The idea of X-Men Gold and the whole “Resurrection” (I refuse to spell it with that stupid “X” – I get what you were going for Marvel but it’s dumb and I’m not playing) reboot seemed pretty exciting. After years on the periphery of relevance, Marvel was returning the X-Men to the spotlight. They were going to be battling super villains! Teaching new mutants! Symbolizing those rejected by society as they fought to protect a world that hated and feared them!!! The tropes that made the X-Men a cultural juggernaut in the 80’s and 90’s were coming back baby! X-Men Gold delivers wonderfully…but that’s all it seems to deliver. In being so familiar at the expense of pushing new ideas, X-Men Gold has come to symbolize a major cultural problem for me.
Speaking in unfair generalizations, we as a culture flock to that which we already know. We clamor for sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes or – worse yet – simple retellings of the same basic story over and over and over again. That’s exactly what X-Men Gold feels like. Now, I don’t want to unfairly malign the book. Marc Guggenheim, the comic’s author, gives us exactly what was promised/advertised. We see a core group of the X-Men (a group anchored heavily in the Chris Claremont golden days) – Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Rachel Grey, and (Old Man) Logan, led by Kitty Pryde – doing what the X-Men have always done best. The stories themselves have been fun, funny, and engaging. It’s a well written book that’s bantery, quick, and filled with really exciting battle scenes. But I’m cutting it from my pull list because there’s nothing that feels new in these stories.
We see the X-Men fighting the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
We see the Blackbird.
We see them being hunted by Sentinels.
We see them goofing around at the school.
Thankfully we see more than simple lip service paid to the social justice message the X-Men are meant to embody (which makes the controversy that came with Ardian Syaf’s art in issue #1 all the more ironic). Given the shape of the world in 2017, the importance of this part of the X-Men can’t be overstated.
But it all feels just like what I read in 1993. Yes, Kitty’s now leading the team. That’s my favorite part of the book actually! I love the dynamic with her at the helm, for the little development they’ve given her. To be honest, I don’t feel any of the characters are really developed. Sure, occasionally Kitty will deliver an important homily but by and large the focus is on the X-Men fighting whatever super villain menace is taking center stage in that particular issue. Which is okay, to a degree. Comic books can absolutely be about superheroes fighting super villains! But I’ve not seen much to make me care about these characters if I hadn’t known them already. They seem to be using nostalgia to pull us in and fill in all the blanks of the story instead of any new content. I’ve yet to see anything new explored in regard to their characters.
Comparatively, when I read Champions I find a cast of vibrant characters whom I learn more about each month. The relationships feel organic and they become more dynamic with every issue. I also get to see them fighting all manner of foes, from super villains to systemic evil, alongside one of the most consistently well developed and important social justice messages around. Now, every comic doesn’t need a strong social justice center. It’s something I look for in my art but it isn’t necessary for every comic. Narrative diversity is important! But even outside the social justice themes, there was nothing like Champions when I was a kid. That, along with its rich, well developed characters, is what makes it a title I can’t go without. X-Men Gold on the other hand has come to feel like all the comics I already have in my old X-Men long box in the closet. And you can’t compete with those classics! The X-Men were iconic for a reason. Simply mirroring those glory days ultimately feels shallow. My fear, with Marvel’s impending Legacy storyline coming this fall, is that Marvel will start to bank more heavily on backsliding than moving forward. I worry X-Men Gold will become its standard bearer.
I don’t know what they’re planning (I do have a fair amount of trust in Jason Aaron, loving The Mighty Thor the way I do though) but that picture makes me nervous. Despite all the hullabaloo about their diversity efforts back in April (and Marvel saying they absolutely maintain their faith in their new characters) there seem to be a lot of the white, male classic versions of their heroes in that image (nine of the eleven classic heroes pictured are male, all are white). I have no problem with two (or more!) versions of a hero existing at one point in time. In fact, as I’ve written before, I think it underscores the importance of what that hero represents while allowing those characters to more fully fulfill their mythic purpose as people across cultural, racial, and gender lines can more readily identify with these iconic heroes. So multiple Spideys, Hulks, Captain Americas, Iron Men, Captain/Ms. Marvels, etc. is something I can get behind (although, to be honest, has anyone really missed Mar-Vell in the last forty years? I’ll answer my own question…nope). But is this really what Marvel’s doing? Or are they just looking for a contrived story so they can blatantly copy DC’s successful Rebirth line go back to basics and focus on the original heroes while sidelining their legacy counterparts? I desperately hope that’s not the case.
