THE PENDING DISNEY/FOX MERGER SHOULD MEAN GOOD THINGS FOR THE X-MEN AND FANTASTIC FOUR.
I can’t even remember the last time that I cared about an X-Men comic. I got a tinge of excitement when writer Brian Michael Bendis hopped over to Marvel’s merry band of mutants a few years back, but that quickly fizzled when the teen X-Men stuck around long past their welcome and it was clear that, as the franchise has been doing for many years, it was just more treading of water. It signaled something to me that I’d known for a long time: the X-Men stopped being significant years ago.
What vexes me is that I can’t figure out if the conspiracy theorists are right on this one. The consensus among many fans and critics is that Marvel has been giving the cold shoulder to the X-Men due to the convoluted movie rights fiasco that existed between itself/Disney and Fox. This is purely speculation, of course, but I suspect on some levels that it’s true, although I think that it’s been an issue in more recent times than as far back House of M.
My theory is that back in the day when House of M (a miniseries that reduced the mutant population in the comics to 198 powered beings) was published, then-Editor in Chief Joe Quesada legitimately wanted to whittle down the mutant numbers to a more reasonable number. 198 was a bit overkill, but at the same time, it allowed Marvel to move away from lazily pegging any new character with powers as a mutant and washing their hands of a creative origin story. That worked for a but, but what I think changed everything was the arrival of the Iron Man movie. Once it catapulted Marvel into the collective consciousness of movie fans around the world, the end result was Disney stepping in and buying the House of Ideas.
As each movie gained more and more popularity for the Marvel brand, I believe that’s the actual point when the publishing end of things started to realize that any solid stories featuring mutants or the Fantastic Four could be snatched up by Fox and used in its own film efforts, or at the very least bolster any movies featuring those characters. Thus the middling effort put into the X-Men; just enough quality to keep fans buying, but not enough ingenuity for Fox to fan any flames from it. The Fantastic Four were outright cancelled, but I don’t doubt that was because Marvel and Disney could smell the blood in the water with that last, horrendous reboot Fox tried to pull—putting the comic away for a stretch acted as the perfect nail in the coffin. The end result is ironic, I might add, because where once Quesada and company were trying to diminish the overabundance of super powered beings in the Marvel Universe, now it’s a place riddled with both super humans, mutants, and Inhumans. The latter being Marvel’s attempt to have mutants without actually calling them that.
Speaking of the Inhumans, that conversion failed. No number of Inhumans comics and TV shows will convince me otherwise. No one was clamoring for the overexposure of the Inhumans that Marvel foisted upon us and none of the projects involving them have had any sort of lasting impact. To put it bluntly, consumers aren’t stupid. New Coca Cola alone is proof of this; it might have said Coke on the cans, but one sip was all it took to suss out that imposter soft drink. Inhumans as a brand simply isn’t the X-Men, no matter how much Marvel tried to rejigger and manipulate it into the role.
Honestly, let that sink in for a moment: Marvel wanted fans to embrace the Inhumans as the next X-Men. The Inhumans. Granted, I love them as an element of the Fantastic Four. I love them in bursts, like that beloved Paul Jenkins/Jae Lee epic from years ago. But as a replacement for the X-Men? What an absolute and utter laugh. The X-Men as a concept is one of the greatest things Stan Lee and Jack Kirby ever pumped out. It was the American civil rights movement embodied in costumed teens with super powers. People who are different being persecuted for their differences. Professor X as the white Martin Luther King, Jr. in a wheelchair. Flip the calendar forward to when writer Chris Claremont breathed new life into the franchise and suddenly it was one of the most exciting, politically relevant comic books ever made.
Yet there was Marvel, peddling its New Coke Inhumans and thinking no one would be able to taste the difference.
Thankfully we now live in a world where Fox is right on the precipice of becoming the property of Disney. Some final hurdles need to be jumped, but for argument’s sake the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are back under the Marvel umbrella. I think it’s arguable that Marvel and Disney have had designs on Fox for years now and that the publishing end of things has been slowly getting ready to pull the trigger on making the FF and X-Men relevant again. Jean Grey coming back? Logan? Marvel 2-in-One is knocking on the door of the FF very loudly. The wheels are in motion and have been for awhile. Now, it’s time to get the car back in the garage.
Still, while I want them back, I think that it’s imperative to return both the Fantastic Four and the X-Men to a place of familiarity. I don’t want to see X-23 as Wolverine. I don’t want X-Men Red, Blue, Pink, Fuchsia. The Fantastic Four need to be in the Baxter Building with Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben, and the kids. Professor X needs to be at the forefront of fighting for mutant rights. I want the whole shebang. I want these classic Marvel properties back in classic form. Which I know ticks some people off. “We want advancement! We don’t want retreads of 30 year old stories!”
Hey, I can appreciate that. In the case of the Fantastic Four I’d argue that right up until James Robertson took over the series that Hickman was doing the sort of work on that title that will be remembered right alongside John Byrne and Mark Waid’s storied runs. It had that classic flavor with just enough new. Give me more of that! The X-Men though? Now that’s a franchise that needs some old-fashioned TLC. It’s practically unrecognizable these days. Heck, I’d argue an entire generation of readers has been exposed to a version of the X-Men that’s practically alien compared to the incredible runs that it was once home to.
I’m not going to get political here, but just from a storytelling standpoint, imagine the possibilities of touching on the themes of bigotry and prejudice that have fueled the greatest X-Men stories of all-time with the world of today in the background. Whether you backed Trump, Hillary, or Newt Gingrich, there’s no denying that stepping outside today is a lot more harrowing than it used to be. Now is a time like no other when the X-Men would be more relevant than ever. Stories about unity, but overcoming our differences to work together, are the sort of bread and butter that make the X-Men what they are.
Now give fans those stories with a recognizable roster of mutant heroes and villains in familiar roles and we’ll really be cooking. I don’t care what has to happen to get us there, but by the time Disney has the X-Men embedded into the cinematic Marvel Universe, I want to see an X-Men comic book on the stands that looks like this:
I get that nostalgia can result in looking at the past with rose-colored lenses, but I honestly believe that this snippet in time of the X-Men was when the team was its best. The costumes were great, the characterizations were strong, and fans loved it. The X-Men of 1991 would’ve given the New Avengers of 2005 one hell of a run for their money. More importantly, however, is imagining a Marvel Universe where both the Avengers and X-Men are firing on all cylinders. Throw in the heart of the publishing line, the Fantastic Four, and both the comics and the movies would be a veritable juggernaut. I think it’s about time that Marvel got these franchises back into fighting form, if for no other reason than to show respect to the legacies of both