Can Even Jonathan Hickman Save the XMen

first_img The biggest news in the comics world right now is the weekly reimagining of Marvel’s merry mutants in the form of Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X. Long-time fans are loving the way the big-brained writer is folding in elements from the franchise’s long history while adding new wrinkles.But as I read and enjoy the books, I can’t help asking if what will come after can redeem the X-Men or if history is doomed to repeat itself once more. Let’s go on a deep dive through both X-Men history and Hickman’s body of work to see if the X-Men can truly be saved.The Next GenerationJack Kirby and Stan Lee created the X-Men in 1963, looking to add another super-team to Marvel’s successful portfolio. Not wanting to come up with origin stories for five new characters, Lee took the easy way out and just decided they were all born that way. Thus the concept of mutants was introduced to the Marvel Universe, and nothing would ever be the same again.In the Marvel universe, the onset of puberty can trigger the activation of your “X-gene,” which leads to mental and physical changes and often the revelation of superhuman powers. Unfortunately, the process is completely random. Some mutants can blend in perfectly with normal humans, while others are rendered bizarre-looking or dangerous. It didn’t take long for Lee to seize on the unique storytelling potential of the concept, penning stories about anti-mutant prejudice that drew from the civil rights clashes of the era.The concept was a little too ahead of its time. After Lee and Kirby left the book, sales started to drop and the series ended with issue #66 (with the exception of a few reprints published afterwards).1975 saw writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum charged with rebooting the franchise. Instead of the original quintet of New York teens, the new X-Men consisted of a racially and culturally diverse group of mutants from all over the world, including Canadian killing machine Wolverine, Kenyan weather witch Storm and demonic-looking German teleporter Nightcrawler. Writer Chris Claremont took over soon afterwards and the book would soon become one of Marvel’s top sellers for nearly two decades.Claremont’s multilayered plotting, which teased future conflicts and expanded the world around the heroes, lent well to exploring the essential conflict of man vs. mutant. That metaphor was made most explicit in the 1982 graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, which brought the team into conflict with televangelist William Stryker.Citing creative differences with editorial, Claremont would leave the franchise in 1991. Different creative teams would ride the momentum he created, with varying success. The comic book speculator boom of the 1990s led to massive sales for popular characters like Wolverine, but by the end of the decade frequent crossovers and special events had burned out the readership.Marvel would try to resuscitate the mutant heroes several times in the 21st century, from hiring maverick Scottish writer Grant Morrison for a critically-acclaimed run to rebooting all of the comics with new #1 issues multiple times, most recently with 2017’s ResurrXion event. Returns were diminishing, and with the superhero comics industry in economic freefall the company needed to do something to keep one of their most important intellectual properties relevant.Idea ManJonathan Hickman’s comics career has been a wild one. He got his start at Image with the creator-owned The Nightly News, combining his love of infographics with complex, layered storylines. Successful books like Pax Romana followed, and Marvel would soon take notice.After a few gigs on lower-profile books, Hickman was tapped to write Fantastic Four in 2009. The company’s flagship team had been through some rough times. The book had spots of brilliance in the 2000s, most notably with Mark Waid writing, but sales were poor. A heavily-promoted Mark Millar / Bryan Hitch arc disappointed fans with a bizarre take on Dr. Doom, and a new approach to the 50 year old franchise was required.Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four is widely regarded as one of the best of the modern era. He introduced wild new concepts perfectly in keeping with the series’ best, like an interdimensional council of Reed Richards alternates and a school of young supergeniuses carrying forth Reed’s goal to “solve everything.” Although some criticized his character motivations, there’s no denying that his tenure added a bunch of focus and ideas to the team’s world.The thing is, for all of his hard work, Fantastic Four sputtered out after he left the book and was cancelled a few years later — for the first time in the team’s history. And his most recent Marvel reboot, chronicled in the Secret Wars miniseries of 2017, was equally unrewarding. For all of his big ideas and intricate clockwork plots, does Jonathan Hickman really have what it takes to resuscitate the X-Men?Power HouseFrom here on out, spoilers for House of X and Powers of X so far will be abundant, so read at your own risk.Each of the book revolves around a central conceit. House of X reveals that longtime human X-associate Moira McTaggert, a genius evolutionary biologist, has actually been a mutant this whole time. Her power is to essentially relive her life from birth