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The X-Men Work Best When Outside the Marvel Universe

CLH1.CA.0e.0414.X220.0.1Rumors are going around that Disney is going to buy 21st Century Fox, at least, it’s entertainment side of things. I normally don’t care to write about such things and, besides the fact that it’s scary to imagine Disney owning even more properties and franchises, this isn’t my field of expertise. However, like anything worth talking about, the X-Men are involved.

I’ve written about the X-Men and their movies time and time again. This entry will not be the last. They hold a special place in my heart with their characters and stories. The movies, especially, have been an important part of my life, never rebooting and telling a constant, although convoluted, story as I’ve grown up. And Disney owning the rights to make those movies could ruin everything.

I don’t mean that I’d hate to see the series start over. I liked X-Men: Apocalypse for a number of controversial reasons, but one of them was that it had a crew of big name X-characters; Storm, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Psylocke, ect. If the movies rebooted, we could see a team of first class (pardon the pun) mutants headlining a film that hasn’t really happened since X2: X-Men United. Heck, that’s partly why I wish Gifted was a real X-Men show, giving us a Rogue that gets into the mix of things. And a reboot could even have a better prepared timeline, though, I might argue, there’s charm and artistic viability in not letting past films completely dictate new stories.

No, the reboot isn’t what I’m worried about. It’s the mixing of the Marvel Universe with the X-Men. Disney/Marvel’s Cinematic Universe would benefit from having a Wolverine, sure, but the X-Men, at their core concept, would be diluted. And this has been a problem since the very beginning.

xmen-90s-bannerBack in the 60s, when there were very few mutants on the scene, the idea of people hating and fearing the X-Men made sense. The few they knew about were some teens who wore funny costumes and a madman who could topple every city with magnetic powers. Of course they were scared. Even with Iron Man and Captain America, there was something different about mutants. Not everyone was going to survive a gamma bomb or get hit by cosmic rays, but anyone, even your neighbor or, worse, your own children, could be a mutant.

But, as the Marvel Universe grew, the differences became less important. There were so many non-mutant superheroes on the scene, how could you even tell who to hate anymore? Except, in the comics, as the general populace grew more tolerant of heroes, they still retained their bigotry towards mutants and the X-Men. And it made less and less sense. The core concept, of mutants being a minority and treated with fear, became less plausible, which watered down the X-Men. They still tried to tell X-Men stories like they always did, but, you had to start asking why Captain America wasn’t getting involved in protecting mutant teens from Sentinel attacks or why Doctor Strange let mutant massacres happen.

120e6cf4001aed45eb4700a28e90a4a4-grant-morrison-xmenAnother problem is that, in a shared universe, the X-Men could never attain their ultimate progression. Mutants are supposed to be the next stage in human evolution. Part of the fear humans have towards them is based in the fact that they will be replaced by this next step. Unfortunately, you can’t tell that story with Spider-Man around. Mutants can’t take over the world, or even come close.

Grant Morrison tried to tell that story in the early 2000s. He fast forwarded a bit but his X-Men stories were about mutants becoming a dominate force in the world. And Marvel retconned it as fast as they could and yelled, “No more mutants” and sent that number to under two hundred. They claimed they were bringing the X-Men back to their core concept, of being a minority, but, more simply, they couldn’t let the status quo get out of hand.

LOGANThe X-Men movies are flawed, I get that. Even the second movie, as fantastic as it is, has issues. Fox has made great X-Men movies and bad ones too. And now, with Hugh Jackman gone and three separate trilogies wrapped up, the movies are in a weird state of flux and uncertainty. But, with Fox retaining the rights, they’ve kept the X-Men in their own separate universe and have been allowed to explore concepts that wouldn’t work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The idea of a cure wouldn’t matter if mutants could join the Avengers someday, the world building in Logan would never make sense with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner on hand and can you imagine Captain America letting X-Men: Days of Future Past happen? Like in the comics, the X-Men stories would be set to certain guidelines and limited in their scope.

Also, look at Inhumans and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. How in the world would a company that makes those types of shows make something like Legion? Aren’t we at least a little better off in this world with a show like Legion on TV right now?

theres-an-end-credits-scene-after-x-men-days-of-future-past-heres-what-it-means-for-the-sequelIf Disney does buy up the whole world and owns the rights to make X-Men movies, I hope they would keep them separate from the Marvel films. Bring the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom over, but leave the X-Men alone. At the end of the day, however, I have to remember I’m not in control of this stuff, that whatever will be, will be. I’ll learn to live and let go of the X-Men movies I grew up on and hold my breath as a new wave comes to pass. There would be some great benefits. Disney and Marvel would be more likely to put the X-Men in their comic book costumes and have a fan favorite team that doesn’t just focus on Wolverine. And they’d get the love in the comics that they’ve been missing over the years and maybe a new video game! Also, new films under the House of Mouse wouldn’t negate and erase the movies I’ve loved for so many years. Heck, if it happened today, I’d still have nine X-Men movies (and Deadpool) and that’s something fantastic. I just believe, as the animated series and movies and even games have proven, that the X-Men work when they don’t have to fit in a world of super heroes and can just be themselves.

The Death of Long Form Storytelling in Comics

26030872I just finished reading the third volume of Jason Aaron’s Doctor Strange series and, so far, so good. Chris Bachalo’s art is a great fit for a Doctor Strange comic and he and Aaron made a good team while working on Wolverine and the X-Men a few years back.

But, what surprises me the most about this Doctor Strange comic is that we’re three volumes in and a fourth is on it’s way in October. While reading the first trade paperback, I assumed Aaron would be around for a least a second volume. After all, most series at least last for twelve issues to get that one-two-punch setup of two single volumes of trade paperback and, then, the later released “definitive” single edition.

Three volumes, though? With a fourth on the way? What’s with this extended storytelling? Who does Aaron think he is? Chris Claremont? (Chris Claremont is a comic book writer who wrote X-Men comics for seventeen years straight. You can get the joke now.)

