It’s strange. Questioning if a company is worthy of utilizing their property. In reality, we have no right to, but oddly enough, we do have the place. You see, Marvel Comics has been anything but kind to the X-Men franchise during the last decade or so.
I’d say it kicked into high-gear right around the Summer of 2012, aka the cinematic debut of Marvel’s The Avengers. It was also the same season that Avengers Vs. X-Men came into being. A story about how the X-Men were wrong (even though they weren’t) and why the Avengers were heroes (they panicked and sent Wolverine to murder a teenage girl, so, not really?).
After that ill-conceived, mostly nonsensical, bloated crossover event, X-Men fans found their little corner of the Marvel universe invaded by Avengers characters. There was a short-lived A+X series that forced X-Men and Avengers characters to play nice. Characters like Nick Fury, War Machine, Thor, and Captain America began popping up in the X-Men books, and of course, embarrassing the mutant characters at every opportunity. To make matters worse, from what I can only assume was an attempt to graph X-Fans onto their Avengers franchise, they pilfered popular X-Men for use in various Avenger-based titles.
Even after the Avengers Vs. X-Men fiasco, the X-Men franchise was still fairly robust having several team books in All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, 2 X-Force titles, X-Treme X-Men, Age of Apocalypse, All-New X-Factor, Amazing X-Men (not all published at the same time, mind you) and a handful of solos like Wolverine, and Gambit. However, it didn’t last.
As we approached the next big Marvel crossover, Secret Wars, the X-Men universe began to contract. All the aforementioned titles were canceled. Xavier had been murdered by a Dark Phoenix-possessed Cyclops at the end of AvX, Wolverine was unnecessarily killed-off, Rogue was a fulltime Avenger, and Kitty Pryde had taken off into space to join the Guardians of Galaxy (at the time, Marvel’s newest movie franchise).
By the time Secret Wars ended and the dust had settled on the new 8th version of the Marvel Universe the X-Men barely owned a footprint within the Marvel Universe. Their little corner within the House of Ideas had been reduced to a wall painting in the back of a shed. There was almost zero merchandise using their images on store shelves. Video game licensing was nonexistent and we couldn’t even find their 20-year old animated series on sale or even on rerun. Anything that used to include them, such as posters, was reworked to eliminate them (and the Fantastic Four) completely. It was disheartening for sure, but at least we still had the comics to enjoy, right? Wrong.
The X-Men franchise went from a dozen or so titles to no more than 3 or 4, total. A franchise that had thousands of characters under its belt was reduced to focusing on just a handful. And not ones anybody needed to know much more about, anyway. The stories inside those books weren’t any better.
Following the events of Infinity and Secret Wars, the world was a very hostile place for mutants. I mean, more so than usual. Just before Secret Wars began, the Inhuman king, Black Bolt set off something called a Terrigen bomb while he battled Thanos upon his floating fortress/ palace, Attilan. The resulting blast vaporized their Terrigen crystals and created two large clouds of mist. This mist began to circulate in the planet’s atmosphere and when it came into contact with humans, if they had any latent Inhuman DNA, they were imprisoned within a cocoon and emerged as Nu-humans, Inhuman-human hybrids, but essentially Inhumans.
This continued after the world was remade by the Fantastic Four, all of except the Human Torch and the Thing stayed in the space between realities to re-seed the multiverse. There was one distinct change to the way the Terrigen Mist worked, however. With Marvel’s shadow-war against the X-Men in full-swing, the mist didn’t just create a host of new Inhumans to replace the concept of mutants on Marvel’s earth. The mist DEPOWERED, KILLED, and STERILIZED mutants on contact. Victims included Cyclops, Rogue, Sunspot, Hellion, and Multiple Man. All the while, Marvel creators continued to deny that any agenda existed, even while the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show did much of the same as their narrative also became saturated with Inhuman subplots.
However, Rob Liefeld pointed it out:
“Here’s the deal. Since the X-Men movies came out and Disney didn’t have them, I don’t know if you’ve ever paid attention, but Marvel kind of turned the volume down on the X-Men for almost 20 years. Now that they have them more, what was told to me was, ‘Oh yeah. Our budgets on the X-Men books are back up to what they used to be because now we own them all.'”
The Inhumans numbers had ballooned from a few hundred to thousands, literally overnight. There was a six-month time jump for Marvel following Secret Wars. During that time, the mutant population had all but been replaced by Inhumans. They even had their own version of the Purifiers called the Watchdogs.
Across the globe, new Inhumans were chastised, attacked, and harassed by mobs. In response, Crystal (Inhuman royal) and her strike team would circle the globe in their space-aged, high-tech jet to rescue wayward Inhumans and deliver them to New Attilan where they received protection, aide, education, and training. Tell me that doesn’t sound #[email protected]$#@#% familiar. That was one of about eight Inhuman books in rotation.
