X-Men

“What would you prefer, yellow spandex?”

Man, I am old.

Wanna know how old I am?

I’m so old that when I order a three minute egg, they ask for the money up front.

I’m so old that my Facebook memories come in black and white and with piano accompaniment.

I am so old that I can remember a time when the conventional wisdom was that only DC heroes could be made into good superhero movies. Oh yes children, gather round and I shall tell you of the before times.

In the two thousandth year of Our Lord, X-Men was due for release and, like many Marvel fans, I was nervous as balls. I’d say “we’d been burned before” but honesty, it was more like we’d been roasted repeatedly over an open fire. What Marvel movies had come before this? Well, not counting the old Captain America serials from the forties we’d had The Punisher (direct to video), Captain America (direct to video), The Fantastic Four (direct to the secret vault under Roger Corman’s floorboards) and Howard the Duck, one of the  most legendary box office stinkers of all time that nonetheless got a full theatrical release and so was the most successful of the bunch purely by default. So the idea that people would actually show up to a movie starring Marvel Comics characters was (in those days) a big gamble.

“Ahem.”

“Sorry Blade, you don’t count.”

“…”

“Not because…y’know, no, I mean some of my best friends are…I mean, no, no, no, okay let me start over.”

Blade didn’t really buck the trend of Marvel movies being box-office poison because almost nobody knew that Blade was a Marvel hero. He was a minor supporting character in a pretty damn obscure comic and only headlined his own book for ten issues prior to the movie coming out. And when the movie did come out and was a big hit, the comic version was pretty much rebuilt entirely from the ground up to look more the movie version. Saying that Blade the character from Tomb of Dracula was what made Blade the movie a success is like saying that everyone came to see Road to Perdition because they were huge fans of the original comic (didn’t know Road to Perdition was a comic? My point, it is made). Besides, Blade is really more of an action/horror flick than a superhero movie. That’s all I mean when I say Blade doesn’t count.

“Some muthafuckas always trying to ice-skate uphill.”

Yup. They…they sure are. Anyway. X-Men was seen as a real gamble given the track record of previous Marvel movies. But if ever there was a time to try and steal DC’s thunder at the box-office, it was now. After the initial stunning success of the early Batman and Superman movies, Warner Bros’ DC money train had skidded off the tracks in 1997 with the twin box-office disasters of Steel and Batman and Robin.

AKA one of the great underrated comedies of the nineties FIGHT ME.

So Marvel decided to put their best foot forward with their most popular non-Spider-man franchise, the X-Men. Oh yes, back in the nineties/early 2000s X-Men were one of the biggest things in comics, although it took a long while for them to get there.

The first version of the X-Men appeared in 1963, created by the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And with such a stellar creative team the original X-Men was…kinda awful, actually. Seriously. Really below par. Even Kirby looks like he’s phoning the art in and Jack Kirby was bitten by a radioactive work ethic as a teenager. That said, Kirby and Lee did come up with two novel ideas:

1)      Instead of being a family like the Fantastic Four, or a group of buddies like the Avengers, the X-Men is a school for young superheroes.

2)      The X-Men and their enemies are mutants who are born with a special gene that gives them superpowers. This allowed Stan Lee to introduce new villains every week without having to explain that Hotdog Man got his powers from radioactive mustard or whatever.

In the first issue Professor Xavier, their mentor, explains that their name comes from their “eX-tra power”.

“But “extra” begins with…”
“I know, but the E-Men are a techno group from Leeds and they won’t sell me the name.”

So yeah, some novel ideas, and one or two characters (like Cyclops and Magneto) with striking designs and interesting powers. But on the whole, the early X-Men stories are considered the worst thing to come out of the Lee/Kirby partnership. Roy Thomas and Neal Adams took over in 1969 and produced what is generally considered an excellent run, but it wasn’t enough to save the comic from cancellation. Fast forward to 1975 and everything changed.

As a statement of intent, that’s pretty on the nose.

The relaunched X-Men series written by Len Wein and later Chris Claremont was a very different Beast (sorry) from the original, featuring a multinational cast of men and women from all around the world, including perennial fan favourites like Wolverine and Storm, to this day still the most iconic black female superhero. Claremont used the X-men’s status as mutants to make them an allegory for various oppressed peoples and the comic became one of the most popular in Marvel’s stable. (Yeah, I know Stan Lee says he always intended for Xavier to be Martin Luther King and Magneto to be Malcolm X but I call BS. If the early X-men really was a civil rights allegory then it went “All black people are evil except like six who live in a mansion and protect us from the evil ones”.)

