My Uncanny Relationship With The X-Men

I am writing this several thousand feet in the air, on what my father would have called a "business trip," while working on a presentation that I have to help present in a few days for a big work conference I am helping produce and participating in.  In other words, if I were to explain this to my ten year old self, I am doing "grown up" stuff. 

When the staff was encouraged to discuss X-Men this week, I tried to figure out why, as a kid, I never really read the X-Men. Then it struck me: it was a "grown up" book.  Now, I don't know where this idea came from. I had no idea why the X-Men were less kid friendly than Daredevil or Batman. In retrospect, I realize that I had just gotten it into my head that the X-Men comic was for older kids and adults—I never picked it up, I never really flipped through it…it was just off limits.

There are some ideas and concepts that you are told when you are young and they just kind of "stick" until something happens. I feel comfortable enough to admit to you that until somewhat recently, I thought marshmallows came from the spongy tops of those stalk things that stick out from swamps. Like, okay–once I realized that they did not come from that at all, of course I "got" it…but never really thought about it since I was a little kid, so that's what was in that particular sector of my memory.

This is just a long way of saying that my relationship with the X-Men has always felt like my looking across the school yard, watching the cool kids hang out. They were cool, I was not , and that was that. Oh, I knew about the X-Men:

Cyclops – Serious guy. Needs to wear glasses. Uptight, dates that girl who is more powerful than him and is really out of his league, when you got right down to it.  Kind of boring, probably not the kind of guy you'd have a lot to talk about with if he was sitting next to you on the bus

Wolverine – Guy with claws. Kills people. Really likes Cyclops' girlfriend.

Phoenix – She's that dead one that everyone liked.

Colossus – He's made of metal.  He's not Cyclops, and it's really weird you keep confusing the two.

Storm – Controls the weather, looked good with the mohawk.

Professor X – wheelchair. Bald, like the chick in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The only time I really tried the X-Men, it was when the X-Men were going to an alien planet and it was all really hectic and it ended with Wolverine basically on his own, turning into one of the aliens. Not a good jumping on point and since a single comic book was kind of a serious purchase at the time, did not result in my buying another issue.

So, I've always been an outsider when it comes to the X-Men. I've done some due diligence, of course, reading The Dark Phoenix Saga a few years ago when I just got tired of hearing about it so often. And while I have been reading the ongoing X-Men comics these days, I will tell you, honestly, that not unlike The Avengers, I just think there are far too many books. I like the adjectiveless-classic-logo version of X-Men but the only X-Book that I have really taken to so far is Uncanny X-Force, which reminds me, in a way, of Stargate Universe, in that it's a nice contained group of characters within a much larger context that I really know nothing about (I never saw any of the other Stargate properties, including the original film).  I was a big fan of Astonishing X-Men, dutifully collecting the issues when they came out, and felt some degree of satisfaction, when it finally ended, that I had read the entire series. And while it was a good series and there were aspects of it I know I enjoyed, I am not sure I would consider it one of my favorite books. Maybe if I read the hardcover trade again–I still haven't read it, of couse–I might feel differently, but I think it's notable, honestly, that I've never made the time.

Which is fine, you know? Because, in a way, I realize that I will never have that close of a connection with the this ragged team of mutants. To take the school analogy a little further, as I get older and read more books, I feel like the team are people who went to the same college or high school as I did–they just graduated a few years earlier. We know each other, we're cordial…we're just not all that close.

I am quite honestly surprised whenever I find that people I know are legitimately excited about the upcoming film. I honestly was not really considering going to see it.  To me…I would just rather watch another X-Men film that took place in the "present"–I don't care about the origin story at all, which is interesting because this is one of the few comic book movies that have come out in recent memory for which I feel no "responsibility" to see…which is great. It's great because there are so many fun movies coming out that one does not need to feel an obligation to see every single one, lest "they" stop making those kinds of movies.

