The romance between Wolverine and Phoenix was one of the best plot elements of Claremont’s "X-Men Forever" series, although Wolverine’s death early on meant that the story took a back seat. This annual, then, presents the perfect opportunity for Claremont to tell the otherwise untold story of how Jean and Logan’s relationship came about -- at least, in the world of "X-Men Forever."
And that story is this: Posing as a couple on their honeymoon, Logan and Jean infiltrate a tropical resort, finding it overrun with the Hand. Captured and brainwashed, only the intervention of a team of X-Men saves them pair from becoming the Hand’s assassins. In the midst of the chaos, though, their feelings for one another cross a line, and they become romantically entangled.
Longtime X-Men fans can’t help but notice the similarity here to Claremont’s long-rumored “Dark Wolverine” story which never happened, in which The Hand were supposed to kill Wolverine and resurrect him as their own killer, in the style of Elektra. With Wolverine dead, it’s hard to say whether this story is simply a rework, or foreshadowing. Have The Hand lost interest in Wolverine simply because he’s now dead, for example?
Similarly, the appearance of characters like Jubilee and Psylocke is pleasing, since these classic Claremont characters have been largely absent from "X-Men Forever" since its launch. Claremont recaptures their long-discarded voices brilliantly, and it’s almost like reading about old friends. If you don’t like Claremont’s style, there’s nothing here that’ll impress you, but it’s worth noting that his worst excesses, as seen in series like "X-treme X-Men," are long gone.
Sana Takeda’s artwork is something of a departure from the title’s usual look, but enjoyable nonetheless. Takeda’s work is a perfect fit for the dreamy romance and tropical haze of the story. Her version of Wolverine displays an interesting ease, while her manga-esque, emotive version of Jean is a perfect visual representation of Claremont’s melodramatic writing. Certainly, I’d like to see more of her and Claremont working together.
The only big criticism I can level against the annual is that unless it’s leading to something more, it feels a little too peripheral to the ongoing story. There’s a “Giant Size” issue coming along soon to conclude the first volume, and it’s hard not to think that this would have been a good place to do that story instead. As it is, I like the issue; it’s just that the right time for this story would seem to have been about 20 issues ago.