few X-Men comics have ever attempted on this scale. It’s not enough to confront hatred and mistrust. Hickman puts the X-Men in a position to be more diplomatic with the world. They have something to offer the world. Accepting that offer benefits humans and mutants in a tangible, positive way.

Again, that should not be such a radical concept, but Hickman and Larraz present it in a way that feels both novel and vast. It’s not entirely utopian in its potential, but it has the potential to bring positive change to a world and a narrative that needs it.

As a lifelong X-Men fan, “House of X #1” fills me with both curiosity and awe. There’s a lot to love about this bold new world that Hickman and Larraz are building. For once, it’s not just another threat that puts the mutant race on the brink of extinction. There’s a larger effort to do something bigger.

That’s not to say the threats aren’t there. Just as Charles Xavier pursues his bold new vision in “House of X #1,” other visions forged by other characters emerge to present obstacles. Some parts of that vision are new, but there is some familiar imagery that X-Men fans will recognize. It ensures that there will still be plenty of mutant-powered fights in this new world.

At the same time, “House of X #1” creates a clear impression that fighting killer robots will only be a small part of this new vision for the X-Men. There’s so much more going on, both with the characters and with the larger Marvel Universe. After all the upheavals they’ve had over the past 15 years, it finally feels like they have room to grow again.

It’s an exciting time to be an X-Men fan. On top of Kevin Feige confirming that mutants are finally coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hickman and Larraz are taking X-Men in a bold, if not overdue direction in the comics. This sentiment is even captured perfectly in Charles Xavier’s first lines of the book.

“Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, the world changed.”

Truer words were never spoken. In a world that gets invaded by aliens, Hydra, and renegade gods every other day, that’s saying something.

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Romance And Tragedy Done Right (In An X-men Comic)

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When it comes to two genres that are often associated with one another, romance and tragedy are the literary equivalent of peanut butter and jelly. When you think of one, it’s not long before you associate it with another. Romance without tragedy is like fries without ketchup. Both are still good on their own, but it’s only when they’re together that they maximize their potential.

In that same spirit that the likes of Shakespeare and “Titanic,” superheroes often follow that narrative, but with more spectacle than old playwrights and even James Cameron could ever imagine. Being such a huge fan of superhero movies and comic books, I’m more familiar with their take on romance and tragedy than most aspiring erotica/romance writers.

As such, when an amazing, uncanny, astonishing, or whatever other adjective that a comic book puts before their title tells a story that truly embodies those ideas, I take notice. Seeing as how I’m also an unapologetic romance fan on top of being a comic book fan, those kinds of stories resonate especially well for me. They don’t come around too often, but when they do, they’re worth appreciating.

This particular story involves the X-men, which should surprise nobody who has followed this blog over the past couple years. It also involves the romance/tragedy of Cyclops and Jean Grey, which should also not surprise anyone. I’ve mentioned them before when talking about balanced romances and insufferable love triangles. This might end up being the most heart-wrenching, albeit for all the right reasons.

The name of the story is called Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey by Matthew Rosenberg. Now, if you don’t want to be spoiled, I strongly encourage everyone to read it. Either buy it at a comic shop or buy the digital version. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, it’s a great story that will still evoke all the right emotions.

That’s because this story does something that’s very rare and very difficult to do. It’s something that everyone form Shakespeare to Tolken to Stan “The Man” Lee struggled with at some point in their creative endeavors. It gets the balance between romance and tragedy right. It gets it so right, in fact, that I intend to judge all future romance/tragedies by this comic. That includes any I write.

To understand how I came to this conclusion, it’s important to understand the context of the story and why it had such a powerful impact. To do that, it’s necessary to point out the circumstances of this story. When it was announced last year, it’s stated goal was to bring Jean Grey back from the dead. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with comics knows that’s not all that groundbreaking.

Superheroes have been dying and coming back to life for decades. While “The Death of Superman” might have been the most high-profile, the initial death of Jean Grey in the original Phoenix Saga is probably the most iconic. That story established Jean Grey as a character who would be defined by death, rebirth, and everything in between. That’s part of the reason it’s the foundation of the “X-men: Dark Phoenix” movie.

