In an Avengers world, the publishing line of Marvel Comics, one of the two worlds largest leading comic book publishers, is a radically different landscape than it was twenty or just ten years ago. I am going to take a quick look with you on what Marvel and the X-men were way back when, what has changed since then and most importantly… why Marvel seems to hate the X-Men (spoiler: it is not because of the yellow costumes) and why Tony Stark is to blame. You know… kinda.
The Way Way Back
The X-men, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, have been around since 1963 and have always been about social outsiders trying to make a better world for everyone, even those that hate them. A prefect blend of sci-fi, superheroics, the Marvel way of focusing on flawed characters, teen angst and a parable of racism and bigotry, the X-Men were always destined for success. Sadly by the end of the 60s the series had such abysmal numbers that Marvel just reprinted older issues instead of actually paying people to write new, but this is neither here nor there. What is way more important is that the franchise came back like a phoenix from its own ashes, when Len Wein introduced a new team of X-Men in the now legendary “Giant Sized X-Men #1″ in 1975! From there on out the X-Men were a big success, which only grew bigger in the 80s and even bigger again in the 90s. The relaunch, X-Men issue 1 with Chris Claremont and Jim Lee at the helm from 1991 is still to this day the best selling comic of all time and the X-Men animated series (which is probably still the best Marvel animated series today and a peer of Batman The Animated Series) was a huge hit as well and that was not all. Imagine (or if you are an old man like me, remember) trading cards, action figures and old timey videogames left, right and center! In comparison, there was another big superhero team from Marvel, which was almost a niche title compared to the X-Men, because X-Men were all everybody cared about (as far as teams went).
It is not an overstatement that the X-Men were easily Marvel’s biggest hit, inside and outside of the comics for the better part of three decades… and now you don’t see them in any big Marvel releases, like the 75th Anniversary hardcover which features not a single X-Man on the cover, not in toy lines (there was not a single toy tie in for the last X-Men movie “Days of Future Past”, which is INSANE!) or Disney Infinity, which has not a single mutant in its roster.
But thats not all. Who is the biggest X-Men character of them all? Wolverine, right? Where is he currently in the Marvel universe: dead. Who else is big? Deadpool: dead. Charles Xavier: dead. Scott Cyclops Summer: the most hated guy in the 616 universe and a terrorist (which makes him one of the most interesting characters in Marvel in my book).
So, what happened? Well, let me tell you what happened… that smug Tony Stark showed up and ruined everything… right?
The X-fan in me, foaming at the mouth, already screaming bloody murder, is already grabbing the pitchfork, but things are not that easy.
Avengers vs. X-Men
Marvel sold the film rights to X-Men in 1994. The thought of making superhero movies themselves, which was a genre that had only seen 4 successes until then (Superman The Movie, Superman II, Batman and Batman Returns), was not even in the minds of the publisher at the time, so making a lot of money by selling film rights they would not do anything with surely seemed like a great idea. WRONG. Just little more than ten years later the superhero film has a new sense of weight to it and becomes slowly a sure thing, if there is talent involved that actually gives a damn (like Raimi showed with Spider-Man, Nolan with Batman and Singer with his 2 X-Men movies at the time). Marvel wants in on that, especially since they want to adapt their own characters in the right way… but they cannot use their big guns. Spidey belongs to Sony Pictures, FF and the X-Men belong to Fox. So what is there to do? The easy way would have been to bank on your big names, but Marvel Studios could not use any of them, so they turned to that small niche superhero team I talked about earlier… you might have heard of them… they are called the Avengers.
Marvel still had the right to those characters (apart from Hulk, of whom the solo movie rights are still not 100% on Marvels side today) and the desire to do them justice. It was a gamble, because as it was in the 80s, outside of a small hardcore fan group nobody really cared for the Avengers all that much… but it paid off BIG TIME!
So, imagine being Marvel and now having a hugely successful multi movie spin-off heavy franchise that blows everything away at the box office and former B superhero characters (at least in the eye of the non comic book reading public) like Iron Man and Captain America that suddenly stand head to head with names like Batman and Spider-man when it comes to making money *on one side….
*and then you have the X-Men.
You know that everything you do with those characters is actually giving PR and money towards movies that are produced by your rival Fox… movies of which you won’t see a single dime, but which will make those rights even more precious so that your rival will only hold them tighter in their grip. Its almost like a hostage situation.
Its not you… its me. But let’s stay friends!
I am going to refer to Marvel as “her” right now. No, that’s not sexism, thats making my analogy work better. Here we go:
Marvel doesn’t hate the X-Men… she just doesn’t LOVE them anymore. Not like in the 80s or 90s. Sure, the X-office is still putting out very good X-Men books (Bendis run on both books has been great so far and a few years back we had with Remender’s Uncanny X-Force on of the best Marvel runs of the last 20 years!), but it is still abundantly clear that Marvel loves the Avengers now. Deep in her heart she knows that the X-Men are probably the more interesting characters, because of their unparalleled ability to take real world issues that speak to billions of people and actually make a strong case against bigotry and the bullying of minorities, which is not in the wheelhouse of the world police- like Avengers, but that doesn’t change anything.
Does she have fond memories of her time with the X-Men? Sure. Cherished memories she will never forget (she still has a lot of pictures hidden somewhere on her i-Phone I bet), but that is the past and no matter how good the X-Men were to Marvel, the Avengers are treating her just a bit better. The recognition at the box office, the full potential of using the characters how she wants (all right, this is getting creepy, analogy over.) without having to ask permission… that is all very enticing.
In the end it is important to not forget that Marvel is not in the business of making only a percentage of their fans, the X-fans, happy… Marvel is in the business to make money. And no, they definitely won’t sell the X-Men to DC Comics, they probably won’t strand the X-characters in a separate universe after Secret Wars and they will hopefully never stop publishing X-Men books, but they also won’t make them their no. 1 priority again, for as long as Fox puts out X-movies and benefits from the added X-publicity done by Marvel comics.
For X-Men fans like me, this is far from ideal and we have every right to be angry because of that, but in the end we have to realise that we cannot change anything about it. I think as long as Marvel continues to put out quality X-books, the X-Men will be fine and continue to be a part of the Marvel universe… just a lesser important one than what we might be used to. Maybe Fox will someday sell the rights back to Marvel and the X-Men will become THE priority again, but I kinda doubt that, when I look at how much money Fox is making with those movie rights. The X-Men are more meta than ever right now, with their real life position in Marvel publishing closely mirroring the role they have in the 616 universe… so we just have to hold out hope that Scott Summers and his fellow mutants are strong enough to win this battle outside of the comics as well as they have overcome so much adversity on inside of the comics. I for one hope they make it, because the X-Men never back down from a fight.