Which X-Men Relaunch was the Most Impactful and Lasting?
Another universe changing moment has come for the X-Men. With the announcement of Jonathan Hickman coming to reshape the X-Men franchise, times are surely a-changing (again). But that’s nothing new for us X-Men readers. It happens every few years or so. Sometimes it’s welcomed and others it’s just a big ol’ mess that is generally better off forgotten. But that’s not what we do here. We never forget, like the North in Game of Thrones. And if I have to remember it, so do the rest of you! Fret not, it’s not all bad. There are some good- no, great instances where we saw the X-Men change for the better. Here are our choices for the 10 Best X-Franchise Milestones, Relaunches, and Revamps.
#10. SECRET WARS
What can be said about the state of the X-Men following the end of the massive Marvel Universe altering crossover Secret Wars? Depressing? Intensely uninteresting? Following the end of Secret Wars, the entire Marvel Universe saw a 6-month time jump. When we caught up with the X-Men they were scattered and pathetic, to say the least. The X-Men franchise was all but dead in the water at this point. Alongside the Fantastic Four, they’d been removed from just about all marketing materials Marvel was putting out thanks to some strange attempt to minimalize their influence in and out of the books. We assume this was due to the movie rights, but Marvel has steadily denied that. Luckily, unlike the FF, the X-Men had their books, but what it had become was less than worthy of the X-Men title.
The franchise had been shrunk to a mere 2 or 3 lackluster books, flag-shipped by the forgettable, Charles Soule written, Extraordinary X-Men. The roster included Storm (who was being written as a horrible leader), Nightcrawler suffering from PTSD, Old Man Logan, Teen Jean Grey, Colossus, Iceman, and Magik. The X-Men were forced to contend with two clouds of Inhuman Terrigen Mist that were circulating the globe. Exposure to it meant death, sickness, and sterilization in mutants, while it exponentially increased the number of Inhumans. The X-Men made the genius choice to transport the mansion and all it’s students to Limbo (aka Hell). Because that’s safer, right? The other two books were Uncanny X-Men, a Magneto-led team and All-New X-Men rostered by X-23 and the remainder of the time-displaced X-Men. By this time the original Wolverine had died and during the 6-month gap, Cyclops fell prey to the effects of Terrigen Mist. It was bad. It was all bad.
#9. AVENGERS VS. X-MEN
After Brian Michael Bendis and company pitted the post-MCU Avengers against the dwindling powers of the mutants, Marvel saw it fit to give him the Christopher Claremont treatment. They put him over both flagship titles of the franchise- All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. Under Bendis, the X-Men didn’t exactly suffer, but I can’t say they grew either. His stories were ultimately forgettable and infested with alternate universe and time-displaced characters. All-New X-Men mainly dealt with the exploits of the younger X-Men out of time while Uncanny X-Men revolved around the renegade Cyclops and his own version of the X-Men. Bendis even had his own students- all-new mutants born after Wanda’s House of M spell was broken. However, Bendis didn’t have control over the entire X-Men universe.
During the era, there were also solos like Gambit, Astonishing X-Men, and two X-Force titles (for some reason); one more traditional and headed up by Cable and the other a motley crew (Uncanny X-Force), led by Psylocke and Storm. A little way down the line, that book came to an end and we got another X-Men title. The two X-Women would be made part of an all-female X-Men title which included Kitty Pryde, M, Rogue, and Jubilee. Despite Bendis’ inclusion, this wasn’t the worst thing to happen to the X-Men, but it definitely was a whole lot of nothing. I believe that was the intention of Marvel. Pin Bendis to the franchise to maintain interest and sales up, but keep the X-Men in a corner where they’d ultimately have little effect and influence on the greater universe.
