Tuesday, March 29, 2005

How to fix the X-books

Most comics geeks have a soft spot in their heart for the X-Men. We either read them when were growing up, or we have been introduced to them through back issues, or we started reading them when Grant Morrison took over in 2001 and turned them on their ear. For me, it was 1989 when I started reading Uncanny X-Men, and I now own every issue (in one form or another) between Giant Size X-Men #1 and issue #94 and issue #441, when Chuck Austen finally drove me from the title. For the adjectiveless X-Men, I own all of them except between Morrison leaving the title and Milligan starting. I also own a bunch of X-related titles. I love the concept of the X-Men and usually the execution. The art is usually top-notch, and three of my favorite comic book characters are X-Men: Psylocke, Rogue, and Dazzler.

But they are in desperate need of being fixed nonetheless, because I would say 90% of the X-books today are crap. I read only Milligan's X-Men and Ultimate X-Men (which may not count), but I can tell - most of them suck.

How can Marvel fix them? Well, they're not ever going to admit there's a problem, so they probably won't "fix" them. I see a future littered with not only awful X-books, but declining sales numbers on those X-books, and this once-great franchise will die a lingering death. That would be sad, so I offer my solution, free of charge (see what a nice guy I am?).

First: cancel them ALL, EXCEPT the flagship title, Uncanny X-Men. I don't care if there's quality there; I hear District X is decent, and obviously I think X-Men is worth a look or I wouldn't be buying it. I don't care. Cancel them all. I realize this would deprive Paul O'Brien of his weekly (often hilarious) review of the X-books, but he'll get over it. There are too freakin' many mutant books, and the market doesn't need 'em, and more importantly, the reader doesn't need 'em. Do we really pine each month for Nightcrawler, or Rogue, or Gambit, or Excalibur, or New X-Men, or ... shit, there's a lot of X-books. My point is, is anyone going to throw themselves off a building if they are deprived of those books? (And no mini-series, either.)

Okay. We have one X-book - the classic. Now, we need to hire some talent. What kind of talent should that be? Well, the artist is easy. We need to get someone who can actually sustain the pace of a monthly book. Nothing kills a title faster than rotating art teams. Even Morrison's run, as brilliant as it was, suffered because of the rotating art teams. I don't know who we could get on the book, but it needs to be someone who works relatively quickly. I'm sick of prima donna artists who can't complete 22 pages in a month, especially when occasionally they reprint the same panel several times in a book (yeah, I'm looking at you, Finch). I don't know who would be a good X-artist: they've had a lot of good ones with differing styles, so it's not like they need a certain kind. Just someone who's going to do, what, 11 out of the 12 yearly issues? Is that too much to ask?

(Possible suggestions: Kolins, Hester, Romita Jr., Bagley, Porter - I don't know how fast those guys are, but they seem to be pretty good at keeping up with a schedule, and they are all decent artists.)

Okay, now a writer. I'm more of a writer kind of guy, so I can forgive weak art more than I can forgive shitty writing (although really bad art still drives me from a book). The writer for the X-Men should have a pretty good knowledge of the history of the characters. I know most do, but I'm talking Claremontian knowledge (and no, I don't want Claremont writing the book - seriously, Saurians????) of the characters. Marvel should help him out, too - I read recently that Dazzler was making a comeback, and that's apparently the latest on her. Well, I didn't know that, and I don't know in what book she's making a comeback. Marvel editors should have encyclopedic knowledge about where each character is. They should impart that to the writer.

Marvel should also tie the writer down for five years. That's at least 60 issues. They should also get that writer to tell them at least a vague outline of where the story should go. All comics should be like this, actually, but let's just stick to the X-books for now. I don't want every issue to build toward the story, but it should have a general theme going on. The writer should plan for the future, for crying out loud! Marvel should allow the writer to do his thing within certain parameters. If the writer wants to kill a character, Marvel should at least listen to the proposal instead of just shooting it down. Even if it's Wolverine (yes, I know, I'm not living in the real world, but this is my post, damnit!).

