The Best X-Over Names, Non-Violent Superhero Comics, and The “Wow” Factor: It’s the March Mailbag Q&A!

This Mailbag Q&A is so giant-sized that I had to bump some questions to the next edition! But before we get into it, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for submitting questions for me to answer. You all delivered this month, and then some! Let’s

What is the best named X-Men crossover? – Ryan Alcock

I’m going for extra credit on this one, because instead of naming just one favorite, I’m going to power rank a list of them from favorite to least favorite.

  1. X-Tinction Agenda: Perfect. No notes.
  2. Age of Apocalypse: The apex of the “(insert word) of (insert word)” formula we see elsewhere in X-Men crossover history. It says everything you need to know in three words.
  3. Messiah CompleX: The capital X at the end of the second word was truly an inspired move.
  4. House of X/Powers of X: This isn’t really a crossover, but I am counting it as a mutant event. Its true innovation was making it so the two Xs were pronounced differently. X of Swords fits in this as well, it just worked off the same concept.
  5. Mutant Massacre: Extremely intense name that says what it’s about while being alliterative. What else would we want from an X-Men crossover name?
  6. Fatal Attractions: I loved this one because it was a bit nonsense. Was it a reference to the movie? Was it because Colossus moved to the dark side? Whatever, the covers had holograms.
  7. X-Cutioner’s Song: It’s like X-Tinction Agenda, except it’s 30% stupid and 100% a stealth Norman Mailer reference.
  8. Phalanx Covenant: Where I learned what the words “phalanx” and “covenant” meant, because when it was announced, I was like, “HUH?!”
  9. Operation: Zero Tolerance: You can’t say they were lying about what this event was about.
  10. Second Coming: This is literally accurate and also a title Exodus would agree with, but it was really lacking in spice after Messiah CompleX started this larger story off.
  11. Onslaught: We’re barely even trying at this point.
  12. The Twelve

I’m sure you may end up covering this in Comics Disassembled, but what was your initial reaction seeing the new X-Men slate? How close were your and Dave Buesing’s predictions from Off Panel (both the real and dream list)? Are you gonna miss the Krakoa era at all? – Kevin Gregory

I did cover my initial reactions, and the gist of it was “This is fine.” I’m not pumped or upset. I’m just kind of…this is fine. That said, I did have a thought about the upcoming era while I was reading X-Men Forever #1. While we have a lot to learn about this new era so plenty of surprises still could come, the back to basics type approach the first three titles demonstrate do feel…safe. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Safe is familiar, and familiar sells for Marvel comics. I’ve heard from some retailers that they’ve already heard from lapsed X-Men readers who were excited for something that feels a bit more…X-Men like in their minds than the Krakoa Era proved to be. I think we might be underestimating the potential of what they’re cooking up from a sales standpoint, even if it doesn’t prove to be as incendiary as House of X and Powers of X were initially. There’s value in that.

But with safety comes a limited range of possible results. To bring in an unnecessary baseball reference, the upcoming X-Men era very much feels like it’s designed with getting on-base in mind. It isn’t swinging for the fences. It’s just trying to make contact and consistently deliver. Again, there’s value in that. It means that there will likely be fewer misses, so people can be happy with the regular warm feelings they get from these reads. That’s hugely different than Krakoa, which was a pure grip it and rip it approach. When I was reading X-Men Forever #1, a solid read that unfortunately just felt kind of out of order with what’s going on, I couldn’t help but think of how high of a ceiling the Krakoa has had. House and Powers alone might be on the Mount Rushmore of the best Marvel comics from this century, and there were plenty of other electric releases throughout. There’s also been some pretty bad comics, like Fall of the House of X. That’s because with high ceilings often comes low floors, and Krakoa’s floor has been in the basement.

I like high variance comics that can deliver incredible results but also poor ones, because I can always just not read the ones I don’t like. But a line of comics that are just consistently fine? That’s a surefire path to me either sleepwalking through my reads or dropping the books out of boredom. Now, again, that isn’t necessarily what this will ultimately prove to be. But it sort of feels like that, and not like the domain of big swings. I’m a big fan of those, as you may know! In that way, I’ll miss Krakoa, but to be honest, I’m ready for it to go. It’s been an interesting experience, but it has largely felt directionless for a while outside of a few select books. It felt stretched and rushed at different times, and while that resulted in some big wins, it also meant that I was ready for it to go by the time it’s going to actually wrap. All that said, ask me again in six months and my answer may be different.

As for how Dave and I did, we did pretty well, in a way! Dave nailed the Gail Simone and David Marquez team, although he had them on Generation X instead of Uncanny X-Men. Meanwhile, I had Jed MacKay and Ryan Stegman on Uncanny X-Men while they’re actually working on X-Men. I’m going to give us a 1.5 out of 3. That’s not bad!

