Conspicuously Inconspicuous X-Men

Created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men were subtly yet profoundly different from other heroes and villains of the era. Instead of serums, gamma rays, or genius-level intellect combined with a massive fortune, the X-Men were born with strange and amazing powers. While certainly a simple idea, the X-Men helped introduce the complex topic of discrimination to the world of comic books. Because they were “mutants,” much of humanity hated and feared them, yet the X-Men swore to protect these very people. Unfortunately, even though they were a wonderful addition to the burgeoning Marvel Universe, the title eventually began to experience poor sales and was cancelled in 1970. However, Marvel successfully revived the title in 1975 and the X-Men have since enjoyed a large catalogue of spin-off titles, cartoons, movies, video games and merchandise. While there have been many excellent mutant-related stories over the years, Marvel currently appears to be giving other titles increasing attention while promotion for the X-Men seems to be decreasing. The publisher is currently in the process of a story that will reboot its entire line of comic books, and certain clues, rumors, and facts seem to suggest that the X-Men’s presence in the Marvel Universe is on the decline.

How about “No more pollutants?” Go green, Marvel.

How about “No more pollutants?” Go green, Marvel.

A race known as Inhumans, humans with latent super-powers triggered by terrigen mist, have come to the forefront of the Marvel Universe recently because a bomb containing the mist was released into Earth’s atmosphere. This caused any humans with Inhuman DNA to manifest super-human powers. Marvel, via the wonder that is the internet, has released previews for post-reboot comics confirming that the X-Men will lose an enormous battle with the Inhumans. One rumor that has circulated online is that the X-Men are going to be moving to the moon (you read that right). This rumor claims that the terrigen mist is harmful to mutants so they must move off-planet in order to escape its effects. Apparently, the mist is not only harmful to mutants but is sterilizing them as well. This means that no more mutants can be born from mutant parents. At this point, the move off-planet is still just a rumor, but the effects of the mist have been confirmed. It appears that Marvel may be forcing the X-Men into extinction in order to bring other characters to the forefront of its stories. 

Disney owns Marvel Studios, the company responsible for Avengers-related movies. These companies are directly and massively profiting from films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Captain America, etc. Marvel Studios, however, does not own the film rights to the X-Men. When the comic book market crashed in the 1990s (but I thought “The Death of Superman” would be worth millions!), Marvel sold various film rights in order to recover from bankruptcy. At that time, super-hero films were few and far between, so it didn’t make sense for Marvel to financially risk taking the responsibility of turning its characters into movies without assistance. Fox Studios bought the film rights to the X-Men and still owns them to this day. Part of the deal with Fox, however, is that a new X-Men film must be released within a fixed amount of time, otherwise the film rights revert back to Marvel. Fox doesn’t appear to be halting its production of mutant-related films, as X-Men: Apocalypse is slated for release next year, the 16th year X-Men films have been in some form of production. Though still making money for the company, Marvel does not receive nearly as much financial compensation from X-Men films as it does from the Avengers films, nor do the X-Men films typically yield as much profit as Avengers movies. Unfortunately, this is likely the explanation for the X-Men lacking prominence in the comic book universe.  

But I don't wanna go to space camp!

But I don't wanna go to space camp!

Prior to recent years, it is certain that only serious comic book fans would have known who Scott Lang, the Inhumans, and the Guardians of the Galaxy were. Surely many non-comic book readers know or will know the names after seeing those movies (just try forgetting someone who can only say “I am Groot”), but Marvel Comics has been promoting those properties lately not just by utilizing ad space within their comics, but by giving the characters their own comics and greatly enlarging their presence within the Marvel Universe. The X-Men, however, don’t receive the same treatment.Furthermore, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who have been known as mutants for 5 decades, were featured prominently in the Avengers sequel but not as mutants. A story was written in the comic books changing the characters’ origins seemingly to match the movie universe.

While I am not claiming that because the X-Men films aren’t making billions of dollars for Marvel Studios that mutant-kind is in danger of being completely erased from comics, I do believe it is an enormous factor that determines how the X-Men are marketed and treated. I would love to say for certain that film rights are the principal reason for the mutants’ lack of involvement in the greater Marvel Universe, but the evidence is only circumstantial. When, at a convention, I asked if films were a deciding factor in the favoritism that seems apparent in the comics, Sana Amanat, an editor for Marvel, replied there is no favoritism because of film rights. As an employee representing Marvel, she probably could not have been completely honest if something devious were transpiring, as she must represent her company in a positive fashion. However, I still believe that the mistreatment of the mutants doesn’t just extend to lack of promotion, it also means that the X-Men can be written as villainous threats to the greater Marvel Universe. 

The Phoenix Five: More appealing than One Direction.

The Phoenix Five: More appealing than One Direction.

