Chris Claremont And When Characters Should Get To Move On

So I’ve written about my issues with Grant Morrison. I’ve written about my issues with Geoff Johns. Now it’s time for something a little more controversial: my issues with Chris Claremont.

Claremont is an icon. He defined the X-Men. Forget Stan Lee, it’s Claremont whose baby this universe really is. Most of the best X-Men stories come from him. You can see that by the movies and what they choose to adapt – Dark Phoenix? Based on his work. X2? That’s based on God Loves, Man Kills, another of his. Days of Future Past? Ding, ding, that’s him. And it’s not even just his older work which is good – recently, he’s done the Magneto issue of X-Men: Black, which is fantastic (and anyone that’s read it should totally message me so we can geek out about it together). But there’s a reason that, for the most part, I mostly avoid talking about what he’s done past about the year 1981, and that’s that I staunchly disagree with the way he’s interpreted Scott Summers since then.

Let me be clear. Claremont is one of – if not the – best Cyclops writers of all time, and for much of the same reasons that he’s pretty much the undisputed king of all X-Men material. He’s written many outstanding stories that showed Scott as a human, with strengths and flaws alike. He’s one of the reasons that I’m a Cyclops fan. But he also makes me really sad, because he’s never let go of a certain editorially mandated plot: the Madelyne Pryor thing.

And the thing is, I do understand where his anger comes from! I do! Without Claremont, the X-Men probably wouldn’t still exist. They’d have faded into obscurity, because before him, they were nothing. If anyone has a right to object to how other writers have treated the characters, or what executive meddling made him do, it’s him. I fully understand his commitment to the long game, to character arcs, to letting characters grow and change. I even admire it a lot – he didn’t want the roster to stay stagnant, he wanted the Xavier Institute to be more than just a training ground for superheroes, he wanted the X-Men to have enough successes that the members could move on and have a real life, rather than fighting an endless battle doomed to failure. All that is good. BUT…the characters still have to remain true to who they are, even as they get to grow. And a Scott Summers that would just stay home when someone needs him is no Scott Summers at all. So while I do think the way in which he abandoned his wife and child was poorly written and out of character, I can’t fault him for the action of going, because he didn’t leave Madelyne to be with Jean, he left to see if she was alive and help mutants with every intention of returning to be with his family.

Let me reiterate that because it bears repeating: Scott didn’t leave Madelyne for Jean. SCOTT DIDN’T LEAVE MADELYNE FOR JEAN.  He left to find out if she was alive. He went back because Warren was like, hey, Scott, we need you. And Maddie was all, if you leave, don’t bother coming back. And Scott was just, Maddie, they’re my friends, they need me. The fact that that Claremont has always referred to that event as Scott dumping his wife for his ex signifies to me that he’s so emotionally involved with the characters, that he can’t see them clearly and misremembers the details.

Again, I love Claremont’s work. But I can also recognize that when he started taking all his issues with the editors out on Cyclops, he was forgetting he was the writer. Sure, he didn’t write the issue where Scott left Maddie. He wasn’t the one that made the decision to bring Jean back. But he’s a talented enough writer that he could have made it work, and of the reasons it didn’t was because everything involving Maddie was bad writing from the beginning.

I’m never sure what I think about her as a character, even before the Goblin Queen thing, because it seems kind of like Claremont wanted it both ways. It wasn’t his idea to kill Jean at the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, it was Jim Shooter’s. Claremont wanted her to lose her powers and leave the team with Scott, blah, blah, blah. Obviously, that didn’t happen. What did was Scott met Madelyne and proposed very, very quickly, ultimately going off to do the same thing he would have done had Jean lived, just with a different woman. That looked and sounded exactly like his dead girlfriend. Who wasn’t originally intended to be a Jean clone, but still had a lot of weird things about her character indicating that she was still someone unusual and tied to Jean somehow, even though Claremont claimed she was just a normal woman who, in a one in a million coincidence, happened to look just like Jean. Claremont was simultaneously using Maddie as a Jean substitute and insisting that that’s not what she was.

Did Maddie deserve better? Yes. Undoubtedly. We’re talking about a perfectly nice, normal woman that was turned into a villain so audiences would stop caring about her and the impact of her husband dumping her. She’s Nathan’s mother, who loved him and didn’t get a chance to raise him – and to add insult to injury, Jean did. AKA, the woman Maddie was cloned from and whom she didn’t want to be compared to and whom her husband loved. So, yeah, there’s no argument from me that Maddie deserved better than what she got. But she was also hugely contrived. She was some of the worst writing Claremont has ever produced. For a start, clones are almost never the right answer, but somehow, Claremont managed the one storyline where that made more sense than just about anything else. Beyond that, Maddie just didn’t feel like a Claremont creation.

Claremont usually plays the long game. He sets things up that you have to wait to see pay off. Not so with Madelyne. Everything involving her happened way too fast for that. Her first appearance was in April of 1983. The issue in which she and Scott got married? That was released in November of that same year. So in the span of three years real time, Scott lost Jean, met a woman identical to her that he thought was her, and married her. It was rushed. It was sloppy. Neither of those things are things Claremont is known for.

It was undoubtedly sexist that everything that went wrong in Scott and Maddie’s relationship got put on her and she was made a villain so people would stop blaming Scott for walking out. But it was also sexist that Claremont’s vision of a happy ending involved Scott leaving the team with a woman identical to Jean, who he couldn’t have because she was dead. There’s a disconnect between what the Scott/Maddie relationship was supposed to be and what it came across as. Scott claimed he knew Maddie wasn’t Jean and loved her for her, but their whole relationship progressed so fast, and for the sake of letting Scott fade to black, that it didn’t at all feel like the happy ending Claremont saw it as. Especially when you consider the scenes of things like Maddie angry with Scott for still being worried about mutant issues, as if retiring from the X-Men changed the fact that he was a mutant. Their marriage involved glossing over Scott’s grief for Jean, the discrimination he faced as a mutant, the importance of the X-Men to him, and his years of trauma. It felt more like a deeply traumatized man that was still grieving latching onto someone because of how much she reminded him of the love of his life and trying to convince himself it wasn’t just him trying to replace her, like a story about loss and unhealthy coping mechanisms, than a romantic happily ever after.