Of course, I don’t really think of four volumes as an extended run but it’s not far off. Twelve issues seems to be the magic number for most series before they get the reboot and a new first issue. I’m sure that helps sales, as most people would be more willing to pick up a first issue rather than a thirty-second. But, I’ve begun to have setup fatigue.

439383-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_See, with every first or second issue, we need a setup. The writers have to explain why this new series is different than the previous series, even if it’s just one Hulk book from the next. Yes, last year’s Uncanny X-Men was about our heroes on the run in Antarctica, so we needed to reboot the series so we could place our heroes on the run in London. It’s different. And we have to spend forty four pages explaining why it’s different.

With DC Comic’s Rebirth event, it hit me harder than ever before. Wonder WomanThe Lies was fine and entertaining, but I’ve read so many first volumes and origin stories of Wonder Woman that I just couldn’t care anymore. The same thing goes for the new Justice League comic. Instead of a new story, I have to read six more issues of introductory action and be reminded who these characters are again and why Batman chooses to fight crime dressed as bat.

Team book, like the X-Men and Justice League, are the worst for this because each incarnation of the team has to have a reason to exist and a new lineup of heroes. I can’t count how many X-Men comics I’ve read that are just characters walking down halls, welcoming back Iceman for whatever new direction they’re going with. But, solo heroes still get annoying, with constant first issues of Batgirl leaping from buildings, talking about how much she loves being a hero. All reminder, no momentum.

51FM5Cut0PL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_What happens, with this setup fatigue, is I stop caring and I don’t let myself get invested. It’s partly because these stories have little overlap and almost none of them carry over. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men comes back to mind because that lasted for a while, filling up eight volumes. That’s one heck of a run in these days. But, as soon as the series was over, almost all the work that he was doing with Wolverine as a character was ignored. Series that run for less time are even worse investments. Iron Man is obsessed with rebuilding his company’s name in one series, two months later he couldn’t care less in the reboot. Why should I care for one setup when the other is one the way?

What we lose is a sense of purpose, that these stories matter. Villains no longer have plans, they simply attack because it can fill two issues with action. Subplots are largely ignored. Not to keep singing the praises of Wolverine and the X-Men, but over the course of that series, Jason Aaron was able to tell lots of small stories throughout. There was a time, such as with Chris Claremont’s X-Men run, where you could have Mastermind working in the background for a year and still not reveal is full plan to drive Jean Grey insane.

1157943-av1Maybe superhero comics aren’t going to be that type of story anymore. Brian K. Vaughan rarely writes comics that don’t last ten trade paperbacks. Fables, by Bill Willingham, lasted for twenty two volumes and spin-off titles. Sure, Scott Snyder wrote on the New 52’s Batman for the whole run, but he’s also been writing American Vampire for years.

Times have changed and I don’t mean to sound like I want “the good old days” back (I least hate thinking I sound old). I just want good stories. Comics are episodic with many having no end in sight. But, when we’re constantly starting over, that lack of ending is getting exhausting. It has to do with the fact many comics used to run hundreds of issues, so we just went along for the ride. Imagine going on a road trip for two days and how enjoyable it could be with no traffic and some great music. Now, imagine being on that road trip and the driver keeps stopping the car every hour, turns around and goes back twenty minutes and pick a new route. You have to repeat the music too. Also, I think he keeps slamming on the brakes for no reason. Dad’s are the worst.

Logan

logan_1_origI’ve talked a lot about the X-Men and their movies on this blog that, even though I’m behind, I’d be remiss not to talk about Logan. And since it’s now out in stores, everyone can watch the movie. Including me. Forever.

Logan broke me. I’ve seen movies that made me sad, that got me emotional but few have hit me so hard that I had to bring it up in therapy. Yes, Logan is an action movie, full of blood and violence and adamantium claws doing what adamantium claws do. But, it’s also a powerful piece of legacy, aging, family and your place in the world, no matter how bloody.

And all of that is well done and can effect you alone. Normally, it would get me to that emotional level as well. But the reason Logan got me was something I’m not sure the movie should be blamed for. The end of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and the ultimate fate of the character in the movie felt like a long, heavy book closing on my life and I was not prepared to deal with those emotions.

The first X-Men movie came out in 2000 and I was 14 at the time. It changed my life in pop culture related ways, getting me into comics and making me a fan of the characters and the Marvel universe. But, as a weird, unpopular and messed up teenager, the X-Men gave me a place that I wanted to go and live, gave me characters that I wouldn’t to be friends with and take me in like a family. Not since Animorphs had I found a world and characters that felt so real that I could almost see the door.

And Hugh Jackman was there from the start and he’s stayed for seventeen years. As my life has gone on and changed, as I’ve dropped out of school and graduated college and got married and traveled around and said goodbye to friends and family, this has been a constant. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine has been one thing, one of the very few things, that hasn’t changed, that I could expect on a regular basis. And while he’s always teased retiring from the role, it always seemed like something vague, something I wouldn’t really see.

And I didn’t think watching his last performance would be as emotional for me. I mean, it’s just a character. I can read Wolverine adventures in the comics, rewatch the movies, there’s plenty out there. But it dawned on me while watching Logan that the character, as played by Jackman, is one of the most consistent father figures I’ve ever had. The character has been something I could trust was going to be there. And yes, it’s also because I love the character and Jackman’s portrayal of him and I don’t want it to end.

But like Logan in the film, I had to face how much older I am than when this all started. I had to except that I may someday die very far from home, that the world won’t be the same as when I was younger. That family and loved ones leave. There was a lot I wasn’t expecting to come to the surface.

I’m not 14 anymore, free from the oppressive figures that had been in my life. I’m not the 17 I was when the second movie came out and I was a dropout with no direction. Nor am I the 21 that I was when the third movie came out and I was about to start college. It goes on and I’m not that age anymore.

