Students of the comic book art form the world over, it is my great honor and pleasure to write a full lecture on the very concept that inspired my namesake as well as yours, Gifted Readers. Marvel's original X-Men comic series, created in 1963, and the very storied franchise it spawned, is perhaps the one most near and dear to me, particularly if you consider that much of comic book fandom is – whether good or bad – built largely upon the nostalgia for a bygone time period, often one of youth for most readers. Transformers and G.I. Joe comics aside, the Uncanny X-Men, written and trail-blazed by legendary writer Chris Claremont for, all told, well over two full decades, is where my comic book fandom truly began in earnest as an unsuspecting 13-year old in 1986.
In light of recent changes to the X-Franchise, I thought it would be a good time to do a quick study of how the X-Men’s misadventures have progressed to the point of where they’re at now, spitting into two distinct factions. This is an examination of how and why things are they way they are now.
We could begin this feature at any one of numerous different junctures in the grand scheme of the X-Men's 48-year history, but it's probably best to start about six years back when former Marvel Executive Editor – one-time Senior Editor of the X-Franchise and now Marvel Editor-in-Chief – Axel Alonso, along with then E-i-C Joe Quesada, put into place a broad vision of how they believed the corner that Marvel's not-so-merry mutants inhabit should be. The mutant ranks had increased most notably under innovative writer Grant Morrison’s hand during his run on the re-titled New X-Men (2001-2004), who had recently departed due some not fully disclosed acrimony with Marvel editorial. Morrison groundbreaking run had ushered in secondary mutations and exploited the mutant minority becomes the majority aspect. Ultimately the powers-that-be wanted to decrease the amount of mutants that had been running rampant in the Marvel Universe for the past decade. That vision first manifested itself in the central House of M event storyline.
House of M (2005)
Key events: An unstable Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff distraught with daddy issues in regards to Erik “Magnus/Magneto” Lehnsherr. She declares that mutants are NOT the next step in human evolution and that they are freaks. She blames her father for choosing the whole supremacy quest over her and her brother Pietro “Quicksiver” Maximoff. And then with the utterance of three fateful words working in concert with her reality-altering powers… “No more mutants.”
Decimation / The 198 (2006)
As a result of the Scarlet Witch’s decree, Earth’s roughly 16 million mutants are reduced to the rough estimated number of a mere 198. Hardly a sustainable population for a sub-race of humans. This renders the mutants effectively extinct, especially when you consider that some years pass before the mutant x-factor gene was also rendered dormant by the “No more mutants” hex on the world. Most of the key X-Men retain their powers, but a great deal of second tier and virtually third and fourth tier mutant characters have been depowered. Many of them descend upon the X-Mansion property as a safe haven, but naturally desperate situations lead to a bit of unrest.
I believe that following writer Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men where he maximized the whole concept of mutants evolving as the dominant species by exploiting the fact that mutant populations had actually rivaled the population of entire nations, Marvel editorial chose to significantly scale this back as a way to get back to mutants being more of a minority. By extension that made their struggle for survival a more vital part of their concept and reestablished the core essence of the X-franchise of comics. Or so that seemed to be the idea they were selling at the time. More on this in a bit.
Endangered Species / Messiah Complex (2007), Messiah War (2009)
Key events:Following the decimation of their species, the X-Men’s resident scientist, Dr. Hank “Beast” McCoy, begins the search clues, answers and a possible reversal/cure to the Scarlett Witch’s alteration of a reality where mutation in humans is a natural occurrence. McCoy and fellow scientist, the Avenger named Hank “Ant-Man” Pym, come to surmise that the energy that certain mutants controlled could not have just simply vanished into nothingness, that it had to go somewhere (note: it did, all that energy and those super powers manifested into the villainous entity called “The Collective”, whom the Avengers battled to defeat). It’s a long and nearly fruitless journey, but McCoy does discover why some mutants were actually able to retain their mutant abilities, while the majority of others became depowered.
So after a brief an undetermined era of time during which the X-Men and their few fellow remaining mutants have given up hope on a resolution, the first mutant birth occurs – an event that is considered a miracle (to mutants, anyway) considering the apparent extinction of the x-factor gene that causes mutants to manifest biologically. This event, detected by Charles “Professor X” Xavier via his Cerebra interface, gives “rebirth to hope.” Unfortunately the X-Men are not the only ones aware of this child’s birth, for Mr. Sinister and his Marauders were in hot pursuit to acquire this special child as well as the anti-mutant, genocidal, pseudo religious cult group known as the Purifiers. After several epic battles, events and fatalities – including the death of Professor X, Nathan “Cable” Summers takes the baby, appropriately named Hope, into the future where he intends to safely raise. However, someone else has a different plan for the child, one that involves infanticide.
Key events from “Messiah War” include the time-displaced X-Man known as Lucas Bishop, who believes Hope to be the doom-bringer of all of mutantkind in his native future timeline, in a murderous pursuit of Cable and Hope (who has been given the last name of Summers), even going so far as to enlist the help of X-Men nemesis Stryfe, a clone of Cable, and others for help. Cyclops’ black ops X-Force team lead by Wolverine is sent to the future to locate, defend and ensure the safe return of Cable and the mutant messiah, Hope, who due to being in the timestream has grown up considerably. X-Force also has explicit orders to execute the murderous Bishop for obvious reasons. In the end, X-Force fails to follow through on returning Cable and Hope, nor do they execute Bishop. Cable & Hope remain in the timestream against her wishes. Bishop lives on to regroup and continue his plot against Hope. This trilogy, which began with Messiah Complex, is not yet over.
