Retro Marvel TV
Generation X Is X-Men Worst Class

Bob Chipman | 6 Aug 2014 12:00
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Fox's first attempt at bringing the X-Men to live action was less than a resounding success.

No matter how often it's repeated, it never really seems to "stick" in either the public or even devout comic-reading fandom: X-Men, in its original "school for gifted youngsters"/60s Civil Rights metaphor incarnation, was one of the rare failures of Marvel Comics' otherwise fruitful early years. It wasn't until the series was rebooted in the 70s, and even that version -- originally launched as a "rainbow coalition" of international mutant heroes -- took a lot of refining to become the pop-culture juggern-er... "great big thing" that eventually conquered the Marvel Universe, TV animation, and movie screens.

Not that the original was necessarily a "bad" comic, of course. Just one that had difficulty finding a coherent tone or locking down an audience. If you ask me, the problem was that the tone and audience it was otherwise tailor-made to hit was almost impossible to render in comics of the 60s and not reading comics of the 60s, respectively. While Marvel had successfully mined "superhero team as nuclear family" with the Fantastic Four and "superhero as sad-sack teenaged nerd" with Spider-Man, The X-Men's basic dynamic (teenagers with special powers that manifest at adolescence living in a boarding-school environment) needed things that studiously-clean comics of the era wasn't prepared to provide: Puberty. Hormones. Lust.

Sex, in other words.

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Seriously. Go read the 70s/80s Chris Claremont X-Men that formed the backbone of what became the most obscenely bloated "bubble franchise" of the Marvel Universe. Sure, he did a lot of things right in terms of characters, worldbuilding, mythology and "big idea" action; but the magic-trick at the center of Claremont's now-legendary run is an understanding that a story about misfit teenagers "coming of age" needed more emphasis (or as much as you could get in an all-ages comic) on, well... the "coming" part, to put it bluntly. In their prime years, these "All-New" X-Men traveled through time and into outer-space, but their relationship dynamics were decidedly down to Earth: Love triangles, sexual frustration, body-image issues, romantic angst, obsessions, stalking and even outright abuse were all accounted for; along with Claremont's seeming inability at writing a relationship (friendly or antagonistic) between two or more women without barely-veiled lesbian subtext rivaled only by every anime ever.

(And lest you think I'm exaggerating just how kinky this series got: In the original comics the Dark Phoenix saga involved the Hellfire Club brainwashing Jean by allowing her to see the world in terms of her own darkest fantasies. One such fantasy, apparently? Being an a plantation mistress in the antebellum American South and taking the lash to her slave, Storm. Gee, how'd THAT get left out of the movies?)

Trouble with that? Teenagers grow up. Even in fiction, audiences can only tolerate Cyclops and Wolverine coming to blows over Jean Grey so many times before everyone is expected to mature and move on. "Age" is sort of a nebulous concept in Marvel Time, but the core X-Men gradually got more "adult" in attitude and overall design. That, plus the plots getting into bigger and bigger global-conflict territory, soon left the books far removed from the "teens in school" foundation and Marvel without a set of characters aimed squarely at the teen demographic.

The solution? Make new teams of young Mutants, send them to school and make comics about them. First came the New Mutants, then came their "EXTREME!!!" 90s alternates, Generation X, so named because there was no way in HELL Marvel was going to leave that sweet "Whoa! The nickname for this entire generation of prospective readers sounds like something from our X-Men books!" money on the table.

And in 1996 -- near the high-point of the X-Men franchise's initial popularity (and the beginning of its low-point in actual quality) with multiple runs of comics selling like hotcakes, rock bands writing songs about Wolverine and an animated series racking up ratings on Saturday mornings -- a made-for-Fox-TV adaptation of Generation X meant as a pilot for an ongoing series became the first live-action X-Men movie, ever.

It is a terrible, terrible thing to behold.

The setup of the Generation X comic was pretty basic: A reformed Emma Frost and an older/wiser Banshee running an expansion of the Xavier School in Western Massachusetts, overseeing a group of students with a rowdier, more cynical disposition than previous X-teams. The movie ports this setup over fairly faithfully, with the main change being that action takes place at the actual Xavier School (amusingly, they used Hatley Castle, which also "plays" the Xavier School in the movies) some time after Chuck n' The Gang have... well, it's actually never specified why the X-Men aren't around: they just aren't. One imagines the intent might have been to leave the door open to "event" cameos by versions of the more well-known characters had the movie done its job and launched a series.

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