Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Journey Ends (II)

Avengers 1

Now, the Avengers . . . the reason I like the Avengers is a much shorter conversation. It’s the Marvel book for people who really, really like their meat and potatoes. Sometimes it’s a $4 Reno strip steak and sometimes it’s a filet mignon, but by god if you belly up to the table for a hearty meal you will walk away full.

While it’s very easy to argue that the X-Men were in context a lesser effort by Lee & Kirby, the Avengers probably shouldn’t even make that list. It’s the most obvious thing in the world, after all, and was long before National even convened the Justice Society in 1940. Just put all the popular guys (and a girl) in one book and have them fight stuff . . . together. Worked for the Argonauts, worked for the Matter of Britain. If you doubt the perfunctory nature of the early Avengers stories, rest assured their actual origin as a team involves the Hulk undercover as a clown robot. Also, “origin” is probably putting it too strongly: Avengers #1 is simply the first time these people meet each other. Captain America climbs aboard in issue #4 and that’s the first time the book exhibits a pulse. It’s still a great story - a perfect reintroduction to a character who was most likely unfamiliar to the vast majority of their readers, complimented with gratifying daubs of pathos and topicality. An early highlight for the line. 

Avengers #4 is a perfect summation in one of both the the appeal and the limitations of the premise. At its most basic the Avengers is a workplace drama starring a rotating cast of people who have one of the worst jobs on the planet. Every time the book gets stale you can always upend the ant farm and throw in a few new specimens. Cap was the first new member and the drama of his introduction provides a replacement for the conflict with the Hulk that frames the series’ very beginning. Suddenly the team is an actual ensemble instead of merely a squad of fighters. When its done well, therefore, the Avengers offer the same pleasures as any other long-running workplace entertainment: set up a group of strong personalities, give them a common purpose, watch them bicker and make-out for years on end. These pleasures are not particularly bound to the premise and certainly not to the genre. It doesn’t have to be character driven, although it often is to more of a degree than is acknowledged. Sometimes the book eschews any reference to the long-running subplots of the core Avengers family, and there have been long stretches without any founding member present. It’s such a bog simple premise you can do just about everything with it. 

Avengers 4

The problem is, you can do just about everything with the Avengers, so long as you’re content for “everything” to mean the Marvel Universe and its precincts. If you’re not already in some way invested in the Marvel Universe as a discrete object you probably have little to no interest in the Avengers. Without prior investment in Captain America and his haunts, his return to said haunts will elicit little pleasure - until, of course, the marketing copy gets to work at manufacturing prior investment from a whole cloth. It isn’t the book for stylistic visionaries, and if that’s where your interests lie you will probably remain unswayed by any poetic evocations of the Buscema / Palmer team. And in all fairness the continuity of those core characters is pretty complex after half a century, in no way bound together by any common theme. If you don’t like those specific characters - Wonder Man, the Wasp, and the like - you will find little purchase for years at a stretch. 

So yes, I understand why the appeal of the concept for many has been limited through the years. Leastways until around 2004, at which point the traditional Avengers jazz was dialed back considerably. That’s the cutoff because that’s when Marvel decided they could make a lot more money with the Avengers if they took away the characters people disliked and added more characters people liked. Crazy, I know. If the characters you liked actually were Wonder Man and the Wasp, well, you were shit outta luck. 

You know by now, or you should: at heart I’m a hopeless traditionalist. Tradition can in this instance be a simple joy, manufactured out of of months and years instead of decades or centuries - but kids are suckers for just that kind of thing. If those blatantly cornball aspects of superhero comic books hold no appeal you will almost certainly remain unmoved by any recitation of “the old order changeth,” and nothing I can say will sway you to the contrary. Never forget Stan conjured that shit out of a whole cloth - the first time Tennyson's phrase was used in this context that “old order” was all of fifteen issue young. He did it because it worked.

Now, as I alluded, the problem - there’s always a problem. Of course there’s always a problem. Ah, well. The “problem,” such as it is, appeared in the aforementioned December of 2004 when Marvel launched New Avengers. Brian Michael Bendis’ reboot of the team eschewed almost all the traditions, saving the presence of one founder and Captain America (who isn’t a founder but is granted founder’s status in voting and procedure), in favor of a team composed of Wolverine and Spider-Man. There were also a few new additions to the team who were, if not quite sales powerhouses, popular characters in their own right previously not associated with the franchise, like Luke Cage, the Sentry, and the Jessica Drew Spider-Woman. With moody art by David Finch and a focus away from traditional Avengers foes in favor of shadowy conspiracies and decompressed action, the series accomplished what had seemed impossible for my entire lifetime. Not only were the Avengers selling better than the X-Men, consistently and not just a bump, for the first time in decades, the Avengers were suddenly cooler for the first time in . . . forever. 

The success of the original run of Bendis’ New Avengers was a remarkable thing at the time and still. In hindsight it doesn’t seem like much of a gamble, but then again neither does Ultimate Spider-Man. The success of that series forced Brian Hibbs to eat a bug after it made it to 100 issues of publication, and for that at least, I was there eating that bug too. I read the first half-dozens issues of Ultimate as they dropped and it was the sleepiest damn thing on the shelves. Stopped reading after the origin because it was so lackadaisical. Turns out people were hankering for just that thing. The further gamble a few years later of letting him cross all the red lines to vivisect one of Marvel’s most consistent, if not strongest, performers turned out to be not even a gamble at all. It remade the company, and if you think I’m exaggerating you weren’t around. 

It was a marvel, pardon the pun, to see the company cohere so fully and so enthusiastically around a new house style. Whatever adventurousness had fueled the early years of Quesada’s tenure drained as they realized the power of crossovers with the eagerness of early man discovering fire. It was only a matter of time once the success of New Avengers had been metabolized for House of M to be announced, and from House of M the seeds for the next decade of X-Men stories sewn like so much salt. From House of M in 2005 the Avengers in turn were on to Civil War and Secret Invasion and so on down the line until, finally, the streams converged again in 2012 with Avengers vs X-Men. That crossover represented the end of an era for the company, coming at the tail of almost a decade’s worth of Avengers stories by Bendis as well as almost a decade's worth of X-Men plotlines stemming from House of M. It was the last monster of its kind at the company until Hickman’s Secret Wars upended the apple cart in 2015. The scale and impact of that crossover was sufficient to have effectively swallowed all memory of Axis, the medium-scale crossover that emerged from the pages of Uncanny Avengers and preceded the Secret Wars by a mere half-year.

