The movie has gone round the world, and now it’s time for the dust to settle. In a Week of Marvel special, I ask: what next for Marvel’s merry mutants?
The future’s bright – the future’s mutant
In cinematic terms, the future has never been brighter. The X-Men franchise almost collapsed under the weight of X-Men: The Last Stand, and wasn’t really helped by Wolverine: Origins. Still, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class gave the franchise its second wind, and now Bryan Singer has capitalised upon that.
Perhaps inspired by the last two Star Trek films, Fox have used Days of Future Past to wipe out the continuity they’d already developed. Characters who were killed are now alive; frankly, it isn’t even clear if Wolverine will ever get adamantium in the following movies (my money’s on a definite yes, and I can’t see Fox damaging such an iconic concept). With continuity reset, Fox are free to tell any story they wish, unencumbered by the mistakes of the past.
It’s a gutsy strategy, especially since it involves taking Marvel on at their own game. Marvel blazed the trail in developing the Avengers cinematic universe, thematically linking content together with tremendous skill. Fox have decided to do the same, and they’ve tabled X-Men: Apocalypse (due in 2016), Wolverine 3 (due in 2017), and X-Force. Rumours circulate about Gambit and Deadpool movies.
Danger, Will Robinson!
Fox’s approach, though, isn’t guaranteed success. First of all, Marvel have shown an attention to detail – and a care for continuity – that frankly beggars belief. Sure, there are continuity errors (especially back in the beginning, with The Incredible Hulk); but none are on the scale of the gaps in Fox’s, such as the question of how Wolverine got adamantium claws again inbetween The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past. So whether Fox will have enough attention to detail to keep this franchise steady is questionable, especially when you realise Marvel’s playing the long game – their plans stretch to the late 2020s!
What’s more, Marvel have – so far – done a terrific job in establishing a different character for every single aspect of the franchise. Think about it: the Iron Man movies are technocentric, the first Captain America is period drama and the second a political action-adventure, the Thor movies are fantasy… Marvel are deliberately playing with the wide range of concepts and characters that they have at hand. But Fox, to date, have only tried two things; plots heavy with a sense of sci-fi doom and the occasional camp exception (X-Men: First Class). Given X-Men: Apocalypse has already been described as the biggest-scale doomsday plot of the lot, I can’t help but wonder whether or not Fox have passed the diversity test.
In the short term, then, Fox have a restabilised franchise. Unfortunately, their own approach to the franchise seems, to me, to weaken their overall strategy. I can’t see the X-Men franchise failing anytime soon, but I can see an end in sight.
No More Mutants?
Speaking about Marvel, their reaction to all this has been very interesting. Think about it: Avengers Alliance is running a Spider-Man-themed Special Ops. Seriously, why not a Days of Future Past one? Yeah, I know this is a Fox movie, but the original plotline is lifted from the comics. By sticking a bit closer to the comics plotline, Avengers Alliance could have milked this for all its worth. And then you’ve got the fact Marvel are working on a Days of Future Past mobile game, and yet haven’t chosen to coincide the launch with the movie. It’s as though they’re trying to pretend the X-Men movies don’t exist, an amusing turn of events when you remember how the X-Men went all black-leather after the first X-Men movie.
BleedingCool are suspicious. They first of all point to the cover of the Marvel 75th anniversary special, which – tellingly – doesn’t feature either the X-Men or the Fantastic Four.
They’ve followed this up with an apparent insider telling them that the Fantastic Four are being put on hold, and giving this comment:
“The belief inside the higher echelons of Marvel is that promoting these properties in comics only benefits Fox’s movies at the expense of those from Marvel Studios. Which is why the Inhumans are being pushed as mutant replacements in the Marvel Universe. And Marvel have been pushing Avengers, Guardians Of The Galaxy and other comics over the X-Men. And while X-Men comics remain solid sellers, they are no longer the focus of internal promotion unless, as with the upcoming AXIS event, the Avengers get equal billing.”
Is this true? I mean, we’ll soon find out whether or not the Fantastic Four comics are going to come to an end – but are Marvel really backing away from the X-Men comics?
I have to be honest – I think not.
Let’s start by establishing a simple fact: the X-Men comics are prolific. Seriously, how many X-related comics are released every month? All-New X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, Wolverine & the X-Men, Wolverine, Savage Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Magneto, All-New X-Factor, X-Force, and we know there’s even a Storm series on the way. (That list is just off the top of my head, sorry if I’ve missed your favourite!) If Marvel were really trying to step away from the X-Men, would they really be releasing so many titles? I mean, nobody forced them to start a new X-Factor or X-Force series; nobody forced them to get Jason Latour to replace Jason Aaron on Wolverine & the X-Men. And certainly nobody forced them to kick off multiple brand-new series as part of their Marvel NOW!
What’s more, the talent Marvel have on hand in the X-books is remarkable. One writer stands above all the rest; Brian Bendis. Love him or loathe him (and I know some fans loathe him), the guy successfully brought the Avengers back from near-death and has acted as head of many major crossover events. What do Marvel have him writing right now? Oh, yeah – amongst other things, All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. If this is what it looks like when Marvel are trying to downplay something, I’d really hate to see their hyperbole!
And Marvel have big X-events planned this year, specifically Death of Wolverine, an arc they expect to get some serious media coverage. One preview image for Axis suggests they’re setting up Storm to take Wolverine’s central place in the Marvel Universe, making sense of the forthcoming Storm series. It’s a sensible move; if they can successfully embed Storm as a character to the degree they have Wolverine, then Fox have a crisis as the comic fans begin to move on from Fox’s cash-cow to a character many fans believe was miscast in the movies.
What Marvel are doing, though, is a far cleverer thing. They’re ensuring that the X-Men are more solidly rooted in the Marvel Universe than ever before, and doing their level best to draw X-fans into other parts of the wider Marvel Universe.
The AvX event reignited the mutant race, and acted as the trigger for Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers. Say what you will about that comic, it’s bold! And the forthcoming Axis event is again being billed as an X-Men / Avengers epic. When Marvel teased their most exciting heroes of this year on posters for the NYC event, they hardly skimped on the mutants – but the cast seemed carefully chosen, with at least two mutant representatives of Uncanny Avengers.
Meanwhile, the time-lost All-New X-Men have just returned from a cosmic jaunt with the Guardians of the Galaxy; the Cyclops series is rooted in space, with maximum opportunity for crossovers with Marvel Cosmic; Kitty Pryde is a secondary character (love-interest) for Star-Lord in his forthcoming title; and there are teasers that Ultimate Spider-Man is going to join the cast of All-New X-Men.
It’s smart tactics. Deny Fox a marketing tool that they wouldn’t be paying for; and meanwhile ensure anybody who picks up an X-Men comic gets introduced to the broader Marvel Universe.
I think BleedingCool have it wrong. I don’t think the X-Men comics franchise are going to be underplayed; rather, I think the X-Men are going to be cleverly played.