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Aug 9

X-Men/Fantastic Four: 4X

Posted on Sunday, August 9, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

Very much on the fringes of the X-books, X-Men / Fantastic Four didn’t get a mention in the X-books’ release schedules, and comes from the FF’s editorial office. So you might well wonder how much weight to give it in the context of the X-books as a line. In the short term, that turns out to be largely academic, since the main plot developments are about Franklin Richards, and they matter far more to the Fantastic Four. But it’s also the first time we’ve seen the X-Men interact at length with other major superheroes in their current mutant nationalist mode, and on that level it might be more significant.

It’s certainly pretty – it’s the Dodsons, after all. Their clean lines and curves, and the light colours of Laura Martin, lend themselves to good, traditional superhero team-up fare. They’re perhaps not the artists I’d naturally choose for a Dr Doom story, given that his aesthetic is all about gloomy castles – but here he’s conveniently off on a desert island, so all is well.

Chip Zdarsky is always an interesting writer – and he has some intriguing points going on just (only just) below the surface. The surface plot is more perfunctory, maybe be a bit more of concern to FF readers than it is to us. It’s a Dr Doom story, after all. And that surface plot is ultimately a little inconclusive and unsatisfactory, perhaps because the real sting is in the epilogue. Still, like many of the current X-books, there’s a sense that this story trades more heavily on hints about the future than on a strong story here and now. Perhaps that’s inevitable in a fringe title that needs to engage with some of the current X-Men themes, but can’t resolve them.

The story springboards off current Fantastic Four events. Reed and Sue’s son Franklin is now a teenager, thanks to more time travel shenanigans. He remains a massively powerful mutant, but his power reserves are no longer replenishing. So every time he uses his powers, he’s counting down to zero – which means he’s a very powerful character who has to hang back and do as little as possible. Reed is unable to find a solution, and Franklin has his doubts about how much Reed really wants to find a solution. The X-Men show up to make their pitch for Franklin to come to Krakoa, the FF squabble with them, and Franklin winds up running away and getting an alternative offer from good old Dr Doom.

All of this is an explicit callback to the 1987 miniseries Fantastic Four vs X-Men. That’s an odd call, because it’s not like the original series gets talked about that much. It’s not essential reading for this book, but it certainly helps with context. The original mini came out in the year between “Mutant Massacre” and “Fall of the Mutants”, when the X-books were just starting to expand beyond Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor. Marvel put out two X-Men minis that year, both tying directly into the core plot, and effectively serving as a second X-Men title.

FF vs X-Men was written by Chris Claremont, and involved the X-Men trying to save Kitty Pryde’s life after she was stuck in intangible form and drifting into oblivion. Reed fails to save her due to a crisis of confidence, and Doom steps in to offer his own solution – all, apparently, as part of another scheme to prove his superiority over Reed by doing something Reed couldn’t. Kitty decides to kill herself so as to stop the X-Men getting indebted to Doom in order to save her, and there are key scenes where little innocent Franklin talks her out of it, then tells the grown-up heroes to stop fighting and sort themselves out.

In this book, the roles are reversed. Franklin is losing his powers. Everyone else is feuding over him for what he represents – family for the FF, mutant identity for the X-Men, a chance to humiliate Reed for Dr Doom. Only Kitty seems more concerned about Franklin as a person, and tries to support him in making his own decisions. By the logic of these stories, we’re evidently not meant to think that either team has got the balance right to start with; the whole point of this sort of plot is that Franklin and Kitty bring out the best of both worlds to show the better way forward.

Here, that conflict brings out the awkward aspects of Krakoan mutant nationalism that have largely been left unchallenged in the main titles. The X-Men show up at the Fantastic Four’s home unannounced and more or less declare that because Franklin is a mutant, his home is with them and his existing family ties are just not relevant. This seems to be a view of the world which most of the mutants on Krakoa are happy to go along with, but it’s striking how few of the non-combatant mutants seem to care in any way about the friends and family they left behind.

Doom and the FF both directly challenge the X-Men’s insistence that mutants are building a better society because they’re mutants. Giving the most direct speech on the topic to Doom helps to prevent the book from taking sides too explicitly, but Doom is surely right to object to the idea that having powers makes you a better person and somehow automatically qualified to build a better world. The claim from some on Krakoa that their mutant society will be better because it’s a mutant society lacks any real evidence to support it, and when taken with the embrace of characters like Apocalypse, starts to look like a might-makes-right worldview.

It’s not a conventionally heroic stance, and it depends on the X-Men’s long history of persecution to make us accept it as one, even superficially. The unresolved question is whether we really are meant to take this at face value, or whether Hickman is playing off audience sympathies even while showing us quite directly that there are some seriously dodgy things going on at Krakoa. My money’s on the latter, though I sense there’s a segment of the audience who are quite invested in the former.

Zdarsky goes through the usual motions of the two teams coming round to a middle ground and bridging the gap. Franklin insists on going his own way and on bridging both worlds. The Fantastic Four see the X-Men still fighting against Dr Doom like in the old days, and accept that they’re still genuine heroes who have been shaped into this more radical stance by their personal experiences.

