It's Time To Learn From The X-Men's Greatest Mistakes
In theory, the X-Men are a team, with every character sharing the spotlight. In practice, however, Wolverine's popularity has often distorted the team dynamic. This happened in the comics, where Wolverine cameos became a gimmick to increase a book's sales rather than get it canceled; it happened in the movies, where Wolverine became so ubiquitous that the character was shoehorned into X-Men: Apocalypse; and it's even happened in the cartoons, with a 2009 animated series actually called Wolverine and the X-Men.
Now, it's possible to argue that this isn't a problem. After all, in a free market, popular ideas are the ones that sell well. Unfortunately, though, this almost-relentless focus on Wolverine has had two major negative effects on the X-Men franchise as a whole. The first, ably demonstrated by Fox's X-Men movies, is that it often led to other X-Men not really getting their chance to shine. That's most notable in X-Men: The Last Stand, where James Marsden was finally given an opportunity to act - right before being killed off so the plot could focus on the sparks of attraction between Jean Grey and Wolverine instead. The same issues are seen in certain comic book runs as well, with secondary characters frequently overshadowed by Wolverine.
But this also causes massive problems for Wolverine himself, as the hero was shoved into stories where he didn't quite fit. As a result, at any one time he could be serving as an Avenger, an X-Man, and leader of a black ops X-Force unit. He could be presented in so many different ways; as a savage killer struggling to keep his animal instincts in check, a noble Samurai, a man haunted by his past, a free spirit untroubled by his lack of memories, even as a headmaster and authority figure. Every writer seems to have their own version of Wolverine, based on an interpretation they most connect with, and often all these different versions are being published at the same time. Ultimately, this lack of definition - coupled with a sense that he was becoming overexposed - led the comics to kill him off in 2014, a useful way to retire the character and give time for the brand to recover from the damage it had suffered. Wolverine was only recently resurrected.
The MCU often brings Marvel Comics' best stories to the big screen, albeit in heavily adapted formats. But it's essential that the movies also avoid Marvel's mistakes. The X-Men were created before Wolverine was even thought of, and many of their best stories don't feature him in a major role at all. Marvel will no doubt be tempted to focus in upon him, but that temptation must be resisted. Delaying the introduction of Wolverine allows a rebooted X-Men franchise a chance to take shape without him, so he then becomes a part of the picture rather than defining and dictating it.
A Gradual Build-Up Is More Effective
In truth, introducing the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be a difficult challenge for Marvel. There are so many major ideas and concepts at the heart of the X-Men franchise, ranging from genetic mutation itself to the X-Men's battle against prejudice and bigotry. Even in the comics, these have often sat uncomfortably alongside the Avengers as part of the same shared universe. Why do people celebrate the likes of Captain America and Thor, and yet fear Cyclops and Jubilee? Why don't the Avengers ever intervene to prevent acts of violence against mutants - even standing by and watching while an entire island populated by mutants, Genosha, was obliterated in an act of genocide? When the X-Men and the Avengers do come together, this thematic problem leads to an uncomfortable sense that the two groups are vaguely opposed to one another. There's a reason the 2012 comic book event featuring both franchises was called Avengers Vs. X-Men.
Marvel Studios will want to build a far more cohesive world than the comics, where the X-Men and the Avengers sit side-by-side far more comfortably as part of the same shared universe. That will mean the best approach will be to gradually incorporate elements of the X-Men mythology into the MCU. Naturally, it's too soon to say how this could be done; The Eternals could present the history of the X-gene, the Vision & the Scarlet Witch series could redefine Wanda as a latent mutant and even introduce Magneto, or a cosmic event could trigger spontaneous mutation across the world. However it's done, though, it will need to be done carefully - and the focus must be on establishing mutants as part of the MCU, not just Wolverine.
With mutants on the scene, Marvel could then begin a gradual buildup to introducing Wolverine. They could drop Easter eggs to Team X, a black ops team of mutants; they could reference the Weapon X Project as the next development of the super-soldier program; T'Challa could hear rumblings of a new alloy called Adamantium. A breadcrumb trail of clues would lead viewers to the realization that Wolverine was coming - and the growing hype would be intense. By the time Marvel did introduce Wolverine, the film featuring their new version would be a guaranteed blockbuster. Essentially, this approach involves Marvel playing the "long game" rather than focusing on the short-term benefit of adding Wolverine into the mix - and it's a much smarter way to do it.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019