A Lament for Madelyn Pryor
Hey everyone! It’s GhostAndy from the GotS gang here again. What with the upcoming X-men: Dark Phoenix movie set to hit movie theaters tomorrow, some of us here wanted to take a deeper dive into some of the history behind the entire assorted Jean Grey/Phoenix backstory that has appeared in the annals of that most hallowed tome about the problems of those born with the mutant gene.
However, as we were discussing, the topic eventually came to one of the most crapped on women in all of comic books, the infamous Madelyn Pryor. Y’know the Jean Gray clone created by Mister Sinister after the Phoniex’s original death who eventually went crazy after Cyclops dumped her, and tried to enslave the planet for the evil demon, N’astirh.
Yeah…that girl. The Goblin Queen. The Red Queen. Ms. “Inferno” Story Arc herself. I mean I guess I can understand why some might not feel sorry for her…except for the fact that she was completely hosed when it came to adequate costume design.
But, if you really look at her history, compared to some of what this character went through, being shoved in a refrigerator like Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend from the Green Lantern books of the 90s would have been a welcome respite.
But we also realized that in some ways this part of the X-men folklore has been somewhat glossed over in recent years, so a lot of the younglings out there don’t really know much about her. But thanks to the efforts her at GotS to continue to inform and educate the unwashed masses on what they may have forgotten about from their favorite comic book franchises, I’m teaming up with my fellow Ghost writer and frequent co blogging partner Jabroniville, to lay down a serious info dump on his former wife of legendary X-men leader Cyclops, and mother of fellow X-men legendary leader, Cable.
So Jabroniville, do you think you could sum up why we should take so much pity on Ms. Pryor?
Oh, poor, POOR Madelyne Pryor. You think YOUR favorite character got the shaft over the years? Just think about THIS poor lady. First appearing in The Uncanny X-Men #168, and initially created to be an exact doppelganger of the then-deceased Jean Grey, Maddie (named after the singer of obscure band “Steeleye Span”) was just meant to be “one of those things” where someone just HAPPENS to look exactly like someone else.
She was also meant to hook up with and marry Scott Summers after a whirlwind romance, who was initially supposed to retire permanently. You see Chris Claremont, famed X-men writer, actually wanted the X-Men to AGE and move on from super-heroics over time, so this was supposed to be the end of Cyclops’ story arc. However, despite some brief happiness (and the birth of Scott & Maddie’s son Nathan), factors would drive a wedge between everyone.
See, the X-books were selling SO WELL at the time that it soon became clear Marvel needed to add ANOTHER series, and since they had four perfectly-not-dead Original X-Men lying around, they got chosen to head up “X-Factor”.
Ah, yes, the decision to bring back together the original 5 X-men in Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman…and well Marvel Girl…I guess. But that posed a huge conundrum for Marvel given that Marvel Girl aka Jean Grey aka the Phoenix had been killed off at the end of one of the most famous and beloved stories they had in the conclusion of the original Dark Phoenix saga. So what did Marvel to do?
Unfortunately, to fill out the team, it soon became clear that Jean Grey had to return. So she was resurrected by John Byrne (a co-plotter of her death), using a story idea from a young letter writer (future Avengers & Astro City writer Kurt Busiek), and thrown onto the returning team.
Yes, the notion that the real Jean Gray had never emerged from the X-men’s crashed spaceship deep within the Jamaica Bay, where it had crashed in issue #101 of Uncanny. Instead Jean was kept in suspended animation by the power of the Phoenix in some sort of cocoon, while the Phoenix force itself took on Jean’s physical form and proceeded to do all the nasty genocidal things that we saw in the the Dark Phoenix saga itself.
I agree it was probably best to just leave the character dead, but in terms of retcons to bring characters back it wasn’t the worst…
No, but the worst part of this idea was that Scott then immediately went chasing after his “One True Love” girlfriend Jean, pretty much ABANDONING HIS WIFE AND SON IN THE PROCESS!
It may seem weird these days (since Marvel more or less COMPLETELY glossed over that little problem immediately, since it makes Scott look like literally the worst superhero ever), but yes, Scott Summers LEFT HIS WIFE and most of the writers seemed to just ignore it.
CLAREMONT, however, who’d created Maddie & Nathan, was pretty much beside himself with horror over one of HIS characters (he was very proprietary over the X-Men, and rightly so given what he’d given to them) doing something so horrible, and so chose to actually continue to use Madelyne, who was quite naturally upset over the loss of her husband.
Oh yes, I remember vaguely as a kid in 4th or 5th grade all of this unfolding in the pages of X-men and X-Factor, and you are right, for the most part they wrote Cyclops to be somewhat of the sympathetic victim of all this. They painted this picture that it was “unfair” that Scott had been separated from his true love Jean, and that his decision to shack up and start making babies with this woman that looked exactly like her wasn’t weird in the least.
