This is the sort of post that begins with a confession. The only comics I read growing up were Archie comics.
Thus purged of my secrets, I will press on. When I asked Nathan to contribute comic posts to this site, I specifically asked him to address himself to beginners. To take a sort of Comics 101 approach. That’s because I selfishly was tasking him with guiding me into the world of comics. His first post suggested three series: ‘The Superior Foes of Spiderman’, ‘Saga’, and ‘Hawkeye’. Since then I’ve read ‘The Superior Foes of Spiderman’ - it is darkly hilarious - and am the proud owner of all of ‘Saga’ thus far written (a gift from Nathan) which I have only dipped my toe into but loved immediately for it’s unique, gritty characters and decidedly adult content. But it’s when I texted Nathan for guidance on X-Men, specifically on Phoenix, that things really got going for me and comics.
I know what you’re asking yourselves. Why this sudden interest in comics? Storytelling, in all it’s forms and varieties, is of great interest to me. I love nothing better than an engrossing and well-crafted story, be it a novel, a short, a film, an episode, a play, a dance, or a comic. Comics have grown and encompass, as Nathan sagely pointed out in that first post, so much more than just Superman and arch villains. There is a comic for every taste and the art is truly magnificent. To be strictly honest, however, what really pulled me in were two things.
1. I found a CSI graphic novel called ‘Serial’ in my favorite used bookstore which I immediately bought and read twice.
2. My roommate bought me ‘Interview with the Vampire: Claudia’s Story’ which is a graphic novel from the point of view of Claudia, the child vampire heroine of Anne Rice’s novel and one of my favorite vampires.
Based on how much I enjoyed those, I decided it was high time to explore more comics. So I turned to Nathan.
What brought me to X-Men is a host of things. The Bryan Singer movies X-Men and X2, the more recent X-Men: First Class, the fact that Danny Huston was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the fantastic animated series ‘X-Men Evolution’, and the classic “if you were a mutant what power would you want” conversation gambit that I like to spring on people when I’m bored. For the record I’d like telekinesis, telepathy, and shape-shifting. Basically I’d want to be a combination of Jean Grey, Psylocke, and Mystique. I’ve also liked Famke Janssen ever since she first appeared as Kamala in Star Trek: TNG’s ‘The Perfect Mate’ episode. All of these things combined to make me choose ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ as my proper entrance into the world of X-Men comics.
But first I needed a guide. That’s when I asked Nathan about Phoenix. And he sent me a series of cryptic texts that explained how she was dead but not because Beast had brought Jean Grey back from the past but really she had died as Phoenix but Phoenix was an alien force but it made her the most powerful telepath but they brought her back because everyone was sad but she died but then she’s not dead but she is, kinda. Or something. Honestly, his emoji explanation makes more sense overall. It didn’t clarify anything for me but it definitely piqued my interest. I went ahead and bought ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ in one handy tidily bound edition.
I suppose I should toss a *SPOILER* warning up at this point, just to be safe.
I’m only half-way through ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ but I Am Hooked. Listen, this story has enough drama, tension, action, saucy rejoinders, epic battles, lavish parties, time travel, badassery, mutant powers, and costume changes to keep anybody’s attention. It takes me quite awhile to read because I spend inordinate amounts of time scrutinizing the art to make sure no detail is missed and to absorb the costumes and settings. Basically Jean Grey is slowly but surely evolving into a wickedly ferocious telepath whose power takes on the physical form of a flaming phoenix. She sort of deftly discovers that her powers have grown every time she uses them, much to the consternation of her (dullard) boyfriend Cyclops and her other X-Buddies. Let me say right now that I am not a Cyclops fangirl by any stretch of the imagination. He’s a whining goody-goody in the movies and he’s not much better so far in this series. Also his power is idiotic. And his insistence on saying “not without my ruby quartz glasses” makes me envision him in a dramatic Sally Field film in which he has to choose between Jean Grey and his damn ruby quartz glasses a la Sophie’s Choice. What the hell Jean Grey sees in him, especially when dudes like Angel, Professor X, and hell even hairy uncouth Wolverine are all around, is beyond me. Maybe he’s just exceptionally good in bed. Maybe he’s got a really great personality. It’s not important, honestly, it’s just a pet peeve of mine. Maybe that’s why when Jason Wyngarde shows up and starts dramatically inserting himself into Jean’s life using a combination of time travel and mind control and then marries her in either a brilliant imagination sequence or an evoked memory, I wasn’t at all concerned. Granted, he’s in cahoots with the shadowy figures who run the Hellfire Club and therefore is definitely a villain but my god, he’s dashing! And he’s not Cyclops. I digress.
The Hellfire Club! Emma Frost! Kitty Pryde! Storm who actually is awesome and does amazing things (unlike the movie version *coughHalleBerrycough*)! Bombs! Drones! Nightcrawler! Dazzler! Let’s take a moment to talk about Dazzler, can we? Because she is unbelievably badass to me. They find her in some dive disco-themed nightclub because Cerebro (the Big Brother of mutants) told them a new mutant signature was detected there. She comes onstage in a bananas 70s silver jumpsuit with wild blue makeup and big bouncy blonde hair and puts on a mind-blowing light show to accompany her song and the whole debut is just so ‘Jem and the Holograms’ I wanted to die of joy. Then she blinds the villains trying to capture her because she’s angry about her show being interrupted and she just, you know, figures out she can so she does. Then coolly hops onboard with Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler to help rescue the other X-Men from Emma Frost and her goon squad. And then when they ask her to join them permanently, she just sort of shrugs and says “Meh, nah. I’m here for the disco, man. I’m out” and takes off. I couldn’t love her more. Nor could I love the idea of Phoenix taking charge of Jean more. True, I sense it isn’t going to end well. Nathan’s emoji history contains a lot of death and anger so I’m guessing the more Phoenix takes over, the less control Jean has and the more villainous she becomes. Still, though, there’s something awesome about her right now when she’s not taking orders meekly and is showing up to demand sexy times (albeit from Cyclops) atop a sundrenched mesa and just generally being brilliantly strong.
The X-Men are fascinating to me because they’re each so specific and, in their own ways, tortured. They’re trying to find a place to belong in a world that is still largely dominated by humans. They could use their powers to wrest control away from the humans but those who lean towards good fight this inclination and instead work at a peaceful coexistence while those who lean towards bad take over with awesome force. The clashes between them are epic in scope but the basic core of each struggle comes from a similar place: how to live with the mutant ability and how best to use it. Phoenix’s growth and the concern of those around her builds the necessary tension to propel the story forward but it is the knowledge of Jean Grey’s essentially pure core and unassuming nature that give the narrative its true pathos. This transformation isn’t her, it’s something else. And the stakes are growing as her power does.
I’m hooked already. And to anyone unsure about giving comics a try, I’d give this advice: just jump in. If X-Men isn’t your style, find one that is. I promise you a comic suited to your tastes exists. And when you find it, you’ll also find yourself completely drawn into a world as sharply drawn by words as by art and your imagination will be set on fire.
Isn’t that, after all, what every good story aims to do?
- Corinne Simpson