Monday, October 20, 2008

All My Secrets Revealed

A few months ago, I agreed to do an interview with a website that’s apparently going on an extended hiatus, so I’ve decided to post it here. I did this around six months ago, so enjoy all of the outdated references (when I say the books have become more "focused", I'm obviously not referring to the post-AoA issues).

Of the issues you've reviewed so far, what's the average quality of a 90s X-Men issue compared to a genre a bit more acclaimed (i.e. the 80s)?

Taking in the messy, artist-driven issues of the early post-Claremont era with the more focused, character-driven material that came later, I'd say that the average quality comes out to…I don't know…mediocre, I guess. Right now, I've gotten to the middle of 1994, just before the launch of Generation X. There are already a lot of X-books, and a couple of them are looking aimless. The Cable solo series is over a year old at this point and still hasn't had a single issue that's really worth reading. Some books like X-Factor feel like they're killing time until the next crossover starts, and Excalibur has been awkwardly shoehorned into fitting in with the rest of the titles. The quarterly X-Men Unlimited has already resorted to running filler, which it will continue to do for years. The other books tend to be hit or miss, so I wouldn't just dismiss them as crap at this point. Overall, I guess they're on the same level of quality as the average mainstream superhero comic of today.

In comparison to the '80s, it's definitely a step down. Too many characters, too many writers, and too many story threads that don't have much of a payoff. After the Image founders leave, there's a return to more character-based material, so it does seem like the books broadly follow the pattern Claremont established in the '80s -- small stories that build characterization while larger stories grow in the background. Unfortunately, the "larger stories" now take the form of crossovers that end up derailing the storylines in several spinoffs, or just leaving them unable to start any new ones because they have to dedicate several months to feed the crossover.

How far do you plan to go with Not Blog X; as in what years will you be covering? I understand you started with 1991; what year do you plan to reach?

My plan is to go until the "Onslaught" storyline at least. After that, my collection of the X-spinoffs starts to get spotty, so I wouldn't be able to present an overview of the entire line of books. I'll probably end up stopping at the end of Scott Lobdell's run, which was in 1997.

What differences have you noticed so far between your childhood and adulthood readings of these comics? Any obvious or not-so-obvious changes of perspective?

I first got into the X-Men in the late '80s, buying Uncanny X-Men and Classic X-Men simultaneously. As a kid, I was aware that the books weren't as good as they used to be, but I guess there was nothing egregious enough to get me to stop collecting. I think the X-mania that followed the X-Men cartoon (which lead to a few of my friends buying comics for the first time) helped to keep me interested in the franchise. My main investment in the books was the characters, so as long as the characters were behaving consistently, I was forgiving of a lot of things. When a couple of characters began to act wildly out of character, like Magneto and Mystique, it bothered me, but not enough to stop reading.
One thing that I've picked up on as an adult was just how awful Cable behaves in those early X-Force issues. As a kid, I didn't blink an eye when Cable shot an unarmed man who had already surrendered. It's possible that I thought it was really cool. As an adult, I read this stuff and just shake my head. I also never picked up on how many balloons have obviously been re-lettered by another letterer. I wasn't aware of any behind the scenes gossip, so I had no idea that the writers' work was often being tweaked up until the final stages of production. Another thing I've noticed is just how padded some of these stories are, probably because I wasn't consciously paying attention to story structure back then. I think I was just more willing to accept the stories as they were, unless there was a flagrant continuity error or mischaracterization.

Do you think that the current world of comics still relies on some of the gimmicky aspects of the nineties? What impact do you think nineties X-Men comics have had on the modern comic industry?

I think the '90s era of the X-Men has a huge influence on what's going on now, even if the current administrations might not want to admit to it. Even if you overlook story content, half of the comics DC publishes today just look like X-Force fill-ins from 1995. Right now, the comics industry thrives on selling as many interrelated titles as possible. The interconnected X-books of the '90s were such a commercial success, the guys in charge now have to be looking at them to see how they reached such a large audience. Marvel tried to do an indie-cool makeover in the early Quesada days, but it was only a few years before they started doing crossovers (and hiring Rob Liefeld) again. Fans ridicule Countdown for a solid year, but it remains one of DC's top-selling books (and when you consider that it came out fifty-two times in one year, it has to have been their number one money maker). Fans were calling for JMS' head after "Sins Past", but as soon as Amazing Spider-Man began participating in the next big crossover, sales shot up again. The X-books followed the same pattern for years. Even if you hated X-Factor, you still felt obligated to buy it in order to get the full picture of the X-universe. Now, that thinking has spread out over the publisher's entire line, not just a core title and its spinoffs. It's hard not to see an influence from the '90s there. Of course, this approach is dangerous because you run the risk of burning out the diehard fans and making the comics impenetrable to casual readers, which were supposedly factors in the '90s crash in the first place.

Has rereading these comics inspired you to pursue more recently published material?

For the most part, it hasn't revived much of an interest in the X-books. Occasionally I read a review of a recent comic which references some long-forgotten plotline (like Mr. Sinister's unexplained knowledge of the future), and I'm tempted to check things out, but that feeling never lasts. In general, I think that superhero comics today are too mean-spirited and cynical, and seeing "dark secrets" revealed about heroic characters like Professor Xavier just bothers me to the point where I don't want to buy this stuff anymore. Going back and taking a comprehensive look at the '90s titles, it's hard to get invested in any of the hyped events of today since history shows that they usually don't last anyway. I do enjoy writing the blog, though, and I appreciate all of the people who have posted links and left comments.


james said...

Thank you for posting this interview. It's very insightful.

sixhoursoflucy said...

That site wouldn't have been Interview-King, would it?

kerry said...

Boo! At least go to Dec. 1999 (cover date: Feb. 2000?). We want to at least hit the end of the '90s, right?

Anonymous said...

Just wondering, what do you plan to do with the blog once you reach the stopping point?

G. Kendall said...

The website was

My feeling is that skipping over most of the titles in the line kind of defeats the purpose, plus most of the X-books' weak reputation predates the Seagle/Kelly issues, making me less interested in doing this past the 1997 issues.

When I finally finish the X-books, I'll continue to do something in a similar vein, although the format will surely change.

Fnord Serious said...

Thanks for posting the interview, Kendall.
Whatever you do next, just don't tackle the 2099 comics! I've got them in my sights for a Not Blog X style dissection. Thanks for the inspiration.

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