Friday, May 20, 2011

X-Men [Indeterminate Amount of Time] Day 1: The Abridged History of the X-Men

The greatest "superhero" team in history.  No argument
X-Men: First Class looms ever so closer to theaters. With all the TV spots and trailers floating around literally everywhere it has made me realize that, despite all my Wolverine bashing, I haven’t talked all that much about the X-Men.  That’s weird to me because I spent a whole lot of time talking about the Avengers but the fact is that the X-Men have always been my favorite superhero team.  I’ve been a huge fan of the team as early as 1989 having been exposed to the TV pilot Pryde of the X-Men a full five years before I started collecting comic books. So yeah, I’m a fan. Thus I declare this week undisclosed amount of time to be X-MEN WEEK/MONTH/WHATEVER! Let’s begin with an extremely abbreviated look at the history of the X-Men. I’ll be skipping a lot of details since otherwise I’d be writing a whole book rather than a blog entry, so bear with me.

The original comic book “The X-Men”, later retitled “The Uncanny X-Men”, was first published in 1963 written and drawn by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  Lee reportedly wanted to call the title “The Merry Mutants” but then-Marvel publisher Martin Goodman shot it down because no one would know what a mutant was.  Lee came back with the name “X-Men” and Goodman loved it, apparently under the impression that while “mutant” is a crazy made up word that no one would understand an “X-Man” was somehow A-OK!  In his defense I’m fairly certain that a book called “The Merry Mutants” would have deservedly been canceled for good by the time the 60s were over. The original idea of the X-Men seemed to be Lee merging his concepts (And much, much more popular titles at the time) of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four but thankfully the book has evolved since then.  The X-Men are a team of super powered mutants (Lee has said that he had grown tired of coming up with stories explaining how heroes had gotten their powers so in this case he just said “They were born that way! Stop asking!”) who have been recruited by Professor Charles Xavier to help him achieve his lifelong dream of seeing mutants and humans living as bothers.  Obviously this is reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the mutant struggle for equality is very similar to the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for Human Rights in general.  This was not always the case.  Originally there were a generic teenage superhero team that may or may not have been a rip-off of an eerily similar DC Comics title Doom Patrol (It’s mostly considered to have been a coincidence, though).  The title eventually became one of the most popular books during the Bronze Age of Comics and the dreaded Dark Age of Comics.  As I identify myself as a minority it’s easy to see why I like the X-Men.  Between them and Spider-Man (aka Peter “The Devil is My Wingman” Parker) my devotion to comic books was assured from an early age.

More stuff after the jump.

I don't know where Angel got that bazooka but it worries me
There’s a crap ton of retroactively added back-story to Professor Xavier’s pre X-Men existence but for the purposes of this blog most of it isn’t that important. The main thing to note is that he met a man who eventually would call himself “Magneto”, they became best friends, had a disagreement about the role of mutants in society (Xavier wanted co-existence, Magneto wanted conquest) and they subsequently parted ways knowing their paths would eventually turn them into enemies.  Anyway the early issues of X-Men feature the Prof running the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters where he blatantly lied to parents of potential soldiers students by saying it was very exclusive prep school when in reality it was a training facility for superheroes.  Sure Xavier will tell you he was just trying to help them learn to control their powers but seeing as he sent them to fight a mutant terrorist as soon as he gotthe chance it’s hard to trust him on that (Though to be fair he can use his psychic powers to make you trust him on that).

The original team included quiet and sensitive loner Scott “Slim” Summers (Cyclops), brainy strong man Henry “Hank” McCoy (The Beast), cocky rich boy Warren Worthington III (Angel), young practical jokester Robert “Bobby” Drake (Iceman) and Jean Grey, aka Marvel Girl, who had no real distinctive personality other than being a girl presumably because comic book writers of the 1960s had never actually met women.  As the series grew more complex, and issues of racism started replacing the standard “superhero plot”, Cyclops’ younger brother Alex (Havok) and Iceman’s girlfriend (Though not for long, Har Har) Lorna Dane, later known as Polaris, eventually joined the team as well.

(Some dude named Mimic joined at some point as well but he died or something. Now Mimic from the more recent team book Exiles?  That’s a character you can set your watch to!)