I’m still not sure I’m explaining this well enough. I don’t want the character to end? Is that what I’m trying to say? This run is over and it’s been so integral in my life there’s an empty space now. It’s its bigger than I thought it would be. I know how this sounds, but it’s like I lost a friend, or family. Because Logan wasn’t just an end for Hugh Jackman’s role, but it has a sense of finality for the X-Men series as well.

And I wasn’t ready.

Super Hero Movies: Excitement Level Check 2017

Oh boy. 2017, am I right? It’s going to be busy for people like me, who go to the theater for every single superhero movie. We have seven of them coming out this year, if you count The Lego Batman Movie. And you should count it. Don’t be so cold.

The Lego Batman Movie (February 10)

Just like my rundown for 2016, I’m putting this list out too late to give my predictions for the first super hero movie of the year. Because The Lego Batman movie is already out, and I’ve already seen it! But if I had to guess, I’d say I’ll like it.

I say that because I did like it. As someone who didn’t love The Dark Knight Rises and just feels sorry for Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was nice to feel excited for a Batman movie again It actually packed a few emotional punches I wasn’t ready to handle. While the film was never as funny as its first 15-20 minutes, it was enjoyable, beautifully and uniquely animated and still true to Batman as a character.

Excitement Level = Everything is Awesome

 

Logan (March 3)

While my love for the X-Men movies has always been strong, the Wolverine solo films are at 50% approval rating. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the worst super hero films ever and killed a slew of planned X-Men solo films. The Wolverine, on the other hand, is one of my favorites, both as an X-Men and super hero film. It was thoughtful, true to the character and unique. And now the same creative team is putting out what might be the last show for Hugh Jackman’s iconic take of the world’s favorite mutant.

I’ll save the emotions I have about seeing the man who played one of my favorite heroes for the past 17 years for after I see the film. I’m both excited to see another unique and focused take on the character, but the R rating doesn’t thrill me like it does for some. I get it and it makes sense when a man’s powers are razor sharp claws that can cut through bone like paper. I just don’t need gore and f-bombs for the sake of being grown up. But then, I’m lame.

That hesitation aside, I’m excited for this. I like the western-vibe the trailers are providing, I like the inclusion of X-23 and I’m always happy to see Wolverine cut loose. If this is as good as the Wolverine, I think we’ll be very happy.

Excitement Level = X-Static

 

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (May 5)

One of the best Marvel films is getting a sequel. The first movie did a better job with the characters than some of their comic outings and it was hilarious to boot. I’m having a hard time coming up with things to say about the first movie, just because it was as good as it was and most people saw it. I should watch it again.

The second outing looks like more of the same, but in this case, that should be a good thing. With the introduction of these characters out of the way, we can get straight to the fun and team interaction. I’m pumped to see Kurt Russell in this film and to see how they pull of Ego the Living Planet. What’s great about 2017 is that, even with this movie coming out, it’s not the Marvel movie I’m most excited for, but we’ll get to that.

Excitement Level = High

 

Wonder Woman (June 2)

It’s 2017. They’ve been making big budget super hero movies since 1978. If we’re talking about the time since the first X-Men movie, than comic book movies have been in the golden age for 17 years. So it’s either been almost two or four decades before they made a Wonder Woman film. That’s insane, considering Warner Bros. and DC comics have made a Steel, Jonah Hex, Constantine, Catwoman and Suicide Squad movie before one of the biggest characters on the planet. They should be embarrassed.

Unfortunately, Wonder Woman is coming at a time where I’m not at all excited for DC movies. They just don’t seem to making super hero movies I want to see. And it has nothing to do with being dark and/or gritty. I like plenty of dark and/or gritty films, super heroes are no exception. If I’m enjoying Daredevil and Jessica Jones on Netflix, I can handle a grown up take on characters I like. But stupid, that’s another thing entirely. And Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were stupid.

I want Wonder Woman to buck that trend. I want it to be great. And from the trailers I’ve seen, it looks like it could be something unique and exciting. While setting it in World War I might play a bit too close to Captain America: The First Avenger, I doubt it will be a problem. Here’s hoping that this is the first DC film since Man of Steel that values character over imagery, while still giving us the super heroics.

Excitement Level = Hopeful

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 5)

Boy, just writing the title has made me tired.

It’s not that I don’t like Spider-Man! I love the guy! He’s one of my favorites. The first Spider-Man movie (2002) felt like a defining moment in my life and the sequel (2004) is one of my favorite movies ever, definitely in my top five super hero films of all time. It’s just that after fifteen years, five movies in which the last three weren’t the best and the speed of the reboot has left me underwhelmed.

Tom Holland was fantastic in Captain America: Civil War and he won me over quickly. I guess what keeps me from getting excited about this new movie is that we know what to expect from a Spider-Man film, a Marvel film, a coming of age film, ect. While we’re close to the film I’m most excited for, this one is at the bottom of my priorities. I’m sure it will be great. It will be charming, action-packed and a fun time. But that assurance also comes with a lack of anticipation. I hope to change my tune soon.

Excitement Level = Less than Amazing

 

Thor: Ragnarok (November 3)

Now we’re talking. Now we’re firing on all cylinders. Now we’re discussing a film with a director I’m excited to see work his weird craft. Taika Waititi is such a strange choice to helm the movie but I’m glad to see him aboard. This is a case of me liking both character and director for different reasons and wanting to see what the two will produce.

The Thor films are in this weird, separate world from the other Marvel films and I’ve liked both offerings. The second is underwhelming until Loki is on the scene, but the first is almost a near perfect origin film, almost on par with Iron Man.

Now the third is going to be bringing the Hulk into the fray, along with Doctor Strange, making an almost complete Defenders team-up (not the Netflix version of the Defenders, the comic version, with Thor standing in for Silver Surfer and Namor, the Sub-Mariner). I have high expectations for this one and I hope those are met.

