A quick heads up: for the next few weeks I’ll be out of town, getting and then recovering from top surgery (Yay!).
Here’s what to expect:
PODCASTS: Business as usual! We’ve recorded ahead a few weeks out, and the splendid Elisabeth Allie is going to be filling in so that I can take a few consecutive weeks off. Miles will be handling the copy and visual companions for an episode or two; please be nice to him as he gets his sea legs.
VIDEO REVIEWS: Miles is flying solo while I’m in Florida! Depending on the concentration of books, video reviews will go up either weekly or every other week. Also, I stole the external mic so we could record episode 93, so, that might be a thing. SORRY, MILES!
EVERYTHING ELSE: Blog and social media will probably be pretty quiet for at least the first week; and you should expect significant delays on e-mail correspondence. If you need to get in touch with us about something time-sensitive between now and January 23, please e-mail xplainthexmen(at)gmail(dot)com with “ATTN: MILES” in the subject line.
IT LIVES! Head over to FanBrosShow to listen to Part 1 of the Secret Convergence on Infinite Podcasts, where the Beyonder makes his podcast debut; and DJ BenHaMeen, Chico Leo, J. Rachel Edidin, Graeme McMillan, and Chris Sims discuss THE fundamental question of fandom: WHO WOULD WIN IN A FIGHT?
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A whole lot of you have been writing in to ask what we think of the recent revelation that the Terrigen Mists are gradually killing off the mutant population of the Marvel Universe. The popular theory of choice seems to be that Marvel has it in for the X-Men: that this is at best a pointless rehash of the M-Day storyline, and at worst a corporate grudge-fueled fictional genocide.
And look: Is Marvel putting more time, energy, and resources into the properties whose entertainment rights they control, and moving those lines front and center in shared-universe stuff? Yeah. But that has been happening roughly forever. In fact, it’s what made the X-Men so prominent in the first place: putting more resources into a line that was at the time tied significantly to the company’s financial success.
This is one of the main liabilities of investing emotionally in a company-owned superhero property: narrative resonance is often going to take a backseat to business. (To an extent, this is one of the main liabilities of investing emotionally in anything that someone else owns or creates: its development will ultimately be informed by priorities other than yours.)
Is Marvel actively sabotaging the X-line? Probably not. Occam’s Razor, y’all: I seriously doubt anyone there has the time–or the imperative–to plan a major arm of a publishing program based on sheer malice. That would be a baffling business move and a phenomenal waste of resources–and it really doesn’t jive with the creative attention that seems to have gone into the post-Secret Wars X-line we’ve seen so far. If Marvel wanted to destroy the X-line, they’d quietly back-burner it, whittle it down to one or two titles–or absorb the headlining characters entirely into other books–and walk away. That’s obviously not happening.
There have been five ongoing X-books announced post-Secret Wars, and we know of at least one other that’s going to be joining them (shhh, don’t tell)–and that’s entirely discounting the many X-affiliated characters who are part of other lineups. You may not like the direction the line is taking–which is fine; again, not every story or arc will appeal to every reader–but the line itself? Probably not going anywhere.
Okay? Okay. So, let’s talk about story.
A lot of the “Marvel is trying to destroy the X-Men” arguments are based on a few preview pages from Extraordinary X-Men, in which it’s revealed that the Terrigen Mists are killing and sterilizing mutants. Which, yes, sucks for mutants, and certainly bodes ill: remember the time Marvel introduced an incurable mutant-targeted virus that devastated the mutant population, destroying the X-line and permanently removing every mutant character from circulation?
Adversity is the bread and butter of good stories, especially good superhero stories. Two of the all-time best–and best loved–Daredevil runs are Born Again and The Devil in Cellblock D, and both of them are framed around horrible things happening nonstop to Matt Murdock. This did not happen because Frank Miller and Ed Brubaker hate Daredevil: it happened because adversity makes for good stories. As a writer, the more you love a character or group of characters, the higher the chances that you will throw them to the tigers just to watch them fight their way out. When you love a character, you give them challenges worthy of their narrative potential–and the X-Men, in particular, are a team and a line that historically have shined brightest with their backs to the wall.
