Thursday, July 09, 2009

X-Cuses, X-Cuses

So, I've got a good pattern going, why mess it up? You know, the whole tease-a-brand-new-series-then-fall-off-the-face-of-the-planet-after-one-installment thing that seems to recur with startling frequency around here. But that's what happens when you A) actually get to go away somewhere for a holiday weekend, which is quite the novelty but puts blogging on the back burner and then B) come home to find your desktop machine infected with some kind of nasty virus, for which the anti-virus program "accidentally" fucks up the TCI/IP stack causing a couple days of cussing and sweating before relenting with a cold reinstall of XP. So - yeah! Fun! (Violet has asked me why I still bother with keeping a Windows desktop in addition to a Mac laptop and, honestly, when I'm knee-deep in DOS trying to get the machine to rebuild its internet protocols I wonder that myself!)

Anyway. We were talking about the X-Men?

I'd like to thank everyone who replied to the first X-Post last week - although I don't think I'll be replying to every comment specifically, it's really good to get a feel for other peoples' thoughts on the matter. Interestingly, most people's comments echoes a few general points, most of which related back to my own ideas in one way or another - to wit, the books got too big, too complex, too expensive, too far removed from their thematic underpinnings. if you scratch a current comics fan chances are you will find, somewhere, an old-school X-Men fan - whether that "old-school" is Dark Phoenix, Inferno, Age of Apocalypse or even Here Comes Tomorrow. The X-Men are simply so big, so central to the last few decades of industry history that most people had some affection for the franchise at some point in its history.

But the common denominator for many peoples' stories is that whatever era of X-Men comics they liked, something happened that made them step away. Of course, this is life: it's relatively rare for someone to like something with the same fevered intensity throughout their entire life. Only in comics and other related nerd-media properties is it ever expected that a devoted customer now become a devoted customer for life. Only in comics and other related nerd-media properties is it ever expected that a popular franchise will remain in constant production for decades on end. (Of course, there are soap operas too, but seeing as how they are basically "nerd-media" - albeit for what is mostly a strikingly different demographic base - I'll lump them in with conventional "nerd-media" for the purposes of this brief discussion.)

And because the X-Men are so central to the idea of mainstream superhero comics - even to this day, when the franchise has fallen off dramatically, the idea of Wolverine and his friends being the ne plus ultra of the spandex set has never been shaken - a loss of interest in the X-Men on the part of casual comics fans has often meant a loss of interest in comics, period. We're getting into the realm of anecdote, and it's hard to say anything hard and fast in a realm where personal experience is the only real measure, but there are more than a few comics blogs whose authors started by stating that they read the X-Men when they were kids and adolescents, gave up "when the books got lame", dismissed comics for a decade or more, and then got lured back by Watchmen / Sandman / Chris Ware / Adrian Tomine / take your pick. For better or for worse, the popularity of the X-Men books has often been a bellweather for the mainstream industry as a whole - not necessarily the good parts of the industry, but in terms of raw sales and public accessibility. If you're a kid getting into comics for the first time, you want the coolest thing on the racks - and for most of the last thirty years that has been the X-Men. And when you're an adolescent or teenager getting out of comics, your apathy is likely to be strengthened by the perceived coolness (or lack thereof) of the "coolest" comic on the racks. If X-Men isn't really measurably more cool than, say, Quasar or Aquaman, what's the point?

Lots of questions! Next time, we might actually start digging our way towards some answers, and we'll begin with a brief look at Justice League: Cry for Justice - obviously not an X-Men book, but such a great example of contemporary story structure that I can't avoid the temptation to compare and contrast. For educational purposes.

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