X-Men: No More Humans: A Metaphor for Mutant/Marvel Relations

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September 3, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

“There is a very small part of the readership that feels very persecuted.  That no matter what Marvel does, these readers think that Marvel hates the X-Men with a fiery passion and are looking to destroy it.”

-Brian Michael Bendis

 

Imagine if Frasier was airing new episodes concurrently with Cheers, the show which Frasier was spun off from.  Now imagine then if Niles Crane received his own spin off show from Frasier, complete with a new cast of characters, along with some recurring characters from both Cheers and Frasier.  Now imagine a recurring character in this fictitious Niles show soon gets their own sitcom with completely new characters along with the old, lovable, recurring cast.  Finally, imagine that in order to get the full plot of what was truly going on in these character’s lives, you had to watch every episode of all four shows in chronological order.  You couldn’t just go week to week by watching Cheers alone as it would segue into Frasier, which would then segue into Niles, and so on and so forth in such a fashion all season long.  Instead of watching 25 episodes of a show you want to see, you’re now forced to watch 75 extra, grossly superfluous, episodes of shows you don’t want to watch in the first place.

This contorted conflagration of continuity is exactly what the X-Men franchise has been like for the better part of 25 years.  From a marketing and sales perspective, this is a genius idea as it maximizes exposures, and forces consumers to buy more than they normally would, because now they need to buy more books in order to get the full story.  This is why all the X-overs have sold roughly 1.3 trillion units combined.  One of the purposes of the X-Men Schism a few years back was to buck this trend and prevent the problem of oversaturation from reoccurring.[1]  The idea behind splitting up the X-Men was to have independent storylines where the readers would be given the freedom to follow whichever mutants they wanted to, without being forced to buy the shitty, frivolous titles (like New Mutants or Generation Hope).

Splitting up the X-Men with the intent to create a disparate, but even parity within the franchise has been done way too many times over the past 25 years.  This was the point of Mutant Genesis back in 1991, X-Men Revolution in 2000, X-Men ReLoad in 2004 and Schism in 2011.[2]  It’s all an attempt to refresh or liberate the franchise from the heavy continuity that has become the bible and cornerstone of the franchise, but in the end, these revamps just pave the way for more crossovers and interconnected stories that further complicate the continuity.[3]

X-Men, more so than any other comic book franchise, is entrenched, and in some cases hindered by its massive continuity.  I decided to pick up X-Men back in 2005, but I didn’t actually pick up a present issue until 2006 because it took me a year to catch up on the entire history of the franchise.  Part of the continuity problem is the robust, yet obscenely derivative amount of spin off books, but because they sell (because everyone knows X-Men fans are the nuttiest of all comic book readers) Marvel will continue to publish them…because money.

The X-Men franchise is Marvel’s golden egg laying goose.  The problem is that since 1991, they have had no idea what to do with it.  For 16 years, they just let Chris Claremont do whatever the fuck he wanted to do, but since his initial departure, there’s been a mad dash to recapture the magic and aura of the franchise.  In a sense, they’ve become their own white whale (or more specifically, their past mythology has become the white whale).  When Bendis talks about how X-Men fans feel persecuted, as if Marvel is actually trying to snuff out their biggest cash cow, I really think he’s unknowingly referring to the fact that for over 20 years no one has had any idea what the hell to do with this cash cow.  After everything that’s happened since October of 1991, I think it’s more a matter of inability and impotency than an act of war on Marvel’s part.  Things like handing over the reins to Jim Lee only to take them away from him 10 months later, Maggot, The Twelve, hiring and firing Chris Claremont infinity times, undoing Grant Morrison’s run, and letting Matt Fraction write Uncanny X-Men are all signs that Marvel literally has no idea what the fuck to do with mutants.  House of M and Decimation are the most obvious and credible pieces of evidence supporting this theory, since the point of cutting down the mutant population to 200 was to weed out all the unnecessary mutants and bring the focus back to the same seven mutants who really matter.  Marvel had too many mutants than they knew what to do with, so they just got rid of them.

I think that Marvel tries too hard to deliver what they think we want, but at the same time I think we as fans might be demanding too much from Marvel.  Seriously, what do we want from the X-Men?  I know what I don’t want, but the only idea I have is to bring back Joss Whedon’s Cyclops, and get rid of the terroristic prick that Scott Summers has become.  We, as fans, secretly pine for the old days of soapy characterizations and sprawling but highly detailed and plotted storylines that payoff three years later than originally promised.  We hold everything to Claremont’s gold standard more than any other franchises are held to their own continuity.[4]  Everyone is judged by what came before and because for the past 25 years the franchise has had no direction, it pales in comparison.  The exceptions to this have been Scott Lobdell’s first 20 issues of Uncanny X-Men, Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, and Mike Carey’s X-Men (issues 200-225).