Excitement Level = The Highest

 

Justice League (November 17)

Zach Snyder made a divisive Superman movie, one that I hate. But that’s okay, he gets a second chance with the first Batman/Superman team-up film. And then it was stupid. Embarrassingly so. Well, that’s okay. He may have film a crappy version of two heroes, but now he’s done and will move on…oh, wait. He’s going to direct the Justice League now.

Great. Just great. That’s fantastic. When thinking of the Justice League, I always see them as dark, violent, image focused and stupid idiots who get tricked by dumb villain plans. This should work out just fine.

Or maybe my sarcasm will be for naught. Maybe we’ll get an iconic, inspiring and larger than life story with some of the greatest heroes ever created. Maybe it won’t be warehouse scenes and mother issues and fish hobos and super villains no one has heard about. Maybe they’ll be surprised and fantastic character moments. Maybe Maybe Maybe…

Excitement Level = Not Again, Lord. Please. Not again.

Super Hero Movies: Excitement Level Check

2016 is going to have seven super hero movies! There was a time when four was a lot, but 2003 is far in our past now. So, now it’s time to look ahead at these movies and see what I’m excited for and what I’m less than thrilled about.

v9eu3y1Deadpool ( February 12)

Now, I’ve already seen this, as have most people who wanted to, so I’ll be short. I was hesitant about this film. I went back and forth about whether I wanted to see it, if I should just wait for the DVD, ect. I wasn’t convinced that this movie had to be R-rated and crude. Having grown up reading the Joe Kelly run of the character, plus the rest that followed in his original series, I had a set idea of what Deadpool was like.

And to be honest, those reservations are still there. The movie was funny, it had it’s moments of genuine comic book glee, but something still felt off for me. Hearing Deadpool drop the F-bomb was hard to get around, because I’m used to it all being bleeped out or struck through with a black bar in the comics. I don’t see the precedence for the character being such a hard R, but Fox is rolling in cash now, so what do I know? Again, I liked the movie just fine, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I’ll watch the sequel(s?) but I want be waiting with baited breathe for them.

Excitement Level = Hesitant

 

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (March 25)

I won’t talk anymore about Man of Steel, at least not now. But it can’t be denied that this film is battling the bad taste that movie left in my mouth. I’ve slightly mellowed to that first film, as long as I tune in after all the Pa Kent stuff. The trailers and interviews for and about this new movie have not left me hopeful for Superman. I just don’t think anybody involved really understands what makes Superman different. It’s too bad.

So I’m split in two over BvS. One part of me is very scared for Superman and how this movie will further hurt the character. The other part of me, however, is excited for Batman. If Zack Snyder was just making a Batman solo film that looked like this, I’d be thrilled. Give us something like Hush, Under the Red Hood or just a straight up adaptation of the Dark Knight Returns and I think Snyder could knock it out of the park. It’s just too bad he’s been given the keys to Superman and the rest of the Justice League.

Excitement Level = Nervous

 

Captain America: Civil War (May 6)

I didn’t need that second trailer to get excited but it helps. I think this movie shows a key difference between Marvel and DC. With BvS, I doubt a lot of the general audience is going to be rooting for Superman. We don’t know anything about him, his solo film didn’t really endear us to him and he’s going up against Batman. Batman has had more movies, more video games, more cartoons, the guy is beloved.

Meanwhile, you watch a trailer for Civil War and it’s stressful for just those two minutes. Captain America vs. Iron Man is not easy to take sides with. Everyone loves Captain America after right now. Also, everyone loves Iron Man right now. These characters have had multiple movies to grow and enter our lives and now we’re watching them fight. True, the characters themselves have never been super close in the movies (unlike the comics), but they have a certain respect for each other. This movie is going to be like watching Mom and Dad fight and Uncle Spider-Man is just making things complicated.

Excitement Level = Highly Stressful

 

X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27)

This one is weird for me. I’m usually through the roof excited for a new X-Men movie, watching the trailers over and over again. Not so much right now, even with Apocalypse, a villain I always wanted but never thought we’d get to see. We’ve got a sweet line-up of Horsemen, Nightcrawler and Psylocke and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto!

I think I’m just getting a little tired of Brian Singer’s choices with this franchise. I’ve loved this series forever, but I’m also ready for some color in the costumes, characters who have the same powers they have in the comics, characters who act like they do in the comics, characters who are the same age they are in the comic. I don’t know what I’m trying to say but it has something to do with comics.

Again, I’m plenty excited for this movie and I’m sure it will be great, but the franchise might need another kick like X-Men: First Class to make it fun again. But then, this movie is apparently closing out all six of the main X-films, so I better be careful what I wish for before this series is taken over by Deadpool.

Excitement Level = Controlled

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (June 3)

Man, everyone hated the first movie! Except me! I thought it fun, action-packed and not serious enough to have be bothered by it’s problems. But not everything has to be Civil Wars or Apocalypses, you know? Sometimes it can just be easy popcorn fun.

And this second movie looks like everything is being dialed to eleven. Bebop and Rocksteady, Shredder, Baxter Stockman, Casey Jones, Krang in a giant suit and the technodrome? This looks nuts. It looks like the 80s cartoon threw up. I know everyone loves the original movies and the first is great and will likely always be the best, but geez, relax and have a good time that isn’t set between 1982-1991.

Excitement Level = Extreme

 

Suicide Squad (August 5)

What is it with DC? I want to be excited for this movie, I really do. I love the Suicide Squad and a lot of the characters they’ve chosen to be part of the team, but something is off. Well, it’s really two people.And, surprisingly, it’s not the Joker that’s bothering me!