#8. INHUMANS VS. X-MEN
This era immediately followed the conflict between the X-Men and the Inhumans, or as I like to consider it when Marvel finally realized that the Inhumans are not viable replacements for the X-Men. In many ways, this was the rebound for the franchise. This is probably due to the fact that by this time Disney had entered into negotiations to acquire 21st Century Fox and all their theatrical rights, including the Fantastic Four, and yes, the X-Men. The Inhuman clouds of Terrigen Mist had both been taken care of, which allowed the X-Men and their horde of children to return to the planet. Central Park to be exact.
What followed was a slew of new X-Men titles including X-Men Gold, Blue, Red, Black, and Weapon-X along with several solos such as Cable, Jean Grey, Iceman, Rogue and Gambit, and Mr. and Mrs. X as several mini-series like New Mutants: Lost Souls. By far the most we’d seen in years. In some ways, this was Marvel’s way of beginning to right the ship as it would ultimately lead to a relaunch of Uncanny X-Men. The story told there seems to be leading the X-Men to a new era of stories, but the road there was less than smooth.
In the late 90s, Chris Claremont made a big return to Marvel Comics and took over the X-Men franchise again with a line-wide event dubbed Revolution. This followed the Twelve storyline and apparent death of Cyclops after being merged with Apocalypse. The X-Men were again split into two main titles X-Men; Thunderbird (III), Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Wolverine and Rogue as the lead. Uncanny X-Men had Gambit leading powerhouse of a squad (yes, Gambit, I don’t why either, and I’m a die-hard fan) Jean, Cable, Storm, and Beast. Other than the main titles there was X-Force and solo titles in Cable and Wolverine.
Revolution acted as a reset and revamp of the characters. Mostly in appearance, but several saw tweaks to their powers as well. Some took, like Psylocke’s telekinesis, but most of it is ignored in later stories. At the top of this, we were introduced to the idea of other mutant off-shoot species in hiding, chief among them, the vengeful Neo that made the X-Men their enemies. With the eventual return of Magneto, they are soon forgotten by fans, and I believe also wiped out by the Master of Magnetism. Revolution didn’t last very long, but it set up the X-Men to be led into the more modern age that came after the debut of the first live-action X-Men movie.
With the weight of the entire mutant race on his shoulder, Cyclops’ very character had begun to crack. He became cold and at times thoughtless about those around him. He began treating his teammates and even students more like soldiers, than a group of people in a bad situation. Of all people, Wolverine began to bump heads with him about being too tough. When Cyclops brought a group of students into a fight against a giant sentinel, it was all Wolverine could take. They got into a physical fight that ended with the X-Men being split down the center.
Cyclops, in the pages of the Uncanny X-Men, stayed on Utopia with his Extinction Squad of X-Men; Storm, Magneto, Magik, the Unstoppable Colossus (Colossus with Juggernaut powers), Danger, Emma Frost, Hope Summers, and Namor. Wolverine and his faction of X-Men went back east and reopened a school named after Jean. In X-Men, Legacy Rogue led a team of Gambit, Frenzy and Rachel Summers. Later in the series, Cannonball and Mimic were added to the roster, but the book mainly revolved around Rogue.
There was a third written by Jason Aaron called Wolverine and the X-Men. Seeing as it was a school, it was the book that dealt with that specific part of the franchise. These books were the glue of the franchise up to the onset of Avengers Vs. X-Men. Nothing truly groundbreaking happened during the post-Schism era, but it had a lighter color palate and was heavy on character development. It was a stark detraction from what we had during the darker Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, and Mike Carey books that came before it.
#5. NEW X-MEN
The time in the X-Men that immediately followed the X-Men movies was a darker, more grounded iteration of the X-Men. Grant Morrison came onto the scene. His run is something of a mixed bag. Some will say it was genius and breathed new air into the franchise, others will tell you it made them quit reading comic books for nearly a decade (me…). Gone were the brightly colored costumes and fantastic space operas, and universe hopping. In came dark palettes, leather pants, and an oddly taller Wolverine.
