It's like some kind of comics-industry What If: After decades of dominance, the X-Men franchise relinquishes its flagship status to a different Marvel team, perpetual also-rans the Avengers.
Older fans still shake their heads in disbelief, but that's pretty much exactly what happened during the '00s. Despite starting strong with Grant Morrison's New X-Men, Marvel's merry mutants stumbled when the writer abruptly departed; Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men may have been a hit, but its self-contained story was never intended to spearhead the line in the traditional sense. Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis disassembled the old Avengers and rang in the New, featuring cross-platform pop-culture superstars Spider-Man and Wolverine. He and writers like Mark Millar placed the Avengers characters front and center in a series of line-spanning event comics that became the go-to business and storytelling model for Marvel, cementing the place of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes at the head of the character class. In a way, Bendis's House of M event -- in which the New Avengers and Astonishing X-Men join forces to put an end to an alternate Magneto-ruled timeline, only for the Scarlet Witch to nearly eradicate the mutant population -- can be seen as a ceremonial passing of the torch.
But there was a parallel development as well: Marvel's new in-house movie wing Marvel Studios announced plans to make a series of films starring traditional Avengers characters Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, even Ant-Man -- and then bring them together for the first live-action superhero crossover, an Avengers film. 20th Century Fox, meanwhile, controls the rights to the X-Men's teeming mutant multitudes.
This gave rise to one of the more interesting conspiracy theories I've seen floating around fandom: Was Marvel deliberately beefing up the Avengers franchise and cutting down the X-Men to better suit their film slate?
According to Senior Vice President-Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, the company did nothing of the kind. Responding to this question on his Formspring account, Brevoort says that the "no more mutants" development was a response to Morrison's run, during which the Beast discovered that homo sapiens was slowly dying out while homo superior would soon become the dominant species. "At that point, we felt that there were literally too many mutants, and that the core underlying metaphor of the X-Men as a minority had been thrown out-of-whack," Brevoort says. House of M was designed both to scale back the mutant population and "put the characters' backs up against the wall a little bit more."
In his interview with Robot 6 back in February, Brevoort said the renewed attention given to the Avengers in recent years was just a cyclical thing: After dedicating major resources to the X-Men in the '90s and the Ultimate line in the early '00s, Marvel decided to try to revive some of its core characters by jazzing up the team around which many of them revolved. He didn't bring up Marvel Studios and the Avengers-based movie plan one way or the other.
Clearly, the comics/movie nexus is in play like never before, what with Disney's purchase of Marvel and its film assets, and Warner's renewed corporate interest in DC. Heck, is it any coincidence that Geoff Johns, the guy who got Green Lantern, of all characters, to the top of the charts is both a freshly promoted executive and a consultant on the Green Lantern movie that's ostensibly Warner Bros.' opening salvo in revitalizing its non-Batman superhero film slate? Meanwhile, it's not like anyone at Marvel would admit to deliberately cutting off a business partner from a fresh stream of characters. But to hear Brevoort tell it, when it comes to the fortunes of their flagship franchises, comics come first.