209 – To Me, My X-Books; feat. Jordan D. White

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!

In which we welcome Marvel editor Jordan D. White to the podcast to talk about the current state of the X-Universe!

X-PLAINED:

  • The cosmic luck balance
  • Mr. Dapples
  • A remarkable concurrence of luck
  • Our FlameCon live show lineup
  • What an X-Men group editor does
  • How X-books happen
  • Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe
  • Shatterstar
  • Jordan’s history with X-Men
  • Uncanny X-Men: First Class
  • Wolverine: First Class
  • Whether Deadpool is an X-Man (No.)
  • Mercurial mutancy
  • What defines the X-Men
  • Queer X-characters (and their absence)
  • Problematic namesakes
  • Sailors X
  • Drawing lines on social media
  • Why to read modern X-Men
  • Uncanny X-Men

NEXT EPISODE: X-CUTIONER’S SONG BEGINS!


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37 comments

  1. pawpaw72546 says:

    Jordan’s remarks about the fun continuity that results from things that aren’t well planned almost seem like his role is a hinderance to some potentially wonderful stuff. I wonder how much editors and creators in modern comics plan to leave dangling threads or leave big gaps for others to play with down the line.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful conversation.

  2. Matt says:

    I am very badly versed in Sailor Moon, but I do know enough to know that there’s a character – Sailor Saturn – who’s sometimes a child, sometimes a teenager, sometimes good, sometimes demonically possessed, and generally seen as extremely dangerous. I’m pretty sure we can all think of an X-Men character that matches that description (hint: it’s not Glob Herman).

    Also, in terms of backstory, Cable is totally Chibiusa.

  3. Icon_UK says:

    I confess I’ve always found the lack of characters cycling around to be a particularly irritating issue with comics, especially with the X titles.

    One of the core concepts of the X-Men is about about representing the oppressed, but they seem to keep sidelining the new characters who represent the present oppressed, just to re-present the old teams for the umpteenth time.

    I mean, they re-introduced a new version of the O5 AGAIN, and had to use a retcon in order to make them anything other than the bunch of straight white WASPS they’d always been. (Original X-Factor at least made it a point that these weren’t the kid versions of the characters any more, they had lives and careers (for a while) beyond the X-Men (for a while))

    By now, I’d be happy to see the O6 retired, the All New-X-Men serving as ambassadors for mutants rather than active heroes, the New Mutants and Gen-X should be the teachers now for the new active teams.

    Recycling line ups to this extent can feel a lot like stagnation.

    • Voord 99 says:

      I have more time for Bendis’ time-travelling O5 than I do for the original X-Factor in the ‘80s.

      The latter I view as one of those bad ideas whose time had, alas, come. Claremont’s vision of an X-Men that would change and evolve, with new characters coming in, was, I think, self-defeating. What made it impossible was Chris Claremont – he’d given UXM such extraordinary commercial success that it was inevitable that someone would resurrect the “original” X-Men, because he’d made that, from a business perspective, irresistible. The same problem applies at large to his vision in general: the large monetary value that Claremont had given to these pieces of IP meant that there was no way that Marvel would readily leave them unexploited from then on.

      So X-Factor was going to happen, which doesn’t mean that I think it was, from a story perspective, a good idea. It wasn’t. Some good stories might have resulted, but of course they deprived us of the good stories that Louise Simonson would have written about something else.

      On the other hand, bringing the O5 into the present from the past, as Bendis did, is quite a good idea that is best done with the O5 (among X-characters, that is). One of the main recurring motifs of the X-books is the dystopian future. Kind of the last remaining twist on that is to have the *present* be the dystopian future, and you’re really better off confronting the Silver Age X-characters with that than with anyone else.

      And making Bobby gay is more than the retcon that finally made one of the all-time blandest characters interesting: it’s about complicating the idea that the present is all bad compared to the past.

      But… there don’t need to be five of them. Hank and Warren should have been killed off without mercy the moment they got to the future. Scott and Jean are enough to play all the interesting variants on seeing the future that your adult self will have made; Bobby has, obviously, finally been made interesting, plus you need one whose adult self is still alive.

