4 Reasons I don’t get the X-Men

There are too fucking many of you.In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a comic book fan, particularly when it comes to superhero comics. One franchise that has never quite clicked with me, though, is the X-Men. I loved the 90s TV series and enjoy two and a half of the movies, but beyond that I’ve never really gotten into the franchise. Am I mutant-phobic? Does Wolverine origin as a Hulk villain leave me naturally predisposed against them? Or does the franchise have some serious flaws that keep people like me away? Here are the main reasons I just don’t get the X-Men.

1) Too many titles. This is a problem in a lot of big comic book lines. Batman has something like two dozen titles that come out every month. The Justice League and the Avengers also have this issue. But none of them seem quite as bad as the X-Men.

Since I got into comics in the 1990s, ongoing titles in this franchise have included Astonishing X-Men, Excalibur, Generation X, New Mutants, New X-Men, Uncanny X-Force, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, Wolverine and the X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Man, X-Men, X-Men: Fist Class, X-Treme X-Men, and X-Force. Many of these ran concurrently, and that’s leaving out dozens more.

Unlike the Justice League books or even Batman, the X-Men franchise has a habit of forcing readers to pick up many multiple titles in order to keep up with the story. This was especially bad in the 1990s when the marketing menace known as the Onslaught Saga was a thing, but it continues even today. I’m not normally one to complain about accessibility in comics, but I’m not likely to get involved in a franchise if the buy-in is five or six titles a month.

Just another day at the Xavier Institute.

Just another day at the Xavier Institute.

2) The comic book weirdness is cranked up to 11. Every superhero comic has weirdness in it. It’s actually one of the things I love about superhero stories. But the X-Men just piles on the crazy and overloads my brain. Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who radically improved the comics, also added so many alien empires, cosmic entities, time travel, clones from the future, and other strangeness that I can’t keep up. In all the bizarre psychic duels and alien bartering, the focus of the comic gets lost. While the Hulk might wind up on an alien planet now and again, his stories about always about duality and rage. With the X-Men, the allegory about discrimination and acceptance tends to get lost in stories such as that time Cyclops left his wife for his newly-returned ex-girlfriend who was supposedly possessed by a cosmic entity but was really just in a state of suspended animation while the cosmic being created an exact duplicate of her body and destroyed planets, almost triggering a war with an ancient alien civilization and oh yeah Cyclops’ wife is actually an evil psychic clone of said girlfriend.

3) The Civil Rights metaphor is flawed. At its core, the X-Men is an allegory for the Civil Rights movement, with Professor Xavier acting as the peaceful Martin Luther King, Jr. figure and Magneto being a more violent extremist. It’s a nice allegory that can be applied to Civil Right, the Feminist Movement, or even the modern day push for acceptance by homosexuals. But it’s also a simplistic parallel that doesn’t hold up under closer scrutiny.

This parallel really falls apart for me around the House of M event, where a magical accident causes the deaths of thousands of mutants and apparently kills the gene that creates new mutants. Mutantkind is suddenly reduced to a couple of hundred individuals, and the X-Men shift from trying to find acceptance in the world to trying to keep their species from dying out.

By making the comics about preserving the species, the X-Men franchise broke the real-world metaphor that it’s been tied to. Mutants, unlike real-world minorities, have no culture or society to call their own. If black people were an endangered species, their potential loss would be felt in the massive amount of culture, heritage, and art that would be on the verge of disappearing. Similarly, the near-eradication of the Native American in the United States is a tragedy because there is so much of their society that is simply gone forever. Even gay people have a subculture of their own that adds positively to society.

Take away a real-world minority, and the world is a poorer place. Take away mutants in the Marvel Universe, and you’re not losing anything of cultural importance. The modern theme of the X-Men, which has existed for almost a decade now, makes the implication that race is all about your genes rather than your culture.

4) The franchise doesn’t fit into the Marvel Universe. The premise of the X-Men franchise is that there are these mutant super-beings that will one day replace humanity, and humans tend to discriminate against them because of that. But all the X-Men stuff happens in the Marvel Universe, where super-beings are running around all the time without that kind of discrimination. I could chalk it up to bigots being stupid, but there really is no way for a layperson to know whether somebody is a natural-born mutant or if they just got powers through some other crazy method. As a result, it makes no sense to me why common people in the Marvel Universe would be totally okay with the Fantastic Four but hate the X-Men. Heck, mutants aren’t even born as obvious mutants very often – they develop their powers in childhood or their teen years, which means that the only difference between Ice Man and the Human Torch is that one went into space before developing crazy powers.

One is a celebrity, the other is mutie scum.

One is a celebrity, the other is mutie scum.

The whole thing gets even more tenuous when you consider the high number of X-Men who have also been on the Avengers, which is a well-regarded superhero team. So humanity hates and fears the Scarlet Witch when she’s an X-Man, but they’re totally cool with her when she’s an Avenger? She doesn’t even change costumes in between!

And it strains my suspension of disbelief even more when they start shifting other Marvel superheroes onto the team. So now the Sub-Mariner, who has been around since the 1940s, is an X-Man.

And it strains my suspension of disbelief even more when characters in the Marvel Universe are revealed to have had latent powers since birth but somehow aren’t classified as mutants. Rick Jones, the Hulk’s former kid sidekick, has latent psychic abilities and in the future will have the ability to wield Thor’s hammer, but he’s apparently not a mutant.

Bottom line: the whole X-Men franchise would work better if it existed in its own universe where all superpowered beings could be hated and feared, rather than being stuck in the zaniness that is the Marvel Universe.

I’m sure there are plenty of X-fans out there who can set me right on some of these points, and I’d love to hear from you. It’s really quite bizarre that I am such a big comics fan but can’t seem to wrap my mind around one of the most popular superhero franchises of them all.

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