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MUTANT WATCH: Is Marvel Comics’ X-Men Line Really Shrinking?

by  in Comic News Comment
MUTANT WATCH: Is Marvel Comics’ X-Men Line <i>Really</i> Shrinking?

The recent announcement of Brian Michael Bendis’ departure as the writer of “Uncanny X-Men” and “All-New X-Men” came with words meant to assuage fans’ fears about the X-Men’s role within the Marvel Universe. “There’s a lot of conspiracy about the X-Men, for some readers,” Bendis told CBR News. “No matter what I say, there’s going to be a part of the audience here who will think that this is part of whatever it is they think Marvel is trying to do to the X-Men. That’s not the case. I know my departure is not going to help the paranoid people who think the X-Men’s days at Marvel are numbered. That’s not what this means. I know you’re not going to believe me, but I wish you would.”

RELATED: Bendis Announces “X-Men” Departure with “Uncanny” #600

As one of the “paranoid people” Bendis addressed in that quote, I have to say that his words really did mean a lot. I fully admit that you can read things into pretty much anything if you’re looking for it — that’s what paranoia is — but I also have to say that recently, Marvel hasn’t exactly made it difficult to look for examples of the X-Men’s diminishing role in the Marvel Universe. The mutants aren’t included in the Disney Infinity 2.0 video game; they didn’t appear on the cover of a Marvel 75th Anniversary publication; they didn’t get an anti-bullying variant cover even though the X-Men’s whole thing is fighting prejudice. And the real smoking gun for X-Men conspiracy theorists, of course, is the recent revelation that Magneto is not the father of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch — a change that arrived just in time for non-mutant versions of the characters to be introduced to the world in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

But what about the comics? It’s a not-uncommon tactic to wave away claims that the X-Men are disappearing by pointing out how many X-Men comics Marvel publishes every month –but even that argument has started to feel hollow as “All-New X-Factor,” “Nightcrawler,” “X-Force” and “Deadpool” have all either ended or been given finale dates, while “All-New X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “Amazing X-Men,” “Cyclops” and “Spider-Man and the X-Men” have disappeared from solicitations. Which has me wondering: Is the X-Men line really shrinking?

RELATED: X-Men Revisit “E Is For Extinction” During “Secret Wars”

To answer this question, I looked at the 413 months spanning from the launch of the first X-Men spinoff in March 1981 all the way back to the books being published in May 2015 (cover dated July 2015) and analyzed how many ongoing — not limited — X-Men series were active at the time. We also reached out to Marvel Comics, but the publisher declined to comment on the matter. It should also be noted that we’re looking at this with the data at hand, not knowing what titles Marvel plans to announce/release in the months ahead, and there are a few “Secret Wars” X-Men related teasers which have not yet been announced as titles, though they likely will be.

With all that said, here’s how the X-Men line shapes up when you look at the past 34 years.

1. X-PANSION: March 1981 to January 1988

Average Number Of Ongoings Per Month: 3.59

Maximum Number Of Ongoings Per Month: 5 from September 1986 to January 1988 (“Uncanny X-Men,” “New Mutants,” “Alpha Flight,” “X-Factor,” “Classic X-Men”)

Minimum Number Of Ongoings Per Month: 2 from March 1981 to February 1983 (“Uncanny X-Men,” “Dazzler”)

Let’s get the big qualifier for this study out of the way, up front: Yes, I’m counting every X-Men ongoing series spin-off, no matter how tangential. So while “New Mutants” is widely regarded to be the first official “Uncanny X-Men” spinoff, that honor actually goes to “Dazzler” for the purposes of this exercise. Look at it this way: If a “Dazzler” series was to be launched in 2015, it would undoubtedly fall under the X-Men line, much like the Alison Blaire-headlined “X-Treme X-Men” did. So yes, series like “Alpha Flight,” “Maverick,” “Quicksilver” and all the “Deadpool” series have been factored into these results. These books all star characters that debuted in X-Men titles and some of these series were also included in various crossover events and/or handled by creators and editors in Marvel’s X-Men office. I’ve also included reprint series like “Classic X-Men” and young readers comics (“X-Men: First Class”) in an attempt to accurately reflect just how much X-output Marvel has been delivering on a monthly basis.

