X-MEN VS X-MEN
The first X-Men comic hit the stands in September 1963. Written by Stan Lee with art by the always brilliant Jack Kirby. As with the characters the story followed the series itself never had it easy. The original title of ‘The Mutants’ was shot down by Lee’s superiors. He settled on X-Men despite claiming know one would no what it meant.
However it does sound cool and lends itself perfectly to a fanboy joke in the first X-Men film. Then it gets uttered one to many times in the second trilogy by a smug sounding Jennifer Lawrence. Lee and Kirby had a winning formula established with Spider-Man, The FF and Hulk where the protagonists all gained their powers from some sort of high complex science accident. The X-Men were simply born this way. The series was just gaining a fan base when it was cancelled. (Due to the backward way sales figures were handled back in the day). A reboot came about in 1975 with creators Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne then over seeing a unforgettable run which shaped the merry mutants for years to come and cemented them in pop culture history. Giant Size X-Men #1 ushered in a new era of story telling. It provided the foundations for the X-Men to become superstars.
From the 70’s right up to the 00’s it felt like there was the Marvel 616 Universe and The X-Men Universe. The sales back this up with 1991’s X-Men #1 being the highest selling comic of all time! Shipping close to 3 million issues making around $7! In my opinion there is no deeper or richer continuity in comics than the world of the X-Men. Just think of the massive diversity of characters, different teams, countries, locations and genres that make up the puzzle. Yeah it can get out of control at times but with over 50 years of story telling under their collective belts you have to take continuity with a pinch of salt. With increased popularity in the medium of comics an animated series soon followed and inevitably a mere 37 years after their comics debut they hit the silver screen. That animated series was my first exposure to the X-Men as I wasn’t into comics as a kid. So all my early knowledge comes from that. Watching the movies anything that is in them that was also in the animated series always made me happy. Then when I got into comics I was eager to learn how faithful it was. Then if something was consistent in all three forms of medium I was in geek heaven.
The movies have largely been successful. Though now it is fair to say they live in the shadow of the MCU. The first film hasn’t dated well in comparison to later X movies and the large scope of the MCU. But we have to remember if the first movie wasn’t so well received the golden age of comic book movies we are in might not exist. The second movie in 2003 broke the X-Men into the mainstream whilst receiving critical acclaim in the process. Without counting Logan it is the bench mark in X movies. First Class comes close but I’m still a die hard X2 fan. It got so much right. I recently watched The Last Stand and that despite its lack of respect for the comics and the previous two movies is still a very enjoyable watch. The newer trilogy has tried to match the MCU for scope but without the same success rate. They have been more willing to embrace the nature of the comics with bigger more out there plots including time travel, big villains and finally the Sentinels. Apocalypse even got closer to more comic accurate costumes. Anyway I have been rambling on without getting to the point of this blog. Basically it is an examination of how the comics and movies match up continuity wise and also how they differ. There are things the movies have done better than the comics and vice versa. I will give praise when the movies have done the comics justice and point out where the comics have changed to match the movies. I don’t want to go through every movie in chronological order, frame by frame plus over fifty years of comics. So in true X-Men fashion I will begin with the first movie then wildly jump around.
Whoever came up with the whole Auschwitz opening is a genius. Not only does it pay massive respect to a hugely significant part of Magneto’s origin but it also helped to set the more grounded approach. It hit home it was the real world and the fact that anyone can be a mutant. Not to mention it still remains one of the franchises greatest scenes. Obviously Matthew Vaughan was a fan as he used it to launch X-Men First Class. It is a example of the movies embracing their comic heritage by going back and retro fitting a plot point in order to tell a new story. Also on the negative side it is a prime example of a character not being 100% faithful to their comic counterpart in the shape of Sebastian Shaw. It is a trait that crops up continuously in the movies but is normally reserved for background characters. When it is the main protagonist it grinds away a bit more with the hardcore fans. Before I go off on a tangent of negativity back to the positives of the first movie. How great is the casting Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan as Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr respectively? Lets be honest the rest of the cast were mostly unknown so to have big name stars as the two leaders was a genius move. If you don’t have the Charles/Eric dynamic right it can hurt the rest of the franchise.
