Comic Book Deaths and When They Mattered

It’s been a while since I’ve dove into comic book theory, but an article on io9 got me thinking about it.  As usual, it was mostly because there was extensive discussion in the comments of the X-Men and the poster child for deaths that don’t matter, Jean Grey.

For background, Jean Grey was the X-Men’s token female team member from its inception in 1963, and the perennial love interest of both Cyclops and Angel before she finally settled on the straight white guy who wasn’t fabulously wealthy (a nod towards class equality if there ever was one).  She was in the same mold as the Fantastic Four’s Invisible Girl; Jean was the caretaker of the group of boys who were crackerjack at saving the day, but hopelessly incompetent when it came to real world responsibilities.

Enter Chris Claremont in 1975 with the X-Men’s reboot as an international dream team with an eye towards taking this second-rate Stan Lee creation and turning them into a modern day allegory for the discrimination and othering of everyone who isn’t a straight white male (written by a straight white male!).  At the time of the roster change, the only member of the previous iteration of the team (which, if I haven’t said it often enough, consisted entirely of white kids from New York who, if they weren’t actually affluent, could pass for it with the help of their middle-aged, wealthy mentor) who stayed on was Cyclops, because Cyclops has always had issues with living his own life.  That didn’t last very long, because Chris Claremont, being a radical feminist who was a trailblazer in his heyday, thought the team needed not just one but two female members, and so brought back Jean Grey with a new codename and revamped image as the sexy liberated woman of the 1970s.

Jean Grey in 1963. (Image credit: http://www.comicvine.com/images/1300-690174)

Jean Grey’s introduction as Phoenix in 1976. (Image credit: http://www.comicvine.com/the-x-men-101-like-a-phoenix-from-the-ashes/4000-16800/)

Of course, this reinvention of the character began what eventually turned into what’s pretty much the hallmark story of the X-Men: the Dark Phoenix Saga.  Jean saves the team from certain death and in the process gains access to near-omnipotent cosmic forces.  As these things usually go, the power drives Jean insane and she commits genocide, wiping out an entire solar system complete with an alien civilization.  To the credit of Marvel’s editor at the time, Jim Shooter, the murder of an entire civilization by one of the company’s heroes was treated as something so horrific that there had to be serious consequences for the character.

So they killed her.

And it was spectacular.

The emotional effects of this event were felt by the team for years afterward.  Cyclops became even more of an emotional wreck, Kitty Pryde, then the team novice (and still only 13) was terrified by the fact that she could get killed doing superhero work, and everyone else felt the very real, deep loss of a close friend.  It was the height of Claremont’s run, and a lot of his stories carried some solid weight because they had this tragic backdrop with authentically damaged characters.

I never got to read the series that way.

See, my introduction to the X-Men was through the ’90s cartoon with the catchy theme song and the Jim Lee-inspired designs and the big honking character introductions that told you everyone’s codename except for Jean Grey, who was always just ‘Jean Grey’.  The Phoenix was nowhere in sight in that iteration of the franchise until much later when they did a five-part episode condensing and retelling the Phoenix Saga from the beginning of Jean getting Phoenix powers to the very end with her going crazy and trying to eat suns.  Of course, this was a ’90s cartoon, so Jean didn’t do anything nearly as horrific as what originally happened in the comics, and at the end she didn’t die, instead just giving up the Phoenix Force and going back to being regular old Jean Grey (yes, superhero logic is absurd when you can refer to the team telekinetic as being ‘regular old’).

For me, even though I’ve read through pretty much everything in the X-Men comics from Giant-Sized X-Men #1 forward (I’m stalled out in the aftermath of Avengers Vs. X-Men), I’ve grown up in a world where comic book deaths are a punchline (and an article on Wikipedia!).  Characters in long-running series die and come back all the time, and the exit of a beloved character is usually met with a shrug of “they’ll be back in a year or two.”  So Jean’s original death, where she died young and as a consequence of a multitude of forces that were really beyond her control, was tragic, but even as I read it for myself, it was tainted with the idea that she’d be back.  I knew about her future as Marvel’s eternal joke, the character that wouldn’t die, the phoenix who does exactly what phoenixes do, but because of the transparency of creator motivations can’t get any decent treatment or a dignified end.