every time she dies, with full memories of the alternate timelines she experienced. In the second issue of the series, we learn that Moira has attempted to tackle the mutant / human integration problem from multiple angles over the course of nine lifetimes, and in the tenth she opens up to Charles Xavier with the truth about her past lives in hopes that together they can form a new paradigm going forward. That process includes establishing the mutant island of Krakoa as a biological home base with embassies around the universe and opening diplomatic relations with the world.Powers of X, on the other hand, plays a long game into the future. Using “powers” in a mathematical sense, it explores the first year, tenth year, hundredth year and thousandth year of Xavier’s grand attempt. It’s a little harder to get a handle on so far, as skipping through time requires introducing a lot of new concepts. The present day as seen in House is considered the 10th year. In the hundredth, mutants are being bred for specific traits and hunted by Nimrod and an army of Sentinels. In the thousandth, we’ve left Earth behind and are dealing with Celestial-scale superintelligences of every combined mutant. The just-released third issue reveals that the story so far takes place in Moira McTaggert’s third life, and ends with her downloading a massive repository of information before being killed by Wolverine and sent back to do it again.These are absolutely Hickman’s type of big ideas, and the two miniseries are appointment reading so far. Mixing wide-ranging narratives and sharp takes on familiar characters, they’re the best thing to happen to the franchise in at least a decade. But what happens when they end?Death and RebirthThe big concern many people have with Hickman’s X-reboot is whether it will address the core problems that have been dogging the X-Men franchise since Chris Claremont’s run: that the story is impossible for new readers to follow and also has no real emotional stakes?Like it or not, the entire comic book industry was changed in 1980 with Claremont and Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga. Jean Grey sacrificing her life to stop the menace of the Phoenix Force from dooming the Earth and everyone she loved was a major moment in Claremont’s narrative. So when Marvel higher-ups reversed course and revealed that Jean was still alive so she could join the new X-Factor book, it opened some floodgates that should have stayed clothes. Even death wasn’t enough to keep the X-Men down.In the years to come, Colossus sacrificed his life to end the threat of the Legacy Virus — and came back. Nightcrawler was killed in a battle with Bastion — and came back. Wolverine had his healing factor stripped away and was suffocated in molten adamantium — and came back. Cyclops has died and been resurrected twice. Professor X has died a half a dozen times. It’s common knowledge that character death is an easy way to raise the stakes in a story, but the X-franchise has been to that well so many times that it’s all but meaningless.When you look at the most memorable X-Men storylines of the past four decades, they all seem somewhat apocalyptic. Morrison’s arc, which starts with the destruction of the mutant island of Genosha and ends with Magneto dead and the Xavier School outed as a mutant academy, would have served as a fine “ending” for the franchise. So would the Fall of the Mutants storyline in 1988 that ended with the team presumed dead to the public. But serialized superhero comics can’t have real endings, and editors simply flipped a switch and the books soldiered on.The AftermathMarvel has announced that the X-franchise will be undergoing yet another line-wide reboot after Hickman’s two series conclude. Six new series will include X-Men, written by Hickman and drawn by Leinil Francis Yu, New Mutants written by Hickman and Ed Brisson, and X-Force by Benjamin Percy and Joshua Cassara. Initial solicitations, though, don’t make these books seem much different from what has come before — and New Mutants in particular looks nearly identical to that team’s original 1980s lineup.Even less promising is an interview he gave with Entertainment Weekly where Hickman says “The cardinal rule beyond that is at the end of the day, after you’ve torn up the playroom and scattered all the toys, you put everything all back on the shelf. Don’t be an a-hole and leave a mess.”“Putting everything all back on the shelf” would just get us back to the same old problems. The X-Men have been through that process a half a dozen times at least. But what if those problems are just an inextricable part of the whole X-Men concept? What if there’s no way to salvage the franchise at this point from the sheer weight that 50 years of publication history is placing on it?Marvel will never cut bait on the X-franchise — or anything that still has potential to be exploited for profit. But if hiring one of the industry’s most respected writers to start everything over again doesn’t work, what other options will they have?More on ‘X-Men’ Storylines That Would Make Great Movies10 Essential X-Men Comics To Read For The Disney/Fox MergerThe Most Marvelous X-Men Toys SDCC 2019: Marvel’s ‘Dawn of X’ Comics Unveil Future of X-MenMarvel Posts ‘Dawn of X’ Teaser on Twitter Before SDCC 2019 Stay on targetlast_img

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