The Problem with X-Men
Greetings. I’m Bill Reed. You may recognize my name from the comments on this site. Surprisingly, I’m actually a contributor; it just turns out I’m one of those contributors that regularly fails to actually contribute. Luckily, Our Lord Cronin does not sleep and has the blogging power of ten men.
This is my first actual post since we moved house, and also the first in a (probably) short series that will take a look at major superhero icons and try to find out what went wrong, and hopefully how to fix it.
Up first? The X-Men. ‘Cause I’ve figured something out… the X-Men turns people into bad writers.
(Excluding Grant Morrison, God of All Comics, of course.)
I know, this is sounding like a total diss, and confirming my status as one of Morrison’s Whorrisons. Sadly, though, it’s true. So, here we go. What’s wrong with the X-Men?
1. Lackluster roots: The X-Men title, at the very beginning, was the redheaded stepchild of Stan and Jack’s Marvel Universe. Its premise was born out of laziness (“Let’s see… um… we’ll have ‘em be born with their powers! Yeah!”) and it didn’t really seem like the creators were very invested in the concept. Sure, some of the ideas were really neat, like Cyclops, but then we got the Beast, whose power consisted of big hands and feet. I mean, I love the Beast, but… The art wasn’t up to Kirby’s usual par either, and the uniforms were very bland.
The book had its ups and downs, but was finally put to rest, though kept around as a reprint series. Without those reprints, I doubt the book would’ve lived long enough to be revitalized as the All-New, All-Different X-Men. From that, the comic got a new lease on life, and shortly, a new writer, Chris Claremont. The book rockets in popularity, becomes Marvel’s biggest franchise, spawns a rabid fan base, etc. Everyone reading this probably knows more about the X-Men than I do.
2. Missing the point: Claremont probably had the magic for a while, but he doesn’t know when to quit, and the title spiraled into a cyclical regurgitative mess. Then the 90’s came, and suddenly the comics were completely enmeshed in a convoluted web of space aliens, time-travel, clones from alternate futures, and all kinds of ridiculous crap that was missing the point completely.
Here’s the thing. The X-Men’s core concept is about two things: civil rights and evolution. When the title loses sight of those two things, it suffers for it. The space aliens were originally just some window dressing, and a break from the usual thing. Soon, though, it was all about the damn aliens and the damn time-travelers. Enough, I say! I demand a moratorium on aliens and time travel! And, just for good measure, the damn Phoenix!
The 90’s were the worst of it all. The writers tried too hard to be Chris Claremont, but failed at it, and the editors began to take over to a ridiculous degree, driving away the sane creators. It was a frightful mess.
Grant Morrison came in and gave the whole thing a shot in the arm, ending the vicious plot cycles once and for all (or so we’d hoped) and tossing in a bunch of new and crazy ideas and tossing out what wasn’t working. He explored mutancy in cultural, societal, political, and media terms, and, of course, utilized the two core themes of the X-Franchise. That’s what it was all about; social and genetic progression.
Naturally, it was immediately retconned and/or ignored, and now we’ve been given House of M, which destroyed mutants as a viable minority and culture, and Ed Brubaker, fan-favorite, who has brought back the precious space aliens and inane continuity tics, like Smothers… er, Summers brothers, and the like. Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men started off pretty strong, and even had a decent plot reflective of the core themes! But it descended into fanwankery, and that really upset me, as I worship at the altar of Joss Whedon, Genius Lord of Film & Television.
The worst recent offender has been X-Men: The End, written by X-God Chris Claremont. Here’s where the guy can put a cap on everything that’s ever needed to be said about the X-Men, where he can take a look back on the themes and concepts of the various titles and develop a suitable conclusion. He failed to do this; it was all about aliens, continuity exposition, and obscure characters no one cares about.
The X-Men’s relevancy is gone.
3. Outfits that Earth-2 S&M Liberace wouldn’t even wear: Also, they’re back to wearing hideous spandex outfits. Poor, poor X-Men; rarely do their costumes look good. At least in New X-Men, they had dignity and striking designs. I think this image by Bry Kotyk sums it up nicely:
Would you rather have leather, or a frighteningly form-fitting luchador outfit? I know which one I would wear. In public, anyway.