The X-Men have been around for more than 50 years. They’re not going anywhere. The quality–and lineup–and the quality of individual titles will ebb and flow, as will their personal resonance for any given reader. (Remember the ‘90s? We do.) You’ll drift away, or you won’t; and you’ll come back, or you won’t; and either way, odds are good that the X-Men will still be around.
In Episode 61, we answered a listener’s question about Autistic1 characters and neurodiversity in X-canon, and I want to take a moment to elaborate on a couple things I brought up there. Nothing formal, mind: this is both a bit of a ramble and significantly more personal than I usually get here. Consider yourselves warned.
Before we jump into this one, let me tell you kids a story.
Once upon a time, there was a gentleman by the name of Dwayne McDuffie. McDuffie was an incredibly important figure in comics: these days, he’s best known as the creator of Static Shock and the co-founder of Milestone Media; for his work across the DCAU; and as a tireless and outspoken advocate for black representation in superhero comics.
In 1989, when McDuffie was an editor at Marvel Comics, he wrote a biting, satirical pitch that has since become industry legend. In his pitch, McDuffie points out that 25% of African-American superheroes appearing in the Marvel Universe over the last year have had skateboard-based superpowers or fighting styles, and proposes a new team to take advantage of this and other equivalently exciting trends, featuring four black guys on skateboards:
Twelve years later, the fifth episode of X-Men: Evolution would introduce the Xavier Institute’s sole black student and the show’s first original character, Evan “Spyke” Daniels:
This article originally appeared at Playboy.com under the title “One of the Original X-Men Is Gay – And It Matters More Than You Think”; reposted with permission. Special thanks to Marc Bernardin.
If you’ve been online in the last couple days—and especially if you follow comics— you’ve probably heard the news: Earlier this week, The Advocate posted a handful of leaked pages from All-New X-Men #40, out today from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mahmud Asrar, in which a time-displaced teenage Iceman comes out as gay.
To understand why this is such a big deal, you need to know a little bit about the X-Men. This isn’t Marvel introducing a new queer character, getting accolades for diversity, and then quietly shelving them (Remember America Chavez?1) Bobby Drake — Iceman — is one of the OGs of one of Marvel’s biggest lines, a character with 50-plus years of cross-media name recognition. There’s a generation of kids who know him from the movies; another who grew up watching him on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. If this sticks — which it seems likely to, at least until the upcoming Secret Wars2 event tosses an immersion blender into the Marvel Universe — it fundamentally changes the landscape of queer visibility in superhero comics on a scale no other character’s coming out has.
That this is happening in an X-title is also significant: the X-Men have a large, dedicated, and markedly diverse fanbase; one that tends to be particularly attuned to representation of minority issues. There are a couple reasons for that.
The X-Men themselves are outsiders; and their outsider status is fundamental to their core premise, even when they’re not being written as a direct allegory for a specific marginalized group. As a teenager, I gravitated to the X-Men not because they offered a pointed metaphor for my sexual orientation, but because I identified with their liminality. The X-Men are superheroes for the rest of us — superheroes whose relationships to their powers and identities are often painful and fraught, superheroes who operate on the margins of both genre and society because of who they are.
But there’s been a consistent gap between what the X-Men represent in theory or allegory and whom they represent in practice. They’re used with striking frequency as a direct and obvious proxy for sexual minorities — but at the same time, within their stories, queerness is almost exclusively relegated to allegory or subtext (Storm, Shadowcat). The few openly queer characters in the franchise (Anole, BLING!, Karma, Rictor, Shatterstar) rarely make it further than bit roles. The most prominent openly gay X-Man is Northstar, a B-list character whose primary association is with a different team and title.3
So, while representations of queerness and coming out in superhero comics matter across the board, they matter a particular lot — and draw (and deserve) particularly close scrutiny — in X-Men. And the conversation around Iceman’s coming out has been, pardon the pun, more than a little heated.
