X-Men

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X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 10:55 am

Previously, on X-Men.

So I finished season 1, and at the end, as he's being released from jail, Beast cheerfully quotes "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day."

Now, I suppose quoting Shakespeare out of context ranks pretty far down on the list of questionable decisions in the writing of the X-Men cartoon, but just in case anyone was wondering: Macbeth is not the play where the title character cheerfully repeats "tomorrow, tomorrow" in an optimistic prediction that things are going to get better. You're thinking of Annie. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" is the one where the guy finds out his wife is dead and delivers a haunting soliloquy about how life is meaningless.

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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 12:39 pm

Saw a couple interesting Twitter threads by Kurt Busiek yesterday describing how X-Men was originally a metaphor for antisemitism (albeit a somewhat muddled one, given that mutants were intended as a metaphor for Jews but Magneto was originally depicted as a Hitler figure), how it later expanded to cover other civil rights struggles, and just because Stan Lee said something doesn't mean it's true.





I'm not familiar with the person who's arguing with him and citing a Stan Lee interview as her source, but I don't want to judge her too harshly. She bought Stan's hype. Most people did. Everybody's heard of Stan Lee; whoever heard of Kurt Busiek?

And y'know, for somebody who only knows Marvel history superficially, the Marvel method* sounds weird and counterintuitive. It's hard to believe the first time you hear, "No, Stan Lee didn't even know what was going to be in this comic until it landed on his desk; he just added dialogue after it was already drawn."

Busiek also notes that, while the antisemitism metaphor is there from the beginning (there's a secret cabal of people who look like us but aren't like us, and they're plotting to take over the world and enslave us), it's a little unclear in the earlier issues and becomes clearer towards the end of that initial Kirby/Lee run. He suggests that Lee probably didn't understand what Kirby was going for at first, but that it eventually clicked for him. But you can't even explain that to somebody until you've explained that no, really, no matter what those credits say, Kirby wrote those comics, Lee added dialogue at the end, and Lee was, to put it politely, not a credible source for information about his own career.

There's one moment that really sums up Stan Lee's credibility for me: he once claimed that it was his idea for Thor to be the son of Odin. And this was in a sworn deposition, so I don't think he was lying on purpose; I think it was just fucking reflexive. He spent so many years claiming everything was his idea that it just became automatic and instinctive.

* another thing created by Jack Kirby that Stan Lee took credit for

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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:15 pm

Friday wrote:
The "Bishop travels back in time to stop a traitor to the X-Men who may or may not be Gambit" storyline is introduced in one episode and resolved in the next, whereas in the comic it was introduced with no idea how it was actually going to end or who the traitor even was, and then sewn up 5 years later.


oh god. I fucking hate that shit so much. As an author, never ever set up a mystery unless you know the answer going in.


Sometimes it ends up working surprisingly well. The Onslaught storyline was one where they started off with the whole "new villain so bad he beat up the biggest guy in the room" cliche; Juggernaut gets his ass beat and says Onslaught did it. And Lobdell (the writer) didn't know who Onslaught was even going to be with that introduction, but when it turns out it's Professor X, it fits so well that it actually feels like that was the plan all along. After all, if Professor X did go bad, his no-good half-brother would be a pretty plausible choice for a first target.

And then the writers (Lobdell and Mark Waid and probably some other people on the X-books) decided, what the hell, as long as we're doing a "Professor X goes bad" storyline, we might as well tie it into the whole "traitor to the X-Men" storyline that's just kinda been hanging for the last five years.

That didn't work as well. Partly because they had to shoehorn it sideways into existing dialogue like "Professor Xavier was the first to die" and "Our own fault, really -- should never have trusted -- we knew so little about --"

And Onslaught is one of those storylines that's kinda weird because it was so hyped up at the time and...never really acknowledged much after that. (Aside from being the last boss in the first Marvel vs. Capcom game.) Part of it, I think, is that they balked on the "Professor X is evil" hook and turned it into the much weaker and more convoluted "Professor X absorbed a piece of Magneto's mind and it corrupted him."

Just making it as simple as "Xavier is the bad guy, actually" would have worked a lot better (and has; subsequent stories have used that hook so often it's an X-Men cliche at this point). Dude recruits vulnerable teenagers, trains them as a secret paramilitary force named after himself, and says shit like "To me, my X-Men." In an early episode of the cartoon series, he defeats Magneto by triggering his Holocaust trauma. Xavier as villain is not a stretch; it does not require a deus ex machina explanation of what possible external sci-fi fuckery could cause him to go down such a path. It's right the fuck there in the text. He's a complete and utter bastard.

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Re: X-Men

Postby Mongrel » Mon Apr 26, 2021 2:50 pm

The Onslaught storyline was basically the central storyline that defined the franchise couple years I actually bought and read X-Books.