4. They’re freakin’ everywhere: Seriously. There’s just too damn many X-books. House of M limited the number of mutants in the world but doubled the number of mutant-centric comics. That’s just stupid. I think the market is finally hitting the point where the X-line will collapse in on itself, and rightfully so. The X-label is not enough to sell a comic anymore. Yes, that’s right, the comics have to be good and have a point to them! Well, unless they’re written by Claremont, apparently.
5. Show us the light, Pimp Daddy Bill: Well, okay. I propose we kill the ouroboros, and move the concept forward. Really, the X-Men should be the most relevant comic in the world, and definitely shouldn’t shy away from politics or controversy. Also, it must be good, so good that it shall forsake continuity, space aliens, time-travel, and the Phoenix for telling a good story.
As I keep saying… the X-Men should reflect human existence. The book needs to be about social progression, and evolution, not just biologically, but conceptually. The X-Men needs to be about change. This is why it kills me that it always stays the same.
The X-Men aren’t superheroes. They don’t fight crime. They’re a civil rights group, an emergency safety-and-rescue squad, a school of teachers and students. Their message is one of peace and tolerance. Yeah, okay, so you’ve got to throw in some strife (not Stryfe, though, dammit; clones from the future = bad) and some giant robots and some explosions, because it’s Marvel, and that’s how Marvel, in their attempt to mimic the “real world,” explains societal interaction and civil restructuring– through violence (hey, it’s true). Regardless, in the end, it’s got to be about change, and learning that change is a good thing. The X-Men should be new and different. Yeah, that’s *scary*– I mean, you’d be afraid of a big blue monster if you met him at the coffee shop-change is always scary, but eventually we accept it, because we must. The X-Men, deep down, are world-changers.
What would make a decent line of X-titles? I’d desperately try to keep them to a minimum. Yeah, there are quite a few moneymakers that might go bye-bye, but honestly, why do most of them exist? What’s the point of New Excalibur? Anyone? I thought so.
There only needs to be three or four titles. That way, it is easier to maintain quality control, and the hype-filled marketing does not spread too thin. I’d keep Uncanny X-Men and Adjectiveless X-Men around (and I’d be tempted to literally put ‘Adjectiveless’ on the cover). After all, I don’t expect the Astonishing title to stick around post-Whedon, though I’m probably horribly wrong on that. If anything, they’ll cancel Adjectiveless and maintain Astonishing. Frankly, it doesn’t matter; the titles are mostly superfluous.
After that, one would be wise to keep some kind of X-Academy book around, about Xavier’s as a school (inevitably with a focus on the students over the teachers); I feel that the book always misses out on the importance of the setting.
Then, what the hell, keep Wolverine’s ongoing around-for the kids. Just, you know, give it a point. Say, Wolverine as mutant bounty hunter, with a small supporting cast, like Cecilia Reyes, or whatnot.
I know what *my* perfect X-Men line-up would be: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Rogue, Sage, Madrox the Multiple Man, and Doop. Here’s a diverse group of personalities and abilities. Each one’s going to need their own subplots (except maybe Wolverine, as he’s there mainly to tear ass and boost sales) and everything’s going to have to dovetail back into the main themes.
To make the superhero-inclined fans happy, give them a shiny globe-trotting “Uncanny” adventure book starring Storm, Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Iceman, Angel, Dead Girl, and, oh, say, Northstar. (Strangely, most of these guys’ powers are defensive in nature. That’d make a weird action book. Oh well.) Searching out mutant emergencies and saving the day, one soul at a time.
I haven’t come up with a big idea for the X-Academy book; I don’t follow the current New X-Men series. All I demand is that Beak, and maybe Dust, be main characters.
All that’s left is to find interesting ways of exploring the themes while putting out coherent plots. It can’t be that hard! And please, no more ill-defined groupings of two-dimensional “new” villains. They invariably turn out to be pointless and end up in limbo.
Well, there you go. Sorry if it was a long and incomprehensible rant (I tend to hate all my prose, especially the non-fiction-y kind… I’m only good with spur of the moment stuff), but I wanted to hit all the talking points and hopefully promote some discussion in the comments thread.
Still, that’s how I’d make the X-Men better (and probably cancelled). Your mileage may vary. I’m probably biased towards hating the X-Men, which is why I think they need to be drastically changed. If there’s one thing I know, however, it’s that X-Men comics should be good. Then again, maybe Magneto was right.