Friday, May 20, 2011

X-men Marathon: Character Spotlight - Rachel Summers

My original intention for this marathon was to go through the comics and talk about some of the important issues and storylines. Unfortunately, April and May have become insanely busy for me both at work and home, so I was forced to scale it down a bit. But while I don't have the time to re-read and scan in pictures from as many issues as I would like, I can still talk about what I know and love.

Shortly after I moved from just watching the cartoon to reading comics, a friend of my mother's came and brought me and my brother a handful of old comic books he owned. This was not a gesture from the goodness of his heart. They were mostly issues that were far too beat up for him to sell. An issue of Superman that looked like it had been left out in the sun. A comic which had been detached from its cover completely. Another which looked like it had been chewed on one corner by an animal. That last one was an issue of Uncanny X-men - #184 to be exact.

The issue was just about a perfect one for me to read. Set shortly after the Days of Future Past storyline, Rachel Summers goes back to the present day timeline, but soon discovers that she has ended up in an alternate reality from her own. Since I was used to the 90s X-men, the way Rachel was so confused about the X-men she was seeing being so different from the ones she knew was pretty much exactly what I was going through. Professor X walking? Storm with a mohawk? Illyana not a little kid? Yeah, it didn't make much sense to me either!

Even beyond that, I liked her right away. She was very powerful, but she was also emotionally vulnerable. And despite that vulnerability, she had the ability to stand up for herself and take care of herself at the same time. I was lucky in that the Classic X-men comic series was reprinting issues from right around the same time as #184 which helped me learn more about that era of X-men. I also started collecting Excalibur in order to see what she was up to now. She and Nightcrawler were pretty much the main reason I loved that series.

For those of you who are not aware, Rachel is the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey from a timeline in which the Mutant Registration Act was put into effect and Sentinels were used to hunt down and capture or kill mutants. Rachel herself was captured and turned into a mutant hound - essentially a slave used to help capture and kill other mutants. Her face was tattooed with dark lines to mark her for what she was.

This is a gorgeous drawing of her in the hound costume that I'm currently using as my iphone wallpaper.

When she managed to break free from her slavery, she was placed within a mutant concentration camp. While there, she meets a number of mutants including an adult Kitty Pryde, and they scheme to send Kitty back and try to stop the events that caused their horrible world - this is the Days of Future Past storyline.

Once here, she became a member of the X-men and took on the Phoenix codename. Now here's the part that never makes much sense to me. Rachel was introduced at a time when Jean and the Phoenix were one and the same. The phoenix was just a sort of secondary mutation for Jean, not a separate cosmic entity. Therefore, it made perfect sense for Rachel to also have the phoenix powers. Once the retcon occurred, they changed it so that the Phoenix Force just happened to consider Rachel a suitable host because of her similarity to Jean. But since Rachel is from an alternate timeline in which Jean did not die at the end of the Phoenix storyline, I see it as a much more obvious answer - Rachel is the daughter of the phoenix force itself. This is actually pretty much established in What If? #32, What if Phoenix had not died? when Phoenix gives birth to a baby named Rachel.

Rachel's original Phoenix costume was ridiculously ugly. Fortunately later she adopted the same costume her mother had worn and it looked much better on her. I'm not particularly opposed to the hound costume either obviously, though there is something very 80s about it.

I'm not too crazy about some of her more recent developments, though I'm honest enough to admit I haven't read all the issues. The idea that she would change her name to Rachel Grey just because of Scott dating Emma seems a bit excessive. I totally get her being pissed about it, it's just a little too much to disown your father over. I also don't think anyone in their right mind would choose the code name Marvel Girl in this day and age either.

Not to mention wearing this ugly thing in public.

When it comes to Rachel in general, I feel like Claremont had a lot of ideas for her that never really came to fruition. That's a large part of the problem with having Rachel as one of my favorite characters - she's largely pushed aside by most writers. She seems to be mostly a pet passion for him more than anyone else. She's never appeared in the movies and I've already mentioned how badly they treated her in the cartoon. I'm also still waiting for a decent looking action figure of her. I suppose some people could see her history as one of the examples of why X-men storylines are so convoluted, but that complexity is part of what I love about her. She is the real reason I love the Phoenix, far more so than Jean.


  1. +JMJ+

    I liked reading this character spotlight because I'm one of those who thinks Rachel pushes Jean aside and pretty much takes over as the more interesting character. (I know I thought Jean was the better Phoenix when I was still reading the comics, but I can't remember why! But I was likely just feeling partisan and didn't have real reasons.)

    PS -- I must say that I feel a bit of sympathy for Scott. Doesn't he say at one point, "My wife is either all-powerful, evil or dead" (or something like that)? It can't be easy for such a boy scout type to handle. (LOL!) I'm not crazy over Emma, however, and comfort myself with the knowledge that if Jean ever comes back, Ms. Frost will be out on her a$$.

  2. I can't have sympathy for Scott because he seems to be the type that has no control when it comes to women, particularly women with telepathic powers. When Psylocke was getting all flirty with him in the 90s, he basically sat back and went "Uh.. um..." rather pushing her away, and when Emma started getting aggressive in Grant Morrison's run, he had mental affairs with her when he was still married to Jean. When he had married Madeline so quickly after Jean's death, it was obviously his attempt at dealing with his grief. But his actions in more recent years are just stupid decisions on his part.

    Of course the real answer is that someone at Marvel decided "Scott and Jean are boring together" and have felt the need to constantly muck it up, and they're annoying me. :)

  3. +JMJ+

    Oh, yeah, that mental affair . . . and the clone of Jean Grey . . . why is it all coming back now? ;-)

    When I started watching/reading X-men, I thought Scott and Jean were good together. And I still think they would have stayed good, if--as you point out--someone in Marvel hadn't decided to fire every salvo possible at their relationship. (For what it's worth, my latest post is also a character profile, and since it's about a character whom I think her own creator unfairly threw under the bus, I kind of have that angle on my mind right now.)


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