Sure, looks aren’t everything. But I’d still see Claremont’s side of it a lot more if Maddie looked nothing like Jean. If she was just some random woman that Scott happened to fall in love with, who helped him get over losing Jean. Because as much as Claremont tried to say that that’s what she was, it was at least partially negated by her resemblance to Jean, because it would never have been possible for Scott to look at her without seeing Jean, who he wasn’t with because she died, not because they’d broken up. Maddie was fine. And it did make Scott look horrible – and very out of character – to leave her. But for me, Claremont never put enough work into actually defining her outside of who she wasn’t.

Claremont was so bitter about how Scott treated Maddie, he felt so strongly that that tarnished Scott’s character forever, that I think he ultimately did more damage to more characters because of it. He took out his anger at the editors out on Scott, which ruined a lot of stories and assassinated even more characters in the process, especially Jean.

Claremont wrote the definitive Jean Grey story in the Dark Phoenix Saga. It’s been retconned to hell and back, but it’s his most well known story. It’s the one that just about everyone, comic fan or not, knows. It’s the single greatest love story in all of X-Men canon, and it’s not just a love story about Scott and Jean, it’s one to them. Because Jean is love, because it was the love she and Scott shared that brought her back to himself. It was an amazing story that showed just what Claremont thought of the two characters. It was also very clearly intended as an ending for them, in a medium that doesn’t really have endings in that sense. Because of that, because Scott lived while Jean didn’t and Claremont tried to give him an ending similar to what he would have had if they’d both survived, things got messy. And since 1986, when X-Factor started coming out and the whole Scott Jean Maddie thing went down, Claremont hasn’t looked at them the same. He’s been trying to kill their relationship ever since, cheapening Jean’s love for Scott, making Logan look like an obsessive stalker creep. Classic X-Men, which I’m pretty sure was the first time anyone had ever indicated that Jean was attracted to Logan, rather than it being entirely onesided. X-Men Forever,  where Jean cheated on Scott with Logan. I saw someone comment a while ago that if Claremont were writing the Dark Phoenix Saga today, he’d have probably made it about Jean and Logan rather than Jean and Scott, and it breaks my heart to realize that that’s probably true. He’s been so bitter about Cyclops that he’s assassinated not only Scott’s character, but Jean and Logan’s as well.

I think my main problem with Claremont is that I know he’s largely right – not about Scott, not about Maddie, but about the progression of characters in general –  but I hate how he deals with that on a fundamental level. He’s of a mind that the roster can’t be ever expanding. People have to leave to make room for the new ones. Which I get. Like I said in this post, I’m all for stories that are self contained and that end. But Scott Summers matters too much to me. The idea of shelving him upsets me beyond the point of rationality. For me, saying that he should just be put aside to focus on other characters, maybe dusting him off now and then to cameo…it’s the equivalent of someone saying, oh, how about we send Superman back to his farm so we can focus on Kara and Kon instead?

I’d love it if characters could leave the teams they’re on, stop fighting crime, while still continuing to exist as characters. I’d love a comic about Scott and what he does outside of being a superhero. I’d love more stories about pushing for mutant rights in the political sphere, or teaching kids physics. But I know that’s now how it works. Characters are either in the thick of the action, or ignored. I – and I think most readers – believe they have more value than their role as fighters, but that’s not what the powers that be want to focus on. They don’t think long term character development is as important as cool powers and big fight scenes. Claremont may not have wanted Scott to entirely disappear, but if he had gotten his way, with Scott never returning to a team, he would have essentially done so.

X-Factor wasn’t what Claremont wanted. Jean coming back wasn’t what he wanted, and Scott and Jean getting back together definitely wasn’t what he wanted. But in a way, it’s a compliment, too – because Claremont crafted a Scott/Jean romance so convincing that people find it inconceivable that they won’t come back together. That doesn’t hold true for any other X-Men relationship.  It’s a testament to how powerful Claremont’s writing can be, even if he didn’t see it that way at all. Generally, I don’t mind – too much – what characters a writer chooses to pair together if the story ultimately works. And I would have been fine with Scott staying with Maddie, even if the “looks identical to Jean” thing still creeped me out. But it bothers me that Claremont remained so bitter about Scott leaving to form X-Factor – and not getting back together with Jean for a long time after that – that he could never move on.

I love Claremont. I do. But I’m not a believer in creator worship, and I have a lot of problems with some of his stuff. And that extends far beyond Scott, it’s just that Scott’s my favourite Marvel character, and I have the most opinions about him. Claremont’s positives include revamping countless characters, awesome women, clear depictions of bisexuality even when editors wouldn’t let him say it outright, and some incredible  stories. His negatives, that creepy Kitty and Piotr relationship and (I think) that gross “white woman inhabiting the body of a Japanese woman” thing. Frankly, I hold Claremont to higher standards than I do most other writers, because I think he’s better than this. He has more talent than just about every other writer that’s handled the X-Men. He completely reinvented Magneto from standard and forgettable villain to the complex, brilliant character he is today – and I repeat, everyone should go read X-Men: Black – Magneto, it’s amazing. Claremont is awesome. I just wish he could let go of the past and stop taking out his anger at editors out on characters.

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The ‘Dark Phoenix’ Trailer: A Pretty Good Summary Of All My Issues With the X-Men Movies

The Last Stand was kind of a mess. Decent action movie? Sure. But it also had a confused plot, several different things crammed into what should have been multiple movies, and it had no respect for the source material. A major part of Days of Future Past was undoing that. When Logan went back, he gave Xavier his memories so he could avoid the mistakes he made the first time around. And he did. In Apocalypse, Xavier told Jean to unleash her power instead of trying to bottle it up. To not be afraid of who she was and what she could do. To embrace it. And yet, here we find he was making the exact same damn mistakes he made in the original timeline – lying to Jean and manipulating her for the sake of “protecting her”.

