Sunday, February 17, 2008

14 Comic Book Couples I Love - Emma Frost & Scott Summers, Part 1.

Consider my promise to you, my long-suffering readers, at least partly fulfilled! Here's part one of my Mega-Sized Emma & Scott post . . .

Part 1 - Little Boy Lost and Found - The Life of Scott Summers

Most people don't think about this fact but Cyclops has been a part of the Marvel Universe for as long as Spider-Man, the Hulk or the Fantastic Four. He's got a lot of history behind him but for the most part - having shown up in 1963, for God's sake - but people don't give a crap about him. He's never been as big, flashy or noticeable as the other characters in Marvel's bullpen. As part of the X-Men's ensemble, he often gets lost in the shuffle. Hell, even I was guilty of thinking he was just a boring, stoically heroic piece of cardboard . . . until I started to look closer. The reason I looked closer? His relationship with Emma Frost, naturally.

To really understand why I like their relationship so much, I think it's important that we take a look at the parts of Scott Summers that make him just as interesting and fully realized as Peter Parker or Bruce Banner - the incredibly sad, messy, ugly parts. I may play fast and loose her and I'm not anywhere near a total expert in continuity, so if I get something wrong, please feel free to correct me.

If you stop and think about it, Scott's past is way more tragic and emo than Peter "Boo hoo, my Uncle died" Parker. This is a boy who grew up with acres of emotional pain and abandonment issues. His parents shove him and his younger brother Alex out of a plane to save them before they both "die" (in actuality, Scott's parents are kidnapped and put into slavery by aliens but that's not relevant at the moment. Ah, comics). As the two fall, Scott manages to get a severe head injury that leaves him comatose. After he wakes up from a year-long coma, he finds out A) he's an orphan, B) his brother's already been adopted elsewhere. Try to imagine just how lonely and lost he must feel.

And on top of all of that, he's got these destructive eye blasts that can only be contained by ruby quartz. Or does he? In Joss Whedon's brilliant Astonishing X-Men #14, an addled Emma Frost systematically rips apart all her teammates from the inside-out. She begins most expertly with Cyclops, whose bed she shares. Because she still loves Scott, she leads him to a realization so painful it leaves him briefly comatose and powerless. Emma shows him just one terrible memory he's put away and forgotten. A memory of a decision that changed his life forever.

Earlier in their discussion, Emma says "Control. First to last, that's the thing." in regards to Scott's cornerstone." This memory - the story of a boy who decides his powers are just as out of his control as the rest of his life - is just the cornerstone upon which all his other neuroses are built.

Oh, and did I mention he's in an orphanage run by a guy named Mister Sinister who proceeds to experiment on his mind and his body? He lives there for quite some time, until he wisely runs away, more alone than ever before. He leaves with mental blocks put there by Sinister and one he's installed himself.

So after all this loss and heartbreak, what happens? He finally gets adopted . . . by a C-list Supervillain who beats him if he refuses to use his abilities to commit crimes with him. A violent man Scott eventually kills to save the lives of himself and his new "adopted father," the emotionally distant Professor X. A man named Jack O'Diamonds . . . whose ability was to turn into living diamond.

Yeah, let's let that one sink in for a little while, shall we? Morrison, you magnificent bastard.

Ah, but now Professor X takes him in and suddenly all is right with the world, right? Not so much. Think about it - Scott Summers is taken out of a relationship where he is beaten if he does "wrong" and placed in one where he delivers the beatings if he does right. A relationship where his new, aloof father figure only gives him praise and encouragement if he masters his abilities to hurt and destroy - even if it is for some lofty, unrealized goal of peace and equality. Not all that healthy, when you stop and think about it, is it?

Scott is a man whose very adolescent existence were defined by two things - using his powers and demanding father figures. The lesson he gets hammered into his head over and over by the Professor and the nature of his powers is a simple one that is damaging when taken to extremes - "Control". Control the situation, and above all else, control yourself and your powers. People will get hurt otherwise. As a result, the emotional straitjacket that makes Scott into a bland, controlling leader is born - a straitjacket Scott both hates and secretly loves like a warm, comfy blanket.

"Control. First to last, that's the thing."

A recent flashback shown in X-Men: Legacy has even gone so far as to hint that Xavier used his telepathy to enhance these feelings and need to be a perfect, controlling leader rather than to destroy them. His disowning the Professor makes more and more sense the more you think about it.

Of course, his new life with the X-Men is not all bad. He gets to feel in control - blissful, beautiful control. He also meets new friends who tease him to get him out of his shell when he's not busy leading them into life and death battles. Best of all, he meets a pretty girl named Jean who likes him. Kind of a lot. After an adorkable courtship, the two teens develop a relationship and they both fall in love for the first time.

Now, you might think I dislike Scott and Jean, given the title of this post. The funny thing is that I like Scott and Jean. They make an adorable teen couple. They're supportive, sweet and everything an adorkable first love should be. Scott and Phoenix, on the other hand? Not so much of a fan.

Let's just try to look at this from an everyday perspective. You've got a girlfriend who you love and who loves you back and that's fine and dandy. She then gets possessed by a space alien pretending to be her, which is not so good. She's also now so powerful that she can EAT THE SUN. After she creates a permanent, all-encompassing psychic link with you, your love becomes one of the only things keeping her centered, sane and, oh yeah, NOT EATING THE SUN. Putting aside the notion of how a total telepathic link between you and your lover would actually be more creepy than intimate in practice, the whole thing just seems hinky. Scott Summers is left with the one aspect of his life he could count on for some degree of non-judgmental comfort turning into a source of great stress. If he doesn't control the situation and love her exactly enough, people will die. So, in a less than shocking development for our boy Scott, he begins to love her more instead of less as she gets insanely powerful and well, a little crazy. Because "control" is the thing, "first to last."

