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State Of The X-Men: Ken Kneisel

Uncanny X-Men #114

I’m sick of the X-Men. It’s not the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The X-Men, along with Wonder Woman, were what originally made me so passionate about comic books as a child. But occasionally I have to set them aside for a while. STORM explained his reasons for abandoning the mutants and now I will expand upon mine.

First and foremost, I’ve lately learned that I require a good and compelling headquarters when it comes to my favorite superteams. Having said that, I still don’t love Utopia. I do not feel that it has the kind of character or romance of other bases of operation like Avengers Mansion, Avengers Tower, the X-Mansion or even Excalibur’s old lighthouse. In fact, I would say that the entire move to San Francisco has been a huge wasted opportunity on all fronts. For one thing, they didn’t actually move into San Francisco at all, but rather the Marin Headlands and now an island floating off the coast of San Francisco, which was a bit of a bait and switch.

Utopia began as Magneto’s orbiting headquarters Asteroid M, which eventually sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. During a confrontation with the Dark Avengers, the X-Men dredged up the asteroid in order to escape the illegitimate authority of Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign. Right off the bat, that sounds absolutely disgusting. Can you imagine operating out of a moldy old waterlogged space station that spent years rotting away at the bottom of the sea? Gross. It’s no wonder so many of the X-Men have recently fallen ill. That place must be a breeding ground for bacteria and disease.

Considering that Utopia was characterized by Norman Osborn as an island prison for the world’s remaining mutants, I also don’t understand why there was never a triumphant return to the mainland once his Dark Reign was eventually deposed.

Additionally, anchoring Utopia to Namor’s undersea kingdom of Atlantis strikes me as foolish and serves only to double their pool of potential attackers.

I might like Utopia more if it was at least portrayed more consistently. It seems like every time the artificial island is shown it is drawn differently. What I would really like to see is a blueprint by Eliot R Brown, like this wonderful schematic he drew of the X-Mansion.

X-Mansion

That is one of the major issues contributing to my dissatisfaction with Utopia, the inconsistent portrayals of the island’s size and scope. Is it the size of a football field or is it as big as San Francisco itself? I honestly have no idea.

Here it resembles an aircraft carrier.

Utopia aircraft carrier

Sometimes it has a dock area for boats.

Utopia dock

It is frequently portrayed as an outcropping of high-tech towers and jagged rocky cliffs.

Utopia rock

Yet here it is shown to contain an area of tillable soil large enough to sustain an entire farm.

Utopia farm

The X-Men’s base of operations which immediately preceded Utopia, Graymalkin Industries located in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco, was not much better. Lacking the familial warmth of the X-Mansion, it felt more like a sterile billion dollar Silicon Valley compound. Unlike the old mansion, we never really got to see the characters’ personal quarters or get a sense of the place as their home.

Graymalkin Industries

I really don’t like the recent suggestion that Emma’s decision to reform and join the X-Men has simply been her way of running away from Sebastian Shaw and his influence. Like the awkward origin issue which clumsily inserted unnecessary themes of domestic violence into Emma’s Hellfire Club history to the detriment of her character and motivation, I feel that this gives Shaw entirely too much power over Emma and undermines her entire decision to reform in the first place. Valerie D’Orazio’s clumsy mishandling of Emma’s origin in that issue completely sabotaged her character, recasting Emma as little more than a weak-willed victim of Sebastian Shaw, and the unfortunate results of that character assassination are currently being played out in the pages of Uncanny X-Men.

awful Emma Frost retcon

I am thoroughly confused by the proposed alternating creative teams and casts for each upcoming issue of Astonishing X-Men. While I do enjoy the way Christos Gage writes superteams in titles like Avengers Academy and Stormwatch PHD, I don’t pretend to understand how switching back and forth between entirely different creators and team rosters every issue is meant to provide any kind of a cohesive narrative structure whatsoever.

Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort recently stated that the new leader of the X-Men would be either Cyclops, Professor X, Magneto or Wolverine. I understand the inclusion of Cyclops and Professor X among these potential candidates but I am still entirely unsure why Magneto is even with the X-Men right now in the first place, much less what business he would have leading the team. As for Wolverine, since he is already an active member of pretty much every Marvel superteam currently in operation and co-leads Uncanny X-Force with Warren Worthington III while simultaneously appearing in about eight hundred solo series a week, I can’t imagine how he even finds the time to sleep or eat much less lead the X-Men. There is also the glaring omission of both Storm and Emma Frost’s names from this list. This slight could be interpreted as sexist by some, but I instead choose to characterize it as a function of their sadly diminished station among the X-Men. Ironically enough, since she was married to Black Panther and shipped back to Africa to be his Queen of Wakanda, Storm has seemingly lost her regal commanding presence. Their marriage served to enhance Black Panther’s prestige, but Storm was reduced to his doting wifey. She co-starred in his comic without even the benefit of having her name appear in the title, a comic which has long since been canceled, leaving Storm functionally homeless. Even her recent adventures with the X-Men were portrayed as having been made possible only because Black Panther allowed it.

The recent development in the pages of Uncanny X-Men where everyone who is or ever was a mutant or is even tangentially related to the concept is now considered an X-Man leaves me cold. If everyone is an X-Man then membership on the team is no longer something special, and if there is no such thing as a core team to focus on then the stories can’t help but be a confused and poorly constructed muddled mess. Characters like Emma, Cyclops and Wolverine receive an inordinate amount of attention along with characters not normally associated with the X-Men like Namor and Doctor Nemesis while longtime X-Men mainstays like Colossus and Dazzler are treated as little more than wallpaper and window dressing. Even this undue emphasis on Emma and Cyclops does them both no favors, allowing readers to become fatigued and bored by their omnipresence. Worse still, this overexposure has come in the form of a decidedly bland tepid watered-down version of their previously exciting relationship.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Warren Ellis’s contribution to the X-Men tapestry with his Astonishing X-Men run, and in particular his evolution of Emma Frost and Storm’s relationship from their ancient animosities into a blossoming friendship based on mutual respect, I am disappointed that other writers like Matt Fraction have instead portrayed their interactions as a regression back to those tired old resentments.

To give credit where it is due, I was until recently enjoying Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, where many of my above concerns are addressed. The team’s headquarters, Cavern-X located in beautiful Sedona Arizona, is well-defined and greatly compelling.

Cavern-X exterior

Cavern-X interior

The Uncanny X-Force roster is composed of a small core cast rather than a sprawling and ever-growing ensemble and the relationship between Psylocke and Archangel feels fresh and interesting. However, I am no longer in a financial situation where I feel like I can reasonably justify the exorbitant $3.99 an issue price tag.

To be fair, perhaps things will change with the arrival of new writers like Kieron Gillen on Uncanny X-Men and Astonishing X-Men‘s Daniel Way and Christos Gage. But with Marvel’s stubborn insistence on the $3.99 an issue price point, I honestly can no longer afford to find out.

Fall of the Mutants

In conclusion, until such time as the X-Men get a better headquarters and a writer like Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon or Warren Ellis comes along to once again do Emma Frost justice and focus on a smaller and more manageable cohesive core team, I am done with the X-Men. It would also help immensely if Marvel abandoned the untenable $3.99 per issue price point or I suddenly become affluent enough to feel like I can afford such an extravagant expenditure. I’m not saying that I will never read an X-Men comic again, but right now I desperately need a break from this misery.

~Ken Kneisel

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6 Comments

  1. Aimee

    The 3.99 price point is annoying, but I usually have no problem justifying it for nonsense…seeing as though my husband and I waste about the equivalent of rent every month eating out. Which is probably why we still rent.

    But even when you can justify it, the 20 minutes it takes to read usually isn’t worth it. So you’re not missing anything.

  2. Ingonyama

    The price tag is ridiculous, I agree. Trades, by comparison, are a bargain.

    With the declining quality of most X-Men stories these days, there really hasn’t been anything I haven’t been willing to wait on the trade for since the 2004-2007 “Astonishing” run, except Xenogenesis. With that done, it’s back to waiting for the trades for me, with the exception of “Children’s Crusade,” which IMHO is a shining example of what comics should be at the moment.