Avengers 16

At this point it is necessary to mention that beginning at least with House of M there developed a sense of grievance on the part of a certain segment of the readership who believed Marvel to be intentionally sidelining the mutants in favor of the Avengers. It’s generally a good idea to react with skepticism to these rumors as they almost never have any basis in fact. Fans are always resentful, its what we do. I resent the fuck out of Rogue wearing a red costume, for instance. That and a nickel will get me a cup of coffee. Was there a specific plan on Marvel’s part to torpedo the X-Men, at any point ever? Almost certainly not and I think the idea can be dismissed down the line. Businesses tend not to want major product lines to sell less, especially given the supposed slide begins before Marvel Studios had released a single film and before any purported rivalry between those later movies and the Fox X-Men films (or the Sony Spider-Man films, for that matter). 

However, with those very important caveats added, I have already indicated that I just don’t think the company understood the books very well during this period. They put them together in a crossover with the Avengers - House of M - after the Avengers had leapfrogged position on the sales charts, and one team limped out of that crossover in a severely diminished capacity. How was that supposed to look? New Avengers pivoted from House of M to Civil War and in that period cemented its status as both center of the line and epicenter of a new house style. The X-Men pivoted from House of M and the Scarlet Witch muttering “no more mutants” to The 198 and Decimation. House of M happened during Claremont’s last run on Uncanny X-Men and he didn’t stick around long enough to do anything with the premise. Doubt it held a lot of interest for the master. Ed Brubaker followed with a solid year of space stuff, already teed up by Claremont, that was itself overshadowed by the contemporaneous and far more well received Annihilation events. On the adjectiveless X-Men Peter Milligan dealt with some of the fallout of the event, which in practice meant a year of them sitting around the mansion surrounded by Sentinels. That’s the stretch where Gambit becomes a Horseman of Apocalypse, everyone’s favorite. No one wanted to do anything, no one could do anything with the post-House of M status quo. It sat there more or less inert until literally 2007, two years after the fact, by which point none of the core X-books were still being written by the same people who had been writing them in 2005 during House of M. Which means, in essence, the storyline was from almost the very beginning an inheritance shepherded by editors, primarily Axel Alonso.

Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I forgot something - Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men! Pardon my forgetting. That was the company’s big attempt to pump up the X-Books on the tails of the Morrison era. First issue of that dropped half a year in advance of New Avengers #1, coincided with Claremont coming back aboard Uncanny from where he had been during the Morrison years, holding down Extreme. The marketing copy for Whedon’s debut was rapturous in anticipation of a well-executed “back to basics” move by a then-beloved nerd celebrity writer. With almost two decade’s hindsight the run was a dismal failure. Instead of a bold new direction for the books as a whole Whedon arrived with a boondoggle about space aliens convinced Colossus was destined to destroy their planet.

Avengers Finale

There was in his sterile fan fic no spark to kindle further stories: he came on board to play with the toys and put them just the way he liked them. Then he got bored and took four years to put out twenty four issues of a monthly comic. The first issue of Whedon’s Astonishing saw print the month before Avengers Disassembled tore that franchise down to sprockets in 2004, the last issue hit shelves the same day as the final chapter of Messiah Complex in early 2008 (X-Men #207), already during the buildup to Secret Invasion. Additionally, the actual final part of Whedon’s story shipped even later than that, in a Giant Sized special that saw print in May of that year. It had gone from new flagship to irrelevant curiosity in, oh, the amount of time it took to ship five monthly issues in 2005. Which is still better than the four they shipped in 2007.  

It was hard not to see that a judo maneuver had been performed. In the 90s Bob Harras split the books off into a walled kingdom all their own, at a slight remove from the quotidian goings-on of the mainstream line. The removal was never really to anyone’s benefit but Harras, but it stuck. New management at the turn of the century kept the arrangement simply, one imagines, out of inertia. But then the world turned upside down and the Avengers started selling better. Suddenly the walled kingdom set off in its own exclusive corner was just set off to the side, period. Civil War was an immensely popular story in which the X-Men barely appear, save for Wolverine in his capacity as an Avenger. There’s a tie-in miniseries that features the X-Men gloating about the fact that, for once, the problem has nothing to do with them. They get to be the law-abiding bystanders sitting on the sidelines shaking their heads at the neighbors. One imagines it must have been very satisfying for the mutants in the moment, but probably less so sitting home on Saturday night when everyone else was out getting absolutely demolished at the cast party for Civil War #7. 

To the enduring surprise of anyone who remembers the Before Times, the Avengers under Bendis never wavered from their place at the top of the charts. He stayed on those books for eight years and in that time not only finished the initial run of New Avengers but also restarted the book in a slightly more traditionalist mold in 2010 - albeit still with Wolverine and Spider-Man, only this time fighting once again Kang instead of The Hand. Of course, that was all still before the movie, before 2012 and before the Avengers became the most popular superheroes in the world. Whedon had a hand in this, as he apparently found it more gratifying to direct movies than finish scripts in a timely manner. This wasn’t even the New Avengers, mind, but the classic knobs - Hawkeye and Black Widow! Even the god-damned Vision and Scarlet Witch became stars. The movie versions didn’t exactly play up traditionalist aspects of the franchise, however. Made the team an appendage of SHIELD. I believe it lacked the style and grace of the Hulk pretending to be a robot pretending to be a clown. 

House of M 1

The Avengers aren’t supposed to be cool. It’s supposed to be a book for wonks and oldsters. That the team is a bit square has always been part of the charm. The movie Avengers aren’t square. The movie Avengers aren’t harried adults juggling shitty personal lives, and possibly even outside careers, who have to fight with city planning and get yelled at by the mayor and deal with tabloid reporters. All those quotidian hassles are missing from the movies - the same hassles that help distinguish public superheroes in the Marvel Universe from gleaming demigods at an Olympian remove (or perched in their moon palace). There’s a peculiarly New York attitude towards celebrity at the heart of the most traditional incarnations of the comic book Avengers - a depiction of superheroes as celebrities consistently framed by a pejorative understanding of fame. This isn’t celebrity as an avatar of distant glamor but a picture of fame as a real-life hassle whose presence creates traffic jams and necessitates expensive repairs. Superheroes roll through your neighborhood like wrecking balls. 

A major difference between the Avengers and so many similar teams, for much of their history, has been the manner in which the Avengers purposefully choose to submit to the indignities of fame and inconveniences of bureaucracy. In those humbling gestures they of all their spandex brethren at times bear the greatest resemblance to actual civil servants. They get up in front of the cameras to introduce new members every time as if to say, “these lovely schmucks are why the Holland Tunnel is going to be closed for repair next month. AM Shock Jocks across the Tri-State area get your ‘Blunder Man’ material ready, it’s really not ‘if’ but ‘when.’” Even Bendis’ New Avengers did the press conference.

So with all this in mind? Really not hard to see why X-Men fans at the time may have felt aggrieved. If you grew up in a world where the X-Men were the dominant retail hegemon the very idea that the terminally dorky Avengers might one day surpass them both in sales and the world of multi-billion dollar movie franchises seems perverse. I love the Avengers and it seems perverse to me. Sometimes the old order changeth a bit too much. 

