Friday, August 5, 2016

Updating An Iconic Romance: X-men 92 #5

The following is my review of X-men 92 #5, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There's something to be said about the state of romance in the Marvel Universe when Deadpool's marriage to Shiklah, a shape-shifting succubus, is the most stable relationship. Gone are the iconic love stories of Reed/Sue, Spider-Man/Mary Jane, and Bruce Banner/Betty Ross. In its place are shallow to mid-level romances/flings involving Carlie Cooper, Emma Frost, Namor, and whoever Tony Stark is dating. That's not to say that these characters can't foster meaningful relationships. It's just that they're a long ways from being iconic.

One relationship that tends to get deconstructed more than most is that of Cyclops and Jean Grey. Even in a franchise where Wolverine and Deadpool draw the most attention and/or gratuitous violence, these two are still the X-men's premier romance. They go back to the earliest days of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era. Theirs is a romance that survived life, death, resurrection, and clones. Very few relationships not involving Peter Parker can make such a claim.

Despite the strength of this relationship, it is often the first iconic romance that Marvel attempts to undermine. If it's not Chris Claremont trying to hook Jean Grey up with Wolverine or Grant Morrison trying to hook Cyclops up with Emma Frost, there's some other conflict that is forced between these two to drive them apart. It may succeed in the short-term, but much like the Phoenix that solidified this couple's iconic status, Cyclops and Jean Grey find each other in the long-run. With a love story that spans over 50 years of comics, Deadpool and Shiklah have a lot of catching up to do.

It's for that reason that X-men 92 #5 offers such an important insight. Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, unburdened by the contrivances of Chris Claremont and Grant Morrison, have a chance to explore this iconic couple in ways that aren't possible due to cosmic forces, death, and time-displacement. Their efforts result in a concise, unique narrative that feels exceedingly modern for a romance that began in the pre-hippie portion of the 1960s.


The setup itself isn't exactly new for Cyclops and Jean Grey. The two are sharing a quiet, romantic moment in a secluded cabin. That moment includes some references to recent events in X-men 92, namely Cyclops' decision to leave the X-men and build a life that doesn't involve clashing with Wolverine every five minutes. He still misses his old life, as does Jean. Then, they decide to snuggle up for a little overly-subtle loving, only to wake up in the distant future.

It may sound like the kind of random shift usually reserved for Deadpool comics, but it's perfectly reflective of the era and context of X-men 92. During this era, Cyclops and Jean Grey do actually travel to the future just like this, which ends up being an instrumental story in the history of Cable. This story is similar, but has a few badly-needed updates that make it feel right at home in 2016.

Bowers and Sims actually do something in this story that feels appropriate now, but would've been a revolutionary concept back in the early '90s. They make the Cyclops/Jean relationship one of true equals. At no point in the story does Jean Grey need rescuing. At no point in the story does Cyclops rely on Jean for his character development. Nobody even faints in this story, which is a radical departure from the old X-men cartoon, where Jean seemed to faint at least once an episode.

This is a remarkable, if not overdue shift for this relationship. Unlike other superhero romances that involve one super-powered man and one ordinary woman, Cyclops and Jean Grey are equals on paper, but are rarely allowed to be equals in practice. They may each have powers, but there are too many stories where Jean Grey needs rescuing or Cyclops can only show depth if his lover is in trouble. X-men 92 #5 finally makes use of that equality. Overdue or not, it realizes the potential of the Cyclops/Jean relationship that has always been there, but is rarely explored.

They end up needing that potential. The story that takes them to the future requires that neither of them faint. They deal with Sinister, evil clones, robot Deadpools, and dinosaurs armed with optic blasts. It's as quirky and fun as it sounds. Every step of the way, Cyclops and Jean Grey support each other. They don't argue, berate, or complain. They make each other stronger and, at one point, cheer each other on. It's a case study in how a healthy relationship functions, with or without superpowers.


Beyond the functional relationship dynamics, Bowers and Sims also inject some emotion and sentiment into the story. Following the same mold of Cable's original origin story, Cyclops and Jean share a few moments with a young and un-grizzled Cable. They also learn that this conflict links into some of the other conflicts that have been unfolding in X-men 92 since Secret Wars so those larger connections are there as well.

The only issue that keeps all these connections and emotions from really having an impact is the limited length of the story. While this story is fairly concise, it comes off as one of those stories that needs to have multiple parts. It never feels overly rushed, but it never gets a chance to add more details to the story. Bowers and Sims still make the most of every moment and they do it without anybody fainting.

X-men 92 #5 isn't just a reminder that Cyclops and Jean Grey are one of Marvel's most storied romances. It highlights the traits of how a true superhero romance can function. It doesn't always have to involve someone rescuing someone. It doesn't have to involve the never-ending will-they-or-won't-they-hook-up dynamic that is the basis of one too many sitcoms. It doesn't have to involve overly contrived love triangles either, which Bryan Singer and Brett Ratner overdid to an egregious extent in the X-men movies. It is actually possible for two characters to be together, support each other, and be functional heroes.

It's one of those things that shouldn't be such a novel concept. However, when compared to the current state of romance in the Marvel universe, it's a breath of fresh air. It's strange that this kind of freshness comes from a series inspired by a '90s cartoon. Then again, at a time when half the X-men are time-displaced and Captain America is in league with Hydra, X-men 92 #5 is a badly needed reprieve.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

3 comments:

  1. Dead. Fucking. On! Great review on an often over looked and crucial part of the X-men.

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    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. I hope that if and when Marvel ever brings Cyclops and Jean Grey back into the picture, THIS is the template they use for their relationship.

      Jack

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