    I like the concept of Utopia, like I liked the idea of Magneto-ruled Genosha, though the execution leaves much to be desired. So did Genosha, during that Godawful “Eve of Destruction” arc. Most of that has to do with me liking Magneto as a character when he’s not being written as a cackling, genocidal villain, a characterization I desperately wish would just crawl into a hole and die somewhere.

    The reason Utopia as a concept appeals to me is that I see it as a stepping stone. Step 1: Establish a safe haven for mutants. The Institute in Westchester did it right, but was too small for the purpose. Step 2 is to make positive gestures toward the rest of humanity…both on a superhero front and on a political. Now that Decimation seems to be over and mutants are starting to come back, there’s an actual, plausible reason to start doing that again. Step 3: PROFIT! (sorry, had to)

    I loved Claremont’s idea of Magneto as Ubermensch, a being apart from mutants and humans, who followed his own moral code no matter who it led him into conflict with. He would still be a good person at heart, but his methods would still lead to scuffles with the X-Men. I kind of wish he led X-Force, but an X-Force unaffiliated with Cyclops…their mission is in line with my personal view of him, and he can afford to be ruthless while keeping the X-Men’s “no-kill” rule intact. But that’s just my personal view on the character.

    Storm and Emma Frost should, IMHO, be vitriolic best friends. Mutally respecting and allies, yes, but the banter between them should always contain a degree of venom…though more because of their natural differences as women (Storm’s as a being of nature, whereas Emma is one of artifice) than because of any trust issues. I’d love them to have each other’s backs, even be gal-pals to a degree, but always be the first person to point out each other’s flaws in as blunt and honest a way as possible.

    I will say it’s…interesting…to see Logan and Angel getting along. I never liked Angel, for reasons I described back during STORM’S Valentine’s Day “Couples” blog, but seeing him get over his Logan baggage, and vice-versa, is heartening. Maybe Uncanny X-Force will change my mind on him. The trade will let me know, one way or another.

    So right now, as I said in STORM’S “State of the X-Men” blog, I’m taking a “wait and see” approach to the X-Men. They’ve been in slumps before, and they’ll likely be in them again, but for the time being, the books are a placeholder for the franchise, and I’ll be watching out for the day things get better.

  3. I just left a long-winded comment on Storm’s post but I must say “Amen!!” to yours as well. You both summed up for me so many of the reasons I am on a long break from X-Men books right now. The books are actually starting to remind me a bit of the X3 movie and the whole “let’s cram as many mutants as we can into this flick without giving any of them any substance or character and hope the fans will just be thrilled to pieces to see them and not care that they’re so poorly handled” kind of attitude. As someone who has every single issue of Dazzler’s solo series, seeing her in a hideous, generic costume and standing around doing fuck-all is just no fun whatsoever.

    And my local comic shop guy owner and I have a theory that Wolverine’s got an extra mutant power to clone himself so he can be in every friggin’ Marvel comic there is!

    • Ingonyama

      You know, it’s funny. I used to hate Wolverine in the early days of my X-Men fandom, then I started to really like him after reading how well-characterized he was throughout Claremont’s run. Now I’m heading steadily back to hate, only now I’m regretting it because I’ve had a taste of what he SHOULD be like.

  4. Matthieu

    Hey and thank you for this amazing blog. For me, the xmen are dead after claremont departure and i can’t get used to the new stories. I think all characters (and especially storm) have no charism at all. And i can’t get concerned about what they live. I must be an old prick:) anyway:) if you’re interested i could send you some french xmen frontcovers made in the 80ies. Pretty kitsch but they contributed to the xmen success in france at that time. Encore merci et bonne continuation!

  5. “X-Men Origins: Emma Frost” was one of the worst things I’ve ever read. I don’t know why they felt the need to do that to her character. Falling in love the abuser is so problematic, and Emma is not that type of character to do that. Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men isn’t helping either, but he’s leaving soon. A lot of things in the issue contradicts previous canon, though. So..umm..in my canon, XMO Emma Frost doesn’t exist. 😀

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