The following is a review I wrote for “Extermination #1” for PopMatters. Enjoy!
If you were to go back 40 years and ask someone to tell a story about epic space battles, death stars, and wookies, chances are you’d get a lot off odd looks and insipid excuses. Some might even laugh in your face, saying such a story could never be told, let alone make over $7.7 billion at the box office. George Lucas is probably laughing at them on top of a bed made of money.
Great stories like “Star Wars” didn’t just prove there were millions to be made from elaborate space operas and quality sci-fi. It helped establish a template for others to follow in telling similar stories. Some have followed it better than others, but the most important thing “Star Wars” was demonstrate that it can be done.
The current state of married superheroes is in a similar situation to what the sci-fi genre was before “Star Wars” came along. Both Marvel and DC Comics have done a lot over the past couple decades to undermine married superheroes, some of which have left major scars for fans and characters alike. Just look up a story called One More Day for proof.
The excuses Marvel and DC have made aren’t very convincing, but they’re not entirely wrong either. Telling stories about married superheroes is challenging. There are only a handful of married superheroes that have stood the test of time. However, even the most iconic superhero couples have been prone to the complications of marriage.
That’s why a series like “Mr. and Mrs. X” is coming along at the best possible time. This series, which spins directly out of the denigrating heartbreak that unfolded in “X-men Gold #30,” may very well provide both the hope and the template for married superheroes moving forward.
The first thing I need to say about “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” is that it’s part of a larger story that began unfolding before the events of “X-men Gold #30.” Kelly Thompson, who wrote “Mr. and Mrs. X,” also wrote a mini-series called “Rogue and Gambit,” which I highly recommend. That story did something important for both fans of superhero romance and of superhero cartoons from 1990s.
In the world of iconic superhero couples, Rogue and Gambit occupy a gray area of sorts. They’re one of those couples that rarely tops any list of notable superhero romances, but they’ve always been closely linked to one another. This is due largely to the chemistry they showed in the “X-men Animated Series” cartoon that defined so many childhoods back in 1990s. I know because I was one of them.
While Rogue and Gambit have always had romantic potential, it was never fully utilized. Neither the cartoon nor the comics ever took it beyond a certain point and not just because Rogue’s life-draining powers hindered their capacity for intimacy. There was just no real effort to evolve their romance beyond flirting and card puns.
Ms. Thompson changed that with “Rogue and Gambit.” This under-developed romance grew more in the span of five issues than it had in over 15 years of comics, cartoons, and failed efforts to get a Gambit movie off the ground. With “Mr. and Mrs. X #1,” Ms. Thompson dares to skip several steps and let this couple take the plunge into superhero marriage.
Considering how even a much more iconic couple in Batman and Catwoman failed to get that far, that’s quite an achievement. However, the way in which “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” portrays the sexy, romantic details of married superheroes is a far greater accomplishment. I would go so far as to say that it sets a new standard for just how appealing married superheroes can be.
One of the most important things “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” does is expand on the events of “X-men Gold #30.” This isn’t just critical for the sake of Rogue and Gambit’s relationship. It helps fix the greatest flaw in that issue. When the marriage of Kitty Pryde and Colossus fell through in a heartbreaking moment, Rogue and Gambit basically stepped in to keep the ending from being a complete tragedy.
The way their impromptu marriage presented in “X-men Gold #30” is both shallow and crude. It’s basically just forced in there, a marriage for the sake of saving a botched wedding. It never even gave the impression that Rogue and Gambit were serious about marrying one another. They just did it on a whim, their wedding having the depth of a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas.
“Mr. and Mrs. X #1” fundamentally changes that. It dedicates over half the issue to providing more details of that ceremony, making clear that Rogue and Gambit gave this more thought than the brand of cereal they ate that morning. There was preparation, planning, and even a surprise visit from Mystique, Rogue’s adopted mother.
This goes a long way towards showing that Rogue and Gambit are serious about getting married. Even if you didn’t read Ms. Thompson’s “Rogue and Gambit” series, the first eight pages do enough to show that there’s genuine love between these two. Moreover, they want take that love to the next level.
