High Five! Comics

20 (Or So) Best Comics of the Decade: 2. New X-Men

Posted on: March 11, 2010

“Thanks to things like ‘Buffy’ and ‘The Matrix’ the entire mainstream is pumped and primed to consume superhero stories.”

-Grant Morrison, 2001

There were two versions of X-Men in the 90s. An awesome cartoon that instilled a love of Wolverine and Gambit to the boys and girls of America, and all of the pointless crap that was written in the actual comic books. 1990s X-books were riddled with plots too convoluted to follow, art too ridiculous to swallow, and a general atmosphere of despair. At some point the editorial staff at Marvel must have said, “Our most relevant title is too fun, exciting, and smart with its balance of action and politics. Let’s make the X-Men an exhausting and boring look at dystopia as our heroes stare endlessly down the barrel of their own inevitable destruction.” Meeting adjourned, a decade of horrible comics begun, everybody shake hands and go home. If you were an angst-y 12 year old boy that might have seemed cool for 30 seconds, but after 10 years the X-Men had lost any relevance.

Then in 1999 Marvel got something right: they licensed the X-Men to 20th Century Fox and started a renaissance of good comic movies. While you and I bought tickets and pop-corn, Grant Morrison used keen insight to evaluate exactly what made the movie so good. In 2001 he wrote a letter to Marvel posing the question: What if we made the X-Men fun to read again? Thank God Joe Quesada agreed. The ensuing 40 issues were the perfect kick off to the 2000s by reintroducing everything that had made the X-Men so great in the late 70s and early 80s. Pulling opulence from subtlety, Frank Quitely eschewed the extravagance of 90s art by making characters look like real people again and condensed his edginess to a set of totally bad-ass costumes. Grant countered this by giving his characters witty dialog that centered on character relations endowed with humanity rather than tragedy endowed with crap.

Remarkably – and with some risk – Morrison showed no real ingenuity in his plot. E is for Extinction possessed every basic plot point of any X-title to date. We see a madman character bent on destroying the mutants with an army of sentinels. Morrison was treading on ground so over played it could have easily destroyed his work before it began. And yet, the point was just that: continuity was irrelevant. This was not a revamp of the X-Men Universe. This was a revamp of how we told the stories, not what stories we told. In his own words Morrison said, “We have to stop talking to the shrinking fan audience and re-engage the attention of the mainstream. Longtime fans will read the book and @$%! about it NO MATTER WHAT. We don’t need to attract them, we need to make the book accessible to the real world audience.” Somehow the creator of The Invisibles got it. Superhero comics are supposed to be fun, and any interest needs to come from characters, not continuity. Starting in 2001, New X-Men was the perfect title to kick off a new decade, and set the tone for much of the superhero titles that followed.

-Jonny

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