Wednesday, August 04, 2021

The Journey Ends


I


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.)


ROM


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. 


Hulk



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 Nü-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. 


Genosha



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

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?)  


Magneto



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


Wanda








________________


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

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