But then there’s the epilogue, which suggests that the X-Men haven’t learned or changed at all. Fair enough, they’re aggrieved that Reed created a device to shield Franklin from recognition as a mutant, especially because it could also be used to remove his powers. They don’t want that around. But they don’t discuss the point with Reed. Nor do they simply erase it from everyone’s memory without telling them. Instead, Charles and Magneto make a big deal about messing with Reed’s mind, without giving him a choice, as a display of power. You can come up with reasons they need to tell him – maybe Charles figures Reed is bound to notice something has happened and doesn’t want to risk further interference with his mind – but he doesn’t give that sort of explanation. It reads as an exercise in humiliation, in which the X-Men manage to be reasonable in what they’re trying to achieve, but utterly unsympathetic in how they go about it.

And in a story where the whole arc is normally about everyone finding middle ground and accommodation, that treats the X-Men as the bad guys. You could also read it as “the X-Men don’t play by the rules of the genre any more”, but that’s only the heroic position if you think Krakoa First is a good foreign policy for a self-proclaimed superpower.

That’s all quite interesting. The stuff with Doom and his giant Doombot Sentinels and the Latverian mutants really isn’t – the Latverians barely get a personality – and part of the issue might be that the book is less interested in its main storyline than in the subversion of expectations at the end. It takes aim at some of the most interesting questions raised by the Krakoa era, and generates some interesting scenes, but it doesn’t get a completely satisfying story out of them.

Bring on the comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Forgive my mind blanking hard but what was the other mini the X-books put out in 87? I remember the Fantastic Four one but I’m drawing a blank on the other.

  2. Chris V says:

    I think it was the pretty bad X-Men vs. Avengers one, written by Roger Stern.

  3. Andrew says:

    Oh yeah that’s right! I forgot about that one.

  4. Luis Dantas says:

    That was fairly good, actually. There was also “Mephisto Vs.”, which came at the same time and also involved (in different issues) both the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

    So this series is now called “4X”? I don’t remember that being so originally.

  5. Sarah says:

    “The unresolved question is whether we really are meant to take this at face value, or whether Hickman is playing off audience sympathies even while showing us quite directly that there are some seriously dodgy things going on at Krakoa. My money’s on the latter, though I sense there’s a segment of the audience who are quite invested in the former.”

    I think that’s what I’ve found the most off-putting about this current run. Hickman is making it incredibly clear that this is a terrible idea destined to fail and runs counter to everything that the X-Men have believed in the past. However, both the audience & many of his fellow creatives think that this is truly a great society made by greater people, and anyone who points out otherwise is just bigoted. The reactions online to this mini – where Sue was dubbed a “Karen” for not wanting the X-Men to more or less kidnap her son cuz he’s a mutant & they “deserve” him more than his family – really cemented it. When Hickman’s other shoe drops, they’re going to be very disappointed.

  6. Luis Dantas says:

    Scary in a way. How many people are nationalistic fantasies seducing exactly, and how deeply?

  7. Chris says:

    Misfits and people that feel Marginalized and overlooked are people that are most easily radicalized.

    Most nationalists, at least in the evil racist sense, are awkward or angry people. It’s why nationalism in that vein will always exist and always exist as a fringe group and not a real movement.

    Thankfully the violent murderous nationalists are rarer still but it’s still all bad. Just different degrees of bad.

  8. Chris V says:

    Well, I think a lot of it may come down to the fact that these are the X-Men, beloved characters they’ve come to love for many years.
    There’s the question of whether Marvel would actually allow the X-Men to be treated as villains.

    I really don’t know of Hickman’s own politics. He has never been overtly-political in most of his comics in the way that, say, Al Ewing has been.
    I think the most political he has gotten is Black Monday Murders.
    Even outside of politics, he may see this whole thing as more of a thought-experiment. That mutants really are not the same as humans.

    I think another question is, what if there is no “other shoe”? What if Hickman does expect the reader to sympathize with Krakoa?

    One must also remember that this mini-series was written outside the purview of Hickman. It may very well have been written more as an outsider’s view of what is occurring with Krakoa.
    It may not reflect the way that Hickman sees Krakoa, at all.

  9. Paul says:

    “So this series is now called “4X”? I don’t remember that being so originally.”

    X-MEN / FANTASTIC FOUR: 4X is the title being used for the trade paperback.

  10. Luis Dantas says:

    @Chris V: I would think that the X-offices would have to approve at least the general tone of the epilogues, since they make such meaningful statements about the Krakoa rulers.

    And if there is no other shoe to drop, well, that will make for some interesting stories if nothing else. But I for one don’t think that the X-Men can work as all-out villains for an extended period of time.

    And I don’t see how they can be portrayed as anything but antagonistic to humanity in the long run under the current Krakoa parameters either, particularly when the other books have become more nationalistic and interventionist as well.

    To be fair, we have seen that acknowledged in the main X-Books as well, particularly X-Force.

    Maybe we have ahead of us an extended storyline where those tensions will be brought to the surface and, say, Charles decides that he can’t keep compromising his ethics anymore, steps down, and we follow the reaction of the other mutants as they choose sides. That sort of has to happen at some point fairly soon, frankly.

    Unless Krakoa is somehow separated from the continuity of the other Marvel heroes, perhaps. I half expected that to have happened since HoX #1. It can still happen, for instance by having us follow another iteration of Moira’s incarnations or by having Krakoa as whole move, perhaps to Shiar space or to the Otherworld dimension seen in Excalibur.

