Following the events of House of X and Powers of X, Marvel’s mutants have entered an all-new, all-different era. It is the Dawn of X. To celebrate, AiPT! Brings you X-MEN WEEK–seven days of original interviews with past and present X-Creators. Pax Krakoa!
The Fantastic Four are Marvel’s first family and the Avengers are Earth’s mightiest heroes. But the X-Men? The X-Men are hated and feared by a world they’ve sworn to protect. Mutants have received a pretty raw deal, and yet, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Storm and every other Marvel creation with an X-Gene persevere.
That’s one of many reasons why it’s so easy for people to identify more with, let’s say Nightcrawler, than Mister Fantastic (unless, of course, you too once stole a space shuttle and recklessly flew it through some cosmic rays). The House of Ideas is known for its down-to-Earth, relatable characters, but the X-Men are something extra special. Through them, writers and artists from all walks of life have been able to contribute to the X-Men mythos–in many cases because the X-Men meant so much to them in their own lives.
Upcoming New Mutants writer Ed Brisson touched on this when I spoke to him at New York Comic Con 2019. In the 1980s, the blue-collar town Brisson grew up in was a rough place, where broken people were just trying to survive. It’s what made a young Brisson gravitate toward the X-Men (even if he didn’t quite realize why at the time), as their messy lives mirrored the drama Brisson witnessed all around him.
“I think I was able to relate more to that than the Avengers when I was growing up because the Avengers weren’t bright and happy all the time in their book, but it felt that way,” Brisson said. “They were a lot more hopeful, whereas the X-Men never really felt overly hopeful.”
And, as I’ve quickly learned over the 30-plus weeks I’ve fielded X-Fan questions for AiPT!’s X-Men Monday column, Marvel’s mutants have additional powers beyond such abilities as telekinesis and increased agility. The X-Men can break through the panels of comic book pages and affect people in the real world.
Maybe you’ve heard that X-Fans are extra passionate. There’s a good reason for that. In many cases, the X-Men have saved actual lives.
That’s not hyperbole, as you’ll soon discover–It’s simply uncanny.
X-Men Week at AiPT! Has featured interviews with Jonathan Hickman and several of his fellow Dawn of X creators, but on this, the celebration’s final day, I felt it was time to shine a light on the devoted X-Fans–without whom, the X-Men wouldn’t be the beloved franchise it is today.
What draws X-Fans to these characters? Why do they keep reading each and every month?
I know why I do it–but the rest of X-Fandom–I didn’t have that information readily available. So, on my Twitter page, I asked, “Has there been a time when the X-Men saved you”?
Question for #XMen fans: Has there ever been a time when the X-Men “saved you”? Pretty open-ended question, but if you read that and an answer immediately popped into your head – that you’d be willing to share – reply and we’ll chat. Thanks!
— Chris Hassan (@ChrisAHassan) October 12, 2019
A simple question, open to interpretation. The answers I received (both in response to the post and via direct messages) was extraordinary. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room to recap all the moving stories I had the privilege of hearing. What I can do, is share with you a sense of how the expansive X-Men franchise, with its diverse cast and the many themes it touches on, not only has something for everyone, but is a force for good in the world.
The X-Men: Your friends, your family
From Cyclops, the first X-Man, to Jubilee, one of the most iconic “young” X-Men, the franchise has quite a few famous orphans who find a new family within the walls of Professor Charles Xavier’s school. The “found family” concept was there at the very beginning, in 1963’s X-Men #1, so it’s not surprising to learn that so many X-Fans were able to overcome hardship in their own lives by turning to the X-Men for support.
At the age of 15, comic writer Joe Glass learned what a powerful ally the X-Men could be.
“I came out for the first time to my then-group of friends at school,” Glass said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t take long, but they all eventually froze me out.”
Soon after, Glass got into the routine of going to school, then coming straight home to sit by his record player reading the various series in Marvel’s X-Men line. In these pages, Glass saw numerous examples of characters being persecuted–simply for being different–and, rather than letting it defeat them, instead came together to fight for a future for themselves.
“Lonely as I was, the X-Books I read then really helped me through a dark time,” Glass added. “I stuck around. I found new friends. I found my own purpose. I found happiness again. But that world being there for me when I needed it is why it will forever mean so much to me. X-Men saved my life. Fictional or not, they still did that.”
Then, there are the stories of X-Fans who found a much-needed support system in the X-Men. Jay Reid, for instance, had a home life that was collapsing during his pre-teen years due to his late mother’s drinking. As an only-child, X-Men comics were his refuge, and they taught him resilience. Meanwhile, Twitter user Uncanny Uncle Slacks’ father abandoned him when he was 8 years old, upending his concept of family.
“Just after that, I discovered the X-Men, which showed me that family can also be people you find, no matter how lost or unwanted you may feel,” Slacks said.
