By Arturo Garcia
In the wake of the big, clumsy Avengers/X-Men crossover AvsX, which concluded on Oct. 3, Marvel Comics is selling the reintroduction of a version of the original X-Men as a bold move. And the company’s sort of righ–for all the wrong reasons. Because what Marvel’s saying is, a franchise built and marketed as a grand metaphor about race is going to center around white people. “Re(e)volution”? More like Re(e)tread.
As part of the upcoming “Marvel NOW!” marketing line, the cynically-titled All New X-Men will allegedly feature the team’s original five members–the young Scott Summers (Cyclops), Jean Grey, Warren Worthington (Angel,) Hank McCoy (Beast) and Bobby Drake (Iceman)–landing in the present-day Marvel Universe. (I say allegedly because, this being comics, you have to account for the chance they’re actually from Another Dimension, An Alternate Timeline, Skrulls in Disguise, a veiled insult to cosplayers, what have you.) The move is especially disappointing coming from the new series’ writer, Brian Michael Bendis, who has shown the ability–and more importantly, the clout–to elevate characters of color in other parts of the Marvel Universe.
It was Bendis who took Luke Cage from a blaxploitation throwback to a featured player in the pre-movie Avengers franchise, and Bendis deserves credit for not only crafting a heroic death for the Ultimate (alternate) universe’s Spider-Man, but introducing a Black Latino, Miles Morales, as his successor and using the Spider-Men mini-series to solidify his role. So it’s disheartening to read him gushing to Newsarama about some mythical consensus of X-Men fans: “That’s the thing X-Men fans always say they want,” he said. “You go anywhere—’Bring back Jean Grey!’ But they don’t want a reincarnated Jean Grey, and they don’t want a dug-up Jean Grey. They want Jean.”
I’m not sure who Bendis is talking to, but I’m willing to bet there’s also a sizable contingent of fans who’d like to see Storm–a former leader of the team and a former Queen of Wakanda–have a more prominent role than being chained up on the cover of Wolverine’s latest series. Or who would prefer younger characters like X-23 and The Runaways (this group, not that group) to be involved in something other than a Battle Royale homage. It doesn’t say much for Marvel’s confidence in its product or the customers it chooses to listen to see that it would rather dote on characters from 1963 than renew development of more recent properties — nearly 30 years’ worth, as Matt Price pointed out at Nerdage. Price’s post highlights years of opportunity the company has let go by the wayside: all of those teams, introduced as the Next Generation of the Mutant fight for equality, have been stuck in comics Neverland; they’re the Lost Boys and Girls of the Marvel Universe until, well, probably forever, if series like All New are going to be taking priority.
Or maybe it’s just time for Marvel to give up the ghost; while series like Uncanny X-Force and the issues of Uncanny X-Men that preceded AvX were solid when showing us professional superheroes, the fact is that the company has squandered many story possibilities the Mutants-As-Minority analogy has offered, even before the epic racefail that was X-Men: First Class. I talked about that creative stagnation at Racialicious last year, nothing that “We never met, say, a relatively-super-fast courier in the New York depicted in ‘Amazing Spider-Man.’ Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson never hired a legal assistant with an extra-eidetic memory in ‘Daredevil’” Mutants have been part of Marvel’s world, but never really in it, unless they were either engaging in terrorism against “normal” humans, or part of anti-terrorism factions.”
We’re talking about a company, after all, where an executive feels it’s okay to publicly state that a team of black Avengers would be “contrived.” Why expect it to show enough awareness to introduce a political successor to Charles Xavier? Instead, we get characters from the Mad Men era. The idea has a little bit of charm–Jean as Joan? Scott as Don? Bobby as Pete? Comedy alert!–and will probably goose sales for the immediate future. But it would be easier for Marvel to make their “events,” and their overall line, mean something if it invested more in characters who were most relevant after the Civil Rights struggle it claims to be trying to evoke.