I mean, sure, that’s probably the closest thing to comics Xavier movie Xavier has ever been. Pretty much all his comics self ever did was lie to people and manipulate him. But said comics self also just blocked off young Jean’s telepathy temporarily, so she could focus on mastering her telekinesis first without having everyone’s voices in her head. I’m all for straying from the comics. But it has to be done in a thoughtful way. This? It feels more like it’s there because it was there in The Last Stand than because it’s a good storytelling technique that fits with the Dark Phoenix Saga.

I’m all for straying from the comics. I even wrote a post about it. Movies are movies and comics are comics. What works in a comic may not work in a movie and vice versa. And it’s more interesting to watch a story where you don’t know how it’ll end, or every plot point that’ll get you to that ending. But straying from the comics has to be done in an thoughtful way, in a way that has a clear purpose, whether it be for character development reasons or plot reasons. This doesn’t look likely to be that.

I can buy Magneto’s presence in this movie. While I can’t know until I watch the actual movie, I can imagine a lot of ways in which he could benefit the movie. Even though I would much prefer to see Utopia than Genosha, because this should centre around Jean and Scott, it makes plenty of sense that Erik’s reaction to Charles – someone that’s supposed to be helping mutants – lying to Jean and trying to block off her powers would be to create a place for mutants where no one can get to them. But Mystique? A Mystique that is absolutely nothing like her comics counterpart, played by an actress that never even seems like she wants to be there? A Mystique who took on a role of ” leading and training the X-Men” that absolutely should not be hers? I’m not into this at all.

I’m over all these endless movies of Charles telling Erik there’s still good in him, or the two being on the same side for about five minutes, or neither of them acknowledging that there’s a middle ground between sitting there and doing absolutely nothing and killing everyone standing in their way. I’m especially over their conflict happening in a movie that’s supposed to be about Jean – again. It’s gotten really repetitive. My investment in said conflict will be for one petty reason and one alone: that comics Xavier is the worst and I’m happy to see movie Xavier finally being acknowledged as a deeply flawed, manipulative person – though, going back to my first point, it really doesn’t work as part of a series and does a great job demonstrating why studios producing comic book movies should be making more standalone films and elseworlds tales, rather than instalment after instalment in a never ending franchise (that’s one of my many drafts. It…might get done).

My biggest worry about Dark Phoenix was that it was going to go the “crazy Jean that lost control route”. And from the trailer, that seems like a safe bet. I find that so unbelievably exhausting – they’re going cosmic. They’re bringing in the Shi’ar and the Phoenix Force. But they can’t avoid the gross sexism – that didn’t exist in the original comic – of “crazy chick with more power than she can handle”? I get not bringing in the Hellfire Club, but cutting out everything about Emma Frost and Mastermind manipulating her? It’s tiresome.

As I’ve said before – at this point, more times than I can remember – I’ve never been big on this idea. I love the X-Men and I love the Dark Phoenix Saga and I love Jean Grey, but I wasn’t a fan of giving this arc another try, even back when I first heard the rumour that it was going to happen. As much as I love the original comic, I have hugely conflicted feelings when it comes to everything else that’s ever pertained to the Phoenix. Maybe that means I went into watching the trailer biased against it, expecting it to be bad, and I should be more open-minded, but believe me, I’ve tried. Sure, it could be a great movie – we can’t know one way or the other until we see more – but for me, it’s kind of painfully reminiscent of The Last Stand, what with the focus on Charles and Erik and big action scenes that look awesome.

It differs from The Last Stand in a lot of ways – focusing on the Jean and Dark Phoenix story, rather than having an entirely different storyline thrown in; a different kind of action because it’s not 2006 anymore; thankfully no Wolverine – but there are still enough similarities that it seems to me like Simon Kinberg is trying to say something like I was so right back in 2006 and you all were just too dumb to see it, here, let me rework it until you get it. I wrote a post about the repercussions of misremembering the Dark Phoenix Saga on all kinds of X-Men material, and this trailer drove one thing home for sure: the public perception of the Dark Phoenix Saga as a story about a crazy woman that can’t control her powers and destroys a bunch of stuff and is manipulated by the people she cares about rather is about to be cemented, probably forever,

The Dark Phoenix Saga And The Sexist Treatment Of Jean Grey: God Dammit, She Deserves Better

I’ve talked about how much I hate how the X-Men movies thus far have treated Jean Grey here and here, and I think a lot of that is rooted in the way the Phoenix has completely taken over Jean’s character, both in the comics and public knowledge.

Even though the actual Dark Phoenix saga was much less sexist and oh ho, ho, look at that crazy chick than people tend to remember it, the way the comics treated Jean after that was still gross. I don’t have a fundamental objection to an exploration of a movie about power corrupting, except it’s always the women. Throughout comics, heroic characters destroy a lot of things for a variety of reasons. But somehow, Jean is one of the only people that has ever had to pay a price for it. Everyone else? They’re forgiven incredibly easily, no matter what their crime. Jean’s death may have made The Dark Phoenix arc iconic, but it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right.

Xavier has the power to use people as marionettes and has canonically manipulated and gaslighted people for years. He’s never “gone crazy from too much power”. Magneto has been having a Heel Face Revolving Door in both the comics and movies for decades and the list of people killed by him on the Marvel wiki is five pages long. He gets immediately forgiven and hasn’t had to spend decades trying to make up for it. Wolverine has been a raging hypocrite that kills people whenever he deems it necessary, both when he’s been mind controlled and not. He’s never gotten called out for it (He once went on a self righteous rant about none of the people he killed mattering in front of one of the people that he killed. That guy didn’t call him out, either.)

