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May 4

Uncanny X-Men #11-16 – “This Is Forever”

Posted on Saturday, May 4, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

This isn’t an ideal point to be reviewing Matthew Rosenberg’s current Uncanny X-Men storyline, which to all intents and purposes is still going.  But for whatever reason – most likely, to give different names to the trade paperbacks – issue #17 is titled “We Have Always Been, part 1”.  So officially, at least, issues #11-16 are a single arc, and let’s go with that.

Except… well, except it very obviously is the first part of a continuing storyline, and not an arc at all.  And I’m bearing in mind that Rosenberg’s New Mutants: Dead Souls looked like a bit of a mess at the halfway mark, only to cohere in the end stretch.  Then again, his Multiple Man miniseries also looked like a bit of a mess at the halfway mark, and it was.  Still, I’m inclined to reserve judgment to some degree.

Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about reserving judgment if I was blown away by the story so far.  “This is Forever” is a strange book – a retread of the “mutants on the verge of extinction” schtick, but played in a different way and against a different context.  And, within that framework, kind of all over the place.

The first page of part 1 is a black page with the caption “Every X-Men story is the same.”  Cyclops goes on to explain that the X-Men always get knocked down and always come back, but this time it’s apparently the end, because…  Well, because of the vaccine which was introduced in the previous arc, I guess, because we all know how thoroughly effective vaccination programmes are in the contemporary USA.  And I have a whole range of problems with this whole set-up before we even get to this story, some of which I covered in reviewing “Disassembled” – this stuff about mutants being on the verge of extinction again doesn’t emerge sensibly from the previous story, doesn’t have any coherent plot link to the regular X-Men being missing in Age of X-Man (despite that being presented as some sort of big turning point here), and seems a ridiculously rapid turnaround from the immediately preceding stories where the X-Men were living more or less openly in the middle of New York.

On top of that, we’ve had this basic idea dominate the X-books twice in recent years – the “no more mutants” period after House of M, and the Terrigen Mists storyline when the Inhumans were top of the spreadsheet – so it’s been run into the ground.  And on top of that, not only have we had it at length twice in the recent past, but it was absolutely dreadful both times.

So before we even get to page one of part one, (a) I don’t buy the premise, (b) I’m fed up of the premise, and (c) I think the premise is crap anyway.

I think we can all agree that this is not a congenial starting point.

Still, “This is Forever” does bring a different slant to the idea.  Part of that is because, however illogically, this is all being presented as somehow linked to the absence of most of the cast in Age of X-Man – and since we know that’s a five-month storyline, there’s a tacit suggestion that this is a relatively short-term deal.  And another part is that previous iterations of this storyline have seen the X-Men withdraw ever further from the real world, barricading themselves into compounds or islands or mystic dimensions.  “This is Forever”, in contrasts, strips the remaining X-Men of their usual trappings and leaves them operating out of the back room of a pub.  It relies on the characters themselves to legitimate this as an X-Men team – and since Rosenberg still has Cyclops, Wolverine, Havok, Magik, Chamber and a bunch of New Mutants characters on hand, it’s certainly an X-Men team.  Ironically (and no doubt intentionally), the return of Cyclops and the “real” Wolverine give this team two of the core elements that have been absent from the regular X-books for a while.

Within that, though, it’s all terribly scattered and unfocussed.  Issue #11 isn’t too bad as a set-up, if you don’t mind it being heavy on the misery.  Having missed the X-Men’s big fight with Legion, Cyclops wants to find and re-start his team, despite warnings from Blindfold (whose precognitions are so depressing that she rather gratuitously kills herself in a back-up strip), and a general lack of interest from the handful of mutants he does manage to track down.  Finally he resorts to a public appeal to any X-Men still out there, which inevitably attracts a bunch of villains, but also brings out Wolverine.  And that’s a nice finish which offers a moment of hope at the end of a grim issue – except for the questionable pacing decision to follow it with a bleak back-up story about Blindfold’s suicide.

Issue #12 follows on logically enough, with Cyclops and Wolverine rescuing the New Mutants from the subplot where they were stranded at the end of Rosenberg’s miniseries, thus bringing together some sort of X-Men team again, albeit one mostly infected with the Transmode virus.  But from here, the story meanders off, with a random-seeming mixture of things sometimes going well, but mostly going rather badly.  Cyclops draws up a list of bad guys for the X-Men to finish off in their final run, which leads us to some very scattershot issues.  The Dark Beast gets recruited; Hope shows up as a bad guy and then turns back almost immediately.  The Juggernaut shows up (with his new status quo, only just established in X-Men Black, completely ignored).  Magneto (but obviously not the real Magneto, because he’s in Age of X-Man).  It doesn’t particularly feel like it’s heading anywhere, but then again it’s the first half of a story and for all I know at this stage, it’s laboriously putting all the pieces on the board.

