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Mar 16

IvX

Posted on Thursday, March 16, 2017 by Paul in x-axis

You’ve got to admire Marvel’s perverse determination to confuse people.  The solicitation says IvX.  The Comixology listing says IvX.  The cover says Inhumans vs X-Men.

Let’s go with IvX.  It’s shorter to type.

IvX is an example of a beleaguered genre – the necessary resolution to a high profile storyline that bombed.  Regular readers know the back story.  Marvel wanted to plug the Inhumans into the role that mutants had occupied in the Marvel Universe, because that fitted more neatly with the rights that were available for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the X-Men being licensed elsewhere).  As a piece of corporate synergy, this made reasonable sense; as a story direction, not so much, for either group.

The device to achieve this was to take the Terrigen Mists – which had previously been part of a special ritual in which the hidden race of Inhumans exposed their children to mutagenics to give them powers in a coming of age ritual – and turn them into a bloody great cloud that floated around the world, activating the powers of random people who apparently had some degree of Inhuman DNA in them.  This meant that the Inhumans could now serve the mutants’ function as a generic origin story, while the X-Men got to do a story in which the mists were poisonous to mutants.

From the X-Men’s standpoint, this was an awful idea, because it was basically a retread of the “No More Mutants” storyline – which had itself dragged on for years, wasn’t any good, and had only just been resolved.  It was a hopelessly retrograde step and it did nobody any favours.

But from the Inhumans’ standpoint, it wasn’t so great either.  They were never designed to serve the mutants’ role.  Their whole thing was that they were a hidden culture that was a bit weird and, in some respects, a bit creepy to boot.  Sometimes the Inhuman royal family were fairly straightforward heroes, sometimes you got rather odd stories about their obsession with eugenics, and sometimes they would turn out to have a clone slave race which they didn’t really see a problem with.  And that worked quite well for them.  They were basically decent but with some really odd cultural values.

Once the Terrigen Mists go from being part of a culturally important ritual to just a thing drifting around the world, though, you’ve got a problem.  You’ve already deviated so far from the values and norms of their society that it looks awkward for them to treat the cloud as central to their culture. It might have worked to play it as the Inhumans clinging on dementedly to the last vestige of their traditions, but the franchise wants new Inhumans – or at least a fair number of them – to cheerfully pack up and go to live in New Attilan.  And that just doesn’t work.  There is no earthly reason why these characters should identify in any significant way with Inhuman culture, let alone this attenuated version of it.

But here we are anyway, and this thing must come to a climax so that it can be cleared away.  It does so thusly: the mutants discover that the Terrigen Mists are going to wipe out the mutants, which they knew anyway, and has been driving the books for the last couple of years.  But supposedly it’s urgent now because the Cloud wibble wibble something or other unless it’s destroyed very soon.  So the X-Men set out to sideline the Inhumans and then get rid of the cloud with a macguffin built by Forge.  And after six issues of this, Medusa discovers that the cloud is going to kill all the mutants, which she too knew already, and agrees that they have to get rid of it.

Which… well, it gets us where we need to go.  It wipes the slate clean for the X-Men so that we can forget about this whole fiasco.  Yes, yes, they claimed once that the Mists had already sterilised all mutants so that no mutants would ever be born again, but shh, we’re pretending that didn’t happen.  It made no sense anyway, because how could the Mists have affected the mutants who hadn’t yet been poisoned by them?  And how would it stop new mutants being born to normal humans?  So it never happened.  You didn’t read it.  We’re back to the status quo.

The Inhumans basically inherit the X-Men’s sidelined role, as a group with no future and no way of activating the powers of their next generation.  This, of course, is easily solved in a couple of years when somebody finds some more Terrigen crystals down the back of the sofa, but it might give them something to do in the meantime.

But beyond that.  Ugh.