As I understand it, the original Jean Grey is currently an avatar for the Phoenix as some sort of cosmic deity who resides in the White Hot Room (or something).  She doesn’t have much involvement in the day-to-day life of the X-Men, though she does make an obligatory appearance during major events just to remind everyone that she can’t stay dead (and Marvel can keep her character rights).  There’s a young version of Jean apparently running around despising what her older self represents (that idea sounds promising to me, even though a younger version of Jean, if in appearance but not name, has been a recycled story two or three times in the series’s history).  That’s all well and good, but I’m kind of sad that I have all that later history gumming up what was a really good story with some meaningful character drama when it first ran.

In one sense I suppose it doesn’t matter that comic book deaths as a trope exist because the original story is still fantastic, and taken as a contained work it still has all that depth and impact for the characters in the immediacy of that story.  It’s only the long view of storytelling trends within the medium that cheapen each instance (and the preponderance of bad, meaningless deaths in superhero comics).

I don’t know how you resolve a situation like this one.  Like pretty much all popular culture, superhero stories are cyclical, and tropes emerge as we get more and more familiar with the conventions of the genre.  Comic book deaths happen, and we let our cynicism at the motivations behind this storytelling model diminish how we engage with what happens to these characters.  We know, intrinsically, that death is a subject with great import, especially since we’re all bound by it and we know that for this world it’s quite irreversible.  That dissonance between how we treat death in reality and how we treat it in fiction grates us because we can’t resolve it.  I think the best we can do is acknowledge that our metanarratives (the stories we’re telling above what’s written on the page) are going to have baggage that isn’t always going to be conducive to enjoying the actual narrative.

The challenge is figuring out when to let that baggage go and when to hold tight to it so we can try to make our stories better in a meaningful way.

What do you think?  Do you have a particular character death that irks you because of the larger context surrounding it?

Did You See the X-Men: Days of Future Past Trailer?

A couple months back I indulged in a big rant about how screwed up the continuity is in the X-Men movies.  The general gist, for anyone who doesn’t want to go read that post, is that because the X-Men movies are produced by Fox, who take a lowest common denominator approach to action movies, that internal continuity is a raw and bloody mess.  For a continuity nerd like me, I have a hard time enjoying the series as a whole (even setting aside the fact that about half the entries so far have been, objectively, the worst movies).  When I watch individual installments, I enjoy them pretty well.  The first two X-Men movies, while not exactly great films (they hail from that early superhero movie era when no one realized that you could do a movie about superheroes and have the audience be okay with them looking like superheroes) were solid outings with some interesting narrative arcs between them.  X-Men: First Class was a fun standalone film that explored some really interesting character dynamics between Xavier and Magneto (and took a few timid steps towards treating the X-Men like a comic book superhero team, even if January Jones’s turn as Emma Frost was perhaps the worst translation of a comic book character to screen that I’ve ever seen).

Fortunately for people like me, Bryan Singer is back in the director’s chair for the next film in the series, X-Men: Days of Future Past.  I’m still skeptical that it will be a good movie, but I trust that Singer is doing everything he can to get a handle on the continuity snarl that’s the X-Men film franchise.  Fox just released the trailer (also, here’s a good breakdown of everything that appears in the trailer for wild mass guessing, if you’re into that kind of thing), and it looks great.

The trailer, I mean.

https://i0.wp.com/www.aceshowbiz.com/images/news/two-generations-unite-in-x-men-days-of-future-past-posters.jpg

No matter what you think the final product will be like, those are still some really cool promo posters. (Image credit: aceshowbiz.com)

Everyone in Hollywood can put out a good looking trailer, so I’ll take all the breathless anticipation with a shaker of salt, but what I saw suggests there’s going to be more of the in-depth character exploration that Matthew Vaughn did so well in First Class, especially for everyone’s favorite elderly heterosexual platonic life partners, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen Professor X and Magneto.

(As an aside, and this has nothing to do with anything, did you know that Chuck Norris is only one year younger than Ian McKellen?  One of my students recently got curious about Chuck Norris and Googled him to find that the guy is in his seventies.)

I’m excited about that prospect, because the ongoing ideological disagreement between Xavier and Magneto is a core feature of the franchise as a whole, especially when it’s balanced against their very strong friendship (mindwipes and murder attempts aside).