    It could be an interesting experiment, and resembles me of the time when the Legion of Superheroes was cut off from Earth and we had a long period of them dealing with hostile environments far away from their usual acquaintances and resources. And it would evolve fairly naturally from the current setup. Come to think of it, it also resembles me of the Australia period back in the original Claremont run.

  11. Chris V says:

    Moira has tried to avoid the in-fighting which plagued mutants for so long by deciding to unite the three characters who are considered the leaders of mutantdom (Xavier, Magneto, Apocalypse).
    She already dealt with the idea of choosing one of those mutant ideologies to back, and it always ended badly.

    I also don’t see Xavier stepping down because of his loyalty to Moira. He knows more about what’s going on than anyone else on Krakoa.
    Surely he would have rejected Moira’s offer before this point if he had recriminations.
    Without Xavier’s guidance, Moira is pushed even further in to the background, as Magneto is the only other person who knows about Moira’s plan, and Xavier knows more than Magneto.

    The idea of removing mutants from Earth and ending the constant rivalry between humans and mutants might be interesting….although also somewhat sad, in that it admits defeat.
    That as long as human and mutants are forced to exist together, it is going to guarantee extinction.

  12. Voord 99 says:

    I think, irrespective of the degree to which Hickman intends all this to be political, it is, inevitably, because it’s the X-Men. Which is the thing about Krakoa as a set-up for me — I think it’s hard to talk about it without setting against what it *isn’t*, which is the traditional “mutant metaphor” idea of what X-books are about.

    (Or at least what we think they were about — quite a lot of this is comparatively late in coming to prominence in the X-books.)

    I think the starting-point for Krakoa is that the X-Men have stopped caring about whether or not humans *like* them, and are creating a new sort of culture. While, textually, Krakoa is a nation, I think nationalism isn’t really what this is about.

    (I mean, I’d quite like it to be. I grew up in Ireland — I have a lot to say about nationalism. How bored would you like to be, really? But I don’t think Krakoa has enough purchase on any actual nationalisms, with the partial exception of Israel, to say much about them.)

    I think it’s much more about debates about assimilation, the questioning of the racial-liberalism model of American progress, the rejection of “respectability politics,” the demand that the white cis straight men who’ve always been in charge and have screwed everything up get out of the way and let the future be brown and queer, whether the white cis straight men find it comfortable or not. That sort of thing — stuff that’s internal to our societies, but metaphorically figured as the creation of a new mutant society that’s one the one hand an attractive hedonistic utopia with a whiff of the Culture about it (I suspect an influence) and something weird and off-putting, especially from the point of view of the “traditional” X-Men-fighting-for-a-world-that-hates-and-fears-them-because-that’s-Xavier’s-dream-model.

  13. Chris V says:

    I think the problem in taking that metaphor too far is that a lot of the stories are showing that the mutant society is suffering from a lot of the same flaws as our own societies.
    Are mutants really as different from “normal” humans as they believe?

    I don’t know what Hickman’s message may end up being in this context, but it’s interesting to note that the two sides share a common enemy.
    Isn’t Hickman really saying that mutants really are not “the future” anymore than Homo Sapien Sapiens?
    That the true face of the future is something even more “alien” to humanity than mutants, with post-humanity and then eventually it all leads to the Phalanx.

    Anyway, I’ve begun to read the series as being based, perhaps, in ideas from Frank Herbert’s Hellstrom’s Hive novel.
    I know that Hickman is well read in the sci-fi genre, so I assume he has read the novel.
    It features a 1970s/Nixon-era/COINTELPRO dominated dystopian version of America and contrasts it with a truly alien outsider society which seems quite disturbing on multiple levels to what we consider as “human”. However, that’s the point.
    I am currently reading Krakoa with that novel in mind.

  14. Voord 99 says:

    Oh, I’m fairly certain that Hickman does want to play around with the possibility that the mutant vision has its own problems. I think, “better(?)” is the framing — better, but are you really sure that it is?

    Although it’s a tricky question, because I think some of that is because, to contrast with the traditional version, Krakoa does have to be something that has the potential to bother us, and to frustrate the traditional X-Men reader’s desire to identify with the X-Men in an uncomplicated way.

    But that’s more a question of what the story is saying about what it’s relevant to, than what it’s relevant to.

  15. Si says:

    I think I will remain sceptical. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if this all builds up to an amazing climax that makes the masses rethink their entire political and cultural mindset. I’ll be content if it all builds up to a pretty good line-wide event that makes me personally want to go back on Unlimited and reread a lot of the comics that led up to it. But mostly I expect it to just kind of end, with a bunch of readers saying “but what about this, why did we care about that?” And then a few choice bits and pieces will become standard continuity, while for the most part the X-Men will be back in a mansion in New York, while Apocalypse will be turning more X-Men into evil Horsemen named Death, and Jean will be torn between loving Reed or Namor.

  16. Si says:

    That said, good on Marvel for trying something different with the X-Men. I’m definitely in favour of the big arc happening.

  17. Voord 99 says:

    @Si: I think everything you say is absolutely correct. I strongly suspect that at the end of the day this is going to look like a conservative narrative about the themes that I do think it reflects,* purely because at the end of the day, we’re going to go back to some version of the traditional status quo.