It has been central to the X-Men comics since the very start in 1963. The first time we see these two actors of such gravitas meet on screen you instantly believe the relationship. The chess scenes, the uneasy alliance in the sequel, the opening scene of their younger selfs recruiting Jean Grey all make them seem believable as old friends. I always remember the arc in the animated series where they had to put their differences aside to survive the Savage Land. Key to Charles and Eric is the two sides of the same coin conflict and the first two movies deliver this strongly. Then First Class happens. Remember Charles tells Logan all about Magneto “When I was seventeen I met a young man named Erik Lensherr.” Funny James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender don’t look seventeen. No mention that Erik crippled Charles wither with a stray bullet. This is one of the biggest crimes against the source materiel. There have been many retcons involving Charles and the state of his legs. Magneto diverting a bullet into his spine has never been one of them. Some might argue it is more poetic and adds to the relationship between the two. That would be a plausible argument if it was mentioned in previous movies. Thats were movies don’t have the benefits of retcons. In the first movie we get introduced to Cerebro and the Blackbird. Both it turns out were creations of Hank McCoy working for the government. The man is a genius! As for Magnetos Cerebro blocking helmet, it was simply stolen from Sebastian Shaw.
Three years later X2 was released. In the build up to is release the makers started referring to the first movie as an extended trailer. To me this made it sound like they didn’t have faith in their product and were now doubling down on their success. For the sequel the stakes were raised and the director done well not to throw too many new characters at it. It would have been very easy to go mutant happy like in X-Men Origins:Wolverine. We got a rather muted down version of Lady Deathstrike. Surly it would have been better saving her for a Wolverine movie? We also get fan favourite Nightcrawler. There a few moments in Alan Cummings performance where he comes close to the swashbuckler created by Dave Cockrum. They have some of the religious stuff in there and the circus background. Its close but not great. However it is a hundred times better than the wimpy Goth kid we get in X-Men Apocalypse! All that negativity but Nightcrawler does provide one of the franchises stand out moments with the attack at the White House. It draws on Ultimate X-Men #7 where in that continuity he is an agent of Weapon X. Which brings us to William Stryker. Of all the colourful, threatening villains the X-Men have faced over the years the makers of the sequel settled on William Stryker! And not even a comics accurate William Stryker. They also continue to use him at every opportunity, in any time line! Stryker first made his debut in the graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills.
This movie actually follows the graphic novel more closely than I first realised. Its just more Hollywood. The world of movies of comics and movies have gone full circle as in the current Weapon X series written by Greg Pak Stryker is now the head of the program. I never got the scene at the end of Days of Future Past with Mystique disguised as Stryker. Is this saying Logan will never be experimented on? But then in Apocalypse they mess with the experiment again. With A young Jean Grey freeing him thus creating the famous scene from Barry Windsor Smith’s Weapon X story (Marvel Comics Presents #72-84). Lastly on X2 we get the birth of the Phoenix. A seed for this was planted in the first movie, its a blink and you miss it moment. At the Statue of Liberty after Wolverine has destroyed the mutant making machine (that is such a Lee/Kirby era sounding thing) Jean as a slight reaction to its affects. Then The Last Stand totally butchers the greatest X-Men comic ever made.
I could do a whole one of these articles about the Wolverine movies and their inconsistencies and high points, but I will keep my study on Wolverine just to the X titled movies. Right of the bat in the first movie they do the character justice. A cage fighting loner on the road. Okay I think the RV takes away from his badass persona. He has a motorcycle in tow but the fact he gets a better one from Scott Summers is adding insult to injury. Certain things I picked up from the animated series that made their way into the movie included the famous love triangle with Scott and Jean. When you think about it it is the only true romantic arc in any of the movies. The Charles, Eric and Raven love triangle added to First Class seems forced, plus is underlined with some homo eroticism. Maybe I just feel that way because it goes against the source material. But it is a tedious arc even by mid point of First Class but to drag it out for two more movies sheesh! A great touch to the Logan/Jean romance comes in The Last Stand when Jean under the influence of Dark Phoenix gives into her lust and shares a moment with Logan. At the end of The Dark Phoenix Saga in X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne Jean Grey meets her demise not killed by the man who truly loves her but by her own hand with a Kree weapon.
