We find ourselves in a very unique time in the history of the X-Men comics/franchise. The current House of X/Powers of X miniseries relaunching the X-Men books under the purview of writer Jonathan Hickman’s is, by all means, the most dramatic shift the X-Men have undergone in years. This change was no doubt motivated by the X-Men titles of late struggling to sell (or at the very least, Marvel and Diamond struggling to sell X-Men titles to comic store retailers). Marvel has been in this position before, and thus frequently tried to shake up the X-Men status-quo to entice interest from new/lapsed readers in the X-Men line.
I want to talk about a particular attempt Marvel made previously to do so, less than half a decade ago. Marvel pushed the X-Men to near-total extinction via the Inhuman-transforming substance known as Terrigen Mist. (And I think it was a good thing.)
This is not a popular opinion. Quite the contrary. The common consensus of the time (back in the summer of 2015) when Marvel announced the new X-Men titles spinning out of their entire line-wide relaunch in the wake of Secret Wars (2015), was one of negativity towards the publisher. Why? Because the X-Men were about to face extinction yet again, this time from the Inhumans.
The Inhumans themselves had for the most part been utilized minimally outside of the Fantastic Four series (where they first appeared by in the 1960s), and Paul Jenkins critically acclaimed Marvel Knights Inhumans miniseries. But between 2013 and 2014, Marvel had begun to make a push towards using the Inhumans who already existed (such as Medusa, Black Bolt and the rest of the royal family), and creating new ones. The most significant instance of this was within the Marvel event Infinity and its aftermath. In said story, while facing off against Thanos, Inhuman king Black Bolt released a massive cloud of Terrigen Mist across the planet. And a retcon was introduced establishing that numerous people across the globe had distant Inhuman ancestors, and thus could be transformed by the Terrigen Mists themselves.
The huge creative potential for this was tapped by Marvel, leading to the creation of the current, modern Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), with other successes such as the hero Inferno (appearing on the animated Marvel Secret Warriors show), and Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur. Not to mention numerous other characters, some still appearing quite recently (such as Inhuman grizzled detective Frank McGee/Nur in Charles Soule’s Daredevil series).
But readers did not all react with joy for this development. As many readers felt this was a transparent attempt to replace the X-Men with the Inhumans. As the former’s film rights were owned by Twentieth Century Fox and the latter were under Disney/Marvel Studio’s control.
I bring all of this up because the reveal of how the eight-month time-jump between Secret Wars (2015) and the relaunched books would effect the X-Men seemed to be final confirmation of Marvel Publishing’s intentions. One additional retcon was to be introduced. The Terrigen Mists may turn potential Inhumans powers on, but the mists were now fatal to mutants.
Now with all of this having been said, as a huge fan of the X-Men as I am, how can I claim that this was a good thing? With the books, Marvel published in the wake of this.
The line of X-Men titles Marvel began publishing in the Fall of 2015 (as part of their All-New All-Different initiative), are not the most fondly remembered X-Men stories ever. But there is great content there. Jeff Lemire, Humberto Ramos Victor Ibanez showed just how formidable and inspiring a leader Ororo Munroe was to the X-Men the mutant community at large with Extraordinary X-Men, and put the character of teen-Jean Grey (displaced from the past alongside the other founding X-Men prior to the relaunch) to better effect than Brain Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen and Mahmud Asrar had in forty issues of All-New X-Men by separating her from her classmates and having her join Ororo’s X-Men team. And the relationship she had with another displaced X-Men, Old Man Logan (originally from the Mark Millar/Steve McNiven miniseries of the same name) of a grandfather/granddaughter was very endearing.
Lemire had further success with the first of two solo X-Men titles published in this relaunch, Old Man Logan. Re-teaming with the art team he worked with on Green Arrow at DC, Andrea Sorrentino, M. Maiolo, the series tells the tale of a man trying to understand where he’s found himself, and how to accept this new reality where all hope is not lost, was incredibly compelling, and one of the most visually interesting and striking titles Marvel was publishing.
Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and Mark Bagley continued All-New X-Men, now with a revamped roster, which not only included young Iceman, Beast, Angel, Cyclops and Laura Kinney, but now joined by Oya (Idie Okonkwo) and Kid Apocalypse (Evan Sabahnur), as the group toured across America in their bigger-on-the-inside van, and tried to solve more down to Earth mutant conflicts.
All while dealing with compelling character drama, such as Cyclops’s struggle not to follow in his adult self’s footsteps, as the Scott Summers of the present had s died in the opening of this Terrigen mist conflict. This book was frequently very funny, uplifting, and featuring the most consistently good artwork of the entire X-Men line.
This brings us to Uncanny X-Men, written by Cullen Bunn, with art by Greg Land, Ken Lashley, and Edgar Salazar. This series saw Bunn continue his journey exploring the character of Magneto (first started with a Magneto solo series which lasted twenty-one issues before Secret Wars), now as the leader of a team of X-Men.
Joined by Psylocke, Monet, a less savage Sabertooth (thanks to another Marvel event, Axis), and Archangel, this was the title most closely resembling X-Force. Magneto’s team approached the darker corners of this uncertain time for mutants, acting preemptively to take out threats, and making alliances with shady groups like the Hellfire Club, to ensure mutantkind’s survival.
And finally, there was the best X-Men book in the group. In the wake of 616 Logan’s death, Laura Kinney took up his mantle, and thus All-New Wolverine, written by Tom Taylor, with art by David Lopez, Marcio Takara, Leonard Kirk, and others, began. The first solo series for Laura Kinney since the conclusion of the critically acclaimed X-23 on-going written by Marjorie Liu, this series took the next step in Laura Kinney’s character evolution and was one of several incredibly well-crafted, compelling, legacy titles Marvel was publishing at the time.
Alongside Mighty Thor, Captain America: Sam Wilson, and Totally Awesome Hulk, this title took the seeming necessity of a Wolverine on-going title and breathed new life into it by portraying a Wolverine who had all of the experiences of her predecessor/father, Logan, to learn from. We saw a Laura Kinney who was seasoned, professional, and comfortable enough with others to even crack wise with them. This was a Wolverine series where the lead character was able to fully move beyond the need or desire to kill and become a true superhero. And it introduced the best new X-Men character of the decade, Gabby Kinney, aka Honey-Badger/Scout!
While the gloom and doom of fighting off the Terrigen clouds seemed impossible, looking deeper there are some truly stunning silver-linings hidden beneath. And not just for X-Men fans. Charles Soule produced numerous compelling, fun tales in Uncanny Inhumans, alongside other titles such as James Amus’s All-New Inhumans, the under-rated Mosaic by Geoff Winters & Khary Randolph, and the continuing adventures of Kamala Khan in G Willow Wilson & Takeshi Miyazawa’s Ms. Marvel.
So while we ponder this new era of X-Men stories to come with House of X, Powers of X and Dawn of X, I think it’s important to remember some of the truly under-appreciated X-Men stories of late, and the creators who worked on them.