After eighteen years as a standalone series, “Uncanny X-Men” began slowly adding spin-offs in 1981. As tangential as early additions “Dazzler” and “Alpha Flight” were to the X-Mythos, “New Mutants” and “X-Factor” were essential to the line. The X-Men even became popular enough in the late ’80s to justify having a series — “Classic X-Men” — dedicated to reprinting mid-’70s issues of “Uncanny X-Men” with a few pages of new material thrown in. This period saw the birth of the X-Men’s empire.

2. X-PLOSION: February 1988 to December 1994

Average: 8.2

Maximum: 13 from November to December 1994 (“X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “X-Factor,” “Excalibur,” “Wolverine,” “X-Men Classic,” “X-Force,” “X-Men Adventures,” “Cable,” “X-Men Unlimited,” “X-Men 2099,” “X-Men: The Early Years,” “Generation X”)

Minimum: 5 from February 1988 to September 1988 (“Uncanny X-Men,” “New Mutants,” “Alpha Flight,” “X-Factor,” “Classic X-Men”)

This is just about where the X-Men line doubled its already sizable lead over every other Marvel hero. The core X-Line added “Excalibur” and “Wolverine” in 1988 before exploding in 1991 with “New Mutants” evolving into “X-Force” and the addition of a second main “X-Men” series. This period is also notable for the number of peripheral series offered to fans brought in from the Fox cartoon series — fans like me. “X-Men Adventures,” featuring adaptations of the cartoon, launched in 1992, while another reprint series called “X-Men: The Early Years” hit stores, this time focusing on the team’s ’60s issues. Another wave of ongoings arrived in 1993: “Cable,” the oversized quarterly series “X-Men Unlimited” and the future-set “X-Men 2099.” This phase of the X-Men’s lifespan ended with the addition of a fourth ongoing spinoff team series, “Generation X.”

3. X-AGGERATE: January 1995 to October 2001

Average: 12.72

Maximum: 14 from November 1997 to August 1998 (“X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “Alpha Flight,” “X-Factor,” “Excalibur,” “Wolverine,” “X-Force,” “Cable,” “X-Men Unlimited,” “Generation X,” “X-Man,” “Deadpool,” “Maverick,” “Quicksilver”)

Minimum: 11 in October 2001 (“Uncanny X-Men,” “Wolverine,” “X-Force,” “Cable,” “X-Men Unlimited,” “Deadpool,” “Ultimate X-Men,” “The Brotherhood,” “New X-Men,” “X-Treme X-Men,” “Exiles”)

Things remained fairly consistent for most of the ’90s. “X-Man” spun out of the “Age of Apocalypse” storyline and pushed the line up to a new high of 14 ongoing series in March 1995. Peripheral X-Men books didn’t last long in this era, though; both reprint series — “Classic” and “Early Years” — came to a close, as did the all-ages “X-Men Adventures” and the two “2099” books (“X-Nation 2099” didn’t last long). A boom of solo series in 1997 — including “Deadpool’s” first ongoing as well as short-lived series starring Maverick and Quicksilver — helped push the line back up to 14 titles. The core team books started to disappear in the late ’90s. “X-Factor” and “Excalibur” ended in 1998 and “Generation X” followed in 2001. The line shrunk to 11 series in 2001 as late ’90s mainstays like “Gambit” and “Mutant X” were canceled and 21st century titles like “New X-Men” and “Ultimate X-Men” arrived.