Fast-forward a bit to…
Second Coming (2010)
Cable and Hope have finally returned from the future to the present after sixteen years there. As they had discovered that the future proved to be just as dangerous as the present, Cable trained Hope to be a hardened soldier and survivor like him. But she really wanted to be reunited with her new family, the X-Men, in the present and so Cable granted that requests. However, upon returning they set in motion actions from various anit-mutant people like Bastion, Boliver Trask, William Stryker and those pesky, zealot Purifiers. By the end of this storyline, Nightcrawler is killed by the human sentinel Bastion, Cable sacrifices himself to (apparent) death in order to guarantee everyone’s survival, and Cerebra displays “five lights”, signifying that five young mutants have manifested and have been discovered.
Eventually those five along with Hope become Generation Hope. Oh, and Cyclops’ Wolverine-led black ops team X-Force was disbanded but only publically (see the phenomenal Uncanny X-Force series for the scoop).
At the start of Schism, the X-Men are “more united than ever” thanks to events that occurred in the Marvel event storyline Dark Reign in 2009, and most previously the Second Coming storyline a year later. However, in this storyline a rift that has been slowly widening finally comes to the surface between two key members of the X-Men’s leadership: Cyclops and Wolverine.
Cyclops believes that mutant children are born into a war of survival in a world that hates and fears them, and that those mutant kids should be prepared for that hard battle of survival. Wolverine believes that kids, mutant or otherwise, should not be preparing for war, they should simply be allowed to live as normal a life possible as a child. This was especially a concern for him when his female clone & "daughter" (it’s complicated) Laura “X-23” Kinney was on his X-Force squad and nearly tasted death several times, particularly during the Second Coming storyline. He also wanted her to be independent for once instead of following orders as a weapon and soldier all her young life.
In this Schism story, Generation Hope member Idie “Oya” Okonkwo unwittingly becomes a “murderer” when, at the request of Cyclops, uses whatever means necessary to stop the Hellfire Club minions from setting off a bomb at the Mutant History Museum. This is one of the last straws for Wolverine as he and Cyclops argue about their differences. Concerning the battle with a sentinel, Wolverine says, “Get these kids the hell outta here, Scott”. Cyclops says, “We can fight it.”. Wolverine: “Not with children we can’t.” Cyclops: “You see children, I see X-Men.” Wolverine: “They’re kids, and they’re gonna get themselves killed!” Cyclops: “You’re scaring them.” Wolverine: “Good! They damn well oughtta be scared!” Another key point in their argument refers to the deceased Jean “Marvel Girl/Phoenix” Grey whom Cyclops was married to but both men loved. Cyclops: “She never loved you, you know. You always frightened her.” Wolverine: “If she was here right now who do you think she’d be more frightened of?” After this the boys engage in quite the two-man brawl to finally release this pent-up frustration with each other.
The argument Cyclops and Wolverine have in this story is a classic fundamental one and makes for great drama. Question is: Who’s right? Who’s wrong? My take? Both. And neither. And that is the crux of Schism.
Still all in the Family? Not quite. After the schism, Marvel’s merry mutants are certainly a house divided with two headmasters in place, rather than one, with each leading a group of followers with Cyclops on Utopia and Wolverine back in Westchester County in upstate New York. The X-universe of heroes are once again divided into two distinct factions, the gold and the blue, although they’re not literally named or dressed as either color. Two new titles spin out of all of this in the form of a re-launched Uncanny X-Men series and an all-new Wolverine and the X-Men.
Cyclops with his team or powerhouses (key players: Storm, Emma Frost, Magneto, Colossus, Magik, Danger, Namor, Psyocke, Dani Moonstar, Sebastian Shaw, Hope Summers etc.) will continue on business as usual with being prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best as a peacekeeping task force.
Wolverine’s team (key players: Beast, Iceman, Rogue, double-agent Psylocke, Rogue, Rachel “Marvel Girl” Grey, Havok, Fantomex, Deadpool, plus Age of Apocalypse crossover Nightcrawler and a host of young mutants as the student body) will go with a back-to-basics approach of schooling and training young mutants while also keeping them out of harm’s and protected as well as possible. Dude's serious enough that he had the stones to call his school...
One could argue, though, that it would seem that given the current lineup of mutant-related series that Marvel is sending a mixed message. That vision I mentioned at the top for fewer mutants? Well, that is somewhat contradicted literally with a plethora of mutant related series. So less mutants running around in the books, yet they publish eight regular ongoing team books for their X-franchise featuring multiple characters in: X-Factor, X-Men Legacy, New Mutants, Generation Hope, the adjective-less X-Men, the best-selling Uncanny X-Force, and now the all-new Wolverine & the X-Men and the re-launched Uncanny X-Men. Perhaps this current status quo will work out, at least creatively if not commercially (titles like Generation Hope and X-Factor are on life-support in terms of the dreaded 20k sales minimum mark).
I try to be an optimistic fan despite my criticism and preferences, so I’m going to give at least four of these titles my support. If any of you have been following my work here, then you know I already hold Uncanny X-Men as the best X-book since Chris Claremont and Jim Lee launched the adjective-less X-Men title twenty years ago.
Next Issue: Coming up in PBX #7 is The List – Part 2. Wonder what’s on that list? Will it be as controversial as The List – Part 1? Unlikely, but there’s a certain, special batch of comic book writers on that list. Until then, X out!
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