Harley Quinn and Deadshot bother me. Sure, I’m just going off the trailer so I’m sure I’ll be surprised by how much better they are in the full film, but what I’ve seen is getting to me. I like Deadshot in the comics because the dude is apathetic to his core. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies, doesn’t care who he kills, he just doesn’t care. Again, no idea if what I’ve seen in the trailer is the full story, but it looks like Deadshot has a bit more… care about him. And Harley Quinn? Well, maybe the character is like Deadpool and moved past me. Neither seem to need me anymore, losing some of the appeal that I fell in love with at the beginning. It’s a brave world out there and I’m outdated!

What was the point again? Oh, right. Suicide Squad. Outside of those concerns, I’m pretty excited to see how they pull this off!

Excitement Level = Medium-Well

 

Doctor Strange (November 4)

doctor-strange-promo-still-benedict-cumberbatch-2

I like Doctor Strange. I think he’s cool. I like his mini-series by Brian K. Vaughan. I like when he turns up in Spider-Man stories. I like when people ask, “What sort of doctor are you?” and he answers, “The strange kind”. Classic stuff there.

But I’m excited to see some magic in the Marvel movies. Sure, it’s probably pseudo-science magic, like quantum physics or something, but that will work. Benedict Cumberbatch  is looking pretty great in costume and everything I read about this movie makes it seem weird and different from all the weird, different stuff Marvel has done before.

Excitement Level = Spellbound

 

And that’s it for the year! We’ll see which films meet or exceed expectations and which fall flat. I think each of these films will be interesting and good in their own ways. None of them seem bad or fatally troubled. It helps that, outside of the Bat/Supes/Cap/Stark fighting, all of these movies seem pretty different from each other. I’m on board.

Excitement Level for 2016 = Super

The X-Men Movies – A Look Back

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh X-Men movie. The SEVENTH. Let that sink in. Not counting Marvel Studios’ Avengers line, that’s the longest running superhero universe franchise ever. Spider-Man was rebooted after three movies, Batman and Superman after four (or five if you count Superman Returns in the original run). The Fantastic Four only got two and looks like Green Lantern gets one.

I think we tend to forget how impressive it is, even with its flaws, that the X-Men have lasted so long with a single continuity. There’s errors in the timeline, attempts to go back and change, but every movie is part of the same series. The X-Men are the Star Trek of superheroes.

I think it’s nice that the quality turn around is back on high. For a while, it seemed like darkness was overtaking the series. Before X-Men: First Class, we had two good X-Men movies and two bad ones. Now, three movies later, those are the only bad ones in the series. I want to do a quick rundown and look back at the series and see what’s held up and what hasn’t.

MPW-34135X-Men
Released 2000

Think about this. Fourteen years ago, the last good superhero movie was Blade in 1998 and before that, which ever Batman movie you liked before the franchise fell apart (I kind of like Batman Forever). The first X-Men movie is responsible for the modern superhero genre. It’s not just important for the X-Men, it’s important for films. X-Men showed the world that superhero movies could be serious, satisfying both fans and newcomers. It set the trend for adding Easter eggs for future films and characters and the benefits of treating its heroes with respect. Without X-Men’s big box office success, Spider-Man wouldn’t have been greenlit and the rest is history.

I guess I kind of got away from talking about the movie as a whole…sorry. I love this movie. I know, by today’s standards it looks cheap in certain places (the Statue of Liberty fight) and Magneto’s plan isn’t the best. But this movie has everything else it needs to succeed. I’ve probably quoted this movie more than any other, and the writing is strong enough to prove why. Xavier, Wolverine, Rogue and Magneto all come across as believable and cool. Even Jean turns up alright in this movie. Toad, of all characters, probably gets more respect than he ever has, even with that terrible Storm line directed at him. I love the feel this movie has from the very beginning all the way up to the Ellis Island scenes, where the movie shows it’s weaker elements. This movie made me want to go to the school in a bad way and I wanted more, more and more.

X2 ONE SHEET A ¥ Art Machine Job#5263 ¥ Version A ¥  02/28/03X2: X-Men United
Released 2003

I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve talked about this movie before, and I’m never shy about how great it is. X-Men was good, this was great. X2 feels like an X-Men movie, from the school to the characters, to the way every one intersects out of each other’s lives.

Nightcrawler represents some of the best parts of the world, cool look, cool powers, tragic past, lovable scamp. This was also the last time Wolverine’s past would be cool, since both the movies and the comics decided to give away the secrets. This movie is memorable scene after memorable scene, from the tornado vs. jet scene to the Deathstrike fight, from the White House to the Mansion invasion, its great. And the movie doesn’t skip on the slower scenes, like Pyro’s longing gaze at family life or Wolverine and Iceman talking about girls.

There’s some rough patches, like Rogue not being to important or Cyclops being written out early, but they’re minor quibbles. If I only had one example to explain the X-Men to those who don’t understand, I use this movie. Or I just watch it because I want to.

 

X-Men_The_Last_StandX-Men: The Last Stand
Released 2006

Let’s hold on before we tear this movie apart. First, the trailer was awesome. It made this movie look thoughtful, stylistic and action packed. We had every right to believe that it would be the best yet. I mean, pitting the Juggernaut against Kitty Pride is an inspired idea! They can both go through walls! How could that not be awesome!

Let’s talk about the bad first, so we can end on a high note. Said Juggernaut/Kitty fight was a huge letdown lacking any imagination. In fact, all the action scenes are forgettable, save one. Even the final match-up between the X-Men and Magneto’s army was a mess, without any new powers or ideas. Popular characters like Multiple Man and Angel are important until they’re not, Cyclops is killed off screen, Rogue loses her powers off screen, Wolverine gets from New York to California and back off screen. The cure, which was the most promising story line, might work but maybe not? Dark Phoenix is kind of powerful but more of a hot mess than the end of the world. Iceman vs. Pyro is a DBZ ripoff without the fun and Magneto asking, “What have I done?” is worse than Storm’s questions about toads and lightning. Okay, lets stop and get to the good quick.