Morrison’s run with New X-Men was quite possibly the most character-driven, real to life take on the X-Men ever. His stories dealt with infidelity, insecurity, teen-pregnancy, racism, terrorism, murder, depression, and genocide to list a few subjects for the happy tale. The stories weren’t bad, they were actually extremely well-written. Just a bit of a bummer. Kind of confusing with the whole Xorn/Magneto-thing. The other portion of the franchise was mostly covered by Peter Milligan in X-Men with totally awesome stories like Blood of Apocalypse and Golgotha. By ‘totally awesome’ I mean, horrible.
#4. THE DEATH OF THE X-MEN
There was this buffer era between the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga and the exit of Chris Claremont in the 90s. Most of the X-Men had been presumed to have met their demise on live television. In reality, Wolverine, Storm, Havok, Longshot, Dazzler, Rogue, Colossus and Psylocke had been “reborn” and set to operate in an Australian Outback town they’d liberated from the villainous cyborgs, the Reavers. From there the X-Men, still operating under the guise of being deceased, launched strike-attacks against their enemies across the globe.
Meanwhile, the original X-Men- Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Archangel (formerly Angel) and the newly ‘reborn’ Jean Grey, had formed a new team called X-Factor and began their battle against forces such as Mister Sinister and Apocalypse. This was the retooling that ushered in modern storytelling for the X-Men franchise and spelled out how future creators would navigate crossover arcs.
At the turn of the century, a force had descended upon the Marvel Universe. Everywhere it traveled it left a wake of destruction and a body count like no other before it. It began at the street level but soon ascended to the plane of the gods. This dark force was none other than Darth Bendis. I mean, Brian Michael Bendis, the slayer of superheroes.
After laying waste to the Avengers, he set his eyes on the X-Men with the House of M. This was a story where one of his characters, The Scarlet Witch (a mutant and X-Men franchise vet) had lost control of her mind and formidable powers. With little more than an insanity-induced whim, she warped reality on a global scale and remade the Marvel Universe (at least Earth) into the House of M; an idyllic world where mutants were the dominant species on the planet, led by her father (at the time), Magneto. This wasn’t the milestone for the X-Men but the aftermath. In the conclusion of the House of M, The Scarlet Witch said three words that changed the X-Men landscape forever – No More Mutants.
With that short phrase uttered, mutants which at that point numbered in the millions had been reduced to little less than 300 worldwide. The X-Men were less of a team and more of a collection of surviving mutants. The tone of the X-Men changed from saving the world to sheer survival within it. Under Cyclops’ leadership, the X-Men and the rest of mutant kind first rallied to the Institute, but would ultimately move to Utopia (an island off the coast of San Francisco created from the remains of Asteroid-M). It was dark and brutal and saw enough blood to rival the 90s Age of Apocalypse storyline with arcs such as Messiah Complex and Second Coming. Even the colors across the franchise had moved to darker hues and character models become more realistic. It was also when we began to see Professor-X’s role diminish as his dream was no longer a viable option. The voices of Magneto and Cyclops became more prevalent and Wolverine’s influence had hit an all-time high. One of the reasons for the Decimation was due to how many mutant characters had been created following their meteoric rise. New Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada, felt it necessary to cut back and thus he unleashed the Bendis.
Even with mutants being at an all-time low, there was no shortage of X-Men books. Titles included: New Mutants, X-Force, and X-Men Legacy along with a slew of one-shots, solos and mini-series. This is the era that birthed the bloodiest iteration of X-Force we’ve ever seen. And it was sanctioned by Cyclops of all people. He came to see the world as a place that deemed such a team necessary. Later, Rick Remender took over the title and changed the name to Uncanny X-Force, which turned out to be one of the best X-Men runs in a long time. The mutants were frazzled, scarred and traumatized for years to come. In many ways, the X-Men franchise has yet to recover from Decimation.
