O’, how I “Ummed”.
O’, how I “Erred.”
O’, how I kept putting this one off for a while. I have talked a bit about my thoughts on the Marvel franchise X-Men occasionally on my Twitter feed. I never have really gone into true depth about my feelings on them though, their premise, their place in pop culture, e.t.c. I think it is high time I did that, because soooo many people are terrified that they are going to go away because Marvel doesn’t own the film rights to them. That Marvel is gearing up the Inhumans to be the replacement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Apart from those non-comic related events, there are several factors about myself and the way I think about Big 2 comics and life in general that have impacted my thoughts on the X-Men. To begin with:
- I am bisexual. I have known this for several years now.
- I did not grow up with the X-Men. Specifically, my younger years in the nineties. I was too young for the 1992 X-Men animated series and my comic reading days back then were skewed towards DC (Impulse, Batman, Robin, Young Justice)
- I have never read a single issue by Chris Claremont, often considered the Godfather of the X-Men universe for his near two-decade run on the franchise.
That last factor may make some immediately dismissive of my opinion on this franchise. Fair enough, but I feel these facts are important to know to understand a bit where I am coming from when I talk about this.
I started becoming aware of the X-Men and following them around the time the New X-Men Academy X generation of students came into prominence, which was just around before the infamous M-Day where thousands of mutants were depowered. This was also the same time of the infamous “bus incident” where not only did the X-Men send their depowered students away on a bus, but it was then blown up.
From House of M to Avengers vs. X-Men is where a great degree of my knowledge of X-Lore comes from. And to me, it doesn’t make me happy. As someone who is bisexual, I never had this feeling of inclusiveness or the idea to embrace who I am.
To me, the X-Men are always going to be victims. Why? Because the nature of the Big 2 requires them to be.
The “illusion of change” that is so admired by Marvel and DC is no small source of frustration to me. What has been called “perpetually in the second act of a story” is the bread and butter of these franchises and because of that, there is no such thing for, to me, true advancement. No matter how far a hero may advance, someone (usually a new creative team) will come around to “put the toys back in the toy box”. And there will be some here who say I hate change. I love change. What I hate is regression.
What does this have to do with the X-Men? Well, think about this: How many different “Next Generation of X-Men” has the franchise had. New Mutants? Generation X? Academy X? Generation Hope? The Jean Grey School Students? The handful Brian Bendis introduced? There was actually a parody comic I’ve seen where Cyclops gives the same speech to each of these generations of mutants, and each generation that passes, the speech gets more and more pathetic.
In order to maintain the illusion of change, these franchises can never truly advance to any great degree. As such, it’s not the older, grandfathered in characters that pay the narrative price. It’s the younger generations that are deemed “expendable” for when Marvel wants to do a clean-up. This clean-up usually comes in the form of either killing, maiming or vilifying them.
This also creates an effect that is probably unintentional on Marvel’s part. It shows a deep rooted level of incompetence from the older X-Men characters. Now, I know the counter-argument can be said that there wouldn’t be any drama in another scenario and that it is the writers who write the characters like that. But after so many times that this happens, it becomes part of the older characters. They want to “save a world that fears and hates them” but they can’t even save the ones that trust them to protect them.
What gets me the most with this inability to change is that, if the X-Men’s whole schtick is about embracing what makes us different and building a better world, shouldn’t it be the one franchise that actually does advance their storytime? That sees what the next generation of mutants can do to make this world better? No, that would take the X-Men out of their perpetuate state of being victims to hilariously stupid humans and sentinels.
In regards to me being bisexual and the metaphor within the very DNA of the X-Men, I’ve always had some concerns. The first and foremost is this: to me, it is not a 1-to-1 metaphor and it really should not be considered as such. There is a massive difference between someone who is attracted to their same gender and someone who can blow up a city block with their mind if they went into a rage.
