Well friends, it’s here. June 7th, 2019. The release of Dark Phoenix, and, not coincidentally, my one-man charity race to fight epilepsy, Dark Phoenix Rising: Jog For the Cure. Last minute donations? Late minute donations! Last minute donations:
So you know what the race is. But what are my thoughts going in, about Dark Phoenix, the run, and our respective futures?
Where We’re Coming From
Need I regale you with the history of the X-Men and of myself? The decades of love and fandom? The cartoons (both after school and Saturday morning), the action figures, the Halloween costume. How this short kid latched onto Wolverine and how yellow is still my favorite color? How I would shout out the names of the X-Men with my little sister during the opening (She always got Beast, and I always got Wolverine)? My holographic copy of Wolverine #75? The way I shaved my mutton chops to look like Logan? My colleagues and I trying to get the Street Fighter vs X-Men arcade game fixed in the student union? I’ve been an X-Fan for as far back as I can remember. That’s part of the point. I was such a fan of the characters and their adventures and the concepts that I was ecstatic when 2000 came around and we finally got an X-Movie on the big screen. That was all of two decades ago and I was begging for one. Now we have TWELVE. And this is it.
Why I’m Doing This
How far back do I have to go in explaining the totality of this event? Would it help if I said I have always hated running?
Yeah, ever since grade school and the dreaded mile run, I just really disliked the whole concept. What’s the point? Just walking really fast, get winded so easily? My brother Danny and I were on two different levels when he took up track and cross country. It’s like, really bro? Then my incredible Mom started doing it to. She ran half-marathons and once an entire marathon!
In 2010/2011, she started running races “for” my siblings and I. I guess just doing the race in our honor? Anyway, a couple of months before the San Diego Rock and Roll Half Marathon in May 2011, she sent me an email about that race, informing me that it was my turn. I was surprised, because, as she knew, I had little history of running. But I said I’d start training. She thought that was a joke, and then of course I HAD to do it! And it was fun, and after the race we saw X-Men: First Class, and it was amazing.
It was the start of something awesome. A cool new tradition with me and my Mom. 13.1 miles and then an X-Men movie. We did it for X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse, and both Deadpools. We did a half-marathon in Austin in February, back when Dark Phoenix was going to come out, but they pushed back the release date. There was a marathon in Seattle this weekend, but my Mom couldn’t make it.
My thoughts about Dark Phoenix are mixed. Obviously I’m super excited about any X-Men movie coming out. And we’ve had 11 so far, and they’ve all been enjoyable to some extent or another. James McAvoy’s Xavier, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto (he was a discovery in 2011!), Nicholas Hoult’s Beast, Evan Peters’s Quicksilver, etc. An X-Men movie set in the 90s, the decade I first discovered them. A cosmic adaptation of the Dark Phoenix arc. How awesome could this be!
But there is an unmistakable air of melancholy. It’s bittersweet, of course, to see the end of the series, after a dozen films and two decades. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
How do I react to that? How do I make the occasion as special as it needs to be? What can I do to make the memory of this day commensurate with my own internal significance? I had to make this an event, even if there wouldn’t be thousands of other people or my mother running beside me.
Well, you know what they say. If there’s not a run scheduled, just make one.
Very quickly, because who needs such negativity in their life? It’s such a trifle. I’m 31 years old, and doubtless there are those who would say it’s well past time to grow out of the X-Men. A man my age ought not to be making such a big deal over comic book characters and their adaptations. Certainly not running races in their honor.
But nah. Yes, I’m in my 30s, but what do I have to justify to anyone? I’m a college graduate (with a Master’s Degree, no less), I pay my own rent with the job I have, and I’m getting my first novel (more on that below) published this September (“Hellish Beasts” from Black Rose Writing, look for it on September 12th or pre-order here: https://www.blackrosewriting.com/horror/hellishbeasts?fbclid=IwAR00B87JoC55-H3nDcpm9Y0HfN6NtuwERO7Gzdd5pt-2a_84Qd87Bip59FE). So I’m doing okay. Not married yet, but I’m trying, alright?
To dismiss an interest in superheroes as in any way childish or unbecoming of a man of my age is superficial and silly. Sure, there is kid-friendly fun, and nothing wrong with that, but if you really look at the history of these characters (originally created as a timely analogue for the Civil Rights Movement), you’ll see the depth and maturity possible. The fading sunset of Logan was not kid’s stuff.
I’ve said before that superheroes are the myths of our time. And think of the writers, artists, filmmakers who bring these new heroes to life. Are they all children? Is there nothing noble in their work? You might as well condemn Homer for writing of the gods and legends, Shakespeare for ghosts and wizards, or Tolkein for writing of elves.
Also, it’s for charity.
What is This About Anyway?
Now let’s get thematic. Imagine something inside you, a powerful force that only manifests after puberty (in my case, 16). Something you didn’t ask for or expect, but you can either own it or let it destroy you. You may feel alienated, and anger at this unexpected development is understandable. But turn to those around you, your family and friends and you can conquer it. You have no idea what you’re capable of.
Is it affected or forced to try to find a parallel between what’s inside me and what’s inside Jean Grey? Is it absurd and possibly offensive to liken epilepsy, a real life malady affecting millions worldwide, to the fictional and destructive Phoenix Force. Eh, maybe. But I think I’ve made a good go of it. Remember Jesus’s parable of the two sons. Actions speak louder than words, and you can hardly fault a guy for bringing a fun theme to something that could be a real downer. Would you rather discuss the frank realities of a neurological ailment or publicly cherish an immersive world with characters we’ve come to know and love over the years? I’ve made my choice. Maybe I should be talking more about epilepsy than X-Men, but I know which I prefer, and I know who I am. I’m the nerd who has epilepsy and is using that as a charitable excuse to celebrate the world that has given me so much. Maybe that’s my superpower.