Anyway, for those who may not be familiar with the plot of the story arc that Days of Future past is based on (this is actually the second great Claremont story that’s being adapted for the films; the first was God Loves; Man Kills, which was the basis for X2) is pretty convoluted in its structure.  See, the original two issue arc (I’m always amazed to remember that there was a point in comics history when major story arcs only spanned a few issues) launched with a sudden departure from the established continuity of the Uncanny X-Men to jump thirty years into the future to a dystopian world that involved mutants living in concentration camps overseen by Sentinels.  Most of the original X-Men were dead, with the exception of Xavier, Wolverine, Kate Pryde, Rachel Grey Summers (Cyclops and Jean Grey’s daughter), and a few other mutants who weren’t that important to the phlebotinum that led to Kate mind-time-traveling back to inhabit her adolescent body and warn the X-Men of a plot to assassinate the anti-mutant activist Senator Robert Kelly(you might remember him as the senator that Mystique impersonated in the original X-Men film) by the Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants (whenever this villain group pops up now, the Evil’s dropped, and I think that’s a good move, since villains that are supposed to be taken seriously don’t typically label themselves as evil).  Kelly’s assassination in the future that we’re introduced to led to a crackdown on mutants that accelerated Sentinel production and resulted in the AI singularity causing Sentinels to decide they were more fit to take care of humans than humans.

Yeah, it’s a little complicated, but that’s Chris Claremont.

Anyway, the important changes to make note of are the fact that Kitty’s no longer the time traveler (instead it’s going to be Wolverine, since Hugh Jackman gets to play Logan no matter what the time period is supposed to be).  Rachel Grey Summers (I keep forgetting she took her mom’s last name decades after she was originally introduced) is nowhere to be seen (since this film’s supposed to fix all the continuity problems, and the dystopian future is presumably a result of the events portrayed in the first three X-Men movies, which means that Jean and Scott are both dead long before they ever even considered having kids), so there’s some weird stuff going on with needing Kitty’s powers to initiate the time hop (every reaction to this plot development is more or less the same as mine: Kitty’s powers don’t work like that).  I’m not sure how Logan’s time jump back to the ’70s is supposed create a divergent timeline, but maybe in the undisturbed version of events, Charles and Eric made amends after their falling out at the end of First Class and made another try at finding and helping mutants peaceably after their wild and raucous youths.

Long story short, while the trailer is definitely good, and gives me some hope for a fun action movie, the best I’m hoping for from this outing is for the filmmakers to do a serviceable time travel plot that gives them permission to completely ignore what they’ve done before (except First Class) and reboot the franchise (even though Hugh Jackman seems to be pretty much never giving up on Wolverine as his character).

That’s what I hope, anyway.  Maybe then there’ll be some work towards doing an X-Men/Avengers crossover like I’m really hoping for.

So, X-Men Movies.

This past week was a veritable smorgasbord of nerd news since San Diego’s Comic Con was going on, which meant a ton of panels with major announcements about all the franchises that are fit to print on glossy paper.

X-Men (2000) Poster

If we knew what it would spawn, would we still have loved it? Probably, yes. (image credit: IMDb)

There was a big panel about X-Men: Days of Future Past which I find difficult to get excited about, mostly because Fox’s X-Men movies have been an incredibly mixed bag.  The first couple were fun to watch, and being early entries in the series, I was okay with the continuity adjustments they made.  Going further and further down the rabbit hole, they got a lot worse before briefly getting better with X-Men: First Class (I enjoyed that one, though it still made plenty of missteps).

Part of my gripe with the series at this point is the fact that the studio just doesn’t seem interested in maintaining a cohesive continuity.  That may be partly due to disagreements between Bryan Singer and everyone else about the direction of the films.  It’s not that unusual a thing, really.  Chris Claremont, as much as I enjoyed his crazy long run on the X-Men books in the ’70s and ’80s, had a similar pattern when he returned to the franchise in the 2000s where he wasn’t exactly friendly to the changes that had been made to characters he’d written for over a decade, but which now had an additional decade’s worth of history to incorporate.  As much as I like his early stuff, everything from the weird X-Treme X-Men (Claremont almost seemed to be writing fanfiction for his favorite creations in this series) to the abominable one-shot X-Women (this doesn’t seem like fanfiction; it is fanfiction–the weird pervy kind that makes you wish you hadn’t read it when you’re done) that Claremont wrote in the 2000s just doesn’t compare, and has this weird feeling of being set in an alternate continuity that split off back in 1991 when he left the franchise.

That’s all a tangent.  The point is that people get really possessive of characters they’ve written before.  In ongoing franchises, this becomes problematic because once you’ve officially put your creative stamp on something, it can be hard to see someone else take it in a direction you don’t like.  In the instances where you get control back, continuity gets seriously jarred as you try to fix things to your liking.

