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Friday, September 27, 2019 

NY Vulture sugarcoats Hickman's X-Men

Abraham Riesman, a pretentious writer for New York Magazine's Vulture section, wrote a fawning piece about why we should be reading Jonathan Hickman's X-Men, that offers no clue as to the alterations done to Moira MacTaggart, for example:
Not so long ago, it was touch and go for the X-Men. Their adventures in the pages of Marvel Comics were hardly making a dent in the minds of the average reader. This may have been by design, to a certain extent, possibly owing to the fact that Marvel’s parent company, Disney, didn’t have the X-characters’ film rights. Although there’s never been formal confirmation of this policy, it’s long been said that Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter issued an edict at some point in the 2010s: Screw the X-Men. Though those rumors are probably more extreme than what actually happened — there was still A-list talent being put on the X-books here and there, like writer Brian Michael Bendis or artist Stuart Immonen — you couldn’t shake the feeling that Marvel was spending far more money and energy on fostering titles that starred characters who also appeared in Disney’s Marvel movies. Whatever the reason, the X-Men series stopped presenting big, grabby ideas. Even when talented writers were assigned to guide the mutants, the stories felt like empty nostalgia exercises filled with half-hearted quips and small-scale threats. Nothing was catching on.
How does he expect anything to catch on when Bendis, the same writer who turned Iceman homosexual and led to considerable embarrassment later on, was in charge? It's clear Riesman isn't serious, and I wouldn't be shocked if he viewed Bendis' retcon to Bobby Drake favorably. In the eyes of liberals like himself, those are what they consider "big, grabby ideas". And no criticism of Bendis for regurgitating one of the most grossly overused plots in comic history: the Phoenix Saga. That's one of the empty nostalgia exercises Riesman speaks of, yet he won't find fault in Bendis for that? Shameful.

And while Perlmutter may have sabotaged X-Men at the time, the sad reality is that they'd already been screwed as far back as the mid-90s, when company wide crossovers and events consumed everything.
Well, suffice it to say that all that’s changed, and it turns out that all it took was the deft, firm hand of a 46-year-old former architecture student. Jonathan Hickman — a lifelong geek trained in the art of designing buildings before he worked in advertising and then decided to try his hand at comics writing in the mid-aughts — recently took over scribe duties on Marvel’s X-Men comics. Reading them now is like falling in love after years of luckless dating. Hop onto Twitter on a given Wednesday, the day new comic-book issues come out, and you’ll find the tag “#xspoilers” — so named because users can mute all tweets with that tag if they haven’t had a chance to read the new issue yet and aren’t ready to join the conversation. But when they are ready, what a conversation there is to be had. People are screenshotting their favorite moments left and right, tossing out their theories about where it’s all going, dissecting all the metaphors and references, and just generally squealing over how into it they are: “We’ll be talking about what this issue MEANS for a long time but I could spend hours just talking about how it LOOKS,” they say; or “it’s just fucking fantastic”; or simply, “THIS IS SOME WILD SHIT.”
Oh yeah, we should take everything from what Rush Limbaugh called a "cacophony of crap" at face value. Why Twitter but not the blogosphere, where you can find lengthier takes on everything and more intelligence? I noticed one post on Twitter pointing out that Moira appears to be turned into a markswoman now with a rifle, who targeted Trask family members in her 7th incarnation, as seen in the side panel. If she's been turned into an assassin, that's even less appealing than retconning her into yet another mutant. And no mention made in Riesman's item of the mutants who were killed off so far in Hickman's run.
This kind of broad-based positive consensus about a superhero comic is a rare thing — yes, there have been series that were widely praised in recent years, but the response from critics and fans for the nascent Hickman X-Men run has been especially pronounced. He’s launched this new stage of the X-mythos with a story that’s divided into two miniseries, House of X and Powers of X, which is actually pronounced “powers of ten” for reasons that I won’t spoil for you. But that kind of playfulness with form and language is emblematic of what Hickman does best.
Umm, I'm sure this "broad-based consensus" took place more than a few times over the past decade, so what's so new about something taking place on the Twitterverse? Social media like that is not where you go for meat-and-potatoes opining. As noted, no mention is made of changing Moira into just another mutant, regardless of her power, nor does anybody like Riesman seem disappointed that more mutants had to be killed in order to advance a narrative. Why, there's no mention of how Hickman seems reliant upon lowercase lettering in his word balloons, something Marvel made the error of taking up in 2003, as mentioned earlier.
As the years went on, it became clear that Hickman’s vision was too big for one set of characters. He wrote a series called S.H.I.E.L.D., which audaciously rewrote the history of the entire Marvel Universe by establishing its roots in the actions of figures like Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Tesla. He reinvigorated the ailing Ultimate Marvel experiment. He was assigned to the tales of the Avengers and took them to the ends of time and space. What’s more, all of these stories linked up with one another, effectively creating a kind of Hickmanverse within the Marvel U. It all culminated in one of the best superhero crossovers in history, the jaw-droppingly ambitious Secret Wars. And then, it seemed, his time with the superheroes was over. He left Marvel in 2016 and dedicated his efforts to his various creator-owned Image titles, seemingly content to tend his own garden and get weirder and weirder with characters he created and owned, alongside his artist collaborators. We counted ourselves lucky that we’d been able to see him experiment with what superhero fiction could be but didn’t hold out much hope we’d ever see him do it again.
I also don't see why one of Marvel's million crossovers have to be sugarcoated along with the rest. To some, the original Secret Wars may have seemed clever when it first debuted in 1984. But since then, most crossovers have only resulted in a mediocre situation that's taken over much of comicdom, put creative freedom in freefall stagnation, and today, certainly isn't very reliant on story merit.
The basic setup is as follows: The X-Men, led by mutant telepathic genius Charles Xavier, have decided to form their own sovereign state on the island of Krakoa, a living geographic entity that has its own mutant powers and has been part of the X-Men mythos for a long while. This turn of events upsets the balance of global politics and economics, and, although the mutants seem to have created a self-governed utopia, we have swiftly been shown, through time-jumps in subsequent issues, that everything is destined to go horribly wrong.
Why does this sound reminiscent of Grant Morrison's run in the early 2000s, at which time Genosha island was wiped out? Speaking of which, Morrison is mentioned here:
What’s more, it’s all reasonably accessible for the legions of casual X-Men fans who gave up reading the characters after the last truly revolutionary X-run, that of writer Grant Morrison in 2001–4. I can’t really speak to whether a brand-new reader of superhero comics will be able to enjoy what’s going on, but if you’re prepared to peruse a few Wikipedia pages and mostly just let the aesthetics and ideas wash over you, you should be fine.
I don't see what's so accessible about a plot changing Moira into something she wasn't before, in complete contradiction of previous tales. Besides, didn't most X-fans all but abandon the series at the time Morrison was writing one of the series? IIRC, Magneto was turned into a one-dimensionally evil entity there, and later was decapitated by Wolverine, as though getting stabbed by Logan at the end of Eve of Destruction wasn't bad enough. And that's the time when Jean Grey was killed off for about a decade before Marvel finally started bringing her back.

I really don't see what Riesman's getting at, or why I should resume reading what's been turned into a sad charade long ago. He's only serving as an apologist for the kind of people who don't really have anything inspiring to say about superheroes.

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