Jean has expressed huge amounts of remorse for what she’s done. At times, so has Magneto, even if he’s never had to pay an actual price for it. Xavier and Logan, not so much. Every comic she’s been in since then has had references to that time she lost control and time dedicated to her guilt and need to atone for “what she’s done”. Even her younger self freaked out about not wanting to become her.

Pretty much no character can stand on the same level as Jean and beat her in a straight fight, unless you count her various children and other hosts to the Phoenix. Especially not when she’s at full strength. But no X-Men movie has had the courage to give Jean the full use of her power and let her use it without going into the gross sexism of the oh, this woman has too much power for her own good and can’t handle it! For all my issues with Apocalypse, that at least came kind of close – though it’s negated by the movie that immediately follows being Dark Phoenix. What I’d love is a movie about Jean Grey, who’s worth a whole lot more than just her powers, that gets to be more than Wolverine’s out of control, telepathic lust object, where the story is about her. The manipulation by the Hellfire Club would be awesome, if she got to survive! If she got to be the hero. In my eyes, the best way to adapt the Dark Phoenix saga would be to make changes to both the original comic and to the way we remember it. I doubt that Dark Phoenix will make those changes.

The Dark Phoenix saga was a well written,  interesting story that wasn’t originally about Jean having more power than she could handle. I agree with that. But she also deserves to be able to live that down. Jean Grey was one of the original five X-Men. She’s existed as a character for longer than Wolverine, Storm, Gambit, Rogue, Kitty. Longer than countless other popular characters. But the Phoenix has dominated her narrative for years. Her whole pop culture identity is based on it. It’s the focus of adaptations. She’s had other stories, but writers act as if the Dark Phoenix is the only comic she was ever in, and like I pointed out here, they often remember it wrong.

One of the reasons I find X-Men Red so refreshing is that it’s not about the Phoenix, it’s about Jean. It’s taking a step back from all of that nonsense and going back to the basic principle of X-Men comics – human mutant coexistence. Jean deserves more respect. She deserves to stop being regarded as the person that’s constantly coming back from the dead, because that’s not even true, it takes her years. Other characters have come back way more times. X-Men Red is providing me with good material for her in the comics, so now I just need a movie focusing on her as she is and demonstrating how much value she has aside from being the host of the Phoenix, the chick Wolverine thinks is hot, and a way for Xavier to show off how great a teacher and parental figure he is. She’s existed for 55 years – it’s time.

How The X-Men Movies Did A Disservice to Jean and Scott

Jean Grey and Scott Summers are one of the most iconic couples in all of Marvel. Marvel isn’t like DC in that superheroes and their love interests are inextricably linked – the characters tend to have a wider range of romantic partners, or they break up with their love interest much more often than in DC. Superman has Lois Lane. Batman has Catwoman. Even people that have never picked up a comic in their life know that – these are pop culture icons, a staple in not just comics, but movies and TV shows. The Marvel equivalent is Spider-Man and Mary Jane. Jean and Scott aren’t on that level of iconic, but they’re still one of the couples that a member of the general public will be able to name. I’ve talked before about how Jean and Scott individually got raw deals, but I think a lot of the reasons they were portrayed badly are tied together.

Jean didn’t have much of a character of her own in the original trilogy, as I pointed out in my other post. Most of her scenes were about how Logan was attracted to her. I heard an argument once that Scott was also a part of this – that Jean’s character had to do with him, that he and Logan were just having a pissing contest over her in the first movie – but I don’t think that’s true at all. In the first movie, Scott was perfectly polite and friendly until Logan manhandled him for no reason and started harassing Jean. And his active dislike for Logan didn’t start until, you know, Logan stabbed a student under his care in the chest. And in Last Stand, Scott was grieving, and he was doing that because he knew her. Not all grief is manpain. This was him having lost the woman he loved and not knowing how to deal with it. Jean was his fiancee, his partner, his friend, and the woman he had a psychic connection with. Logan’s so-called love for her couldn’t compete with that – he knew her for a week and came up with some idealized image in his head that had nothing to do with who she actually was. We can’t equate those relationships at all.

This portrayal of them – barely interacting, Jean as so passive with few real stances of her own after Logan showed up, Scott as a jealous child that was so dependent on her he literally couldn’t survive with her gone – was a disservice to them and the years they’ve known each other. They aren’t just random people that barely know each other that are dating because it’s convenient. They’ve known and loved each other for years. They were friends, partners, and X-Men.

The Last Stand partially adapted the Dark Phoenix Saga, and in doing that, failed to do the most famous Jean Scott story justice. It tried to do two things at once, and it didn’t end up doing justice to either of them. Neither was well developed, and either could have been a good movie on its own. It tried to make a story centred around the mutant cure, and it tried to make one about Jean becoming the Dark Phoenix. Because they tried both, Jean as Dark Phoenix was pretty much just her siding with Magneto instead of Xavier and having stronger powers. The tragedy that defines the Dark Phoenix arc wasn’t there for me, and the deep philosophical issues that should be involved with a story about the mutant cure were barely even touched upon. The Dark Phoenix arc revolves hugely around Jean and Scott and how much they love each other, but Scott was killed off rather than being the reason for Jean coming back to herself. They had all the parts necessary to make something amazing, but the movie we got was instead borderline incoherent.

It could have been a story about the mutant cure and all the mutant rights issues going along with that. That would have been great. It could have been about Scott having to deal with grief over losing Jean and still having to teach and lead the team and protect his people, while also confronting the fact that as much as he hates his powers at times, he won’t ever even consider taking the cure because he’s needed. The leader of the X-Men, and the general of all mutantkind, has to be a mutant. One of the flaws of the X-Men movies was that Scott, the leader of the X-Men, was mainly portrayed as Jean Grey’s jealous boyfriend who goes down first in every fight. He’s so much more than that. He loved Jean, and there is some canonical evidence of him having a hard time functioning outside a relationship, but she wasn’t the only thing in his life. Having a movie centred around him dealing with the mutant cure and civil rights would have established him as his own person, while also paving the way for a future movie about what Scott as the mutant revolutionary he’s been for years now.