The point of all of this is that the X-Men movies’ continuity is a hot mess.  It was fairly consistent through the first two films that Singer directed, but then every film after that had a different creative lead, and there was no attention paid to creating a cohesive universe.  Where Marvel’s films in the Cinematic Universe project all feel like they’re taking place in a shared space, the X-Men films just feel like a series of alternate continuities using some of the same characters.

On the bright side for X-Men: Days of Future Past, Singer’s back in the director’s seat, and he’s supposedly trying to sort out all the continuity snarls that have popped up in a film franchise that’s going on to its sixth seventh movie next year (I forgot; The Wolverine just came out).  I wish him good luck, but I don’t have high hopes.

See, here’s the thing about the X-Men.  In the comics, we have 50 years of history now.  This is not like Captain America or Superman or Batman, who all have over 70 years of history, but that history revolves around a central character.  The X-Men franchise is effectively a comic universe unto itself.  I came across this article the other day listing off eleven teams and solo heroes who were spawned from the X-Men franchise (besides the core team that the movies have focused on) and it’s massive.

By the way, I disagree with about half of those concepts being turned into movies, and having Deadpool at the top of the list is very irksome because he’s a character in the same overexposed vein as Wolverine, except that he’s insane.  I’ll go into the problems with Deadpool in another post sometime.

Pair all of those concepts (which, I will give you, are quite diverse) with the fact that X-Men history is complicated (for reference, here’s a relationship chart circa 2009 for X-Men characters; this only includes relationships between powered characters, by the way) and it’s no wonder that the movies are a mess.  People keep trying to shove stuff in because they think the fans want to see all their favorite mutants.

Just because I prefer the guy with the eyebeams doesn’t mean his little brother can’t fill the same role in the story. (Image credit: comicvine.com)

Here’s something I learned after watching X-Men: The Last Stand a couple times: I’m going to be more disappointed if you include a character I like for just one showy action bit without developing them because you didn’t have enough time than if you had just cut them in the first place and had a small, well-written cast of characters.  The fact that Havok was included in X-Men: First Class annoyed me because Scott’s supposed to be the older brother, but I was willing to set aside my nerd rage because he was actually a character and not just a set piece.

So, what’s the point of all this complaining on my part?  Well, I like superheroes, and I really like the X-Men, and even though X-Men was the first big superhero movie of the current wave it spawned a film franchise that does not care about its source material.  I find this creatively disappointing, because there is a ton of stuff that can be done within the X-Universe, but instead of trying to do films that focus on small aspects of the larger story, there’s this obsession with stuffing in everything regardless of how well it fits.  It’s just poor storytelling.

What about you guys?  Do you have any franchises that you enjoy, but think their adaptations in other media are sorely lacking?

Superhero Role Models: Danielle Moonstar

There’s a fine tradition in superhero teams (particularly X-Men teams, since that’s my primary expertise) of having a squad that’s made up of people with really nifty powers led by someone with really crap powers.  I’d call it a running joke, but I enjoy the storytelling dynamic it introduces (Leaders are not the most powerful heroes, they are just the ones who are most skilled at leading).

In the X-Men alone, we’ve gotten such distinguished leaders as Cyclops, Storm, Cable (for all the hate I pour on his version of X-Force, I actually think Cable became a pretty good character after Rob Liefeld stopped writing him), Jamie Madrox, Angel (okay, he’s not really a good leader, but he does lead during Chuck Austen’s run and his powers suck), and Danielle Moonstar.

What all of these characters have in common is that they’ve been field leaders for different teams, and they are objectively some of the weakest members of their teams while holding that position (Storm and Dani have both been made field leaders during periods when they were in fact depowered).  You can make arguments about how Cyclops has a ton of force behind his eyebeams and Cable’s actually a powerful telekinetic, but they’re both powers that have limited application.  Cyclops can knock things down; that’s about it.  Cable’s powers have waxed and waned so often that he’s never heavily relied on them; usually they’re just there to keep his metal cancer from spreading while he focuses on using guns.  Madrox’s powers are pretty cool, especially in the hands of Peter David, but when you boil it down, what he essentially does is make a bunch of normal guys to help him beat stuff up (also, he’s extremely prone to dying; sometimes I think he should change his codename to the Mortal Man).

That’s a tangent; I’m supposed to be telling you about Dani Moonstar and what makes her a great role model.