Of course, the catch is that if we’re going to have a serious conversation about this story, we’re going to need to delve into two of the most complex and controversial fields: sexual orientation and identity; and X-Men continuity.
I’m still out of town, still dealing with the stuff that took me away a week ago. (I’m not going to go into details—as Miles wrote over on tumblr, I’m a fairly private person, and I don’t really want to discuss my personal life and family on public media.)
However, since this has now come up repeatedly, I want to explain a little about what my absence means for Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men in the very short-term, and to address a few specific questions and comments we’ve received.
You know how I said that X-Men: Evolution is really entertaining even when it’s really, really bad? This week, we’re gonna put that to the test. Prepare for more rock puns than you have ever heard in a single 22-minute stretch. Also, Transformers. Kinda.
In other news, I still have no idea what the titles refer to.
BUT FIRST, A PRETEND HORROR MOVIE!
We open with the Pryde home, in a fictional town in Illinois. The town has a name, but I don’t care what it is, and it’s never going to be relevant again, so I’m just gonna call it Fake Deerfield. Cool? Cool.
Kitty dreams that she’s falling, and–spoiler–she actually falls through her bed and floor and lands in the basement. She wakes up screaming, and her parents rush down to comfort her. They think she was sleepwalking–until they look up and a PORTENTOUS FLASH OF LIGHTNING illuminates her blanket, embedded in the basement ceiling.
OH MY GOD! THAT’S–actually, wait, that’s not scary at all.
Okay, look, I get what they were shooting for here, but you know who has the least horror-movie powers of just about all the X-Men? Hint: It’s definitely Kitty, barring the stories where phased becomes her default state (which this isn’t). Framing this scene and the Prydes’ cheerfully generic suburban house like a horror movie reminds me of one of those recut trailers where you try to make a movie look like a genre it obviously isn’t; or a kid telling a shaggy-dog joke and then waiting for you to be overjoyed at the lack of punchline; or the entire movie White Noise.1 It’s all buildup, with no proportionate payoff.
Meanwhile, back at Stately Xavier Manor, Kitty’s late-night spill pings Cerebro. Does anyone else find it unsettling that Professor X has a psychic supercomputer that provides him with turnaroundfull body scans of teenagers?
Also, Cerebro accurately predicts the outfit that Kitty is going to wear to school the next day.2
“What am I?” wails Kitty. “What’s happening to me?” Just give it five seconds, kid–the credits montage identifies you quite clearly as Shadowcat.
I was a little too old to catch X-Men: Evolution the first time around. It debuted my freshman year of college, corresponding with the peak of my nerd pretension—that larval-geek phase where you insist on calling all comics graphic novels—and like the arch little fucker I was, I dismissed it sight-unseen as X-Men dumbed down.
A few years ago, I finally sat down and watched my way through X-Men: Evolution and came away with two conclusions: teenage Rachel was kind of a dolt; and X-Men: Evolution is delightful.
Not only is Evolution not X-Men dumbed down, it’s a really clever, appealing reinvention. In fact, Evolution accomplishes what the Ultimate universe never quite could: shaking off years of continuity and attracting an entirely new audience with a distilled version of one of Marvel’s most convoluted lines.
If you’re not familiar with X-Men: Evolution, the premise is roughly thus: The Xavier Institute is an extracurricular boarding school of sorts, whose students are mainstreamed into their district school—Bayville High—for academics. Some of the characters—Storm, Wolverine, and Professor Xavier on the side of the angels; Mystique, Magneto, and a few others on the other end of the moral spectrum—stay adults; everyone else is aged down to teenagers. Evolution draws characters and some story hooks from the comics, but for the most part, it occupies its own discrete continuity.
And as continuities go, it’s a good one. It’s clever and fun, it’s got a ton of heart, and it stays true to the core themes and characters of the source material without becoming overly beholden to the letter of the text. By the end, it’ll become a really, really good show; but even when it’s bad, X-Men: Evolution is bad in really entertaining ways.
Which is important, because X-Men: Evolution gets off to a pretty rocky start.