It could have also been Dark Phoenix story, with Jean losing control of her powers and being brought back to herself because of love. The Dark Phoenix Saga is a beautiful tragedy about a woman trying to find her place in a world that hates her for what she is. She’s manipulated and hurt and still wants to protect the innocent – we saw that clearly with her stopping the Hellfire Club from attacking the newly manifested Kitty. It’s about love, and how much Jean loves her family, the world, Scott. It would have been an amazing exploration of who Jean is as a person. It would have focused on her. It would have been more of a straight action movie and character piece than the philosophical civil rights issues that would be raised by a cure story.

I think it would have best had they done both. I’d have wanted the cure storyline first, because it should have been Scott’s. It’s a concept that ties in beautifully to who Scott is and what he does. Scott’s character can be summed up as “guy that loses people he loves constantly and has to protect mutants from persecution regardless of any personal issues”. By all rights, The Last Stand should have been about Scott mourning Jean and having to keep fighting for mutants despite having lost her, and the franchise as a whole should have had more Scott. In the comics, Scott is always the important character when it comes to the existential threats mutants face. He’s the one that keeps them alive. Not Logan, not Xavier, not Mystique. And despite being what I consider a better, more complex character than any of those three, the original X-Men films cast him aside for them and play to the common misconception that he’s boring, while the alternate timeline changes his character to something completely different to make him conventionally interesting – and that’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

I love Jean. And I do love the concept of an awesome, powerful woman whose boyfriend/husband/whatever loves and adores and respects with all his heart. But I hate the idea of that being the extent of it, of there being nothing more to said woman’s partner than loving her and following her to the ends of the earth, just as much as I hate it when female characters are flat and exist to be a romantic interest. That’s not Scott at all. Killing Scott would absolutely be a valid story choice, but it has to be for a reason. He needs to be dying for a cause, or to protect someone else, or while doing what he does – not murdered by his fiancée after being so grief stricken after losing her that he couldn’t teach his classes or lead his team or focus on anything he had to do. He loves Jean, but he’s not just her boyfriend, just as she’s not just his girlfriend. Both the cure story and a properly done Dark Phoenix story would have showed that off beautifully.

Both these stories would have revolved around Jean and Scott loving each other, something we barely saw in the movies we got. And that’s a damn shame. These two characters comprise what’s arguably the single most iconic X-Men couple, and the conclusion to a film trilogy about the X-Men, an adaptation of a movie about them, portrayed their relationship badly for the third consecutive movie.

5 X-Men Characters That Deserved Better

From the beginning, the X-Men movies have shunted aside most of their characters in order to keep the focus on just a select few of them. In the original trilogy, it was Wolverine. In the alternate timeline, it was Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique. That’s not to say it’s always bad – despite all my frustrations with the X-Men films, I’ve genuinely enjoyed most of them. I’ve had my complaints, but if I don’t think about it, they’re always good for at least one watch. However, there were a lot of characters that got cast aside that deserved to be a more prominent part of the films.

1. Jean

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Jean Grey deserved so much better than what she got in the original trilogy. She was a person. She was a fully grown woman with a life, a job, a family by the time of X-Men (2000). She was going before Congress and testifying on behalf of mutants. She was working at the school. She and Scott were engaged. She moonlighted as one of the X-Men. But somehow, she got reduced to Logan’s lust object that we were somehow supposed to believe he was in love with. In the comics, during the Dark Phoenix arc, Jean chose to kill herself over risking the lives of the people she loved. The Last Stand took away her agency, and made that Logan’s choice, not hers, and her death ended up being about him, not her – how much he supposedly loved her, how much guilt he had over killing her.

The fact that Logan didn’t know the first thing about Jean was made incredibly blatant in The Wolverine. His hallucination of her wasn’t her or anything like her, it was just his perception of her. Logan considered himself more important to Jean than he really was. Sure, she liked him, and thought he’d be a good ally in a time when the X-Men needed all the help they could get and as such, wasn’t going to do anything to alienate him, but she didn’t know him, either. Her telepathy might have meant she knew him better than he knew her, but they still only interacted for a week. They were barely even friends. She certainly didn’t love him. Yet so often, she was reduced to the hot chick that he liked. He’d decided he knew her when they’d first met, and the narrative decided to go with that, despite it making no sense.

In X2, Jean got to do things and be a real person. She interacted with Scott and Ororo. Her full potential was unlocked and in the end, she saved everyone else. She made her choice to sacrifice herself because she was the only one that could. She deserved to be that much of a fully realized character in all the movies – to be the woman that loves her students, her friends, and her fiancé, that is an enormously powerful mutant that’s fiercely dedicated to the cause of advancing mutant rights, that’s willing to give up her life to do what she thinks is right. That’s Jean. That’s a great character that I want more of. As Scott put it during the Dark Phoenix arc, she is love.

2. Scott

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Scott is the X-Men. I’ve talked about how much I love him before, and I’ll inevitably do it again. Similar to Jean being more than that woman Logan thinks is hot, Scott is more than just Jean’s boyfriend. I’m not sure exactly what it was that made the directors, producers, studio, whoever decide to shove him aside to centre the movies around Logan instead. Maybe it was that the work on these movies began at the height of the ‘90s Anti-Hero in comics, when everything was getting darker and edgier and Scott didn’t seem like he belonged in that. Whatever it was, Scott was barely an afterthought. Every single movie involving him also involved a string of bad decisions in regards to his character.