      They are terribly WASPy, but there’s not much to be done about that. I’ll note that Scott has always had a power that arguably amounts to a disability, though.

      • Icon_UK says:

        I agree about Claremont being his own worst enemy sometimes.

        He definitely planned for the New Mutants to have an annual turnover with new students coming in and older students graduating.

        That works with the original plan for X-Factor I think. The students at the school having adventures, the X-Men are the active superhero team, and X-Factor should be in th wider world making a different sort of difference (The fact they picked the world’s worst marketing campaign is a bit of an “Oops!” moment I grant you)

        • John Derrick says:

          I agree – for all Claremont hated the original X-Factor’s existence, once Louise Simonson made the book her own, I love how it complimented Uncanny and New Mutants, for similar reasons to Icon_UK. I loved seeing the original X-Men having been allowed to grow up and have students (and in Scott and sort of Jean’s case a family) of their own. I loved seeing them interact more with the public, and actually achieve some success in that. It felt like progress, something the X-Men have rarely been allowed to achieve and never to keep. I always like the times when the X-Men have more interaction with a wider culture, when they grapple with trying to improve the lives of mutants beyond their own teams and school. That’s been all too rare in the years since Decimation.

          • Voord 99 says:

            My question with that is the same question that I have about the O5: do you need all five of them to do that?

            Or is that a story that you can do with, say, just Hank? I mean, it had already been done with Hank in a sense — he’d been an Avenger who was popular with the public. (Peter B. Gillis had also done some good stuff with the theme with Hank, Warren, and Bobby in The New Defenders, including having them found a nonprofit organization* to campaign and lobby on mutant issues, but obviously that has a much lower profile.).

            Take Hank as former Avenger and public figure and bring him back to the X-books so that this is highlighted more, mix in Warren if you must (since, grudgingly, I have to admit that he’s ideally suited for it), mix in some of the X-characters and (he laughed hollowly, remembering those far-off days when such things seemed possible) create new successful ones. It’s not an either-or: you can do those stories about public acceptance without doing the damage to Scott as a character or resurrecting Jean, or having the whole “We’ll pose as mutant hunters!” thing.

            But those aren’t the real problem (for me). The real problem, for me, is the smell of retrograde IP-exploitation-for-the-sake-of-IP-exploitation that hangs around the whole idea, like stale bread. Seriously, if you ever complain that the X-books can never create new characters, and only bring back the old ones, and that the old ones are disproportionately middle-class white men (although the X-books suffer from that less than other areas of the Big Two superhero comics)— this is where that starts, with the idea that the obvious thing to do, since the UXM and NM are such a success, is to reunite all of the Silver Age X-Men, just for the sake of reuniting all of the Silver Age X-Men.

            As I say, Simonson eventually did some good work, although I tend to feel it was less on the public-facing superheroes side, so much as being really, really good at having the character dynamics drive plot developments in ways that were both logical and interesting. The soap opera, in other words, but I don’t mean that dismissively — it’s an essential ingredient to the X-books, and it’s an area where Claremont was starting to lose the thread, for me, in these years.

            *M.O.N.S.T.E.R. = Mutants Only Need Sensitivity, Tolerance, and Equal Rights. I don’t know if this was ever mentioned again. But it’s the sort of that I think you need more of if you’re going to do the “X-Men in the public sphere” plot well. Guggenheim’s “Heritage Action” suffers from me from a lack of interest in the quite specific roles that think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation play in the political ecosystem, tending to be presented as a generic evil political advocacy group. But it’s a start in the right direction.

            • Voord 99 says:

              And let me “Umm, actually” myself.

              For “Heritage Action” read “the Heritage Initiative.” Heritage Action is the real grassroots activist arm* of the real Heritage Foundation. (Which is the sort of distinction that I’d like to see X-Men Gold showing some awareness of.)

            • John Derrick says:

              I agree that you don’t need all five originals together. Most of them are among my favorite characters, but I generally prefer teams these days to draw from several generations of x-teams, for better diversity, and to explore combinations and relationships we haven’t seen before.