A lot of the eye rolling about this series has come from the treatment of Emma Frost, who is basically now a full scale villain who was trying to engineer the X-Men and the Inhumans into vicious conflict.  At the broad strokes, I don’t greatly mind this, at least if you see it as driven by bitterness over Scott’s death.  The current take on Emma seems to be that she’s trying to memorialise her rather distorted image of the man she loved, and take on his revolutionary role in a way that further blurs the moral lines.  They’re not pitching it right – for this to work properly she needs to be veering towards Magneto without quite becoming him, and that distinction isn’t really there.  Instead, we get her wheeling out a bunch of anti-Inhuman Sentinels in the final issue, which comes across as absurdly over the top.  I guess that once the misunderstanding is cleared away, somebody has to serve as the token villain in order that there can be a climax.  But with a bit more subtlety, the basic idea is not so bad.

And there’s some entirely passable corridor-running and page-filling action sequences over the course of the story.  Leinil Francis Yu and Javier Garron are a perfectly fine artists for this sort of thing, and both handle a large cast well.  There are a few cute moments as lesser characters get their page in the sun.

But there’s no content to any of this.  The general thrust of it is that the X-Men get the upper hand at first, but then some of the more peripheral Inhumans get brought in as reinforcements – you know, Moon Girl, Ms Marvel, Mosaic, the equivalent of mutants who don’t really hang around much with the X-Men – and it all gets a bit out of control.  And then the Inhumans find out what’s happening with the Cloud and just agree that it has to be stopped.  The peripheral guys help Forge rebuild his Save The Day Machine, and Medusa agrees that it has to be used.

It feels like there’s a better story in here trying to get out.  The conflict, in theory at least, is between the X-Men wanting to preserve their race and the Inhumans wanting to preserve their culture.  This only works if you’re prepared to accept that the Inhumans place a higher value on their cultural artefact than on mutant lives.  No sensible reader is going to think that, so when it turns out that the Inhumans don’t believe it either, you’re left with six issues of tap dancing to disguise the fact that there is no story.

For this to work, the Inhumans – or at least some of them – need to actually believe that the loss of the Cloud would be the destruction of a central aspect of their culture.  And they need to actually believe that this is so important that the mutants are acceptable collateral damage.  That’s eminently writeable.  It’s not as if the Inhumans haven’t displayed some staggeringly odd cultural values in the past.  It’s not even that unusual for one culture to be indifferent to another, at least in the level of out of sight, out of mind.  So there’s a viable plot in here where some of the traditional Inhumans really are willing to throw the mutants to the wolves, and it’s the new blood characters who ultimately see through it all.

But that’s not the direction for the Inhumans.  It would make them into, at best, sympathetic villains.  They might do quite well in that role, but they’re supposed to be heroes.  In the bigger picture, perhaps that’s the right call.  For this story, though, it means it’s just a case of  killing time until the bad idea has gone away.

Bring on the comments

  1. mark coale says:

    But can i still keep doing my “inhumans = roman reigns” bit?

  2. Ben says:

    Why not just have the Inhumans be like “Hey sorry about the cloud, we’ll help all you mutants go live somewhere else safe” and then the mutants can go “Well, why should we be forced out of our homes for you weirdos? We’re destroying the cloud.”

  3. wwk5d says:

    “which had previously been part of a special ritual in which the hidden race of Inhumans exposed their children to mutagenics to give them powers in a coming of age ritual”

    But even then, it was a ritual that was guaranteed. Parents could elect not to have their kids exposed to the mist, and even then, the people being exposed to the mist had to go through genetic testing first. A good chunk of the Inhuman population didn’t have any powers. I guess that retconned away, at the same time we got the retcon that random Inhumans were going around sexing up the human population and introducing their DNA into our gene pool. Never mind that the Inhumans were always portrayed as an isolationist society…

  4. wwk5d says:

    Sorry, meant to say it was a ritual that was not guaranteed.

  5. ChrisV says:

    Actually, the Terrigen crystal problem was solved by Maximus the Mad in Uncanny Inhumans.

    Imagine if the Inhumans let the mutants die, and then Maximus revealed that he knew how to create more Terrigen crystals? That would have made for an interesting story.

  6. personofcon says:

    It’s unfortunate when the best thing you (general you, not Paul specifically) can say about a crossover is “at least it’s over now.”

