Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections: The Legendary Second Genesis Of The X-Men
by Scott Redmond
There is an anonymous proverb that states the only three things that are certain in life are birth, death, and change. Within the realm of ongoing comic book narratives, these take the form of retcons, resurrections, and reboots. For the purposes of this weekly feature, retcons are elements added into a character’s history after the fact, resurrections are characters returning from death or some state of limbo, and reboots are either big changes that revive a character or title or are extensive changes to their canon (history, supporting casts, origin story, etc).
These changes, just like all stories, range from those that add definitive things that still stand with the characters to those that sometimes should best be forgotten. Except, they won’t be in this feature. Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Resurrections, and Reboots.
The X-Men are no stranger to any of the three R’s that make up this column’s title, as each has played a massive part in their almost sixty-year history. That being said, there is a particular one of the R’s that actually saved the X-Men as a whole. That would be the reboot.
Let us take a trip back to the 1970s, starting with 1970 in particular. After debuting seven years before, the X-Men had reached such a low point in sales that the powers that be at Marvel decided to effectively cancel the title but not stop publishing it. What that means is that no new stories were made but the series became one of just reprints after they published issue X-Men #66.
With what we know about the X-Men today, it likely feels almost unbelievable that the title ever was in such a dire place where the only X book on the shelves was just effectively monthly reruns. This went on for five long years, until May of 1975. When everything changed and the X was born again.
After five years of reprinting stories, the powers that be decided to give the X-Men a second shot. Rather than just starting up new stories with the characters they had (who had been part of the book when it didn’t sell well) they turned to Len Wein and Dave Cockrum to create for them an ‘all-new, all different’ multicultural and international version of the X-Men.
Sunfire and Banshee were plucked out of previous X-Men stories, presenting the ones that might be most familiar to any old X-Men readers, while Wolverine (back before Logan became the power character that we know him to be today) had recently debuted in the Wein written Incredible Hulk #181. The rest of the characters were created for this story, with Storm and Nightcrawler being born out of unused designs that Cockrum had for DC Comics’ Legion of Superheroes.
Kicking off with a recruitment drive of these new characters, the issue eventually revealed that Cyclops was the only remaining original X-Man still at the mansion as the others had been lost on a mission to find a mutant on an island. Turns out that island was the mutant, known as Krakoa which of course is very familiar to X-Men readers of today with the new Jonathan Hickman-led era of the books.
Essentially the creative team wiped the board of the old team in order to bring in a new one, though the old team was rescued, which is definitely an inspired way to introduce a new generation of characters.
According to some reports and recollections from the creators, this book was meant to be the first in a potential series of Giant-Sized issues spread out rather than a return to a monthly title. It took so long to create the book, which went through so many variations, that Wein was too busy to remain on the title after this issue and having written the plot for what was meant to be Giant Sized X-Men #2 but became X-Men #94 & #95. Luckily for Marvel though, the issue was so well received sales-wise they pivoted in their plans and decided to pick the regular series back up numbering wise (first bi-monthly then eventually monthly), and turned to writer Chris Claremont to continue the series alongside Cockrum up to issue #107 when Cockrum left and John Byrne came aboard.
There is no way to argue that this is one of the most successful reboots not only in comic books but probably in the history of reboots. This spark revival brought a whole new life to the book with characters that easily fit into the soap opera type tendencies and big epic stories and brought a whole new era of fans over time.
The X-Men went from a canceled book of reprints to one of the biggest dominating sales icons at Marvel for a great many years as well as becoming numerous cartoons, video games, movies, toys, and so many other things. A great many of these characters are easily recognized by the masses at this point.
Everything that we today know about and love about the X-Men owes its existence to that one-shot issue that spawned a franchise. That’s a pretty great legacy to have.
Next Week: How about an order of retcon to go along with that successful reboot?