To be clear, I think a lot of Scott’s attitude towards Logan in the first movie was justifiable and in character – he was initially polite and friendly, only to get increasingly irritated by 1) Logan manhandling and patronizing him, 2) Logan harassing Jean, who wasn’t about to alienate a potential ally, and most importantly, 3) Logan stabbing Rogue, who by this point was a student under Scott’s care, through the chest. His behaviour in The Last Stand was also reasonable – as much as I disagree with that interpretation of Scott after losing Jean, his response to Logan condescendingly telling him to move on was completely fair. However, the lack of follow through in all the movies made him come across to a lot of people as a jealous boyfriend, not a man with very understandable reservations who’s something of a control freak that is uncomfortable with this stranger with anger issues and impulse control in his house and on his team.

In The Last Stand, rather than trying to help Scott with his grief at all – grief that everyone could see very clearly – everyone just went on with life without him. Logan talked to him, but Storm didn’t. Xavier not only didn’t talk to him, he essentially asked Storm to replace him because losing Jean had changed him – obviously he was a changed man, he was grieving. I can imagine that from comics Xavier, who was always a deeply manipulative person that used the people around him and spent years treating Scott poorly, but movie Xavier is a much nicer person. And yet he didn’t spend any time mourning his surrogate son after his death or caring about him at all besides in regards to his usefulness.

Arguably the worst offender, in terms of how Scott was handled, was Apocalypse. They took Scott Summers – straight-laced, law abiding, responsible, awkward, dorky, ultimate good guy Scott Summers – and on top of cutting out his entire comics backstory, they portrayed him as…not that. It seemed almost like they wanted to give themselves a shortcut for potentially a movie about him as the leader of mutantkind that he is in the comics without doing the real work to make it Scott. He may have gotten more screentime than the Scott in the original trilogy, but that Scott was at least recognizable as Scott.

In the comics, Scott becomes the leader of not only the X-Men, but of all mutants – he becomes their protector and general. He doesn’t do that because he’s a natural rebel that’s instincts are to fight and use force to achieve his goals. He does it because nothing else works, because he wants to protect his species. I’m willing to give Apocalypse Scott a chance to become that man, but I’m going to need him to become a genuinely responsible, good adult before he can push the boundaries to challenge the government and Xavier.

3. Storm

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Storm was always there in the original trilogy, but it mostly seemed like she was there because the creators thought it would be weird to exclude her. She had some good moments, but it seemed pretty clear that Bryan Singer didn’t know what to do with her at all. He didn’t have a clear vision for what he wanted out of Storm, whether that clear vision was her role as a minor character or a major one. Halle Berry made a weak attempt at an accent for part of one movie, then dropped it the rest of the time. She barely had any lines. In X-Men, it seemed as if she was there mainly to help fill out the roster so it felt more like a team movie than a solo plus allies one. In The Last Stand, while she got a bigger role, it was also because with Jean and Scott gone, someone had to take up the extra space.

X2 was my favourite of the original trilogy by far. Part of the reason for that was that it had a better balance of characters than the others, even if it was still heavily tilted in favour of Wolverine. The characters got to interact with each other – Storm and Jean went on a mission together. They had a few great moments together and with Kurt. The scene where Storm and Kurt were talking about humans and the persecutions mutants face was excellent. Berry’s delivery of the, “I gave up on pity a long time ago” line really showed off what she could have done with the role if she’d gotten more out of the directors or the script. Quite a few of her scenes in the first two movies were about her fear of humans – with Kurt in X2, with Senator Kelly in X-Men. That would have been a fascinating direction to take her character – this is a woman who in the comics, was revered as a goddess. She’s one of the X-Men, and she fights to protect people that hate and fear her – people that she fears, despite her powers. But it was never really expanded upon.

I don’t know much about comics Storm. I find a lot of her behaviour frustrating, mainly because of how in a lot of comics, she’s used as more an author mouthpiece to complain about Scott than anything else. She’s more than that, though, and even if she wasn’t, she’d still have the potential to be. The movies didn’t care to go into all the things she could be at all. I guess when it comes down to it, you know she deserved better because the entire time Halle Berry was in the role, the name Ororo was only mentioned once.

4. Rogue

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Rogue got completely cut out of Days of Future Past. In the rest of the movies she was in, she alternated between being an afterthought and being a pretty major character. Her treatment really bothered me in The Last Stand.

X-Men: The Animated Series also featured the mutant cure and Rogue’s temptation to take it, and in some ways, I think they handled it better. Both her taking the cure and not taking it would have been valid choices. But they should have been made for her. Logan said that she should make sure it was what she wanted and not something she was doing for some boy, but through some combination of the script and directorial choices, it came across to me as something she was doing because of Bobby. Because she was jealous of him spending time with Kitty and that Kitty could touch him.

Rogue’s issues with her powers aren’t just about some boy. They’re about fear. They’re about a girl that wants to live an ordinary life and wants to be able to get close to people. Rogue gets the same fear and ostracization that all mutants do, but unlike many of them, she doesn’t even get a cool power that she wants to use with it. She can take anyone’s power she likes, but she doesn’t want that, because she doesn’t want to hurt people. She’s isolated. That’s certainly tied to her inability to touch people, but it’s not just about that – it’s that she’s constantly alert and afraid and having to be careful to not accidentally come in contact with someone’s skin. That would have been a cool way to justify her wanting to get rid of her powers – she wants to be able to relax, to not be afraid, to not be hated or to hate herself. It’s tied into wanting to touch people, but it’s not just for the sake of touching them.

In X2, we got a glimpse of Rogue starting to be able to control her powers – she kissed Bobby and got some of his powers without hurting him. She grabbed John to control the fires he’d set, and there seemed to be no negative side effects. Had they continued to pursue that, we could have seen her struggling to control her powers but refusing to get rid of them because they’re a part of who she is now.

5. Kitty

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Kitty is an odd case, because in the comics, she’s somewhat of a creator’s pet. Her presence in the comics increased ridiculously because of how writers that grew up on comics loved her. That’s totally fine – it’s always good to see a wider range of characters – but it would have been nice for that to translate to the movies as well.

