The First X-Men is the Before Watchmen of Marvel Comics

Announced yesterday was a new miniseries from Marvel, drawn by a Neal Adams fresh from his, uh, groundbreaking ‘Batman Odyssey’ series, called The First X-Man. The series, which will be written by Christos Gage based on ideas Adams put forward, is set in the past, during a time when Wolverine was less honourable and grumpier. Despite that, the series will see Wolverine set up his own team of X-Men, years before Xavier even dreamt about them.
Now this is obviously a heap of steaming garbage. While it’s fair enough to have a series about Wolverine set in the past, making him into the creator of the X-Men doesn’t work on a character level or on a practical level. Or on a sensible level. It effectively writes Xavier out of mutant history within the comics, pushing Stan Lee’s original creation of the team to one side in order to say that Neal Adams is now the most important creator in X-Men history.
Wolverine during this period of time has always been depicted as a loner, grumpy and unhappy after everything goes wrong for him year after year after year. He certainly wouldn’t pick up much empathy until later, during the Chris Claremont/Paul Smith years when he met the X-Men, learnt from them, and found a reason to live. That was a fine way for the character to evolve, and subsequent stories built in on his backstory without ever attempting to take away the basic principles. This mini, however, now suggests that not only is Wolverine NOT on a quest of purpose and redemption, but that he already found both, then forgot about it, then remembered it again once Xavier repurposed his idea. It’s so weird.

These are deliberately wonky, as far as arguments go. Stories get altered all the time, and my only motivation for writing them is that I find it annoying that, in a time when Marvel should be attempting to create a simple timeline for new readers to jump in on, their book called ‘THE FIRST X-MEN” is actually a backstory which moves through several jumps in time as it goes along, deals with unrecognisable versions of classic characters, and won’t make a damned lick of sense to anyone but hardcore X-Men fans. Who won’t want to pick up the series anyway, because it snubs Xavier and the basic premise of the X-Men.
The most terrifying part of this premise is a quote from X-Men editor Nick Lowe, which appears to dismiss the central metaphor of the X-Men in order to keep Adams’ story premise looking somewhat credible. In it, he says:
“One of the things that attracted me to jump at this project is that in those early X-Men, everyone hates and fears mutants, but nobody really knows why”
Obviously, readers, Lowe is side-stepping the whole idea that THE X-MEN ARE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE STRUGGLES FACED BY MINORITIES IN SOCIETY. The X-Men are all races, nationalities, religions, genders, sexualities. They represent a small society in their own right. But because they are branded ‘different’ by society, they struggle to even cohabit with the humans around them. For no reason other than the arbitrary ‘mutant’ label, they are abused, hated, and feared. In the same way women, homosexuals, african-americans and differently-abled (amongst others) people have all suffered because of things they could not help. The X-Men were hated and feared irrationally. THAT WAS THE POINT OF THE X-MEN.
Lowe’s willingness to bystep this seems calculated in the extreme, and a way to hit X-Men fans right in the gut. There are countless other issues with this series, such as the fact that Magneto will appear, apparently in his Michael Fassbender persona from the X-Men: First Class film because Adams has just seen the film. Okay, yeah, that’s an unfair assumption on my part.
This does all feel like Marvel’s attempt to step into the same well of controversy that DC’s publicity department gleefully walked into last year, when Before Watchmen — the prequel to Alan Moore’s vastly overrated Watchmen series — was announced. Again, we have a new creative team coming in to rearrange the story, claiming that they wouldn’t affect the original even while planning to recontextualise the characters to match their own plans. Whereas Before Watchmen genuinely acts to deny Alan Moore the rights to his original series — he signed the contract, but DC have patently been finding every way they can to keep that loophole open, and keep the rights to the series — this is nothing like as bad. It’s simply a story which rubs me up the wrong way.
I’m going to buy the series, sure. But only because it promises to be a hot mess like Batman Odyssey — only this time, as a predominant fan of the X-Men, I’ll have the upper-hand over that Chris Sims feller when it comes to analysing what the hell just happened. I have no expectations of liking the series, which seems mandated to appease Adams and get him working for Marvel, regardless of how terrible of inadvertently egotistical his plans for the story might be. Unlike Before Watchmen, which will likely be well-told stories which many internet journalists will shun on principle, The First X-Men seems unlikely to be anything but hot, steaming garbage.
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