  7. Alastair says:

    The worse bit is at the time of the last reboot Marvel seemed to have already given up on the new inhumans. When the second most important character in the lead inhumans book is not even blackbolt but Johnny storm it suggests they new the inhumans were in trouble

    But they still decided to tie the xmen in to the terrigen mist story for no reason two years after it started and ignoring the promise of the set up at the end of the bendis run.

  8. Ben says:

    They also managed to undermine the direction of Uncanny X-Men #600 which was valiantly trying to dig its way out of the mess before Secret Wars.

  9. Aaron Thall says:

    Well, at least they’re giving the Torch something to do until they get around to bringing back Fantastic Four.

    …God, I wish they’d hurry up with that.

  10. Dave says:

    I thought everyone might be agreeing by now that it’s best to just ignore whatever had been thrown together for Uncanny #600.

  11. Niall says:

    Look, the inhuman push was a mistake but really, don’t Marvel need to think a little more likely long term if they’re going to try to push a new property?

    The X-Men have a long history including multiple TV shows, movies, videogames and crucially multiple generations of adults have been exposed to them. Did they really think that the Inhumans could replace them and attract comparable sales just by releasing a few books? Over the past 20 years, Jubilee alone has had more exposure than the entire line of Inhumans and nobody thinks that multiple Jubilee books would be a good idea.

    If Marvel were serious about building up the Inhumans as an alternative to the X-Men, they should have realised it would be at least, a five year project.

  12. personofcon says:

    Serious Inhumans question: at the start of the new series, it was kind of presented as a big deal that Medusa hadn’t told Crystal that she and Johnny were an item. Did that change at some point? Because it seems they’re being pretty upfront about that now, but I can’t remember any confrontation and I thought that I at least flipped through the Inhuman material fairly regularly.

    And yes, this was by far the most interesting plotline of the entire Inhumans line for me–trying to figure out what on earth Medusa would see in Johnny Storm.

  13. SanityOrMadness says:

    Remember when the Inhumans had to leave Earth for the Moon because the pollution was killing all of them? Marvel don’t!

  14. Joseph says:

    That final issue was horribly scripted, I could barely even get through it. Good riddance is right.

  15. JD says:

    @personofcon : You’re looking for Uncanny Inhumans #8-9, where Crystal learned about it.

  16. personofcon says:

    @JD. Thanks. Was it worth an 8 issue build-up?

  17. Rob says:

    Speaking of sterilizing all the mutants, whatever happened to that old Grant Morrison plot that all the humans would be extinct within 3-4 generations? Was that just wiped out by M-Day?

  18. Col_Fury says:

    I wonder, how did people view the “X-Men are thought dead by the world and living in Australia” era at the time? Or the directionless era after Inferno? It didn’t have anything to do with the classic setup…

    I didn’t start reading X-Men until right before Inferno, so my first real exposure to the X-Men was a crossover, then twenty or so issues of no team, “here’s Colossus with amnesia living as an artist in New York,” “here’s Wolverine having problems with his healing factor and hallucinating old friends,” etc. Even then, I guess I didn’t really know any better because that was my first exposure to ongoing X-Men stories.

    My guess is that this era (if they really do go back to normal for a while after this) will be looked back on like the Australia era: An extended diversion that didn’t really add much to the overall narrative. If there was an internet around in the late ’80s I’m sure it would have made for some interesting reading.

    Having said all of that, I’m glad this Inhumans mess is behind us. Not my favorite.

  19. Walter Lawson says:

    I viewed the Australia era as funin its own right, and all three or four mutant books taken together did have plenty of feeling of consistency with what came before. X-Men seemed more lost to me a few issues either side of #200, where Claremont’s plans had been completely screwed up by the return of Jean Grey and legal trouble over using Alan Moore characters. The teamless period after #250 started out in a way that didn’t seem directionless–quite the contrary–but went astray around the time Silvestri left the book, when Claremont’s stories were getting pre-emptied by Harras and Lee. I’d say that period is one nobody wants to revisit–except that actually, owing to Lee’s art, some bits of that period are much beloved.