Artist Salvador Larroca turns in perfectly solid work, but he seems miscast on this material.  He’s a very solid artist but one who’s generally at his best doing bright, shiny, colourful work.  He does have some good character work here, and brings a bit of life to some of the minor characters (though his Rahne is a bit of a mess).  He’s neither a realist, nor a widescreen cynic, nor is he an artist you particularly turn to for atmospherics.  Somebody in the vein of  Steve Epting might have been a better match for stories about a weatherbeaten run-down X-Men team in reduced circumstances, if that’s really the direction we’re going in.

Supposedly there’s a rule of thumb in wrestling that when the bad guy is beating up the hero, before the big comeback, the hero should at least get some offence in every three or four moves, even if he gets cut off again immediately, to remind the audience that he’s still fighting and to stop them giving up hope.  This series reads a bit like that, with some genuine wins for the X-Men mixed in amidst near-comical bleakness that you’d expect from a Mark Millar comic – people being blown up with internal bombs or shot in the head or Madrox having to absorb a tortured and dying dupe…  It’s not as unrelentingly cynical as that story would have been, which is obviously a plus, but the overall effect isn’t so much a balance of tone as a story swerving around the road.  But none of the X-Men’s scattered victories really does anything to shift the sense of despair.

If there’s a theme discernible in here, it’s about what this X-Men team is actually for, against a background of seemingly total futility.  The traditional X-Men answer for “why keep fighting” is to have hope and defiance to the last.  This story opens part three with the words “We’re together again.  Now we need a reason why.”  One reading would be that Cyclops needs an X-Men team more for his own sense of identity, and so that he can atone for his mistakes, than because there’s actually anything terribly compelling reason for them to exist.  The overall effect is of a comic that isn’t so much depressing as depressed, preoccupied with questions like “why is this book still here” and “why get out of bed in the morning”, and toying with the notion that there may in fact be no satisfactory answer to either question.

We’re only halfway through and it would be premature to guess where Rosenberg is ultimately going with all this.  What I can say at this stage is it’s certainly different from most X-Men stories, more in tone more than pure plot.  Yet precisely because of that tone, it’s not much fun.  I’m curious to know where it’s heading, yet not especially looking forward to the bit where I actually have to read it in order to find out. But we’ll see; it’s entirely possible that it’ll all knit together beautifully in the second half.

Bring on the comments

  1. Mikey says:

    I’m really hoping that, with Hickman, Marvel will establish a status quo that lasts for longer than six months. Disassembled was a three-issue story stretched across, what, twelve? And lest we forget the non-existent legacy of, say, Extraordinary X-Men or X-Men Gold.

  2. Thomas W says:

    Oh man. Even though it’s not part of this review I’ve got to get it off my chest that issue 17 of this series caused me to write a letter to the editor for the first time in 30 years of comics reading. I find that issue and this run in general to be the definition of crass. If you decide you must do this after school special issue you need to research and possibly seek some kind of assistance from the community you are looking to moralize.

    That said this series continues to ring hollow of any characterization that has come before and looks like Rosenberg was just told to keep issues coming till Hickman gets here. (As much as I’m enjoying Age of X-Man, I am really feeling they are spinning the wheels as of issue 3)

    To Paul’s point the X-Men on the brink of extinction reminds me of the DC troupe of Superman having a crisis of conscience and going on a walkabout, no one has told a good version of the story for a reason, stop trying.

  3. Chris V says:

    I’m sure this will all end with the mutants from Age of X-Man returning, and this will all be forgotten…again.

    Until a year from now, when everything is darker and more depressing for mutants than ever!

    I am enjoying this journey in to bleakness actually. It’s just the fact that we’ve seen this direction many times before, and know that this direction won’t last much longer.
    I am looking forward to Hickman taking over, and hopefully steering the book back more in a direction like Morrison.

  4. So says:

    I doubt I’ll bother reading this even on Unlimited, but I have been interested in the reactions to the Wolfsbane story. There’s just so many ways for people to hate it. I’ve read that:

    1) It’s an insult to Trans people
    2) It’s fridging
    3) It’s an insult to gamer bros
    4) This character’s stat sheet says she’d win the fight

    Seriously, it’s almost art to be able to upset everyone across the spectrum like that.