I’ve learned a strategy for this movie and that’s to watch it right after X2. I mean, right after. Because if you still have the feeling of excitement that comes with the closing moments of that movie, it will wash over the third film and carry you along for almost the whole thing. There are good things about the movie. Magneto is still great, the Danger Room gets some play, Kelsey Grammer is a wonderful choice for Beast and hey, look, it’s Multiple Man! The struggle for Jean at her old home is the only memorable action bit in the film, maybe because it’s the only one with high stakes (Xavier’s life). Also, the soundtrack is epic in scope and plays like it was scored for a better film. But where the complaints are small points for the first two films, the compliments are in short supply for the Last Stand.

x-men-origins-wolverine-posterX-Men Origins: Wolverine
Released 2009

In order to control my venting, I’m trying something else. Let’s just focus on what I would have done with this concept.

If revealing Wolverine’s origin is going to be important to both the audience and the character, it needs to matter. If we just show it all, it doesn’t work because the audience now know’s his past, but the character doesn’t, so revealing it to him later will be redundant. So, no prequel. Instead, lets have the movie take place after  The Last Stand. With Jean gone, Magneto (temporally) neutralized and the X-Men enjoying some peace and quiet, Wolverine can get back to focusing on find out who he was. Since she didn’t have a lot to do before, Rogue decides to go with him. Knowing Striker made him the weapon he is today, he starts digging into the generals past, which leads him to his own. We can bring back Sabretooth from the first movie and up his intelligence a bit or maybe use Omega Red. Both have a history with Wolverine’s Weapon X days. While searching, Wolverine and Rogue discover that a lot of memories are false implants, that he may have been with a woman named Silver Fox who was murdered by those who wanted him in the program, and that he wasn’t such a nice guy back then either. Maybe, we show some scenes of his childhood, but that doesn’t matter so much as what brought him to Weapon X. His search could take him to a shutdown Department H/Alpha Flight and friends named the Hudsons. Of course, at the end of the movie, Wolverine discovers a good amount, but it doesn’t give him the peace he needs. Realizing he’s always been a weapon and hurt those who care about him, he leaves the X-Men until we see him again in The Wolverine.

Of course, no one asked me. So we have a movie that doesn’t matter, to audiences or the rest of the films. Nice going, Fox.

X-Men-First-Class-Poster-01X-Men: First Class
Released 2011

So, I love X2. That’s no secret. But, to this day, I can’t decide if it’s still my favorite or best. Because First Class is that good.

It’s stylish. It’s cool. It has a sense of humor and fun that the others movies lack. This film doesn’t need Wolverine because Michael Fassbender (more like Face bender!) is that cool. The new crew of X-kids aren’t as iconic but they’re great all the same, and I love seeing Havok and Banshee get some screen time. The movie also made one of the worst comic book ideas (Azazel) and made it awesome. Sebastian Shaw finally gets his hand at being the bad guy, we get goofy silver age technology and groovy training montages. And the soundtrack is awesome.

For a while, the X-Movies felt like an ex-girlfriend. After X2, everything seemed to be going well. But then The Last Stand  happened and she went off the rails so we broke up. We had lost the magic. But the, here comes a Wolverine movie and the trailers look promising. Maybe she’s cleaned up her act. Maybe she has changed. Okay, so we get back together. Then I find out she’s even worse then before. Crazy, even. I bail out and stop answering phone calls, heck, I change my number. Forget it. I’m done. But, then, I see the trailer for First Class and I hear she really has changed for the better. The breakup made her rethink a lot of decisions she was making. We flirt a little, have a few talks over coffee and then, when I see the movie, I can’t help myself. I propose. I’m ready to stick with her through better or worse. Thanks, X-Men: First Class.

the-wolverine-teaser-posterThe Wolverine
Released 2013

Wolverine is overexposed as a character, with people forgetting that less is more and that he’s a cool character even when played as just another part of a larger team. Just because he’s popular doesn’t mean he has to be the center. But, if you have to make a solo film, make it matter. And that’s what The Wolverine gets right.

While X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an minor character parade disguised as a solo piece, The Wolverine is true to it’s name. The main focus is on Logan, emotionally distraught and lost after having to kill the woman he spent about two weekends with (seriously, if you think about the whole time that Wolverine and Jean are interacting in the time frame of the movie, they spend about two whole days together). The movie starts of slow and thoughtful and you realize this is a different type of superhero movie. Having this film take place in Japan helps it standout as well and this character fits perfectly in that environment, being both a man with a long past but also, by being a mutant, a man of the future. Like the comic by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the movie wisely tells a story about Wolverine as a ronin, a masterless samurai.

The action is great, with a lot of people liking the bullet train scene by my favorite bit is in the medical lab. It’s intense and has a great built up, and when Wolverine gets back into the fight, you can feel the weight of it all. It’s almost like the movie wants to end there, but Logan still has some bad guys to stop and, while I don’t hate the last act of the movie like other critics, it is weaker than the rest of the movie. And since X-Men: Days of Future Past ignores a lot of this movie, the bits at the end are fairly inconsequential. But, if they never make another solo Wolverine movie (and I kind of wish they would stop and focus on the team), this is as good as it’s going to get.

rs_634x939-140324091106-634.jennifer-lawrence-x-men.ls.32414X-Men: Days of Future Past
Released 2014

The X-Men series seems to be the king of rebooting without rebooting, maybe second only to the Terminator series. Between X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class and now X-Men: Days of Future Past, the series has tried to restart and change direction three times without actually starting over. I don’t mind, as long as the movies are good, and DoFP is good.

It’s not my favorite of the movies. That’s still a battle between the second and First Class. I would have liked to see Bishop, Warpath and Blink get more screen time/dialog. Beast doesn’t seem to have too much to do and I feel like we didn’t get enough time with future Magneto and Xavier as both their dreams seem to be crashing around them. One more complaint. Killing off the First Class crew off screen; Banshee, Emma Frost and Azazel, that doesn’t sit right with me. Especially the first two, since one could of worked on the team still and the Emma is one of the strongest characters in the comic.