Three different actresses played her. Ellen Page eventually stuck around to be more than a cameo, but the repeated recasting suggests that they didn’t care about her being there and just wanted some recognizable students to fill out the school. Kitty was certainly that.

As much as I love Days of Future Past, I had a major issue with how it handled Kitty. I didn’t mind that DoFP revolved around Xavier. I thought it was extremely well done, and that McAvoy pulled off a fantastic performance. But Logan’s role? As the heart, as the one motivating Xavier to be better? That should have been Kitty.

They simplified the story a great deal from what it was in the comics, but doing that resulted in it not exactly making sense. Kitty, the girl who walks through walls, got some completely different power out of nowhere that had nothing to do with her actual power set so that Rachel Summers could be cut out of the story. I get that Rachel’s backstory needed to be cut, because Jean and Scott both died in The Last Stand and seeing as they didn’t have kids, it would have taken more time than they had to explain who she was, but the obvious solution would be to either use a new character with similar powers or to just not go into her backstory at all. Giving that part in the story to Kitty didn’t make any sense, especially when her role in the comics version was what they gave Logan.

Was it really necessary for Logan to be the hero again? I think DoFP would have been much more interesting with Kitty in her comics role. She’s a genius and can phase through solid objects – she’d probably be more useful than Logan, and she cares about Xavier, the school, and mutantkind just as much as he does. The ending, at the school, where Logan sees Scott and Jean back from the dead was a great ending. I loved it. But it’s one that I’d have found that much more emotional from the eyes of one of their students.


There are certainly other characters that got shafted – Warren and Jubilee come to mind, as does Piotr – I can’t even remember if Piotr got a line at all. Really, most characters that weren’t Logan, Raven, Charles, and Erik got kind of sidelined. That’s not necessarily bad – several of the movies were excellent anyway. But I think developing the other characters would have made the stories much richer. They had so much potential and were played by great actors, but instead, got used as props rather than driving the story themselves.

Young Jean Grey Rumoured Casting

While it hasn’t been confirmed officially, rumour has it Summer Fontana will be playing a younger version of Jean in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. This could have a variety of implications, for both the movie and the future of the X-Men film franchise.

We saw a young Jean in The Last Stand, during the first attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix saga. It seems strange to have that approach again – Sophie Turner herself plays a young Jean Grey. She’s 21, and her version of Jean can’t be older than 18. Famke Janssen, the first actress in the role, was 41 when The Last Stand was released, and while she may have also been playing a character younger than herself – Jean and Scott were implied to be the same age, or at least close to it, and James Marsden is nine years younger than her – she was still significantly older than Turner is. Turner still looks like a child, not an adult, especially when compared to Janssen’s take on the character as I discussed here. Having an even younger version of her seems somewhat redundant.

Having a younger version of Jean in The Last Stand served a clear purpose in that it showed a contrast between Jean as a child, without a lot of power that she didn’t know how to control, and her as an adult, after Xavier had blocked off her access to some of that power and she’d learned to control the rest of it. In the new timeline, Jean’s still an underage student, not a teacher. She’s still learning, and wasn’t portrayed as having full control in Apocalypse. There isn’t any contrast necessary, and trying to provide some would just add bulk to what already seems like something of a bloated movie, risking a repeat of The Last Stand in terms of audience opinion.

It’s also possible that young Jean’s role could be highly plot relevant. In the comics, Jean’s backstory involved the shock of her best friend being hit by a car when they were children unlocking her mutant powers and drawing the Phoenix Force to Earth. It’s possible that casting Fontana is a way to depict this, rather than being something more similar to what was done in The Last Stand. This would be much more accurate to the comics than that, and would probably be met with a much more positive reaction by comics fans. However, I find this to be quite unlikely. While Jessica Chastain has confirmed she has a role in Dark Phoenix on Instagram, and that role is rumoured to be Lilandra, queen of the Shi’ar, which would make it very likely that the Phoenix Force will be depicted as a cosmic entity in its own right, rather than a part of Jean, it would be a stark and very abrupt departure from all other movies in the franchise.

The X-Men have a very long history in comics. There are a lot of characters with convoluted backstories, family trees, and relationships. The movies have made it a point to simplify all of these things – no aliens, no surprise relatives, no crazy history before to the school unless you’re Wolverine. This has been most notable with Scott, whose family tree is so complicated that the Tangled Family Tree trope was originally called the Summers Family Tree. His backstory has been simplified to the point where he didn’t even grow up thinking everyone in his family was dead – until his powers manifested, he lived a perfectly ordinary life in the suburbs. This was demonstrated in Apocalypse, the most recent X-Men ensemble movie, making it all the stranger to think that the introduction to the stranger elements of the comics would come all at once like this. The Shi’Ar and the Phoenix Force, I can believe, but adding Jean’s childhood backstory as well seems odd.

If Fontana has been cast as a young Jean, it could be as an attempt to flesh out the character, an introduction to different aspects of the comic stories, or something else entirely. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Dark Phoenix Announcement

Fox announced their plans for X-Men: Dark Phoenix yesterday, and as excited as I want to be for another X-Men movie, one in which Wolverine will not be the focus, I can’t bring myself to really care.

I’ve talked before about how I have very mixed feelings about the X-Men movies, and I mentioned there how The Last Stand ruined the Dark Phoenix saga for me by missing the point. So shouldn’t I be excited for this? They have a chance to fix their mistakes and do it right! Wolverine won’t be in it, so it won’t become all about him again. But…I’m not. I can’t be. And there are a lot of reasons for that.

The release date being next year makes no sense to me. It’s almost impossible for them to meet it, and if they do, at what cost? It’d be ridiculously rushed, and I doubt it’d be good. It’ll be a cobbled together script and shot as quickly as possible, rather than allowing for time for improvements. It’ll be made because they said they’d do it and people will go see it regardless of whether or not it’s good.