The writer should do a couple of other things. One, comedy. There's a spot for funny stuff in the X-Men. The first appearance of Jubilee was not the greatest issue, but it was charming and somewhat funny. And the X-babes went shopping! For the whole issue! A lot of people have very fond memories of Kitty's fairy tale (I'm not one of them - it's okay, but not fantastic), which was charming and somewhat funny. The X-Men shouldn't always be grim - leave that to Bruce Wayne and Frank Castle. The writer should also not be afraid to have the X-Men sit around and talk for an entire issue. Again, not all the time - but that issue when Logan and Peter go to that bar and get in a fight with Juggernaut (okay, there's a fight, but it's brief) is a good issue. Claremont always used to show the X-Men playing softball - it's a cliche, but always a nice moment. It's okay to have the X-Men sitting around shooting the shit. One of my favorite issues is #296 (I think), which was actually written by Lobdell. Jubilee bonds with Professor X, who is rapidly losing the ability to walk (I can't remember why he can walk in this issue, but it doesn't last). It's a beautiful issue. We need more of that in our X-books. This ties in with the other thing an X-writer should embrace - the soap opera aspect of the book. Some books fit this well - Amazing Spider-Man is a good soap opera book (or used to be), as is, I would think Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes (I don't read them). Uncanny X-Men is another, and we shouldn't deny it!

(I don't know about writers. How about Ostrander? Maybe Ennis is he can rein in the ultra-violence, Robinson, Milligan has potential - I don't know, I'm just spitballing.)

Now, the team. I don't care, as long as it's relatively stable. My perfect team is Psylocke, Rogue, Dazzler (duh - they're my favorite characters!), Storm, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine (yes, he's overused, but he's a good character). Maybe Havok, because he was always neat and they need another guy. But I don't care - use freakin' Cannonball for all I care (but not Gambit - I would kill him quickly). It should be stable! As for all the other merry mutants running around the Marvel Universe - well, that's why we have all these idiotic books, right? Well, since there's only one mutant book now, those characters can easily guest-star, can't they? Why do we have to know what Callisto is doing every single second of the day (she has tentacles now, for God's sake - what the hell?)? Why do we care where Dani Moonstar is? It was nice to see those people show up occasionally, and now, since there's only one X-book, they can show up again occasionally, when the situation calls for it.

As for guest stars, well, the Marvel Universe needs to get back to tying things together. I know it's happening a little bit with Bendis's New Avengers and Excalibur, since Magneto is prominent in that book and Wanda's apparently the greatest villain in history, but we need a little more crossing over (not a lot, but a little). These people do know each other, after all. It would also be nice to see the mutants interact with normal humans a little more - remember them? They used to interact with humans - Stevie Hunter, that Corbeau dude, Tom and Sharon Whatever-their-last-names-are, Moira - and it would be nice to see some of that. Again, not necessarily those characters, but, you know, people (and when was the last time they went to Harry's Hideaway?).

I would also put a moratorium on two things: Magneto and Jean Grey. If Jean's alive at the beginning of this grand scheme (who the hell knows anymore?) then she's alive and she must stay alive throughout the entire run of the writer. Magneto cannot be used. He's overdone. It's annoying. Claremont had a great idea to make him a good guy, and they ruined it. Morrison had him infiltrate the school, and they ruined it. He should be put on the shelf for at least five years. FIVE YEARS, Marvel!

That's what I got. I love the X-Men, and I get sad when I think of what they have become today. I would argue that Claremont's run on the book is one of the greatest accomplishments in comic book history. Morrison's was good, but ultimately, it's not about the X-Men (think about it). Marvel needs to make some changes, and I think Joey Q needs to read this.

Of course, they won't get it really correct until they let me write it.


Blogger Bill Reed said...

I always hated the X-Men (until Morrison, anyway, but Whedon, even though I love the man, seems determined to make me hate them again). So I'd say all of the X-books suck, except AXM which only half-sucks. The stuff is too convoluted and cannibalistic...

In a perfect world, there'd be maybe three X-books: Uncanny, Regular, and, hell, Wolverine or something. There'd be writers with visions who know how to tell a damn story properly (Morrison) and artists who can draw (I didn't mind the rotating teams on NXM, even though it would've been better to have Quitely do it all, deadlines be damned). We need the big front-liners and maybe a couple second-stringers (I like Beak and Madrox).

Five years is a bit long. Morrison only did 42 issues... I think that's a good number for a big run. But the writer and the story are what dictate the length.

And yes, I hate Magneto. Let's keep him away. I also hate the 'shared universe' stuff... I like my titles seperated.

If I wrote the X-Men, Prof. X would be dead by the end of #1, and #2 would have Magneto leaving the planet because it's not fun without Charles around. The main cast would be Cyclops, Emma, Beast, Logan, Rogue, Storm, and Madrox, maybe a couple others like Kurt or whatnot, I'm sure I'm forgetting someone.

I hate the X-Men. Maybe that's why I should write it. Then again, probably not.

The easiest way to fix the X-Men is to pare down the number of titles and focus on quality control. These are two things Marvel is quite bad at.

3/29/2005 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

here's what I think:

The X-men can't be fixed.

