After several months of hype and prep, the new comic series, Avengers vs X-men (AvX), has arrived! This week I thought we’d throw back to the X-men and next week we’ll look at the Avengers. Sounds like fun, right? Well let’s dive right on in!
The X-men are a group of super heroes in the Marvel Comics universe created by writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby. Stan Lee is also co-creator of such famed super heroes as Spider-man, The Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and The Avengers. Jack Kirby has worked on several of these projects as well, and also on Captain America, DC’s Fourth World, and Manhunter. The X-Men #1 was first published in September 1963. (Fun Fact: Stan Lee initially pitched the comic as The Mutants but that would have gone over like a led zeppelin because they thought the readers wouldn’t know what a mutant was.)
So what makes these super heroes so super? Well they apparently have a particular genetic difference in their DNA that other humans don’t have. It’s called the “X gene”, hence the name, and is believed by some in the story to be the next stage of human evolution. This is because it gives a person with the X gene super human powers such as telekinesis, shape shifting, power to manipulate metal, and power over the elements like fire or water. For others, however, it is not seen as the next stage of evolution or even a gift. They call it a mutation and treat it as something to be feared, which considering the fact that some mutants can walk through walls, their fear is not without cause. So a very powerful and clever man named Professor Charles Xavier (Professor X) established a school as a safe haven and training facility for “mutants” to come and learn how to use their powers for the good of their fellow man. Of course the next logical step would be to become super heroes, right? I mean, I would!
Some of the key characters in the series are the afore mentioned Professor X (who is actually a paraplegic and has the power of telepathy), Magneto (the bad guy with the power to manipulate metal), Wolverine (who has animal-style senses, the power to heal, and has three rather nasty blades in each hand that he can extend and retract), Cyclops (who can shoot lasers out of his eyes), Storm (power over the weather and other such elements), Jean Grey/Phoenix (long story! Very powerful telekinetic mutant. Seriously awesome story!), Rogue (absorbs the memories and physical strength of those she touches and, in the case of mutants, their powers as well), Mystique (shape shifting powers and has blue skin and yellow eyes in her natural state), and Hope (either the messianic or antichrist-like future. Apparently in the future, the Avengers cause Hope’s death. This is the central conflict in AvX.). That’s just a handful. Seriously, if I tried to name them all we’d be here for days! Trust me it’s worth picking up the comic to discover the others.
There have been several animated TV shows and also five movies for the X-men saga. In 2000 the first movie simply titled X-men hit theatres. I was still just reading Spidy at the time so I didn’t have any back story going in, nor did I notice how much they changed for the film. Short story, I thought it was awesome! It stared Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, James Marsden as Cyclops, Halle Berry as Storm, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Anna Paquin as Rogue, and Rebecca Romijn as Mystic. The sequel, X2, came out 3 years later. I actually went to that one in costume. My friend Christine and I got white hair spray and put streaks in out hair Rogue style. (Fun Lèna Fact: first movie I ever went to in costume was Pocahontas. Most resent was Harry Potter 7 part II. Yeah, it’s a thing.) In 2006 X-men: Last Stand came to theatres and to be honest, my friends and I went to see the Juggernaut. Disney, who owns Marvel now, has taught us many things but the only thing that was true is that sequels are usually bad. So we went in with moderately neutral feelings at best. When the Juggernaut said his line we were happy. The movie itself wasn’t bad, and when you’ve got Captain Picard and Gandalf you’re odds for quality are very good no matter what. Was it worth the price of admission? I think my boyfriend at the time paid so you’d have to ask him.
When it was announced that an origin movie for Wolverine was in the works I was less than moved by the news. It is actually the only one of the X-men movies I have not seen. It had a great cast though, Hugh Jackson of course playing the title role and Live Schreiber playing Sabretooth. Having worked together before, they were comfortable on set together and pushed each other very positively and strongly in their fight scenes. Schreiber has a strong fight training background and Jackman has a dance background so their stunts and fights were a great learning and sharing experience for both of them. So, if just for the chance to watch these to professionals work together, this movie is now next on my list.
Last summer the most recent X-men movie came to theatres and my attitude was much different. This movie went back to Professor X and Magneto and the founding of the school for mutants. The cast list was stacked! James McAvoy as young Prof X, Michael Fassbender as young Magneto, and even Kevin Bacon as the original baddy Sebastian Shaw. At the time of this movie’s release I had just started an apprenticeship with The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ. It was with my fellow apprentices that I experienced this installment in the X-men saga, and, hunny, what a fantastic experience it was. McAvoy and Fassbender played so well off each other, the writing was great, I cared about all the characters, I even cried.
Maybe I was still just young enough when the first movies came out not to appreciate fully how much these characters meant to me, maybe it was just the right combination of actors and director and crew, or perhaps they simply mean more to me now. I can’t say for sure. Whether you read the comics or were only exposed to the movies, the X-men stories have always been more than just group of super heroes. It uses that theme as a medium through which we could explore the trappings and dangers of racism, bullying, and aversion to diversity and change. As someone who struggled with bullies as a kid and who has always been pretty strange, I identified with the journey each of these characters go on to discover how their differences make them special and strong, and then, what to do with them.
For it is that question that defines the hero and the villain: What will you do with your powers? Professor X and his students choose to use their abilities to save and protect mankind. Magneto and his crew, fed up with the hate, turn instead to world domination. Both groups are trying to build a world wherein mutants are not at risk. Prof X came from a wealthy family. He was privileged and had the responsibility to do good with what he had. He was also intelligent, not to mention a mind reader. He could feel the fear and the pain of not only the mutants but also of the other people around them who didn’t understand. It gave him compassion. Magneto’s story is as different as it is possible to be. He wasn’t just singled out for his differences, he was tortured and manipulated by some of the most terrifying people in history, the Nazis. He is a survivor with a bitter heart with the power to be mankind’s most dangerous and terrifying enemy.
And now Marvel has this powerhouse of characters up against another dream team of super heroes, the Avengers. Next week we shall explore further…
Logo photo by Justine Impressions http://www.justineimpressions.com/