  5. Chris V says:

    Wolverine pointed out that Rahne refused to use her mutant powers to fight back.
    She probably would have won the fight, but that disqualifies complaint #4.

    Personally, I was always more upset by the fact that Wolfesbane looked more like Siryn during this story.

  6. Mark coale says:

    Always good to reference Ricky Steamboat, even if not by name.

  7. Ronnie Gardocki says:

    Being an X-Man is starting to make being a Teen Titan look like a safe occupation by comparison.

  8. Loz says:

    So I guess I’m a bad person because I tend to read other people’s copies of these comics and then only buy the ones I really like, which means I’ve read a good chunk of the X-Men stuff for the last few years and bought none of it. In fact, I have a fun game I play which is to wait and watch for how long it takes for a writer’s era on the comics to be written out. So, for example, if you stopped writing before Bendis came on the books you could, with the Blue Team returning to the past, comfortably jump back on because any changes to the status quo he made have all been undone. Meanwhile, with adult Jean coming back Grant Morrison’s run is still hanging in there with the school for mutants being an actual school for mutants still. But anyway…

    Anyway, while none of us wants to return to the nineties and Wolverine turning into a dog or whatever it was, I think there needs to be some sort of control over the series beyond whoever happens to be in the writers chair servicing the copyright for a year or so before they go off elsewhere. I’m not expecting Matthew Rosenberg to go for a Peter David or Chris Claremont-length run on X-Men and that’s fine, but when writers leave and the next guy then ignores any development characters have had because he wants to do something different it’s difficult to care. What did pitching the X-Mansion into Central Park achieve? I think there needs to be some targets that writers are told to aim for again, rather than them all getting to decide what they want to do.

  9. Voord 99 says:

    Chopping and changing so often is a definite problem that I think should be reined in. However, I’m not sure that it’s entirely the writers being allowed to do whatever they want to do. (I’d like to believe that a “What the hell, just go for it” approach would produce substantially wilder and weirder comics…)

    At a minimum, it’s editorial listening to new-direction pitches and going, “That’s a good idea.” But it may be more than that — writers may be being directed to come up with changes to the status quo, or being given specific ones as part of their remit.

    I think it probably comes down to sales. The X-books used to be Marvel’s flagship, the biggest selling thing in superhero comics, something that sold multiple titles in large numbers year-in, year-out, in a way that was arguably not very sensitive to whether or not the actual comics were all that good. The line still does quite well, but it’s not the force relative to other superhero comics that it used to be. I suspect that there’s a search for the magic formula that can push it back up.

    And unfortunately, these relaunches remain successful in pushing the button for sales boosts: UXM #1 did very well in November. It’s actually a little depressing how reliable the shiny number 1 is.

  10. Evilgus says:

    The whole ‘trans panic’ criticism seems a bit unfair to me. Imagine the online response to one of Kitty’s earlier speeches if they took place in the day of Twitter. I think it’s fair enough to use the language of persecution, especially in an X-Men comic. It keeps it relevant.

    What I don’t think works is the use of Rahne as the character (and the art looks like Siryn, agreed!). I do resent the arbitrary OFF PANEL killing of characters like Wolfsbane and Blindfold in this manner, just for them to be diminished by being resurrected again… (Fully expecting that for reality reset at the end).

  11. Thom H. says:

    Agree that we should expect a reset since neither of those deaths was earned at all. I mean, Wolfsbane quits the team and immediately gets killed? Ugh.

    Rosenberg is really trying to sell his “humans hate mutants this time FOR REAL” line, but it’s not actually coming across all that well. It just seems like he’s pressed for time, so he turns to shortcuts like killing off B- and C-list characters.

    Also, how long is Cyclops going to only have one eye? That’s got to be reset at some point.

    I have a little hope that Hickman is going to fix the constant reboot problem, but only a little. I’m not sure his run is going to catch on in the way Marvel wants, and when it doesn’t they’ll just try something new.

    In the Long Ago, writers were given time to find their footing on a book and turn it into something worth reading. Claremont’s run certainly wasn’t stellar at the onset, but he turned the book around (with the help of some amazing artists/co-creators).

    Editorial/Marvel Studios/Disney want the Next Big Story to be handed to them already complete, which is exactly the opposite of how things have worked up to this point. Give talented creators room to breathe, and they’ll produce something interesting. Continue to undercut every creator’s work after a year or two, and readers are going to stop caring at all.