Any big Marvel/DC series with minimal action/battle scenes? I’m sure for many of us, the older we get, the less tolerance we have for generic, lackluster battle scenes featuring a superhero vs. some contrived plot point that gives a false sense of vulnerability. Can there be a fix for this in Marvel/DC mainstream runs? Is it a permanent fixture that’s not going to go away, ever (aka forever doomed to suffer through a mechanical yawner of a fight scene every issue). Or am I just being grumpy and exaggerating the scope of this? – Brian Klein-Q

I think there can be, and as I wrote in my recent review of its run so far, it seems like Ryan North, Iban Coello, and friends have tapped into a solution for this. So much of the story is less oriented on violence and more about problem solving conflict, proving that it is possible to have a different approach to this sort of thing. That said, I don’t think there’s a fix to this if only because battle scenes are baked into the concept. Removing that from superhero comics is sort of like removing superheroics from superhero comics.

So, to some degree it’s a permanent fixture, but I also think it’s less prominent than it once was. There are a lot more unconventional choices and a lot more comics that are more about the characters than violence in a lot of ways. Look at X-Men Red and Immortal X-Men, the two flagship comics from the latter half of the Krakoa Era. Those books were as much about political intrigue as anything else. Or the current run of The Flash, which has less to do with punching and more to do with relationships and bananas science and cosmic horror.

I’m with you, though. While I appreciate a good action sequence, it being a core focus of the average issue is not something that appeals to me anymore. I wonder if that’s a generational thing, because it almost seems like it’s expected from older comic fans and actively dreaded by younger(ish, if I’m including myself) readers. Long story a short, yes, I think there are alternative solutions, no, it’s never going to go away at least completely, and yeah, you might be being a bit grumpy about this and missing some books that already do what you want. But that’s okay! It’s a big world out there, and I suspect we could all use a little more variety in what we’re given by these comics.

Have you read anything so far this year that’s really wowed you? I know it’s early, but I’m not sure yet if I’ve read anything so far that made me say “that’s gonna be on my list of favorite 2024 comics.” To be clear, there’s definitely new and existing books I’m enjoying, but maybe I’m a little burnt out, and it’s become harder to really wow me. – James Kaplan

My answer is no, but not for the same reasons as you, I suspect. Since my intense push to read everything for the 2023 SKTCHD AWRDS, I’ve found myself dialing back my comic reading quite a bit. This happens every year. I burn myself out on reading comics after reading thousands and thousands of pages of them. But this year has been longer and more prolific than usual, as the first three months of the year have been primarily dedicated to reading prose. I finished the last few of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels – I’ve now read all of them! – and have been feasting on Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries, which I absolutely adore. Those have been eating up the majority of my reading time.

So, that means I still haven’t read Dave Baker’s Mary Tyler Moorehawk (which seems like the consensus most loved comic of 2024 so far), Kyle Starks’ Karate Prom (which arrives in May), Ngozi Ukazu and Mad Rupert’s Bunt, or Gene Luen Yang and Leuyen Pham’s Lunar New Year Love Story despite having all four books, to say nothing of an increasingly perilous tower of single issue comics. So, when I say I haven’t read anything that has wowed me this year either, it’s said with a massive asterisk in the corner.

It’s possible you’re burnt out like I was/am, and you need to give yourself a break. It’s fine to do that! I feel like sometimes people read comics or watch TV shows or movies simply because they believe they should, and it turns that experience into a duty rather than a hobby. I’m not saying you’re doing that, but it can meaningfully change your relationship with something if that happens.

I also want to note that historically, the bulk of the most notable and renowned comics and graphic novels from the year come in the latter half of the year. I suspect that’s for “we want to be in close proximity to Christmas” reasons, but most best of lists disproportionately lean towards comics released in July or later. Part of that’s recency bias, but a bigger part of that is how scheduling works. Historically the first quarter of any year is the weakest for sales (that’s mostly because everyone just spent a ton for Christmas so they dial spending back, but I’ve always wondered if there was a chicken and the egg situation there where things don’t make a ton of money simply because that’s where publishers/studios bury things they’re uncertain about), so many publishers avoid dropping big guns during that window. The wow will come, James! Believe in the wow!

Is there a property that once had great prominence in a publishers’ lineup that you wish would return to its former glory? – Hayden Dunlap

Hayden mentioned Green Lantern in his email, and it’s hard to disagree with that one. There was a time in the 2000s where Green Lantern wasn’t just a DC comic, but the DC comic in a lot of ways. Now, I honestly could not even tell you whether there is a Green Lantern series or not.

But my pick is Captain America. It sort of feels like Marvel has lost any feel on what to do with that character. Cap has long and quietly had a lot of interesting creator runs, but for the most part, it just seems like there’s a bit of an identity crisis around him. Is Cap Steve Rogers or Sam Wilson? What’s his vibe? Why should we read these comics? I honestly have no sense as to what Marvel wants to do with the character, so it just feels like he’s constantly wandering, waiting for someone to come on the book and give him some direction. If any character needs a fresh start and a dynamite creative team to give him a push, it’s Cap.

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