The reason the X-Men became THE cool comic book was that no one at Marvel gave a damn about it. It was a low-selling bi-monthly book that they kept around because they wanted to keep the copyrights alive.

Enter Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne. They had pretty much free reign. They could tell a big story about Jean grey going nuts. They could make Wolverine hyper-violent and still a hero. They could break up the team for a year and have them come together slowly. They could tell stories that were a bit more real than what Marvel was telling at the time.

And they could do it because no one was watching.

Try and imagine how people would react now if someone tried to tell a story where one of the main characters of the X-Mythos slowly went insane, became corrupted by their power and the machinations of a villain and then died.

And if you think you know how people would react - go to CBR and look at what people think of Magneto going mad, increasing his power, losing control because of a villain and then having the gall to die. I dare you.

When Jean Grey died the X-men went from being the little comic that could to being the big comic trend of the 80s. And for most of that decade it ran strong. With one title. There were a couple of spin-offs- New Mutants and X-Factor- and one equally groundbreaking mini-series - Wolverine- but for the most part it was one book.

The 90s changed that. When the 90s hit the X-Men became a property. Marvel put out a second book. Then a third. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. The 90s destroyed the X-men.

There are still some cool X-men stories to tell. Age of Apocalypse was frightfully cool. Morrison's run was very cool. I happen to be quite fond of X-Treme. But for the most part the X-Books are just churned out so that every character has a book to be in. Maximum saturation.

Everyone seems to think like Greg and Bill- if you come up with a cool idea and then assign it to the right creator you can "fix" the X-men.

That won't work. It will make for some okay stories, but it can't fix what is wrong with the X-Universe. Because there is no way at all to recpature the magic of classic X. You can't shove the genie back in the bottle. (Memo to Joey Q: House of M- or the Great Marvel Retcon isn't going to fix anything. It's jsut more cheap marketing. And people know it. They'll still buy- but they know it.)

The X-Men are never going to be as good as they were in the late 70s and early 80s. And they will never be as good because Marvel can't allow one person to guide the series. Marvel can't allow actual change. Marvel can't risk losing income.

Astonishing X-men is symbolic of what Marvel is doing wrong. Bring in a big name who can't write comic book stories, hype it to death and pander to the fanboys. it's emotionally void. It resonates to the 80s but has no actual connection to the now. it's decompressed when it doesn't need to be. It's all style and no substance.

I seriously doubt there will be an X-Man story that actually means anything ever again. A character dies and we know he or she will be back in six months. The status quo is altered and we know it will be retconned back into place. The most you can do is read the writers that interest you and then drop the book when the writer leaves and the next one cannibalizes everything that's gone before.

3/29/2005 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

See now, I've always been a fan of the idea of the X-Men, but have never really cared for the comics themselves. Other than both versions of the New Mutants, I've never regularly bought an X-book. These days, when I walk into a comics store and see the glut of X-books on the shelves, it's a total turnoff. When they announced Whedon on Astonishing, I yawned. Marvel did sucker me into picking up the Ultimate X-Men with Ultimate Longshot, but that was as much because Vaughan was writing it as anything else. But I get enough of that version of him in Runaways so I'll be dropping it again. And therein lies part of the problem. Too many books with too few writers rotating through them, none of them building anything lasting.

I say cancel the whole shitload of 'em and let Astonishing X-Men be the sole X-book. When Whedon's done, lock Vaughan down for three years and give it to him. (Because, sadly, I doubt Runaways will make it longer than another 18-issue run.) Publish four 3-issue minis a year, X-Men Team-Up or something, and use it to audition Vaughan's eventual replacement. Lather, rinse, repeat on the rest of the MU.

3/29/2005 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger layne said...

I stopped reading Marvel's Merrie Mutant Mags after Age of Apocalypse -
exactly ten years ago, give or take a week. I knew it was the only way I'd be able to leave the books on good terms, with a resolution as close to an honest-to-god ending as I'd ever get.

But that Morrison run...hmm.

3/29/2005 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

As a big fan of Marvel and the X-Men franchise, it's pretty sad that I admit I agree with 90% of what is being said here. Uncanny has turned to total crap (with the exception of Alan Davis' art!) and I don't bother picking up most of the spin-offs. The only X-book I am enjoying is Ultimate X-Men, but I also am not sure whether that counts.

At least they had the guts to kill off Beast, and they have kept it that way for awhile. I'm just waiting for the day they bring him back to life because they can't figure out what to do with the story.