That original story had a lot of romantic elements in it, but it was largely defined by its tragic ending. In that original story, Jean Grey willingly sacrificed herself in front of Cyclops and her friends to stop herself from becoming corrupted by the cosmic power of the Phoenix Force.

It was a truly gut-wrenching moment. It’s because of that moment, though, that it’s often singled out as one of the best X-men stories of all time. It was the culmination of Jean Grey’s struggle to deal with the immense power with which she’d been imbued. Moreover, she reached out to that power in order to do the impossible to protect those she loved, even if it corrupted her.

That’s an important detail to note because that’s a theme that would go onto play out on many occasions for Jean, eventually culminating in her second death in 2004. Her constant struggle to manage the immense power granted by the Phoenix Force and the corruption that often came with it is one of the primary driving forces behind Jean’s character. It’s also a big part of her appeal.

Rosenberg uses those same themes, as well as the immense power afforded by the Phoenix Force, to build the tragedy and romance that plays out in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. It’s a story that has more drama going for it than most because, despite the presence of time travelers, Jean Grey has been dead since 2004. Her coming back after such a long absence is a big deal for X-men fans and for her character.

The challenge Rosenberg faced was making that resurrection feel more compelling than overdue in an era where dead characters come back all the time. On top of that, Jean’s association with a cosmic force known for death and resurrection means her character basically has a built-in cheat code for bringing her back. How can that be so compelling, let alone raise the bar for romance and tragedy?

This is where the spoilers come in so again, please take the time to read the comic if you can. That’s because the way Jean comes back in this story has less to do with tragedy and more to do with agency. Way back in the original Phoenix Saga, Jean reached out to Phoenix Force in an act to save her friends. It was a choice of desperation.

Well, since that fateful choice, the Phoenix Force has been like a clingy ex, wanting desperately to stay bonded to her, even thought it often corrupts her. I’ve argued before how the context of that corruption might be more complicated than it seems, but on the basis of history alone, Jean Grey has many reasons to regret that choice.

The Phoenix only gives her another in this series. After having bonded with plenty of other hosts since her death, it goes to great lengths to bond with Jean again. It goes so far as to resurrect both her and everyone she ever cared about, creating this own little world in which Jean never experiences the many tragedies that befell her. It’s like the Matrix, but with a volatile cosmic bird running the show.

 

As part of that fantasy world, Jean Grey’s long-time love, Cyclops, is alive and well. That’s critical because, at least for the time being, he’s also dead. The Phoenix Force basically gives her everything to be happy, content, and loved. Keep in mind, though, it’s not doing this out of pure altruism. It wants to bond with Jean again. That’s the goal and the fantasy world is just a means to an end.

That makes the tragedy inevitable. As is often the case with fantasy worlds, even those created by a cosmic power, they tend to crumble under the harsh weight of reality. The way in which this happens is best revealed through the story. However, the part of the story that really balances out that tragedy occurs in the final issue.

In that issue, the fantasy world crumbles, thanks largely to the efforts of Jean’s fellow X-men. Naturally, the Phoenix Force fights this and tries to tempt Jean into bonding with it again, saying its power can give her everything she desires. It can even bring back those she loves.

As part of a last-ditch effort, it demonstrates this by bringing Cyclops back to life. He’s not a clone. He’s not a time traveler. He’s not some illusion either. He’s the real, flesh-and-blood Cyclops, complete with the thoughts, feelings, and passions of the man she married.

It’s a dick move on the part of the Phoenix Force, to say the least. It’s also the moment where the romance balances the tragedy in an important way. That’s because in that moment, Jean makes another fateful choice, one every bit as dire as the one she made in the original Phoenix Saga. This time, though, she lays her heart on the line, knowing damn well it’ll be broken.

Rather than just reject this tactic as another attempt by the Phoenix to lure her in, she embraces it for a brief moment. In that moment, she gets to say goodbye to her husband. She and Cyclops even go out of their way to make clear how much they love each other, both in life and in death. Even if you’re not a big romance fan, this is a moment of pure, unadulterated heart.

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We still know the tragedy is coming. We know it’s a moment that’s going to end with tears and sorrow. Anyone that ever had to read “Romeo and Juliet” in high school English class knows it’s coming and is might think they’re numb to it, especially if they flunked the test.