Jean has been involved in a lot more stories than just the Dark Phoenix. I’d like adaptations to stop pretending like it’s the only thing that she’s ever done and that her only good story ended with her death. I want a story that actually explores Jean. This franchise already adapted the Dark Phoenix, and it wasn’t good. Why not make something else instead of trying it again? These characters have existed for half a century. It would be so easy to pick something else instead of adapting the same story again and again.

Some of my issues with the idea of this movie go deeper and are tied to my issues with the X-Men movie franchise as a whole. McAvoy Xavier and Fassbender Magneto are great to watch, but they’re getting to be almost as frustratingly everpresent to me as Jackman Wolverine was. I don’t even like Lawrence’s Mystique, but she’s coming back, too, and why should she or Magneto be in this film at all? The creators seem so afraid of trying something new, they refuse to venture away from the status quo, regardless of whether or not it’s good.

I would have been so excited to get this movie with Famke Janssen as Jean and James Marsden as Scott. Those two embodied their characters to me. They were such excellent, underrated casting, and in a movie without Wolverine, we could finally get more focus on their relationship, both as romantic partners and as teammates/friends. That would be the second chance at a storyline that was bungled the first time. Not this.

Marsden had the poise, the confidence, necessary to pull off Scott, the leader that forces himself to repress all doubt and insecurity. He had the charisma that would have been perfect for stories about him becoming the general of mutantkind like he does in the comics. And in general, he has the talent to carry a movie. He just never got enough screentime. Despite that, he still tried – his scenes in the beginning of The Last Stand were some of the most emotional in the movie for me. Can you imagine what it’d be like to see him deliver the iconic, Jean, you are love?

Janssen had all the necessary gravitas for Jean. She could do both the uncertain, scared, still coming into her powers Jean from most of X2 as well as the confident, bold, do-what-she-has-to-do Jean at the end. She could pull off the Phoenix. She got a little more material to work with than Marsden, if not much, and despite the script treating Jean mostly like an aside that existed because Logan thought she was hot, Janssen still put in the effort and made the character her own.

James Marsden as Cyclops, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Halle Berry as Storm – these were the X-Men I grew up with. All of them are excellent actors, and they’ll forever be the ones I picture when I think about Scott, Jean, and Ororo. It was fantastic casting. It seems way too soon to replace them. I’m not ready to let go just yet. I remember when I saw Days of Future Past for the first time, remember that excitement and delight at seeing them back. I thought that would mean we’d get more of them. That we’d actually get them back. But no. Just a cameo that was their last appearance in the franchise. It’s so frustrating. Hugh Jackman got Logan as his swan song. He got an entire movie and a dramatic death. The other three? Just a brief cameo that brought them all the way back to the status quo of the first movie. Nothing real. Nothing conclusive. Logan could have been a great final adventure for all of them,  but they were unceremoniously killed offscreen.

DoFP brought back the X-Men and the school and stopped the Sentinels from ravaging the world. It  was beautiful and felt amazing to see. I legitimately loved the movie. But what happened at the end? Logan went right back to obsessing over Jean, despite her having been gone for years. I’d love to regard that as just him being amazed that it actually worked and that she was back and everything was okay, except he didn’t have that strong of a reaction to seeing Scott, who’d been dead for just as long. No look cast over to Ororo, despite the kiss in that deleted scene. It’s as if the creators think that undoing a bad decision is good enough, rather than having the characters learn or grow or change as a result of them.

I know I shouldn’t cling this much to the original cast. I don’t want to be like the Christopher Reeve fans who are unwilling to give any other version of Superman a chance.  But this feels different to me, because it’s new actors in the same franchise. It’s not a reboot, it’s just an altered timeline. It’s not just the new actors playing the younger version of the characters, it’s them replacing the originals. It’s barely been ten years since the last movie with all of the original cast. It feels too soon. And since they didn’t all leave together – Hugh Jackman got more solos, as well as a cameo in Apocalypse, and Patrick Stewart was in Logan – it doesn’t even feel right for them to be gone. Their stories feel unfinished. A Dark Phoenix movie with the new actors? It’s going to force me to accept that that era is over. I can do that, it just sucks to have to without proper closure.

Nothing against Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan, but the two of them seem too young to me for this story. They’re in that age where they’re technically adults, but they don’t really look it. It’s the awkward, haven’t quite grown into themselves look of people that are college age or a little bit older, like recent grads. They could probably be good in the roles – they weren’t bad in Apocalypse – but the Jean and Scott in the Dark Phoenix saga should be adults, not kids. It reminds me a little of Brandon Routh back when he played Superman – a good actor, even a good choice for the role, but still too young for the version he was given.

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Turner doesn’t look like an adult yet. She doesn’t have Janssen’s experience, or her ability to embody the character and completely take over a scene. It still seems to me that she got cast for her name and fanbase, rather than for being a good fit for the role. I’m not saying she’s a bad actress or that she can’t pull it off, but I still barely see her as Jean. I can’t imagine her as the Phoenix.

The original trilogy meant a lot to me. X-Men (2000) pretty much invented the modern superhero movie. It was flawed, it was a little clunky and awkward, and some of it just didn’t make sense, but as a groundbreaking movie for the genre and through nostalgia, it still holds up. It was a pretty solid character intro. X2, First Class, DoFP, even Logan – those are still good movies as well. But I think the majority of the X-Men franchise has been an attempt to make a badass epic movie, an action adventure, rather than making something legitimately good. The timeline for this movie feels like it’s just going to be more of the same – just marking time, pushing out another movie that doesn’t have any reason to exist.

I don’t agree with people complaining about superhero fatigue. I love superhero movies. I love comicbooks and seeing them brought to life. But when I hear about movies like this one, I start to understand. I’m not sick of superheroes. But I am tired of studios making movies that fit the same mold again and again and never venturing into anything different. I’ve been torn about the X-Men movies for a long time, and as much as I don’t want it to be true, I think this one will be the one that pushes me over the edge into not enjoying them anymore.