Because Mike Carey got the X-Men, and understood what made it work in the first place, he was the natural choice to write X-Men: No More HumansNo More Humans, I’m convinced, is a critique of the X-Men franchise, and Marvel’s handling of them over the past 25 years.[5]  The main villain is a time displaced future version of Wolverine and Mystique’s bastard son who has a mild Oedipus complex.  For those who don’t know, it was the X-Men who really popularized the novelty of time travel and alternate universes, first with Days of Future Past and later with Age of Apocalypse.  Nowadays X-Men writes are contractually obligated to do at least one time travel story.

Besides literally using the oldest trick in the book, the villain, Raze, seeks to do the opposite of M-Day and erase all humans from the planet in order to create an all mutant state.  Again, we’ve seen this before from villains like Magneto, Apocalypse, and the Apocalypse Twins; it’s the oldest, most clichéd act of mutant villainy.  Speaking of villains, Cyclops has to reassert to everyone within earshot that he is not a villain every five pages.  Essentially, Carey is trying to remind the readers of who Scott Summers really is prior to his transformation into a modern day Magneto.  Carey is trying to prompt us to remember that Cyclops is a good guy who was made to do villainous things by writers and editors who didn’t know what else to do with the character.

The most emblematic instance of not knowing what to do with the franchise comes in the climax, specifically in the deus ex machina, in the shape of the Phoenix.  Everyone remembers the Dark Phoenix Saga and associates that with the X-Men, which is the worst thing people can do because it conjoins them at the hip where the X-Men franchise will always be weighed down by the Phoenix force and the metaphor it represents as the dragging stone of continuity.  Because the Phoenix is synonymous with X-Men, writers keep trying to incorporate it into their stories (Joe Kelly, Steven T. Seagle, Grant Morrison, AvX) without actually knowing what the Phoenix is or how to use it.  Carey using the Phoenix force as a deus ex machina in No More Humans is to mimic and mock the use of the Phoenix to undo the mistake that was M-Day as well as wishing itself out of existence so it won’t plague anyone else every again, at the end of Avengers vs. X-Men.  Marvel had no idea what to do with it anymore so they got rid of it entirely.

It’s the ending of No More Humans that proves to be the most pessimistic and revealing of Carey’s intent.  The very last page is of Beast recollecting on the ordeal and how it brought all the various X-Men under one banner.  He says “Then we all go back to our corners, don’t we?  And wait for the next round” meaning that it’ll only be a matter of time before the X-Men all get back together again.  It’s an indictment on the notion of having segmented X-Men teams doing the same thing: training new mutants, fighting fear and oppression, and defending a world that hates them.  They might be in different corners now, but it’ll only be a matter of time before they are all united again.  There’ll be some catastrophe that forces the different X-factions back together again just like there always is.

The continuity of X-Men can be an intimidating and inaccessible monolith, but I’m all in support of it.  It’s us, the fans who deem it so important, and I personally like having a chronological mythology to follow.  It’s just when the continuity becomes a noose as it has been for almost 25 years now that it becomes imposing and oppressive.  Writers and editors want to create new stories, but are hampered by their fear of the continuity and the fans reaction to a breach in continuity.  So, they just keep writing the same stories with their misunderstood notions of continuity.  No one besides Morrison or Whedon knew what to do with an assertive Cyclops so they made him into the new Magneto.  NO ONE besides Chris Claremont knew what to do the Phoenix (or even what the hell it was) so they decided to turn it into a deus ex machina and then wish itself away for all time.  Marvel isn’t trying to persecute X-Men fans by purposing writing shitty stories, Bendis is right, they have been putting the best writers and artists on it for decades now; it’s just that no one, creators or fans, have any idea what to do with the merry mutants anymore.

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[1] A lesson you’d think Marvel would have learned after they went bankrupt, and had to sell the movie rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four for $17 and .002% of box office gross to be converted into Prussian Franks.

[2] Matt Fraction tried to do the exact opposite and use every character ever created in any X-Book, but failed so completely and irrefutably.  Maybe because in the end he decided to only focus on the same seven characters that everyone else decides to use?

[3] This is why 14 different titles drawing from the same well of characters is a BAD idea.

[4] This is because Claremont singlehandedly created the continuity.  In terms of sheer cohesive creative capability, Claremont is only behind Pete Townshend and Ross Perot.

[5] Remember Carey left right before AvX, which really fucked up the X-Men status quo.

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