              That said, I still love the original X-Factor. Comics are always a weird clash between commercial considerations and creative ones. But sometimes really wonderfully weird stories result. Then again, I’m someone who thinks Jean Grey’s story is better when she doesn’t have to stay dead, and who loves all the weirdness Scott and Jean’s relationship survived up until Morrison. It’s my favorite love story in comics.

              As you suggested, a lot of that comes down to Simonson’s deft touch with the soap opera. I think she excelled in the 80s, at the same time as Claremont was losing that aspect a bit. I think that’s a combination of his upset that he didn’t have sole control any more, and his driving need to surprise readers. He talks about that a lot in interviews, how he would never marry characters off or whatnot because it would be too predictable. I think there’s a point when surprise for surprise’s sake gets in the way of meaningful character relationship and growth. (It also seems like something he was less concerned about before editorial fiat dismantled Cyclops’ marriage and basically killed his plan for the X-Men to continue as a multi generational saga. Which maybe would have gone differently if he hadn’t married Cyclops off to a lookalike?)

  4. John Derrick says:

    I keep thinking about the answer to “how important is a book about the Xavier’s School kids?” I’m pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from the answer given. I don’t think being teachers ages the X-Men too much; it’s where I often find them most interesting. The argument that that in the classic Claremont era the X-Men were ostensibly college students seems a little off to me, kind of like saying classic Iron Man is Tony Stark’s bodyguard. The college student thing was a vague cover story, but they were always clearly adult superheroes. Xavier’s arcs in the 70s, 80s, and 90s often involved learning to treat the X-Men as grown ups, and Kitty Pryde clearly related to the rest of the team as teachers (as well as siblings and friends). It’s what made Wolverine: First Class work so well. I know there’s a lot of concern right now about Marvel and DC aging their characters too much, but I mostly see this from the editorial side, while fans seem to enjoy seeing Superman as a dad, Batman as a father figure to infinite Robins, Spider-Man in multiple AUs with daughters, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones raising a sprog, etc. A significant number of readers are parents and teachers and like seeing ourselves in the stories-and I think kids in school enjoy reading about both the teachers and students in the weird mutant school. I certainly did growing up.

    • Mark says:

      I never really understood Marvel’s compulsion to view the X-Men as kids, either. I began reading the X-Men at No. 139 when I was 10, and most of them were CLEARLY grown-ups — even without the obvious comparison of Kitty hanging around — in a way that the Silver Age X-Men never were. And that fact kept getting underlined: The New Mutants were kids, and the X-Men were older, so the X-Men must be adults. To ignore this seems to be missing a big storytelling opportunity and a misreading of the fan base.

    • kakapolvr says:

      “A significant number of readers are parents and teachers and like seeing ourselves in the stories-and I think kids in school enjoy reading about both the teachers and students in the weird mutant school. I certainly did growing up.”

      Agreed. This weird desire to keep your heroes stuck eternally in their early 20s for some very precise escapism has stunted Big 2 comics as a whole – look how many times DC has wound everything back because having their characters be parents makes them “too old” or “gives them too many responsibilities”. I’ve always found there’s a lot to unpack about the unhealthy views the guys who espouse these views hold towards things like relationships & especially parenthood, but now’s not really the time.

      The X-Men should be teachers who are teaching & guiding & protecting new generations of mutant kids, and the kids themselves should get to grow & not just be used as cannon fodder for crossovers. But Wednesday Warriors don’t want to “feel old”, so any growth we get winds up being undone.

      • John Derrick says:

        I’m curious how many of the Wednesday Warriors actually object to heroes with families and kids. I haven’t seen those complaints directly. I’ve seen editors insist that if heroes are too old, the Wednesday Warriors will be all that’s left, that we need new kids reading comics and they need to be able to identify with Spider-Man so he can’t have a happy marriage or a good job – which I also don’t think is true. And is all the more frustrating when editorial also has been really slow to do other things to actually reach out to new readers, like supporting diverse characters, and books that stand alone without being dragged into crossovers, and original graphic novel series in bookstores. We may be seeing a little progress on those fronts now, but it’s taken a long time and we’ll see if it sticks.