Actually, if anything, it became too popular. By the nineties the X-Men franchise had grown so massive that Marvel could have cancelled every title that didn’t have an “X” in the title and still been one of the two biggest comic book publishers in America. And if there was one single franchise to blame for all the ills that befell the comic industry in the nineties it was the X-Men.

The speculator bubble? Check.

All the claws, cigars, chrome guns and armour? Check.

Unleashing Rob Liefeld on an innocent and unsuspecting world? Check.

Too. Much. Damn. Wolverine? Check. Check. Check and Check.

Seriously, the X-Men were Marvel in the nineties, not like today where they have been sent to live in the little room under the stairs while Marvel tries to sell you on the fucking Inhumans for the bajillionth time.

LOVE US DAMN YOU!!

So, my feelings on the X-Men are a little mixed. I adored the Fox cartoon growing up, and there have been plenty of stories I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. And yeah, as a concept, the X-Men are important. Really important. That there is this huge multi-media franchise about minorities fighting prejudice and oppression, that is a big frickin’ deal.

That said though, man, when the X-Men suck they really suck.

As a Catholic, I loved the story where a fringe Catholic sect tried to make Nightcrawler pope and then trick everyone into thinking the rapture had started with exploding communion wafers despite the fact that Catholics don’t actually believe in the rapture and that is literally the least stupid part of the whole thing.

In its way, the X-Men movie series is one of the most faithful in the history of the superhero genre. Because, like the comic it’s based on; when it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad it’ll make you want to claw your eyes out. Which category does X-Men fall into? Let’s take a look.

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State of the Mouse 2018

Hey Mouse, how you been?

Good, good. Great actually. After last year’s unpleasantness I feel like I’ve rebounded in a big way. I’m feeling a lot more confident and hopeful for the future, been writing loads and, long story short it’s good to be Mouse (for now).

Aw, that’s great. Well, see ya…

Not so fast, my bold-faced friend. This is the part where I use you as a sounding board to tell the readers all my news.

Aw c’mon, dude, it’s like half five in the morning, I got work tomorrow

Here is my news!

Marvel Rankings

Yes! So, with the Homecoming review now gone up and Ragnarok not out on DVD until February, seems like this is a good time to put up a page where I rank all the Marvel movies like I have with the canon Disney films. Gasp in wonder and ooh and aah and say “But I really liked Doctor Strange” and “Thor is HOW HIGH? This dude’s crazy!”. Basically, your thoughts are an open book to me. Speaking of…

New series of reviews

Hmm…so we’ve reached the end of the canon Disney movies and we’re almost at the end of the MCU movies. What to review next? It has to be something with a lot of variety. I don’t want to be constantly praising or panning week in, week out. It has to be a series that wakes up each morning and flips a scarred two-headed coin to decide whether its going to suck like it was built by Dyson, or be literally Oscar worthy…

Oh yeah. That’ll do…

Shortstember

So, we’ve finally wrapped our series of reviews of WW2 propaganda shorts (spoilers, the good guys won. For about seventy years. Now it’s a little up in the air.) If you missed them, the reviews are here:

Der Fuehrer’s Face

Jungle Drums

The Ducktators

Reason and Emotion

Fascist Jackboots will not Trample our Motherland

Momotaru no Umiwashi

Nimbus Libéré

Das Dumme Ganslein

Hope you enjoyed them, and if you have suggestions or preferences for another series of short reviews, holla atta mazerunner.

12 Gigs in 12 Months

So I’ve decided to go back to doing stand up and I’ve set myself a challenge for 2018: 12 gigs in 12 months. Gig #1 is already in the bag (it was at Cherry Comedy, no footage I’m afraid) and #2 is in the Ha’penny Inn on Wellington Quay on Tuesday 20th January at nine if you’re in Dublin. If you’re not, do please head over to Facebook and follow Neil Sharpson-12 Gigs in 12 Months where I’ll be posting updates and footage of how I get on.

