A Primer for the Upcoming X-Men Relaunch
By: Robert Starsmore (@Jono616)
In an industry that trends towards maintaining the status quo, the X-Men is a comic franchise that has always been defined by change. Originally created in the 1960’s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby the original X-Men (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast and Angel) were kind of a flop – after 60 issues the title was canceled and fell into reprints. The X-Men were revised in the 70’s when an “All New” roster was introduced in Giant Size #1 featuring characters like Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and some guy you may have heard of named Wolverine. The 80’s saw a proliferation of new characters and spinoff books. In the 90’s long-term writers Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson were forced out and the direction of the franchise was led for the first time by artists in the form of rising stars Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld – who defined the look of the X-Men for an entire generation. One of the most striking periods of change came in 2001 when Grant Morrison revamped an X-Men franchise that as he put it had “turned inwards and gone septic like a toenail.” Beginning with the X-Men Prime One Shot that comes out on March 29 the latest relaunch of the X-franchise has been dubbed Resurrxion – here is everything you need to know if you are thinking about jumping in.
A Little Background
The purpose of any good relaunch is to provide an easy jumping on point for new or lapsed readers. Given the complex history of the X-Men however, there are a few things you should probably have as background going in. There are two recent eras that provide a lot of context for where these characters are coming from – the first of which is the Bendis era. Brian Michael Bendis’ run kicked off with one of the best concepts the franchise has seen in a while. Those original five X-Men from the 60’s were brought forward into the present to see everything that has gone wrong with their lives and Professor Xavier’s dream. This is pretty much the most X-Men idea of all time in that it found a way to bring back a previously dead character (Jean Grey) and there were now two versions of the other four members running around at the same time – this is a comic franchise that revels in complexity. The other side of Bendis’ X-Men run was the continued radicalization of the adult Cyclops as he started what he called a Mutant Revolution. To me the Bendis era is defined by really good build up without a lot of payoff as there was some really great character work but the books often felt like they were spinning their wheels. The other major event that occurred during this era was that the X-Men’s biggest character, Wolverine, was killed and amazingly has remained dead until this day (at least that version of the character, complexity remember?) At this point the X-Men along with the entire Marvel Universe was interrupted by Marvel’s gigantic summer event Secret Wars after which the entire line was relaunched.
If the changes mentioned in the intro are what defined the X-Men in the past the X-franchise in the 10’s was all about our favorite mutants taking a back seat to the Avengers and the rest of the Marvel Universe. Nowhere was this more evident than the lineup of post Secret Wars books which featured the smallest number of X-Titles since sometime in the 80’s. The overarching plot of this most recent era was the mutant population’s escalating conflict with the Inhumans. Coming out of Secret Wars we pick up 8 months later and the most prominent change is that the Terrigen cloud that gives the Inhumans their powers has become toxic to mutants – sterilizing them and causing a disease deadly to Mutants termed M-Pox. I do not know how relevant this will be to Resurrxion plot lines, but it is important context to why the relaunch was necessary. M-Pox and facing extinction feels like a rehash of the Legacy Virus in the 90’s and the Decimation of the Mutant population that happened in 2006. It’s clear this current direction has not clicked with readers – the X-Line once Marvel’s perennial top seller has seen sales slump to levels unheard of for the franchise. The conflict with the Inhumans lead to some good parts and pieces that just never came together in a satisfying way. One of the best examples of this – when we come back after the 8 month gap we are told the Cyclops is dead and that he did something terrible that drastically set back the Mutant cause. The payoff for this was a particularly failed landing, but for the purposes of this article you just need to know that he is in fact truly dead.
While they still fall under the Resurrxion banner there are two series that are actually continuing under their current numbering. If your main draw to check out the X-Men comics is the recent Logan film, these two books are a great place to start.
• Old Man Logan
Remember when I said Wolverine was killed several years ago? Well he is still dead. As a consequence of Secret Wars an old grizzled Logan was pulled from an alternate universe into the main Marvel timeline. This version of the character was one of the main inspirations for the film, he comes from a timeline where the supervillains won and all the X-Men are dead. There is a change in the creative team with writer Ed Brisson and artist Mike Deodato coming on board. Not much has been said about the direction they have planned for the book, but given that this has been Marvel’s highest selling X-tile it is easy to see why they are keeping this book going.
• All New Wolverine
Yup, Wolverine is still dead – this series follows his cloned daughter Laura Kinney (also known as X-23 and the inspiration for Logan’s other main character) as she takes up the Wolverine mantle. This has not only been one of the best recent X-books it is one of the best superhero titles out there right now. Writer Tom Taylor has crafted a series that is funny, heartfelt and well plotted comics. Incoming artist Leonard Kirk should be a great fit for this series – he does facial expressions really well, which is an important nuance when you are dealing with characters who are clones of each other. I am really looking forward to seeing where they take this book next.
