The upcoming X-Men relaunch has the potential to move them back to the center of the Marvel Comics universe. The modern Marvel Universe essentially revolves around the Avengers, but that wasn't always the case. Back in the 1990s, Marvel's biggest brand was undoubtedly the X-Men. 1991's X-Men #1 was the biggest-selling comic book of all time, with X-Force #1 swiftly following it. Whenever a book was flagging, Marvel tossed in an X-Men cameo to revive sales. And, finally, the Jim Lee redesigns inspired the beloved X-Men Animated Series. It's no coincidence that Fox wanted the film rights to the X-Men, but not to Iron Man.
Unfortunately, that was the heyday of the X-Men franchise. As the '90s went on, a succession of behind-the-scenes dramas left the X-Men books in increasing disarray. Into the 2000s, writer Brian Michael Bendis reinvigorated the Avengers, and the balance of power in the comics shifted decisively. Nothing seemed to revive the X-Men's fortunes; Marvel tossed all the star power they could at the X-Men books, with writers ranging from Matt Fraction to Grant Morrison, from Jason Aaron to Joss Whedon. The last few years have seen what seems to be editorial fiat driving a nonstop series of relaunches. Nothing has really seemed to work.
In light of these problems, it's easy to give up on the X-Men franchise, to assume the mutants' best days are behind them. That would be a mistake, especially given the fact the X-Men are set to be relaunched as part of the MCU. The characters and concepts are timeless and iconic, and there's no reason the X-Men couldn't become comic book superstars once again. The only question is whether or not Marvel can pull it off - and the latest relaunch looks as though it may have a chance.
Jonathan Hickman's Vision For The X-Men
In March, Marvel announced that superstar writer Jonathan Hickman was returning to take charge of the X-Men. Hickman is a writer in the same vein as legendary X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, a Chess player whose stories are smart and efficient, moving the characters carefully into place for the stories he wants to tell. He plays the long game, and is best known for a years-long Avengers run that built up to the classic Secret Wars event. This time round, Hickman has one simple goal; to restore the X-Men to place of pride in Marvel Comics.
The Hickman run will launch in July, with two X-Men miniseries, House of X and Powers of X. These will replace the entire line, setting the scene for everything that follows. As Hickman explained in an interview with ComicBook.com:
"If you want to read X-Men books during the run from late-July through September, House of X and Powers of X are the only new X-books available and everything that's going to follow is based on them. We wanted to be clear to the fans, to the stores, and just as importantly, to the creators who are going to be staffing these books in the future. We wanted the message to be very clear: This is a whole new era for the X-Men. This is what we're doing now."
Hickman Is Saying All The Right Things
The recent X-Men relaunches have all felt as though they're driven by editorial, particularly during an ill-thought-through X-Men-versus-Inhumans era. This case is different, though; it seems Marvel approached Hickman and asked him to come back, pretty much offering him carte blanche. Hickman threw out a few ideas, but the biggest, boldest one was for the X-Men. "I thought about what I wanted to do," Hickman noted, "and more importantly, what I thought the line needed, and then I flew up to the Marvel offices and pitched all of senior editorial what I had in mind."
There are hopeful signs that Hickman really has diagnosed the core problems facing the X-Men. The first is that every successful comic book has a central message of some kind, a core concept that they're loyal to. The X-Men's, however, has become blurred and indistinct, in part because society has changed. "Are we talking [the X-Men as] a stand-in for marginalized groups," Hickman asked, "or the metaphor simply being a substitution of the word 'different' for 'special,' or is the real modern complication atomization?" During his critically-acclaimed Fantastic Four run, Hickman revolutionized Marvel's First Family by correctly diagnosing their core concepts as "discovery" and "family," and his run embraced those themes and returned them to dominance. He's clearly trying to identify similar central ideas in the X-Men, and thinks he may well have hit upon it.
This lack of focus has probably led to the X-Men franchise's other key problem, its dependence upon nostalgia. The X-Men have been locked in what Hickman calls a "nostalgic loop" for quite some time, where the stories are nothing more than an attempt to evoke memories of other, frankly far better, X-Men stories. Although Hickman's story looks set to explore the history of the X-Men, it's a reinterpretation, and he hopes it will move the franchise forward.
Marvel Is Committed To The X-Men Relaunch
Another promising sign is the fact that Marvel is committed to this new X-Men relaunch. That's clearly demonstrated by the fact that they're canceling the entire X-Men line for the duration of House of X and Powers of X; they seem to have agreed with Hickman's diagnosis, that drastic action is needed to breathe new life into the X-Men. At the conclusion of that 12-week period, Marvel will then be launching an entire new universe of X-books. "Some will be traditional fare," Hickman promised, "some carry through on ideas presented in HOX and POX. Some books are completely new concepts."
Marvel is already at work on these "Wave 1" concepts, with Hickman helming the ongoing flagship X-book, and further details will be announced around SDCC. That, too, demonstrates Marvel's commitment to this relaunch; they're positioning this to be their biggest news at the biggest Comic-Con in the year.
Could This Inspire The Future Of The X-Men Franchise?
Jonathan Hickman has a faultless pedigree, successfully reinvigorating both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. His stories number among some of the most popular and influential comic book adventures of recent years, and his Infinity event inspired a lot of major plot and character beats in Avengers: Infinity War. Even the idea of a story focused on Thanos' quest to obtain the latest MacGuffins was lifted straight from Hickman's books; he created the Black Order, and he brought them to Wakanda. The Russo brothers have openly expressed their admiration for Hickman's writing, suggesting they'd love to return to helm a Secret Wars film.
This pedigree suggests that Hickman's upcoming X-Men run should be seen as particularly significant, and not just because it has the potential to refresh the comics themselves. The film rights for the X-Men have been returned to Marvel Studios after the Disney/Fox acquisition, and the decision-makers at Marvel are even now working out how to incorporate the X-Men into the MCU. This high-profile relaunch will surely catch their eye, meaning these Hickman books could form the basis for future X-Men movies. The timing seems more coincidental than intentional, as though the stars have aligned at just the right moment; but that could mean there's reason to hope the X-Men could once again become Marvel's biggest brand. Only time will tell whether or not Hickman can pull it off.