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An X-Men Retrospective: Part 5

"I am not ashamed of what I am. Let them try and stop us this time."

In the final part of my journey through the wild and crazy history of the X-Men I'll be looking at that weird period in the mid-2010s when Marvel tried (and failed) to make Inhumans the new X-Men. After that I'll be bringing us right up to date with the massive success of the Hickman reinvention.

INHUMANS MARVEL VS X-MEN (2015-2019)
This is where all my first hand experience with 2010s X-Men starts to dry up. I've not read anything published between 2015-2019 and have little desire to do so. Just trying to make sense of what was going on with the franchise at the time has left me feeling dizzy. The general consensus I've got from those who have read those comics is that, apart from one or two titles, the X-Men franchise as a whole was in pretty poor shape during this time and not worth bothering with. Many fans believe that Marvel was deliberately sabotaging the franchise to spite 21st Century Fox for holding the screen rights.

Whether or not this was true (I kinda suspect it was), there's no denying that the higher ups at Marvel clearly had it out for any title they didn't own the screen rights to. Fantastic Four, the comic that practically made Marvel, was cancelled in 2015 just as Fox released the last movie. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver had their backstories rewritten again so they were no longer Magneto's children or mutants. And then there was that crazy business of Marvel actively trying to replace X-Men with Inhumans.
Inhumans was one property that Marvel owned all the rights to and Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter was determined to turn them into the next big thing. Everyone else thought this was dumb. Rick Remender, who wrote the acclaimed Uncanny X-Force, turned down the chance to write the main X-Books because he did not want to do a mandated Inhumans storyline. Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, wrestled control of the movie division away from Perlmutter partly so he wouldn't have to make an Inhumans movie. Perlmutter eventually moved the project over to the Marvel Television, which he still had control over.

The Inhumans expansion was ultimately a failure. None of the comics were a success (save for Ms Marvel) and the TV show was a complete dud. Even Perlmutter accepted that no one cared about Inhumans and stopped trying to make them happen. Of course, by that time Disney was already taking steps to acquire Fox and with it the screen rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four. Suddenly Marvel was interested in those titles again. Fantastic Four returned from cancellation in 2018 and plans were set in motion for a major relaunch of X-Men.
DAWN OF X/REIGN OF X (2019- )
House of X #1-6
Powers of X #1-6
X-Men #1-21


In 2019, not long after Disney had gobbled up Fox, Marvel announced that they'd be cancelling all existing X-Men titles and relaunching the entire line under the supervision of Jonathan Hickman. Hickman had made his name at Marvel writing Secret Warriors, Fantastic Four and The Avengers before reshaping their entire fictional universe with Secret Wars. Taking over the entire X-Men franchise was his first work for the company since then and his biggest undertaking so far. Dubbed Head of X, Hickman is effectively the showrunner for the entire X-Men line, writing his own titles and overseeing all the creatives teams on the various spin-offs. This is the first time one writer has had this much direct creative control over the entire franchise since Claremont.

This relaunch came in three phases. First Hickman wrote two six-part miniseries, House of X and Powers of X, which were really just one twelve-part story that established a new status quo for mutants. After receiving a devastating vision of the future, Xavier abandons his dream of peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans and joins with Magneto to establish a mutant nation on the island of Krakoa. All mutants, heroes and villains alike, are welcome on Krakoa and past sins are forgiven. Mutants building their own island sanctuary is nothing new, others writers have toyed with the idea before, but it had never been done with this level of depth and scale before. Unlike Utopia, Krakoa isn't just another base for the X-Men to hang out in, they are really trying to build a nation with its own distinctive mutant culture.
After the conclusion of House of X and Powers of X, the entire line was relaunched under the Dawn of X banner with Hickman writing the flagship title, which is simply called X-Men. The most notable thing about Hickman's X-Men is that there is no actual team of X-Men in it. Xavier felt they were now redundant and had the team disbanded. Instead, this is more of an anthology series that features different characters and stories with every issue, the only common factor being Cyclops, who is charged with the defence of the realm. 

Hickman is a writer who likes to plan. I doubt he's ever started a project without knowing exactly where he was going and every little stop he would make along the way. Hickman's books are well known for coming stuffed with data pages full of charts and graphs that cover every conceivable detail. He's also not afraid to use intricate narratives, full of big concepts, that play around with chronology and can seem confusing at first, but ultimately all make sense by the end. Like a Christopher Nolan movie, a Hickman book isn't to everyone's taste, but it certainly is to mine.