What further concerns me is when it is treated as a 1-to-1 metaphor within the comics. There are two scenes in X-Men lore I remember, a scene from X-Men: The Last Stand and from New X-Men that deal with a similar aspect: a mutant (Rogue and Wither respectfully) wants to take the “mutant cure” to get rid of their crippling powers, but both scenes are played with these two in the “wrong”, in regards to the former, Storm saying there’s “nothing wrong with them”. It’s a good moral until you start to think about it in this situation. Let’s put aside the fact that someone else is trying to make this important decision for them, not every mutant is granted great powers. In regards to Rogue and, especially Wither, their powers can literally kill with a touch. They cannot have any physical contact, something so important to a person, and they have an out from this and they are treated as in the wrong?
This isn’t even getting into some of the other moral relativistic problems I have with some specific characters, in particular Cyclops, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and Jean Grey. The problems I have with both Cyclops and Wolverine are that their pissing contest disguised as what is best for mutantkind follows the same “MLK and Malcolm X for fifth graders” line that Professor X and Magneto had. The fact that Cyclops is continued to be purported as being “Right” in AvX when most people seem to forget that he was only “right” in hindsight. He didn’t know that the Phoenix was coming to relight mutantkind. He did play Russian Roulette but the gun was pointed at the world.
In the case of Jean Grey, this has really got on my nerves lately with her constant reading of people’s minds without permission and still continues to do it even after being called out on it. I’ve seen someone say that it’s just the equivalent of “accidently reading someone’s diary”. No. This goes way beyond that level. In this day and age where privacy continues to be more and more of a luxury, having our “hero” do something like this without ever learning that it’s not a great idea just grinds on me after a while.
Then we come to Kitty Pryde. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t even come close to some of the problems I have with the character to this day. There was a really good article on Comics Alliance about this, but essentially, it talks about how Kitty’s moral perfection has become her whole character. She always does the right thing and even when she doesn’t, it’s for a good reason. Because of that, she really does still come off as that teenager that called Professor X a jerk once upon a time. What makes it more infuriating is when she’s never called out on some of her hypocrisy. In All-New X-Men, she was one who criticized Beast for bringing the Original 5 back from the past. Then in Battle of the Atom, she, knowing full well the danger to the universe should one of the O5 get killed in the present, decides not only to keep the O5 in the present, but essentially abandons all the other students that she had in the JGS instead of taking some responsibility and sending the walking time anomalies back where they belong.
Now, after this rambling of my problems with this franchise, do I have some positives? Of course I do. The fact that it did introduce many people of a variety of race, gender, sexuality, e.t.c. to comics is a massive boon to the industry. The franchise has introduced some pretty interesting sets of powers every now and again. It has also had some of my favorite writers such as Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen.
But at the end of the day, it has a lot of negative baggage for me. Those negatives I’ve discussed are why I like Inhuman and Harbinger/Imperium more. You can say what you want about the Inhumans; that Marvel is trying to have them muscle in on X-Men’s turf (Not really. You’d know this if you read the book). Perhaps it’s because they don’t have as near as much lore or that they are not as stuck to a status quo as the X-Men that make them more interesting. As for Harbinger/Imperium, Valiant has not stuck to a status quo. The characters that started in Harbinger #1 are fundamentally different to what they are now, in no small part to Joshua Dysart’s writing. But at the end of it, for the faults these two books have, they aren’t trying to simultaneously advocate for change while maintaining harmful status quo.
So what would I want? Simple really: I want these characters to truly advance. Not in ways that can be taken back or regressed at the turn of a dime. I want the older generations to stop being the only ones that get the spotlight while younger generations get, at best, table scraps. I want the Big 2 to stop relying on an aging audience who will quickly dry up. Now, I know other franchises have this adherence to status quo, but the X-Men franchise is one of those that really shouldn’t.
As someone who is a bisexual comic fan, I look at the X-Men franchise with a bit of a sombre feeling. I look at characters like Sunspot (who is currently leading the New Avengers in Time Runs Out) or Armor or Hellion and I see characters who can be so much more. But the fact that they weren’t grandfathered in to the status quo established fifty years ago that we must always go back to, potential is squandered.
Potential. That is a key word with me and a fundamental core aspect of X-Men. There’s a rumor that the X-Men are going away after Secret Wars. They’re not, obviously. But I continued to think: if the franchise did go away, would I lament it? Yes, but in the way that I lament Earth 2 after James Robinson left the book. I weep for what could’ve been more than what was.