There was a lot of other garbage floating around at the time - the late 90's was hardly the high-water mark for caped storytelling - but it's sure part of the reason I don't miss reading X-Books at allllllllllllllll (in fairness this wasn't all down to the story, it was also the way they packaged it so that it crossed EVERY X-Book so you HAD to buy them all, which was something hardly exclusive to the Onslaught storyline).
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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 3:07 pm

It wasn't just every X-book; Onslaught was the story where they killed off the Avengers and Fantastic Four so they could relaunch them in Heroes Reborn (which flopped and got rolled back a year later, but provided a template for the more successful Ultimate line a few years after that).

It wasn't the first example of the "event storytelling" structure that's been the Big Two's bread and butter for the past 30 years or so (hell, it was pretty much Marvel's take on Crisis on Infinite Earths), but it was a big one at the time. Which is one reason why it feels kinda weird that it got so little attention afterward. Even the fucking Clone Saga keeps getting dusted off, and that was an even bigger debacle than Heroes Reborn. At least Heroes Reborn gave us the Thunderbolts.

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Re: X-Men

Postby KingRoyal » Mon Apr 26, 2021 3:12 pm

I wouldn't be too harsh on writers for setting up mysteries they don't have the answer to. It seems like a majority of the time writers don't have the answer figured out, they're more just throwing down a bunch of seeds to see what sprouts. This is especially true in comics writing, where the shape and direction of your story could change drastically month to month.

The real problem I have with this style of writing comes when a writer makes a career out of continually answering questions with more questions and never getting around to solving the mysteries, like some writers do.

Thad wrote:It wasn't just every X-book; it was the story where they killed off the Avengers and Fantastic Four so they could relaunch them in Heroes Reborn (which flopped and got rolled back a year later, but provided a template for the more successful Ultimate line a few years after that).

It wasn't the first example of the "event storytelling" structure that's been the Big Two's bread and butter for the past 30 years or so (hell, it was pretty much Marvel's take on Crisis on Infinite Earths), but it was a big one at the time. Which is one reason why it feels kinda weird that it got so little attention afterward. Even the fucking Clone Saga keeps getting dusted off, and that was an even bigger debacle than Heroes Reborn. At least Heroes Reborn gave us the Thunderbolts.


I don't think fan reaction to Onslaught was particularly what Marvel wanted. Heroes Reborn flopping was part of it, but it just didn't seem to get the same positive reaction that Age of Apocalypse did. That said, there was an Onslaught Reborn comic in 2006 and there's info in the Wiki that indicates he's been used sparingly. And, of course, he would become the template for writer's playing with Magneto only for the changes to be promptly ignored

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Re: X-Men

Postby Mongrel » Mon Apr 26, 2021 3:24 pm

Thad wrote:Even the fucking Clone Saga

Being reminded that this even existed sets my teeth on edge.
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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 3:44 pm

KingRoyal wrote:I wouldn't be too harsh on writers for setting up mysteries they don't have the answer to. It seems like a majority of the time writers don't have the answer figured out, they're more just throwing down a bunch of seeds to see what sprouts. This is especially true in comics writing, where the shape and direction of your story could change drastically month to month.

Right; I alluded to that a bit in the other thread.

Thad wrote:TBF it's a line of work where there's so much collaboration and so much turnover that even when you do plan ahead, the result may not bear any resemblance to the original plan. Either because the writer leaves before the story's complete, or the editorial team puts the kibosh on it, or the series gets caught up in some kind of crossover and the storyline either gets lost in the shuffle or has to be changed to fit what's going on in the other books, or a character gets optioned for a movie and now you can't kill them off, or sales dip and the bean-counters demand some kind of shakeup, or...

And look, Scott Lobdell is not a writer you hire because you want tight plotting. He's a writer you hire because he's the very best there is at what he does, and what he does is meet his fucking deadlines.


And like I said, sometimes it comes together so well that it feels like it was planned all along. The Onslaught reveal is simultaneously an example of that working really well (in terms of the "who is Onslaught?" question) and working not-so-well (in terms of awkwardly forcing it into the X-traitor storyline with lines like "We should never have trusted that there were no after-effects from Professor Xavier shutting down Magneto's mind! We knew so little about the psionic damage that would result from --").

What happened after that wasn't great -- again, they punked out on simply letting Xavier be a straight-up villain -- but the reveal itself was satisfying; it fit the clues so well that it felt like those clues had been dropped on purpose even though they hadn't.

Mongrel wrote:
Thad wrote:Even the fucking Clone Saga

Being reminded that this even existed sets my teeth on edge.


I've got some bad news for you.

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Re: X-Men

Postby Mongrel » Mon Apr 26, 2021 3:59 pm

I doubt I'm the only one who needs a trip to the dentist now.