    But in the meantime, this has done a good job of something which I was beginning to doubt was possible, making the X-books interesting to talk about. I was seriously coming round to the position a couple of years ago that maybe the X-Men were like the Fantastic Four, something that was brilliant and important in its day, but whose day has probably passed. This has proved me wrong about that. (Please someone, prove me wrong about the Fantastic Four.)

    Although I will say that, for me personally, the X-books are becoming something that I find interesting to talk about, but not so interesting to read.

    * Not by any means necessarily intentionally – it’s a cultural-history question of why we are getting this particular X-Men story at this particular moment. Lots of reasons, but I don’t think it’s irrelevant that the model of politics to which the traditional “Xavier’s dream” stuff was attached is being attacked as exhausted, inadequate, and actively harmful out there beyond comics.

  18. Luis Dantas says:

    It has been said that Nightwing of DC Comics became a popular character because he was allowed to grow and change. I agree.

    It is however hard for Marvel and DC to allow characters that are understood to be valuable intellectual properties to change significantly for any extended period of time. The drive to keep them recognizable and marketable is strong.

    Japanese Manga usually allow characters to run their courses and reach resolutions. Marvel and DC rarely do. With few exceptions, everything changes forever in events meant to create interest and sales, then after a short while everything changes back to a confortably recognizable status quo.

    A bit frustrating, but that is how things currently stand. It would be exciting to have more exceptions, and it could create more emotional investiment from readers, but the finantial realities make that unlikely.

  19. Chris V says:

    I think X-Men is a comic that always works best when it seems to exist in its own world, separate from superheroes.

    As Claremont’s run went along, it seemed less and less like it had anything to do with the Marvel Universe and superheroes.

    Grant Morrison’s run always seemed like it had to, and to a great extent did, exist in its own universe.

    Now, Hickman’s run doesn’t seem to fit with the Marvel Universe at all.
    This FF tie-in mini seems like a pretty poorly planned idea, especially with Xavier and Magneto looking like super-villains at the end.
    I think it was a mistake on the creators part in how it reads, but regardless, it is too unsubtle.

    The X-Men concept just doesn’t seem to work well within a wider shared universe, where they are always feeling the pressure to exist as just a superhero story again.

  20. Voord 99 says:

    @Luis Dantas: I think the desire to keep characters in fixed versions for marketing purposes is definitely a central cause of the phenomenon, but I think there are other reasons that add to this.

    I think it’s interesting that change, not its illusion, remained possible up through the ‘90s. For instance, I think it’s striking that Kyle Rayner really was intended to be Green Lantern and Hal Jordan was really supposed to have changed and become a different character. Wally West was Barry Allen’s permanent replacement, and Barry Allen was definitely going to stay dead. Etc. — those are the most notable examples, and are DC, but even in the X-books, you have things like introducing Bishop and really committing to him as a central character.

    It’s not until this century that things seem to become really and permanently fixed in the Big Two universes. I think it’s likely that the timing has something to do with the way in which the superhero comics market was utterly different by about 2000 from what it had been in 1990 — to the extent that I think you can say that Marvel and DC comics publishing was an entirely different business.

    You move to selling a niche product to a small number of relatively old devotees who have extensive knowledge of the history of the characters and strong attachment to the “classic” versions. In other words, yes, it’s the companies, but let’s not let ourselves, the superhero comics fans, off the hook either.

  21. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I’m not so sure, even back in the 80s Claremont couldn’t permanently retire Cyclops and keep Jean Grey dead. And change was definitely not possible in 1991, when he was forced to write the X-Men as being back under Xavier, in the mansion, fighting Magneto again.

    But individual characters changing forever still exists as a possibility – I don’t see Carol Danvers going back to being Ms Marvel. The character being tied to a billion-dollar movie definitely helps with that, but the change was pretty well-set in the comics long before the movie.

    (Though of course in this instance it helps that Mar-vell has been dead for years and Marvel had to keep coming up with ideas on how to keep the title in circulation for trademark purposes).

  22. Chris V says:

    I agree. Introducing a new character to a team book, like Bishop, isn’t exactly change.
    Especially if the writer is telling the same exact story over and over again with those characters.

    Bishop was sort of just an African-American replacement for Rachel Summers, if you think about it.
    A brooding person from a dystopian future who was there to remind everyone of the looming dark future which may be coming for mutants. Something already worn out by Claremont.

    It was always a core cast of X-Men, living in a mansion with Xavier, an with Magneto as the arch-villain to go out and fight. The big over-arcing plot was always that these “mutants were fighting for a world that hates and fears them”.

  23. Thom Heil says:

    I totally see Voord’s point but agree that by the 90s the X-men were getting stuck in their long rut.

    And as that was happening at Marvel, DC was gradually freshening up some of their stalest characters.

    Perhaps it’s more of a start and stop model of change that was progressively more stop than start as the comics audience shrank over time.

    And by the early 2000s, more or less, as the audience reached new lows, the Big Two started spinning in place.

  24. Si says:

    @Voord 99 I’m actually really enjoying Fantastic Four at the moment, something I haven’t been able to say since over a decade before I was even born. Current stories are focused on them being a family that has adventures, rather than being superheroes. Aging up the kids so they can be active participants was a great idea. As was Reed Richards’ beard, I will fight for its honour.