  12. Drew says:

    Yesterday I made the questionable decision to buy UXM #17. I didn’t really want to, but I always feel bad going to Free Comic Book Day, getting free comics for the kids, and not buying anything. In retrospect I should’ve gotten Young Justice #5, but I’d already bought it digitally; and I’d seen an image that seemed to show Warlock and Longshot at Rahne’s funeral. I liked those characters, so I picked it up. I… have questions.

    1) Was that actually Longshot? I think that was the only panel he appeared in. I’ve heard there’s a young Cable running around (…sure, whatever), but he’d have brown hair, no?

    2) Scott’s optic blasts apparently produce heat now?

    3) I gather that’s not actually Warlock, but a partially transmoded Madrox dupe?

  13. wwk5d says:

    Poor Rahne, sacrificed for a really bad allegory. Or something.

    Here’s hoping her death gets revered asap.

  14. Voord 99 says:

    I imagine that Rahne’s extreme Protestant convictions would cause her not to look kindly on being revered after death, as if she were a saint. 🙂

  15. wwk5d says:

    Reversed, dammit!

  16. Voord 99 says:

    Oh, I know. I just couldn’t resist the thought of Rahne going on about “the hagiolatrous blasphemy of Romish superstition” or something like that.

  17. Ben says:

    I really find this UX run to be dreadful. I mean it’s competent enough in execution, but the ideas and choices just kill me.

    Like Cyclops getting shot straight on in the face at short range with a rifle.

    But being fine other than losing an eye.

    So he’s really a cyclops now.

    Get it?

  18. Michael says:

    I’ve made no secret of my increasing dislike for Rosenberg’s writing in the past, and I’m caught in that frustrating quandary where he writes characters I really, really like (Madrox, New Mutants, other X-Men) and proceeds to run them into the ground with sloppy storytelling, a questionable grasp of characterization, abyssmal sense of pacing, and a disturbing reliance on death and/or trauma to forward the plot.

    Ever since they let him have Uncanny X-Men, all of those qualities have increased with each passing issue. Blindfold’s suicide, Loa’s murder, Guido’s death, the horrible things done to Madrox dupes, and now Rahne’s murder (which manages to hit the Venn diagram of “trans panic” “out of character” and “textbook fridging.”)

    You have characters switching allegiances at the drop of a hat, even when it makes no sense for anyone to let them near the team (Dark Beast, Hope, Juggernaut). You have the whiplash-inducing resolution of the transmode-infected New Mutants (by just… infecting a Madrox dupe instead? Who goes from “kill me please” one issue to playing cards with his pals the next issue?) You have Cyclops losing an -eye- and it sure doesn’t seem to slow him down in the least in the following issues (or in his new Champions appearance).

    It’s like… Rosenberg is a guy with great ideas, awful execution, and no editorial oversight to rein him in. I wouldn’t mind finding out that somehow, everything happening in his Uncanny run was an alternate timeline/Danger Room simulation/Legion hallucination and was undone at the end, just to spare these characters what’s been done to them. I hope that when this is done, Rosenberg is given a title I can happily avoid, with characters I hate. (A Punisher/Morbius/Carnage team title set in Weirdworld, for instance.)

  19. Matt C. says:

    Little surprised to see how much negativity Rosenberg’s run has been garnering. I agree that it’s definitely felt a bit haphazard, lurching from plot point to plot point far too quickly (the worst of which was Hope joining the team an issue after shooting Cyclops) but at least stuff is happening. And I like the central premise (we think mutants are doomed, so lets at least clean up our messes first) a lot better than it was during the other two recent threatened extinctions, which involved a lot of sitting around. And can’t really blame the writer for the fact we all know AoXM will end soon and lots will probably be reverted.

    I’ve certainly been enjoying it a lot more than the Age of X-Man stuff, which has one good comic (Prisoner X), one decent (Nextgen) some boring ones (Marvelous, Nightcrawler) and some flat-out terrible ones (Apocalypse, X-Tremists)

  20. JCG says:

    People liking Rosenberg’s run probably speaks more to how absolutely dreadful the previous runs have been rather than any intrinsic qualities.

    “at least stuff is happening”

  21. Nu-D. says:

    I blame Grant Morrison.

    I read his run 3-4years after it was published, and I really admired his bold effort to blow up the status quo that had bogged down the X-Titles since Claremont left, if not longer. In particular, the decision to transition mutants from a barely-there minority, to a more realistic metaphor for minorities in America.

    But in hindsight, nobody’s known what to do with a mutant minority. Which is ridiculous. There’s such a wealth of possible stories, but for some reason they keep trying to put the genie back in the bottle. It’s such a waste, but for some reason Morrison’s vision has been too much for the rest of them to keep up with.