For many, parents, teachers and other authority figures provide valuable life lessons and a roadmap for life. But there’s no denying role models exist in the pages of X-Men comics, as Jugal Mishra made clear to me.
“Reading X-Men will teach you many things–how to treat your family, friends and partner the right way,” Mishra said.
And even short-lived X-Men offshoots like Exiles have had an impact on X-Fans’ lives. This is true of Tyler Martin, who moved around a lot growing up.
“One of the things I clinged to was finding my new local comic book shop everywhere I went and the Exiles,” Martin said. “They went through the same stuff every day. Losing friends and family ‘just ’cause that’s the job.’ It got me through a lot. Mimic is still an all-time fave.”
The X-Men: Persevering through pain
No matter how uplifting the baseball games and other familial aspects of the X-Men can be, mutants are constantly pushing through pain. After all, these are characters who must keep a pair of ruby quartz sunglasses or gloves on at all times to ensure they don’t harm the ones they love, all while machines built specifically to exterminate them roam the skies.
Pain is just a part of being an X-Man.
Rob, a 46-year-old disabled veteran understands pain. His condition, genetic polyneuropathy, forces him to walk with a cane and attend physical therapy once a week so his muscles don’t cramp up. Rob can only follow the X-Men in floppies and digital formats, as the weight of trade paperbacks aggravates the nerves in his hands. But their adventures help, and so does the wider X-Men Twitter community he recently joined, following the more hostile Facebook groups he found himself in.
“I went on Twitter and was pleasantly surprised how much people actually listened to each other and politely stated any counter disappointments,” Rob explained. “I also like the diversity of the other readers. We all have different points of views on things but that takes a backseat to our love of X-Men. And in today’s day and age, that is truly something to be celebrated.”
Ewan Velazquez is forever grateful to the X-Men, as the comics, movies and television shows have all helped him feel a bit less alone in this world. Ewan struggles with anxiety–but can always call to mind a character, quote or X-Moment that helps.
“When I feel upset and angry and feel like I’m about to lose it, I think of Jean Grey and her struggle with her power,” Velazquez said. “When I feel anxious and burdened with responsibility and being in charge of things, I think about Cyclops. When my mental issues start plaguing me, I think about Legion.”
The X-Men: Personal evolution
Change. It’s a theme at the core of the X-Men. While Jean Grey became the Phoenix and then, tragically, the Dark Phoenix, many X-Fans take their own journey to a happier place, and a point where they can embrace their true selves. Oh, and no D’Bari have to perish.
Professor and poet Stephanie Burt’s personal journey took 36 years and began when she purchased Uncanny X-Men #129 on a newsstand.
“There’s no way I could have finished coming out as binary trans and transitioning (and having the better life I got by doing that) if I were not able to have conversations about canon, some of them very long ones, and to read (and eventually write) comics-crit and fanfic, in which I figured out how and why I was Kitty Pryde,” said Stephanie, who shared these Kitty panels with me that mirror her own journey.
Shaun Kronenfeld never felt comfortable in their own body, but the X-Men served as a reminder that being different isn’t bad. In fact, it can be empowering. This is especially true of the current X-Men era we find ourselves in.
“The last couple of months, I have started to pursue transitioning and it’s been a ride,” Kronenfeld said. “Everything that’s going on in House of X and Powers of X has felt like this delicious parallel to that. They’re literally rebuilding their bodies! It’s been strangely comforting.”
HOX and POX have also had a tremendous impact on Antony Lowbridge-Ellis, who I first heard about at the Dawn of X panel at NYCC 2019, where X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White mentioned a fan had already gotten a tattoo in Krakoan. That was Lowbridge-Ellis, a lifelong X-Men fan who co-hosts the podcast X-Nation, and is a strong believer in wearing one’s fandom on their sleeve (or in the case of his Gambit-themed tattoo on his wrist–under the sleeve).
But his new rainbow Phoenix tattoo has extra special meaning.
“Following the Pulse shooting [in 2016], I’d wanted to have a pro-LGBT tattoo done, but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen but had been in the back of my mind ever since–and then House of X and Powers of X happened, as it approached 10 years since I first came out in 2009,” Lowbridge-Ellis said.
While coming out, the X-Men were there to provide relief–something to focus on and enjoy instead of his daily life. Once he started reading HOX and POX, an incredible story of strength and mutant pride, it was clearly time to revisit the pride tattoo idea. It received an update: Krakoan text that reads “Mutant and Proud,” which highlights his pride in being an openly gay man (teamed with the “fire and life incarnate” of the rainbow Phoenix symbol), in addition to his pride in being a geek who loves the X-Men.
“X-Men is such an important part of my life that I feel like it needed to be a part of me physically, which the tattoo now proudly represents” Lowbridge-Ellis explained. “The X-Men are tired of living in the shadows and have established Krakoa as a physical sign of this, and now, 10 years after coming out, I’m really proud of who I am and who I’ve become, which I think is why I decided to put ink to skin and celebrate 10 years of being out and proud.”
