New York has a giant Treehouse that’s over 18 stories tall and a new resident superhero team protecting the planet — the mutants known as the X-Men.
The X-Men has been my favorite superhero team since I was a kid, and over the decades I’ve seen all the triumphs and tragedies of this band of outcasts “sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them”. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, the X-Men introduced the concept of mutants to the Marvel Universe — individuals who gain super powers because of a genetic mutation. No radioactive spider, gamma radiation, or Super Soldier Serum. They were born this way. Because they were different and seen as the next step in human evolution, mutants have faced discrimination, persecution, and even extinction. This anti-mutant sentiment became a way for Marvel to create stories that were also allegories tackling real-world struggles and issues, including the civil rights movement, AIDS, apartheid, religious bigotry, white supremacy, and the LGBTQIA+ community. But what happens now that Jonathan Hickman has created a vastly different status quo for mutantdom with the landmark House of X and Powers of X limited series whose crossover storyline relaunched the X-Men in 2019? A status quo that has seen mutants becoming “new gods” and uniting as part of a sovereign nation recognized by different countries, and whose power now extends beyond Earth? Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read X-Men #1.
Brave new world
As an X-Men fan, I rejoiced when Disney closed the US$71.3B acquisition of Fox in 2019. Ten years before that Fox deal, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for US$4B, and oversaw the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that Marvel started in 2008 with Iron Man.
But since Marvel had sold the movie and animation rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four to Fox in 1993 to stave off bankruptcy, the X-Men movies weren’t part of the MCU. Worse, this also had an impact on the comic books, with Marvel pushing the Avengers and de-emphasizing the X-Men — even trying to replace the role they traditionally played with the non-mutant Inhumans. It made sense from the corporate perspective, but it was very hard time for X-Men fans.
And while some of the Fox X-Men movies were good — Logan, in particular, is one of the best comic book movies ever made — it was stupid how the films reduced everything to the bromance and rivalry of Charles Xavier and Magneto, and reduced every other X-Man to a sidekick of Wolverine.
X-Men #1, however, is now giving the chosen champions of mutantdom a new role — as the protectors not just of their fellow mutants, but of all humankind. After all the world building that Hickman and company have done since 2019, it was clear that this superhero team also had to evolve. Mutants are now ascendant and no longer on the run. Once on the verge of extinction — thanks to the comic book version of Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. Scarlet Witch — mutants are now back in the millions, and more powerful than ever.
A Treehouse in New York
The great thing about this first issue is that it shows the X-Men from the very human and down-to-earth perspective of a character Marvel comic book fans are quite familiar with — the Daily Bugle writer and now co-owner Ben Urich. Urich is the one who introduces readers to the Treehouse, the new headquarters of the X-Men in New York, and who has a conversation with X-Men leader Scott Summer a.k.a. Cyclops.
I love how this issue seamlessly integrates the new science fiction/cosmic status quo of mutantdom with real-world issues, including naming the new park the X-Men created Seneca Gardens.
Ben Urich: You called the park you created Seneca Gardens. I’m impressed. Most folks don’t know the story of this part of town.
Cyclops: Even though this park is a monument to mutant achievements and to those of us who never lived to see Krakoa, we think it’s important to honor the place where we set roots, Mr. Urich.
Evolving role of mutants
I’m actually one of those people, and this conversation prompted me to look it up. That’s how I learned about the story of Seneca Village.
Before Central Park was created, the landscape along what is now the Park’s perimeter from West 82nd to West 89th Street was the site of Seneca Village, a community of predominantly African-Americans, many of whom owned property. By 1855, the village consisted of approximately 225 residents, made up of roughly two-thirds African-Americans, one-third Irish immigrants, and a small number of individuals of German descent. One of few African-American enclaves at the time, Seneca Village allowed residents to live away from the more built-up sections of downtown Manhattan and escape the unhealthy conditions and racism they faced there.
As a persecuted group that has now achieved the promised land with their own nation of Krakoa, mutantdom is now sharing its gifts with humankind and reintegrating with world that was once hunting them down to extinction. This isn’t to say that all humans now love and admire them — they still have enemies who would like to wipe them out.
But it is gratifying to see the public finally treating the X-Men as heroes, and for their role to have evolved into the protectors of their homeworld and all its inhabitants, mutants and humans alike. I mean, they have always been heroes trying to save humans, but now they’re not just fighting for their own survival or against their fellow mutants, but can assume a larger role in the world.
Treating humans with kindness
In fact, this GamesRadar article says they are now being positioned as the premiere Marvel super-team instead of the Avengers.
“It’s all part of a seemingly bigger picture as well; a plan to move the X-Men from being sequestered in their own corner of continuity to being a bigger part of the Marvel Universe at large.
“Using their connection with Urich, the Treehouse, and their revised mission statement, the X-Men are replanting themselves away from the walled garden of the X-Titles and into the wider landscape of the Marvel U – directly alongside contemporaries such as the Avengers and the FF, who have long been Earth’s go-to superhero protectors.”
I don’t know how long this status quo will last, but I’m just enjoying this new era that started in 2019, and that continues the social critique that the X-Men began in 1963. And I’m looking forward to finally seeing the X-Men in the MCU and the kind of stories their integration will bring to life on the big screen.
As Urich wrote for the Daily Bugle in this issue: “If the mutants have some grand design to take over the planet, they’re doing it with kindness, and we can always use more of that.”