  22. Chris V says:

    Well, the fact that Marvel pretty well decided to just ignore Morrison’s work on the title immediately after his run ended was a major reason for why the follow-up has been so poor.

    Rather than blaming Morrison, you should blame all of Marvel editorial and the writers that followed him for not keeping the book moving in an interesting, new direction.

    It’d be like if after all the work Claremont put in to the X-Men books, right after he left, the writers after him decided to ignore everything he had added to the X-mythos, and instead decided to take the X-Men book back to what it was under Roy Thomas.

    It seems like Marvel would rather embrace the idea of mutants as an “endangered species” always on the verge of extinction.
    I don’t know why Marvel think there is anything interesting to say with this direction. It goes against the very idea of “mutants as the next step in human evolution”, which has been part and parcel to the X-mythos for decades now.
    It also undercuts all the stories that writers attempt to try to make mutants a relevant metaphor for any minority.

    I guess that way Marvel can wring out as much angst as possible with each new iteration though.
    “Sure, mutants were feared and hated in the past, but wait until you see how depressing things get for the X-Men during this run!”.

  23. Thom H. says:

    It’s like Daredevil. How many times has he lost everything, been up against a wall, revealed his identity, been disbarred, etc., etc.? It’s like the only story to tell with him is the one where he’s desperate and alone.

    Except with the X-Men, it’s an entire group of people going through the same depressing cycle over and over again.

    I really liked Mark Waid’s inversion of the typical Daredevil story. Maybe somebody could do the same for the X-Men?

  24. Pasquale R says:

    Long time listener to the podcast, but new to the x-blog. I’m really impressed with the comments section! Lots of thoughtful stuff here and in other articles.

    I really liked Dead Souls and haven’t read #17 yet but I agree that Rosenberg’s run has been haphazard. I definitely blame editorial for the lack of quality control since Morrison though. I’m in the position of stopping reading X-Men, which I thought would never happen in my life! It’s all so boring and nothing matters. I have a little bit of hope that the return of X-Statix means they’re going in a more upbeat direction this summer, and that Hickman will tighten the focus. Personally, I miss the “wilder and weirder” comics that Voord 99 was hoping for above. Things you’d read during “Nu-Marvel”. But I know those don’t sell well.

  25. Chris V says:

    It would be nice to see a run of X-Men stories in the tradition of Waid’s Daredevil, I think.
    However, Daredevil immediately went back to being dark and depressing right after Waid left too.

    I imagine Morrison’s run on X-Men may be the closest we get. We could see something like that again (hopefully, Hickman will go more in that direction).
    It probably wouldn’t last long, before the X-Men were back to, “mutants are going to go extinct! Humans hate us so much more now!”.

  26. Si says:

    Why do humans hate mutants anyway, if the mutants are all going to be extinct soon, wouldn’t they be more of a novelty, a grin-and-bear-it situation at worst? Wouldn’t you save your fear and hatred for those dozens of creepy faceless Spider-Mans popping up all over the city, leaving webs everywhere and randomly assaulting people?

  27. Mark coale says:

    “It would be nice to see a run of X-Men stories in the tradition of Waid’s Daredevil, I think.”

    Has there been anything similar since Parker did First Class?

  28. MasterMahan says:

    I’m not sure why Marvel keeps to try sell “mutant extinction” as a status quo. General raising of stakes? Trying to recapture that Days of Future Past vibe? The trouble is, Marvel is also in love with the “mutants as minorities” metaphor, and those aren’t compatible. If you want to sell mutants as a parallel to real-life minorities, then their situation has to resemble real life. Days of Future Past only worked by using imagery of something that actually happened.

    First, a few hundred people living on an island or another dimension doesn’t work as a minority group.

    Second, Marvel civilians have become so xenophobic they look truly deranged. Everything that happens somehow increases mutant hatred, whether it makes sense or not. Decimation, roving death clouds, most of the X-Men dying in battle – these are things that, in a normal world, would cause *sympathy*.

  29. JCG says:

    Well to be fair, it seems the X-Men Disassembled arc in Uncanny prior to this one ended up an omega-level mutant or two going ballistic and causing a lot of damage.

    According to what I heard at least.

    So increased mutant paranoia/hatred does not seem that forced.

  30. Thom H. says:

    Yeah, I think scale and power levels have something to do with the fear and hatred thing. The more omega-levels you’ve got, the more regular people are going to be scared.

    Morrison worked that balance really well. He vastly increased the number of mutants in the Marvel universe, but still managed to keep the scale of the stories small and manageable. Until his big finale, of course.