    I’m skeptical that the IvX period is going to have any nostalgia appeal.

  20. Andrew says:

    Walter, I agree.

    I remember the Australia period fondly and it was exciting at the time, though you could see by the en of it the editors began to get the shits and pushed for it all to be wrapped up. Even during the worst of that period, at least it had great art and it felt like it was heading somewhere. Plus, coming out twice a month for a good chunk of that run meant it went quickly.

    This IVX period I tend to think will be looked back on much like 1996-1999 of the X-books which were directionless and full of plotlines which didn’t pan out, hints which never went anywhere and a general malaise.

  21. Suzene says:

    The only entertaining thing about this whole “IvX” era has been watching Soule, Lemire and editorial flail over the course of months, trying to make the Inhumans seem at all sympathetic and utterly oblivious to the fact that they screwed the pooch on that point when they made it explicit that Inhumans cared more about making new recruits than about mutants dying. Garbage writing; any CW 101 prof could have told them it was a bad idea.

  22. Mat says:

    I think the IVX stuff and the build up to it in Extraordinary X Men has been nastier and more gauche than anything I’ve seen in the X-books before. It’s a really bad idea to combine stories about threatened minorities and extinction with a publishing plan that relies on a lot of relaunches, because it prevents any proper resolution of anything or any sense that the awful situations depicted in the books are actually meaningfully turned around. I quite liked bits of Hopeless’ run though.

  23. jpw says:

    I think another difference between the current era and the teamless post-Inferno era was that, in the late 1980s/early1990s, the book has been constantly changing and evolving throughout its history and still felt like we were reading one big story about the characters lives. We didn’t have the reset button pushed every few years to get us back to a slightly altered but generally recognizable status quo. Claremonts characters were always moving forward, and you didn’t know where things were ultimately heading.

  24. Chris V says:

    How much of a change was this really, though?
    We just got over the “mutants are an endangered species” plot, and then we were right back to “mutants as an endangered species” for this chunk of continuity.

    Another major difference is writing and plotting.
    I have zero problems with changing the direction of a book. One major problem with the X-titles for most of the post- Claremont “eras” has been, exactly, that writers just recycle the same plots over and over.
    The problem with this direction vs. the “Outback era” or the “post-Siege Perilous” direction is exactly that the writing has been poor, and the plotting was being done solely to set up an editorially mandated direction.
    “Get the book from this point to I vs. X”.
    This was the exact opposite of during the Claremont period, when Claremont was actively fighting against editorial edicts.
    For me, the “Outback era” was one of my very favourite periods of X-Men.
    It made sense with what had come before and moved the X-Men in to new areas, while still holding true to the core characteristics of the different characters.

    jpw is very accurate.

  25. Chaos McKenzie says:

    The Outback era is classic. I will stand no comparison of this Inhumane story-arch to that classic stint.

  26. odessasteps says:

    “And yes, this was by far the most interesting plotline of the entire Inhumans line for me–trying to figure out what on earth Medusa would see in Johnny Storm.”

    Thats funny. When they put Torch in this group, i thought maybe they would rekindle the Johnny/Crystal relationship from the Silver Age.

  27. Mo Walker says:

    Sorry, but Marvel did not sell me on how losing the Terrigen Cloud would fundamentally change the Inhumans forever. Jonathan Hickman provided an escape hatch for that problem during his Fantastic Four run. Earth’s Inhumans can get Terrigen from the other Inhuman colonies. Hopefully that is what will happen in The Royals book.

  28. Brendan says:

    I really believe there was an interesting contrast between the X-men’s agenda of human and mutant integration and the old inhuman cultural norms of isolationism, hierarchy and genetic purity that could have made an engaging story. Back before the inhuman concept was dismantled. I honestly don’t get how anyone at Marvel thought their current mess was the best option.

  29. Chief says:

    “From the X-Men’s standpoint, this was an awful idea, because it was basically a retread of the “No More Mutants” storyline – which had itself dragged on for years, wasn’t any good, and had only just been resolved. It was a hopelessly retrograde step and it did nobody any favours.”

