Like Elton John, The X-Men Are Both Still Standing And Past Their Prime: Graeme Thinks About Extraordinary X-Men

September 15, 2015


“Still Hated. Still Feared. Still Standing.” That’s the header for the PR that Marvel sent out today, advertising Extraordinary X-Men, the appallingly named new X-Men title launching as part of the All-New All-Different Marvel relaunch next month. The PR contained three pages of the first issue of the series, by Jeff Lemire and Humberto Ramos, which convinced me that this series was most definitely not for me.

It’s not that the pages are so egregiously bad that I find myself appalled by what’s on offer; Lemire’s script is entirely functional if impressively expositionary — “Look, I told you all after everything that happened with Cyclops,” teen Jean Grey says at one point, with the emphasis lampshading that we don’t know what Cyclops has done, we should read all the X-Men books to keep finding out — and Ramos’ art is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve ever seen his work anywhere before: making up in stylization for what it lacks in terms of page layout, creating a sense of physical space and character acting. (Quite why Iceman now lacks a face is an open question, mind you; is that an intentional redesign, or just the way Ramos draws him?)


No, the problem for me is in the revelation the preview has about the new X-Men status quo. “The Terrigen Mists aren’t just killing is… they’ve sterilized us as well,” Storm says, helping every Marvel Comics Conspiracy Theorist out with regards to their “Marvel is pushing the Inhumans down our throat and they hate us” thinking. Yes, that’s right; the new status quo for Marvel’s mutantkind is that… they’re dying again. Just like they were when the Scarlet Witch said “No More Mutants,” and there were only 198 of them left in the world. Because nihilistic dystopian superheroes are exactly what we want to read, right?

I’m being sarcastic, but let’s face it — that is what many people want from this particular franchise. X-Men has become, through accident or design, one of the most consistently adolescently depressing superhero concepts around: they’re hated and feared! They’re on the verge of extinction for one plot-related reason or another! They’re distrusted by all the other superheroes! And now the origin mechanism of another Marvel franchise proves to be literally deadly to them, because… oh, God knows. Because things were grim enough? But throughout it all, X-Men remains, if not a top-seller for Marvel, then at least a strong-seller, proving that there really is an audience for this kind of never-ending hopelessness.

The solicits for the other December X-Men books promise more of the same. All-New X-Men says Terrible acts committed by mutant revolutionary Cyclops have placed mutantkind in extinction’s crosshairs,” while Uncanny X-Men yells, “In a world that’s never hated or feared mutants more, there is only one constant: BIGGER THREATS REQUIRE MORE THREATENING X-MEN.”

These books aren’t for me, and not just because I’m neither a goth nor a teenager who thinks that the world is actively working against him; they’re X-Men comics that have more in common with the 1990s material that was almost like a parody of Claremont’s most melodramatic tendencies, when things just continually got worse and worse for our heroes. “My” X-Men is a series that certainly contained more than its fair share of gloom and doom — I was reading during the Mutant Massacre, after all! And through Fall of the Mutants, as well — but there was always an optimism and sense of both humor and the thrill of grand adventure to balance things out. As Elliott Smith almost put it, while situations got fucked up, they also got turned around sooner or later (The post-mutant massacre era was a continual downward trend until Fall of the Mutants turned X-Factor into celebrated heroes and let the X-Men become reborn in the outback, for example, and there would be individual issues offering lighter asides to the increasingly weighty, depressing larger arcs, with Arcade or some other random villain popping up as comic relief). Now, it feels as if the X-Men line is consistently a bummer.

And so, in a way, the Extraordinary preview does its job — it gives me enough of an idea of what the series is like to know what to expect… and, more importantly, what not to expect. The goofiness and light of Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men was a momentary blip in the otherwise bleak worldview of the franchise’s last decade-or-so, apparently. (Wow, Grant Morrison left New X-Men in 2003! I am old.) Like the other All-New, All-Different Marvel books, this seems more like a doubling-down on existing ideas and directions than anything actually new or different, and, really? It’s not something I want to read. I might not hate or fear the direction of Extraordinary X-Men and its sister books, but I do find them pretty boring.