    It certainly helped that most of the new mutants he created had powers of limited use or no powers at all. I mean: Beak, Angel, No-Girl, Glob, and even Xorn and Quentin weren’t exactly going to shatter the world with their might.

  31. Si says:

    MasterMahan said what I meant, in a much less glib way. Either mutants are hated and feared, or they’re going extinct, or they’re an exclusive club far from normal folk. Those plots are pretty much mutually exclusive.

    The extinction thing has never been interesting. The exclusive club could be interesting except the stories they want to tell are all about the outside world so why bother? The hated and feared angle is a proven winner. Otherwise, I’m sure the straight-up superhero story is all we need.

    That said, mutants work nicely as a loose analogy for hated minorities in general, less so as a direct depiction of any particular minority. Too many people try to tell the story about Harvey Milk struggling with Martin Luther King over the modern state of Israel’s placement of wheelchair access, and also they punch each other in tights.

  32. Luis Dantas says:

    Grant Morrison’s run was indeed game changing, although there has been an unavoidable attempt to ignore most of the irreversible consequences. Not out of malice, but due to financial considerations. Those have been trumping the creative considerations for decades now.

    Creatively, most of those characters are confused wrecks after so many years, and should probably be retired already. Ironically enough, so are the editorial strategies employed on them. Far from innovative and exciting, the X-Men have become a bureaucratic franchise that keeps attempting to prove that it is not over yet by trying every conceivable permutation of the old tricks. It does not work anymore, but the franchise is still predictable enough for the yearly cycle to be maintained, dilluting its viability a bit further and tying the comic books’ fortune that much further to readers interested in byzantine continuity and shallow characterization.

  33. Loz says:

    I wouldn’t even mind the ‘mutants on the edge of extinction’ storyline but they never do anything interesting with it. It’s really a story which, if you start, then every story after that HAS to be about that until it’s resolved. But next month is the X-Men/MLP:FiM crossover, so the imminent extinction storyline has to go on the back burner, then it’s the summer crossover where all the regular titles get cancelled so we can have six-issue miniseries where the title is transposed into Regency England, after which it’s another crossover but this time it’s one of those where the extinction storyline is mentioned on the first and last page but the story in between is completely unconnected. Somewhere a year or two down the line Dennis Hopeless or Charles Soule will be given the task of doing a miniseries which sorts out the problem through the mediums of punching and not having done anything to lay the groundwork for the finale.

  34. Mo Walker says:

    Rosenberg’s solo Uncanny run reminds me of the end of Claremont’s outback period. Instead of the Siege Perilous rebooting things, Jonathan Hickman will be the rooting mechanism.

    I agree with previous comments concerning Grant Morrison’s run. I wish Marvel would consider a status quo involving the Mutant Planet scenario from Earth X/Rick Remender’s aborted run.

  35. Si says:

    For me, the problem with the extinction plot is that it doesn’t really mean anything. Millennials are facing extinction in the same way mutants are. They’re born of humans, any babies they have now won’t be millennials, and within a century the last millennial will have died of old age. So what? There will still be billions of people, with the same national foods and local mucic styles. It means nothing.

    There is no real mutant culture, no mutant language, no rich tradition reaching back centuries, it’s just a random assemblage of people from actual cultures. The only reason to mourn the loss of a pseudoDarwinian species-to-be is purely egotistical, “oh we thought our practically meaningless social grouping was going to inherit the Earth by default, but now it isn’t, boo-hoo.” It’s even less relevant now that there’s inhumans everywhere.

  36. Voord 99 says:

    I think Si makes an important point. I don’t think it’s an insuperable difficulty with doing some version of this story, but it is something that you need to pay attention to when writing.

    You can create a distinctive mutant subculture and/or have the idea that one is coming into being and represents the potential of the future (as Morrison did). Or you can focus on other issues that the metaphor would raise. The obvious point of reference for a “mutant vaccine” is disability or perhaps gay people – in both cases there are issues surrounding the existence of a distinct culture, but that doesn’t exhaust the problems with this sort of thing. Or you could do a version of the story in which you leaned into the arbitrariness of it, focusing on the perpetrators and the senselessness of their attitudes. There’s something in there about how assimilation won’t save you from prejudice. And so on.

    But you need to be thinking about the problem.

    (Leaving aside that, as our host points out, this has been done an awful lot in the last decade-and-a-half. Arguably more than that, because you can maybe add as a version of the same thing the idea that mutants were inexorably on the road to some version of the Days of Future Past future, which is still extermination, even if it’s not immediate. And that was obviously big in the Lobdell/Nicieza era. We’ve been on this general track – not completely, but a lot of the time – for about 25 years.)