I am really curious to see how audiences embrace the re-telling of how the X-Men came to be. I just wonder…will people care? Are there so many fans of the movies that they just can't wait to see how it all began?  Is this movie designed for fans of the books or fans of the movies? I just don't know how strong the X-Men "brand" is with this current generation of moviegoers. Maybe–maybe this film is meant for the old school fans, the ones who are used the purple and yellow costumes, who have always wanted to see the team being made.  These are the people with the X-Men branded childhoods, with the sheets and lunchboxes—of which there are quite a few, to be sure.  I am just curious…who is this movie for?

Look–I get it, I know that the X-Men were for many people what Spider-Man was for me: a character that I could relate to.  The X-Men were persecuted for being different, who were look down upon and feared because of who they were, that they lived with his persecution even though they possessed abilities that made them more powerful than normal people, and used those powers to save those same people that scorned them so. It's a powerful, beautiful quandary, and these themes, these fears…well, they still resonate, right? Even though you could argue that society is more open to those who are "different" than before, these fears and frustrations are still a part of life.

I just wonder now–and I am curious to hear from readers in their 20s and younger–if the themes and struggles that the X-Men face (the perils of being different) ring as loudly these days. To grossly over simplify, when you have shows like Glee that tell a similar kind of story on television, does being "different" necessarily "need" to be a mutation? No, of course not. We are living in a time when we have an absolute, unqualified hit television show that features, as one of many stories, the struggles of a gay student in high school. I just have to ask–it always seemed to me that one of the reasons that the X-Men stories were so popular, so cathartic, was it allowed writers to tell stories about being different (whatever that might mean) in comic book trappings. But now, it seems that you can just tell the story that needs to be told, without all the powers and the costumes. The flipside, of course, that it's just a lot more fun with powers and costumes, but still.

Taking a step back, I realize that when I think about the X-Men now, the thing that I enjoy most of about the stories is how they work together as a team. I love how Cyclops will figure out who needs to do what and the crew just works together to solve the problem Scott wants them to figure out. I don't care too much about the relationships as much (they'll just change anyway), I just enjoy the interactions between teammates and the coordination between efforts. Perhaps that's why I enjoy Uncanny X-Force–it's a straight-ahead team book, focused on fixing problems. Maybe that's where I am in my life right now, where I am so busy trying to solve problems and make things happens that I can appreciate someone else's struggle to do the same.

Hmm. I enjoy the book because it's about a group of people struggling to do something, to be something, that I can identify with. Sounds kind of familiar.

And maybe that's the genius of the X-Men. That the characters have been around so long, that there is such a long history, both in terms of character's personal histories combined with the book's overall legacy and epic storylines, that no matter what point in your life you encounter the X-Men, you find something you can relate to.  Maybe the opening of X-Men:First Class will be the touchstone, the beginning, of another generation's lifelong relationship with the X-Men.


We'll just have to see.


Mike Romo is an actor in LA who still hasn't figured out what his mutant ability should be. Email/twitter/facebook.


  1. I’m 19 and I’m one of the people with an x-men branded childhood, and although the x-men might not be such an analogy for civil rights and homosexuality any more, the thing that keeps me coming back is the superhero soap opera.

  2. Best. Cyclops. Description. Ever.

  3. I’ve always found the X-men universe to be the most intimidating and difficult to figure out. So many books, so may lineups and unfamiliar (to me) characters,  so many storylines. Its like you have to be super hardcore to follow (even though i’m sure that isn’t fully true). My main X-men history comes from the animated series and some of the comics from taht time i read as a kid. 

    I also really like Uncanny X force…its self contained and awesome. I’m really excited for the movie. I like that its set during the cold war 1960s and has villains and heroes on the same side. 

  4. That issue of Wolverine on Broodworld was the first one I ever picked up too. It had the exact opposite effect.

  5. grew up loving the cartoon, tried looking where to get started a few years ago and was intimidated by all the various spin-offs

    now I’m starting my marvel binge from Avengers Disassembled and picked up the Deadly Genesis after reading House of M and Decimation.  This led to starting my X-men reading at Brubaker’s run (I just finished the space saga and am glad that is over) and hope that some of the events that I’m starting to get into pay off.

