My Marvel Life Presents: A-Z of Comics part 24 – X

X is for Xavier, Charles

Charles Francis Xavier is the epitome of the phrase “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Charles suffered much in his life, despite growing up somewhat in the lap of luxury. He discovered he was a mutant. He could read minds, giving him an advantage over pretty much everyone. Classroom and athletic rivals were easily surpassed. Then he was off to be educated, met and fell in love with Moira McTaggart. He got his doctorate in genetics and was off to war. Whilst still in the army he got a dear John. Then he went travelling. First the Greek islands and he wound up in Israel. There he met Magnus another mutant, his friend and also the man who would become Magneto. Then Egypt where faced the Shadow King and learned of evil within the mutant community. Thenfacing the alien Lucifer he lost the use of his legs and gained a dream.

He believed mutants and regular humans could live in peace with one another. It was naïve, but heartfelt. Every choice he made from that point on was in service of that dream. He wanted to show humans that mutants could be benefits to the world and could police their own and defend humanity.  He wanted to protect young mutants from persecution and also teach then to hone and harness their powers for their own and the world’s benefit.

These are good intentions. Well there is a road paved with them isn’t there? That is the  crux of this character. He is a good man,  with a lofty and laudable goal that became both his identity and his overriding priority. He is a good man, but more than bigotry, sentinels, Magneto and Apocalypse, Charles Xavier is the true villain of the X-Men.

He recruited vulnerable children to wage his war on behalf of a dream. He edited memories and decisions seemingly willy-nilly. Put blocks on Marvel Girl’s powers and then faked losing his powers to encourage his teenage team to battle one of the most powerful beings on Earth. All this in the first 5 issues. His shadow is long and when for 75 months he wasn’t in the comics, he was still very much the core reason most things were happening. During the 90s, he was portrayed more sympathetically and you got to see who he could have been, but by the mid00’s you could see he was doing what had always done, anything for his dream.

That right there is everything that needs saying about this character. His noble goals, his lofty ideals and the hope of a better world, is all stacked against the things he is willing to do to have them and the justification of it. But he is a valuable character to have for those reasons. That morally complex stuff is great when stood next to more heroic characters like Cyclops and Storm and more morally dubious ones like Magneto and Sinister. It’s an interesting dichotomy that the biggest threat to mutants from time to time, is the one who gathered together the best defence against such threats.

I didn’t want this to be a character assassination, but honestly, I don’t know how else to write this.

And I’m not even mentioning the times he faked his death or the 3 (is it only 3?) times he actually turned evil.

X is for X-Factor

By the mid 1980’s Marvel were finally aware of the quality of the X-Men as an IP and a ongoing title. Under the helm of Chris Claremont and Louise ‘Weezie’ Simonson, it was a sales powerhouse and had already created a spin-off in the New Mutants. Marvel wanted a third ongoing, but crucially it wanted it free from Claremont’s control. The idea was to bring back the original 5 (Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and someone to replace the deceased Marvel Girl) and give them their own adventures. In early treatments, either Marvel Girl’s sister or Dazzler would take that slot, but aspiring writer (and future writing legend) Kurt Busiek came up with a retcon based work-around to bring Jean back. So we got a bit of undoing the end of the Dark Phoenix saga, tanking of Cyclops’ marriage and happy ever after (leading to a very upset Claremont) and a new purely sales concept driven ongoing title named X-Factor.

X-Factor 1 was released in November 1985 and followed on from Avengers 263 and Fantastic Four 286 from the previous month, where Jean Grey’s cocooned and unconscious body was discovered in Jamaica Bay after the events of X-Men 100. So basically any Jean sighting after that was the Phoenix entity living as Jean Grey. It was the Phoenix, living life as though it was Jean who sacrificed itself for Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men as well as the world, because that’s what Jean would have done. The rest of the original line up was called in, including Cyclops who left his wife and son to see her again. They formed a team to pose as mutant hunters, then rescue the mutants they were called to abduct and the rest was history.