Nowhere near as poetic as the scene of Wolverine edging closer, his skin repeatedly ripping off as fast as he can heal it. Then Jean gains a moment of herself back and asks “Save me?” I say the movie did it better, but there is the possibility the movie makers took their inspiration from What If? #59. In this issue which tells an alternate to the end of X-Men #121 Wolverine rejoins Alpha Flight and the X-Men die on their return flight. The Phoenix Force still manifests itself in Jean Grey and its Alpha Flight led by Wolverine who storm The Hellfire Club. They fight, Wolverine kills Jean and her dying words are “Dear Logan you have saved me from myself.” Other aspects the first movie gets right with Wolverine are the subtle hints to his past. The nightmare about the experiment and the x-rays are enough for me. I always enjoyed little and often reveals to his past. You can tell the MCU was a long way off. Xavier was able to reveal to the audience that Wolverine’s skeleton is laced with Adamantium. A indestructible alloy that made its comics debut in Avengers #66 (1969) when Ultron gave himself an upgrade. The one criticism X2: X-Men United gets thrown at it is that it is seen as a vehicle for a Weapon X movie. I did read somewhere that Marvel publishers came up with Origin as they were worried X2 would come up with is own origin story for Wolverine.
I think it is fair to say most of the occurrences of characters straying from the source material come in the second trilogy. The most glaring error of First Class is its title! It completely contradicts the scene in the first movie where Xavier tells Logan “Cyclops, Storm and Jean were some of my first students. I protected them, taught them to control their powers and in time teach others to do the same.” There was a comic with the same title which actually did focus on the first five original X-Men and told better stories. A year after First Class hit cinema screens a comic launched called First X-Men. It has nothing to do with the movie and I haven’t heard much good about it. The only silver lining is Neal Adams returning to the X-Men. It featured Darwin from the film and then naturally Wolverine and Sabertooth!? The story took some pretty dark turns for this previous untold chapter of Xavier and Magneto. The group of C listers in this movie are a far cry from the original five in X-Men #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. None of them have had much of a presence in the comics. Banshee and Havok probably have the most appearances but they aren’t straight adaptations of the characters. Banshee was always older than the first X-Men. Here he is just an ignorant teen with no personality. In First Class we are introduced to Alex Summers with no mention of his brother Scott. He is then rather shafted to the side in Days of Future Past before returning to the fold in Apocalypse.
His purpose in the latest instalment in the franchise is to introduce his brother Scott to the Xavier Institute. There is no mention of their childhood in an orphanage. This isn’t even a deep continuity cut. It made it into the animated series, thats where I learnt it from. What was the bigger crime? The movies adaptation of The Dark Phoenix Saga or Days of Future Past? Like The Last Stand the Days of Future Past movie is very entertaining with great action but pays very little respect to the comic. Really the first X-Men movie is closer to DOFP. It actually features Senator Kelly and his evil plans for mutant kind. Don’t even get me started on The Sentinels! Why were they even in that movie? It was a disgrace to one of Jack Kirbys finest creations. Quicksilver was a good addition but bared very little resemblance to the character from the comics. He was too funny. Pietro (sorry Peter) always seemed strung up on something. You have to feel sorry for the actors who played the future X-Men. We are never going to see those actors in those roles again. Seems a waste of ideas. Booboo Stewart as Warpath was a great addition… Oh well. Maybe with Cable’s time travelling ability he could pop in X-Force? Days of Future Past and Apocalypse have definitely tried to match the MCU for scope. But they don’t have the benefit of solo movies to flesh the characters out so X-Men being X-Men there is a lot to fit in. The MCU has also made it acceptable for the X-Men movies to try more colourful costumes. Whilst at the same time they never seem to be comfortable over using them. Storm, Psylocke and Magneto got the best costumes. In fact Magneto’s has always been pretty spot on throughout the franchise.
