Monday, March 03, 2008

The Underwhelmed eX-Fan

Got to thinking about the X-men recently, and how I seem to have left that entire family of comics behind. The X-Men books have been, and remain, one of Marvel’s cornerstone franchises, but I've been happily indifferent to the lot of 'em for some time now. I was as big an X-fan as anyone, once upon a time, but these days I don’t think Alan Moore writing with the ghost of Jack Kirby on pencils could lure me back to the mutant fold.

As a kid, I had little familiarity with Marvel's mutants, having first seen the original team in a reprint of Marvel Team Up #4, but my first exposure to the "All-New-All-Different" variety came with Uncanny X-Men #147. By then, I had been reading comics for some time, and this was a fascinating new group I'd barely been aware of, but I was immediately intrigued.

I had somehow managed to miss the Claremont-Byrne heyday of the book, but you can bet I wasted no time seeking out the back-issues. I immediately took to Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and the rest, spending an unthinkable $10 on UXM #137. I remember those more innocent times wistfully now, comparing comics after school with pal Mike, and wishing there were a second X-Men book; later nearly mad with joy at the announcement of New Mutants. Now if only Wolverine could have a solo comic! Such fools we were. Such damn delusional fools….It wasn’t long before we would know the meaning of the phrase “be careful what you wish for” all too well. New Mutants came, but the delivery was kind of flat. We all read Wolverine’s mini series by Frank Miller, a huge artistic and financial success that demanded a follow-up. What we got was the atrocious Kitty Pryde and Wolverine series:

Kitty Pryde and Wolverine was a huge letdown, serving only to clutter up Kitty’s back-story by making her previously unremarkable suburban father a freakin’ Yakuza crime lord. Then Kitty herself became a Ninja, somehow. It was beginning to become evident that quality was not a priority or even necessarily a consideration in the mutant spinoffs.

I continued to follow “Uncanny” for awhile, as well as X-Factor and several others. I dropped Uncanny right around #190, tiring of ninjas, Japan, the Brood, bondage suits, deaths, rebirths, Claremont’s overwrought dialogue, the Shi'ar and a bunch of other things, all annoying. By the time of the debut of the baffling Rachel Summers, in the X-books’ already-umpteenth iteration of this whole tired Phoenix shtick, I was out:

Over time, the insularity and relentless negativity of the X-Franchise made it easier and easier to ignore them wholesale. The insularity came when the books became the top selling franchise, and the X-Men editorial office got very possessive of the mutants, making it difficult, if not impossible to integrate the X-Men with the larger Marvel Universe. It suddenly became a whole big deal to have longtime Avenger the Beast show up in the Avengers. The negativity came with the relentless doomsday awaiting the Mutants. The X-Books seemed to remain in perpetual crisis, as profitable crossovers bred further line wide events, and zero chance to catch our breath. The net result was a multitude of crazy alternate futures and various scenarios of mutant oppression, each more horrible and depressing than the last. Then the '90's hit, all swarming with badass cyborg ponytail guys. It was awful:

Years passed, and the last time I gave the X-Men a chance was with Grant Morrison’s stint as writer of New X-Men. Accompanied by Frank Quitely, Morrison made me interested in the X-Men for the first time in a very long time. Then of course, Marvel fucked everything up, putting the book on an aggressive 18 issues yearly schedule when notoriously slow Quitely was already behind. Fill-ins by Igor Kordey were rushed out to meet the demand, and neither artist nor publisher fared well.

Morrison’s fresh look at the X-men continued for a time and the writer made some interesting and exciting changes to the franchise which were, of course, immediately dismantled upon his departure. Luckily, his final story could just as well serve as a coda for the X-Men, and I decided to take it as such. I also read and enjoyed Milligan and Allred's X-Force, then X-Statix, but that ran its course at about the same time.

I don’t follow the X-books anymore, but I can get the gist of what’s going on at any given time. If you’re a big enough fanboy, you pick up this stuff through osmosis. From Previews and the online material I’ve read, I know that the future is a nightmare, the mutants are fewer and more hated than ever, and hope is even more distant that ever. So business as usual then. And Cable is running around with a little baby girl strapped to his back that will be prematurely aging into Jean Fucking Grey in the next 18 months or so.

I'm with the Scarlet Witch: No more mutants for me, thanks!


Dan said...

"badass cyborg ponytail guys" -- brilliant.

Alex said...