4. X-CESS: November 2001 to August 2008

Average: 12.12

Maximum: 18 in November 2004 (“X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “Alpha Flight,” “Excalibur,” “Wolverine,” “X-Men Unlimited,” “Gambit,” “Ultimate X-Men,” “New X-Men,” “Exiles,” “Weapon X,” “Mystique,” “Emma Frost,” “Cable & Deadpool,” “Astonishing X-Men,” “District X,” “Rogue,” “Nightcrawler”)

Minimum: 10 from September to December 2005 (“X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “Wolverine,” “X-Men Unlimited,” “Ultimate X-Men,” “New X-Men,” “Exiles,” “Cable & Deadpool,” “Astonishing X-Men,” “Nightcrawler”)

By fall 2002, the X-Men line was a whole new animal. “X-Statix,” “Weapon X” and “Exiles” were the only spinoff team books as the line started to favor solo series and multiple iterations of X-Men (“Uncanny,” “New,” “X-Treme,” “Ultimate”). The excess of this era can be seen in November 2004, when the line ballooned up to 18 ongoing series, including 6 X-Men books, 4 spinoff team books, 7 solo ongoings and one buddy hero book (the hard-to-categorize “Cable & Deadpool”). The X-Men had more ongoings than ever before, with the line confident enough to take risks on series like a teenage Emma Frost ongoing, a noir X-Factor series and a street-level book starring Bishop. A lot of these experiments didn’t succeed, and all of the line’s mid-’00s solo series were canceled by January 2006. With experiments out of the way, the end of this phase saw the return of a number of classic X-titles, including “X-Factor,” “X-Force” and “Cable.”

5. X-TINCTION? September 2008 to June 2015

Average: 14.02

Maximum: 17 from April 2013 to June 2013 (“X-Men” [April only], “Uncanny X-Men,” “X-Factor,” “Wolverine” [May and June only], “Deadpool,” “Gambit,” “X-Treme X-Men,” “Astonishing X-Men,” “X-Men Legacy,” “Uncanny X-Force,” “Ultimate Comics X-Men,” “Wolverine and the X-Men,” “Age of Apocalypse,” “Uncanny Avengers,” “A+X,” “All-New X-Men,” “Cable & X-Force,” “Savage Wolverine”)

Minimum: 7 in July 2015 (“Uncanny X-Men,” “Uncanny Avengers,” “Magneto,” “Storm,” “Wolverines,” “Inferno,” “Old Man Logan”)

And here we are. I know it seems crazy to label the section with the highest average ongoing titles a month “X-Tinction” — that’s why there’s a question mark! Looking at the stats, though, the number of ongoings peaked in 2013 and has been declining since then. When “Secret Wars” launches, the June 2015 X-Men line will be composed of 7 ongoings, with “X-Men,” “Deadpool,” “All-New X-Men,” “Amazing X-Men” and “Cyclops” all missing in action. The last time the line hit an equal low was September 1991, just before the launch of Chris Claremont and Jim Lee’s “X-Men.” The line is at a nearly 24 year low.

As stated above, CBR reached out to Marvel regarding the fate of the MIA X-Books and the publisher declined to comment. That being said, Marvel has made it very clear that every one of their titles will interact with “Secret Wars” and that the MU will not be the same after it’s done. The X-Men aren’t the only characters affected by this; there have been no new “Avengers” or “New Avengers” series announced after Hickman’s run ends and “Fantastic Four” is still canceled.

A number of X-Men projects will launch in “Secret Wars,” too. “Old Man Logan” and “Inferno” appear in the last batch of solicits and a few other series — “E for Extinction,” “X-Tinction Agenda” and “Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde” — have been announced, but not solicited. A few other titles received teaser promos last fall, so odds are we’ll see “Years of Future Past,” “Age of Apocalypse,” “A Vs. X” and “X-Men ’92” at some point soon. But will these launches even out what’s missing from July’s lineup? How long will these new titles stick around?

Marvel’s recent move towards diversity and inclusivity means that the X-Men should always have a home at the House of Ideas. Books like “Ms. Marvel” and “Spider-Gwen” have found large audiences by focusing on leads that we rarely see in comics. The X-Men kinda pioneered this trend back in the ’80s by featuring rosters composed of diverse women and telling stories that put characters like Storm, Phoenix and Dani Moonstar in the forefront. Marvel saw great success with the launch of the all-female “X-Men” book a few years back, too. There’s no reason why Marvel can’t continue their successful diversification in a franchise built around the idea of diversity. Maybe “Secret Wars” is being used as a deck-clearing exercise not to get rid of the mutants, but to give them a fresh, modern start? Until we know for sure, I’ll leave that for you to decide. So, how paranoid are you?

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