But the rest of the movie is great. Fassbender, decked out like his comic book counterpart, is almost the perfect Magneto. Wolverine is less the focus and more of a side character, which works well for him. The Sentinels are bad news and we get to see the X-Men of the future fight them to the death…twice! All while being a classic X-Men movie!

The best part of DoFP is that it gives hope, for the movies and the franchise. The ending of the film, for both timelines, makes me want to what another hundred X-Men movies. I want to keep following the original movie cast, I want to keep going with the First Class crew, I want to see where they’re going with Mystique and Wolverine, I want to see all the X-Men together and happy and saving the day again and again. While I’m a little weary, since the last time I had this much excitement for the series future was after X2, and we can see how well that went, I feel confident that the franchise is on the right track.

Being an X-Men Fan is Great

I want to get real and talk about the X-Men.

Back in 2000, I hadn’t read a single comic book. Fourteen years later, that seems ridiculous, but it was true. I was just a geeky thirteen year old who was into Pokemon and Animorphs. It was a random article in my Disney Adventure that turned me on to the X-Men movie. I remember reading the article and thinking back to a picture book I had as a kid that had the X-Men. There was also the old 90’s cartoon that I only ever watched an episode or two of, but those few had stuck with me.

This was also around the same time that we had a computer that could get on the internet regularly so I could start looking into the movie. I think the first X-Men movie was the first movie based website I ever visited. I checked it out, read about the characters and I slowly starting getting into the world. ABC Family even started showing the old cartoon series again. It seemed like the right time but there was still too much information for me to get a hold of. I used to think that Gambit charged items with electrical energy. I was a fool.

When I discovered that my library at the first three Essential X-Men, you can bet it was a big deal. It was like they for placed there just for me to find them right then. These were the first Claremont issues, meaning I didn’t have to lose interest in the X-Men like I would have if they were the Stan Lee comics. These issues introduced Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler, and brought Wolverine, Banshee and Sunfire into the mix. Because of this era, I have a soft spot for the two latter characters, and my personal favorite team includes this era. The second volume of the Essential line had what would become some of my favorite stories, with Alpha Flight, Days of Future Past, Proteus, the Dark Phoenix Saga and the Wendigo, and it all lead to other great stories in future volumes.

Seeing the X-Men movie was huge event for me, even though I was a newly minted fan. It was the first superhero movie I went to as my own choice, the only other one before that was when my whole family saw Batman Forever. It was also the first movie that wasn’t a Jurassic Park movie that I went into with prior fandom, no matter how new. It had the X-Men, it was cool and it made me want to believe Xavier’s school was real.
I even use the first X-Men movie as a flagpost in my life, that I can divide my years in before and after that movie. It’s crazy to think that I was fourteen when it came out, and now it’s fourteen years later when the new one is hitting. I’ve lived the complete second half of my life as an X-Men fan. After the movie, I devoured as many comics as I could, buying back issue from my local store and using ebay to get whole chunks of certain series. One of the first complete runs I had was the Age of Apocalypse event and that was as awesome as I could have hoped.

X2: X-Men United nearly broke me into pieces. The first time I saw the trailer, I wasn’t expecting it and my leg started shaking like crazy. When I rewatched the trailer, I basically had an adrenaline rush that made my whole body fall apart. I couldn’t handle the wait; in between I worked on some X-Men fan fiction, reread my favorite stories, played the fighting game on the PS2, watched the animated series on VHS tapes my mom found online and watched the little clock I downloaded on my computer tick away to that Friday night. In the theater, I thought I lost my ticked and had a near heart attack but it was just hiding in my pocket. When the movie started, and Xavier started speaking and Nightcrawler started taking out the White House, I couldn’t stop smiling and that didn’t change until the end of the movie. No longer was I just some newly won over fan with no idea what was going on, I was a hardcore fan with long boxes and fanwork to prove it.


I even edited this together because I love the movies so much.

I love the X-Men. When I was a teenager (and now) I wanted nothing else than to find out I was a mutant and to go live with them. Coming from a broken home that was going through even rougher moments than what broke it, the surrogate family that the X-Men made was a wonderful dream. I wanted to have friends I could trust with my life and they would trust me with theirs. I wanted to fight for a cause I believed in and Xavier had won me over. Being an X-Man would have given my seventeen year old life the meaning I was looking for.

But even now, knowing what I refused to believe back than, that I will never get to be an X-Man myself, I still love the world. The characters are my favorite, the world is incredibly rich and complex, the villains are misunderstood and the heroes are conflicted. I’m never going to be not an X-Men fan. Even after being burned by X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine I still found excitement for the series, which was good since the next two were much better. I still have hope, however slim, that I can finish a few books, get noticed by Marvel and be given the chance to write for the X-Men. But even if that never happens, I’m still happy knowing they’re out there.

 

The Comics that Made Me a Marvel Fan

Having just talked about the differences I see between Marvel and DC comic books, I started thinking about what comics helped form my fandom. I didn’t just start out as a Marvel fan and go from there. There were certain books and characters that brought me to where I am today. These comics were the ones that won me over!

Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men
31526These were the first comic books I ever read. In 2000, the X-Men movie was coming to theaters. I had only ever seen a few episodes of the old animated series in the 90s, but I remembered enjoying them. My library had a small, but respectable graphic novel section back then and they had the first three volumes of Essential X-Men, each including about two years worth of issues. I devoured these books. Claremont’s run on the X-Men still stands as my favorite era of the X-Men. I know fans like to point to Days of Future Past and The Dark Phoenix Saga as the best parts of his time on title, but I don’t think the other stories get enough credit. Wolverine and Nightcrawler going against the Wendigo, the Brood Saga, the first few fights between the new X-Men and Magneto, Proteus and Alpha Flight, these tales are what got me into comics. Back when I started, I knew nothing about these characters and I was discovering things as I read these early issues. After a few years, when I had searched across the internet and encyclopedias, I had learned all the stories and secrets and the older stories had less appeal, but I never stopped loving this run. With Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, Kitty Pryde and Rogue as the main cast and my favorite team, these brought me into a whole new world.