(Nah, I stopped buying Marvel/DC 20 years ago and haven't looked back since. Well except for stuff like Nextwave, but even that's been only very occasional... and of course even that's tainted now too because Warren Ellis).
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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 4:08 pm

Look, I just wanted to read a Power Pack comic written by the Dinosaur Comics guy, and now I gotta look at Clone Saga ads.

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Re: X-Men

Postby Mongrel » Mon Apr 26, 2021 4:09 pm

:(
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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 4:41 pm

Seriously, though, if you *did* want to pick up a Marvel book from the past 20 years, you could do a lot worse than Squirrel Girl. (Written by Ryan North, art for most of the run by Erica Henderson, with Derek Charm taking over for the last year and a half or so.)

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Re: X-Men

Postby KingRoyal » Mon Apr 26, 2021 4:47 pm

Clone Saga is the other problem I have with comics writing, where even stuff that seems like a fresh take on a character gets bogged down in trying to conform to the canon just because. For another example, see Gwen Stacey repeatedly dying.

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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 4:52 pm

KingRoyal wrote:Clone Saga is the other problem I have with comics writing, where even stuff that seems like a fresh take on a character gets bogged down in trying to conform to the canon just because.

And also I can't even tell which Clone Saga you're talking about from reading that comment.

You could be talking about the current Miles Clone Saga, or you could be talking about the '90s Ben Reilly one, or, hell, you could be talking about the Ultimate Clone Saga in the aughts. You just described all three of them.

(Maybe not the original '70s Clone Saga.)

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Re: X-Men

Postby KingRoyal » Mon Apr 26, 2021 4:56 pm

Yes.

Hmm, on reflection, maybe I shouldn't judge it too harshly considering while Ultimate Clone Saga wasn't good, a lot of the original Ultimates storylines weren't good either.

We're getting off topic. Let's remember some of the bad X-Men retcons, like how Gambit suddenly became a participant in genocide.

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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 5:18 pm

KingRoyal wrote:We're getting off topic. Let's remember some of the bad X-Men retcons, like how Gambit suddenly became a participant in genocide.

I do believe that was the issue where I finally called it quits.

I've picked up a few runs sporadically over the years since. I really like Morrison's, warts and all. The Whedon/Cassaday run...well, I always liked the art on that one a lot better than the writing even back when I was still a Whedon fan.

And X-Statix was another of my favorite Marvel books of the past 20 years, but it's barely an X-book. Strip away the X-Men connection and you'd lose, what, the requisite Wolverine guest appearance?

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...The X-Cellent is still happening, right? Last I heard it had been delayed by COVID and the new Hickman X-Men status quo, but wasn't cancelled, just pushed back.

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Re: X-Men

Postby Büge » Mon Apr 26, 2021 5:24 pm

To be fair, Onslaught killing the Avengers meant that Marvel could retcon the reprehensible Avengers: The Crossing.
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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 5:35 pm

Busiek strikes me as the kind of guy who would have done that even if they hadn't handed him a cosmic reset button as a lead-in.

It's been ages since I read Avengers Forever, but I remember that, among other things, it was a time-travel series that spent much of its run tweaking past Marvel continuity to make it more coherent and less offensive.

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Re: X-Men

Postby Mongrel » Mon Apr 26, 2021 6:05 pm

Thad wrote:Seriously, though, if you *did* want to pick up a Marvel book from the past 20 years, you could do a lot worse than Squirrel Girl. (Written by Ryan North, art for most of the run by Erica Henderson, with Derek Charm taking over for the last year and a half or so.)

Ah shit! You reminded me that I wanted to read Buge's copy before she moved out. I've never seen a panel of that comic that didn't look like the book was hilarious.

Instead I ended up borrowing Rat Queens, which wasn't too bad (though I can see why you'd never want to read the weird quasi-reboot third volume), but yeah Squirrel Girl is something I'd like to read still.
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Re: X-Men

Postby Thad » Mon Apr 26, 2021 6:09 pm

Thad wrote:So I finished season 1, and at the end, as he's being released from jail, Beast cheerfully quotes "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day."

I looked up the actual dialogue. This is it.

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day." The immortal Bard, so wise about the struggle of the oppressed. Yet today, by the good graces of a prominent senator, I find myself no longer numbered among them.


Seriously, WTAF is he talking about? Not only is that speech emphatically not about the struggle of the oppressed, that's not even the end of the sentence! He just stops reading in mid-sentence and closes the book! "Oh well, I think I got the gist. Sun'll come out, etc."

When he quotes Merchant of Venice back near the beginning of the season, that's Shakespare speaking of the struggle of the oppressed. And gives us this fantastic exchange:

Beast: If you prick us, do we not bleed?
Judge: Don't tempt these people, Mr. McCoy.

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