Now for a whole section of characters who have continuously being dealt a bad hand when it comes to them coming to the silver screen. Oh boy where do I start? When I was making notes for this section I couldn’t help notice most of the worst cases are all female characters! Obviously the cases of injustice are open to interpretation, take Cyclops for example. James Marsden does a good job but is often given very little to do. He doesn’t get to show the levels of leadership fans of the comics and animated series know and love. These are skills that date back to his first appearance in X-Men #1. So Tye Sheridan in Apocalypse lacks these skills and this is his origins as an X-Man. Lets go back to the start of the franchise. I understand why they went with Rogue. She acts as the point of view character for the audience and her power set exemplifies the feeling of being an outsider. Yes she was young when she debuted in Avengers Annual #10 (1981). But I grew up with an older more streetwise Rogue from the animated series. Its all about the leather jacket! Why wasn’t the point of view character Kitty Pryde? That was her original purpose when she made her debut in Uncanny X-Men #129 (1980). She was a POV for teenagers as the group of X-Men were older.
She was used for this reason in the pilot of the animated series before being replaced by Jubilee. Ouch! Kitty Pryde is a very popular character. Ellen Page is a great actor imagine if they had had her in the first movie. There wouldn’t have been many complaints and we could have watched her grow over the trilogy. Grow to having powers she never had in the comics that is. Remember Ororo Munroe aka Storm? Whether you came to the movies from comics or the animated series you know Storm as a strong female. A role model for female viewers a more than capable leader of the team. Would have been nice if she ever shown up in six movies wouldn’t it? My biggest hate for Storm on the big screen is in Apocalypse. However visually it is the best incarnation. The character I know would never consider being a villain. It doesn’t matter she comes to her senses at the end, it felt wrong. Same goes for Psylocke. Another strong well developed character who you never picture on the side of evil. She is one of my favourite female characters X-Men or otherwise. Psylocke has had the indignity of being a villain twice! Her appearance in The Last Stand is best forgotten. There was even some doubt it was even her till the directors commentary came out. She had purple hair, didn’t use any of her known powers and died. There is no denying Olivia Munn was totally committed to the role but again I don’t see her being a villain. I would happily have her return in future films especially X-Force. Seeing as Psylockes Jim Lee created outfit has drawn much scorn over the years it was a brave choice to go with it in Apocalypse. Olivia Munn much like Rogue in the animated series owned it!
I guess now with ‘vs’ in the title I should declare some sort of winner. I could take the easy option of course and come to the conclusion they both have equal merits. Which in a way is true. Of course there are certain things movies can do that comics can’t and vice versa. The comics over the many years they have been running have had numerous creative teams each with their own vision. The movies tend to have one team for one or two movies. The fact that Bryan Singer return first to produce First Class then direct Days of Future Past is even more embarrassing that these continuity eras were allowed to creep in. The comics had the benefit that for seventeen years Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men with help from Dave Cockrum, John Byrne et al. If you were reading X-Men during Claremonts tenure it wasn’t confusing. Only looking back without the full understanding of all the plot threads does it seem a continuity nightmare. Claremont was the king of the long play and often he would cross pollinate all the books he was writing at the same time. Making a pocket universe with in the 616 for anyone consuming all of his work. I think the biggest problem with the second trilogy is that were caught between sequel/prequel and rebooting the franchise.
Once Bryan Singer reset all of Brett Ratners mistakes at the end of Days of Future Past in an ideal world we would have got a movie with the originals to close out the two trilogies. The MCU never seems afraid to embrace its comics roots even if they give a slight modern twist. At times it feels the X-Men franchise has shied away from the source material. There have been times when they could have given the audience so much more. Case in point; I read somewhere that the island Magneto takes Senator Kelly to in the first movie is Genosha. Now I don’t know where this information was garnered from. The novelization maybe? It is also supposed to be the same island the Magneto and his followers rendezvous at before they ascend on San Francisco. If it was the MCU that nugget of information would have been played up in the movie. Look at the amazing glimpse of Wakanada we have already had! Its funny because I came to the comics from the movie but I have now fully immersed myself in the comics I’m being bias. The movies can never replicate the story telling techniques of comics, but the movies are in a healthier place. Deadpool is a Hollywood darling who the franchise can lean on going forward. Add into that Josh Brolin as Cable whos ties to time travel open up a whole new bunch of possibilities that could see the continuity mine field expand. X-Force and New Mutants are coming which is only going to diversify the franchise. Lastly X-Men Dark Phoenix sounds like it could final go further than ever. The Shi’ar are coming…
About Ian Wells
Ian currently runs the THEBLOGOFCOMICSHOTTOPICS blog. Check him out on Twitter @IanWells87.
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