That’s why it was so important for the story to reaffirm that sentiment. Rosenberg did something critical when he had Cyclops and Jean Grey remind each other just how deep their love went. He gave even greater weight to the loss.

At least with “Romeo and Juliet,” the characters involved had just met. They barely knew each other. Cyclops and Jean Grey’s love story spans 50 years of X-men comics, complete with weddings, clones,  and raising a child together in the future. To know the extent of their love is to know just how much that tragedy hurts.

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That, more than anything, is what puts Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey in a league of its own in terms of romance and tragedy. Instead of the tragedy defining the romance, it’s the other way around. It’s the romance that gives that tragedy such immense weight.

In too many stories, both in comics and in other mediums, tragedy relies too heavily on its own weight to make an impact. Making a love story dependent on that tragedy gives the impression that the love needed it in order to have depth. That’s why, when the tragedy eventually occurs, it doesn’t always hit all the emotional chords.

Rosenberg left no emotional chords unstruck with this story. It’s because Jean shared that special moment with the man she loved that her decision to reject the Phoenix Force carries so much weight. That decision comes with so much pain, anguish, and sorrow. It’s one thing to just depict it. It’s quite another to truly convey it.

That’s what truly makes Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey so special. It conveys both the breadth of the romance and the extent of the tragedy. Moreover, it does that in a way where one complements the other. For a romance built heavily around two characters operating as equals, I can’t think of anything more fitting.

Again, if you’re fan of romance, tragedy, or both, check out Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. Even if you hate comics and the X-men, this one will evoke all the right emotions. You’ll shed tears of sorrow and joy at the same time. It’ll feel so weird, but so right.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men

What Jean Grey Of The X-men Can Teach Us About Life, Love, And Growing Up

These days, when most people read comics or watch movies, they do with an emphasis on escapism, spectacle, and an ability to talk/whine about it on message boards. Most people would rather not consume media with the idea that it has a bigger lesson to teach. We got plenty of those lessons in grade school and most of us got sick of that crap before we hit puberty.

However, there are occasions when a comic, movie, or TV show reveals something deeper about ourselves and our world that’s worth noting. I’m not talking about the kinds of crazy fan theories that claim Jack in “Titanic” never existed. It is possible for the media we consume to give us real, meaningful insights about ourselves.

That brings me back to comic books and X-men. Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. After talking so much about the horrors of millennial life and the potential horrors of their children, I’m in need of a less serious topic. I think I’ve made clear that I love comics, I love X-men, and I’ll keep finding reasons to talk about them on this blog.

As it just so happens, a comic came out that conveys just such a lesson. It involves Jean Grey again. Other than Wonder Woman, she’s one of the most frequent topics of discussion on this blog. Considering she has a movie coming out next year, that’s likely to continue.

However, this comic has little to do with her movie and more to do with the themes of Jean Grey’s struggle. Some of them are relevant in the sense that they’re common to many major superheroes. Others are more subtle in that they have a bigger message to convey, one that applies to those who don’t have superpowers.

I doubt that the message that Marvel, a company owned by Disney, no less, intends to convey directly. Most of that message is indirect, but it can still function as a lesson, of sorts, that even aspiring erotica/romance writers like myself can appreciate.

The comic, in question, is Jean Grey #6. It’s the latest in a series that began earlier this year and focuses on the exploits of a teenage Jean Grey, who was plucked from the past several years ago in an event that has too many complications to go over without inducing migraines.

You don’t need to know too many of the particulars. You only need to know that she has a good reason for not liking her future. A lot of her adult life, as has played out in the X-men comics over the years, involves death, rebirth, and more dying at the hands of overwhelming power, often at the hands of the Phoenix Force.

Her teenage self is understandably frustrated with how that life played out. For the past several years, she’s gone to considerable lengths to change her fate, going so far as to ditch the X-men and try to be a normal teenage girl. As is often the case with superheroes, and teenagers in general, that doesn’t work. She still finds herself dragged back into the world of X-men and superheroes.

To her credit, she has handled herself fairly well. She’s managed to endure a space adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy, go on trial for her future crimes that she’s yet to commit, and take part in a superhero civil war. It’s worth remembering, though, that she’s a teenager. She’s doing all this while also being one of the most powerful mutants in all of Marvel comics.

