The Fall of the Mutants
by rick olivares
As I look at how Marvel Comics stands tall in the comics and film firmament, I cannot help but feel a little distaste that this was forged at the expense of its longest and best-selling property – the X-Men. Let’s leave out the film wars between studios at the moment because the fall of the mutants began way longer than that.
I am not complaining that the Avengers should not claim its place in the Marvel U as its preeminent superhero team. It’s fine. But I noticed how through the years that the Avengers always played in the X-Men’s sandbox. You know, maybe grab some of that pixie dust that was sprinkled on what was then a reprint book that turned into comics’ best-selling title ever.
Looking at the Avengers and X-Men's history, both books debuted at the same time – in September of 1963. Yet despite that shared history, they rarely appeared on the same comic book until the 1990s. There were mini-cameos here and there but nothing serious. In fact, even during Marvel’s first big crossover event – “Secret Wars” – both teams despite being thrown together on the Beyonder’s world stayed away from one another.
That was pretty much the status quo despite the “Bloodties” between the two teams (to borrow the title from one of the story lines that involved both teams). There’s the supposed relationship between Magneto and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch as father and children (although there seems to be some revisionist history that will supposedly free the twins from “mutant status” or whatever the hell the Marvel wants.
We’ve also seen some members of both teams crossover in terms of membership – Carol Danvers, Beast, and Wolverine.
In 1987, after the “Trial of Magneto” in Uncanny X-Men #200 that signified a significant change in direction for the long-time villain, there was the “X-Men vs. the Avengers” limited series where the latter used force to put mutant terrorist on trial in front of a world court for his crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, Erik Lensherr, Magneto’s real name, had been placed in charge of the X-Men after Charles Xavier left Earth to recuperate from his injuries.
Five years later, the Avengers further dipped deep into the X-Men mythos when they came in touch with the Shiar Empire in “Operation: Galactic Storm” although there was significant Kree and Skrull participation. While every superhero team has its dysfunctional moments, “Galactic Storm” sort of sowed the seeds of the deep divisions within the Avengers’ ranks that culminated in the “Civil War” and are no back on display in the Illuminati and Original Sin story lines.
One year after, in 1993, to celebrate the two squads’ common 30th anniversary, there was the aforementioned “Bloodties” crossover where Magneto’s devious former acolyte, Fabian Cortez kidnapped the Master of Magnetism’s granddaughter, Luna that put both teams on a collision course in the island nation of Genosha.
Then there was the massive “AvX” storyline in 2012 where in the aftermath of all the events, a “unity” team of super-powered humans and mutants were formed in the title, "Uncanny Avengers.” My thoughts were -- yeah, they got some of the coolest mutants and put them in an Avengers title. To offset the loss of the young mutants to the crap that is the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters, the creators came up with more mutants. There are so many characters running around that aren't even fully developed! Whatever happened to Generation X? Weren't they supposed to be the next X-Men?
In the post-AvX, the Wolverine faction and the unity squad are at odds with the Cyclops-faction of X-Men. In the pages of “Uncanny Avengers” the unity squad is battling the spawn of Apocalypse. They even have their own version of “Age of Apocalypse” and that story line is one of the best ever in the X-Men canon.
The pixie dust has been spread on the Avengers.
Now in this Axis storyline… it's just too much to take. This passes for inventive storytelling? This whole event has left me cringing at everything that has happened… the former kings of the hill are definitely undone.
In recent years, as one poor storyline after another laid the X-Men low, the Avengers, aided by a significant push with its key members appearing in one successful film after another including the blockbuster Avengers offering of 2013, have become the cream of the crop. They sure learned from the Bryan Singer-directed X-Men films that paved the way for their current line of films that have made superhero films all the rage aside from being acceptable to a wider audience
Comics-wise, whereas before they struggled to keep two titles afloat (West Coast Avengers was always troubled), now there are at least five on the shelves every month – “Avengers,” “New Avengers,” “Secret Avengers,” “Avengers World,” and “Captain America and the Mighty Avengers.” And we aren’t counting the solo books of key members.
Sure there are still numerous X-books, but nowadays, the formerly merry mutants are nothing but bitter camps pulled apart by poor writing and even more callous plotting. Wolverine, the team’s most popular member as well as Marvel's appears in too many books and is way overexposed.
Whatever Chris Claremont lovingly put together is now destroyed. What was once the envy of every comic and what was once considered the book for creators to cut their eyeteeth is now a middle-of-the-pack book.
Every issue of “Uncanny X-Men” or later, “X-Men,” used to be the top-selling comic. In Diamond Distributors top selling comics for November 2014, “Uncanny X-Men” is listed at #21! A decade ago, this was unthinkable. The mutant books ruled from the 1980s-the early 2000s.
Before, if someone asked me what is my favorite comic book of all time, I answered, “X-Men” without thinking. Now, I have stopped collecting it. In fact, I sold most of my collection and left only a few issues here and there or replaced some with trade paperbacks. I used to be a completist but not anymore.
My disenchantment isn’t solely at the X-Men but with Marvel and DC as a whole. The stories that have built up their franchises have been cast by the wayside. What passes for storytelling is nothing but visions of profit and revisionist drivel where they try to undo what was in the past in order to move forward. We used to say that art imitates life but not in this case. Who wouldn’t want to fix the problems of real life history?
It’s time to keep the mutant books to a minimum and really bring back good old storytelling as a technique as opposed to event-driven arcs. It’s time to stop dipping into the time continuum and bringing in mutants from the future and alternate timelines. I'm not saying go back to the basics because even these characters have to grow up. But let the stories move at a pace that allows character development. I miss those baseball games. Those nights in Harry’s Hideaway. The calm before the storm. Remember post-Uncanny X-Men #137 when the team mourned Jean Grey's death?
I’d be tempted to say put everything under one writer as Claremont once worked on Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants at the same time. Except there are more titles. The best example I can give is during the Mutant Genesis of 1991 when Claremont wrote Uncanny and the adjective-less book while Peter David wrote X-Factor, Alan Davis was on Excalibur, Larry Hama worked on Wolverine and Fabian Nicieza scripted X-Force (the latter was the weakest of the lot).
So maybe it can still work. Maybe. Yet as we all know, the directions for the books take off from the directions of the film and their Hollywood producers. So wishing for a return to its former glory is a pipe dream.
As it is, the bulk of my reading are independents and I am much happier for doing so. They are largely unencumbered by events and the bottom line. Since they are creator-owned books, there’s a lot of love put into their monthly adventures.
It’s 2015, but I think I just started the New Year with a eulogy on Marvel’s former kings of the hill.