Now, keep in mind that the era leading directly into House of M was particularly fraught for the X-Books. The violent counter-reformation that ushered out Morrison’s run saw a brief period in 2004, around the launch of Whedon’s Astonishing, during which Chuck Austen was writing both main X-Men books. Insults heaped upon insults. Whedon was brought in to provide a bold new direction but he did not succeed and that failure impacted everything around it. Claremont and Milligan were sent in to replace Austen on the two main titles and staunch the bleeding, but the books had no direction during this interregnum and neither of those writers lingered past 2006.

Certainly House of M provided that direction, but it was not a direction organic to the books themselves. While again, I want to stress that I don’t believe for one moment the company was trying to sabotage the books, they couldn’t have picked a better plan to convince a certain breed of conspiratorial-minded fan that they were indeed trying their level best to do just that. The irony is that on paper it looks very much as if the Marvel brain trust were trying to give the mutant books what the mutant readers emphatically wanted: a strong direction with a long-term arc that would allow the books to regain focus and remain self-contained while also in theory enabling for more interaction with the wider Marvel Universe down the line. In practice what they got was, indeed, a strong, editorially-mandated direction that in practice more resembled a blind cattle chute into which they could shunt ambitious creators for the next seven or eight years. From the outside looking in was hard not to conclude that a rudderless period for the mutant books in the early aughts led the company to codify some of Harras’ worst tendencies in the name of stability. 

As someone who at least in theory liked both the Avengers and X-Men the period was quite confusing. I was cold on the mutants for years at a stretch and didn’t at all care for Bendis on the Avengers. Although I will concede he grew into the book he never grew on me. He never grew out of any of his worst tics in terms of static storytelling and dialogue, and while Alias and to a degree Ultimate Spider-Man were able to make a virtue of the approach I never warmed to it for the Avengers. He got lazier with his plotting as he went, with Age of Ultron serving as the absolute nadir of that immobile tendency. He has very little interest in the practical aspects of fight choreography, a puzzling blindspot for someone who has written action stories for over two decades. Do these sound like very old, very practiced complaints? Well. I’ve certainly made no secret of my feelings regarding his shortcomings as a writer of superhero stories. I’ve been complaining about him in public for all of those two decades now. One of my very first pieces in The Comics Journal was a review of his Daredevil. There’s a chance I have been complaining about Brian Michael Bendis longer than you have been alive. While I have no real dog in the fight of who sells more comics it is nevertheless puzzling to see your favorite book hit its commercial peak by jettisoning everything you love and doubling down on that thing you already dislike. 

Which brings us back, again, to Uncanny Avengers. Because you know all that stuff I said before about how significant the book was to the X-Men as a franchise, in theory if not in fact? Well, for the Avengers the release of this series was also the first time since 2004 the main books had been written by someone other than Brian Michael Bendis. Uncanny Avengers launched alongside Jonathan Hickman's reboot of the core Avengers books and the beginning of Bendis' run on the X-Men, and in that context was set up at least ostensibly as a new flagship equidistant between the company's two biggest franchises. (They also launched Al Ewing’s Mighty Avengers soon following, which I mention for the sake of completion even as I acknowledge it as another of many very promising ensemble pieces launched by Ewing to little or no sales response. He has deserved better all down the line.) In marketing if nowhere else Uncanny Avengers represented a new beginning for both teams. In practice, having no connection to the much larger-scale stories in Bendis' and especially Hickman's runs meant Uncanny was sidelined almost the moment it left the gates. The Avengers Unity Squad encounter neither the outlaw Cyclops of the post-AvX period nor intersect a single convergence in the build up to Secret Wars. They all met up for Axis but would probably prefer not to talk about it. (Do the Uncanny Avengers ever show up during the Bendis X-Men run? I tried to remember and subsequently stopped trying to remember.)

All New X Men

At this point its probably worth mentioning that Hickman’s run was in no way shape or form defined by classical tendencies. All of the parts of the Avengers that resemble an old house shoe, the parts to which my Pavlovian fan instincts respond, are precisely those parts that seemed to interest Bendis only a little and Hickman not at all. While there is much to recommend about Hickman’s time on the books its also a singularly terrible Avengers story in which over the course of about three years the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe slowly transform into super villains. It’s a story where Dr. Doom saves the day. No Tennyson in its soul, save perhaps a few grace notes allotted Thor along the way. It’s a dirge about the end of the world written by someone who doesn’t particularly seem to like the characters, which is a strange affect to pick up from everything the man has written. Outside, of a few refreshingly sentimental bits of his Fantastic Four. He doesn’t seem to like most of his characters - leastwise the work-for-hire folks - and even if the results can be interesting it’s still a weird look brah. 

Does he? Does he love these shards of valuable IP? Does that matter? No idea! I’m old and out of touch. I like to have my hand held like a wee bairn. 

The less said about the Bendis X-Men, leastwise by me, the better. I remain baffled by almost every single decision made at every point in that run. By the time it finished it seemed to me barely even begun, so little had anything in that sequence actually mattered - a few character pieces had hit, perhaps. Iceman came out of the closet, a positive development that unfolded in a less than salutary fashion, if memory serve. It has its defenders, just as every X-Men era, and I won’t go out of my way to antagonize them any more than I did at the time. Which was a considerable amount. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & the X-Men on the contrary was precisely the remedy for years of dreary diminishing returns. A lighter book focused on a younger ensemble cast having wide-ranging adventures across the Marvel Universe? Just the thing at which the franchise always excels but to which it rarely commits. 

(Oh, yeah, I checked, the Avengers Unity Squad show up in All-New X-Men #12, have a brief encounter with the time-tossed Original Five X-Men. A plotline I’m still trying to get my head around! It’s been almost a decade. I hope to soon arrive at comprehension.)

So, finally, again, with trembling fingers, we approach the actual first issue of Uncanny Avengers . . . such a strange artifact! The main launch out of one of the biggest crossovers in industry history, an inflection point in a publishing schedule that had reached the end of a long planned arc and was just then beginning another. The book is the last in a chain of dominoes that began when Grant Morrison was brought on to revive the books in 2001. He killed a great deal of mutants and then also made a considerable number of new ones. For a number of reasons Morrison left the franchise in unquestionably enervated shape and they fell into a period of uncertainty after Whedon’s run failed to materialized coattails. The overreaction to this malaise combined with the sudden contemporaneous surge of the Avengers franchise pushed the company to commit to long-term structural changes to the mutant books. The end result, coming after a period of great creative freedom and no small experimentation, was the placing of a straightjacket across the X-Men, committing them to an extended period of maintenance in service of an untenable status quo. During the same period the resurgent Avengers titles enjoyed a long period of commercial ascendency before themselves entering a lull around the end of the decade. It is true both that people had grown generally bored with Bendis’ Avengers and that the post-House of M status quo had run its course in the X-Men books. Avengers vs X-Men enabled them, as much as possible, to shake the proverbial ant farm across the line. But from that perspective its hard not to see that Uncanny Avengers was already at its genesis a throwback to the preoccupations of a previous decade, spawned as it was from the sustained metafictional and commercial conflict between the company’s two strongest franchises. In addition of course to a rather hellacious fictional conflict. So many threads converge here and they also end here.