        • kakapolvr says:

          I know at least a half dozen guys at my LCS who complained loudly about the Wolverine & the X-Men title because “Wolverine running a school makes him too soft”. I guess they really hated every story with Kitty & Jubilee.

          And yeah, it goes without saying that they were making this judgment without having read the title at all.

          • John Derrick says:

            Huh. Whereas I’m someone who only finds Wolverine inteeeting as s mentor to young characters. Mileage varies. But I still suspect less hard edged characters have fewer people who care if they age into parent/teacher roles. When has Cyclops NOT been a Team Dad?

      • Si says:

        I hear Savage Dragon operates in real time, and the original character is a grandfather now. It’s obviously a workable premise.

  5. Icon_UK says:

    I do also feel that as regards Kitty Pryde and her innate queerness, to focus an entire event around the wedding of one of the most overplayed , relatively unconvincing, hetero-relationships in X-History (Kitty’s childhood crush was okay, after that, not so much), one which has broken up for far more plausible reasons (fell for someone else, went evil, died, got all stalker-y, etc) than it ever got for getting them back together again, seems a little disingenuous in 2018.

  6. Robin Ell says:

    Sailor X-Men? I can do this! I have been practicing for this since I was 4.

    Sailor Moon – Jean Grey. The primary lady lead, first introduced, with extraordinary cosmic power. Has met future versions of herself and is not at all sure how to deal with the expectations of that. Hella gay.

    Sailor Mercury – Doug Ramsey. Absolutely brilliant, and far more capable than anyone gives then credit for. Powers are typically seen as combat-adjacent, but does amazing at researching and planning. Hella gay.

    Sailor Mars – Storm. Deeply spiritual, and far more attuned than most of the group. Can be a jerk, but usually just to make you think deeper, be more committed, etc. Has the closest friendship with Sailor Moon, and powers border on mystical. Hella gay.

    Sailor Jupiter – Rogue. Gorgeous badass who is also the most femme person you’ll ever meet. Honestly just wants to settle down and punch Nazis. Sees her exes literally everywhere. Trans as 30 kinds of fuck.

    Sailor Venus – Psylocke. Much more physically gifted than most of the rest, and an excellent (if a little ruthless) field leader. Has both deep admiration and also pretty significant imposter syndrome regarding Sailor Moon. Active in England before joining the group. Hella gay.

    Tuxedo Mask – Warren Worthington III. Most important in the first season, and then exists to either look pretty or be turned evil. Seriously, brainwashed by like, every villain ever. Not at all a good fit for Sailor Moon, but we pretended for a while. Is mostly a distraction. Hella superfluous.

    Sailor Chibi-Moon – Cable. Inherited their mother’s powers, but is much closer to their father. Has a mechanical construct it talks to, and jumps through time as needed. Totally has an evil self who took a level in goth. Hella gay.

    Sailor Pluto – Destiny. Significantly older than the rest, and an outsider from the group. Job involves time in hardcore ways. Just wants to raise her niece/ adopted daughter in piece, but literally has no time. Involved in some of the weirdest fucking stories. Hella gay.

    Saiilor Uranus – Rachel Grey. Badass genderqueer butch who literally everyone finds attractive. Can rock literally any outfit. Will break down a wall instead of walk to the door. Outsider from the group. Hella gay.

    Sailor Neptune – Shadowcat. A child prodigy who is incredibly awkward but works hard to bury it. Seems friendly, but has a force of will to accomplish anything, even if it means making sacrifices. Hardened by like. Hella gay.

    Sailor Saturn – Magik. A goth child-adult with awesome hair, powers rooted in darkness but uses them appropriately, has an oversized weapon used against supernatural forces, and will literally destroy this planet rather than let you consume it. Hella gay.

    Sailor Star Fighter – Cyclops. Has a much deeper awareness of threats than the rest of the group. Total hots for Sailor Moon. Would absolutely use the phrase “Star Serious Laser.” Hella gay (for leading ladies).