Dawn of X has been one of the best relaunches Marvel has ever done. It was a great reintroduction to the franchise for an old fan like me who'd been away so long. For the first time in a long, long while there is purpose and direction to the entire X-Men series. It isn't just half a dozen different writers doing their own thing until they blunder into each other during a crossover. Everyone here is working towards the same goal. Not all the titles have been great, mind you, and even the great ones have had their iffy bits, but this really is the best the entire franchise has been since, well, ever. I can't remember a time when I've read and enjoyed this many X-Books all at the same time.
Tini Howard's Excalibur returned to the magic and multiverses of the original Captain Britain and Excalibur comics and is probably the most essential title after Hickman's X-Men as it does the most to set up the 'X of Swords' crossover. Marauders by Gerry Duggan has been the title I've enjoyed the most. Kate Pryde and Emma Frost are two of my favourite characters so seeing them team up to run a pirate/trading company has been a complete joy. I flippin' loved Hickman's issues of New Mutants, which was just a hilarious intergalactic road trip starring the original team along with Generation X's Chamber and Mondo for reasons even they didn't fully understand. I wasn't as keen on Ed Brisson's issues, but I just adore everything Vita Ayala is currently doing with the title.

There's a lot of overlap between X-Force and Wolverine since they share a main character and writer in Benjamin Percy. I enjoy both, but they can be very uneven. Zeb Wells and Stephen Segovia's Hellions is disposable fun. Leah William's X-Factor was terrific, but sadly short-lived due to low sales. Duggan and Phil Noto's Cable, which was centred on the teenager version of the character, was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Fallen Angels has been the the only complete dud so far and was cancelled after just six issues.
Dawn of X ended after a year with the 'X of Sword' crossover event and was followed by Reign of X. Despite being rather padded out in a few places, 'X of Swords' was one of the best X-Men crossovers in ages. At the end of the event, Cyclops and Jean decided to reform the X-Men, believing that their new mutant nation still needed heroes for the people to look up to. The new team would be chosen by election with fans themselves even getting to vote for one member (they chose Polaris). Reign of X also saw the addition of four new titles to the franchise: S.W.O.R.D. by Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti, Children of the Atom by Vita Ayala and Bernard Chang, Way of X by Si Spurrier and Bob Quinn, and X-Corp by Tini Howard and Alberto Foche. I haven't read Children of the Atom, but S.W.O.R.D. has a lot of potential and so far I'm loving what Spurrier is doing with Nightcrawler's crisis of faith in Way of X. There's only been one issue of X-Corp and I'm not sure what to make of it so far.

The centrepiece of Reign of X is the 'Hellfire Gala' crossover which will see the mutants of Krakoa put on their own extravagant version of the Met Gala. Based on the first three parts this is already shaping up to be one of my all-time favourite X-Men crossovers. 'Hellfire Gala' will be followed by a relaunch of X-Men with Duggan replacing Hickman as writer and artwork by Pepe Larraz. Hickman himself will then write a four issues miniseries entitled Inferno due in September. The last time Hickman wrote a series with the same title as an well known 1980s comic event we got Secret Wars, so I 'm buzzing with excitement to see what he's going to do with Inferno.
Nuff Said.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

3 comments:

Samantha M. Quinn said...

The newer modern era does seem to have grown up quite a bit. I had to wonder what they were thinking with Sword of X, that splash image is just absurd with them all brandishing swords (I mean does Wolverine even need one?). But X-Men has always been about eXcess. Do you think this is a good time to get back into it? I'm curious what your take would be for someone who hasn't read an X-men title in twenty years to start.

Thank you for all your hard work, I can only imagine how long it took to do this much research into the behind the scenes stuff.

Mark Greig said...

Samantha, gland you've enjoyed these posts.

I hadn't read any comics for about 11 years so I had the same worry when I started reading the new stuff. I think this House and Powers of X are a good reintroducing to old fans, they draw a lot on X-Men history, but it is the general stuff most fans will be familiar with, the last decade is more or less ignored. The narrative jumps around in time a lot in a Moffat kind of way, but it all comes together nicely in the end. There were a few things that shocked and confused me like Rogue now being in control of her powers, Cable being a teenager, and Jubilee having a baby, but stuff like that didn't really bother me after a while. I do strongly recommend giving this era a go because it is the strongest the entire X-Franchise has ever been.

And if you think that splash image is ridiculous wait until you read the rest of X of Swords.

Tim said...

Excellent series of articles, Mark.
Thanks.