The Flagship Books
The apparent flagship titles for the relaunch draw their names from a 90’s concept where the X-Men were split into two squads Blue and Gold.
• X-Men Blue
This book continues the story of the time displaced original X-Men with their new mentor Magneto. Putting Magneto as the new adult influence for this team is an interesting development. These X-men have missed 50 years of character development and are only starting to see Magneto as something other than the supervillain they knew. Writer Cullen Bunn is no stranger to the X-line, Magneto in particular, as he helmed a Magneto solo series and the recent Magneto lead Uncanny X-Men. The most recent volume of All New X-Men saw these characters remaining relatively light hearted as they road tripped around the world, and artist Jorge Molina is a great fit to continue that tone.
• X-Men Gold
This series, by writer Marc Guggenheim and artist Ardian Syaf, is very much going for the nostalgia factor with a lineup that is pretty close to the core 80’s lineup. We are also seeing characters like Storm, Nightcrawler and Colossus returning to more classic costumes. I am a little dubious of Rachel Grey’s new costume and codename (Prestige), but I am happy to see her back as a prominent member of the X-lineup. Gold also sees the return of Kitty Pryde (after a stint replacing Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy) as she becomes team leader.
• Generation X
Starsmore is not really my last name, and if you cannot tell from me adopting it as a pseudonym, I was a huge fan of the original Generation X series. Beyond personal nostalgia, this series has a really great premise as it follows a class of Mutant students who are not trying to become superheroes or mutant leaders. For a franchise that has always worked well as a metaphor for people who feel like they do not belong, a book following people who feel like outsiders even amongst other mutants is a great take. This book is also a showcase of the fact that superhero comics can feature new and different voices as this is writer Christina Strain’s first ongoing series. On the art side Amilcar Pinna’s art style is a perfect fit for a book about characters who exist outside normal superhero conventions. Oh and just for reference their teacher, Jubilee, is now a vampire.
• Weapon X
A personal confession, I have never been a big fan of antiheros. Properties like Suicide Squad and Deadpool have never done much for me. Writer Greg Pak has done some exceptional X-work in the past including a terrific Storm solo series – so if anyone can sell me on this book, he can. Starring Old Man Logan, Lady Deathstrike, Domino, Warpath and Sabretooth – this is the latest in a line of X-teams that are not afraid to do whatever it takes to protect mutant kind.
• Astonishing X-Men
This title was a latecomer to the relaunch and does not even have an artist attached to it yet. The writer however, is one of Marvel’s biggest names, Charles Soule. Not much has been released about the book’s premise but the promo image features some fan favorite characters like Rogue, Gambit and Bishop. Interestingly Soule has described them more as a cast than a team which is a nice tease about what he has planned for the title.
This is another character that has never been a big draw for me, but I am a sucker for a good time travel story – and it sounds like writer James Robinson plans to take full advantage of all the crazy possibilities time travel has to offer. Cable is a character with a convoluted backstory so separating him from the larger X-narrative is a smart move. With artist Carlos Pacheco, no matter when he ends up, there is no doubt it will look good.
• Jean Grey
This is the first solo title for the only female member of the original X-Men. Dennis Hopeless has not written the character since he broke into comics with the X-Men Season One OGN, but his handling of Jean in that story was one of the highlights of the book. Given his deft handling of the recently outed younger Iceman in All New X-Men, I look forward to seeing how he continues Jean’s character development. Victor Ibanez has done some stellar X-Men work in the past and the preview pages released so far look amazing.
One of the most interesting aspects of the younger Iceman coming out is that it forced the older Bobby Drake to admit that he is gay as well. With the school’s relocation to limbo during the recent run this is a concept that has not been explored to its full potential. When the book was announced it was not clear which Iceman would be starring but the decision to focus on older Bobby is really smart, as we have spent so many years where he has presented himself as straight. I do not know much about writer Sina Grace and artist Allesandro Vitti, but I am glad a book like this exists and I am looking forward to their take on the character.
If you are still with me after all of that, here are a few additional thoughts on the Resurrxion Relaunch.
• Of course Marvel has not outright said it, but Resurrxion seems to be taking a page or two from DC’s Rebirth playbook with all the reference to the 90’s, which was the height of the franchise’s popularity.
• Rebirth had a very strong visual branding with the blue banner at the top of the page. Similarly Marvel is resurrecting the corner box art to give the X-books a strong identity on the shelves.
• I think a large part of Rebirth’s success was the price point. It is a lot easier to sample titles at $3 and issue. With Marvel continuing their $4 price point and several books seemingly double shipping if you bought all the titles in X-line, you would be spending minimum $40 – $50 per month.
• Reading some recent comics to prepare for this article, one thing that stood out is how much the X-line is still bogged down by decompressed story telling. I hope with the relaunch we will see some shorter, more accessible stories.
• Most of all, I am excited to see X-Books where the X-Men are not fighting themselves or other super heroes. It looks like they are getting back to some old school super heroics and that is just fine by me.