While there is certainly a place for the classics (I enjoy reading my John Byrne Fantastic Four as much I enjoy re-watching The King Of Queens), we need to seek, praise, and support art that brings something new with it. The only way classics are formed is by then-contemporary stories being brave enough to deviate from the norm and proving successful at it, capturing our hearts and minds in the process!
But what we seem to desire as a culture, or at least when we move as a large mass, often doesn’t seem new at all. We disproportionately flock to the movie theatre to see adaptations of books, comics, or TV shows we already know we love alongside reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels, and spinoffs as opposed to new stories. And when we have shows/comics/movies trying to break new ground they are often pulled/cancelled before they have a chance to build an audience because they aren’t proving profitable. Of course they aren’t profitable yet. They’re new! They need time to grow and find their footing!
Corporations want money so they are far more likely to invest in things they know will sell than they are to invest in new ideas. Because we so rapidly consume recycled nonsense, that becomes almost all we get. Look at Star Wars for example. The Force Awakens enamored many…while being little more than a remake of A New Hope with some central ideas lifted from Kevin J. Anderson’s Expanded Universe Jedi Academy Trilogy for good measure. This has been the main approach of the Disney Canon. Most of their Star Wars comics are all safely (*cough* boringly *cough*) situated between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back because they know “people” hate the Prequels and love the Original Trilogy. We are getting a 100% needless young Han Solo film because people think Han’s “cool” and they love the Millennium Falcon…despite the fact that his character’s emotional journey plays out completely before us in the Original Trilogy. Save a few minor exceptions, their novels don’t touch any of the time frame between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. It’s all so familiar…and it all becomes so boring.
Sadly, because we seem so hesitant to take risks with the pop culture we consume we find less and less creative options available to us. When this happens, we all suffer.
What if this was always the case? What if we never embraced what was different in our pop culture choices? Let’s think about this for a moment. The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band just celebrated it’s FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY. It is widely regarded as one of the best (the best by some) album in music history. Does it sound anything like Please Please Me? Not at all! Can you imagine how empty our world would be if The Beatles never made the jump from Please Please Me to Rubber Soul to Sgt. Pepper’s? What if Bob Dylan never plugged in? What if Alan Moore never wrote Watchmen (*cough* overrated *cough*) or Frank Miller never gave us The Dark Knight Returns (*cough* also overrated *cough*)? What if Seinfeld never tried to do “a show about nothing” or George Lucas never mashed up mythology, theology, and old cowboy Westerns to give birth to Star Wars? What if Marvel Studios never tried to build a connected cinematic universe?
Hell, what if Stan Lee and Steve Ditko never decided to invert the classic superhero archetype and make a nerdy, awkward, fifteen-year-old social outcast the Amazing Spider-Man? There is a certain segment of comic fans who still get pissy over the existence of someone like Miles Morales because he isn’t Peter Parker even though Peter Parker only exists because Stan Lee and Steve Ditko changed the status quo. All the classics we, as a culture, seem unwilling to deviate from were once ground-breaking new ideas in their own right. When we refuse to let titles like Mockingbird, Black Panther: World Of Wakanda, or Patsy Walker: A.K.A. Hellcat build an audience we risk missing out on something that can grow into a classic in its own time.
All of this was going through my head when I made the decision to drop X-Men Gold from my pull list. Honestly, part of me felt bad. I felt like I needed to sit X-Men Gold down and say, “Listen, it’s not you, it’s me. You’re everything you promised you’d be! And you’re fun too. You remind me of my youth. But I’m looking for more. Maybe I’ll look you up in a trade sometime. But I need to go forward with my life, not linger in the past just for the sake of the past.” I hope Marvel keeps that in mind as they go forward too. From Sgt. Pepper to Seinfeld to Spider-Man, the things we love most were born of taking creative risks and daring to make something vibrant, new, and memorable. While titles like X-Men Gold will always have their place, I hope Marvel remembers the future lies with titles like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Black Panther, Champions and Sam Wilson: Captain America that feel utterly unlike anything else around as well as titles like The Mighty Thor, Spider-Man, The Totally Awesome Hulk, and The Invincible Iron Man that take an idea that’s been around for decades and make it fresh and relevant all over again.