3/29/2005 10:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if the X-Men can be fixed. I thought Morrison's run was excellent-he introduced a new theme to the book-evolution, rather than the old persecution sort of theme Claremont seemed to be into, but that seems to have faded into the background now.

Think about it, when Morrison left the first thing they did was go retro: Kitty Pryde is back! Colossus is back!

I'd like to see a completely new team. All-New Characters, All New X-Men. Let the larger cast move off, let them pop up in other Marvel titles or one shots, but keep them out of the main book.

When the concept of your franchise is mutation it would be nice and appropriate to see a big change happen, and often.

(My ideal X-Men creative team: writing would be a collaboration between Pat Mills and Grant Morrison. Pencils would be Frank Miller, in a style close to the hyper detailed, geometric look of the first Sin City series, with Seth Fisher assisting on backgrounds. Colours would be by Dave McCraig.)

3/29/2005 10:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too many goddamn characters in the X-Men! Makes the continuity go all baroque, too many external justifications needed for anything that happens, the characters just lie around making faces at each other, and too few of them have a sufficiently character-driven reason for being there instead of somewhere else. It's like a huge house party that's gone on for way too long. I actually think any writer worth his or her salt could fix it. It's been done before.

They would just have to be sick of things as they are.

Christ, somewhere Bendis heard that, didn't he? Nuts. Whoever wanted Professor X dead, I think you're about to get your wish...gee, I wonder what new and refreshing characters could be used to perk up the X-Men?

3/30/2005 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

On the subject of Magneto: Marvel needs to take a page from Neil Gaiman's playbook (he's pals with them now, so I'm sure he won't mind), and treat Magneto somewhat like Gaiman treated the Endless. Gaiman's rule was, he would imagine that the Endless got paid a million bucks for each appearance (much like Marlon Brando got for five minutes of screen time in Superman). And since they were getting a million bucks, he damn well ought to make the appearance worth it. Give it some weight. Justify that imaginary seven-figure paycheck. And it worked. So treat Magneto like that. Imagine the old bastard's getting a giant check to show up and plague humanity or whatever, and make it worth the money. Make it an event, in the old-school style of the word, before Crisis and marketing turned it into a joke.

Either that, or kill him off and make it stick this time.

3/30/2005 12:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't enjoy Astonishing X-Men, then you don't like the X-Men. Period. It's the X-Men in their purest form. Better than Morrison, even, with the possible exception of the first three issues. If you don't like what Whedon's done, then it's time to move on.

3/30/2005 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

"If you don't enjoy Astonishing X-Men, then you don't like the X-Men. Period. It's the X-Men in their purest form. Better than Morrison, even, with the possible exception of the first three issues. If you don't like what Whedon's done, then it's time to move on."

I wouldn't go that far. I adore it, but I do think that's because of my adoration of Whedon, Morrison's cast, Kitty Pryde and the other Claremont tropes that are in play, and Cassaday's art.
I can't analyze it in anything approaching a critical faculty, because it does hit all of my fanboy buttons. Besides, I don't like the idea that a property as big as the X-Men can only be written one way. I think it should be open to as many interpritations as possible.

That said, I don't think it's any more decompressed than Morrison's run, which wasn't. It does evoke the past, but it doesn't feel like a complete throwback, nor did it run kicking and screaming from what Grant did, costumes aside (which from what I gather, was an editorial/licensing mandate).

I do agree with Chad that the X-Men franchise will never resemble what Greg wants again. I do think we can realistically ask for the glut to be trimmed back (Paul O'Brian does every week, nearly, during his X-Axis reviews). Do Gambit and Rogue really need ongoings? In 2005? As much as I love Nightcrawler, the same goes for him. I think something like District-X is worth publishing, because it pokes around the fringes of the concept. I hope that Marvel swings back to that kind of thing in the satelite books, if they have to publish the damn things. After all, when it was at its best, Milligan and Allred's X-Force/X-Statix was pretty much everything that I liked about "Nu" Marvel.

And finally... Dazzler's one of your favorites, Greg? Really? I can't talk shit at you, because I liked fucking Maggot and Dr. Reyes, but still, I'm surprised. What is it that made you a fan of hers?

3/30/2005 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Brad: I don't know why I like Dazzler. I think it was because when she joined the team (around issue 214) Claremont made her into this character who didn't really want to be in the X-Men but did it because of the anti-mutant crap that was going on then. What she really wanted was to be famous (and this is before reality television, so it was kind of a new thing) and her singing wasn't going well, and there was this kind of pathetic sadness to her - she had talent, but she couldn't get a gig because she was a mutant. I just liked that aspect of her story.

3/31/2005 09:18:00 AM  
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