X-Men’s popularity has shifted
History has repeated itself, and been rewritten, in the “X-Men” movie franchise.
Now the series looks to soar to new heights with its biggest spectacle yet in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” arriving in theaters tonight.
The X-Men debuted in 1964 as a team of teenage “mutants,” given extraordinary powers by a quirk of genetics. They were assembled by Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, a powerful telepath who wanted to teach them to use their powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. He was opposed by one-time friend Magneto, who believed mutants were the next step in human evolution and had no qualms against using violence to make sure they inherited the Earth.
At one time, the X-Men were Marvel Comics’ flagship team, with the Avengers – who have dominated the box office in recent years – standing well in their shadows.
But before that, the X-Men were floundering. The adventures of original members Cyclops (who fired concussive eye beams), Marvel Girl (the telepathic and telekinetic Jean Grey), Beast (a super-strong and super-agile scientist), Iceman (not Val Kilmer in “Top Gun”) and Angel (wings like a, well, you know) were not selling well, and from 1970-75, the series simply reprinted earlier issues.
In 1975’s “Giant-Size X-Men” #1, writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum, brought in an “all-new, all-different” team to rescue the originals from a living island named Krakoa. That roster consisted of the teleporting Nightcrawler, the weather-manipulating Storm, steel-skinned Colossus, sonic-screamer Banshee, fire-blasting Sunfire and Native American warrior Thunderbird. Oh, and a Canadian guy with claws named Wolverine.
Under the leadership of Cyclops and minus the does-not-play-well-with-others Sunfire and killed-in-action Thunderbird, this new team ushered in the era of X-dominance. Chris Claremont took the reins with issue #94, joined by artist and co-plotter John Byrne with #111. Together they created some of the greatest stories in X-Men and comic history, including the “Dark Phoenix Saga” – in which Jean was possessed by an uncontrollable cosmic force – and “Days of Future Past” – a time-travel tale in which the team tries to prevent a dystopian future.
The X-Men movies, meanwhile, really kickstarted the current era of superhero films, but faltered with “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” The ship was righted with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class,” which showed younger versions of Professor X and Magneto working together with a new team of mutants back in the ’60s.
The 2014 film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” adapted that tale and concluded with an altered timeline that freed the films up from a few continuity restrictions.
“Apocalypse” is set in the ’80s and will feature more young versions of characters from the original films, including Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler, along with Mystique. A villain in the original films who was revealed to be a former friend of Xavier’s in “First Class,” Mystique has been an occasional ally and even member of the X-Men in the comics. But her hero turn in the films probably has more to do with the fact that she’s played by Jennifer Lawrence, arguably the franchise’s biggest star besides the perfectly cast Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (who won’t be headlining this movie but apparently has a cameo).