Don’t you just love it when your interests cross over? Or when different things you follow become analogies for each other?
That’s what happened to me today. I was thinking about the current state of the X-Men comic books and it reminded me immediately of one of the most famous professional wrestling storylines.
Up until a few decades ago, professional wrestling was regional. The country was divided into territories run by promoters who stuck to their established boundaries. Anytime a sanctioned champion would meet another territory’s champion, the match would end in a draw. That all ended in the 80s when the WWF went national, eating up most of the \ territories. The WWF’s only competition was World Championship Wrestling, an Atlanta-based outfit that lacked the WWF’s production values or mainstream recognition.
Growing up, I was a WWF fan. I mostly ignored WCW, even after they signed Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling (by now Hogan’s act had gone stale and allegations of steroid abuse tarnished his character). But they did capture my attention briefly when two WWF wrestlers, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, signed with WCW. Hall and Nash appeared on WCW TV acting as if they were still employed by the WWF, there to take over their former company’s rival. The storyline was a throwback to the old territory days. You really believed they were there on behalf of the WWF and a lot of their (scripted) promos mentioned things usually left unsaid in the wrestling world. What Hall and Nash were doing was a seismic change in wrestling. And the story just kept getting better.
After a month of trash talking WCW, Hall and Nash challenged three of the company’s top stars to fight them and a mystery partner. The buildup was huge. Going into the match, no one knew who the third man would be. Most people suspected any of WCW’s stars who had previously worked in the WWF. Others suspected that WCW had signed another WWF defector. (Here’s another thing about mystery partners: 99 percent of the time, they’re extremely underwhelming- either a wrestler in a mask or an old wrestler coming out of retirement).
All was revealed near the end of the main event of Bash at the Beach ’96. Hall and Nash wrestled without their partner, holding their own. Then Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling, the most good of the good guys ever, started his way to the ring. He got in the ring and immediately attacked the WCW crew, aligning himself with Hall and Nash. After the match, Hogan proclaimed the group the New World Order. Their goal was simple: to take over WCW.
Just like that, the biggest storyline in wrestling got bigger. They sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise, and helped put WCW over WWF for the first time in many fans eyes. The turn of Hogan was huge. The idea of Hall and Nash invading WCW was huge. American wrestling fans hadn’t seen anything like it ever.
So what’s all this got to do with the X-Men?
For the past ten years or so, the X-Men, once Marvel Comics’ star franchise, has been stuck in a cycle of circumspection and languor. While there have been some very creative people working hard crafting entertaining stories, overall, the X-family has been on Marvel’s back burner, jobbing out to other groups, namely the Avengers and the Inhumans, for the benefit of those superhero teams.
Earlier this year, Marvel announced an ambitious plan for the future of the X-Men. Writer Jonathan Hickman would take the reins of the team, cancelling a number of X-books to refocus the line. The first part of Hickman’s multi-year plan involved a 12-week period involving two alternating titles, House of X and Powers of X, which would give the X-Men a new direction while making users take a different look at the team’s past.
We’re in the sixth week of this first period and Hickman’s books are a shakeup comparable to Hall and Nash first showing up on WCW television. They tread new ground for the team- adding a new twist to the team’s past while at the same time adding a mystery to their present and allowing readers to see possible futures. There are plot devices whose full impact have not yet been revealed and many questions. Thankfully, there are some visual aids in the books spelling out some of the details of Hickman’s new world.
Before the launch of the books, Marvel promoted the hell out of the Hickman’s run, going so far as to make the seemingly hyperbolic claim in the ad below- that the depicted scene was the most important in the history of the X-Men.
But the thing is, after week three, many fans were on board with Marvel’s claims. And it all goes back to the other part of the NWO formula- the mystery partner.
In the X-Men’s case, it was Moira MacTaggert. Moira was a human character introduced in the 1970s. While she played a role in a few major storylines, she was never an integral part of the X-Men. She was just there. Kind of like Hulk Hogan in WCW before the NWO.
But Hickman changed all that. House of X issue 2 explained that Moira (or Moira X) was a mutant after all, with the gifts of her mutation being undetectable and reincarnation with full memory of her past lives. Once she realized she was a mutant, Moira used her lives to attempt to cure mutations, fight alongside Xavier, fight alongside Magneto, fight alongside Apocalypse, assassinate humans responsible for the extermination of mutants and other pursuits. Even though readers don’t know the specifics of Moira’s first nine lives, we learn each time, no matter what Moira did, human-created machines were responsible for wiping out mutantkind. It was Moira’s mission to stop this.
So finally, in life ten (or life X), Moira decides to do what she did in the panels making up the most important scene in the history of the X-Men. She opens her mind fully to Charles Xavier, showing him each and every one of those previous lives. The small triumphs and the larger tragedies. And then the readers realize what this series is about- the history of the X-Men we know has been part of Moira and Charles’ plan so that mutants can thrive.
Hickman’s issues (so far) have drawn near-universal acclaim. The X-Men feel like the hot thing in comics once again. Fans are looking forward to these books every week, along with whatever comes next.
But the future is wide open. While Hogan, Hall and Nash had the wrestling world in the palms of their hands in the summer of 1996, their success was not long-running. They were popular for a few years, but their egos (and the NWO’s own popularity) led to the watering-down of the NWO and the complete collapse of World Championship Wrestling within five years.
It’s highly unlikely that Hickman’s storylines will doom the X-Men in a similar fashion. But for all the wonders of timeline manipulation and intrigue surrounding Moira X, the series has veered slightly from the X-Men’s central concept: protecting a world that fears and hates them. Hickman is a capable enough storyteller to be building back to that. With any luck that will happen and this new X-Men phase will be longer lasting than the New World Order.