#2. GIANT-SIZE X-MEN
Before 1975 the X-Men were basically circling the drain. For the past 5 years or so, they weren’t even putting out new issues, but reprinting and recirculating older books. Stan Lee had set the universe in order but lacked the scope to really flesh it out. In came Christopher Claremont and it all changed. The last time we saw the X-Men all of them but one (Cyclops) had been captured by a giant mutant, the living island, Krakoa. Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men out of a corner by having Professor-X reach out and recruit a new team of X-Men from around the world to assist him in saving the original team. These characters were; Storm, Wolverine, Thunderbird, Nightcrawler and Colossus. Sunfire and Banshee also played roles in this but they’d already debuted in earlier books.
Chris Claremont, being from England himself, brought with him a more global, international feel to the X-Men making the mutant situation bigger than just the US. He did this without force-feeding his audience and blatantly putting his opinions on display. He wove masterful stories and basically populated the entirety of the X-Men universe over his nearly 20-year run on the franchise, which to my knowledge is the longest with decades between him and any comparison! During this run we saw stories like God Loves, Man Kills, The Phoenix/Dark Phoenix Saga, and Days of Future Past – all of which have had movies and TV episodes based upon them (several times over in the case of the Phoenix saga- thanks for that Fox). Without Claremont’s influence, we might not have the X-Men at all today. This era didn’t just flesh out the franchise, it may have very well saved it from oblivion.
The X-Men milestone of milestones, the top selling comic book of all-time. This relaunch led the way for what was to come for the next decade. It also became the model to which the 90s X-Men animated series was based upon and probably the only reason we ever got a live-action adaptation. The X-Men were split into two distinct teams and books; Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. Uncanny X-Men hosted the Gold team which consisted of Colossus, Archangel, Iceman, Bishop, and Jean with Storm as the leader. The edgier (and cooler) Blue team was led by Cyclops and supported by the likes of Psylocke, Gambit, Rogue, Jubilee, Beast and of course, Wolverine- basically, all fan-favorites. X-Men was a bit more appealing to the masses due to the fact, it was closer to the roster that was seen on TV every Saturday morning.
This reboot wasn’t without its flaws and setbacks. While the art was great (it intentionally mimicked Jim Lee’s sharper lines), the stories suffered in spots as Chris Claremont had by this time exited the franchise. Despite this, the early 90s relaunch has become the standard which has yet to be matched in any meaningful, or realistic way. The decade saw the biggest explosion in X-Men influence. Characters throughout the Marvel Universe were suddenly either being classified as mutants or were special guests in hopes of siphoning off some hype. Due to the success of the launch other X-Men spinoff mini-series and ongoings were created (I’m sure I’ll miss a couple); Maverick, X-Factor (Vol 2.), X-Force, X-Men Unlimited, Gambit, Bishop, Bishop& Gambit, Excalibur, Rogue, Sabretooth, Cable, Wolverine and Gambit, Deadpool, Alpha Flight, X-Men 2099, and again, more than I’m sure I’m forgetting. Most of these ran concurrently or within months of each other. A little over the top, yes. But the X-Men franchise was just that popular at the time.
The era was also action-packed due to the extreme nature of the 90s themselves. Crossovers were abound and included X-Cutioner’s Song where Cable’s evil clone had orchestrated an assassination attempt on Professor X using Cable’s identity. Fatal Attractions set the stage for one of the most impactful showdowns between the X-Men and Magneto. Age of Apocalypse, a story that saw Professor X’s son accidentally warp the present timeline into a nightmare in which the despot Apocalypse had control over most of North America. The malevolent psionic-mutant entity Onslaught was subsequently birth from the decade’s chaos and cost the lives of most of the planet’s heroes (yeah they let an X-Men story kill EVERYONE) and the era was rounded out by Operation: Zero Tolerance where the government had declared ‘open season’ on all mutants. There is no dispute that this era of X-Men storytelling may not have been the best (that’s #2), it was the most important of them all.
Which X-Men era/retooling was your favorite? Let us know below!