Checking Back in With the X-Men After All These Years

Geek Culture

It’s been almost a decade since I was a regular X-Men reader. I was completely and utterly hooked on the original title, Uncanny X-Men, but around the time the title split into X-Force, Generation X, X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, whatever book starred Wolverine and a few others titles that I’m forgetting, I fell away from the series. Part of it was that the 1990s were a particularly ugly time for comic art, part of it was getting overloaded with X-stories.

Recently, Marvel sent me a boatload of trades to review and I divided them up by subject. The first pile I read contained all the X-Men trades.

The new status quo, according to the storyline in most of them, is that most of Marvel’s mutants are concentrated on an island off San Francisco, which is a sanctuary for them. Obviously, not a perfect one or there wouldn’t be so many stories left to tell.

I read X-Men: Origins II, Wolverine Goes to Hell, X-Men Legacy: Collision, Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis, X-Men: Curse of the Mutants, New Mutants: Fall of the New Mutants, Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution, and X-Men with Great Power.

I wish I could say that after reading I was tempted to dive whole-heartedly into the X-universe again, but the trades were somewhat of a mixed bag. I’d still read any good story starring Magneto, such as Collision. I loved the origin stories trade and was introduced by The Apocalypse Solution to an intriguing new (to me) character in Fantomex and also decided I really liked Deadpool. (My son said to me “I told you so!”)

My favorite of the stories was X-Men: With Great Power, but I’m not sure it completely counts as an X-Men story as it was a team-up with Spider-Man, who naturally got all the best lines. I wasn’t thrilled at the big spotlight on Emma Frost, who was never a favorite of mine, but of the contemporary books it’s the best choice to introduce new readers to the X-Men universe and I’d rate it even safe for readers as young as eight — depending on one’s tolerance for scary lizard creatures and sewers. My only quibble is that it seems a little more self-aware than necessary, as if all the characters know they’re starring in a comic book.

With the others, however, I became a little overwhelmed by the constant gore and the depressed tone.

It really sucks to be a kid in the X-books, unless Spider-Man guest-stars. Children — including babies — fare really badly in four of the books, as they’re the victims of murder or genetic experiments or just plain mutated and scary. The victories in the stories seemed mixed at best and often the heroes were fighting former friends and family.

And most of the trades have a parental warning or are rated T+, for teens and older. These are not stories for younger children: they feature a lot of killing and some graphic violence.

For example, the New Mutants battled a group of mutated babies that were experimented on and then attacked by demons. The bad guys in the book are a former military battalion who once guarded the entrance to one of Marvel’s hells and were transformed emotionally and physically by the experience and not in any good way.

Wolverine really does go to another of Marvel’s literal hells. If seeing a half-naked Wolverine battling the shades of all the people he’s killed amongst a lot of gory fighting and angst about being a terrible person is your thing, this is your book. (However, I have to emphasize that it’s not half-naked Hugh Jackman Wolverine, it’s half-naked comic book, full of body hair and squat-bodied Wolverine.)

Curse of the Mutants has the X-Men battling Dracula, and one of their sunniest members gets transformed into a vampire for good. X-Force goes hunting the child who grows into the villain Apocalypse. All of the team members battler their own inner (and outer) demons and it ends with blood on their hands. I think I might have enjoyed this book more if the art had been more consistent.

Xenogenesis, a Warren Ellis story, deals with mutated (and exploding) babies in Africa and it hold together nicely as a story but, yet again, ends up with a character in the story committing a murder to save others.

Oddly, the anti-hero Magneto doesn’t kill anyone in Collision. It’s a story of a mutant coming home to his family in India and trying to fit in. Ultimately, the answer is ‘no,’ but it’s a good Magneto story and I was happy to read it.

I learned from revisiting the universe that there are still some good X-Men stories out there but that there’s also some bad ones, and some good stories with a dark tone that aren’t to my taste. Which, I suppose, is the same as it ever was except the art styles have changed quite a bit. That point was driven home by the inclusion of some of the original stories from years ago in the Origins trade.

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