Accessibility and the X-Men:

A 2-Part Look at My First Comic, Part 2

Two more characters enter the picture in Havok and Longshot and I picked this first page, despite their introductory sequence lasting several more filled with great character insight, because I think it depicts Longshot in the role of the reader. His naiveté and somewhat meta-commentary on the names of the X-Men (“You all have so many. I get confused keeping track.”) is still endearing and it is pages like this that made the character such a fan favorite if you ask me. Reading this back now I get a smile on my face looking at the sheer joy Longshot exhibits as he hops over the street sign and waxes romantic on the idea of meeting Ricochet Rita, even the “?” coming off the dog’s head makes me chuckle.

Just as Naze was to Storm, Havok stands in stark contrast to his compatriot as they walk the streets of San Francisco. His hands are in his pockets for nearly the entirety of this sequence until the time comes to use his powers (replete with Claremont’s customary description of how they work) then they go right back in his pocket save for shaking hands with a human police officer who also helpfully ties the story back to the Freedom Force angle from earlier.

Sprinkled throughout this sequence are little gems of continuity for those of us new to the X-experience; Longshot’s internal dialogue fills us in on just why Havok is so morose while also structured in such a fashion that the reader can tell Longshot is not quite the same as the rest (he refers to tires as “round, rolling rubber feet” for example).

Finally, on Alcatraz Island (appropriate for mutant outlaws), the reader finally gets to see the individuals we were introduced to in the previous pages united as well as some new additions in Psylocke and Madelyne. It’s a sequence that ties all the separate threads from this issue together with Rogue’s explanation of her relationship to Mystique and Destiny and their connection to Freedom Force, we learn of Havok’s connection to Madelyne and of her non-mutant status, and I can’t say enough how much I love the depiction of Wolverine’s bared teeth reaction.

Then we get the full circle moment as we learn of Psylocke’s telepathic abilities as she attempts to contact Storm which returns us to who is now climbing the mountain in pursuit of Forge. This entire sequence, particularly these two pages…

…stand in stark contrast to the regal woman we were introduced to back on page one but it does show us another side of Storm, a side that informs the reader how a “powerless” mutant can still lead a team of super powered individuals. She is powerful, ferocious, a fighter to her very core and a woman who is going to achieve her goal no matter the cost to her body. Yes, when you apply a level of reality to this scenario it is somewhat ridiculous how much Storm talks to herself while being bombarded by demon hordes but that internal dialogue gives the reader great insight into the character; her reflection on over-relying on her powers chief among them.

Most importantly…well perhaps not MOST when it comes to talking about a single issue but certainly MOST when talking about drawing readers in to continue reading this series, Claremont and team end with this page:

…a perfect tease for what is to come next as Forge and Storm have their “come to Jesus” moment only to discover they have been duped by Naze. Forge, shockingly, forgives Storm for stabbing him and with a blast of Naze’s dark energies it seems as if our protagonists die while the true villain of the piece cackles on about his power and the coming doom. It makes you want to see what comes next as the readers are left with the question of not just Storm and Forge’s fate but also a question of what the rest of the X-Men are doing about the Dallas situation. This issue tells a complete story while simultaneously leaving you with a cliffhanger for next month; a feat I am not sure many books accomplish in the modern era.

In closing, I suppose what I am getting at is the idea that just because a comic book has been in publication for an extended period of time does not mean it is inaccessible to a reader. Marvel, to its credit, has managed to keep the same continuity since its inception without given the 616 a giant reboot. They may have spawned the Ultimate Universe and they may have barraged the readers with brand new #1’s, subsequently followed by a return to original numbering, then once again followed by a brand new #1, but they have maintained a single continuity in which the events of Fantastic Four and X-Men fifty years ago (real time) are still in play today. Conversely DC Comics has reset their world four times in my lifetime (Original Crisis, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, and Flashpoint/New 52) but only two years ago did they make it a line-wide reboot that was, in most ways, a giant CTRL-ALT-DELETE on the entire world.

From a fan perspective this can be quite infuriating BUT, after having a conversation with the proprietor of my LCS today when I picked up my books, for a retailer it is a hugely different story. Number ones sell and having to explain to an adult who is totally unfamiliar with our world just how things work can prove frustrating.

Take Zero Year as an example…can you imagine explaining to a brand new adult customer who wants to break into Batman how, at number 21, the book jumped back five years and this story set in the past is going on for the next 12 months BUT is unconnected from anything going on in the multiple books bearing Batman’s name? An understanding a long time reader takes for granted but one that an adult reader may find difficult to wrap their heads around.

I point out ADULT customer for a reason; in part because, no matter what the companies may try and claim, their target audience in 2013 is one made of long-time ADULT readers but also because I firmly believe that adults have a harder time accepting things than children. We think too much, we process everything through innumerable filters of experience in our brain. Children, they just…they just accept and they just DO.

Think of all the times a child WALKS on the top of the monkey bars with no thought of falling off nor of the injuries that would follow. Think of any activity really that you, as an adult, would shy away from but one which a child runs head-first into with no thought or care of consequences. From experience I can say that there is nothing but fear there when you try to do the same as an adult.

That same carefree nature can be applied here. In the world of comics, a kid is more willing to roll with the punches and see what happens, to embrace the fantastical without trying to force some perceived “reality” on the material. Call it cynicism, call it experience, either way it changes the reading and it changes how you accept the material.

I believe that is the heart of the “accessibility” issue and it will continue to be one as long as adults are the target audience. If you don’t think that’s the truth, sit in your LCS for a couple hours and see how many customers are children versus how many are adults. My experiences during one hour on this Wednesday were adult-heavy with one, just one, child coming in to pick up books. He didn’t care about the weird Point One or Point Two numbering, he didn’t care about the fact that Joker was written over the proper title of the book; he seemed to just want to read cool looking comics and his mother obliged…

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Christopher Maurer is a graduate of Michigan State University w/ a BA in English who then proceeded to get wrapped up in the world of videography for local news & sports, including the 2003 March Madness tournament, before migrating to Philadelphia in late-2003 where he then jumped into the crazy-ridiculous world of professional wrestling under the moniker Shane Hagadorn. It is a world in which he, his wife, and cats have since resided for the last 10 years. Chris, an avid fan of comics for 25 years & counting, has been writing his own personal blog since late-2010 at 20 Plus Years of 32 Pages and recently had his first published work in the September 2013 issue of Philly Beer Scene Magazine. His loves include Batman, mutants, Grant Morrison, craft beer, and not taking it all too seriously...

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