Valued at $4.2B when acquired by Disney in 2009, Marvel is a juggernaut in the comic book industry, only matched by a single competitor, D.C. Comics. One of the predominate reasons this billion dollar company was able to create a lasting brand is due to the continued popularity of one of their earliest team of super-powered heroes: The X-Men.
Another brainchild of the legendary duo Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The X-Men are a team of extraordinary, super-ordinary heroes gifted with profound powers due to their heighten genes, a mutation that gave name to their race: Mutants. This popular team grew and matured from one generation to the next, from its creation in 1963 to over a dozen currently running titles, to show the natural progression of earlier team members, along with a slew of new characters introduced after Len Wein and Dave Cockrum relaunched the series in 1975 with Giant-Size X-Men #1.
Entering the 21st century, though, it felt like this once collective team — that had its own internal tensions, personal conflicts and the occasional teammate turning out to be a threat to the world — has been splintered at the foundation. Now, it doesn’t seem like this was a malicious attempt by writers who picked up the pen from one year to the next, nor does it in anyway appear intentional or not entertaining to read and speculate about.
The “House of M” story arc by Brian Michael Bendis, a pivotal writer in the Marvel-616 and Ultimate universe, was one of the story arcs that pulled the writer of this article back into comics in middle of a chaotic college semester. Yet, a crazed Scarlet Witch wiped all but a handful of Mutants off the board at the conclusion of the arc, including Professor X for a while. And then, “Utopia,” another stirring arc penned by Matt Fraction, took the X-Men to a more isolated and militaristic state; it seemed like the original essence of the X-Men as a sanctuary where special beings and young Mutants could find safe harbor, to learn their gifts and protect the world that feared them, fizzled out.
For full disclosure, this didn’t slow this guy from shoveling out $2.99 each month to follow everyone’s favorite band of misunderstood, misfit heroes, as they continued a Rodney Dangerfield campaign of saving the day and getting no respect as Mutant hate groups continued to plague their dwindling numbers.
The X-Men’s slow spiral from a school of teenage superheroes and their equally gifted teachers to a military band of the Mutant refugees fending off extinction came to an end after “X-Men: Schism” wrapped up in 2011, and the subsequent release of “Wolverine and The X-Men,” at the end of the same year, gave rise to two X-Men factions. This creative move led by writer Jason Aaron and illustrator Chris Bachalo, pitting the series’ two better known leaders – Cyclops and Wolverine – against one another over the direction of the team, turned out to be a pivotal shift in the direction of the entire family of X-Men titles, possibly excluding X-Factor.
Before it’s said, this is not homage to Jason Aaron, professing him the savor of the X-Men franchise; rather this is a giving credit where credit is due. Because Aaron’s “Wolverine and The X-Men” has resurrected that dying light that was lit in 1963, that feeling of youthful adventure, danger, with some semblance of a lesson at the end of the day.
From Wolverine leaving Utopia and bringing a group of students to an actual school in Westchester, to the students really going to classes instead of participating in soldierly tactics or politics, to even the fact that it appears to be a place where bouts of action and heroics are mingled with learning, brings much of the original X-Men lore back into a contemporary take on the team, while taking into account all of the bumps, scrapes, and issues that have arisen over the years. And to top it off, building on the Schism arc and harking back to the common X-Men theme of reforming Mutants in trouble with the law, Aaron takes Kids Omega, one of the most notorious students to emerge from the Grant Morrison era, and turns him into a functional member of the team, if not an instrumental character popping up time and time again.
Aaron’s use of Kid Omega brings back memories of team staples like Gambit, Rogue (who led the team on multiple occasions), Emma Frost (another leader before her fall after the Phoenix Saga) and even Magneto (does anything need to be said) could be reformed after their past indiscretions.
Once again, this is no reverence for Jason Aaron, “Wolverine in the X-Men” has just as many flaws that can irk a nerve as any other comic, but if you’re looking for that essence of the original five that solidified this band of Mutants and helped them become a pillar in the Marvel universe, building on the theme of protecting the weak, even if you’re loathed and feared, this is as close as you’re going to get to that original comic released in 1963 and refreshed in 1975.
And about those original five X-Men, I think their lurking around the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning, as well.