On top of that, they made it very clear that it was his male prerogative to then turn into the crappiest husband/father alive by ditching his newly formed family at the first chance he got to hope back in the sack with his newly resurrected ex girlfriend. I mean, I get it that it was the 80s and all and a lot of social expectations have righted themselves since then, but Wow! Who thought that this was even remotely heroic or painted a proper picture for young men in how to conduct themselves?!?
I often comment that Professor X is one of the biggest jerk fathers in the entire Marvel Universe for the way he’s treated his students over the years, but I can see that his star pupil and for all intentions “adopted son”, Scott, that jerk apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He makes his Pappy Professor proud by carrying on the family name of being a complete douchebag!
And I mean, I’d been reading X-Men comics since the early 1990s, and I’d NEVER heard of that part. But, yeah, it just goes to show that Marvel was VERY happy to just pretend that bit never happened. It helps that the X-writers trounced Madelyn out of comics rather quickly.
They first retconned her into being an ACTUAL CLONE of Jean Grey, created by Mister Sinister to produce a Scott/Jean Baby, which would prove to be super-duper powerful. As you might know, the baby grew into Cable, whose clone was the Omega-Level Stryfe, and whose alternate version Nate Grey was one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes, so yeah Mr. Sinister was on to something.
Well, I will add that it probably didn’t hurt that Claremont originally didn’t want Jean Gray to die at the end of Dark Phoenix, so in some ways this gave him a way out from a narrative perspective.
According to the story, the original ending did have Jean living and her and Cyclops running away together, but then Editor and chief Jim Shooter stepped in. He pointed out that since Jean killed an entire planet and all its inhabitants as the Dark Phoenix, nothing short of death would be the proper punishment for such a heinous crime. Claremont eventually agreed and the rest is history.
I’m just saying I’m sure Claremont had the character of Madelyn created just so he could cycle through some of the story ideas he had lying around if he had kept Jean alive. So I’m sure he didn’t fight too hard when he was asked to help retcon a smear campaign to paint Madelyn out to be the bad guy in all this.
She then went psychotic after dealing with her abandonment (Claremont used her briefly in the Australia X-Men), became The Goblin Queen after making a deal with S’ym, and attempted to sacrifice her son and destroy all of New York. This gave birth to the Inferno crossover. From there, she was killed at the end of the storyline, and entered into X-History for a time.
About when I stopped reading comic books regularly for a time, she had returned in the Nate Grey’s book, X-Man, as a supporting character messing around with her sorta-son. But the book soon faded away, and Marvel has since reverted to basically ignoring it (and her).
I do remember they teased bringing her back in the X-books as a “Red Queen” showed up to psionically bang Cyclops and manipulate Empath into being her “Mole” on the team. She then formed the Sisterhood of Mutants with other mutant babes, but dissipated when she tried to take control of Jean Grey’s dead body. I feel like Matt Fraction was iffy on revealing whether or not it was really her, and they even went as far as to claim that the Maddie who appeared in X-Man wasn’t really her at all either!
I guess. If there’s one thing you don’t want to be in comics, it’s a tangential relation as part of the Summers Family Tree. It’s like comic book poision. In the end though, I feel as if the entire story of Madelyn Pryor serves as a cautionary tale for women.
Don’t date superheroes. You’ll either end up dead, raped, insane or sacrificing babies atop skyscrapers in New York City without any clothes (or nipples).
Yeah, as a kid, I really did think that Marvel Comics with all the soap opera style drama and “real life” problems that their characters dealt with was the superior comic book style. And no better comic from that era exhibits this style more than the X-books. It’s what really put Marvel on the map in some ways. But at the end of the day, when you start taking a step back and viewing the history of certain events on the whole, it’s downright disturbing.
For years, I thought what they did the Carol Danvers in the pages of Avengers, especially her rape and impregnation by Immortus in Avengers 200 was one of the worst things they did to any female character at Marvel which most modern fans just tend to gloss over. However, now that we’ve done this retroactive look back at Madelyn Pryor’s entire history, I might have to change my answer when asked.
This is a female character whom nobody ever wanted and worse yet who was dragged through the mud after her husband dumped her and baby for his ex in order for him to save face as a “hero”.
I mean most fans remember her as the evil mother who was willing to sacrifice baby Cable to demons in Inferno, and although that is terrible, they don’t also remember all the lead up to that event in which the poor woman was driven insane by not just revelations about her origin, but her complete and utter tool of a husband in Cyclops.
I mean I don’t at all fault her for cold cocking ol’ Slim Summers in the face. He more than deserved it.
But in any case, I hope you enjoyed Jabroniville and my trip down X-men memory lane in this reevaluation of Madelyn Pryor, the often besmirched clone of Jean Gray.
Make sure you come back to Ghosts of the Stratosphere tomorrow for a bonus episode of our podcast in which we will be reviewing the X-men: Dark Phoenix movie that will be in theaters this weekend.
If you can’t wait until then for podcasting goodness from GotS, feel free to check out this classic podcast episode in which we review the comic book version of the Dark Phoenix Saga from the original pages of Uncanny X-men!