[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's Classic X-Men. For more in the series see the link in the right toolbar.]
Claremont Appreciation, Post Ten
“A Love Story”
Claremont does a “silent” story, and it’s very self-aware. Ostensibly it is examining the innocence of Scott Summers’ and Jean Grey’s relationship, and mourning the fact that, as of X-Men #98, it will – to use a Claremont cliché – “never be the same.”
In the ‘60s, Scott and Jean were fairly bland as superhero couples go. Their early romantic tension had been defined by the angst of not knowing how the other felt, but once that was eliminated circa issue 32, the relationship had no defining dynamic that made it interesting. Claremont eventually made this narrative flaw into a salient character point: i.e., The reason the relationship seems boring is that it is; and the reason Scott and Jean don’t ever seem to be very romantic around each other is because Scott is so uptight. Hence, Jean’s attraction to the far more volatile personality of Wolverine. Considering how much it has been mined by subsequent writers of the comics, and how central it was to the first film, the Scott-Jean-Logan love triangle is surely one of Claremont’s most significant contributions to the X-Men franchise.
Wolverine is not part of the picture here, however. In “A Love Story,” Claremont takes advantage of John Bolton’s clean artistic style to paint a very pretty picture (literally) of the early Scott/Jean relationship. It is anything but staid in this story; instead, it glows with the effervescence of youthful optimism, as personified in the idealized drawings of Jean and Scott. Though no words are spoken, both characters are impossibly attractive; Jean is fresh, wide-eyed and glamorous, while Scott is the picture of debonair. And Claremont does sneak in some words, through means other than dialogue: Most significantly, Jean reads a note left by roommate Misty Knight informing her that she’ll be out of town for a while. “Go for broke!” is the concluding line of the letter, which is Claremont’s cheeky, silly way of suggesting that if Jean has her way, tonight’s date will end with Jean and Scott’s first sexual experience.
It’s all extremely sweet, but there is a twist. Jean and Scott are wearing the outfits that they wear in Uncanny X-Men #98 (or Classic X-Men #6a), which is when the Sentinels attack, touching off a story that will end in Jean becoming Phoenix. So, not only do we know that Scott and Jean won’t be consummating their relationship tonight, but we also know that Scott and Jean’s relationship is about to be destroyed. The visual cue for all of this within “Love Story” itself is its final panels: a zoom up on a poster on Jean’s wall, advertising Edith Nesbit’s play “The Phoenix and the Carpet.” The final page depicts a sonic boom as a Sentinel flies past the window of Jean’s apartment; the walls shake, and a framed portrait of Scott and Jean cracks, while the word “Phoenix” in the poster looms ominously.
So “A Love Story” has an air of tragedy about it, in that we are seeing Scott and Jean’s final moments of happiness before the Phoenix ruins their lives. But there’s another layer here. Even back in 1986, when Classic X-Men #6 was first published, X-Men fans knew that the Phoenix story had come, over time, to dominate the X-Men narrative perhaps too comprehensively. For various reasons, this odd plot device became an albatross around the neck of Claremont’s X-Men. (John Byrne, after leaving the comic with issue 143, despaired of Claremont never being able to “let [the Phoenix] go.”) Up until now, Classic X-Men readers have been enjoying the glorious pre-Phoenix days, but here in issue 6, Claremont very consciously signals to the audience that it’s time to wave that early innocence good-bye. The Phoenix is coming, and once it’s here, it’s not going away anytime soon.