With the release of the first X-Men film in 2000, audiences not only witnessed the dawn of the modern day superhero film boom, but also the beginning of a complicated franchise that would span sixteen years and nine films. With X-Men: Apocalypse on the horizon, Kayleigh Hearn and a rotating cast of merry mutants are revisiting the X-Men films from the very beginning, and examining the comic book storylines that inspired them. What would you prefer, yellow spandex?
X-Men #1-3, “Mutant Genesis” (1991)
by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee
Synopsis: It’s the dawn of a new era for the X-Men. Reunited under the leadership of Professor X, the newly formed Blue and Gold teams prepare to defend mutantkind on two different fronts. When their former ally Magneto once again turns against humanity, the X-Men journey into space to stop him.
Kayleigh: The idea behind X-Education is to contrast the X-Men films with the comics that inspired them, but X-Men is the rare film in the franchise that isn’t based on any comic story. So for Part 2 of our first installment, I turned to the best-selling X-Men comic of all time. X-Men #1, the beginning of “Mutant Genesis,” was huge in the 1990s. “Over 3 million copies sold” huge. For an entire generation of X-Men fans, this is what they imagine when they think of the X-Men: The wild and colorful Jim Lee costumes, the five interlocking covers, the over-the-top ‘90s excess. Compared to the X-Men film released just nine years later, they might as well be night and day.
Dylan: I’m not going to say that I hated “Mutant Genesis,” but I have to say that it features almost nothing of what I like about X-Men as a whole, or Chris Claremont’s X-Men in particular. To me, X-Men #1-3 represents the worst of the Marvel method, a bunch of big dramatic panels just barely strung together by laborious dialog and narration. The action is hard to follow, there are practically no character moments, and even as someone fairly well versed in X-Mythology, I was completely lost throughout most of it.
Kayleigh: “Mutant Genesis” is a very strange story because it’s a “back to basics” soft reboot for the X-Men franchise, and it’s also the end to Chris Claremont’s extensive seventeen-year run as writer of the X-Men. It’s a beginning and an ending. It’s supposed to introduce new readers to the X-Men (oh dear god, the neverending, exposition-clogged Danger Room session in the first issue is the stuff of nightmares) and its plot hinges on something that happened to Magneto in an issue of Defenders from 1974. It’s impenetrable and overstuffed. I also have to out myself as an X-Men heretic: I don’t like Jim Lee’s X-Men costumes. For me they’re either too busy (Cyclops’s pouches and leg straps) or too boring (Jean’s dull-as-dishwater blue and orange costume). Rogue’s bomber jacket is rad, though.
Dylan: I actually really enjoy Lee’s later work, like his Batman run with Jeph Loeb, and even a lot of his New 52 designs, but this story is just far too Nineties for me. Why is Nick Fury dressed like a cross between Cable and Gambit? Is every military on Earth equipped with identical powered armor? Does a man have to force his mouth onto a woman in every issue? (Yes, he goes three for three with the nonconsensual Frenching!) I will always appreciate his iconic designs for Cyclops, Rogue, and most of all, Magneto, but I had difficulty just with the action within each individual panel. Can we talk about the plot, which at least throws some cool ideas out there?
Kayleigh: The plot hinges on Magneto’s return to villainy after years of trying to follow in Professor X’s footsteps. Magneto finds out that his change of heart may have been the result of genetic tampering by longtime X-Men ally Moira MacTaggert, back when Magneto was temporarily de-aged into infancy. Or maybe it wasn’t Moira at all. Jim Lee’s Magneto, with his giant pecs and flowing mane of hair, is a far cry from Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Magneto, possessing pompous grandiosity but none of McKellen’s wounded humanity. Instead of being a complex study of one of the X-Men’s most complicated characters, the story is a muddled mess lost amid panels of Psylocke’s high kicks and Wolverine slashing dudes in giant robot suits.
Dylan: I’m very into the idea of Magneto starting his own nation (which he does in a number of stories) on an asteroid (because that’s incredibly cool). The way that Magneto is portrayed early in the story, before he falls under the treacherous influence of the Acolyte Cortez, is a version of the character that I like a lot. Magneto essentially declares civis romanus sum for all Mutantkind, telling the powers of the world that, from now on, every Mutant on Earth is a citizen of Asteroid M, and that harm to any one of them will be considered an act of war. He even tells the X-Men mid-fight that they will always be welcome to live there in peace, no matter what happens between them.
But of course, then they throw that cool idea out the window almost immediately and it just becomes a bunch of fighting.
Kayleigh: What’s interesting to me is that X-Men and “Mutant Genesis” are almost completely different approaches to many of the same concepts and characters. X-Men pares its cast down to a few essential characters (Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Jean Grey, Rogue), while “Mutant Genesis” is so stuffed to the brim with mutants that it completely forgets Jubilee exists (seriously, where is she in this?). The fight scenes in X-Men essentially take place in a train station and a museum gift shop, while “Mutant Genesis” has the team fighting Magneto in fucking space–a place no X-Men film has yet to reach. “Mutant Genesis” is out to be as big and bold and in-your-face as possible. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great stuff if you have the id of an over-excited 14-year-old boy, but I think it misses the heart of the X-Men.
Dylan: As with any two extremes, the best results usually come from meeting somewhere in between. On the movies side, you have X2 and Days of Future Past, which have larger casts and bigger action but still care about their characters. In comics, there’s the psychedelic bombast of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, or the heartfelt space soap opera of peak era Claremont. I was initially surprised when you selected “Mutant Genesis” as the companion comic for this first installment of X-Education, given how little the two stories have in common, but I think it actually made for an excellent introduction to the world of the X-Men in all its weird, wild glory.
Kayleigh: Next week on X-Education: William Stryker takes the X-Men to church as Max Robinson and I tackle X2 and “God Loves, Man Kills”!