Comics 101: A Brief History of the X-Men by Nathan Waddell

Nathan Waddell is back to share his thoughts on comics with us!  Here is the link to his wonderful Comics 101: An Intro to Comics to refresh your memories because it's been too long since we've heard from him.  I've been working through his suggestions from that first comic post but this time I asked him to specifically talk to us about the X-Men (because I love me some X-Men).  Which he has, in brilliant form.  Enjoy!
- Corinne

Explaining the convoluted history of comic book characters can be tricky, more-so when you're typing it out in an iMessage. The proprietor of this website texted me, asking about Phoenix/Dark Phoenix, aka Jean Grey, who was originally known as Marvel Girl back in the early days of the X-Men. The response I sent her went something like this:

"well she died and became the Phoenix and then she was Dark Phoenix and she died some more and they brought her back only she wasn't Phoenix anymore but later she was and she died. But she's back now or at least Marvel Girl Jean Grey is back because Beast went back in time and brought her to the present because everyone was sad."

Add the normal typos and auto-corrections and I'm sure she would have gotten more out of the text if I'd just written entirely in emojis. I shall now try to convey Jean Grey's history in the syntax of emoji:

Something like that. All the rest of the X-Men have similarly convoluted histories. Long-time readers can sometimes have a hard time keeping up, and new fans can't be blamed for feeling a little daunted when thinking about jumping into one of comics' most-beloved franchises. Still, all those movies and cartoons keep bringing in new readers. Here's a handy primer for what is going on out there in the X-Universe right now. If you're reading this next week, though, it's probably obsolete.

All-New X-Men: Kind of a tricksy title, it's actually the Very Old X-Men, the original teenaged Cyclops, Iceman, Jean Grey et al that Beast went back in time and brought to the present. The Beast is a super-genius so nothing could possibly go wrong right? So, time travel stories, always a bit problematic. I didn't think this series would work as well as it does, thanks to writer Brian Michael Bendis' deft handling of the fundamental WTFness of the concept. The biggest being everyone freaking out about Jean Grey being back.

Uncanny X-Men: The flagship X-Men comic! Now on its fifth reboot! Brian Michael Bendis is also writing this one, with art by the uncanny Chris Bachalo. So, about a year ago there was this whole event called AVX where the Avengers versused the X-Men because Phoenix was back, times 5. Or something. I didn't really read it. Upshot was, Cyclops apparently killed Professor X. Now everyone is mad at him so he ran off and formed his own team of X-Men, with Magneto and Emma Frost and Magik. But one of them is a traitor! Or maybe only pretending? You have to read to find out. The covers alone are worth the price of this one, far as I'm concerned.

X-Men: Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel are the creative team behind the adjectiveless X-Men book. When it was announced there was a lot of buzz that it was actually a team of all women, both pro and con, but the wisest of us (ie. me) knew just to preorder it and enjoy it when it came. Thankfully there was no conversation within the book that went anything like this: "Hey let's form a team of just us gals and then we can have coffee and go shopping and kick ass" like some sort of X and the City. Heh I bet I wasn't the first one to come up with that joke. Anyways. It was just a totally organic thing where the X-Men who happened to be home and available to kick ass were all women so they went and did it. This one is only on issue 4 as I write this so it's easy to get caught up.

Wolverine and The X-Men: Nerd confession- I've never seen an episode of any X-Men cartoon. At least, not until very recently when my daughters discovered X-Men on Netflix. My eldest daughter likes Jean Grey and "Ohverine" the best. But it turns out it doesn't matter, because this series has nothing to do with any cartoon and everything to do with pure fun and awesome. Written by Jason Aaron, who also writes the stunning Thor God of Thunder for Marvel as well as his own acclaimed series Scalped. Now on issue 34, it's had a variety of excellent artists, but when Nick Bradshaw draws it, every page is a joy. Just now I paused to admire a double-page spread for musta been 5 minutes. Yes, you read right, 5 minutes! This is my favourite X-Men comic, because it has almost a Harry Potter feel. Wolverine had a schism with Cyclops and all them and went and started his own school for mutants to carry on Charles Xavier's legacy. The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, he called it. As you might expect, right from day 1, shenanigans are on the curriculum. I love it.

Cable and X-Force: Yeah I don't really read this one. Nothing against the current creators, I hear it's pretty good. But Cable was never a character I took to. He still seems to me like the "dumb new character they introduced so they could have a guy with huge-ass guns" more than 20 years later. I'm old. Colossus is in this series, though, and he's always been one of my faves.

Uncanny X-Force: So, prior to the whole Marvel Now soft reboot, Uncanny X-Force was this amazing series written by Rick Remender and mostly drawn by Esad Ribic, who is amazing. It dealt with Apocalypse and Celestial lifeseeds and deathseeds and it was all very dark and cool and ominous. Now it's a new team, new direction and fairly uneven. I keep buying it, but I'm not really blown away by it. Psylocke and Storm are in it, so if you love those two characters and can't get enough, well, they also star in plain old X-Men. No, I stop short of saying don't buy it. Just, not a glowing recommendation.  

Uncanny Avengers: Rick Remender is writing this one, and he's essentially just carrying on where he left off with the previous volume of Uncanny X-Force, but now with more Avengers. Thor, Scarlet Witch, sometimes Wasp and Captain America team up with Cyclops' brother Havoc and Rogue and Wolverine (of course) to form a team of mutants and Avengers to show the world they can get along after all. Except they can't. Yes they can! Oh no they can't. I tease. This is actually a lot of fun, though it will help a lot if you read Remender's Uncanny X-Force run.

X-Men Legacy: Oh yeah! The forgotten child of the X-universe. And one of the best, especially if you like weird. I keep meaning to catch up on this one, I read the first 6 issues or so. It follows Charles Xavier's son Legion, who I always hated, but Si Spurrier does a really nice job with him in this series. There's a pair of floating eyeballs as a secondary character. Legion has all these personalities in his head with different powers, keeps them all locked up in a mental jail sort of thing, and he has to fight them on occasion to get the powers he needs in the real world. Yeah, definitely need to catch up on this one.

Finally, there's a new X-book on the horizon called Amazing X-Men, which might fill the void left by the recently cancelled Astonishing X-Men. This one will be written by Jason Aaron so I'm already in. It's about Nightcrawler, who's currently dead but that never stopped anyone before right? Should be good, but I don't know anything more about it.

There you go! Hopefully this information will all still be valid when you read this. There's an event just started called Battle of the Atom so everything could be totally different in a week's time. But things have a way of coming back around. Just ask Phoenix.

- Nathan Waddell (@NathanWaddell1 on Twitter)