In a surprising twist, my decades-long stance against exercise has come to an end. I’ve dug up the motivation — from where, I have no idea — to wake up before sunrise and hurl my body into a pool for an extended period of loosely choreographed struggle (AKA “exercise”). Because I’m apparently what old media publications call a “millennial” (I’m thirty-one, TIME magazine!), my motivation to exercise comes almost exclusively from social media validation. Yes, I started an Instagram account where I take elaborate locker room selfies and pair them with self-deprecating jokes, because millennial.
Yesterday while swimming, I came up with the idea to take two pictures of myself and merge them together as a swim-based homage to the superhero Multiple Man. I pulled the picture off — although it’s not being posted here because while I don’t think a picture of me in a Speedo is exactly NSFW, it’s definitely VAFW (Very Awkward For Work).
Anyway — last night when I clicked on the #MultipleMan Instagram tag that I put in the caption, a whole world of emotion came crashing into my brain. I loved Jamie Madrox. Or I still do love Madrox — it’s kinda hard to tell. For a long time, Madrox the Multiple Man was my accept-no-substitutes favorite comic book character. Clicking on that Instagram tag brought it all back to me through the comic book covers, ’90s trading cards, action figures and cosplay contained within. And yes, I am a little annoyed that an Insane Clown Posse-tangential rapper has basically co-opted the #Madrox tag.
But what happened between Multiple Man and me? I realized that I haven’t seen a character that was one of my absolute favorites in almost exactly two years, not since the end of “X-Factor.” I haven’t even thought about him much since then. Guys, this bummed me out.
“X-Factor” #71 and #74 were among the first comics I got as a kid back in early 1993, and that stretch of issues by Peter David and Larry Stroman quickly redefined what I thought superhero comics could be. They were funny. They were weird. I was so taken with this funny and weird this group of government-sponsored C-List superheroes that nine-year-old me created an audio book of “X-Factor” #74. I performed all the parts and did all the sound effects — having comic books instead of friends was actually fun sometimes.
Of all the principle players in “X-Factor” (Havok, Polaris, Quicksilver, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy and Madrox), the wisecracking Multiple Man stood out to me. Multiple Man spent his first “X-Factor” issue pranking his teammates with a trick jar of mayonnaise. He spent the rest of David’s initial “X-Factor” run being gently teased and underestimated by his peers, laughing all of that off with self-deprecating humor; that basically describes the character arc of my life. I got Multiple Man and now that I’m recounting all this as an adult, I think I still get Multiple Man.
I crowned Jamie one of my early favorites, up there with Rogue, Nightcrawler and Gambit (characters I still love today). So yeah, I was pretty devastated when he bit the dust in “X-Factor” #100, just a little under a year after I first met him. Yes, I did make a memorial Madrox comic book out of notebook paper comprised of images I traced from the handful of “X-Factor” issues I owned. The thing is, I treat comic book death as a joke nowadays. I get actively annoyed with people that get actively angry over superhero deaths. I’ve forgotten what it felt like to see my favorite character succumb to the Legacy Virus. It sucked.
And then he got better around two years later and I learned my lesson about comic book death.
With the launch of a new volume of “X-Factor” in 2006, I started to get monthly doses of my favorite duplicator — doses that would last for almost eight years. Peter David had another run as the writer of “X-Factor,” one that completely dwarfed the run he had on the series when I was a kid. There may not be a cassette tape containing my performance of one of those more recent “X-Factor” issues, but that doesn’t mean I loved it any less.
This run put Madrox up front as the leader of a detective agency comprised of other lesser known and/or underappreciated X-Men players. He got a definitive uniform (which I made my Halloween costume in 2007), fantastic storylines and a regrettable facial tattoo. As the lead character of the new “X-Factor,” Jamie had to grow up a lot; to use a “Buffy”-verse reference that Peter David would appreciate, he went from being the “Buffy” Season One Xander to “Angel” Season Five Angel. He wrestled with his morals upon encountering estranged dupes that had developed personalities and lives of their own and, well, there’s “X-Factor” #39 which — just, just read it if you haven’t. I wince just looking at its cover.
“X-Factor” as led by Jamie Madrox became a big deal X-Book, partly because it was consistently brilliant, but partly because it didn’t go away. The detectives of X-Factor Investigations saw multiple status quo changes within the X-Men as the team dealt with everything from the decimation of the mutant race after “House of M” through the establishment and dissolution of Utopia, Wolverine and Cyclops’ schism, “Avengers vs. X-Men,” the second Wolverine and Cyclops schism and the arrival of the time-displaced original X-Men. Yeah, “X-Factor” stretched from “House of M” to “Battle of the Atom.” That’s a long time.
Looking back, I think it’s reasonable to say that Multiple Man was as important and iconic to the X-Men line as characters like Cyclops, Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto. While those four battled it out for the fate of mutantkind, Madrox just kept on keeping on. He persevered on the outskirts of mutant drama and provided purpose for other misplaced mutants (Siryn, Monet, Strong Guy, Rictor, Shatterstar, Longshot, etc.). Jamie Madrox can retroactively be viewed as the face of working class mutants, the mutants that just wanted to get by and help people along the way. He was never concerned with educating, discovering or militarizing the next generation and therefore represented a third option that Cyclops and Wolverine had no time for.
Multiple Man was also the perfect voice for that cause, which I think is what differentiated 2014’s Madrox-less “All-New X-Factor” from its predecessor. Jamie was not brilliant, was not the best-there-is-at-what-he-does, he was never the best leader, he had no greater destiny and he did not bear the expectations of a grand lineage. He’s never even been a member of a proper X-Men team; he had to settle for being a member of a Shadow King-possessed Moira MacTaggert’s lineup of fill-in X-Men. “All-New X-Factor” was headlined by Polaris, Gambit and Quicksilver — three characters with deep ties to the X-Men that possess some or all of the qualities above.
Since Madrox disappeared two years ago, the X-Books have lost a lot of that underdog edge that “X-Factor” added to the line. The post-“Secret Wars” lineup looks great to me (writers Jeff Lemire, Cullen Bunn and Dennis Hopeless are favorites of mine), but it’s definitely missing something. It’s missing Madrox. It’s missing that down-to-Earth, just getting by, oddball and offbeat vibe that Multiple Man represents. “Extraordinary X-Men,” “All-New X-Men” and “Uncanny X-Men” are all X-Men books and they are, for the most part, packed with mutant movers and shakers. There doesn’t appear to be a home for a guy like Multiple Man in those books, and that’s because none of them are “X-Factor.”
In addition to Multiple Man, beloved second-stringers (and I use that term with so much affection) like Siryn, Layla Miller, Darwin, Rictor, Shatterstar, Strong Guy and Wolfsbane have all pretty much disappeared since “X-Factor” ended. With Marvel publishing a slimmer line of mutant comics and every ongoing series reserved specifically for proper X-Men, a whole lot of characters I love have been left chilling in limbo — and I didn’t even realize it until I clicked on an Instagram hashtag.
You know what, I still love Multiple Man. He may be out of the monthlies, and he may not return to them for a while, but that doesn’t mean he’s less of a favorite. The guy grew from a prankster to an unexpected figurehead of the X-Men line, and I can appreciate — and celebrate — that fact in hindsight. But the X-Men line definitely needs Madrox right now, because his laid back attitude and put upon nature represent something that’s been missing for a while now — and I really want all of the classic yet forgotten mutants to have a home again.
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).
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