Dani, who has almost always been associated with my favorite X-Men team the New Mutants, belongs to the wonderful stable of characters who were created in the ’70s and ’80s to help diversify superheroes.  She’s part of the distinguished ranks of X-Men who hale from Native American backgrounds including John and James Proudstar, and Forge.

It’s kind of a short list.

Yes, she is aiming a bow with her foot. What else should she do with a broken arm? (Image credit: comicvine.com)

I bring this up, because one of Dani’s defining features in her early appearances is the pride she takes in her heritage.  She was co-created by Chris Claremont (big surprise), who obviously had as part of his ongoing agenda the goal of creating as many distinctive female superheroes as possible.  To that effect, Claremont went to a lot of trouble to make sure that while Dani strongly identified as Cheyenne, this was not the only aspect of her personality.

Besides having a strong cultural heritage, Dani’s also kind of stubborn.  Like, the kind of stubborn that makes you wonder if she’s really strong willed or really stupid or really both sometimes.  Usually it’s the former, which I can’t help but find admirable.  It’s the same sort of admiration I have for runners who can make themselves keep going despite all the inherent aches and pains you get from going for more than a mile.  Dani’s the kind of character who if you told her she had to run a marathon without any prior training, she’d first curse you for not giving a good reason, and then do it anyway because she’s not a wimp.

And that’s what makes Dani a good role model.  No matter what’s going on, she’ll do what needs to be done.  When she has a task in front of her, she accomplishes it regardless of her own discomfort.

Why Did I Read She Lies with Angels Again? (Part 1)

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to read through all the X-Men comics that had ever been published.  I think this desire arose because I hated picking up a comic and having no idea who half the characters were.  It kind of turned into a pathological need to see things from the beginning.  As a result, there are a lot of series with really crappy early parts that I’ve suffered through because I didn’t feel like I could skip over them to the good stuff.

I got better, though I definitely still prefer to view a series chronologically if there’s not a good reason to skip ahead.

That’s a tangent.  After I graduated from college, I finally found I had the means to make my dream of reading all the X-Men comics printed come true.  So I did.  I’m all caught up now, with only about a year’s delay on new comics (I can’t afford to buy them new, so I pick my comics up secondhand).  And I’ve learned something from reading all of those comics that span now 50 years of publishing history.

Some parts of the X-Men canon are freaking terrible.

New X-Men #114, 2001. The start of Grant Morri...

This was not a terrible era for the X-Men.  New X-Men #114, 2001. The start of Grant Morrison’s run.  Art by Frank Quitely. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not going to complain about the Chris Claremont era, nor do I have a problem with Scott Lobdell‘s run in the ’90s.  I loved New Mutants‘s entire first volume until Rob Liefeld came along and brutally wrecked my favorite series and transformed it into the travesty that was the original X-Force.

I hated X-Force while Liefeld was on the creative team.  I despise his art, and the direction that he took the characters was gratingly bad.  But I read every issue of its original run too.

Uncanny X-Men, the flagship title of the X-Men franchise has typically been well done.  Though there were different periods in continuity when it wasn’t my favorite book, I found that I could reliably count on it to be a solid story.  Of course, that all went down the drain when Chuck Austen had his run on the series back in the early 2000s, concurrent with Grant Morrison’s famous run on New X-Men.  Where I thought that Morrison’s run was practically sublime (I’ve yet to read a story by Morrison that I didn’t think was complete insanity and total joy at the same time), I groaned every time I read one of Austen’s arcs.

Nightcrawler's tail was mainly computer-genera...

The next Pope?  Really? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He had the infamous plotline where Nightcrawler took holy orders to become a Catholic priest, which was actually a sham ordination enacted by some religious extremists who wanted to set him up as the new Pope and thereby bring about the End Times because a mutant who looks like a demon being the head of the Catholic Church must be equivalent to the antichrist, right?

Take a moment and just gape in awe at the sheer amount of stupidity contained in that plot summary.  I don’t know what to say to it.

Maybe someday I’ll take a look at that particular travesty when I can figure out how to heap enough scorn on it, but for now I’m going to examine another arc that Austen wrote called “She Lies with Angels.”  All you need to know for right now is that it’s a “tribute” to Romeo & Juliet.  Set in Kentucky.  With bigots.  And kids who’ve not seen each other in nearly a decade, but have held a candle for the romance they had for a few weeks at a watering hole when they were ten.  It’s not as stupid as Nightcrawler the mutant Pope, but there’s a lot to say about it, so for once, I’m actually going to break this up into two six posts (other content will be running this week as well, if comic book rants are not your thing).  Tune in for the next part when I get into what exactly was wrong with it.

