No More X-Men

Look, I know, I know. X-Friday was a wash-out. After I let it fall by the wayside, my mate Jules and I even talked about doing a kind of call-and-response thing where we would encourage each other to write about Nation X and onwards.
But it never happened.

I don’t know whether it was my increasing trepidation about Avengers vs X-Men or whether I just got bored with the idea of de-constructing a world that I was increasingly disassociating from, but it never happened.

Meanwhile, Avengers vs X-Men is still underway. Halfway through, it went from a really boring battle royale to a potentially interesting saga with the arrival of the Phoenix Five and Cyclops and Co establishing Pax Utopia – a paradise that is so close to my own ideas for Gonzo Cosmic that I felt rather uncomfortable reading it.

I started to get a good feeling – maybe the X-books were going in the right direction. Maybe the mutants were returning and we’d get the future promised by Morrison that I’ve been moaning about since I started this blog. Then there was the announcement about Marvel NOW and the ridiculous line-up of books they’ve got planned. All New X-Men with the really old team, Uncanny Avengers ffs… You know the drill, if it’s something that interests you. If not, why are you even reading this?!? 😛

Whatever, it fills me once again with real trepidation. Whatever folk say, I think the X-Universe is big enough to exist on its own, adjacent to and sometimes overlapping with but generally outside of the Marvel 616. And recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what the future of that universe might be…

Some people will have seen some recent images on my Facebook page, something called “X ≠Ω”, or “X is not Omega”.

These are drawings I’ve done of some significant ‘X’ characters as imagined being a few years older than they are now. It’s all part of this large tapestry I’ve dreamed up, a way of trying to re-imagine a future for the X-teams, one that doesn’t involve incessant crossover, but which can recreate a context that would not only involve some really interesting stuff in itself, but would also hopefully create a fertile soil for future creators to continue to write the X-books.

If you look back at my first post about the X-Men where I talk about picking up Claremont and Lee’s X-Men #1, you’ll know why I thought it was a great re-introduction. Although canon and continuity would potentially disagree, I look back and see that re-introduction of the mutants as making them all slightly older. Although there’s not much difference between the previous Uncanny run and this book, there’s a definite sense that everything’s grown up a little. I feel like that same happened in New X-Men – this was the X-guys in there 30s and 40s now, older, hairier and greyer around the temples, with more wrinkles.

Now, I know that it’s difficult in a Batman or Superman book to make your main character age significantly in continuity. It “spoils” the future for other creators and more importantly, for the fans. But the X-Men is an ensemble book, which is more about the context than any one individual team. This is proven by the main and varied main teams there’s been over the years. When the books struggled, it was often prudent to simply change the entire main team, keeping maybe one singular character like Wolvie to bridge the gap.

So while I understand that making any kind of leaps in age would make Marvel nervous, I posit that it’s something you could quite easily “get away with” with the readers – so long as those old favourites were still accessible in some form, and so long as the stories warranted it and were exciting and dangerous again, I think they’d forgive that. I would. Hence the idea.

Here it is then. (Disclaimer: much of the pre-Omega stuff is a void because while I would like to see Hope do her stuff and re-activate the mutants, I’m not sure it’s going to happen. So imagine if you will that this takes place not too long after AvX, and that the end of that saga is the one I “hope” for… It’ll be easier and less painful that way. But the story’s not dependant on it…)

Okay, the book launches with an indeterminate gap having taken place. This is not an “actual” timed chronological space – merely a very large gutter space and a significant “closure” for the reader. There will be no future “plugging the gap” storylines, nor any attempt to explain why things are now the way they are. We’re going to assume that the readership is smart enough to realise that we’ve taken some liberties, and will go with it.

I suppose it’s a little like the “five year” condensation in the DC New 52. But also not.

We’re just returning back to the X-teams after a brief sojourn, right? So there’s been no big events in between, but we have to catch up with old friends, and find out where they’re all at.

It kind of begins with Scott, as it should. After skating perilously close to become a mutant terrorist/fundamentalist religious nut, but having been proven right by the return of his race, Cyclops has decided that he no longer has the right to manage the X-Men. He has stepped down from active duty, and has taken a role as mutant ambassador at the UN. It’s a fraught relationship he has there, which makes him the same as every other representative. They’ll all got their hands dirty in one way or another, human or mutant, no matter the country. He’s there to ensure his people have their say, and also to try and help smooth over the inevitable transition from a human to a mutant way of life. He’s older now, pushing 50, and greying at the temples. World weary, but wise, he’s a perfect mix of Xavier and Magneto, distilled into something uniquely Summers.

As influential a leader as Cyclops was, his break away from the team has resulted in a rather large  amount of active members retiring. This has resulted in a lot of former X-Men taking up various roles and duties elsewhere in the world, some personal, some political etc. But in order to keep a watchful eye, they’re formed the Council of X, an advisory body of non-participatory ex-men who help the younger generation as they move up. Storm leads this body, and it doesn’t have a physical presence in the States, composed as it is from mutants who are now scattered across the US and wider.

Hope is now the incumbent headmistress at the Jean Grey school, now largely the only remaining X-Men facility still active.  She has tried hard to shake off the mantle of the Phoenix and make a place for herself that isn’t in the shadow of Marvel Girl, so she has cut and died her hair and tries resolutely to govern the school in her own manner, different from Jean, Xavier and Wolverine (who holds the title of headmaster, but is rarely seen these days…)

She is helped by a large staff team of mutants from the second and third waves of X-Men, including Kitty, Chamber, Rachel, and others. There is one active field team, led by Professor Ω, or Quentin Quire. Manifesting his own slice of the Phoenix Force, he has grown up to be a fierce young leader, still rebellious and experimental, but very gifted. Hope trusts him to do the right thing out in the field, which means that she trusts him to do his thing. She has no interest in telling him how to run his hand-picked Omega team.