Anyway by the 1970s Marvel Comics realized that X-Men sold terribly, especially compared to the two books that inspired them, and the book was canceled although the series kept being shipped out as reprints for years.   Eventually those books stated selling well again and in 1975 Marvel un-canceled X-Men starting with Giant-Size X-Men #1.

Pictured: The Multicultural Pals THE X-MEN!
If X-Men was a flop during the Silver Age of Comics then it was probably the king the Bronze Age of Comics. It was decided to do away with the older team (You know, because why would the people paying money to buy REPRINTS of those characters want to see them in new adventures) and bring in a team of multinational, and multiracial, mutants including Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Wolverine (Yuck!), former recurring character Banshee, Sunfire (Who quit almost immediately) and Thunderbird (Who died almost immediately) with Cyclops as the only original member of the team remaining (Aside from Creepy Bald Man the Professor). Chris Claremont came onboard as writer at this point leading the series to its creative heights.  During his very lengthy run through the 70s, 80s and early 90s most of the classic X-Men stories were written including the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Saga, the Proteus Saga, the Mutant Massacre, and the Days of the Future Past. Wolverine and Storm became breakout characters and tons of new characters were introduced over course of this period including Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Pyslocke, Rachel Summers, Sabertooth, Mystique, and the Hellfire Club just to name a few.

This was likely the Golden Age of the X-Men.  Too bad I was too young to enjoy it! (DAMN YOU 1984!!!)

By the 90s X-Men was at the height of it popularity with numerous spin-offs, and a very successful cartoon but form a creative standpoint things starting going bit south. Big money crossovers were the weapon of choice at Marvel. Some were pretty decent, most were pretty awful (Age of Apocalypse was amazing). In the latter half of the decade great sales led to an almost limitless supply of spin-off titles, including solo books for characters who probably didn’t need a solo book. The downside was that ultimately there were a lot of problems including forgettable storylines, a massive roster of new yet lame new characters (Most of which are either dead or subsequently forgotten about). Eventually the bubble burst and most of the new titles were canceled.

Marvel spent a lot of time trying to convince me that Maggot wasn't super lame
They did not succeed
Enter Grant Morrison, celebrated comic writer and part-time Better Living Industries employee.

Morrison during his tenure on All-Star Superman (Probably)
His run on New X-Men in 2001 which made drastic changes to the look and tone of the team (Following the very successful movie adaptation in 2000). The X-Men wore black leather instead of costumes and were portrayed more like a cooperation than a superhero team, a slew of bizarre supporting characters and enemies were introduced and Cyclops was written as being the type of asshole who would cheat on his wife...who then died.  Super awesome.  Anyway a lot of X-Fans are divided on Morrison’s run due to several controversial story elements (I feel his run was a bit pretentious but otherwise not bad).

Not the best looking comics, though...
Although Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men in 2004 felt like the first time the X-Men had been portrayed like a superhero book in years (For me at least) the titles have taken a much darker turn in the post-Morrison era of the X-Men as far storylines go s the majority of the mutant race was wiped out (House of M), the team formed a new sanctuary for survivors called Asteroid M Genosha Utopia, Cyclops green lit a kill squad to take out enemies, and Professor X was revealed to have accidentally gotten a whole squad of X-Men killed then wiped everyone’s memory of it and also enslaved a living entity and used it as the team’s training facility (i.e. the Danger Room).  More recent storylines include Messiah Complex, Second Coming and Age of X.

Lurking ahead is the yet another X-Men cross over, Schism, where as I understand it the X-Men will split into two factions headed by Wolverine and Cyclops respectively.  I assume that Wolverine’s faction will fight for freedom, hope, rainbows and a misplaced sense of anti-authoritative gibberish while Cyclops group will be referred to as “uptight dicks” by the superhero comic fanbase and generally shunned.  Regardless I have to say the book has somewhat lost me since Whedon left but I’m constantly looking for an opportunity to reconnect with my beloved characters.

I have to say though: X-Men VS X-Men sounds damned awesome
Next time (Maybe?) we’ll look at my top ten favorite X-Men.

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