The X-Men: Standing up to intolerance
Bullies at school, family members who don’t understand their “geeky” pursuits–these are problems many comic fans have always had to deal with (hopefully that’s changing as loving superhero cinema has gone mainstream). Honestly, it’s easy to see why so many X-Fans can see their daily struggles against ignorance reflected in mutants’ struggles against close-minded human adversaries.
Lux Briar, for instance, was bullied growing up simply for being gay.
“I saw and related myself to how mutants were treated. How they were chased down, attacked, all for the way they were born,” Lux said.
It can be hard when your immediate surroundings appear to be against you. But the X-Men are always there to provide a much-needed confidence boost to X-Fans like Len Berry.
“The X-Men gave a teenaged me a way to feel loved, belonged,” Berry said. “I was a misfit and they were powerful for being misfits. The Xavier Institute of Higher Learning showed me how to always strive for more.”
Also striving are those like AJ Elicano, who remains determined to fight the good fight, despite conditions that would make others crumble. AJ is an educator in the Philippines, which is ruled–in AJ’s words–by a “pretty horrible strongman president and an administration of his cronies, powered by a massive network of trolls and fake news.” How does an educator teach students the concept of hope in such an environment? With the help of the X-Men, of course, and, more specifically, writer Tom Taylor’s acclaimed X-Men Red run.
“Seeing my favorite X-Man fight the same impossible problems my country was facing (and continues to face today) was nothing short of inspiring,” AJ explained. “Jean Grey, X-Men Red and Tom Taylor are why I can look my students in the eye and tell them we can still make the world better.”
The X-Men: Heroes for hope
As I read through X-Fans’ inspiring stories, I couldn’t help but think of something that’s bothered me my entire, comics-reading life. One of the most frustrating aspects of loving comics and the characters they birthed is that others who, for some bizarre reason believe themselves to be the absolute authority on how to live life, like to look down on those who find joy and meaning in this storytelling medium. These insecure and ill-informed individuals want to write comics off as a hobby for the immature, the preoccupation of overgrown children. (Enough already, Bill Maher!)
They’re wrong, of course, but sometimes this level of ignorance is hard to escape–especially earlier in one’s life. And, unfortunately, it’s had an impact on people who just want to enjoy something that makes them happy (the strangest of desires, I know).
Take Nir Revel, for instance, who moved from Israel to England when he was 9. Facing a new home with no friends and a language barrier, Revel’s mother bought him some X-Men comics to help him learn English and not feel so alone. It worked–until he dropped the hobby due to extensive bullying and the feeling his pastime was “too childish.”
Don’t worry, he’s since reversed course on that whole no-longer-reading-X-Men nonsense, but it makes you furious, doesn’t it?
While this article is very much designed to celebrate X-Fandom and highlight the incredible, real-world power the X-Men possess, I sincerely hope it serves a second purpose. I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through what Revel had to suffer through. Look, I’m not naive–ignorance dwells inside of everyone, whether they realize it or not. But… loving the X-Men isn’t wrong.
That goes for the child who has to put up with their father wishing they cared less about the continuing adventures of Wolverine and more about after-school sports.
That goes for the high schooler who gets mocked for catching up on comics in between classes.
That goes for the adult on a date, unsure whether it’s too soon to bring up their vast comic book collection, fearing swift rejection.
For all these and other occasions where doubt over a love for the X-Men begins to creep in–remember this article. And, if need be, share this article with whoever’s causing you problems.
And then, let them tell all the X-Fans who told me they wouldn’t be alive today if not for these heroes that the X-Men are just silly kids stuff. If their response is anything but compassion, well then… that’s a pretty good sign you’re not actually dealing with a human being, but a sentient piece of garbage instead. Thank U, Next.
I really don’t think Stan Lee and Jack Kirby knew how powerful the X-Men would be when they unleashed them upon the world way back in 1963. Marvel certainly didn’t know when they stopped producing new stories a few years later. But countless creators since have understood the responsibility that comes with chronicling the X-Men’s adventures. And in every generation, new X-Fans are born and will go on to persevere through hardships to come thanks to Professor Charles Xavier’s dream.
My hope is that those individuals, as well as current X-Fans who feel out of place in this troubled world, can read this article and see themselves in these stories of triumph, just as the people I spoke to for this piece saw their lives reflected in the pages of their favorite X-Men comics. The X-Men have the power to defeat Orchis. And you–thanks to the X-Men–have the power to overcome whatever stands in your way.
You are the future, X-Fans, not them–they no longer matter.
A sincere thank you to all the X-Fans who shared their stories with me–as well as the readers who followed and supported X-Men Week at AiPT! – CH