The End of the X-Men Conspiracy

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
The End of the X-Men Conspiracy

It’s sunny. It’s 74 degrees outside. The biting chill of an in-retrospect-brief winter has been gently shoved out of my memory. I feel my spirits begin to thaw after a harsh, dark season (but a short one because our planet is turning into a fireball). And you know what? There’s something else that’s thawing: the perceived cold war between Marvel Comics and the X-Men. This might be my increased dopamine talking, but I’m ready to wave away all my conspiracy theories; I’m actually feeling pretty good about the X-Men right now.

And I don’t take this change in belief lightly. Even though I’ve always tried to present a fair-and-balanced (if that phrase has any meaning left) view of the X-Men over the past few years, I’ve still felt the weight of a tinfoil hat on my head every time Marvel announces another Inhumans book or conspicuously leaves them out of promotional items. But, goshdarnit, the sun is out, I want to be happy, and you better believe that there’s a lot to be happy about with the X-Men right now.

If you’ve read this far and have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll sum things up with the summation of events I wrote back in December:

How did I earn the unwanted title of Prophet of X-Doom? Well, I wrote about the overall disappearance of the X-Men, criticized the strengthening synergy between Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios, tried to accept the X-Men’s fate and did way too much research to figure out if the X-Line was really shrinking. Like I said, I don’t like being negative and I hate being a conspiracy theorist, but when Marvel publishes anti-bullying variant covers — a theme central to the core of what the X-Men are — and leaves all the mutants out? It’s hard not to see a pattern!

See? This was a pet topic of mine. I’ve done everything from shrug off these notions to raise my fists into the air, shouting at the higher-up-than-I-can-fathom decision-makers at Marvel Comics/Marvel Studios/Hasbro/various licensors. And while Marvel has consistently denied a movie-rights-based anti-mutant agenda, too many suspicious things (listed in the quote above) kept happening. The tinfoil hat felt necessary and, considering how many other people noticed these “coincidences,” kinda like a fashion trend.

But now, yeah, I’m ready to trade in the tinfoil hat for no hat at all — because my head’s slightly larger than average and I just figured out how to successfully style my hair. Also because, yeah, I don’t think there’s an X-Men conspiracy anymore.

I’ll up front state that I don’t think the facts of the X-Men’s situation have changed at all; their film rights are still owned by Fox and, thanks to the rampaging success of “Deadpool,” they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. The X-Men still aren’t a part of the “Disney Infinity” franchise and they still don’t really pop up in generically branded Marvel items. The Inhumans are still getting a major push from Marvel Comics and more new heroes seem to be established as Inhumans rather than mutants (I haven’t done the number-crunching — yet!). None of that has changed! Wait — why am I so positive right now?!

The announcement of this spring’s “Apocalypse Wars” event last December got the ball rolling on my good vibes. I wrote a whole piece about it — “Marvel’s ‘Apocalypse Wars’ Gives X-Men Fans A New Hope.” My reasoning at the time was that Marvel Comics almost never acknowledged when an X-Men movie was released. While pretty much every Marvel Studios film gets a comic tie-in of some sort, whether it’s the return of a character prominently featured in a film or the launch of a new series or event (this year, “Civil War II” starts at the same time “Captain America: Civil War” lands in theaters), Fox’s X-Men films always go by unnoticed. I don’t know that there was ever any official policy in place preventing a comic tie-in, I just know that “Days of Future Past” hit theaters with no new variations of that classic story tempting my credit card. Marvel publishing “Apocalypse Wars” around the same time that “X-Men: Apocalypse” arrives in theaters is a big change, and it was enough to make me rethink my previous X-thinks.

Turns out that the “Apocalypse Wars” announcement was just the beginning. A month ago, Marvel announced that 23 of their ongoing series will get “Apocalypse Wars” variant covers, which give the predominantly Marvel Universe characters an Apocalyptic makeover. Not only is Marvel publishing a tie-in to “X-Men: Apocalypse,” they’re plastering that event on variant covers for almost two-dozen other ongoing series. The X-Men are taking over! And I know that variant covers are in no way indicative of the content inside and that I could cynically view this as just a superficial gesture. But nuh-uh, I do think it’s kind of a big deal that Marvel isn’t letting this X-event slide by unnoticed. Variants get attention, so “Apocalypse Wars” is getting attention.

