Why the Greatest X-Men Comic Is About a Drunken Brawl
When you're trying to figure out the all-time greatest X-Men story, there are a lot of really strong contenders. Some readers would probably go with the heart-wrenching drama of The Dark Phoenix Saga; some might choose the challenging, still-relevant metaphors of God Loves, Man Kills; and -- depending on who you're asking -- there's a good chance somebody might pick that one story where they team up with Gambit's ex-wife and Ghost Rider to fight the Brood in the imaginary caves under New Orleans. For me, though, there's no question.
The best X-Men story ever is Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr.'s Uncanny X-Men No. 183, the one where Wolverine and Nightcrawler try to get Colossus drunk and beat the shit out of him because he broke up with Kitty Pryde.
Also, probably a little bit because of that pants-and-shirt combo.
Even in 1984, the X-Men deciding to beat each other up was enough of a regular feature in the comic that they barely needed a reason to start punching, but this is a special case. It has its roots in Secret Wars, and while most people remember that as the crossover where Spider-Man got a new costume that wanted to fuck him so bad, it became the most popular villain of the '90s, that was far from the only notable event. The whole idea was that there would be a big change for every book, so everyone reading Marvel Comics would have to pick up Secret Wars in order to find out what the hell was actually going on. This is basically the formula that modern superhero comics are built on, which makes it the most diabolical and successful supervillain plot of all time.
For the X-Men, the shakeup came in the form of a wrecking ball named Zsaji, an alien from Battleworld who had the ability to heal someone from the brink of death, with the minor side effect of having the person she healed fall madly in love with her. After one particularly nasty battle, she worked her seductive healing on Colossus and then promptly died (drama!), leaving him to mope around Earth, pining for his lost space-love.
Which, of course, presented a slight problem when he got back to his regular girlfriend, Kitty Pryde, and decided to break the news with all the subtlety of a brick to the forehead:
Because if there's anyone you want to emotionally damage, it's a hormonal super-teen who can vanish you without a trace.
This is, of course, followed by about four pages of writer Chris Claremont playing to his strengths with plenty of halting dialogue, longing sighs, and even some honest-to-God tossing and turning. And to be honest, I'm perfectly fine with that. For me, Colossus and Kitty Pryde's relationship was always one of the weirder aspects of the X-Men back in the '80s, partly because of the way they're drawn. All of the "New" X-Men were originally supposed to be teenagers -- even Wolverine, back before they decided to make him older than Methuselah's grandfather -- but while Kitty is constantly referred to as being "13 and a half," Colossus' tall frame and sharp haircut make him look like he's somewhere in his early 40s. The other part is that time that she begged him to take her virginity before she was murdered by aliens on one of their frequent trips to space.
Comics are weird, y'all.
Anyway, while I'm fine with the end of Kitlossus (yeah, I know, but the alternative was "Clitty," and I don't think Cracked will let me get away with that one), the breakup doesn't sit well with the rest of the cast, particularly Wolverine:
"Are- Are you date raping me?"
This is about where things start to get great, if only because "overprotective father figure who's about to take a heartbreaking boyfriend out behind the woodshed" is the single best version of Wolverine there is, right ahead of "guy who stabs ninjas like all the time."
But on the off chance that that wasn't enough, it actually gets even better when Nightcrawler decides to join in on the fun:
For the record, Nightcrawler is a character who's so devout in his Christianity that he once became an actual Catholic priest, and even he wants to be there to watch Colossus get the shit kicked out of him. That's how mad these dudes are. Although to be fair, he claims that he's mainly there to stop Wolverine from actually murdering Colossus.
In order to set up the beating, the gang heads to a bar in Manhattan where the patrons are so drunk that they don't notice that one of the people in the corner booth is a blue demon with glowing eyes and a tail because he's wearing a jacket and a winter cap that makes him look like the world's worst South Park cosplayer. What follows is a lengthy lecture where Wolverine tries to put "Don't be a jerk because your magic space girlfriend dosed you with pheromones and then died" into slightly more relatable terms. But there's still one more twist yet to come.
The thing about the Marvel universe is that it's built entirely on coincidence, which is something you'd expect when 90 percent of the super-powered population of the Earth lives within five blocks of each other. It should come as no surprise, then, that this particular bar also happens to be where the Juggernaut is hanging out this evening:
"Good thing I have a super sense of smell to help me notice a guy so large that he's called Juggernaut in this tiny New York bar."
I wonder what pickup line he used on that lady? I'm hoping it was "Maybe you've heard of me in an Internet meme from 2005?"
Wolverine's first instinct is to clear out before one of their toughest archnemeses notices them and starts trouble. After Colossus proves to be too drunk to stand up without stumbling into the nearest supervillain, though, Wolverine realizes that the problem of how to beat up a guy who can turn into nigh-invulnerable steel has just neatly solved itself. Thus, he sits back, orders another beer, and watches as Colossus gets his ass handed to him:
"Especially the 'kneeing him in the balls as I rub my pit stink on his chest' part."
I love this so much, mostly because it's one of those stories that I honestly don't think you could do today. If you put Wolverine into a comic where someone fought the Juggernaut and all Wolverine did was stand around in a cowboy hat making snide remarks, I'm pretty sure the readership would be calling for your head on a spike. I mean, they'd do that anyway no matter what you were doing, because that's how comics fandom works, but they'd be especially upset this time.
But here? It is beautiful, and still ranks 20 years later as one of the all-time greatest ass-beatings in comics, as Juggernaut hits Colossus with the bar, as in the piece of furniture on which drinks are served ...
... and then hits him with the bar, as in the building that houses the aforementioned piece of furniture:
Colossus is understandably upset that his pals didn't back him up while he was having buildings dropped on his dome, but Wolverine uses this as a Teachable Moment. As dubious as it is to draw the comparison -- and as much as it seems to come down to Wolverine really wanting to watch Colossus get beat up -- he makes the point that abandoning your teammates in combat is the same as breaking up with someone when you're in love with someone else, assuming that "someone else" is a dead space mutant.
Truly, Wolverine is the J. Walter Weatherman of the X-Men.