I am over the X-Men. Let me clarify that statement. I am over reading all of the numerous comic book titles of the X-Men and I am not going to buy any more. As pop culture archetypes, the X-Men have enough cache in the collective consciousness to still remain (and grow) in relevance and I believe they will continue to do so. However, the years have been unkind to the characters I love and although there have been a few gems here and there, I haven’t been inspired by the X-Men in quite some time. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when because I feel that the decline has been happening ever since Chris Claremont was forced off of the books in the 90s. I’ll elucidate on that later in this post.
While Zeb Wells wrote a rollicking joy ride of a New Mutants run that referenced past continuity while incorporating fresh narrative, and Peter David does great in his separate sandbox with X-Factor by mixing topical subjects with modern Marvel mayhem, I cannot bear to read so-called flagship title Uncanny X-Men any more. My love for Terry Dodson‘s art kept me on board far longer than it should have. I will never understand who thought that his curvaceous, bodacious babes should alternate with the flat, static, and repetitive porn tracings of Greg Land. The sleek linework of Terry and Rachel Dodson only serves to showcase the sophomoric scratchings of Land. The results are severely skewed. Seriously, Marvel, what the hell?
Matt Fraction has been adding members to his X-Men cast as if he were a child collecting G.I.Joe figures. Hey look! Dazzler’s here again and she has a fugly Simone Bianchi costume! You asked for a gay member and you get Northstar! Surprised? Now Psylocke’s back and we killed her British body! Dr. Nemesis is here with Madison Jeffries in the X-Club! Remember Kavita Rao? Joss Whedon used to write her! And now Namor is joining! Did you miss Cloak and Dagger? Magneto is totally back and he’s good again ’cause he bowed to Cyclops! Didja miss Fantomex? Grant Morrison used to write him! How about Shadowcat? And here’s Hope! She’s the Next Big Thing! Deadpool is totally cool, too, right? And here’s the Five Lights whose code names we will never make up! Each arc introduced a new team member meant to shock and awe, but all Fraction really accomplished with his “flagship” was play shuffleboard with Emma Frost, Cyclops, Magneto, Namor, Beast and Wolverine while all the rest of the X-Men rearranged the deck chairs. There was no narrative to be had.
Fraction writes Storm like she’s an extra in a video game to assist the player. She appears saying something about Wakanda or how she’s “not amused” and then points and shoots lightning at whatever bad guy is present. Of course, the lightning bolts don’t ever do any damage to the bad guy or the bad guy simply dodges them. Lightning bolts, people! Some background character says something about how Storm is fierce and everyone agrees. Tiny little captions make comments about her Queen status or her weather control, neither of which ever find a way into the story. Storm has one of the most unique and diverse power sets in comics. Add to her mutant power her past as a thief, her current royal status, and her leadership qualities, and Storm is set up to be one of the most pro-active, versatile, and potentially interesting characters in the medium. Unfortunately, she’s not being used well when she’s used at all.
I’ve been reflecting on this article on Comic Book Resources in which Tom Brevoort discusses X-Men: Prelude which begins the new upcoming X-Men event. Brevoort says that this new mini-series written by Paul Jenkins:
specifically focuses on the four characters who are at the forefront of the leadership question for mutantkind: Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine and Magneto. Each issue of the series — because Paul tends to focus on individual 22-page stories even as they all connect in the larger whole — will paint a picture and give you an idea of what the mindset, direction and directive for each of these guys is going into the next event.
Hold up a minute! Those four are the only possible leadership candidates? Cyclops has been der führer of the X-Men for awhile. I get that. Professor X has been haunting the pages of the X-books like a ghost. He’s been irrelevant for years. I still don’t understand why Magneto is even on the team. Why is Wolverine considered a contender? Are readers supposed to believe that Wolverine can lead a team while being on two Avengers rosters and co-leading a secret black ops X-Force? Where is Emma Frost? Brian Michael Bendis has been building her up as leader of the X-Men in every Marvel event he’s written and she’s been omnipresent in many Marvel books as leader or at least co-leader. Granted, she’s a paler shade of the fierce White Queen we used to know to the point she’s become insubstantial, but not to be even named is an outrage. What about Storm? This would be a great chance for Marvel to let her regain her lost leadership status since her arranged marriage, especially since she and T’Challa are currently separated. Heck, even Rogue has been leading a team of her own. Where are the X-Women?
Storm’s role as trophy wife to Black Panther is still a thorn in my side. I am not opposed to the idea of a relationship between Ororo and T’Challa. Christopher Priest presented a compelling argument for how these two could be a couple when he wrote the title. If Storm and Black Panther’s relationship had mirrored the way in which Luke Cage and Jessica Jones got together it might have worked for me. That relationship felt organic and is one I can believe in. However, Marvel gave away one of their highest profile female characters as a welcome to the boys club prize to then BET CEO Reggie Hudlin, who quickly reduced her to cheerleader and wallpaper. His versions of Ororo and T’Challa were little more than paper thin Beyoncé and Jay-Z pop culture stereotypes. During his Black Panther run, he had Storm uttering “beloved” to T’Challa more times than Oprah on a press junket . She sat around the Wakandan palace waiting for T’Challa to let her help him when she could have added her leadership to his. As far as I am concerned, Marvel shattered Storm’s independence when they severed her ties with her mutant clan in one of their most trying times. The marriage during Civil War was not just ill-timed, it was inappropriate. Jon Mayberry’s Doomwar mini-series added major injury to insult by portraying Storm as a helpless hostage, spitefully muttering “damn you” every other issue. Damning someone admits defeat. Storm does not curse at other people. She is better than that. She is compassionate, even to her foes, and her presence is an inspiration. She is not a damsel in distress. She is strong, resourceful and intuitive. I must say that Dwayne McDuffie’s admirable run on Fantastic Four showcased Storm in a positive light, even having her host the consciousness of the cosmic entity Eternity in her being, a feat most cannot do without serious repercussions.
