Friday, February 05, 2010

X-Men: The Characters and their Universe by Michael Mallory

With the release of the X-Men movies and X-Men: Origins- Wolverine, the X-men seem to have become wildly popular. But that's a conception that's just wrong. The X-Men have always been popular among readers of comics, and this book sets out to examine why.

Like many Marvel heroes, the X-Men were born out of the imaginations of two men: Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurzberg, better known as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Stan had started out writing strictly text stories between the more usual comic stories- which were required by the Postal Service at that time to qualify comics for a cheaper postal rate, and Kirby was among the most prolific of Marvel artists, taking on a heroic workload to keep the Marvel titles afloat. Even the mutant part of the equation came less out of serendipity or reasoned thought than as a workaround: by making all the characters in the comic mutants, they didn't have to come up with separate origin stories for each- which meant a lot less mental work!

However, that explanation made for much deeper stories as the title continued to run- so many teens feel like outcasts anyway, and public sentiment against mutants ties into many types of prejudice, from racial to sexual, and made the stories deeper than just heroes fighting against villains. This has been used in many stories since the 60's and the first issue of the X-Men.

The book then gives a history of the team, from the first issue to those published early in 2006 (this book was published in 2008) and also has deeper looks at some of the longer-lived and more favored comic characters, from Marvel Girl/Jean Grey/Phoenix to those like Kitty Pryde, Colossus and Professor X. And Wolverine, of course. But the comics aren't the only thing this book covers. It also has in it the animated series, TV movies ("Generation X") and live-action moves produced that take place in this universe.

I found it intriguing that there was an animated series which included the X-Men and came out before "Pryde of the X-Men", which shared several of its good and bad spots, like Wolverine's Australian Accent in "Pryde". This was "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" (who were Iceman and a new character named Firestar). And even the Aussie Accent given to Wolverine has an explanation- their contract with Marvel said that they *couldn't* give him a Canadian Accent, due to copyright issues. But by the time the X-Men animated series came to be produced, those issues had been dealt with, and with the voice actor playing Wolverine actually being Canadian, he went back to his intended Canadian accent- and making "Pryde of the X-men" Wolverine sound incredibly weird!

Each movie is covered in detail, but most amazing of all is "Generation X", based on the characters in that book (minus a few), like Skin, Jubilee (not Asian in this version), Mondo and Monet Sr. Croix, along with two new characters created especially for the movie, a girl known as "Buff" (Incredibly muscular but tries to cover it up) and a mutant with heat, and later, X-ray vision. Banshee and the White Queen make appearances as the mentors of these young mutants (with Finola Hughes playing the part of Emma Frost) and Matt Frewer in the role of the ludicrously over the top villain scientist, Tresh.

With all the ground this book covers, from origins to the future of the X-men, it's quite appropriate that this book is coffee-table sized, and trying to pick it up could be painful if you aren't prepared for just how heavy it is, but it's also appropriate for covering a superhero team that has had so many members and has made so much of Marvel Comics history- not only have they made much of it, they are also very important to just that history, which this book makes abundantly clear.

But more importantly than just the stories, this book also gives the story behind the story- such as why the "House of M" story reduced the immense number of mutants in the world and then the "Son of M" storyline brought some back. Reading the history and the history of the history of this series is fascinating in its own right, and this book, packed as it is with plenty of art from the comics, stills from the movies, cels from the animation and character art from the artists who have worked on the books or who just love the books, makes this an intensely interesting read.

If you discovered your love of the X-Men through the movies, through the comics or in any other way, this is a book you are definitely going to want to read. But it's big and expensive, so unless you can afford to shell out serious money or get it as a present, you might want to look for it at the library. But be warned- many typos seem to have crept into the editing process- if this sort of thing annoys you, you might want to give this one a pass. Recommended.

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