  25. Chris V says:

    This is a site devoted to the X-franchise, so I didn’t say anything about the FF previously.
    However, the FF can be great when done right.
    FF is another book that was never meant to be a superhero title. The FF are “imaginauts” rather than superheroes.
    I loved the John Byrne, Mark Waid, and Hickman runs on FF. They were all excellent. Lots of imagination, big ideas, and fun.
    That’s what is needed with a FF story. Something as wild and crazy as Jack Kirby’s finest, but which should never simply rest on the laurels of Lee and Kirby.

    Fantastic Four is a concept that, in theory, should never seem outdated.
    There are limitless adventures in an infinite (fictional) multiverse.
    The fact that so many writers seemed to fail to grasp what makes the FF great is sort of baffling.

  26. Chris V says:

    Oh, and I forgot the too-short Walt Simonson run, which read like Grant Morrison on FF should have read.

  27. Aro says:

    I think part of Hickman’s plan with Krakoa was to create a setup that was robust enough that it could serve as a long-term status quo going forward. Something to replace “going back to the mansion and fighting Magneto”.

    That might be why there’s been so much setup and so little ongoing plot in his run. It’s been all about setting up the rules, politics and possibilities of Krakoa, and just kind of marinating in them.

    I think there are some serious points to critique about this, and I’ve stopped reading the books regularly. Marauders is the only one with characters that I care about. However, it seems unlikely to me that all these rules and systems are being set specifically up so that it can be all yanked away in a startling twist. Even when the fans grow tired of this era and the mansion (invariably) comes back, I think Krakoa has been developed enough that it will stand as a touchpoint for other writers to return to in the future.

    I don’t think Hickman intended to build this as a metaphor, or even a storyline — it intended as a playground for stories. Of course there’s nefarious stuff in the setup, because otherwise there would be no need for heroics, but I don’t think it’s all meant to come crumbling down.

    That’s how it seems to me, despite the fact that the original Krakoa was a mind-controlling mutant monster…

  28. Voord 99 says:

    I’m not saying that the Fantastic Four can’t be the basis for good, enjoyable stories. That’s a low bar.

    What I mean is: there is a case that the Fantastic Four was the single most important thing to happen in superhero comics in the ‘60s, and was at the center of the genre, in the same way that you could say something similar about Claremont’s X-Men in its heyday.

    What I would be looking for is something like Hickman’s X-line or Ewing’s Immortal Hulk. This is not something that the “imaginauts,” “big ideas” line really applies to — that’s saying that you want something that does what Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four did and feels the same.

    It never will feel quite the same, because the cultural moment is different in how we feel about science! and exploration. I think FF stories lost a lot of their power once the psychedelic era started, frankly.

    As far as the specific runs mentioned go…

    The writing on Simonson’s run is actually not all that good. As Jeff Lester commented on the Baxter Building, and the discussion there convinced me, although I was reluctant, Walter Simonson the writer is very lucky that his work is being drawn by Walter Simonson the artist. There is also a quite serious problem with how he handles the character of Sharon Ventura. The art is, however, amazing, probably the best since Kirby.

    Waid/Wieringo is probably the epitome of fun and enjoyable. Ultra-competent, works fine, nothing special. Most interesting as a commentary on the Fantastic Four themselves.

    As for Slott – I think we might have to agree to disagree on that one. For me, it’s turning one of the big problems with the Fantastic Four after Lee//Kirby way up, which is a horrible tendency to foreground nostalgia. It’s the sort of approach that one could imagine revisiting the origin story and retconning it so that Reed didn’t make a miscalculation and it was all someone else’s fault.

    But no-one would do that, right? That would be crazy.

  29. Chris V says:

    Hickman’s X-line is all about changing the X-Men because it’s admitting defeat, saying that the X-Men don’t work anymore, because the only thing to do with them has already been done to death.
    Hickman’s X-Men, for all intents and purposes, is not the X-Men comic anymore.
    It’s a science fictional look at the concept of mutants as a separate species.

    I’d argue that the FF franchise doesn’t need to change, because it’s the story of a family which is going out and exploring the unknown.
    Science and science fiction are constantly evolving and discovering new facts about the universe in which we live, so there should always be room to explore new things with the FF.

    You say you want something different like with Immortal Hulk, but Ewing’s Hulk is doing basically the same thing as X-Men, simply making the characters seem darker and more sinister.
    Deconstructing the characters down to the very core of their characters as created by Lee and Kirby and rebuilding them from that point.
    Immortal Hulk is so amazing simply because of the ability of Al Ewing as a writer, rather than any core ideas as such.
    If you put a lesser writer on Immortal Hulk and used this exact same story, everyone would be talking about how it’s stupid.

    Immortal Hulk isn’t so much different as it is the fact that an amazing writer is writing the book with an idea to use Hulk as something other than a superhero, when he never really worked well as a superhero.

  30. Chris V says:

    Even Claremont’s run on X-Men, it started out as just a better written version of what had come before.
    It wasn’t until issue #200 that we really saw change, as Xavier was written out of the book and Magneto took over the X-Men.
    Then, the X-Men remained in the mansion until Silverstri took over on art.
    Claremont just kept evolving the core concept of the X-Men as he continued on as writer, because when you write the same comic for nearly two-hundred issues in a row, you don’t want to keep writing the same superhero stories over and over again.