Uncanny was the first comic of any kind I ever subscribed to (after receiving two back-to-back issues in one of those Sears thirty packs and thinking "This is awesome!"). I ditched them just before going to college, and now just stare blankly at the horrible mess that is the current X-family of books. I just don't care about them at all.

I read Ultimate X-Men for a while. Although it was uneven and a little too tuned to "badass," it was still fun, and did sometimes unexpected things with the characters. Sometimes, I emphasize, as looking at covers tells me that at least one character has come back from the dead. Damn.

My favorite recent iteration of X-Men was the X-Men: Evolution animated series. I though that was solid.

Basically, as long as they insist on maintaining several decades of continuity in these series, I just can't care about them, because no character can actually develop.

(Also, I went back and reread a lot of older X-Men and realized that the dialog and narration are tremendously overwrought. I guess I was less discerning as a kid.)

Harvey Jerkwater said...

That issue of Marvel Team-Up you show up top was wicked awesome.

Why? Two words. Two simple words.

"Gil Kane."

He made that comic work. It was freakin' spectacular. He combined the old-school X-Men, Spider-Man, and Morbius into an exciting, atmospheric, action-filled story. How the hell do you do that?

Gil Freakin' Kane, that's how.

Anonymous said...

you are absolutely right about the X-Crap from Marvel. After Claremont nobody wrote X-Men properly. Morrison's run was fantastic, but we know how it is: marvel will always fucked up everything. Look at the movies. Look at the Civil War (c'mon, this idea used to be old in the 80's!!!!). It's not the house of ideas anymore. It's the house of crap.

Brian Hughes said...

To clarify; the current stuff looks like it might be alright. I like many of the creators. I'm just completely indifferent to the entire X-Men group of characters, so I don't care.

Nando said...

Wow, I've been reading and enjoying your blog for some time now, but I have to say, you hit the nail on the head with this post. I am the biggest eX-Fan there is. My first comic ever was when the hellfire club defeated the X-Men and left Wolverine alone in the sewers to seek revenge. I stopped around the X-Factor issues, way further than I should have. The whole X-Men/Mutant universe is just completely out of control and full of crap. I just can't understand it when I step into a comic book store and see 60% of the issues on the rack are the mutants titles.

Like you said, the current stuff may be alright, but I just can't give two shits about it.

robertmapril said...

Growing up in the 1990's with the heyday of such cyborg ponytail badasses (TM? oughta be.) I had zero interest in the X-books by and large until Morrison arrived on the scene. And yes, while the art suffers frequently, particularly in the hands of Kordey, who I just don't think can draw at ALL, I still feel the stories were solid all the way through. Not as enjoyable as the Milligan/Allred X-Force/Statix, which was great both by virtue of its originality with the premise and its apparent capacity to piss off those who wanted just another book about emo superteens trying to save a world that hates and fears them. (TM)

joe bloke said...

hell, you lasted longer than i did, man. not sure i even bought the miller wolverine mini. borrowed it off a mate. didn't like it. yeah, that's right: the frank miller backlash started right on my block. it's all my fault. the x-men suck. big time. although i did have a brief thing for the ultimate x-men. that was cool, for a while. and then cable turned up ( with a big gun ), and. . .oh, yeah, i remembered that the x-men suck. big time.

oh, and harvey jerkwater? gil freakin' kane is right, sir! the man was a god.


jpb said...

Some of the Joss Whedon X-Men stuff is not bad (I'm glad to see Kitty Pryde again, Yakuza dad or no).

dmstarz said...

Mike Carey's run on X-Men was pretty interesting, though I would have loved to have seen that weird team of reprobates stay together a bit longer. Yost and Kyle were good on New X-Men and Peter David's X Factor is excellent (especially his Jamie Madrox).

Not sure about X Force (too early to make a judgement) but I do have a sense of foreboding that the innovative writing of the last few years is being pulled to more generic purposes.

Still, I'll stick it out a while yet.

Ford MF said...

I agree 100% with everything you said. I haven't cared about the X-Men since they stopped making guest appearances in Power Pack, but I will add one sidebar: Kyle and Yost's recent New X-Men (or Young X-Men or whatever the fuck it was called) was kind of AMAZING. Pity their new series looks like editorially mandated ipecac.

Comicsfan said...

It's a good rundown of how the X-men have been used and abused. I'm just sorry your intro to the original team was that Team-Up issue! :)

G. Kendall said...

I realize this will just come across as a gratuitous plug, but I've been looking back at the "cyborg ponytail" era of the books (i.e., the '90s) at my blog.

BTW, Kitty's dad borrowed money from the Yakuza, he wasn't a member. :)