I got into the X-men the way most kids of the ‘90’s did, through the animated series. I had read some comics before then, I used to read Barbie as a kid and my brother started giving me his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics when he stopped being interested. I watched Spider-man, which while I liked didn’t lead me to start reading the comic. Fantastic Four had the Invisible Woman as the damsel in distress one too many times.
Then I saw the Generation X made for TV movie (which I still have on a video tape somewhere, wonder if it still works…) and got completely hooked into that series. For a few years through Age of Apocalypse and a bit after, I tried my best to wade through the not always explained very well continuity that is X-men. This was in the days before Wikipedia and podcasts, so piece by piece I assembled my comic collection. A comic book shop had cheap back issues of New Mutants and Excalibur. I bought the trade of Days of Future Past and the Dark Phoenix Saga. I still have an almost complete collection of the 1990’s trading card series, which actually helped me to learn story lines and character origins. A couple of middle grade tie in novels sit on my shelf.
But ultimately, the crossovers that required you to get five issues a month to understand what was going on exhausted me (and my pocket money) so I lost track of my favorite mutants.
What always appealed to me was the fact the X-men were outcasts. They were not born heroes, who decided to make a difference one day because things were going great for them. They were people who were shit on by the world, and decided they were still going to fight to save it when they could have easily turned their back. They are people who had bad stuff happen to them, or did bad stuff in their past and must learn to move on from it. The series the Gifted got that in a way I don’t think any of the X-men on screen got except for the animated series.
The years I got into X-men were formative, both as a person and a writer. If I was a decade younger I have no doubt I would have been posting to fanfiction.net. A lot of my first writing was X-men fanfic—although I knew nothing of the term back then. I invented a vampire character that joined the X-men, took the girls from Generation X and transported them to a high fantasy world, and invented a villain more than a little inspired by Emplate. Looking back, the idea of the X-men, defending a world that hates and fears you, inspired so much of my writing to this day. Even though now I write about vampires and telepathic elder races.
The X-men were also diverse in a way that wasn’t common in the ‘90’s. The comics do have their issues, and some of that didn’t get translated to the screen very well, but X-men includes different races, nationalities, and women who aren’t just the love interest or being saved. Which is why when the movies decided to make Jubilee white or all the X-men American I found it a huge disappointment. I am ashamed to admit I didn’t realize Jubilee is Chinese American until I read it in the comics.
I am probably a strange X-fan, because when I first got into X-men I hated Wolverine. Then I learned of some of his earlier story lines with Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, and started to like him. He works when he is the tough as nails on the outside, heart of gold on the inside, and when he is allowed to have weakness and not be Mr. Badass every moment. Now I have started hating Wolverine again, because I feel like he sucks up the oxygen from other X-men characters I adore, and too often nowadays writers only care about the tough as nails but forget the heart of gold part. I was so angry that Logan didn’t speak Japanese in the Wolverine movie. I mean, in real life I guess it would be hard for Hugh Jackman to fake, but if you’re getting paid a few million dollars that is worth having a scene where he reads a newspaper or makes it clear he understands what is being said. The Wolverine I enjoy is the one that is fluent in Lakota and Japanese, and was a mentor to Kitty Pryde and a father figure to Jubilee. Not the one who is for all purposes immortal.
The X-men was a team, that when I was entering my feminist stage, had female superheroes that totally kicked ass. In the animated series, Rogue was the character that I loved. Storm is awesome, but she always seemed a step beyond anything I or any mortal could be. Jubilee was the kid, and while I liked her and empathized with her I didn’t look up to her. Jean Grey in general suffers from too much bad writing. She is often “the girl” or with the Cyclops Wolverine love triangle the “love interest” or “civilizing beauty”. However, there are also comics like the adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix of the Dark Phoenix Saga where Jean Grey shines. But in the cartoon my reaction was “bleh” and I didn’t find examples of her kicking ass for a while.
Then there was Rogue. The Southern Belle who was a living tank, both physically and emotionally. Yet she had issues she needed to work through. Rogue is the character who I looked up and aspired to be, but I also could empathize as being flawed and human. The Rogue miniseries from the ‘90’s was awesome. (Yeah, a couple of plot points you just gotta say “it’s a comic, don’t think about it too hard”.) Rogue was not a damsel in distress. She ultimately saves Gambit and has to confront her past. The relationship between Rogue and Gambit, when written well, is one of two people who click together. Re-reading it as Jay and Miles go through it on their podcast, as an adult their relationship is even more amazing. Gambit never fears Rogue’s touch, and has no issues with a girlfriend who is physically more powerful than him. Gambit unfortunately is a character who suffers from bad writing periods, although you can argue most long running comic characters do at some point.
My favorite mutants have a place in my heart, even if I have taken occasional breaks from fandom. I want what makes the X-men so inspiring to make it to the screen. I want a new generation of fans to improve upon the X-men team from the old. May future generations of outcasts and misfits find the comic that helps them feel they can be heroes too.