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Tuesday, February 19, 2013 

X-Men franchise has not found a new golden age

The AV Club is fawning over Brian Bendis' take on the X-Men, wondering if they've found a new golden age:
When it comes to superhero teams, the X-Men stand above all the rest. The history of the team has become incredibly dense, but also one of the richest mythologies in comic books. The X-books are a sprawling landscape of exotic locales and characters from all walks of life, a band of misfits united by what makes them different. The group was always expanding before House Of M put a stop to new mutants in the Marvel universe, but thankfully, Marvel editorial realized there was more potential in the old status quo. The X-Men are back on the hunt for the next generation after the events of Avengers Vs. X-Men, with Wolverine leading the charge at the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning while a damaged Cyclops begins the new Xavier School.
Some form of dissent here: The X-Men - specifically, the older material - are great reading, but I wouldn't say they're above all other teams in every way. The Avengers is just as cool a super-team, and my collection probably well outweighs what I have of the X-Men. Of course, when Bendis got his mitts on the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, he destroyed much of what made them one of the top superhero team books in history, and now he's doing the same with the X-Men.

And as much as I'd like to think that expanding the X-Men's cast of characters would be great, after Chris Claremont left in 1992, it all went downhill, with too many mutants and less supporting cast with no powers being stuffed in (one of more forgettable additions was named Maggot). And most of these additional mutants were so underdeveloped or just plain uninteresting that the only achievement Marvel made was futility.
Scott Summers killing Charles Xavier is a plot development that’s paid off handsomely in Marvel Now!, and the shockwaves of Xavier’s death are still being felt in books like X-Men: Legacy, Uncanny Avengers, and New Avengers. Cyclops has changed dramatically in the last 10 years: Grant Morrison exposed the character’s weaknesses in New X-Men before Joss Whedon showed off his strengths in Astonishing X-Men, “Messiah Complex” and “Second Coming” had him taking charge of the mutant race, and Schism and AvX broke him down again. He’s now somewhere between a hero and villain, convinced of the righteousness of his cause as he tries to recruit and help new mutants to make up for killing his mentor.
The fallout from AvX has not paid off at all. It was only written as a shock tactic for publicity's sake. What's to be achieved from having Cyclops kill his mentor in such a forced story turn, his possession by the Phoenix force notwithstanding? And if they really had to do such a thing, why did it have to be in a crossover with so much fanfare rather than a stand-alone story? All that did was show that they were aiming for contrived, mechanical effects and not plausible drama.

In fact, if Xavier really had to be killed off, why couldn't it have been through natural causes like Mar-Vell of the Kree originally passed away from? Apparently, because under today's deperate-for-attention editors, that simply wouldn't be enough.

What the AV Club say about Morrison's take on Scott Summers suggests they actually think his approach was justified, as though Cyclops were a real person, when it's the writers who are responsible for the applied personalities, or lack thereof. Morrison's take was little more than an insult to the intellect, showing little interest in actually trying to make him more impressive, and instead, he just had Scott break up with Jean Grey for the sake of forcibly pairing him with Emma Frost.
Brian Michael Bendis has done strong work balancing the different sides of the character in All-New X-Men, and Uncanny X-Men #1 continues to showcase the opposing sides of Cyclops’ personality. The first issue of Bendis’ second X-series is framed by a conversation between Maria Hill and a mysterious bald member of Cyclops’ team who is willing to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. to help destroy the mutant revolutionary. That traitor is Magneto, sporting a new shaved head to show his solidarity with his deceased best friend/nemesis, and really pissed off that Cyclops’ actions in AvX have downgraded his powers. The irony in all of this is that Cyclops has essentially become Magneto, complete with a growing army of underground revolutionaries plastering his face on “Cyclops Was Right” propaganda.
Whatever Bendis has cooked up here sounds pretty repellant. It only sounds like another exercise in turning everyone against each other in a new variation on Civil War, and hardly at all like the simpler stories of yesteryear where, no matter what their disagreements on belief systems, they didn't go out of their way to fight each other like rival turf gangs.

So I wouldn't call this a new golden age for the X-Men at all. Rather, I'd call it the dull copper or tin-foil age. Or, the cellophane age, because Bendis' visions are that flaccid.

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