Thursday, June 9, 2011

The "End" of Uncanny X-Men

As DC recently announced new #1’s for nearly all their titles, I suppose it should come as no surprise that Marvel’s killing its book with the longest-running history behind it. (We all know the Big Two love to attempt to keep neck-and-neck with whatever various stratagems the other has going on.) As a guy who fancies himself as a bit of an X-Men fan, I have some thoughts on this.

Put simply - history, even oft-revised and amended history, has recently become viewed as a negative thing in terms of comics' saleability, because it’s believed to limit new readers’ access.

To speak to that point, I started reading comics in 1986. I didn’t start reading Uncanny until 1989. By that time there were nearly 250 issues out. ***This didn’t stop me from picking up the books and figuring out what was going on – and this was before the internet, so you couldn’t go online and look up scans or plot points or covers (or straight download full issues). They didn't even really have trades then! Instead, you had to read the editor’s notes, you had to buy back issues, and you had to talk to other fans who knew more than you. Put simply, you had to do more work – which I was still glad to do, and so were TONS of other people.

To me, the “we've been making these books so long now it’s impenetrable” argument is incredibly weak. People still read incredibly long (previously published) series of books. Last I checked, books in the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings series were selling pretty well, despite their having a huge page count of material. The argument could be made that these both have recent movies to draw new attention - BUT SO DOES THE X-MEN. Besides, I'm fairly certain that Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle works are still selling pretty well - which again involve serial characters with a lot of previously existing material. So I really feel like this is just a scapegoat argument. It's inarguable at face value - but if you stop and think about it, it really falls apart.

Don't get me wrong. I think the idea of writing comics for guys who are 30-60, to cater to what they remember reading when they were 5-15 is an incredibly bad idea which I am really against. I just feel like a key point comics is missing, is that comics attracted a vast amount of readers from the Silver Age through the late 80s with very little multimedia support or application - there were no quality films, there was minimal television exposure -- relatively minimal action figure availability, and next-to-no video games. But people were attracted to the books nonetheless - and this is because -- comics were cool when they were cutting-edge and/or counter-culture.

Every "big" thing Marvel's done from Civil War on has been very status quo in terms of its underlying message. And DC, I don't even know where to begin. Grant Morrison's been scrawling one big love letter to Alan Moore across the entire DC universe for years while Geoff Johns is simultaneously writing a love letter to 1982. In the meantime, guys like Dwayne McDuffie (R.I.P) weren't being remotely utilized properly.

There are guys who get it. Dwayne McDuffie was one of them. Chris Claremont still has it in him. Scott Lobdell gets it. Mark Waid gets it. I think Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost get it.

I know this is an unpopular opinion as it applies to the average 30s-ish comic reader of today, but I believe "
comics by-and-large should be for children. They should be tales about looking outside of your own opinions and worldview and about questioning authority – things that entertain kids while teaching them how to read and teaching them how to think."

But I digress.

Don’t get me wrong, I get it. The comics industry is working to position themselves as the itunes of comics. They want to pull the attention and readership (and money) of the “I never bought a CD, let alone a cassette or a record” generation. A business has to make money to stay alive. I get that. I just feel like if they were telling good stories by writers who understood the source material and drawn by artists whose strengths suited those writers, the books would sell themselves. Especially in terms of the X-Men.

I’ve said before, “When I was a kid, the X-Men were hated by a world that didn’t understand them. But I understood them. Railed against for being different. Trying to figure out their purpose(s), who to trust and where they fit in. The story kernel of ‘the outsider’ is relatable.” I'd think you'd have to try pretty hard to screw that up.

Yet, I’ll live with it. And not just in the sense of the sound-and-fury aspect that so many comics fans bring to their fandom, but rather in - well, let me let you in on a little secret, and this is coming from a guy who absolutely LOVES the X-Men --- I HAVEN'T BOUGHT AN ISSUE OF UNCANNY FOR NEARLY 150 ISSUES.

I look at the art and the stories, and more often than not, I'm like "what?" Ever since around 2000 it seemed like things were going downhill for the X-Men to me. Please note that I'm NOT insulting the work of anyone who's worked on the titles in the interim - I'm just saying that from what I know of it, more often than not - it's not for me.

I don’t want to read about Wolverine’s “edgy” son, or how Mr. Sinister ended up as a lady, or why the X-Men are fighting vampires or living in San Francisco. That all sounds dumb. (Granted, the stuff I love often sounds dumb in a simple sense as well. “His son from the future is fighting his own clone on the moon!” could straight be lifted from an episode of Axe Cop.) I’ve tried to read this newer stuff though. Really I have. I tried reading Grant Morrison’s run and was only able to get slightly behind one story, “Here Comes Tomorrow.” (Pretty sure that Marc Silvestri's art helped, btw.) I tried really hard to get into the Kia Asamiya stories. And don’t get me started on Chuck Austen's Juggernaut-sex and friggin' Azazel. I LOVE some of the artists. Bachalo and Townsend's are comic book rockstars. But the stories. I have zero interest in stories about any incarnation of the Phoenix, or in Cyclops' secret evil brother who goes to space. I have zero interest in reading an X-Men comic that looks like pin-up art.

Side note: I thought 100 issue run of Exiles was (largely) excellent. As was a lot of the 2004-2005 Excalibur series - man, I really dug that Excalibur series (Thanks Aaron Lopresti and Chris Claremont!).

So, I may well have a bit of rose-colored-glasses as we all do, but I don't hate everything that's new - I like some of it, and I WANT to like more of it. Where I’m going with this is, I have no investment in most of the stories they’re telling now.

I’m marginally interested in seeing a super-powered Juggernaut going buck wild, and I’m neither pro-or-con the writers or artists (though it sounds like it might be similar to the original Doomsday story), but I just don’t have the interest I had in the Chris Claremont Uncanny X-Men era. I don’t have the interest I had in the Scott Lobdell Uncanny X-Men era. So, in a sense they’re killing something that maybe wasn’t already dead, but largely was already dead to me. They’re getting around to putting a toe tag on a body I’ve barely seen move in a decade.

And obviously, nothing in comics is forever. There will be a multi-headed X-Men franchise as long as someone will buy it – no matter what format(s) that’s in. But if, and this is a big if, they are able to make wherever they pick things up from BE GOOD, then it will have been worth it. Then I'll say, "Yes - this was a good idea, because the stories are good again."

See, numbers are numbers and stories are stories. Numbers are what we use to count by, but stories are the things that actually count.

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