  37. Chris V says:

    The thing there though, as some others have pointed out, is that the “Days of Future Past” scenario is really the only interesting permutation of the “mutants are going extinct” trope.
    It’s the only direction which has fed in to interesting stories.
    That’s because it’s based on the idea of humans pursing genocide against mutants.

    Even if Si’s points do make sense, the idea of humans wiping out a distinct set of beings still has gravity.
    Regardless of if mutants have their own culture or anything else, it’d be similar to a government deciding to pursue genocide against all people with green eyes.
    Do people with green eyes have their own distinct culture? No.
    Should people still case if all people with green eyes are going to be purposely killed off? Yes.

  38. Thom H. says:

    The other big difference between DoFP and more recent “extinction” stories is that DoFP is a possible future that the X-men can actively try to avoid. It gives their actions purpose as they continue to collect mutants for the school and negotiate with the people who want them controlled/quarantined/dead.

    Once your numbers have shrunk to 200 and/or no more mutants are being born, what do you do? Huddle together on an island? That’s not a purpose or a storytelling hook. That’s just a holding pattern while we wait for a deus ex machina to bring mutants back again.

  39. Moo says:

    “Avoid DoFP” loomed large over most of the ’90s and I found it pretty tiresome to be honest (not to mention pointless since a DoFP scenario wasn’t ever going to happen in a universe the X-Men had to share with Spider-Man, Captain America, the FF, etc.). Rather not go back to that.

  40. Thom H. says:

    For “avoid DoFP” to be a solid hook, it depends on the stories being told well. And I’m pretty sure we can agree that didn’t happen much in the 90s.

  41. Moo says:

    “It depends on the stories being told well.” Well, that’s true of any series premise, isn’t it?

    DoFP has been done to death. I’ve no interest in reading yet another story where the X-Men need to stop person A from performing action B or else the Sentinels will take over (but we know they really can’t because, shared universe).

    I preferred the idea that mutants were the inevitable future *someday* (not like the DoFP scenario that the 90s kept trying to convince us was an imminent threat). You can at least work with that setup without having to tell the same story over and over again. The X-Men just need to focus on keeping the peace, to whatever extent they’re able, until *someday* arrives. There’s more wiggle room in there for telling different types of stories and not all of them need to be gloomy, desperate preoccupations with dystopian futures.

  42. Voord 99 says:

    I think “Can’t happen,” or at any rate “Almost certainly won’t happen” applies to so many things in stories, especially this sort of story, as to be fairly useless as a criterion. The shared universe only affects it marginally. Even if this was all happening in an X-universe, you still wouldn’t expect the villains to win at the end of the day, any more than the Skrulls were going actually to conquer the earth back in FF #2, when the shared universe was no barrier.

    On the other hand, that this particular threat that the reader knows won’t actually happen has been done a lot and could use a long rest – I think that’s quite true.

  43. Chris V says:

    I would rather see the Grant Morrison “mutants are the next stage of human evolution” direction too.
    Especially at this point.
    It’s far more interesting, and can open up many more different plots. Unlike the tired “mutants are going extinct” trope.

    I was just pointing out that Claremont took the “Days of Future Past” scenario in some very interesting directions.
    It at least fed into wider themes which the X-Men are meant to represent.
    I don’t see that ever happening with any of the other tired “mutants will soon be extinct” stories.

  44. Taibak says:

    I think we’re missing something big here.

    I don’t think anyone here would disagree that the defining run on the X-Men wasn’t Morrison’s, it was Claremont’s. And while Claremont gave us God Loves, Man Kills and Days of Future Past, the bulk of his stories were fundamentally soap operas about people with superpowers. Sure they dealt with mutant-hating bigots, but they also went to space to fight the Brood and went to Ireland where they met some leprechauns. A lot of the stories were about characters from the X-Men’s past coming back to haunt them (think Sabretooth, the Shadow King, or the Demon Bear), or stories where the characters have to come to terms with who they are (Magneto, Rogue, Dark Phoenix).

    Put another way, perhaps the X-Men work best with the anti-mutant prejudice kept in the background for most stories. Drag out the extinction level threats and the gun-toting anti-mutant bigots every now and then, but otherwise the real story is about the X-Men being misfits struggling with their own identities.

  45. Voord 99 says:

    That’s very true.

    However, the thing I’d add is that there are periods in Claremont’s run. I’d have to go back to break this down in detail (and obviously, any periodization would be fuzzy at the margins).