Her solo series, as written by a very talented writer named Dennis Hopeless, takes Jean Grey out of those roles with the X-men and sends her on a more personal journey. As I said before, her adult life is plagued by many complications that end up killing her. Chief among them, though, is the Phoenix Force. Pretty much all her frustrations begin and end with Phoenix Force.

She’s spent most of her time in the future just actively avoiding it or not thinking about it. In the very first issue of her solo series, though, she gets a message that makes clear she can’t ignore it anymore. Eventually, she has to prepare to confront the all-powerful Phoenix Force and all the problems/heartache it’ll cause her.

As part of that effort, she’s been seeking guidance from various sources throughout the Marvel universe. In a universe full of gods, aliens, and talking raccoons, there’s a lot to go around. Jean Grey #6 has her touch base with Dr. Strange. Those who saw Benedict Cumberbatch bring the charming sorcerer supreme to life last year shouldn’t be too surprised.

It actually starts off fairly similar to her previous efforts to seek guidance from more experienced Marvel heroes. Dr. Strange agrees to help her, which involves a little mystical mojo that should offend One Million Moms and amuse card-carrying Satanists. It’s here, though, where the journey and the lesson play out.

It’s a spirit quest, of sorts, one that takes the teenage Jean Grey through the life she seems doomed to live. It spans multiple eras of X-men comics, from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby days of Uncanny X-men to her latest death in the early 2000s. What makes this journey a bit rockier, though, is that she’s not just a spectator.

These visions of her future self aren’t just there to remind her why her future sucks. They’re basically drills sergeants trying to hammer some hard lessons into her head that Jean, and teenagers in general, refuse to learn.

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It’s here where Jean starts to get a harsh lecture on having one persona that you have for all those around you while also having a very different, much less pleasant persona just under the surface. Like celebrities that are assholes when the camera isn’t rolling, some people have to pretend to be something they’re not.

With Jean Grey, one of the most powerful mutants on the planet, it’s even more difficult. Jean’s vision basically tells her what she refuses to admit. She makes herself out to be this quiet, upstanding young woman on a team of teenage boys. However, under the surface, she knows she’s more powerful than everyone else on her team and most other teams.

Her maintaining that facade is like trying to play chess with a brain-damaged monkey and trying to give the monkey a fair chance. As is the nature with mutant powers, she can’t turn them off. She can’t ever not be so powerful and frustrated. It’s a lesson that is hard for a teenage girl to wrap her head around, but easy for most adults who can’t stop being adults.

By now, it should be somewhat easier to see the real-life parallels here. We’re talking about overwhelming feelings that we can’t turn off, which tend to affect us greatly later in life. As teenagers, we don’t know how to deal with them or even how to make sense of them. They still affect us, though. We can try to ignore them all we want, but that doesn’t make them go away.

I’ll give the less kinky readers a moment to fill in the blanks. In the meantime, the life lessons in Jean Grey #6 get a lot harsher. As Dr. Strange guides her towards other moments in her life, she encounters a later version of herself that fans of the 90s X-men cartoon should recognize.

This is a version of Jean Grey who has put in the time, effort, and passion to endear herself to a lot of people. This is the woman that many of the other X-men see, or want to see, when they look at teenage Jean Grey. There’s a reason why Jean ranks among the most popular X-men characters of all time. The woman she becomes, which also happens to be a woman teen Jean resents, is just that endearing.

It’s a lot for anyone to live up to. Being a teenage girl, though, Jean isn’t going to just accept that this is the person she becomes. She knows that person still ends up dying. She knows that person still succumbs to the demons she can’t control, namely the Phoenix Force.

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It gets even harsher, though. As with every teenager, Jean Grey’s perspective is very limited. She hasn’t experienced enough of the world to understand what actually shapes someone into a functioning adult.

She, like many other teen heroes, have this idealized version of who they want to be and what life is like. It’s tragic, but inevitable that such idealism will eventually be shattered. That’s just the nature of life, in general. Ideals are for a perfect world and nobody, not even superheroes, live in a perfect world.

This is where the message becomes bigger than Jean Grey. It’s a message that can resonate with all teenagers. Her older self basically lays it out for her in a way so simple that even a teenage mind can process it. The life she thinks is doomed to tragedy and pain isn’t just a matter of rotten luck and crushing disappointment. It’s just life.