The Future of The Franchise
Perhaps one of the most poignant and striking things about all this is that it cannot actually be said to be the end of the franchise. Not definitively. This is both frustrating and sad as well as oddly hopeful. The ambiguity. The lack of closure.
Because if absolutely nothing else, The New Mutants, a spin-off film based on a mutant team related to the X-Men, does come out next April. Barring yet more reshoots and delays. (April 3rd, 2020, is, lamentably, the FOURTH release date for this project) it comes out next year. So what is this project that has had three prior release dates, once rumored to be skipping a theatrical run altogether to unceremoniously debut on Hulu or Disney+, and at one point post-production rumored to be totally CANCELLED? Just how, if at all, will The New Mutants relate to the X-Men series already in progress? Early in development, it was rumored that James McAvoy would be appearing as Xavier. I’m not sure that’s been officially debunked, but it’s being talked about less. After she was cast as Magik, Anya Taylor-Joy had a cute Twitter interaction with Stefan Kapicic, the actor who plays Colossus in the Deadpool series. Piotr and Illyana Rasputina are siblings in the comics, but would there be connection in the cinematic franchise? Stefan called Anya a “Great sister and a perfect sister”, which was sweet, but it looks unlikely we’ll see them together on screen.
In fact, The New Mutants is a bit of a saddening project, for more than just the reshoots. and numerous delays. Like, why tell us that Jon Hamm was cast as Mr. Sinister for a post-credits scene then and then that plan changed? And what’s the point of a new post-credits scene starring Antonio Banderas as some other, yet unrevealed character? As appealing as it sounds, isn’t it also a bit futile? Post-credits scene teasing a villain we won’t ever see again?
Disney buying out Fox does open the world for a lot of possibilities, but it doesn’t look great for the X-Men Cinematic Universe as we know it. Channing Tatum’s long-stewing Gambit film has been cancelled, as has James Franco’s oddly random Multiple Man movie and the rumored Kitty Pryde solo outing. Even the television series unrelated to the movie franchise, Gifted and Legion, are ending.
Which leaves Deadpool. Are his movies even X-Men, part of the same franchise? I’d say so. Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are major characters in both films, Deadpool spends some time at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and, despite the films’ mean-spirited and ungrateful insistence on mocking Wade Wilson’s appearance in the underrated and still awesome X-Men Origins: Wolverine, that was the film that brought Ryan Reynolds into this role.
His movies are still doing well, he’s still a very popular character, and there is a lot of interest in bringing him into the MCU. But how will that work? There have been rumors that they might include Deadpool in the third Tom Holland Spider-Man film. I’m only speaking of the recent rumors and announcements, but Disney has announced their slate for the next few years, and neither a new Deadpool film or the X-Force spin-off teased are yet on the docket. Take from that what you will.
At any rate, with rights now acquired and Endgame bringing the first decade of The Avengers to a close, it’s just a matter of time before Disney uses what they have and brings their own take to the X-Men to the big screen. Trailers for Spider-Man: Far From Home have Mysterio talking about the multi-verse. Some speculate that the villain Mysterio is lying, but it seems like the next logical step in the MCU to expand its horizons. They’ll get to the X-Men eventually, but will this multi-verse be an actual reference to the franchise Bryan Singer started, or something new entirely?
They’ll recast Wolverine eventually. It’ll hurt seeing some other bub try to fill Hugh Jackman’s immortal claws, but you know it’s coming. Probably not in the next five years, but maybe ten. Maybe Ryan Reynolds will come over, and he the sole remnant of this great series. I suppose that’s like the way it goes with a lot of things, the progression of it. As Kermit The Frog’s Bob Cratchit said, “Life is about meetings and partings; that is the way of it.” There may be little visible connection between that first X-Men movie I watched so excitedly when I was 12 and this bittersweet conclusion, still less between the former and New Mutants and whatever’s next for The Merc With the Mouth, but you can trace a direct line. Just like my time with my grandparents was all too short, the overlap may be brief, but it is visible, and it’s important, and it matters. I was not yet a teenager when the X-Men first hit the big screen. I’m not in my 30s. Yet the future continues, and though those past installments are borne back ceaselessly into my past, they remain in my heart, my heroes, inspiration for my own writing, and so much more.
The Future of Me
C.S. Lewis once said that grief feels a lot like fear. I’m not sure what to do with myself now that the sun is setting on the X-Men. Part of me feels cold, hands in my pockets, walking around with one less thing to look forward to. This is all melodramatic, but indulge me.
In Noah Baumbach’s underrated gem Kicking and Screaming, Chris Eigeman has a fantastic line that brilliantly encapsulates the tragic-comic theme of that film’s examination of post-graduation uncertainty.
School is out. I got my MFA in screenwriting the better part of a decade ago. This is not a summer blockbuster I’m enjoying, but just another movie that comes out in a sunny season and I see between work. Huh.
BUT this is a magic summer, because at its conclusion is a monumental event in my life as a writer, an adult, and a person!
Hellish Beasts! Yes, my first novel is being published! A watershed moment. Still a little surreal. I’m not beginning a new grade in the fall, but I am beginning a new stage, which is even more exciting.
Finally, to end this meandering blog off on a cheery note, check out this link of the creator of Deadpool and X-Force himself, the one and only Rob Liefeld, offering his support for Dark Phoenix Rising: Jog For the Cure!
Thanks for everything everyone, and see you at the races!