    But generally… Early Claremont is basically not about anti-mutant prejudice at all. About the only place where he touches on it is with Lang’s X-Sentinels. But that story is obviously about confronting the new X-Men with the Silver Age and especially the Thomas/Adams past – the X-Sentinels are robot duplicates of the original five! In other words, that Lang has anti-mutant motives is part of the whole blast from the past. If Claremont had left the book shortly afterwards, we would sum up his approach as that he was moving away from anti-mutant prejudice as part of the X-Men.

    And not actually that shortly afterwards. It’s years before any of that comes in. Basically, not until 1981 and Days of Future Past. Which is to say, such famous defining classic Claremont storylines as Proteus, the M’Kraan crystal. and the Hellfire Club/Dark Phoenix sequence have come and gone. Byrne is almost off the book!

    The Hellfire Club are particularly telling: they’re mutants as the decadent elite, not a marginalized group. Similarly, early Claremont Magneto is nothing like what Claremont makes him into after his turn in the early ‘80s – he is very much a classic villain, and is primarily motivated by personal hatred of the X-Men.

    Exactly why Claremont has this change in the early ‘80s is unclear – I’d be interested to know if anyone has asked him. (Something about the politics of the Reagan era?) It’s obviously about the same time as he’s retooling the book in other respects (esp. moving Cyclops out and moving Kitty Pryde in).

    Even after that, as you say, it’s not continuous anti-mutant prejudice storylines 24/7. What I don’t know, though – this is what I’d have to go back and read carefully to see – is if one can detect development from that point. I have a very vague sense that Claremont does tend to become darker overall towards the end of his tenure, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a higher relative frequency of references to anti-mutant prejudice.

  46. Walter Lawson says:

    The original Lee/Kirby-by-way-of-Olaf-Stapledon concept was the opposite of the oppressed minority trope: mutants were a master race, such that even a single mutant like the Vanisher or the Blob was more than human law enforcement could handle. Magneto could singlehandedly extort the U.S. military, and with four accomplices he could take over a small country. The feared-and-hated thing was an ironic twist: only the good mutants could save humanity from the evil mutants, but the public didn’t always distinguish between them.

    It’s a better premise than “humanity hates these particular superheroes for no real reason.” And trying to give mutants their own culture is usually far fetched and winds up making them seem like bad Inhumans imitations.

    Feared-and-hated did become a bigger part of the series by Roy Thomas’s second run, largely because he used the Sentinels, and Claremont used it as one among many scenarios for his run. But the real appeal of Claremont’s X-Men was the character work. That’s what seems to be most missing from the constant reboots and shocking new turns of the post-Morrison years, with an exception for the Carey run and a bits of a few others around that time.

  47. Moo says:

    A lot (possibly most) of the X-Men stories Claremont wrote while Cockrum was still around were a result of Claremont simply asking Cockrum what he wanted to draw. Also, Cockrum was never a fan of the whole “mutant menace” angle.

    So maybe that explains why Claremont shifted gears a little after Cockrum left.

  48. Chris V says:

    I wouldn’t say that was all you saw in the Lee and Kirby run though.
    There was the creation of the Sentinels. Trask’s warning about what would happen if humanity didn’t learn to be able to control the “master race”.

    Mutants could become an oppressed minority, if they didn’t learn to keep their head down and bide their time until humanity decided it could learn to accept the “good mutants”.

  49. Moo says:

    “I wouldn’t say that was all you saw in the Lee and Kirby run though.”

    I’m not saying that and neither did Cockrum. It was just that angle he wasn’t a fan of. I assume he was otherwise a fan.

  50. Thom H. says:

    I agree that Claremont’s characterization is a bit part of the appeal of his tenure on the X-Men, but I don’t think that’s mutually exclusive with the “hated and feared” angle.

    By retroactively making Magneto Jewish — and establishing a sensible motive for him in the process — Claremont creates a constant reminder of anti-mutant hatred. Rachel Summers also shows up to symbolize anti-mutant sentiment and the possibility of a devastating future.

    Even if the storyline didn’t overtly reference prejudice against mutants, the constant thought bubbles certainly did. That’s actually one of the most believable of Claremont’s devices — whether these people were being actively discriminated against or not, they worried about it on a pretty regular basis.

    By embodying prejudice in certain characters and giving us access to their inner lives, Claremont allowed the sense of persecution to pervade the book. It was a subtle current that bubbled to the surface periodically. And it gave his characters dimension. They weren’t just trying to find their way in the world — they were trying to find their way in THIS world that hated them.

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