Bendis X-Men

Not only was the book an extended crossover between the X-Men and Avengers but between their histories as well. Bendis' run on the X-Men for me was marked by a rather strange unwillingness to engage with large parts of that history, which maybe wouldn’t have stood out so much if the run hadn’t at the same time been generally preoccupied with the theme of changing history. (A good rule of thumb for reading Bendis is to remember he always wants a tummy rub after referencing an old comic that didn’t come out when he was 12. Thinks he deserves a treat for it.) Hickman meanwhile certainly felt and feels comfortable rummaging around the entirety of the toybox, but not as I said with an eye towards any nostalgic reverence. His commitment to making sense of all the continuity, not just the stuff in which he is personally interested, is one of his more admirable traits. There's a degree of respectfulness to that approach that seems cousin both to Claremont's scrupulous sociality and Mark Gruenwald's friendly rigor. Bendis could take notes. 

But only to a degree, as Hickman’s approach can sometimes feel clinical and purposefully contrary, whereas at his worst Bendis’ enthusiasm for his characters still shines through. (At least the ones he likes.) Enthusiasm in comics can often serve a necessary concession to progress, at least to judge by the spotty track record of fans getting to write their most favorite characters. Regarding the Avengers, the argument could definitely be made that after an extended period of the books being one specific thing from one specific writer (desultory spinoffs notwithstanding), it was for the best they try something else entirely at their first opportunity. Hickman was definitely the man for that in the main line. But that still left fans of the Avengers qua the Avengers somewhat hungry, despite the rather half-hearted return to the more traditionalist elements of the late Bendis era. Anyone who cared about Wonder Man and the Wasp . . . 

. . . well, turns out they just happened to be in the same book that was responsible for dealing with the fallout of the last decade of X-Men stories having pushed that line far from its historical thema. The same book that was for that moment during the ascendancy of Jonathan Hickman also torchbearer for the traditionalist tendencies of the Avengers line after a long period of relative disuse under Bendis. And, most importantly for our purposes, the book that marked Rogue’s return to the team she completely tore apart, in the space of a few pages, in literally her first ever appearance, back in 1981. Whew! 

It must be mentioned with no small gratitude that neither Morrison, nor Bendis, nor Hickman (so far), showed or have shown any interest whatsoever in Rogue. She was apparently featured as a casualty in Morrison’s original pitch for New X-Men but Claremont saved her from being iced. She shows up for a memorable a cameo during Whedon’s run but otherwise escapes with her dignity. She’s gone when Bendis shows up and completely irrelevant to the design of Hickman’s various programmatic Houses and Powers (again, so far). I would like to sincerely thank all four of these gentlemen for this benign neglect, from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know how she managed to hit four cherries in that lineup but she surely did. 

The only problem is that in (so far!) passing largely unscathed through the grand reboots of four successive mutant auteurs, as well as being written off the main teams following Messiah Complex, she had and has effectively passed beyond the X-Men. She doesn’t have a place in the pecking order, she’s fairly unique for that position, and more than any other superteam in existence the X-Men really need a defined pecking order in order to function. Already by 2012 she had become surplus to that story even as they had been chary about committing her to another. Finally they found a new track by pulling on her very oldest thread.

Next: Profound Ambivalence


Oh, What a Rogue

1. I Got No Clue What They Want to do With You (1995)

2. Hello Again (1990)

3. Make it With the Down Boys 

    I. Everything is Science Fiction (1963-1983)

4. The Journey Ends 

    Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV (2012-2018)

A Few Short Words About Carol Danvers

Avengers Finale

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

The Journey Ends


So now that we’ve established our stakes, let’s jump ahead to the end of the story.


Wait a minute. Say that again?


Well, you see, it’s like this:

Growing up, I really did like the Avengers more than the X-Men. In all fairness my personal favorite is probably the Fantastic Four, but they don’t fit this well-established binary. I realized in preparing this piece that despite their being my putative lifelong favorite I’ve never written anything of any great consequence on the team, which seems slightly strange to me if not to you. 

The Fantastic Four at its best - and as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby intended - is a wish-fulfillment fantasy about functional families and abiding friendships. It was a concept born during the troughs of a long period of disappointment for two men who didn’t like each other and only found themselves working together out of desperation. The alternating grudging and nakedly sentimental family dynamic of the Richards family bears the mark of those traumas. The real-world fallout from their creation certainly does as well. Partly owing to that primal trauma it remains the red heart of the great pumping beast that is the Marvel Universe, the flagship now and forever. That this status remains despite the book itself being notoriously patchy is in no way symbolic, certainly. 

Anyway, Fantastic Four was where they did the kind of stories I liked the most, what with the frequent visits from cosmic entities and vacations to exotic planes of reality. The Avengers did that too, usually with the added bonus of more in the way of involved continuity relative to the rest of the Marvel Universe. Gotta keep up with who’s on what team and when and why. I recognize that with these words I mark myself now and forever as a poindexter of the first rank. These were my priorities as a reader and I’d be lying if I said my personal tastes had changed all that much. I remain a mark for the Living Tribunal. 

Now, it’s not like Uncanny X-Men doesn’t have those kinds of things - cosmic detours with extensive recaps of older comics and the like. Those were and remain staples of the series, as with most Marvel franchises. But the X-Men don’t work the same as any other team in many crucial ways, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today - the ways in which the concept went a bit woozy after Claremont left in 1991, how the metaphors at the core of the franchise changed over the next two decades, how unforeseen consequences of popular stories can create massive headaches, and how they saw fit to begin a course correction following 2012’s Avengers vs X-Men. 

Unlike the Avengers, and to a lesser degree the Fantastic Four, the core premise at the heart of the X-Men is complex and protean. It’s quite intricate and can be changed in any number of ways, but not every change is salutary to every reader or character. The X-Men suffer due to the franchise’s inability to ever perform a total reboot, certainly not in the same way Spider-Man or the Avengers can always just shake it all up and put everything “back to basics” periodically. They don’t get to shake off the accretion of events in the same way as other characters, or at least, only ever in peacemeal fashion. Bluntly, the X-Men, book and characters, tend to get bogged down when left to their own devices. 