    Claremont’s X-Men was extremely popular because people came to care about the characters, but it wasn’t important to any change in superhero comics.
    It was Moore’s Watchmen and Miller’s Dark Knight Returns which were revolutionizing the superhero genre during that time.

  31. Dimitri says:

    @Chris V

    I understand the point you’re making, but saying Claremont’s run on X-Men “started out as just a better written version of what had come before” with nothing fundamentally new to the concept seems like a bit of a stretch.

    Claremont started his run with a completely new cast of characters who weren’t teenagers at school and who had diverse, international backgrounds. That seems like a pretty core reinvention. If anything, his run comes off as a spinoff of the original concept rather than a continuation of it.

    And a lot of far-out ideas and reinvention of what kind of stories comics should tell came from the Claremont-Byrne era, which not only predates Uncanny X-Men #200 by 50+ issues but had a significant impact on how team dynamics came to be written throughout the 80s and 90s.

    Not every change in superhero comics has to come in the form of gritty deconstruction to be significant and influential.

    Having said that, you’re obviously making a larger point, and I don’t mean to derail the conversation.

  32. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Not to be too contrarian, but Claremont didn’t introduce the completely new cast of characters who had diverse, international backgrounds, Len Wein did. And the first thing Claremont did was cut 2 out of the 3 non-white heroes out of the book. Which, let me tell you as someone who has just embarked on a first complete readthrough of the run (I already know the highlights, but never read everything), reads weird today. 🙂

  33. Chris V says:

    I never meant to say that only gritty deconstruction of superheroes can be influential, but considering the direction most superhero comics moved in starting with the ‘90s and especially in to the 21st century, I would say that Watchmen and DKR were a lot more influential than Chris Claremont.

    My view of the Claremont/Byrne run is also based off of interviews with Claremont where he claimed that they didn’t really do anything groundbreaking with the X-Men but were largely redoing what Thomas and Neal Adams did on X-Men.

    While Wein did introduce a bit more diverse cast of characters for Claremont to work with, the larger trappings remained the same. They were still living in a mansion/school with Xavier as their leader and following the usual superhero tropes with plots.
    Cyclops and (initially) Jean are even there to keep the continuity with the original team.

    He was writing stand-out superhero stories, but I wouldn’t say it was considered revolutionary.

  34. Aro says:

    Right, when Claremont took over, the premise was still largely the same. There were new cast members, but the core elements were still there — the mansion, Charles as mentor, evil mutants and intolerant humans, a main team of about five heroes.

    Other elements got added to the mythos over time, but that’s still the premise of most versions of the X-Men, including Morrison’s.

    Hickman’s run is doing something structurally different, and seems to to draw inspiration from alternate-future stories like AoA and House of M, rather than the ‘mutant school’ concept. It’s part of what has made the books interesting to talk about again!

    Is it really the X-Men though, or is it something else? I suspect folks wouldn’t be debating this as much if the writing and plotting was stronger. The concept and world-building are more appealing than the actual stories that have been told so far.

  35. Luis Dantas says:

    I am hardly a big fan of Claremont, even back in the 1970s and 1980s, and I think that his strengths do not play well to a shared universe.

    Clearly he did a lot of good to the X-Men as a viable set of characters to tell good stories with. He also almost single-handedly convinced readers and editors that slow burn plots could pay off, although I think that we have to give Marv Wolfman some credit here as well, mainly by way of his Tomb of Dracula.

    But what I understand to be Claremont’s greatest creative virtue is his willingness to keep changing both his toys and their arrangement. He took subtle risks with his characterization that were very daring for the time.

    Unfortunately, that manifests mainly as allowing his characters to go through their natural, organic progressions even if that makes them uninteresting or indefensible.

    That is great from a creative standpoint, not nearly so great from a perspective of protecting the value of the intellectual property. It is something of a surprise that he did not put much effort at publishing self-owned characters in the way that, say, Jim Starlin and John Byrne eventually did. I can only assume that he came to appreciate the confort of having a steady paycheck and letting the suits figure out the hard, market-driven decisions.

    Even so, it is clear that the quality of his writing improves significantly when he does not have to make too many concessions for the expectations of a shared universe and its crossovers. Those are hardly ever _helpful_, but some writers are better equipped to deal gracefully with that interference. Peter David comes to mind.

    After a while, Claremont wrote himself into a something of a corner, and ended up accepting Marvel to build the remaining parts of that corner That happened IMO roughly at the time (and by way) of the debut of the New Mutants. Lots of exciting toys around with which he could tell stories, but they just weren’t all that interesting anymore. His writing became formulaic even as the plot elements became increasingly wild, chaotic, unpredictable. The character concepts, slowly but surely, came to sustain an ever greater part of the stories as the actual plots and characterizations could not affort much meaningful change anymore.

    What had once been finely tuned writing with an emphasis on characterization was now a scattershot engine throwing around bold concepts that more often than not came abruptly, unsubtly, and brought a lot of questions that never got satisfactory answers. Perhaps not by coincidence, his writing became a lot darker indeed as well. Characters such as Bishop, Forge, Magik and Warlock had a lot of interesting ingredients, but were often something of a cypher as characters. That wore the stories down significantly, since they came to rely on novelty and reader expectations over actual characterization and plotting.