    I checked out of this stuff a long time ago but it’s nauseating to see Marvel are still going back to this well. “Mutants are near extinction” is a terrible concept and can be credited for completely tanking my interest the X-Men line.

    How was the original problem solved? Because when I checked out, I remember Hope Summers was doing something with the five lights. I think they were supposed to be important characters, but I never hear them talked about anymore. Then that kind of dragged on forever. I think Children’s Crusade was supposed to address something important but that got delayed over and over. Then they announced Bendis was coming in to save the day and Uncanny was rebooting to a new number one and that was it for me.

    It’s heart-breaking to see how far the X-Men have fallen. For my entire life, The X-Men have placed in the top ten on the sales charts. If you told me years ago things were going to get this bad I would have never believed you.

  30. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    @Chief: The Five Lights didn’t do anything. Only Idie/Oya has been appearing regularly since ‘Generation Hope’ ended, the rest kind of disappeared.

    However, the ‘Hope Summers is the mutant messiah’ plotline has been resolved in the rather weak ‘Avengers vs X-Men’ crossover, when – together with Scarlet Witch – she… broke up the Phoenix Force, or something like that, and somehow used it to ‘reawaken’ the x-gene. The mutants who lost their powers after M-Day remained powerless, but new mutants started popping up all over the place.

    For a Children Crusade looked like it was going to reverse M-Day, but in the end Scarlet Witch gave Rictor his powers back and that was it. However, it did reveal that Doctor Doom wanted to harness Wanda’s power and did… something… which resulted in her breakdown. Basically, Children Crusade shifted the blame for Avengers Disassembled and House of M from Wanda to Doom, although I don’t really remember how it was supposed to work.

  31. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I meant to write ‘For a while it looked like Children Crusade was going to reverse M-Day’

  32. Crow's Foot says:

    ““Mutants are near extinction” is a terrible concept”

    Not to mention it’s the dodgiest of science. Or else it’s fundamentally misunderstanding genetics, evolution, and speciation. Maybe I missed a plot point somewhere, but a mutant-mutant pairing doesn’t necessarily beget a mutant child, right? And human-human pairings were what produced mutants in the first place, right? Along with maybe some 20th century radiation? And mutants, at least until recently, could still successfully produce offspring with regular humans, yes?

    MUTATIONS. NOT SEPARATE SPECIES.

    We’re dealing with superhero comics where radioactive spiders can give you great power (which comes with great responsibility, apparently), so we should be somewhat lenient here. You know, it’s like that because Science. OK. But… as an educated person I can only go so far with them before it just becomes insulting.

    Regarding the Outback era: I think that actually was the beginning of my interest-level fade at the time. I started reading around the time of the first Brood storyline, and unfortunately the second one just didn’t measure up (though I can pinpoint issue #215 as the precise moment quality took a first huge dip). The bi-weekly release schedule combined with Silvestri’s scratchy (by comparison to Paul Smith, Art Adams, etc.) made it all feel a bit rushed to me, like Marvel was just cashing in on their property’s giant-at-the-time success. I did greatly enjoy the subsequent Inferno crossover at the time, though; it served as a nice resolution and wrap-up of most things up to that point.

  33. Thom H. says:

    @Crow’s Foot: I agree about the Outback Era. After the amazing Nimrod-in-the-park story and then the Mutant Massacre, stakes couldn’t have felt higher for the team. And then they went to Australia to fight cyborg bikers? That was definitely a let down for me.

    I remember thinking Silverstri’s art was really interesting — how did he make all those scratches actually look like something cohesive? But he was clearly rushing to get the book out twice a month, which just increased my disappointment.

  34. Luis Dantas says:

    I still feel that the writing was the weakest link. Claremont was quite aimless at the time.

  35. jpw says:

    You’d really think that after the Legacy Virus debacle, Marvel would have realized that “X-Men must battle against incorporeal existential threat” was incredibly difficult to write. Attempting it a third time immediately after “No More Mutants” was such a failure just reeks of incompetence.