Y’see, it’s a problem of proportion: our merry mutants spend as much time or more taking care of their own business as being superheroes. Perhaps you might think such a distinction pedantic - if the X-Men are superheroes, isn’t all their business therefore superhero business? Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but the isn’t - which in this case means primarily all the time they have to spend fighting people trying to kill them in the present tense - is pretty big. And it’s not like that’s necessarily bad, as that has always been part of the franchise’s core dynamic. But it hasn’t always been the only part, and I’d argue that some of the book’s weakest periods, consistently, have been those exclusively focused on the X-Men doing X-Men business, dealing with their respective families, dealing with old continuity and old villains. Bookkeeping stories. 

Much of the X-books’ early 90s nadir typifies this kind of vacancy, albeit stuffed to the gills with new continuity that was never mentioned again. The overall patchiness of the new add-ons that followed in Claremont’s immediate wake was clear even at the time. Suddenly the villains were part of a very small and claustrophobic family of mysterious schemers who all wanted to kill the X-Men for X-Men reasons that had very little to do with anything in the real world. New characters were all mysterious cyphers whose backstories were overwhelmingly dominated by time travel, black ops, or both. All their big fights were suddenly with other teams of mutants over interpretations of revolutionary doctrine. I have sometimes seen this inward focus credited to Claremont - the turning away from the mainstream of Marvel in favor of cultivating the mutant continuity as a separate garden - but most of Claremont’s run doesn’t bear out this theory. On the contrary it isn’t until the last few years, once Claremont commits to playing defense in the face of mounting pressure to expand the franchise, that the book really starts to become insular. For most of his run the book was ensconced right there in the middle of the line, not just begrudgingly but at times enthusiastically interacting with stories from across the company.

(Wait, you ask, pausing a moment to reflect on the author’s many broken promises, I thought you were supposed to be talking about the Avengers? This is just more whining about all the ways the X-Men disappoint you, personally. Don’t you like anything? Anything at all? To which I can only answer: Don’t worry, we’ll get there. Patience is a virtue. This is the fun part for me.)


Certainly part of his growing reticence was the mandatory participation in expanding crossovers, universally resented by creators to a greater or lesser degree but then still a relatively new phenomenon. However, the facts are plain on the ground. Most books that contributed to these early crossovers did not devote months to the Dire Wraith War in ROM - which you recall is when Storm lost her powers, even. Not every book used both Secret Wars as integral parts of major and enduring status-quo upheavals - the team’s conflict with the Beyonder during the sequel is the climax of the second act of Rachel’s Summer’s sad arc (more on that later, as you could guess). It is probable that Claremont disliked the Secret Wars quite a bit, but he nonetheless used them well. Certainly not every book went out of its way, repeatedly, to tie itself to Thor continuity during Walt Simonson’s run for no seeming reason just because the creators’ were pals and Claremont clearly just wanted a tiny bit of that juice for himself. Hardly a sin! That’s how comics work. Power Pack appeared a few times, too - written by Louise Simonson, mind. John Byrne’s Fantastic Four interacted often, with Lilandra and the Shi’ar crucial to the resolution of the Trial of Galactus. Although not always so chummy, the two men made a habit of poking at each others’ work throughout the remainder of Byrne’s time at the company, and they picked it up again when Byrne returned from DC in 1988 (check out 1989’s Excalibur #14 for a weirdly literal example of this phenomenon). Towards the end of the 80s Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil and Peter David’s early run on Hulk also had significant crossovers, the latter managing to fit a famously brutal grey Hulk / Wolverine fight between pages during Fall of the Mutants. Also right under the wire before both the Hulk and Wolverine pretended to be dead for a few years, very convenient.

Claremont has always struck me as a doggedly respectful creator, very much of the old school. To begin with, every time he’s returned to Marvel in subsequent years he’s gone out of his way to stay current with and be (relatively) respectful towards what has been done since his absence, even going so far as to refer to Wolverine as James Howlett. Such grace from him to later creators exceeds the count of conventional magnanimity and I hope they appreciate that. But this doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. Up until the very end of his first tenure at Marvel he was still doing things like devoting one of his very last issues of Excalibur (#27) to wrapping up threads from the recently cancelled Nth Man, the kind of series epilogue that also left room for more use of those characters. A very 70s thing. Now, given that Excalibur was an X-Men spinoff in the early 90s and Nth Man was a recently cancelled alternate universe story in which the Marvel Universe itself was fictional, there is no reason on earth why he needed to do that, excepting perhaps that Larry Hama was a pal and that’s how they used to do it back in the day. Little gestures like that, even though they seem from a certain angle like continuity bookkeeping and can go terribly wrong, are part of the glue that keeps shared universes together. (When it goes wrong it can go terribly wrong, like, say, when a plotline is wrapped up with no regard to the creators’ wishes. For an example of that you should read up on Omega the Unknown to find out the other reason Steve Gerber was mad at Marvel.) 

That kind of inter-title mutuality comes and goes in popularity at the company, to a large part depending on editorial, as well as on the presence of real-world friendships of the kind that inspire creative cooperation. As we see from the example of Claremont’s relationships with the Simonsons and Hama, he liked that kind of thing. The Bronze Age was the high water mark for this manner of verisimilitude but it never completely disappeared. Joe Quesada famously hated that type of shit - issues and series devoted to checking on continuity for the sake of checking on continuity, or exploring endless alternate universes. Thought it contributed to an air of insularity. At the dawn of the twenty first century, given the ways in which the business had moved from a newsstand sales model, he definitely had a point. As that regime learned however, the top of the line gets stale if you intentionally cut the less flashy continuity management projects from the schedule. Crossovers and the attendant cross-pollination all returned eventually after a few years’ hiatus beginning around the turn of the millennium. If the shared universe has any creative justification it might begin here, with the fact that this cross pollination and churn is a source of potential and perpetual rejuvenation for literally every character and concept in the line. In the context of the Hulk’s life Wolverine is just one of literally hundreds of dudes who have tried to punch his ticket over the decades. Wolverine started out as a Hulk antagonist, after all, who just happened to join the X-Men. 

And Rogue started out as an Avengers villain who just happened to join the X-Men before coming full circle. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. 


Now, as I said, the X-Men started to decouple from the larger Marvel Universe during the last few years of Claremont’s tenure. The growing preponderance of compulsory crossovers and the constant pressure to expand the line made him a less social creator. Not so much fun when its mandatory, one imagines. Having the team believed dead for a while (which began with 1987’s Fall of the Mutants and remained the status quo for around three years) was a clever loophole  that meant the team couldn’t really participate in crossovers the same way they used to. Look to the Evolutionary War (1988), Atlantis Attacks (1989), and Acts of Vengeance (1989) for three examples of crossovers in which the X-Men were able to nominally participate while staying more or less to the side on account of their being in hiding. (The villains who encountered X-Men during Acts of Vengeance had to sign an NDA, apparently.)  