    My point, if I have one, is that a writer can have talent yet fail to notice that it is time to change course and protect the quality of his own writing. Claremont was a fine, even great writer for the X-Men for a considerable period of time, roughly from 1975 up until 1982. After that, however, he came to increasingly rely on sheer boldness and on his own laurels and reputation despite clearly not delivering quite as many goods anymore.

    In a way, Marvel and Claremon both saw the opportunity to profit at the expense of their own characters… and they took it.

    Which I guess is their right, but I do not think that it made the quality of the stories and characters any favors.

  36. Chris V says:

    Luis-Back to the nit-picking, but Bishop was introduced by Byrne and Jim Lee after Claremont left Marvel.


    Anyway, yes, it seems to me that Morrison’s run was the more interesting because it did play off of what had come before, unlike Hickman’s run.
    It seems like Hickman’s run is proving of such interest to talk about because everyone wants to guess about where any of this is heading.

    Morrison’s run (for its faults) was paving the way for future writers to change the direction of the X-line. It opened the door to examine a world where Xavier’s dream was within reach.
    I find that a much more interesting direction that doesn’t discard what comes before, but also changes the core context of the comic.

    Unfortunately, that’s all moot now.

  37. Chris V says:

    Luis, I don’t want to seem like I’m ignoring your wider points, so I wanted to add something more.
    For what it’s worth, my favourite period of X-Men is the Claremont/Romita Jr. run on the title.
    That seemed to be the point where Claremont changed X-Men the most.

    I felt that was where Claremont was at his most creative.
    It seemed like the X-Men were more revolutionaries rather than superheroes for the first time.
    It was also quite dark and bleak.

    Xavier was eventually replaced by Magneto.
    It seemed like Xavier’s dream was going to fail, and the future of mutants was a dystopian nightmare.
    Fighting “evil mutants” became less and less prevalent.
    It seemed like the government was the biggest threat instead.

  38. Dimitri says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran

    As long as we’re being pedantic (and I do love being pedantic), I should like to point out that I did not claim Claremont introduced or created the “Uncanny” team, merely that his run started with these new characters. I actually wrote it that way specifically because, as you are right to point out, Wein created them. However, it’s not like Claremont was tasked with continuing the long-running saga of an established team. When he took over, our exposure to the characters was limited to a single issue that came out only three months before for the sole purpose of introducing them.

    So, to me, “what came before Claremont’s Uncanny” doesn’t refer to Wein’s Giant-Size #1; it’s the stuff by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas.

    As for Claremont removing two non-whites straight out of the gate and how that reads today, I know what you mean. I just went through “Star Trek: TOS” and was tickled silly by the fact that this groundbreaking series praised for its social enlightenment ended with the revelation that Star Fleet doesn’t allow women to be captains because they’re prone to hysteria, a stark reminder that progress is a march taken with baby steps.

    Having said that I feel that’s part of a different conversation. I wasn’t praising Claremont for his progressive cred (did it come off that way?). I was pointing out that X-Men was transformed from a team of American teens dutifully following the commands of their “father knows best” mentor to a group of adults from around the globe protecting a world that fears and hates them for racial PR. That, to me, is a big transformation.

  39. Dimitri says:

    @Chris V

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to be reductive with your taking DKR and Watchmen as examples. I do understand you were making a larger point.

    I think where we look at things differently is that you look at elements like the school, living at the X-Mansion, and being lead by Xavier as “the larger trappings” and the other stuff as secondary to that, whereas I look at those same elements as mere iconography that is secondary to what I consider to be larger stuff.

    For example, yes, Xavier is still the leader, but the Uncanny team don’t relate to him as children seeking the approval of their headmaster/father figure; they relate to him as adults who find inspiration in his ideals. To me, that’s an important shift that fundamentally changes how we think of the X-Men from that point on.

    Same iconography, completely different reading experience.

    And I think that’s the level at which Claremont influenced comics in the 80s and 90s. It’s not high-minded, but he did have a different approach to character dynamics that ended up changing a lot of how comics were written at the time.

    In various comics from Teen Titans to all those early Image books, you can see echoes of the formula Claremont ended up pioneering back then, especially in team books.

    I think the devil is in the details, you know?

  40. Chris V says:

    We’re the new X-Men really treated fundamentally different than the original team at first though?
    Xavier was training the original team to use their mutant powers and that continued with the new recruits at least through the end of the Byrne years.

    I remember at one point, Wolverine lambasts Xavier for grading the new X-Men by saying he’s not a child, or something along those lines.
    However, it wasn’t too long in to the new status quo before Claremont and Byrne brought in Kitty, who was a student.

    I think this is mere semantics anyway. The original X-Men were presented as Xavier’s paramilitary force more than students, being sent out to fight the “evil mutants”.
    That was how the series initially progressed under the new team also.
    The original X-Men were captured by Krakoa and Xavier needed a new paramilitary.
    The original X-Men being students was more of a trapping than anything realistic.

    The original team graduated from high school near the beginning of the Thomas years, and the majority of the new team were not much older than that when they moved to the mansion.
    Even Logan was meant to be a teenager by Len Wein. Cockrum decided to draw him with an older man’s face and Claremont worked off of Cockrum’s art rather than Wein’s intent.