I could go on forever about the X-Men, but I’ll hold myself back. To get back to my main point, this series and run got me into comic books and that was the first step to becoming a Marvel fan.

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Stan Lee’s Amazing Spider-Man
The same library that had the first three volumes of Essential X-Men also had six volumes of Essential Spider-Man. While I was really only interested in the X-Men, I figured I’d give Spider-Man a try. Where as Chris Claremont’s X-Men was during the late seventies, Stan Lee’s Spider-Man was at the dawn of the Silver Age in the early sixties. It didn’t have the large, ensemble cast of the X-Men, but it had superheroics at it’s early best. Spider-Man was a constant drama that kept me interested in Peter Parker’s social life as much as his hero career. It was fun seeing all his villains come into their identities and seeing the best of superhero cliches form on the page.

The X-Men tend to hang out on the fringe of the Marvel universe, but Stan Lee’s Spider-Man introduced me to it properly. This was the series that not only introduced me to the title character and his supporting cast, but also to the Human Torch and the Avengers. This showed me there was a world beyond the X-Men, and one even beyond Spider-Man.

Frank Miller’s Daredevil
20912I started reading Frank Miller’s legendary run on Daredevil a few weeks after I saw the movie. At the time, I really enjoyed the film. It was only the fourth Marvel film I had seen back in February 2003, so standards were still being formed. But it did get me reading the character and Daredevil became a quick favorite of mine. Miller introduced me to a a darker side of the Marvel universe; one that was grittier and street level. This wasn’t the world of super powered mutants or the skyscraper battles of Spider-Man; this was the life of a blind superhero who’s villains were above the law and hid in the shadows. Daredevil’s problems weren’t social, they were psychological and the women in his life were out to kill him. At times, he felt like Marvel’s answer to Batman, but he was different on many levels that he stood strong on his own. I read every thing Frank Miller wrote with the character and loved the worst of them.

Daredevil was the beginning of my alliance. He was another character that I enjoyed, in the Marvel universe, and the world was getting bigger all the time.

21243Joe Kelly’s Deadpool
I almost decided not to mention Deadpool because, when I started reading him, he was still considered a character that belonged to the X-Men line. He’s since ventured out to have his own place in the Marvel universe and he brought me along with him. I bought the entire run of Joe Kelly’s work on the character in one purchase and I read the whole thing in a week’s time. Spider-Man was funny, but Deadpool was hilarious. This was the first comic that made laugh so hard that I cried. But it was also dark and treated Deadpool like a real character who was trying his best to be a hero, even though he would never reach that rank. The character has since become more of a joke machine than a real person, but Joe Kelly made Deadpool a layered, flawed and laugh out loud character.

Deadpool showed me that the Marvel universe was goofy at times and not afraid to make fun of itself. I still haven’t read a DC comic that can make laugh as much as Joe Kelly’s Deadpool did.

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Dan Slott’s She-Hulk
I started reading this run on the character because of the rave reviews and I kept reading it because they were right. This book had the humor of Deadpool with the Silver Age flavor of Stan Lee’s Spider-Man. Taking place in a superhuman law firm, Dan Slott made me a fan of She-Hulk, who was fun, strong and and smart enough to win her cases in court. With guest stars from every reach of Marvel, I also discovered some Z-list characters I had never heard of before.

This was another series that expanded my view of the Marvel universe, showing me the scope of characters as well as tone, and helping me understand the difference between camp and fun.

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Fabian Nicieza’s Thunderbolts
This was the first time I read a comic book based off of characters I had no connection to; Deadpool was from X-Men, Spider-Man is known by all, and She-Hulk is the cousin of my favorite Jade Giant. But the Thunderbolts were made up of a bunch of villains I hadn’t heard of before! Blizzard? Atlas? Songbird? A non-Simpson’s Radioactive Man? But the first year of Nicieza’s rebooted run on the Thunderbolts was classic in tone, with the heroes finding themselves with their backs against the wall. What I loved back then was that they were villains trying to make good and the concept was new to me (since I had yet to read Suicide Squad).

Thunderbolts proved that I could enjoy a variety of Marvel comic books. Not only about superheroes, but the bad guys that inhabited the universe. Thunderbolts (with the help of She-Hulk) gave me a foothold for the weirder concepts of Marvel, for less than popular characters and for the tone and atmosphere of the modern Marvel landscape.

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Mark Millar’s Civil War
Up until this comic, I was still very selective about which comic books I was reading. But after the Marvel Civil War, I was trying to read everything. This was the first major comic book crossover that I read, outside of the X-Men line. It introduced me to the modern versions of Iron Man and Iron Man, got me reading series like the Punisher and Moon Knight, made me interested in Black Panther and Thor, and got me picking up titles I had dropped like Spider-Man and the New Avengers. The concept of Marvel heroes going against each other over identity rights changed everything and set the universe up for a very focused story arch. When the smoke cleared, I was ready to expand my horizons to characters I had never heard of and try new things. I was in the trenches of Marvel.

Unfortunately, I can’t get into every comic that helped make me a Marvel fan. I didn’t mention The Ultimates, which got me into the Avengers cast, or Ultimate Spider-Man, which grew with me, or any of the Hulk, Exiles, Runaway, Doctor Strange or Young Avengers  comics I was getting into, or the mini-series like Infinite Gauntlet, Annihilation, Age of Apocalypse or Marvel 1602. The point I tried to make is there are certain, landmark titles that helped create the Marvel fan inside of me, and many more that kept me that way.

Make Mine Marvel!