Of course, 1988’s Inferno is the exception here as a major company-wide crossover that emerged from the X-Men titles. Worth mentioning in this context that I also think Inferno is one of the best crossovers of all time. The core is very tightly constructed, not a lot of gaps. It grew directly out of a decades’ worth of X-Men stories and offered actual no-joke resolution to a truly impressive slate of long running subplots, so it accomplishes more than most crossovers simply by having a reason to exist. Of course, you do need help to set aside the mounting absurdity of the X-Men having a major battle with an entire dimension of evil in the middle of New York City without ever once running into any of the members of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, or Excalibur, to say nothing of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Kang, fucking Power Pack, or literally anyone else involved in that crossover . . . even in 1988 the strain of having to keep the X-Men separate from the rest of the universe was clear. 

But that strain wasn’t going anywhere. While the end of Claremont’s run saw the X-Men out of hiding and back in their place as a semi-public superhero concern, they weren’t really back at the center of the Marvel Universe. On the contrary, the X-Men books became far more insular in Claremont’s wake. Why? Well, I could lie and tell you the answer wasn’t “Bob Harras” - but the answer was Bob Harras. After Claremont and the Image founders were gone he was left to consolidate power, which meant solidifying the still inchoate barrier between the mutants and the rest of the line. In our real world this meant siloing the X-Men books apart from the “square” mainstream Marvel Universe. The process began in the late 80s, to all appearances a creative response on Claremont’s part to the omnipresent threat of losing control of the book and characters. After he was gone in the early 90s the decision was made to market the X-Men books, either implicitly or sometimes explicitly, against the rest of the line. They had the numbers, they had the cartoon, they had sales that remained solid even after all the creators had left and the books grew terrible and the market collapsed around them. It only made sense.  

The results speak for themselves. The industry almost flatlined but the X-Men stayed on top, expanding into a bear market and cannibalizing shelf space from their own company. Lest we forget, Age of Apocalypse was a raging success during a time of marked and painful contraction for almost every other office in the industry that wasn’t Batman or Superman. Marvel’s different editorial offices split off into separate fiefdoms. Even the ever-consistent Spider-Man books suffered as the 90s wore on, staggering under the weight of their metastasizing Clone Saga. Is it any wonder that when the company hit rock bottom in 1995 it was remade in Bob Harras’ image? 

The separation continued through Harras’ tenure as the company’s Editor-in-Chief, even as the mutant books grew more insular and abstruse. The Marvel Universe of the late 90s was a fractured place, with the X-Men rarely interacting outside of their very narrow lanes. I recall quite well a Daredevil cameo in 1997’s Uncanny #351 given the significance of an intercompany crossover. When the company regrouped at the turn of the century Quesada put an end to much of the editorial siloing of the Harras years and demanded accessible product that looked more uniform on the shelf, but oddly maintained the X-Books at a slight remove. Perhaps this was a practical concession due to the size of the line, but it is also my firm belief that the men who ran Marvel in the first decade of the twenty-first century didn’t really understand the X-Men very well and were content to isolate and delegate the problem. That’s a value judgment, feel free to disagree but it’s a value judgment born of having read decades and decades of Marvel Comics, and seeing the degree to which the franchise struggled for much of Quesada’s tenure. 

They brought in Morrison to fix the problem and then hated what he did enough to undo most of his changes immediately after he left. Of course, those changes were themselves clawed back over the subsequent decades by creators who were rather more fond of Morrison’s run than Marvel was at the time. The cold reception of New X-Men inside the company, despite the run’s status as one of the singular successes of the NĂ¼-Marvel period, is the perfect example of the degree to which good runs and creators in the X-Men line seemed to swim against the tide of the company during the period. 

To be fair I also think the premise suffered near total waveform collapse somewhere around Morrison’s run, partly due to his shenanigans, and has never really recovered. Again, I know I’m in the minority on Morrison and I accept your disapprobation. The Genoshan genocide was a rubicon which unavoidably transformed everything that followed. The genocide changed the dynamic completely because the books had to be about living in that shadow. To do otherwise would have been an insult to our intelligence. 


Claremont I believe knew that those parts of the concept dealing directly with the plot mechanics of mutancy as a sci-fi premise as opposed to a less defined tolerance metaphor were kind of wonky and didn’t really bear that much close scrutiny. Leastways it wasn’t good for the franchise to spend too much time picking at it. Although there were always philosophical or historical asides about the nature of prejudice, Uncanny avoided too much in the way of actual practical discussion of mutant liberation doctrine during his time. Nothing compared to what followed in the 90s.

The endless wheel spinning of that decade brought with it endless euphemistic meditations on the nature of The Dream . . . do you still believe The Dream? No, I have lost The Dream, we must fight about The Dream, The Dream will never die . . . Although Professor X and Magneto were in no way analogues for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the way those characters developed in the decade after Claremont does actually does resemble the way those figures are taught in many American schools and portrayed in media. If you grow up learning, say, that civil rights movements are struggles between great and noble men leading dynastic ideological crusades, and not decades-long exercises in survival, solidarity, and cooperation between disparate communities, it’s not hard to see why you’d think mutants just want to argue and fight amongst themselves. Even as the stakes for these stories grew ever more removed from your life and mine.

The classic run just didn’t spend a lot of time on mutants qua mutants. Political arguments during his time were far more sublimated and primarily symbolic - Freedom Force was American foreign policy incarnate, the Morlocks and the Hellfire Club arose as demographic avatars for their respective economic classes. In-story these diverse groups all agree generally they have more in common with each other than “normal” humans, even if they do spend a considerable amount of time trying to murder each other. Xavier’s “Dream” doesn’t often come up in the original run, they save that chestnut for special occasions. In the real world it’s all about the money and the power and its is precisely these struggles that prevent the mutant community during this period from cohering politically, even as those divisions also pave the road to the very unpleasant future foretold way back when.

Certainly little thought is given to mutants as a group on the international stage during the Claremont run in any other capacity than terrorists, villains, and victims. No flags, just small factions. The war with the Hellfire Club, for instance, was a war not against a political movement but a secret society bent on world domination. Certainly still a political fight, but masking in this instance an economic conflict. The New York branches of Marvel’s mutant kingdoms maintained an upstairs / downstairs dynamic, with the sadistic aristocrats set against the destitute sewer-dwelling Morlocks. The point is that there weren’t really enough participants on any of these sides for the practical disagreement to boil down to more than an argument about survival and ethics among different levels of disadvantage. These were still essentially arguments between individuals, as Marvel hadn’t yet made enough mutants to fill an Applebees. 