  41. Chris V says:

    You may be right in a lot of your other points, but this all started as a reply to another conversation where the person made the point that, for example, Waid’s FF wasn’t fundamentally different than the Lee/Kirby issues.
    In that context, I said that you could say the same for the first half of Claremont’s run, that it wasn’t fundamentally different than what cane before, if he wanted something revolutionarily different in a comic.

    Besides which, I argue that FF is a timeless concept that doesn’t need to evolve in the same way as the X-Men.
    If the X-Men is fundamentally about mutants hoping to achieve Xavier’s ideals, then writing story after story about how humans keep hating mutants more and more is a fundamental dead end.
    It worked extremely well during the Claremont years, because he introduced something new in the context.
    Claremont took that direction as far as it was possible, I argue.
    So, a revolutionary change was needed for the X-Men.
    Now, we have Hickman’s monumental break with what has come before.

  42. Thom H. says:

    It’s kind of like Claremont took over writing the book at the point where the X-Men were graduating from being Xavier’s students to being his colleagues. Except with a largely different set of characters.

    All this talk about Claremont’s influence on team books makes me think about Morrison’s Doom Patrol. Morrison wrote The Chief in a very similar way to Silver Age Xavier (and Silver Age The Chief, frankly) — all barked orders and secret plans. He played those traits up for their creepy effect, showing just how dated the concept was and how far team books had moved away from authoritarian leadership.

  43. Dimitri says:

    @Chris V

    Yes, I started out intent on not derailing the conversation and ended up doing just that. So, by all means, let’s get back to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four and whether their concepts have passed their expiration date.

    I happen to think both franchises have similarly timeless concepts at their core, but that they their approach does need to change pretty fundamentally if they are to endure.

    Yes, the FF are about family and scientific exploration, two timeless notions from which one could theoretically mine stories for eternity. But as Voord 99 points out, our attitude toward science and technology has changed radically since the Atomic Age. There’s a reason why “Star Trek: TOS” is all about how humanity will transcend its petty cultural limitations and reach greatness, while “Star Trek: Picard” is all about dystopian conspiracies, multiple genocides, and how communicating with a higher intelligence is so scary you’re literally going to tear your skin and eyes off in agony.

    In a way, that gives the FF an opportunity to be even more relevant today, but you do have to modify some of the core approach so that, instead of being representative of a collective feeling of endless possibilities (or nostalgia for said feeling), they become stewards of the notion that hope and loving curiosity are the most rational means of achieving progress. Same kind of plots, but different use of the characters underneath.

    By the same token, I don’t think the core concept behind the X-Men has been done to death. It’s about feeling ostracized and fighting prejudice, two notions that are sadly just as timeless as family and exploration. But our attitudes toward discrimination has radically changed as well, especially in recent years.

    A legitimate argument can be made that Xavier’s initial plan to fighting mutant prejudice was tantamount to asking Black people to risk their lives policing their own in 1960s Mississippi while the authorities continuously set their lawns on fire. It has not aged well.

    So, yes, a reinvention of the approach may have become necessary at this point, but not because the idea of a comic about fighting prejudice was ever a dead-end. It’s just that the writers (or more likely editorial) have been too caught up in Claremont nostalgia to notice that the world has long revised how it thinks of discrimination.

    What I find weird is that Marvel had a perfect template for how to bring the X-Men to the 21st century without throwing the baby along with the bathwater: Morrison’s New X-Men era. In keeping with the times, all Morrison did was have the X-Men acknowledge that their conflict is cultural. He unceremoniously removed Magneto (symbol of the enemy being minorities who misbehave) from the board and replaced him with Sublime (symbol of our eternal tendency to resist change). He changed the Xavier Institute’s focus from student to faculty, so as to emphasize the X-Men’s role as heroes who teach/promote cultural growth.

    And it wasn’t just Morrison’s book. About half the X-Office caught on to what he was doing and put out some of the most interesting satellite books in years, from X-Statix to X-Factor Investigations to District X (yes, I liked District X). Then, for reasons I’ll never understand, Marvel nuked the whole thing and immediately went back to Claremont nostalgia, leaving a lot of untapped potential that could be revisited anytime.

    So now Hickman is trying something completely new. Good. I can’t get a solid bead on it yet, but I hope you’re wrong that he’s abandoning the X-Men’s metaphor for feeling ostracized. I think there’s still place in the world for a book that speaks to such a universal human experience.

  44. Chris V says:

    I don’t think such a drastic change was necessary either.

    As I said, I agree with you about Morrison’s direction, and that being the most interesting alternative.
    However, Marvel refuses to revise the concept of the X-Men after Morrison, leaving his changes on the ground.

    Hickman’s interests seem to be different than Morrison and has moved on to new directions, so the chances of Morrison’s themes seem like they’ll remain left behind now.

  45. Aaron Elijah Thall says:

    Aside from the limitless possibilities the F4 title represents, one of the nice things about it is that the characters DO grow and change. They get married. They have kids. The kids grow. Sue’s evolved from a typical 60’s era overly girlish pushover to a total badass. Ben’s made peace with his lot in life and has found a measure of happiness. Johnny’s a lot more nature than he used to be. So on and so forth. At least with FF, changes tend to stick more often than not. It makes them even MORE unique among Marvel’s heroes for their refusal to revert fully to the status quo

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