While it is no spoiler that within the Marvel Universe there are humans that hate and fear the X-Men, I will warn of SPOILERS that the X-Men have come into conflict with fellow heroes, notably in the recent “Avengers vs. X-Men” storyline. The plot of this story began with the powerfully destructive phoenix force headed for Earth. This force had visited the Earth before and found a host in original X-Men member, Jean Grey. The amount of power from this celestial being eventually corrupted her, turning her into a being bent on devastation. Understandably fearful that the phoenix could once again put all life on Earth in jeopardy, the Avengers believed that the potential new host, Hope Summers, should be apprehended. Cyclops believed the phoenix’s arrival marked the sign of rebirth for mutant-kind, as their population bad been decimated to less than 200 during an event known as “M-Day.” However, wanting to allow a force as powerful as the phoenix to enter a young mutant girl not only put her at risk, but all life on earth at risk. When the phoenix force arrived, a team of Avengers led by Tony Stark attempted to destroy it. This plan failed when instead of annihilating the target, their weapon fragmented the phoenix force, which then inhabited 5 mutants, including Cyclops himself. This immense power corrupted the 5 mutants, leading them to rule the world in totalitarian authority, and eventually turn on one another in an attempt to gain more phoenix power for themselves. In the end, it was Cyclops who would end up with the full phoenix force at his disposal, and when both the Avengers and the X-Men fought back, Cyclops killed the X-Men’s founder and former leader, Professor Charles Xavier. The phoenix force was absorbed out of the murderous X-Man by Hope, and Cyclops was imprisoned for murder. He escaped, aided by some of his fellow mutants, and has since lived as a fugitive. 

As much as I loved the “Avengers vs. X-Men” story and subsequent stories of Cyclops as a criminal, my point is that certain X-Men made villain-like decisions during and after this event. They fought the Avengers, welcomed heroes in the Marvel comic book and film universes. While this is only one example of heroic X-Men making questionable choices, it struck me as odd that this comic book story began when the Avengers movie was released. Were the movie to attract new comic book readers, the potential to have more people view the X-Men as villainous substantially increased. But is this really all a part of some conspiracy by Marvel to get rid of the X-Men? Do I really want to read comics where the X-Men are fully integrated with other Marvel super-heroes and no longer hated and feared? 

Part of the X-Men’s appeal is that they are not readily accepted by the rest of the Marvel Universe. They are viewed as outsiders; different from humans as well as other super-heroes. Anyone who has been bullied, discriminated against or has felt like an outcast can relate to the X-Men, if only on a minute level. While they do often make heroic decisions, like Shadowcat phasing an enormous bullet through Earth and thus saving the planet, they do occasionally make decisions that are for the betterment of their own kind regardless of how it affects others. It is very possible that writers and editors at Marvel are simply trying to keep them separate from the mainstream Marvel Universe because that is where some of the X-Men’s best stories are told. The X-Men are at their greatest with their backs against the wall, not when they’re calling Thor or Captain American for backup. Even when certain stories are subpar, I still enjoy the read because of the connection I feel with my favorite characters. 

See? He's calm. He knows it's gonna be ok.

See? He's calm. He knows it's gonna be ok.

It’s easy to wish for more X-titles (I’m doing it right now, and loving it), but it’s also easy to wish for more titles of whoever one’s favorite characters are. There were times when X-books numbered in nearly double digits, and plenty of fans were ecstatic during that period. Certainly there are enough well-known mutants that could be featured in their own books month after month. I would love to see more villain books and young-mutant books, and there’s no guarantee that comics featuring those types of characters won’t happen again, they just won’t happen immediately after this reboot ends. New Mutants was an amazing book in the 1980s that featured young mutants, and so was New X-Men in the 2000s. Who knows what will happen as the new Marvel Universe moves forward?  

The X-Men movies certainly will not earn the money that an Avengers-related movie will, but they have enjoyed their own commercial success. Changes have been conspicuously made to storylines and characters during the transition from book to film, but the most important aspects to characters and stories have remained faithful with few exceptions. Many casting choices have been outstanding, and the development of certain characters throughout these films has been wonderful to watch (no one says “bub” quite like Hugh Jackman). Do the X-Men films have a future after X-Men: Apocalypse? While I don’t know for sure, I would venture a guess that they do. I, like many others, believed that X-films were finished after X-Men: The Last Stand, and I was happily proven wrong. 

I’m not the only one who has felt angry and scared about the X-Men’s situation, so what I’m trying to present here is two sides of an argument: the X-Men are being pushed out of the Marvel Universe, and that mutant-kind will be fine regardless of what seems to be happening at the moment. I understand anger over a favorite character’s plight – hell, I’ve felt it. But in looking at the negative side of this situation, I’ve found the positive side – I know that things will be ok with the X-Men. Two wonderful writers have been hired to write 4 out of the 5 X-books come this November: Jeff Lemire and Cullen Bunn. Hiring two extremely talented writers to handle X-Men stories eases much of the fear that I’ve experienced in recent months.

Though certainly feeling more positive about the current situation, I’m still admittedly scared that one day Marvel will take my X-Men away from me – the characters that introduced me to my passion. However, instead of telling myself scary stories about the eventual cancellation of all of the X-men titles and some CIA-like Marvel task force invading my home and destroying my collection of X-Men-related books, I have to have faith that mutant-kind can make it through whatever conflict they endure. Even when the editor-in-chief at Marvel at the time of M-day decided that there were too many mutants and their numbers should be reduced, a story was written mere years later revitalizing mutant-kind’s population. Regardless of their current mainstream (mis)treatment, I know that great comic book stories are waiting to be written starring the X-Men for years to come.