Making more mutants, as the franchise eventually did during the 90s, invited the necessity of answering real storytelling concerns regarding the actual political dangers of large groups of super powered people organizing under a unified banner. The shape of the franchise at the end of the 90s forced the question, with Magneto leading an entire country of mutants. Morrison picked up that ball and ran with it. 

The emergence of mutant geopolitics in the late 90s made these question unavoidable, but also changed the dynamic of the core metaphor. Killing so many mutants all at once created a political will in a population that had not yet expressed nationalist sentiments to any great degree. Suddenly there were other real world metaphors at play, interesting and provocative metaphors that have certainly proved fruitful for many creators and resonant for many readers but . . . a discouraging development if you happen to regard a turn towards nationalism as a disqualifying moral lapse. This focus changes the franchise dynamic and, I argue, threatens the ability of large swaths of the marginalized to see themselves reflected in a metaphor that is at least ostensibly designed in their image. Certainly does for me. 

The good thing about the X-Books in the twenty-first century is that if you don’t care for nationalism you needn’t worry: there’s always more around the corner.

Mystique’s Freedom Force were the team’s longest running adversaries under Claremont, and throughout her time in the book Mystique is very explicitly not depicted as an ideologue. Rather, she’s a terrorist sans portfolio and an opportunist whose only occasional redeeming feature has ever been that her expansive view of self-defense sometimes coincides with the interests of her community. During Claremont’s tenure that expansive view was nudged here and there by her slightly less evil wife, without whose influence - we have literal decades of subsequent stories to reassure us - Mystique is a stone cold sociopath utterly without charm.


Mystique is an important character in this context not simply because of her relationship to Rogue but because she represents an important political principle in the mythos. Consistent throughout Claremont’s work is the conviction that the biggest real dangers to any political movement of the marginalized are always, respectively, the government and internal schism. It just so happens that the government is also really good at playing internal conflicts to their advantage. Mystique eschews the philosophies of Xavier, Magneto, and even the Hellfire Club, rejecting any expression of solidarity, choosing instead to make a separate peace with the United States government in exchange for the erstwhile Brotherhood of Evil Mutants volunteering to do all the dirty shit the Reagan-era Pentagon could ask for and the Avengers would refuse. (This a few years before Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, mind you.) Mystique is all about getting paid and surviving. Whatever she and Destiny may have told themselves about their “actual” purposes in working for the Pentagon - defending mutantkind in secret or what not - the fact is that for almost a decade her day job was doing precisely what the government asked. There’s your political commentary. 

Somewhere along the line X-Men comics got stuck looking a certain way and doing certain things, and one of the hard and fast rules of the line for the last few decades has been that X-Men adventures don’t have to have anything to do with anything but themselves. They can be, sure. At their best, as under Claremont, they are. When they aren’t at their best, however, nothing in the universe can seem more generic than a bunch of folks who never take their costumes off, have no friends outside of a very small group of coworkers, and never have conversations about anything other than being mutants. Very much a certain kind of conservative fantasy of how marginalized communities conduct themselves as militant pseudo-nationalist stereotypes, to say nothing of a certain kind of repetitive superhero product. 

Claremont understood the degree to which the true challenge of being a marginalized person was not arguing with other marginalized people about abstruse politics but simply the business of surviving in a hostile world. (That hasn’t changed, though you wouldn’t know it from the news.) His characters reside in a world that is recognizably our own, they travel to real places, they have real friends who don’t have super powers. Their biggest enemy is the government, just like in real life. Mutants lose some degree of utility as a metaphor for marginalization when the purpose of the X-Men is not to try to learn to live in and with the world but to create a hidden sci-fi paradise where all the X-Men get to hang out together and wear designer swimwear. That tension was there in the second half of Claremont’s run, as you can feel him growing impatient and increasingly resistant of keeping the team idle enough to maintain a stable status quo of the kind that would allow the X-Men to ever get comfortable. The kind of thing you know the company would have much preferred, at the series’ commercial peak. Much easier to deal with. Sure enough, the moment he was out the door the franchise yielded to the conceptual bloat of said stable status quo. This event inaugurated a lengthy, comfortably numbing period of the team “sitting around the X-Mansion waiting for X-Men stuff to happen.” I do realize this is one of the team’s most popular and iconic phases and the basis of the cartoon. They made a mistake by ever returning to the mansion and vibing. I’m used to sitting alone at lunch, why do you ask?

It’s very easy to lose sight of the core metaphor, to the point where it has become completely normalized within the comics themselves to refer to mutants as a separate species entirely. This seemingly small change actually concedes the argument at the heart of the franchise. There’s even an event called Endangered Species, usage which could probably be dismissed as rhetorical if it weren’t the rule. Go all the way back to X-Men #1 with Stan and Jack: Professor X is pretty clear about the fact that mutants are merely humans with extra powers, not another species. That’s not an academic point, that’s not semantics, that’s literally the heart of the story. Mutants are human beings. It was the responsibility of the X-Men, back to the earliest iteration of the team, to protect “normal” humans from mutants who would prey on them. Mutants who thought they were in some way “better” than other people were a threat not just to the world at large but specifically to other mutants. Without that line, without the X-Men keeping a very close watch on that line for their community - not only would “normal” humanity come for them, but just as with every other group of humans throughout history who tried to express superiority through violent domination, the mutants would deserve it. This basic principle of political science has held since at least the days of Sparta. I mean, it’s not like that precise idea - of not repeating the sins of past tyrants and oppressors by smuggling revenge under the cover of justice, lest in hubris you destroy your own community - is at the core of Magneto’s character arc across the Claremont run or anything. The fact that Magneto could bring the world to its knees from the privacy of his own home adds urgency to the question.

Professor X


That’s very much a sci-fi problem with no analogue in real life. Marginalized folks don’t really have any military power to speak of, let alone an army of demigods. They - we - do not often get the opportunity to conquer, and certainly do not have to worry about the profligate use of our great nuclear genes to change the shape of the world. Remember, there are two kinds of alternate futures in the franchise: ones where a paranoid government goes after mutants as the result of a fear campaign spurred by one or two inciting actions, and ones where mutants actually do start a war and kill a lot of people in so doing (the aforementioned Age of Apocalypse springs to mind). Chuck was right to be worried about the consequences of powerful megalomaniacs left to their own devices.