    Come on, the X-Men need problems they can punch!

  36. Omar Karindu says:

    I wonder if part of the issue with the X-books in recent years has been that the sorts of writers who in the past would have done well with the X-Men as a flexible metaphor for “otherness” or minority are nowadays more likely to just create a character who is a real-world minority.

    More broadly, Marvel’s having a real problem with creating “:big” status quo setups and”big” events that work as stories, even on fundamental levels; increasingly their best books and stories are the smaller, more self-contained or personal ones. How many times can we have two supposedly heroic groups fight bitterly over some sudden casus belli, and how many times can a protagonist “cross the line” into mass murder or whatever other ends-justify-the-means setup the writer has contrived? Even Jonathan Hickman couldn’t entirely make that stuff work towards the end of his Avengers run.

    Oh, and to answer Rob’s question way above, Morrison himself dropped that plot; Beast gets a line of dialogue in New X-Men #150 about how he’s fixed the “e-gene” problem with science.

  37. Jerry Ray says:

    All this Claremont talk reminds me to recommend Jason Powell’s “Best There Is At What He Does,” an issue-by-issue dissection of Claremont’s X-Men run. I think it’s been on the web for a while, but it was recently published in book form. He’s got an interesting take on the Outback era and the meandering stuff that followed.

    https://www.amazon.com/Best-There-What-Does-Claremonts/dp/1940589126

  38. Chris V says:

    I felt like the Outback direction was a good one at that time due to the Mutant Registration Act.
    Sure, it could be seen as a cop-out, but the X-Men deciding that things were moving in a draconian manner, and they should get out while they still could. That they’d be able to do more by hiding in a different country.

    The problem was that if the X-Men title had continued in the fashion it was before the X-Men left, it would have led to the X-Men fighting the authorities and the federal government, as the main antagonists.
    That would have been a very interesting direction, but Claremont was stuck working in the wider Marvel Universe.
    The X-Men would have been treated as villains in that context, by the Avengers and Captain America.
    The X-Men were already being looked at in a suspect way by other superheroes for claiming that Magneto was rehabilitated.

    The best option for the X-Men books was to leave America and live in isolation.

    Maybe that leads back to the problem of the X-Men fighting “existential threats instead of threats they can simply punch”.

    Plus, I always felt the Reavers were a really good concept, that fit well with Claremont’s direction.
    Humans deciding to use technology so they could compete with mutants’ powers.
    I just don’t feel the concept was ever as fully fleshed out as it could have been.

    I believe there were good ideas waiting to emerge, that maybe Claremont wasn’t able to fully develop, because he had to work within the Marvel Universe and with editors.
    The stories that were told were well told stories.

    Jeff Lemire is one of the finest writers in comic books. He’s writing amazing and varied stories at the moment; with Black Hammer, Moon Knight, and Royal City. Each about as different as you can get, but each very much worth reading.
    Meanwhile, with Extraordinary X-Men, you go the distinct feeling he was going through the motions.
    Could you tell, at all, that the writer of Essex County was also writing I vs. X?

    I’d agree that the books began to go downhill after Inferno, and my interest began to wane at that point.
    However, I still enjoyed what Claremont was doing better than what followed on the X-titles.

  39. Darkroom Dan says:

    I’m still waiting for the X-office to address the obvious white elephant in the room – how the original X-men haven’t been sent back to their own time. At some point, they have to be sent back or it creates a time paradox, right? Hopefully, X-Men Gold will at least mention this, but I get the feeling that they’ll try to sweep it under the carpet.

  40. Jim m says:

    Just ignore that lump under the rug. 😉
    Of course at some point someone will trip over it.

  41. jpw says:

    They clearly aren’t 616 or everything would be thoroughly fucked by now. I expected Secret Wars would have dealt with it but asking Bendis to have a plan or care about continuity is obviously a asking too much.

  42. Suzene says:

    @jpw:

    I think a big part of it is that so many of the X-Men’s best enemies are either dead or working with them. Emma Frost returning to the antagonist position doesn’t bother me, just the character assassination that came with.

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