I’ve always loved the X-Men. From the first time I saw the Jim Lee-inspired cartoon on Saturday morning I was hooked. It only helped matters that my mother was categorically opposed to the gritty rock and roll violence it outwardly portrayed and forbid me from viewing it. It just made me want to know more, so every chance I got I sucked up X-Men media. As I watched it though (when I got the chance to), I could tell even at that age that there was something else going on in the show. The way that the invented dirty word “mutie” got thrown around, an otherwise goofy sounding epithet that nonetheless dripped with a kind of malice I had never encountered in my young experience. Villains had certainly called people nasty names before, but this word I could tell was something far more sinister. It ‘sounded’ degrading, demeaning, dehumanizing. It made me uncomfortable, but it also drew me in. I cared about what was going on in the show, not just in the fights full of fireworks and laserbeams, but about that word and what it meant. In short, I came for the superheroes but stayed for the social commentary.
That said, I’ve only occasionally followed the X-Men comic books. I’ve read them in fits and bursts over the course of my life, floating in and out of their rather labyrinthine continuity. The last time I was a good and proper X-fan was about ten years ago when I was reading Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and Chris Claremont’s X-treme X-Men.
Both of these series had an excellent authorial pedigree but are frequently met with mixed reactions from fans. You either love or hate New X-Men (unless you’re me, I prefer to compartmentalize my effusions of adoration or bile to specific arcs within the run), and while Claremont is a storied X-bard his run on X-treme is considered by most to be largely forgettable. I enjoyed both immensely however. Morrison recast the conflict in X-Men in a radical way, and spelunked in the mythology’s underlying foundations. He didn’t so much rock the boat as put it on a theme park water ride. The twists and rapids are thrilling, but sooner or later someone is going to wet. While Morrison’s grandiosity was on the micro level, Claremont’s was decidedly macro. Bringing his trademark bombast to the title, Claremont directed sweeping adventures and introduced colorful new players and personalities to the X-verse. It wasn’t so much brain-candy as grandma’s family recipe brain-sweets. The calories are just as empty, but they’re made with art, love, and special ingredients. Ironically, the biggest complaint I’ve heard about both titles is that Morrison did too much while Claremont did too little. Morrison the upstart played rough with toys that weren’t his and alienated some fans, while Claremont the veteran for all his style didn’t take ‘enough’ risks and left fans yawning. Personally, I found each title to be the perfect compliment to the other. When I needed a break from all the heady stuff about evolution, free will, and identity going on in New X-Men, I could flip open X-treme Xmen and watch my guys fistfight with some totally sweet aliens. Conversely, when I felt like I needed something a little more substantial to go with my spandex, New X-Men was there to rock my socks.
Recently I’ve decided to go once more unto the breach and start properly following the ole’ X-dudes again. To this end I am picking up the two main books in the current line, Keiron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men and Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men.
Jason Aaron was my foremost attraction to the latter title. I’m already a fan of his from his work on Scalped (which incidentally is the hottest shit since sliced bread and will likely be the subject of my next post), and I know I can expect good things. While not familiar with Gillen,what I hear is good, and if nothing else I feel like I should grab both to get the big picture (or at least as big as I can get without also investing in all the other sundry X-titles that I’ve not yet and probably won’t commit to). Both titles are spinning off of the recent big event in X continuity, entitled Schism. I haven’t sunk my teeth into that one yet, but I probably will once it comes out in trade book form and I have enough of the cliff notes to not be lost. The main thing that came of it was the splitting of the X-Men into two teams, their respective stories being chronicled in the two series I have mentioned previously. This setup is superficially similar to team split that occurred with New and X-treme Xmen, and honestly that makes it seem like a good entry point to reintroduce myself the the X-mythos.
From what I’ve read so far my feelings have proven correct. In fact, I feel like Uncanny and Wolverine share very much the same relationship as the old New and X-treme titles. Uncanny X-Men is all about the shaky future of the mutant species along with the uneasy alliances and difficult choices which have to be made to safeguard against its extinction. Wolverine by contrast has the team fighting off a siege of Frankensteins (plural, you read that right) and is generally colorful and unabashedly fun. Both do what they do well and I feel compliment the other better for it. Uncanny features a more eclectic roster than we’re used to, but its shakes up the dynamics in a way I’m excited to see more of. Wolverine features many of the older characters, particularly those who used to be in more of the “kid” roles such as Iceman and Kitty Pride, at last taking their place as adults and instructors in their own right to a new generation. If you’ve ever been an X-Man (or Woman) in your life, now is a great time to rejoin the team.