    Sailor Star Healer – Northstar. Haughty, absolutely better than you, and blessed with an underabundance of fucks. Doesn’t have healing powers, but will absolutely make a big bright light for no reason. Hella gay.

    Sailor Star Maker – James Hudson. Only tangentially a member of the team, but much more connected to their actual main team (Starlights). Honestly pretty useless, with a way-too-big forehead. Would seriously use the phrase “Star Gentle Uterus.” Hella boring.

    Sailor Galaxia – Emma Frost. Maybe good, maybe not, but will absolutely kill people. Seen way too many dead kids and not dealing in healthy ways. Would honestly just need easier if you’d let her run things. Hella femme.

    • Icon_UK says:

      I am, frankly, in genuine awe here, because that’s magnificently put together/rationalised.

      Applause!

      • Robin Ell says:

        Well thank you. And here I thought all those nights staying up until 3am browsing Sailor Moon geocities fan pages would never amount to anything!

        • Icon_UK says:

          You made my favourite New Mutant my favourite Sailor Scout, even if the others hadn’t been equally well thought out you’d have had my vote

    • Damien Whiter says:

      I do not know anything about Sailor Moon but I would like to use this as inspiration for a new series – The Hella Gay X-Men!

    • Devin says:

      This is SO GOOD.

      And Jean as Sailor Moon works even better since the end of UXM 100 and the R movie are more or less the same thing (must save friends from burning up in space by knowingly sacrificing her life – dies – brought back by intergalactic deus ex machina)

      • Robin Ell says:

        Right? Terrible cosmic power, dies, comes back from the dead, oh, and sometimes her time-traveling children show up and demand she mother them despite her being in no way ready or willing to take that up.

        There is a lot in common there.

  7. Voord 99 says:

    Strong agreement. In fact, I think “Iron Man is Tony Stark pretending to be his own bodyguard” my even be closer to a defining part of Iron Man as a character than “The X-Men pose as college students” is for the X-Men. I mean, how often in the Claremont era did that cover identity ever come up? Not as often as the gag of having another superhero talk to Iron Man about his boss Stark used to do, I think.*

    After all, teachers are often twentysomethings with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In other words, they’re often *younger* than the adult X-Men are typically portrayed. (When was the last time that adult Cyclops seemed younger than 30? 1969?). Leaving aside undergraduates doing teaching as part of their education degree, which also happens. It’s one of the adult occupations that’s least likely to age a character.

    And it’s a good source of stories that is a distinctive part of the X-Men. Other parts of the MU have explored this territory (Avengers Academy, the Future Foundation era of the Fantastic Four**), but they haven’t stuck around.

    *It’s a good gag. Dan Slott reused it for Spider-Man, and it still works in the 21st century.

    **Both of which, especially the first, were good, and this shows the degree to whcih this is fertile story territory.

    • Voord 99 says:

      Sorry. I left Javascript switched off again. That was meant to be a reply to John Derrick’s comment about school X-stories.

    • Icon_UK says:

      Remember, back when Tony Stark had a secret identity, that time he went around blowing up other characters armours because he found out they were based on his tech that Justin Hammer had stolen.

      Then when he ordered Stingray, a Government agent, to take his armour off (because Tony couldn’t be bothered to go through legal channels), and assaulted him when Stingray, quite rightly, told him to sod off, buried him in a landslide only to discover that Stingray’s armour WASN’T based on his.

      Amd then his public reaction to this was to have Tony Stark publicly fire Iron Man (who was also Tony Stark), and then rehire a new Iron Man (who was also ALSO Tony Stark), and I really went off the character for some years?

      I had a point here somewhere, sorry, I have no idea what it was, but after this much typing I’m not deleting it! 😛

  8. McArdle says:

    Guys. Sorry I’m so behind on the podcast, but GUYS! Is a sketch tragedy podcast really a thing? If not, why not? And further if not, may I do it?

  9. Ricochet Rita says:

    (Sorry, I was delayed by the vacations…)

    JDW: “If you talk about Longshot, you talk about Shatterstar –they’re pretty much the same person”

    M: “I mean, WAIT A MINUTE”

    I TOO positively object.

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