After a (lets be generous here) mixed first few issues, the title fell into the hands of Louise Simonson (the editor who best wrangled Chris Claremont) who did two things that made the title work better. One was introduce the antagonist Apocalypse and the other was to focus on the interpersonal drama of the team and how that effects their mission and how the mission and it’s cover effected the team. It worked. The title fitted into the X-line easily and showcased these flawed characters who never quite worked out how to function in the real world. This iteration ran from issues 1-69 before the cast re-joined the X-Men and merged into a 14 person X-Men team. Marvel didn’t want to cancel the book, so they retooled it as a replacement for Freedom Force. This led to the Peter David helmed second era (70-149)

This era had a team of less visible characters who had already appeared in other stories. The team was led by Alex ‘Havok’ Summers and his on again/off again girlfriend Lorna ‘Polaris’ Dane joined to be with him, they were joined by former New Mutant Rahne ‘Wolfsbane’ Sinclair, former bodyguard Guido ‘Strong Guy’ Carosella, Muir Island resident Jamie ‘The Multiple Man’ Madrox and everyone’s favourite a$$hole ex-Avenger Pietro ‘Quicksilver’ Maximoff. Under the leadership of government agent Valerie Cooper (at least to begin with) they were part government super-team and part sitcom with action and laughter splitting the book quite effectively. There were ups and downs and ultimately it became a solid era of the title before its ignominous end.

The third era (and the last one I want to talk about, despite it having been rebooted a couple of times already) was after the House of M event and was set around Jamie Madrox setting up a detective agency and inviting Rahne and Guido to join him, along with former X-Force member (and Jamie’s ex) Siryn, former New Mutant (and Rahne’s ex) Rictor who was currently depowered, Generation-X alum Monet/M and hanging around was random child Layla Miller who just knew stuff. This was drama and pathos, but again mixed with comedy proving how wide-ranging the X-Men line could be and each era had moments of greatness attached to them.

Speaking of….

X is for X-Titles

In 1975 no one care about the X-Men, it had remained a reprint title for a few years and it seemed the concept was dead on it’s fit. Then with writer Len Wein (and his assistant Chris Claremont) and Dave Cockrum an international team of X-Men debuted and then took off in both story terms, critical acclaim and eventually more importantly sales. The X-Universe rose and rose throughout the 1980s with 4 monthly comics being produced (Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, Wolverine and X-Factor) and then in the 1990’s the whole thing exploded.

At the mid-point of the 1990s there were 9 ongoing X-Men/X-Related titles. As main books we had X-Men (vol 2) and Uncanny X-Men, spin offs Generation-X, X-Factor and X-Force, solo titles Wolverine and Cable and ancillary titles Excalibur and X-Men Unlimited. So that’s 8 monthly books, a quarterly title and a cornucopia of mini-series, one shots and guest appearances. This was a massive chunk of both Marvel’s monthly output as well as anyone’s comic buying budget. But the thing of it is, that was it’s 90s height, but it never really died down. X-Factor ran for over 100 issues, as did both X-Force, Excalibur, Cable and Wolverine. Deadpool also had a resurgence and has enjoyed a number of ongoings, spin-offs and minis to go along with the rest. There was always events to go along with them and even if they were not X-related events, there was usually some kind of X-Men tie-in mini-series.

Recently there has been another surge due to the House of X/Powers of X events which has spun off into so many more ongoings that there’s probably more now than there was at the heights of popularity in the 90s. The world of the X-Men was always so much more than just the X-Men. It’s hard to imagine a franchise that has been so sprawling, the only one that comes close would be the Bat-Family. So the question becomes, is this just simply more of a good thing, the publishers giving us what we want? Or is this a cash grab, bleeding dry it’s remaining fanbase as the IP is prepared for exporting to film/tv divisions?

I honestly don’t know, but gun to my head, the second seems more likely.

X is for X-Babies

Posted in A-Z

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s