The Uncanny X-Men have enjoyed the kind of prestige and celebrity that many titles long for in the comic book world, but that has not always been the case. A monthly comic near the point of cancellation, the X-Men really came into their own after a new international team (consisting of Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and soon to depart Sunfire and deceased Thunderbird) was introduced by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. The combined forces of Byrne and Claremont took these characters and rocketed the series to the status that it won both prestigious awards and the acceptance of fans. Since those high watermarks, numerous creators have attempted to find the same acclaim with varied results.
The most significant attempt to push the concept of the X-Men forward came from high-profile writer Grant Morrison’s ‘E is for Extinction’ concept, turning the tables of humanity by making it the inferior race as the number of mutations escalated. Sadly that story has more or less been nullified and the staus quot of mutants reinforced. The mutant race is now sterile and nearly extinct and their enemies are more determined than ever to wipe them out.
The latest attempt to revitalize and re-organize the X-Universe in Messiah CompleX has left Matt Fraction in the driving seat of the main book. Since he has taken over as writer of Uncanny X-Men, readers have had both good and bad things to say about his take on the mutant heroes. While I admit that the stories have ranged from inspired (the egghead team traveling back in time to save the mutant race) to dire (the entire ‘Sisterhood’ arc was a bust, and what’s with the witty text boxes and the excruciating Greg Land art?), the overall feel has been that Fraction is taking the X-Men down a very new and exciting path.
As an example, the latest storyline concluded with Cyclops declaring a floating island off the coast of San Franciscio as a sovereign nation, seceding the mutant population from the United States in one sentence. A rather blunt statement drawing parallels between the fictional mutant race and the state of Israel may have drawn negative attentiononline to both the writer and the X-Men comic, but the Dark Avengers/X-Men crossover has been a sell-out hit.
Many readers and fans of the X-Men have equated the message of the book ‘feared and hated by a world they have sword to protect’ as a connection to any minority, granting the book a universal appeal to everyone who feels like an outcast. The teachings of Professor Xavier have always pointed toward integration and harmony while Magneto has often preached a message of domination over the inferior homo sapiens. With the latest act of Cyclops, the entire concept of the series has changed.
And it looks like Fraction is just getting geared up toward the next story, ‘Nation X.’
Matt Fraction spoke with ComicBookResources.com about his next steps…
“Nation X” unfolds in the pages of “Uncanny X-Men,” but Fraction sees the project as more than just simple a story arc or an overarching plot line. “It’s more of a mandate or a mission statement,” the writer said. “It’s the psychological underpinnings beneath our way of putting the sugar in our coffee and the coffee in the cup.”
Since “Utopia” is still unfolding, Fraction couldn’t say too much as to what the plot of “Nation X” entails, but the writer did offer up some hints. “It’s Scott Summers’ master plan and master stroke,” the writer stated. “It takes us to places we’ve never been before and a couple of places we have been in a coy and clever way.”
With “Nation X,” Fraction and the editorial staff are interested in telling a different type of “Uncanny X-Men” story, both in terms of tone and theme. “There are some superficial similarities, but we’ve never seen this before. A big thing we keep we keep saying to ourselves when we talk about where we’re headed, what we’re doing, and our vision going forth is that we don’t want to keep doing the same X-stories,” Fraction explained. “Like, now the Sentinels are coming to kill the X-Men. Then the Marauders are coming to kill the X-Men. And look! Sublime is coming to kill the X-Men. We want to step away from people come to kill the X-Men stories. So this is the first step in taking the book somewhere it’s never been before.”
Fraction equates moving “Uncanny X-Men” in a completely new direction to walking a tightrope. “You’re fine until you look down, and I start to get nervous when I look down, but at the same time it’s an exciting place to be creatively. It’s like, here we go and let’s see what happens. We’ve never been here before, so you could say it’s a Brand New Day [Laughs].”
The emergence of “Nation X” will also see the return of the X-Men’s oldest enemy, Magneto. Now that the Master of Magnetism has his powers back, many X-Fans are wondering what his agenda, is since the depleted mutant population means a mutant conquered Earth is no longer possible. “Magneto realizes that, and as he says in one of the books, ‘I thought we were mankind’s future and as it turns out we’re their vestigial tail,’” Fraction explained. “So he comes back and he has all the answers. He returns with knowledge that no one else has.”
“Nation X” kicks off in the early fall, but it’s a storyline that will continue to unfold and evolve well into next year and possibly beyond. “This is very much my year two of ‘Uncanny X-Men,’ and possibly three, assuming I’m given a year three,” Fraction said. “Right now I’ve got things mapped out into the 520′s. You often hear the words, ‘all new and all different’ when it comes to the X-Men, and in this case those words have never been so true.”
As has been pointed out by many readers (including the comment below), there have been colonies of mutants before, including the concentration camp turned refuge called Genosha and Magneto’s mutant nation of Avalon. Fraction is not ignorant of this as he addressed in a recent interview:
Q: Emma Frost and Scott Summers remember another floating mutant community, the island of Genosha.
A: It’s impossible not to think about Genosha. Genosha was where Cassandra Nova sent Sentinels and they killed tons of people. So, precedent acknowledged, but this is something we’ve never seen before on this level. “Uncanny X-Men” is at an exciting point where I don’t think it’s been before. It doesn’t feel like we’re riffing on old plot lines. We’re in this weird, virgin territory and I can’t refer anymore to the “Essentials” on my bookshelf. I can’t ask what happened last time they did this because there was no last time. It’s as new for me as it is for Scott and everybody else.
Q: Any final thoughts on “Exodus?”
A: This was big. It was the biggest thing I ever wrote. There were so many characters and so much stuff to keep track of and keep straight. At one point in the story, Pixie says, “We’re all X-Men now.” And that was the point, to see every mutant working together as one. That was a blast to write and deliver with big pyrotechnics. There were a lot of plot points and pieces that had to be moved around the board to get us to this point, but I wanted to have an ending with a really big payoff.
I hope people enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. And I hope they loved the art because I think Mike and Terry knocked it out the park.
The statement ‘we’re all X-Men now’ is in a way evocative of the thread started by Morrison with his E is for Extinction storyline (mentioned at the beginning of this post). However, bringing together the entire mutant race in Morrison’s story was a statement on the future of humanity while Fraction’s is one of unification of a people. I agree that this has not been done before and I am excited to see what is next.