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The fault in our shades

I have this idea for a non-fiction book that I may write sometime, tentatively called Everything I know about God I learned from Comic Books. It would be a look at how the history of superhero comics so often parallels that of the major world religions, like how issues of canonicity are decided (The First Council of Nicaea/Crisis on Infinite Earths), how older belief systems get incorporated into newer ones (Celtic deities becoming saints in Gaelic Christianity/ Captain Marvel becoming part of DC continuity), the violent schisms that can erupt between adherents of different sects (the Crusades/Cassandra Cain versus Stephanie Browne) and how they deal with the Problem of Evil/Frank Millar. I bring this up because, oddly, one of the best and simplest pieces of moral advice I ever received was from a comic book. It was an issue of X-Men where Bishop, a mutant cop from the future, almost kills the man who murdered his sister before realising that he can’t cross that line and simply arrests him. Bishop is tormented by guilt over what he almost did and Charles Xavier gives him this line (as near as I can remember it, it’s been years): “It is not our thoughts that mark us, but our deeds.”
This, I think, is a very important moral. We cannot control our thoughts, our desires, our prejudices or our emotions. And, take it from the guy with the Catholic upbringing, trying to is a real good way to go nuts. In fact, if you ever find yourself in the trenches and want to be invalided back to Blighty, don’t bother sticking underpants over your head, just try to not think about something for ten minutes and that should do the trick.  Having bad thoughts does not make you a bad person. Acting on them does.
Speaking of bad people, I hardly ever read other people’s blogs, which I feel incredibly guilty about because I always want people to read mine and that makes me a rather massive hypocrite. Honestly, it’s just a question of time. Between work, family, blogging, watching movies to review and trying to keep on top of other writing projects (not to mention a rather serious gaming habit) I normally just don’t have the hours. Recently however, I made an exception and plowed through all of author Jenny Armintrout’s extensive re-cap of Fifty Shades of Grey over on Trout Nation. It’s hilarious, excellently written and I heartily endorse it.
"I am Unshaved Mouse, and I approve this blog. All my readers should check it out!"

“I am Unshaved Mouse, and I approve this blog. All my readers should check it out!”

"Huh. My stats just went up by a barely perceptible ammount. As if theyd been kicked by a tiny, tiny ant."

“Huh. My stats just went up by a barely perceptible amount. As if theyd been kicked by a tiny, tiny ant.”

Now, even though I know damn well that every last one of you knows what Fifty Shades of Grey is, blogging law stipulates that I give some background on what I’m talking about on the off chance that one of you has awoken from a coma so here we go. Fifty Shades of Grey is E.L. James’ re-purposed  Twilight fanfiction where mousey milquetoast Anastasia Steele (Yes. Yes, really.) becomes involved with chiselled blonde billionaire Christian Grey and they have lots of badly punctuated sex. It was famously described by Salman Rushdie as the worst-written novel to ever be released by a major publishing house and so naturally became a huge commercial success.
"Welp, I guess they proved ME wrong."

“Welp, I guess they proved ME wrong.”

It is also porn.
And that’s not a criticism. It’s simply a statement of fact. It’s a piece of fiction written to get the reader off. Simple as. Now, during the course of the book Christian Grey does a lot of incredibly awful things. He emotionally manipulates Ana, plies her with alcohol, coerces her into sexual acts that she really does not want, beats her, threatens her, demeans her, isolates her from her friends and family and literally checks every item on the list for being an abusive partner (not hyperbole, Jenny actually did that very thing).

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Indefinite Claws: Six Little Things that Changed the Marvel Universe

Warning. This post contains spoilers for X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men, X2, X-Men 3, Wolverine: Origins, X-Men: First Class and possibly X-Men movies that haven’t even been made yet. Read at your peril.
So I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past, fell in love and we are getting married in the spring. Honestly, really enjoyed that movie. My favourite of the X-Men franchise so far, and probably my favourite comic book movie of the year. Now, I said “favourite”, not necessarily “best”. Captain America 2 had a tighter script, whereas DFP will have your brain swerving like an articulated truck driven by a drunken monkey to avoid all the plot holes. And I’m not even talking about the inevitable stuff that comes with a time-travel story, as I mentioned in the Meet the Robinsons review there is really no way to do a “travel back in time to save the future story” that makes logical sense. No, this is just basic inconsistencies with how different mutants’ powers work, and seriously bad science. And yet, I enjoyed this movie so much, even more that Cap 2. It moves around at a great clip, there’s some great gags and character moments and it has one phenomenal prison escape scene and also one of the most flat out jaw-dropping effects shots I can remember seeing since I don’t know when. Also, there’s James McEvoy, rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors, giving an absolutely beautiful performance as a young, embittered, broken Charles Xavier that I honestly think would be getting Oscar buzz if it was in a movie with fewer giant flying robots. But there’s a question that’s raised by the movie’s ending that I want to talk about, and to do that I need to spoil pretty much everything about the movie. It concerns six little things that completely changed the entire Marvel universe, and many would argue for the worst.
I refer of course, to Wolverine’s claws.

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