When Jean dies (the second time), Cyclops is left adrift. Not only has he lost the first love of his life, he's also gained a terrifying amount of freedom. It's interesting to see whom he chooses to date when he thinks Jean has passed on. Notably, we have Lee Forrester, a beautiful blonde ship captain and Madelyne Pryor, an airline pilot with the job of his Father and the exact looks of his dead girlfriend. Stop and look at how the two people he yearns are alike before we get into how unhealthy Madelyne is. They're antithetical to Scott - two women who travel wherever they want to, steer their own course, have no responsibilities to anyone but themselves. They control their lives; they don't let life control them. It's only natural Scott would be attracted to such an idea, the notion of a life without his stern self-imposed rules and regulations. Of course, Scott can't loose control, can't give up his way of thinking just yet, so he falls hard for the woman who screams "Jean" in neon letters - Madelyne Pryor, a clone created by the same Mr. Sinister who tortured him in his orphanage days.

And people wonder why Scott's been so humorless and unhappy. I mean, really, he's never been a healthy man.

So, our boy Scott doesn't know a thing about Sinister. He thinks he's found all of the Jean with none of the crazy. He goes so far as to fool himself into thinking a normal life is what he wants now. He loses a match with a powerless Storm for control of the X-Men, most likely on purpose, so he can rebel a bit and try to live outside the lines. He even has a baby with Madelyne, trying to start a family. So what happens when he learns the real Jean is alive? He abandons Madelyne, abandons the baby and races to Jean's side. He runs back into X-Men business and hurts Madelyne terribly by acting like she's just a copy of the real thing.

Rather than tell the story of Cyclops as The Worst Husband Ever, we instead learn about Madelyn being a literal clone, the writer believing this somehow makes Cyclops' immaturity acceptable. And because this is comics, her being a clone of his dead wife created by the man who abused him as a child just isn't enough to end the relationship in an adult manner. She has to go and become a demonic supervillainess named the Goblin Queen, who dies and vanishes completely. In the end, Scott gets the Jean and the Crazy he's always secretly wanted two ways. A battle situation is something he can always control and understand - it's what he's good at. Emotions? Not so much. This makes two loves of his life he's had to fight. It's a disturbing trend but sadly, not all that surprising.

So, yes, the Original Jean comes back with a connection to the Phoenix Force that impersonated her. Still dangerous, but considerably less crazy. Madelyne is gone and shortly after that, their child together gets sent into the future. All is reset to the past, to his comfort days of being a teenager. Cyclops and Jean have reform the original group of X-Men in a new group called X-Factor and things are just as Scott likes them all over again. He gets to be a little boy all over again and people pat him on the back for it.
(I know I'm being a little sloppy with the timeline but hey, this is getting unwieldly.)

Naturally, it doesn't take long before Scott and Jean are back with the X-Men proper, Scott working under the command of his father figure, Professor X, all over again. The world is safe again for Scott as he fulfills everyone's expectations of him. Soon after that, in a combination of what he thought he thought he wanted with Madelyne and what he was actually capable of with Jean, Scott and Jean get married.

They seem happy. Blissful, even. Scott and Jean's son and daughter from the future have even appeared to tell them that theirs is a comfortable, unchanging destiny (I refuse to discuss Cable and Phoenix/Marvel Girl because this post is already insanely long. Also, I hate Cable.). But what we have to remember is that all of Scott's neuroses are being fed here, getting reinforced and being left completely unchallenged. Jean loves Scott just the way he is . . . possibly as the boy she grew up with instead of the man he should be. All of which may sound romantic but it sure as hell isn't healthy.

On an interesting sidebar, the telepathic Psylocke begins to throw herself at Scott somewhere around this point. One has to wonder why it is telepathic women find Scott so irresistible. Is it because only they can sense the real, dark places he keeps under wraps? All the passion that the control he loves so much holds back? Does they have to know if he lets himself go during moments of intimacy or if he still holds back? These are the sorts of sticky questions one never expects to see answered in a mainstream, comics code approved comic. Surprisingly, however, an answer is just around the corner . . . in the form of a telepathic sex therapist with her own considerable issues - one Scott will find a lot more persistent and insightful than Psylocke ever was. One that falls in love with him as a man, warts and all. One that will free him of his need for control via any means necessary . . .

To Be Continued In Part 2 - Emma Frost: Poor Little Rich Girl


Anonymous said...

Interesting write-up.

Looking forward to the following parts.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff!

Tracy L. Henry said...

I would love to read your part 2 and 3 to this. I am -not- a Jean Grey fan because of particular aspects of her personality that make me cringe, but you've captured something about hers and Scott's relationship that I've aid all along. It was good while they were sappy cute teenagers, but their relationship did not mature with them as adults, and while Scott, I believe, matured into a man with a man's needs, Jean remained an emotionally and physically needy damsel in distress who wanted her prince (or rather her princes) to come to her rescue. I -love- his relationship with Emma Frost because he finally is in a mature adult relationship, and you're right. She adores Scott, warts and all, and he adores her bitchiness and all. Thank you.