While all this was happening, there were rumors of the X-Men literally being exiled from the planet in favor of the Inhumans. This didn’t happen, of course. No, not exactly. Despite having a myriad of other more viable options, to avoid being euthanized, the X-Men were ‘forced’ to relocate the X-Mansion and whatever number of mutants they could locate to (sigh…) Limbo.
For those unfamiliar with the Marvel pocket dimension- it’s a hell dimension, plain and simple. It’s filled with flesh-devouring, evil as can be, demonic beings and it’s always on fire. Everything, for miles around in every direction, endlessly burning. Great place for a Mansion that is primarily constructed of wood and housing the vestiges of what’s left of the mutant race.
It was by far the lowest point in X-Men franchise history since low-key being canceled back in the late ’60s until Chris Claremont arrived in 1975 with Giant-Sized X-Men. Some die-hard, however, delusional fans stuck with it, but anyone would find it difficult to locate more than one or two favorable comic reviews from that era. It was depressing.
And then something strange happened. A rumor began to circulate the internet. Disney was interested in purchasing 20th Century Fox. With the purchase would come their TV and movie rights, including, yes, the X-Men. Fandom was understandably excited at the notion, but it got real when Inhumans Vs. X-Men was announced.
It promised to be a showdown between the usurpers, the Inhumans and the rightful inheritors of the Earth, the mutants (or X-Men). The conflict, like the situation that fueled it, was nonsensical and could have been avoided with a phone call. Not long after the conclusion, which had the Inhumans help neutralize the mutant-killing clouds, Marvel made another shocking announcement. The X-Men franchise would be getting not one, but seven new titles. All of this came to pass around the same time the rumors of the Disney purchase turned into fact.
From that point on, Marvel had begun to systematically rescind their X-Men embargo. Toys were back on shelves. T-Shirts were available for purchase. Video games were having new X-Men themed character packs added. The Inhumans were shuffled back to dusty shelves from which they came. Heck, they even married Gambit and Rogue! It was like the end of a long, infuriatingly condescending nightmare. There was excitement, but sadly, there was no ‘pop’.
Over the years the comic book industry had begun to shrink. Comic book culture had exploded, yes, thanks to DC and Marvel-based movies- but the comic reading fandom was all but a shadow of itself. Even compared to the Summer of 2012. The X-Men, thanks to years of half-hearted stories with seemingly no editorial oversight, had completely disjointed continuity. Very little made sense from a narrative standpoint and most of the characters were left in less than stellar condition.
The minis and solo books were fine, and the color-coded team books sold ok enough, but it wasn’t anything stellar. So, Marvel did the unthinkable. They relaunched the line, again! They started with trimming away the glut of alternate reality and time-displaced figures such as the Original Five X-Men and Battle of the Atom characters. Something was up. Fans had been bemoaning those characters since they arrived, but yet they remained for years. However, over the span of a single mini-series (Extermination), they were wiped from the playing field. Right after that god-send, they then relaunched Uncanny X-Men with Disassembled which changed the status quo of the X-Men universe as the line ventured into the Age of X-Man event.
During an annual issue of the same series, Cyclops returned. With the rest of the X-Men presumed dead, he and the also newly revived Wolverine (man, when Marvel wants to backtrack, when it rains, it pours) brought together a random squad of former teammates to strike back at their enemies.
All this came to a screeching halt when the franchise was again relaunched, but with none other than the genius mind of Jonathan Hickman in the captain’s chair. With Hickman coming on board, there were bound to be huge repercussions. And there were. The X-Men franchise is all the rage now. After the tremendously popular House of X/ Powers of X Summer event, they easily dominated Marvel’s New York Comic Con efforts.
This Fall, the X-Men franchise will be stronger than it’s been in almost a decade. Upcoming titles include: Marauders, X-Force, Excalibur, X-Men, New Mutants, Fallen Angels, and just announced, Wolverine. That’s not including Deadpool. Adam Kubert is coming back into the fold for Wolverine and Chris Claremont has been promised a story by the end of next year. Things are looking up for Marvel’s merry band of mutants. While part of me is excited for finally having something to talk (and write) about, I can’t help but hold a bit of disdain for the company that screwed-over my all-time favorite comic franchise.
A franchise that was the only reason they survived the 90’s industry crash. And for what? A dispute over movie rights that they sold off in desperation? The X-Men are indeed poised to take over the Marvel Comics universe again, and I’m glad for that. I understand that this is business, but customer loyalty is earned, not a given. At least it shouldn’t be. They mistreated us, abused the characters, and insulted our intelligence at every turn. All in the name of corporate synergy. I’m not certain Marvel still deserves the devotion of a fandom they torched for years without so much as an “our bad” to make amends. I know they don’t need to. But still, it’d be nice.