X-Men is one of the great nostalgic franchises of our generation. It’s been going since the sixties, but most of us carry a torch for those rascally mutants from the classic cartoon of the early 90’s and the blockbuster Singer films from the 2000’s. For some, this was our first introduction into the world of science fiction, a world which did not shy away from dealing with heavy themes – that of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. As children, we marvelled at a medium which had the respect to treat us like adults, while having elements that were simply fantastical – giant killer robots, gravity-defying planes and people with amazing powers. Everyone has a favourite X Man; mine include Gambit, a man capable of making a Cajun accent appealing, and X-23, the female clone of Wolverine, who is a universally acknowledged general badass.
However, as you grow up you start to notice a few problems with the X-Men universe, problems which are ignored in the franchise because they’d pretty much be gamebreakers.
People are right to hate mutants.
Yeah, I said it. People in the Marvel universe have every right to hate mutants and demand they be registered. One of the main themes of the X-Men universe is that they are a metaphor for whatever mainstream prejudice society is currently exhibiting; in the sixties, they were a metaphor for the civil rights movement, and currently, they represent the struggles of the gay rights movement in America. There’s just one small catch with this though: there are perfectly justifiable reasons to want mutants to be registered and watched by the government. Mutants are dangerous! Just look at our heroes – there’s a woman who can control the weather and therefore kill an entire country, there’s a guy who likes killing everything and pretty much lives forever, and there’s a man who can kill everyone in the world with his mind. And who are they constantly fighting? A man who with the power of magnetism, in the Ultimates universe, moved the moon to cause a tidal wave that killed hundreds of thousands of people! Fearing mutants is entirely justified, and the metaphor of a wrongly treated people, hated simply because they are born a certain way, just does not fit with the characters presented.
And yet other mutants are not hated.
On the other side of the coin, there are mutants in the Marvel universe who are not hated and are accepted in society quite happily. Take the Fantastic Four, for example; they were mutated into their superhero forms through travelling in space and are perfectly accepted by the American public. Or let’s take a look at the star spangled man with a plan, Captain America. The super soldier serum changed his body, mutating it even. Then why are his extraordinary abilities which could potentially be used to hurt a lot of people not hated and reviled? What is the difference between being born with a mutation or developing one in later life? And here is the problem – the major antagonism of the X Men stories is not tonally consistent with the rest of the Marvel universe. In terms of co-existing with the rest of Marvel’s output, be it in comics, games or films, the X-Men just don’t seem to fit in with the rest of them.
No one stays dead.
This is the great joke of the medium. ‘”No one stays dead in comics except for Jason Todd, Uncle Ben and Bucky.” (well, only one of those are still dead now) But it’s a very valid criticism to make. It’s hard to write stories or events leading up to an epic conclusion where you might kill characters off when your readers don’t think it’s going to go anywhere – sure, Jean Grey might die again, but she’ll pop up again within a year. Writers of comic books are constantly thumping down on that reset button. Why not let that button rest a little? Instead of having this constant nostalgic desire to see the characters you grew up with fight and interact, why not move the story on and let it develop like any other? Change and innovation don’t have to be bad things, and yes, it’s a pretty huge game changer for Professor X to die for real and the death to stick, but it would give the writers a fantastic opportunity in story telling – and it’s the story that should matter. And really, they should let characters stay dead as a matter of compassion; poor old Jean Grey must be exhausted, popping out of her open coffin so often. Won’t you give the girl a break and let her rest?