Superhero Role Models: Colossus

I have an affinity for superheroes. They are, objectively, the best things. When done well, I like to think that a superhero can be an effective role model. Of course, I’m not saying that we should try to emulate superheroes in the real world, because putting on colorful costumes and fighting crime are not a safe combination. But the characteristics that superheroes demonstrate can be quite admirable.

Colossus (comics)

Colossus (comics). Art by John Cassaday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite characters in all of superhero comics is Colossus of the X-Men. I didn’t think he was so interesting when I was a kid, but when I got older and started reading through backlogs of old X-Men comics, I developed a new appreciation for him.

See, Colossus, or Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin (and yes, he’s canonically related to that Rasputin), started off as a big Soviet stereotype. When the X-Men were getting revamped in the mid-70s, it was decided that they would make the new team consist of heroes from around the world. Though the intentions were good, the results were a little cliche. You had your racial stereotypes with Thunderbird and Sunfire, and your national stereotypes with Banshee and Colossus. Perhaps unironically, none of these characters became mainstays of the team except for Colossus. Still, he was bland at the start, being your typical strongman character. His background as a young man who had been rescued from toiling away in communist Russia served as a novelty, but his roots were never emphasized. Being a hero on a team based in America meant that he adopted American values. Except for that one issue where he was brainwashed to fight the X-Men as the Proletarian. He got better.

Fortunately for Piotr, the writer who helmed the X-Men franchise for 16 years after its 1975 retooling, Chris Claremont, decided that he was a character worth keeping around and developing. Claremont, a radical feminist, was responsible for introducing a ton of strong female characters to the X-Men roster, including Kitty Pryde, the waif who launched a thousand Slayers. Though Kitty was only 13 at the time of her introduction and Piotr was 19, Claremont decided that they made a cute couple and spent years developing a romance between them in a way that felt pretty organic. It started off as a one-sided crush, but as Claremont aged Kitty up, Piotr began to reciprocate.

Colossus and Shadowcat on the cover of Astonis...

It’s okay, they’re definitely both adults here! Colossus and Shadowcat on the cover of Astonishing X-Men #6. Art by John Cassaday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aside from linking Colossus romantically with Kitty, Claremont also saw fit to develop his personality by making Piotr a talented illustrator. Though he’s always effective at wreaking havoc in his metal form, he prefers to sit in a quiet place and draw. Piotr was also shown to be the idealist on a team of idealists. Whenever possible he preferred nonviolent solutions, and situations that did call for extreme measures wounded him personally. The ur-example is when the X-Men fought the mutant Proteus, a reality-bender with the ability to possess the bodies of people. Proteus had an intolerance for metal, so he couldn’t possess Colossus, who punched Proteus while he was without a host body and effectively killed him (it’s probably pointless to say he got better, but he did). Piotr didn’t take that very well, and he carried the guilt over it for a long time.

So what makes Colossus a superhero role model? Well, put simply, he is a character who is always motivated by his desire for purity. Now, when I say purity, I don’t mean it in the sense that you begin life with purity and any misstep will take it away from you. I mean it in the sense that purity is a goal to be achieved through personal refinement. Colossus provides a strong visual metaphor, because he’s physically impressive when he isn’t in his metal form, but when he transforms he becomes larger, stronger, more essentially the strongman archetype that he’s modeled on.

A picture that Colossus made.  Art by Mike Oeming, colors by Pete Pantazis.

A picture that Colossus made. Art by Mike Oeming, colors by Pete Pantazis.

The reason this distinction is important is that Piotr’s history has been full of tragedies. Every known member of his family has been killed in some way, with only his sister Illyana currently living (which is to say that she died and then got better). He’s had to struggle with holding on to his idealism when he’s been frustrated with the mission of the X-Men. He’s let himself be possessed by the energies of a destruction god in order to protect his sister, and a lot of other people, which it later turned out was all a ploy by his sister to get him to a point where he understood her own suffering (Illyana, though one of my favorite X-Men characters, is most assuredly not a superhero role model). On top of all that, he also died once, because if you don’t die at least once in your superheroing career, you’re not a very good superhero.

So Piotr has a lot of baggage hanging around his neck, but despite that, he’s always tried to be better than what happens around him. He’s very much a character who sees the world as it is, and does everything he can to make it the world that it needs to be.

Which superhero do you think would make a good role model?