All of which is to say: I think the X-Men as a franchise and as a book is a very hard nut to crack. It needs to constantly change but it can never really get rid of the characters people like. The metaphor is exceedingly fragile (or robust) in that if you mess around with it too much it can start to look like a metaphor for privilege, or isolationism, or nationalism, or an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment, or an argument for genetic determinism bordering on eugenics. That the metaphor is pliable enough to allow for such diverse interpretation is to the concept’s strength. However, I personally don’t relate much to the X-Men as much the more the metaphor gets away from the politics of living as outsiders. I like the X-Men as heroes fighting to save a world that hates and fears them, both because they know it’s the right thing to do and also because as superheroes they present the closest thing mutantkind in the Marvel Universe has to a positive public face. Being an outsider superhero is a sacrifice on top of being a mutant. Like Spider-Man but the axis of marginalization for secondary conflict is bigotry not economics. 


Rogue is the outsider’s outsider, probably why I like her better than the rest. They don’t deserve her. Due to both circumstances and temperament she sticks to herself a fair amount. Being a mutant doesn’t have a lot of upsides for her, and she can’t help resenting everyone around her who enjoys a great deal more privilege on account of what they are in the position to see as gifts. That’s the arc of her first stretch on the team, with the rest of the X-Men coming to grips with the fact that her powers seriously limit her quality of life in ways that problematize their whole concept. For Rogue being a mutant is all drawbacks and disability, despite her relative power. (Perhaps the most powerful mutant, for what it’s worth.) Probably a real bummer for people who enjoy their mutant power to see her floating there like Banquo’s ghost. She’s not glaring. Her face just does that. 

The years following House of M saw a turn towards periodic cyclical line reboots. The formula of using a massive crossover to establish drastic new status quo changes, giving those changes 18-24 months to play out in an editorially-dictated fashion, and then moving onto another crossover and status quo switch-up felt to me gratingly artificial. This itself seems an achievement considering the line had certainly never been a stranger to reboots and crossovers, saving of course the early aughts period during which Marvel did no crossovers at all. Many of the stories from this period feel tentative, the outcomes predetermined. House of M appeared an attempt to course correct from Morrison, but was in fact such a tremendous miscalculation that it effectively stopped all forward movement in the books for eight years, as they stood around furiously spinning wheels waiting for that one plotline to be resolved. Almost a decade to paint themselves out of that corner. Trust me, please, it was a long eight years. I think the late aughts wore on creators having to jump through those hoops, at least to judge by how quickly the line burnt through top-shelf talent during the period. 

On the other hand, Rogue didn’t do too badly in the years after House of M. Certainly not every character can say that. She was a squad leader on and off for much of the decade beginning around the turn of the century, but she wasn’t really a natural at it and took more than her share of knocks for bad decisions. (She was in Extreme X-Men for part of that, literally anything could have happened in those comics, perhaps anything did.) This climaxed during the Carey run on adjectiveless X-Men, during which she suffered a great deal due to a crushing defeat brought about by serious misjudgment. As I have alluded, Carey is Rogue’s best writer who wasn’t actually her creator, and understands well that she is at her best when she has suffered and must overcome. It’s her signature move but sadly requires putting the poor girl through her paces.  

This run of adjectiveless X-Men was in turn followed by the Messiah Complex crossover, during which she suffers a severe beating, leaving her hospitalized. She needed a break from the daily grind after a period of being ground up like hamburger, and apparently Marvel agreed, because after Messiah Complex wrapped in 2008 they spun her out. Not to a solo book, however. The adjectiveless X-Men series launched in 1991 by Jim Lee and Chris Claremont - the latter’s swan song on the franchise (at least for the moment) - was relaunched as X-Men Legacy with issue #208, right after the conclusion of the aforementioned crossover. Remade as a vehicle for her. Actually, it was relaunched as a vehicle for Professor X with her in a supporting tole, and the first part of the run is mostly his. He’s a dingus, anyway. But then she’s by herself for a while, working with a few others. Finally she settles in Utopia and has her own defined mission slightly separate from the rest of the team. The overall arc during the period, which continued until Legacy switched formats after #275, saw Rogue stepping away from the confines of the main teams and subsequently carving her own place in the team hierarchy outside of the X-Men’s customary (and frankly dysfunctional) strict management style. She stood alone.

(Although I regret the end of more Rogue stories from Mike Carey, I intend no shade to the run that followed in Legacy. Si Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat’s Legion spotlight was very good. Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. It even had a hand in influencing a moderately successful TV show about, yes, Professor X’s son David Haller. Weird old world, isn’t it?)  


Anyway. If it seems like I just spent the last few pages running down a laundry list of crank complaints about late aughts X-Men comic books - clearly the most pressing issue in any of our lives - well . . . Funny thing about that. Marvel shattered the franchise with a hammer in 2012’s Avengers vs X-Men. If you haven’t had the pleasure, the X-Men lose, and lose big. They came out the event chastened and weary. Ready for a new beginning. 

(Am I planning on discussing AvX? Not really, though it comes up at the end of the Carey run on Legacy so it will certainly be mentioned when we get there. Chad already wrote a book about it, you don’t need me.)

So, with all that said - in 2012 Marvel was ready to at least tacitly acknowledge that many of my criticisms were valid. Of course, they weren’t just mine. Lots of people were complaining after a creatively wan period of incessant crossover ramp-up, and that’s why the Marvel NOW! reboot which followed AvX offered a complete overhaul for the entire line. That is the nature of the franchise, after all. If it needs to change, it can change. If the X-Men books had been siloed apart from the regular Marvel Universe for decades, reaching all the way back to the end of Claremont I; if the long separation had harmed the vitality of both the X-Men titles and the larger Marvel Universe by preventing necessary interactions between disparate stories; if the mutant line’s continuity had grown by turns baroque, opaque, and incestuous due to isolation; if the X-Men didn’t really do a lot in the way of traditional meat & potatoes super-hero stuff anymore and, y’know, people actually did kind of miss it sometimes; if the franchise had wandered too far from its roots as a metaphor for marginalization; if the characters had become grim, insular and paranoid; if the tone of the books had become a depressing frog march into mortal attrition; if Rogue had advanced significantly as a character to the point where she no longer had a defined role on the team sometimes sat askance from the rest of the leadership and therefore needed a new challenge; why, hell, let’s just go crazy, if the X-Men actually had tried to conquer the world and Cyclops actually had murdered Professor X, why, Marvel had a solution for that! 

The name of this solution was Uncanny Avengers. Coming directly on the heels of AvX the idea was simple: an Avengers squad composed of members of both teams, with a special remit to, well, basically do X-Men stuff on the Avengers dime. To bridge the ideological and practical divide between two teams that have no business fighting. Actually not a bad idea. Seems like a tall order, though. Probably going to be a bit of a headache to thread that needle. 

I’m sure they’ll put their best guy on it.

Next: Their Best Guy



Oh, What a Rogue

1. I Got No Clue What They Want to do With You

2. Hello Again

3. Make it With the Down Boys 

    I. Everything is Science Fiction 

4. The Journey Ends I, II, III

& A Few Short Words About Carol Danvers