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It’s one of those messages that can apply to much more than superheroes and mutant powers. It can apply almost every teenager to some extent at some point in their lives. They’re just starting to learn what the world is like without the rose-colored glasses of childhood. They’re just starting to feel things that are strange, powerful, and make their pants feel tighter than they want. It’s not a tragedy. It’s just life.

It’s a lesson almost every teenager learns the hard way, regardless of whether or not they have mutant powers. I certainly did. I challenge anyone reading this comic, my novels, or this blog to say otherwise. The transition between childhood and adulthood is hard and it has to be hard because it’s such a harsh world.

On top of that, we have to enter that world with all these powerful feelings and emotions that kids just can’t process. This is where the Phoenix Force, the utter bane of Jean Grey’s life and many deaths, enters the picture.

In a sense, this cosmic space bird is a manifestation of the greatest extremes that we experience. In the comics, it’s a force that pushes Jean Grey’s powers over the edge and beyond. In life, it’s basically every overwhelming experience we’ve ever had, amplified to infinity.

When you’re a teenager, you’re full of all sorts of overwhelming feelings. As an adult, they’re still overwhelming, but you gain a sense of perspective. From our ability to love to our desire to make love, it’s a powerful force that shapes how we live and how we die. Being immature teenagers, and even immature adults, we often try to suppress it. Not only does that fail, but it can make everything worse.

Jean Grey, being a teenager, can’t wrap her head around those extremes, be they the Phoenix Force or just being a functional adult. Again, the visions of her older self basically have to belabor it, to the point of frustration.

In her vision, she starts to gain a better perspective of what these feelings are. She comes to see the Phoenix Force as more than just that big cosmic fire bird that ends up killing her twice. It’s not just a force for death. It’s also a force for life. Being a teenager, she can’t help but focus on the death. In doing so, she only ever obsesses over one extreme.

That’s understandable for a teenager who hasn’t lived enough of a life to make sense of it. It’s also the exact mentality that gets her killed. It’s why people who obsess over death tend to live in a state of near-constant distress. It affects them and those around them. By only focusing on one extreme, they basically doom themselves.

Jean Grey is in that exact position. She’s focused entirely on the end, but not on everything else around it. Teenagers, with their limited experiences, are like that and through no fault of their own. That’s why they’ll make such poor decisions, both in their adult lives and in their personal lives.

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This is where Jean Grey has her most defining moment of the comic, if not the past five years of X-men comics. Despite the benefit of foresight afforded to her by time travel and psychic abilities, she still refuses to confront the extremes of the Phoenix Force. She refuses to accept the person she becomes.

Finally, after all the belaboring and mystical-induced spirit quests, she does it. She finally takes a step back from the doom and gloom of her impending death. She finally looks at the bigger picture. She admits that who she is now and who she’s afraid of becoming are the same person. Those feelings that overwhelm her that she’s been trying to suppress are there and they’re not going away.

As an X-men fan and a fan of personal insight, it was one of the most satisfying moments I’ve reading an X-men comic that didn’t involve Emma Frost’s costume. It was one of those moments that felt much bigger than the character. It’s a powerful message that people without mutant powers can appreciate.

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Jean Grey’s struggles are very much akin to the struggles everyone faces when they have overwhelming experiences of any kind. Those experience don’t always have to have a sexual or personal connotation, but those are the ones that tend to stick out.

They’re also the experiences that teenagers, and even many adults, are likely to suppress. They’ll see certain experiences and desires as this powerful, dark force that will consume and destroy them, much like the Phoenix Force. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just acknowledging that those feelings exist is an important step, especially for a teenager. There are people out there right now in societies and cultures that pressure them to repress desires that cannot be repressed. Like Jean and the Phoenix Force, those feelings eventually find us in the long run. If we refuse to confront them, then they can destroy us.

It’s a powerful lesson, especially for young people still making sense of their experiences. They may not have Jean Grey’s psychic abilities or the insight provided by time travel, but their future still seems every bit as daunting. It only becomes less daunting when you step back and realize that the overwhelming feelings we dread are just part of life, in general. We can’t always suppress them. Sometimes, we just have to embrace them.

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