But that’s not the only big Marvel event on the horizon. There is, after all, a Marvel Studios movie coming out, and that’s where “Civil War II’ comes in. “Okay,” I initially thought, “maybe things aren’t as great for the X-Men as I thought they were; they have to share the attention readers devote to events with ‘Civil War II.'” Oh — but then Marvel announced “Civil War II: X-Men,” a four-issue tie-in series from current “Uncanny X-Men” writer Cullen Bunn and artist Andrea Broccardo. And the X-Men also appeared in David Marquez’s art from the main “Civil War II” series. And Jean Grey even got her own “Civil War II” teaser image from Phil Noto. So…wow!

That’s a lot to unpack, and I have two main points to make about all that “Civil War II” stuff. First, the X-Men didn’t play a large role in the first “Civil War” event. And that wasn’t because of an anti-X bias; “Civil War” was published two years before the launch of Marvel Studios and the X-Men line was thriving with a dozen ongoing series. The X-Men weren’t in “Civil War” because…they weren’t in “Civil War.” They got a tie-in mini then, yeah, but they weren’t part of the main action; those Marquez pages and the Noto teaser indicate to me that the X-Men are going to be incorporated into the action this time around. Second, the X-Men have never played a part in any big Marvel event that’s been inspired by or timed with a Marvel Studios movie. This is a first.

I usually don’t pay attention to an event’s tie-in series unless they’re by a creator I’m fond of, but the announcement of “Civil War II: X-Men” made me a bit giddy. If I was perpetual X-student Glob Herman, you would have clearly seen my heart grow three sizes upon reading that news. I felt… I dunno… catered to? That’s a weird word to use, sure, but my attitude towards the X-Men franchise over the past few years has been inextricably tied to disenfranchisement. The X-Men brought me into comics and, as a young fan, wired my brain towards inclusivity. I took a lot of these perceived slights… let’s just say a bit more personal than I should have. Look at all the words I’ve written about those slights! I was working through some feelings! So to suddenly get a tie-in series where I hadn’t expected one felt like a bonus, a surprise, a this-one’s-for-you to all the X-Fans.

And while the X-Men comic book line is the smallest it’s been in a quarter century, I’ve started to view that development more like the X-Men’s return to normalcy following extreme excess. There were seventeen ongoing X-Men series in 2013. I maybe read half of them, so I was missing out on at least half of the entire X-Men experience. And in fact, I’ve felt that I’ve been missing out on a lot of the X-Men action for the past 15 years thanks to the seemingly exponential growth of the line. Now I can actually read everything — and, surprise, I like all of it. The streamlined line could use one (or, if I’m pushing it, two) team books without “X-Men” in the title, sure, but I really like that each team book has a definitive purpose and no character overlap.

Things have even improved outside of the comics; “Deadpool” gave us the most comic-accurate live-action version of Colossus ever and “X-Men: Apocalypse” looks dope (did you see the newest poster? Now that’s an X-Men poster!). And while it looks like the film “X-Men: Apocalypse” may have as much merchandise as “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (i.e., next to zero), the blitz of “Deadpool” merch makes me cautiously optimistic that movie tie-in products could happen again.

But even more importantly, at least to me, was the news that Hasbro is producing an all X-Men wave of Marvel Legends figures. I’ve lamented the X-Men’s absence from toys and licensed merchandise, so to see another line of figures in the works has me excited to find more space on my already crowded toy shelves.

And all of these positive developments have occurred alongside the constant presence of the “Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men” podcast in my earbuds. Their positivity about the X-Men and the specificity of their subject matter (two whole episodes on Captain Britain comics I have never even seen!) continue to entertain me every week. The sense of community they foster through their online presence, listener questions and awards (the Super Doctor Astronaut Peter Corbeau Awards for Excellence in X-Cellence) make me feel like I’m a kid again, discovering the X-Men for the first time.

So while I’m not turning my back on the validity of my previous X-related gripes (where is the X-Men’s anti-bullying variant cover?!), I’m ready to declare the cold war of coincidences and conspiracies over. Things just feel different right now — in a good way. Not only have I let go of my disgruntled reader angst, I actually feel like I have just cause to do so. There’s actually a lot of really great stuff happening with the X-Men right now, and I gotta sing this praise as loudly as I cursed the “conspiracy.”

Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).