Beyond that, the X-Men in their original sense is now a disaster relief and recovery squad, which also performs various acts of espionage, politicking etc as and when needed. Instead of existing as a solid team, response units are chosen from the entire roster of active volunteers, as required, based on their skill sets. Very often the work required isn’t offensive, but a mix of crowd management, trauma response and rescue/rebuilding. Hope has a very special team of mutants who help her decide who to choose – the Luck Police – Blindfold, Nate Grey and Domino. Blindfold and Nate Grey extrapolate possible scenarios, while Domino using her luck power to help pick the most likely one, and the team is chosen based on the outcome.

There are also active project teams on site at Westchester – these guys are the X-Club, which is no longer the elitist scientific cabal it once was, but is now a laboratory for exploring the future – scientifically, sociologically, politically, environmentally… Groups of mutants, teachers and students, work to build a brighter future, one where humankind peacefully integrated into mutantkind, and which is better for all forms of human.

Outside of the X-Teams, the world has changed. The re-emergence of the mutant populous has resulted in some tensions, but also an emergence of mutant popularity. There are mutant popstars, including one who rivals Dazzler’s former glory and has become the darling of the media. Rock bands, shock artists, reality stars – they’re all here, and they’re winning over the human populous.

The Hellfire Club has gone corporate – no longer engaging in its previous petty power plays, the newest owners have grown up to realise that all this fighting is costing money and hampering profits. They have instead opened the Pleasuredome, a palace of hedonistic delights, where you can go and legally experience anything you desire, as it all takes place in the mind and body chemistry.

Also, much to the chagrin of Cyclops and the Council, a new figure has emerged, a Mister Sinister type. He is interested in mutant husbandry – he purifies the gene pool by forming an elite of wealthy individuals who attend his sumptuous parties, and he introduces perfect breeding partners together. Although the X-men find his actions to be morally repugnant, he is committing no crime, and is therefore untouchable.

Emma has left the prison of the X-Men and works freelance for whoever will pay. She operated The Switchboard, a massive office tower in the heart of New York, along with the Cuckoos. On split shifts, the offices are filled day in day out by a willing, and handsomely paid, workforce, who offer up their brains. They sit at desks 9-5 or whatever, literally unplugging themselves while Frost and her girls turn them into a massive psychic battery. All the worlds secrets are open to The Switchboard, and while the authorities want her closed down, they have a hard job planning any offensive against her.

Henry McCoy has undergone another metamorphosis and hasn’t been seen for several years. Some say he hides in the basement of The Switchboard, helping Frost to keep the technology running. He sits alone in darkness, and no one knows what he has become, although some of Frost’s workers have reported hearing a massive slithering sound emerging from the dark when they go down to fix the generators.

Bobby has slowed right down… All the wisecracking and joking he used to cover up the ice at his heart has stopped, and he sits in the grounds of Westchester, completely frozen. The kids call it The Grotto, and although no one has spoken to him in a while, they are sure he stills breathes and thinks – just very slowly. It’s like he’s carefully trying to put something together, something that’s Not. Quite. Right.

Rogue has left active service and now runs a farm in the midwest, where she fosters mutant runaways and acts as a psychotherapist. She’s a hippy earth mother who’s left her fighting days behind her. Although she’s now happily single, she gets occasional visits from a certain Cajun who stops by some summers to help her plough her furrows.

Meanwhile, somewhere far from Westchester, two old men sit still, facing off against each other in an endless game of chess. Watched over by their nursemaid, Xavier and Erik are slipping into dementia, outdated and outmoded and obsolete, tired of the world they tried so hard to save only to have gained so little. New students to the Grey school are taken on a pilgrimage to their mansion, to visit with the old folks, who rarely acknowledge visitors, locked as they are in this game of chess, this one holdover from their lifelong battle. One can only wonder what’s happening in the minds of the world’s brightest man and the mutant who controls the electromagnetic spectrum, but then, one also wonders whether they’d even be able to tell us anymore.

There are many, many other examples of characters who’re a little bit older, and a little bit changed. Each of the propositions for the characters looks at who they’ve been for the last 10, 20, 30 years and extrapolates what I feel is a coherent future for them, albeit with some twists and turns along the way. The soil for the story is there, and I’ve got some ideas for individual plots. The way I see it is that doing this, you could spend 2 or 3 years at least just telling lovely individual stories that weave in and out of a couple of larger plots (and I’ve got a doozy for one of those…). We’d get this rich understanding of who the characters are, and the time shift would release us a little from the complex “ongoing” problem. Plus the new characters arcs lend themselves to plots, rather than vice versa. We would also get to allow some of the more interesting younger characters take the field and centre stage, as well as positing a new future that we can watch emerge. Let the Marvel Universe play catch up. Don’t age Cap America or Thor, there’s no need – they can still engage with an older Summers or Storm without any hitch – they’ve already done it, many many times over the decades. Cap hasn’t ages much in the time it’s taken for Jean to grow out of bobby socks, skintight jumpuits, massive hair, die, be reborn, die again, kill everyone, destroy the universe then repair it. You know? This is obvious! The X-books are far more malleable, and it doesn’t interfere with the 616 in any negative way.

So this is it. This is X≠Ω. This isn’t a new X-Men story so much as it’s a whole new instance of world building within the X-Universe. I think it’s fucking badass, and I’d really read it all. I’d also love the opportunity some day to sit down with the big mucka mucks at Marvel and explain to them why this would work. Hopefully one day I will… Comments much appreciated, especially from X fans 🙂