Saturday, April 05, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #21, part b

“First Love”

The Frank Frazetta influence in John Bolton’s work is quite strong. (Claremont and Bolton’s collaborations before these backup stories were two sword-and-sorcery-style fantasy stories, “Marada the She-Wolf” and “The Black Dragon.”) With the a-side comics at this point being set in the Savage Land, where dinosaurs, savages and bikini-clad native girls all coexist, Bolton seems right at home.

“First Love” expands on the tantalizing (if uncharacteristic) bit from Uncanny X-Men #114, featuring Colossus and two female members of the Fall People going to visit a “special island.” That thread is here woven in to a story that also works as a sequel to the Colossus solo story published in Classic #5, in which Colossus fell for a beautiful Russian dancer, Anya, who rejected him when she saw him use his mutant power. (Interestingly, Anya is also the name given to Magneto’s daughter in a story that saw his wife flee from him in a very similar scene – set in Russia, no less. This implicit parallel between Magneto and Colossus was never expanded upon by Claremont, although a later writer followed up by having Colossus join Magneto’s Acolytes.)

Colossus is seen here in a state of depression. Not only is he still dwelling on Anya’s rejection, but the heat of the Savage Land is tough for Peter to bear and – in a cute touch – the humidity is so great that the paper of his sketch pad is too saturated to be drawn upon.

The story then kicks into adventure mode, as Colossus – too affected by the heat to even transform into metal –attempts to save a trio of native women from an attacking tyrannosaurus. There are a great couple of pages that are pure Frazetta, depicting Colossus bashing the dinosaur’s eye out with an axe.

That night, the two surviving girls ask Colossus to accompany them to an island to perform “a last ceremony.” Naively he accepts, and upon arrival is invited to make love to both of them. “What better way to honor a fallen friend,” says Nereel, the more forthright of the two girls, “then [sic] by hopefully creating a new life?” Peter, being the most innocent and naive of the X-Men, tries to get out of it. The tyrannosaur shows up conveniently, and this time – with the sun down – Peter is able to effect his transformation, and – in another striking Bolton panel – snaps the dinosaur’s jaws. Hearing the women’s surprised reactions to his transformation, Colossus is again reminded of Anya’s rejection, and his anger feeds into him dispatching the dinosaur with more violence than he might have otherwise.

Redemption, unsurprisingly, comes in the final page. Nereel and her companion are, of course, not turned off by Peter’s mutancy – are, in fact, surprised that he had even expected such a thing. “I was just thinking of someone I once cared for,” Peter explains. “How she fled when she saw me like this. I feared you might do the same.” Bolton sells us on Nereel’s terse reply: “She was foolish. We are not.”

Colossus is sold as well, leading to what may be, published in 1988, the first known occurrence of a mainstream Marvel superhero engaging in a threesome.

“First Love” walks a strange line. In trying to write a redemptive love story between Peter and the Nereel character, Claremont is perhaps a bit hamstrung by his earlier work, which featured Colossus very distinctly going off with two girls rather than one. When Claremont closes the story with two women both kissing on Colossus and the narration “For the first time, he’s discovered love,” are to presume he has fallen in love with both of them? There’s a definite cognitive disconnect here, between the story’s camp trappings and its attempt at something more heartfelt.

In spite of that, Claremont and Bolton sell the story effectively, and it actually works well in practice. Any other male member of the X-Men in a story like this would not have been convincing – a lecherous quality would have dominated the tone. But Claremont hammers home the point of Colossus’ naivety so well that Peter’s surrender at the end to an orgy with mohawked girls in fur bikinis actually does seem kind of sweet.

[Note: AWESOME. I love this series.]


scott91777 said...

Just curious, what are the other occurences of mainstream Marvel superheroes engaging in threesomes?
Are you sure nothing like this happenned to Nick Fury in his superspy days?

Scene -- said...

"For the first time, he's discovered love" -- did claremont mean that he lost his virginity?

neilshyminsky said...

scene: Almost certainly.

Scene -- said...

then yeah, i don't think there's so much of a disconnect between the story's camp and something "heartfelt."

not to say that peter's first time was a randy affair totally devoid of emotion, but it's def not a love story in the boy-meets-girl sense, and it falls in perfectly with a camp sensibility.

Scene -- said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason said...

Scene, thanks for that -- you're right, and well said.

scott91777, no idea. Good point about Nick Fury ... I don't know. It'd be great if there were an online database for this. If for no other reason than someone would have a reason to reserve the domain name "" (I'm not going to check to see if that site already exists -- I'm at work.)

A Painter said...

I can't help wondering if there's a deeper sexual element here. Colossus - reminded of Anya just moments ago - is rendered impotent (unable to transform). Later, he's finally able to "get hard" and is then ready for the menage a tois.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into this.

Also, does Colossus carry a pencil and sketchbook on his costume somewhere, or do the Fall people somehow just have those things handy?