Even for a romance not built on Disney-style fairy tales, that’s a pretty important detail. There’s a major difference between characters actually wanting their relationship to evolve and just doing it because it makes for a nice event. It’s the same difference between wanting to eat to McDonald’s and having to eat at McDonald’s. It affects the experience.
That shared desire between Rogue and Gambit shows in both the ceremony and the honeymoon. That’s another key component that “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” adds to the template. It doesn’t just stop at the heartfelt wedding ceremony they share with friends and family. It acknowledges and even shows off the sexy tidbits of married life.
Rogue and Gambit don’t just love each other enough to want to get married. They also want to express that love like any other horny couple. It doesn’t have to be a dirty secret or some trivial side-note. It can be part of the story and thanks to the wonderful artwork of Oscar Bazaldua, it’s a spectacle to behold.
We get to see these two in expensive wedding attire and their birthday suit. There are moments of genuine affection. There are moments of playfulness. There are also moments where they address more serious issues, such as Rogue not being able to touch without the aid of a device that inhibits her powers. All of that is fit into a single issue.
On top of all that, “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” still finds time to squeeze in some heroics at the end. It’s not all heart-warming ceremonies and sexy honeymoons. Rogue and Gambit are still X-men. That means they still answer the call to adventure when it comes. That’s just what heroes do. Being married doesn’t have to change that.
That shouldn’t be such a novel concept, but that is a common criticism of married superheroes. Once they get married, their ability to be superheroes is somehow diminished. That’s like saying being a rock star diminishes someone’s ability to enjoy random songs on the radio. It’s a false flaw that Ms. Thompson and Mr. Bazaldua go out of their way to subvert.
The nature of the conflict that interrupts Rogue and Gambit’s sexy time is somewhat underdeveloped. It involves aliens and space battles, which is basically a typical Tuesday for the X-men. There’s not much in terms of refinement, but that’s less a flaw and more a logistical limitation.
“Mr. and Mrs. X #1” is the first issue of a series, which means there will be other opportunities to expand that story. Rogue and Gambit’s life as married superheroes isn’t ending. It’s just beginning. They’re still going to be heroes. They’re still going to fight aliens in between hot romps between the sheets. Married life doesn’t have to be boring. What a concept, right?
I’m not being coy. That’s the ultimate takeaway from this comic. Two well-known, well-developed characters can get married, share some loving moments, get sexy, and still be superheroes. Being married doesn’t have to supercede their heroics. It can complement it as well.
It’s a lesson that other superhero couples, be they iconic or based on a random hook-up, would be wise to learn. Even powerful heroes like Superman are only as compelling as the relationships and interpersonal dynamics that highlight who they are. In the same way teamwork makes the Avengers and the Justice League strong, marriage can make a superhero couple strong.
That really shouldn’t be such a radical notion, but Ms. Thompson and Mr. Bazaldua do plenty to remind us why it shouldn’t be. “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” sets a bold tone for Rogue and Gambit. It doesn’t stop at a beautiful wedding or a sexy honeymoon. The heroics continue. It just takes a different tone.
The ending of the issue, which I won’t spoil, even sets up some new drama between the happy newlyweds. It’s not the kind that’ll instigate another frustrating love triangle, but it does hint at a conflict that wouldn’t be much of a conflict if Rogue and Gambit weren’t married. Rather than limit their story, it expands it.
“Mr. and Mrs. X #1” does so much in the span of a single issue that it would take me all day to list them all. It’s not a perfect issue. If I had to score it, I would give it a 9 out of 10, just because it had piggy-back on the heartbreak in “X-men Gold #30.” The most important achievement, though, is the precedent it sets. Married superheroes can be sweet, sexy, and fun and this is how you do it.
Like a marriage in a real world, relationships evolve. Getting married is not an endpoint. It’s another step in the dramatic, yet sexy narrative that is romance. Superheroes are fully capable of taking that step without turning into a bad sitcom. “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” shows that this step is worth taking. Hopefully, other couples follow and build on this sexy new template.
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.