To celebrate the release of Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost, AIPT proudly presents JEAN GREY + EMMA FROST WEEK – seven days of original articles and interviews about two X-Women so eXtraordinary, they don’t need codenames!
What do you want for your favorite characters? Depending on how you answer, your experience in the world of storytelling (comic books or otherwise) could be an incredibly tumultuous one. Most likely, none of you would answer, “Stagnation.” Some of you might answer, “Pain and misery.” A lot more of you probably cry forth, “Prosperity.”
You want your loved ones to stick around. Your favorite comic book characters achieve that by mixing it up, radically altering themselves for the length of a run, but finding their way back to square zero so another writer can take them on a different journey. The perpetual circle of life is both the best and worst thing about comics.
We love Jean Grey. We want her to kick ass. We want her to serve her people into a future brighter than the past she knew. We want her to be happy.
We love Emma Frost. We want her to kick ass. We want her to reveal the ugliness of humanity to their face, and deliver vengeance with a glimmer in her eye. We want her to be happy.
Happiness, however, is a destination. It’s an ever-after fantasy. Such a state cannot last while the quest is in motion. Conflict, whether you want it or not, is the engine that drives the character. You know this. It’s the automatic pap of the most sophomoric creative writing classes.
We love Scott Summers. Sometimes. We love to hate him more often than not.
Writers take particular delight in dragging the boy scout down into the muck. Altruism is boring. Squeaky clean is only interesting after you’ve spread a thick layer of slime across it.
Scott Summers and Jean Grey are defined by the tragedy of “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” With Jean seemingly achieving god-level power through the Phoenix Force, Scott felt his masculinity and purpose diminished. Their relationship dynamic was strained, but thankfully the Shi’ar appeared to expedite their separation through their violent judiciary system. Chris Claremont relished in voicing their romantic agony via word balloon, and he’d snap them in two sooner or later.
In killing the Phoenix, he erected a monument to their romance. Suddenly, Scott and Jean were Lois and Clark or Reed and Sue. Meant to be.
In the years that followed, Scott was scarred by the loss. When he started to find happiness in the arms of another, Jean miraculously reappears, and the dude can’t deal. Those early X-Factor issues of the mid-80s are an insane sight to behold. There’s Scott ditching Madelyne Pryor and his son to gallivant with the team and awkwardly rekindle the spark with Jean without telling her of the life he led in her absence.
Once again, plot comes to the rescue. Madelyne Pryor is exposed as a clone of Jean manifested by Mr. Sinister. “Inferno” reigns, Maddie is toppled by the climax, and Scott and Jean can begin the healing that will eventually lead to X-Men #30 and their wedded bliss. All’s good.
Enter: Grant Morrison. The monster.
Pulling on the thread first weaved by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during those early issues of X-Men, Morrison yanks Scott’s self-doubt to the very forefront of his being. As squad leader, such inner turmoil is a natural fit for a compelling narrative, unless it’s been explored endlessly for decades. He uses Scott’s doubt to finally remove him from Jean’s side, and into the psychic arms of Emma Frost, one-time goon-turned-fiendish-goodie.
When talking to editor Tom DeFalco for his book, Comics Creators on X-Men, this is what Morrison had to say regarding his reasonings for jamming a wedge between Scott and Jean via Emma:
“The way I saw it was that Jean and Scott had become remote. For me, the great emotional moment for Scott and Jean was when they ran out to die together on the moon during the Phoenix Saga…it just seemed he would naturally fall into the arms of someone more emotionally connected, which Emma actually was…I just felt that the spark between them had died out and it was time to give Scott someone else.”
Morrison was looking for his Uncanny X-Men #137 – Phoenix Must Die! He rejects the couple that came after. His goal was to preserve them in trauma.
For a readership who’s takeaway from Uncanny X-Men #137 was eternal love, and not necessarily the delicious appeal of tragedy, Morrison’s tamperings during New X-Men felt like a tremendous betrayal. Team Jott had finally made it through their dark tunnel. They survived “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” they survived “Inferno,” and they had survived Apocalypse. Those victories proved their together-foreverness.
What Morrison saw was stagnation. After the great long tease of will they/won’t they, a victorious courtship was secured, and now was the time to show the reader what they wanted was not what they really wanted. Melodrama is the mission. Your torture the writer’s goal, your fist-waving their triumph.
Unlike the previous plot mechanics used to isolate Scott and Jean, Morrison at least allows for resolution between the characters through conversation (and psychic battle) before once again eradicating Jean from existence. In New X-Men#139, when Jean corners Emma in a room with the Phoenix for daring to get with her man, she discovers that Emma holds genuine love for Scott. She’s not just acting on her wicked ways. Emma is in deep pain over the loss of her students, and the X-Men, including Scott, offer a comfort absent from her usual gang of associates.
When faced with extinction in New X-Men #150, Jean lets Scott off the hook to Logan as well as to the reader. She’s basically saying, “I get it. Love is love. Let him have it with her if we can’t have it together.” Jean giving up her rage is an affront to the reader still steaming. To make matters worse, Morrison dares to tell us that if #Scemma doesn’t happen, then a wretched dystopia awaits everyone. GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!
We want our happy ending. We want our happy ending. We want our happy ending.
We’re never going to get it. There is no ending.
We will die, but the X-Men will go on. Happiness may await you (good luck with that), but it is never coming for them.
The moment the characters are acting the way you want them to be acting is when you should be most afraid for them. Jott or Scemma, it doesn’t matter. They’ll have their time together, but some jerkhole writer will always come gunning.
That’s the gig.