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4 comments on “Like Elton John, The X-Men Are Both Still Standing And Past Their Prime: Graeme Thinks About Extraordinary X-Men

  1. Matt for Hire Sep 15, 2015

    So, while I’m gonna be around for Uncanny X-Men (mostly because what Bunn’s been doing with Magneto has been fantastic, and I’m hoping he keeps it up without the benefit of Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art), I’m with you in feeling this is just…tiresome. Almost creatively bankrupt. Like, if the X-Men were to have a baseball game in this day and age, I feel like we’d get Magik or somebody hit in the head with the ball and there would be a good 5 or 6 decompressed issues of how awful it is and how a bunch of characters who have had little-to-no connection would mourn how important she is to them.

    Which is to say, while I like my X-Men melodramatic (I came of age during The X-Cutioner’s Song and Age of Apocalypse, for heaven’s sake), I don’t need it all to be so heavy. Also, so Mary Sue’d. I feel like so many characters are shoved down people’s throats because the writers love them THAT! MUCH! Which might be a Bendis-ism, and I’m just carrying it over to everybody else, but I don’t feel like I’m being entirely unfair (Jeff Lemire clearly looooooves Storm and Nightcrawler, just like Bendis looooooooved Magik and Emma Frost).

    And…I’m rambling. But basically, anytime I look at the direction the X-Men are going, I feel like I just want to yell at them to get off my lawn. And I’m only 31!

    • Michael C. Sep 16, 2015

      Matt for Hire, your baseball-on-the-lawn reference struck home pretty hard with me, especially because I’m currently working my way through the recent Chris Claremont Nightcrawler series on Marvel Unlimited, and the last issue I read featured Kurt reminiscing – through flashbacks – about those dear old days on the diamond on the school lawn. And Kurt’s inner monologue can clearly also be taken as Claremont’s own thoughts on the state of the current X-Universe. It made me incredibly wistful and nostalgic for Days of X-Men Past, and also quite sad for the current state of affairs of the line.

      I’m also almost done reading the Bendis dual run of Uncanny and All-New (also via Unlimited) and while it was inconsistent and overlong – with basically NOTHING really happening except a lot of arguments between the Cyclops camp and the Jean Grey School camp – I still felt that Bendis was injecting enough humor and lightheartedness into the book. At least enough to keep me reading it through to the end of the run. Again, it all felt like so much nothing in the macro sense but in the issue-by-issue reading I found moments and entire issues that were very strong. Still, not as strong as the best X-Men work of the past.

      I hate sounding like the “get off my lawn” guy too, but I do shed some tears for the current state of the X-Men line. They are my favorite Marvel characters and I genuinely love them, especially certain characters from the team (Storm and Nightcrawler included – so maybe I’ll enjoy Extraordinary’s focus on them?!?). So it hurts a bit to see them struggling. I am one of those fans that’s annoyed by Marvel’s seemingly monomaniacal efforts to shove the Inhumans down our throats, at what I see is the expense of the X-Men. It’s just one more reason why I’m not planning on picking up any of the All-New All-Different books – at least not for a good long while before I see what shakes out, what lasts, what gets some positive reviews, etc. But I’m definitely taking the approach of viewing this relaunch from the sidelines for now.

  2. LAndrew Sep 16, 2015

    It’s weird, looking back on it now, how Morrison’s X-Men was the MOST optimistic version of this idea, that all the mutterings about how “mutants are the next stage of evolution” were finally starting to pay off and it was going to impact society and it looks liked there’d be some exploration of that. I remember reading those books and being really taken with the potential that seemed to be on every page.

    You contrast that with Claremont’s idea in the run prior to Morrison’s where the assertion is that mutants were a failed attempt and evolution had taken another track and there might be *some* new mutants, but they weren’t going to take over, either.

    It seems like Marvel has settled into this idea of a permanent middle between the two extremes where mutants are constantly under threat of extinction but also they’re the future, kinda. But it’s a very boxed-in future that only spans about twenty minutes ahead and doesn’t seem like it’s going very far, ever.

    I accept that part of that is just “illusion of change,” but there’s illusion of change that suggests possibilities beyond the now and room to grow, and there’s illusion of change that says “nahh, it’s pretty much more of the same.”

  3. At this point I think it’s fair to say that “Marvel is pushing the Inhumans down our throat and they hate us” is not a conspiracy theory so much as a reading comprehension test.