Much like any super-hero team around for 50 years, you eventually run out of stories to tell. Especially with a property like the X-Men, you can only tell the persecution story so many years before it gets stale and the reader is used to the same ol, same ol.
Jason Aarons and Mike Carey have both attempted something recently, that while not new is nice to see a return of. The idea of an alternate universe or splitting the X-Men up are not original ideas, but when done correctly can open up a new wealth of stories.
Other times these ideas can lead to creations like the X-Babies.
Remember the X-Babies? You don’t? Lucky.
The X-Babies are one of those ideas that just tips a failure into new realms of poor writing. But, from these same times we also get stories like Days of Future Past and even Age of Apocalypse that highlight potential/alternate realities. The result of these stories is often a re-setting of the status quo. Which is really one of the hallmarks of the X-Books.
They were never afraid to shake up the foundations: send Xavier in to space, resurrect Jean Grey for X-Factor, or even change a character from British to Asian via some convoluted body morph/switch technology.
While these were fresh ideas once upon a time, re-booting the franchise is hardly new.
X-Men #1 (1963) would be rebooted in Giant Sized X-Men# 1 (1975) which would later be rebooted into a book split between Uncanny X-Men and the new reboot team book simply named X-Men (1991). Now Jason Aarons is crafting a new reboot for the mutants after the results of the X-Men: Schism event.
Each of these re-boots involved the team splitting in some fashion, and typically coming off of a crossover. During the 80′s, the event Fall of the Mutants saw the mutants split up after their death in Dallas, Texas. During a battle with the Adversary, the souls of the X-Men are used to stop him, thus killing the nine X-Men. Prior to this event the X-Men had split already since Xavier left for space due to injuries.
In his place Magneto was left in charge of the school. This choice would lead to the formation of the new X-team, X-Factor. This team would consist of the original X-Men: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel, and the Beast.
X-Factor originally felt that they had to hide out from Magneto and his X-teams as they were unsure of his true intentions.
See, this is nothing new. The X-Men are books that can only be populated by happiness and peace for little spats of time. What makes events like Schism and Age of X interesting is that they help to clarify the overall landscape of the X-families, but also unite them in interesting combinations they were not previously featured in.
This does not always equal great stories. After all, there are more than a few Claremont stories after the X-Men are restored to life by the Goddess Roman for their heroic sacrifices, that are just confusing or terrible (The storyline where Gambit is introduced with a young Storm is significantly convoluted as Claremont was starting to toss too many balls into the air at once.)
But, one thing these events allow to happen is a sort of crystallization of the current philosophies, concepts, and stories happening throughout the books.
Age of X, for instance was a story of an alternate universe where we find characters familiar, but in odd configurations. Cyclops for instance is called Basilisk and wears a mask that looks a bit lifted from the anime Utawarerumono.
By the end we find that this universe was created for the mutant Legion to protect the many personalities harbored in his psyche. He was forced into a procedure that would restore his sanity, but instead led to Age of X and thus perhaps almost directly into the rebooting occurring at the end of X-Men: Schism.
Instead of crafting an alternate reality story that has no real basis for its characters (I am looking at DC here), instead Carey has created an alternate reality whose sole function is to account for the endless struggles of the mutants against genocide and humanity. While not only a thematic development of the X-Men, it too develops several of the characters struggles.
In the second story of that same book, Basilisk tells the story of this realities Cyclops. Hardened beyond his current incarnation, Scott Summers was used at the mutant prison as a death sentence. The villain Arcade had Basilisk restrained to a table with a visor that was remote controlled. Also, there was something in there about his eyelids being cut off so he couldn’t close his eyes, thus shutting off the beam.
Right here we see Carey crafting a metaphor. There is a specific, particular way in which Carey views Cyclops, pun intended. What Carey is saying in this morbid, terrible scene is that Cyclops using his powers only leads to death of other mutants. Cyclops goal has always been protection of the mutants and mirrored the philosophies of Xavier. Lately we have seen a changed Cyclops that seems to side more with a Magneto philosophy than an Xavier. Part of the reason for this change: fear of total annihilation.
While this is not subtle, it is still beautiful. Cyclops, so responsible for mutant kind, so afraid to make the wrong decision, has led more mutants to death than freedom – or at least this is how Cyclops may see it as well.
By the time the reader enters into the world of X-Men: Schism we have witnessed countless deaths and trauma that there would be no hope that these characters could ever possibly hope to stay together.