Chris Claremont introduced sisterhood to the X-Men. I know it is popular to deride the man for his tropes, and his recent X-offerings have been less than stellar, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Jean Grey was the weakest member of the team until her Phoenix overhaul. After the original five left (except for Cyclops) and the All-New, All-Different team came onto the scene, Jean was called in by Professor X to assist Storm in acclimating to Western customs and she decided to stick around. Jean and Ororo became best friends (even if it was off panel until some stories in Classic X-Men filled in the blanks). Claremont wasted no time in introducing more female characters and Dazzler, Kitty Pryde, Yukio, Callisto, Psylocke, Rogue, and Jubilee all added to the feminine mystique (as did Mystique herself). The relationships between these women were like nothing else in comics until then. Kitty Pryde and Storm had a mother/daughter pairing, while Dazzler and Rogue’s rivalry carried on for a very long time. Consider Rogue’s balancing act with the psyche of Carol Danvers. Psylocke’s struggle to honor the warrior aspect of her self. It was (and still is) atypical for a woman to be a leader in superhero comics when Storm won her battle against Cyclops, and it was certainly different for a woman to be the “strong guy” on the team like Rogue was after Colossus’ injuries forced him off the team. The women of the X used to shop together as well as battle injustice. Those down moments were some of my favorite stories. I was riveted by the level of emotion that each of these women evinced as they struggled to manage their complicated existences. I was inspired by their camaraderie.
The sisterhood is no more. Jean is dead and frankly, she’s become a one note joke for the impermanence of death in comics. Grant Morrison didn’t help matters by killing her twice in his run. Marvel teased that Hope had some kind of connection to Jean (or at least the Phoenix) but color me unimpressed. If Hope is the next generation of mutantkind, then please send in the Sentinels now. Dazzler is shiny wallpaper and wearing the worst costume in her character’s history. Jubilee is a vampire? Doesn’t that go against everything the character once was? Note to Marvel: That is not ironic. Psylocke is Archangel’s psychic anchor and Rick Remender writes her very well, but let’s be clear. She’s fan service ninja eye candy in a thong. Polaris is out in space attached to Havok’s hip when she’s not a space cadet. I don’t even want to talk about Rachel. Rogue is teaching the younger generation of mutants in X-Men: Legacy which is work that Storm used to do in New Mutants. Does Rogue get the credit where it is due? No. She’s consistently shut down by Cyclops for not following his orders even though what she is doing is morally and ethically correct and consistent. There is no room in Cylcops’ regime for anyone else’s methods or opinions other than Cyclops. Mike Carey’s work with Rogue in X-Men: Legacy and his decision to allow her to control her powers is the kind of revolutionary narrative that these characters need. As far as Storm is concerned, I am convinced that only Warren Ellis understands how to write a nuanced, multi-dimensional Ororo Munroe. His runs on Astonishing X-Men portrayed a modern Storm with Chris Claremont undertones.
I know it seems I put Chris Claremont on a pedestal and that might be an accurate assessment. However, I realize that Claremont did not create the X-Men out of whole cloth. Many characters and creations were handed down to him from many different writers and artists. However, he gave the X-Men a sense of purpose and a social relevance which has made them icons. All the cartoons and movies and comics owe him a debt because they have been regurgitating his stories for decades. Ever since he was asked to leave the title that he cultivated for 16 years a soulfulness of Marvel’s mutants has been missing. It is a shame that even Claremont himself was not able to recapture it. Perhaps too much had changed since his dismissal and his subsequent return to the characters he made famous. Maybe he was unable to return to the well when the waters had been poisoned. They weren’t his after all. He wasn’t left alone to fulfill his vision and comics are done by committee now.
I know that comics are in the business of making money and one has to keep the franchise fresh for the next generation. I understand that these characters will never grow old and are stuck in a perpetual moebius loop. However, if any comic could represent evolution, one would think it would be the X-Men. I don’t mind that Storm is perpetually 20-something or whatever age whatever writer wants her to be. I want a consistent portrayal of a woman who can anticipate challenge in her life and make heroic choices in finding solutions to them. I want heroes who are morally and ethically reaching towards enlightenment, who believe that their actions can make a difference in someone else’s lives. I know it is not too much to ask because these stories exist. There’s no reason they can’t be made new again now. We live in a time when we need them more than ever.
The back of my X-Men cards that I use for Tarot say “Mutatis Mutandis”. It means “”by changing those things which need to be changed” or simplified “the necessary changes having been made”. I like to think that phrase means taking an active role in one’s life both inner and outer. It is about making choices that affect your life and the lives around you. The X-Men have the capacity to inspire us all to our higher selves. It’s time to make some changes.