    I also started into the Wolverine Origins run (not that impressed thus far) – all I have to say is thank god for the MDCU, otherwise I’d be paying through the nose for all of these issues I’m catching up on. 

  6. I think the X-Men were my main reason I even got into comics. I mean, my brother introduced me to a lot of other stuff and I discovered a lot more later, but all I’d really wanted at the start was to finally just read about some mutants, y’know? This is probably because I grew up on the cartoons and all the movies, so they were the superheroes I was most familiar with. When I was younger, I helped my dad sort his comics and asked if I could read some and I really really wanted some X-Men, but obviously, you can’t just jump right in anywhere so he gave me She-Hulk comics, I don’t really know why but I think I still sort of resent him for doing that.

    When I actually started reading X-Comics, I was relatively in-the-know, because I’d just rea about so many background story-lines due to my wikipedia-junkie phase. It worked out pretty well.

  7. Seems like you answered a lot of your own questions in the article itself. But I can say that as a long time X-Men fan, (starting with Pryde of the X-Men and X-Men #1) that it is their history as a team that keeps me coming back. One of my favorite stories in Uncanny X-Men of the past few years was Beast’s struggle with Angel and Cyclops. These three have been friends for longer than they can remember (what with quantum-comic-book-time-mechanics) and Hank can’t stand the distrust and secrecy that has begun to wedge them apart.
    Their mutation gives them a bond that is in their blood. They are a family in a way that few other comic book teams are. It’s almost akin to comic book fandom. The secret handshake and the outsider nature of this hobby. But just as comic books have become a mainstay of popculture, so has the X-Men’s place in the Marvel Universe. Now the comic is a celebration of their acceptance and rejoicing that they are free to be themselves in a world that idolizes and respects them. Granted it cuts down on the drama, but that gives us a chance for more interplanetary adventures. Here’s to a Brood Saga movie!

  8. I got into comics with the X-Men around the AoA due to the cartoon series. Although I’ve only recently started to read the X-books again after a break for a few years (I blame Aaron, Gillen and Remender for that), I think as many posters above me have mentioned they have a bond that can be matched by few other teams.

    And let’s be honest, they’re some great stories. I don’t think that having Glee on the TV is going to make X-Men books and less valid, like you said outsider stories are much more fun with Superheros. 

  9. I’m 27 years old and although i love most super hero based comics, there is a special spot in my heart for the mutants. Uncanny is really where it’s at for the Xmen in mho but there have been great titles like the new uncanny xforce, the new mutants from a few years back, Claremonts original run on XMEN, xcalibur from the 70’s and 80’s to name a few. I think why i’ve liked them so much over the years is that they seem to me to be the comic that is the most realistic. I have trouble thinking that a man dressed as a bat can escape 70+ years of escapades and not take one fatal knife in the gut. Or that an Alien would come from another planet and be imbued with super human strength because our sun is a different colour. Gamma rays anyone? Radioactive spiders? All seems too much of a strech. But to me the idea of genetic mutation and rapid evolution seemed more plausable as a reason to have powers. So for me as a kid it was easier to get into it because of that.  I also liked they way writers over the years have focused on the relationships within the team. My favorite part of an xman tale is when they come home from saving the earth and they relax for a day or so before the next crisis begins. This is where you see the characters develop and to me has always been a strong point to the books. This week i’ve started reading messiah complex again. I reccommend reading that collection as it greatly influnced the last few years of Uncanny and is a good base of knowledge for the X stories now.       

  10. This is a great article, but I think you drastically underestimate how much the X-Men-as-civil rights-analogy still resonates. Sure, we’ve got a black president. Sure, there are (a few, generally stereotypical/beautiful) gay people on TV. But we’ve also got homophobic and racist elements of our society who are more energized/dangerous than ever in reaction against the progress that has been made. And try being a Muslim-American and saying no one REALLY feels like an outcast anymore. The X-Men’s central metaphor is as relevant as it ever was. It’s not going to stop working because Glee is dealing with as similar theme in a different genre. If anything, Glee works for the same reason X-Men does: The central metaphor continues to strike a chord with young people.