I’ve always been a man defined by his hobbies and obsessions, whether it be Ninja Turtles, baseball, Beanie Babies, Star Wars, fantasy sports, or TV. From 2000 to 2007, my Northstar was comic books, and I’d argue, was the most important hobby I ever had, irrevocably changing how I view pop culture and discovering what kind of stories and worlds and characters that I love.
I’m a devourer of superhero-related pop culture, someone whose calendar is dictated by big movie releases or TV premieres. My consumption of sci-fi, fantasy and comics has paralleled the incredible rise to prominence that these genres have imprinted on our culture. I like to think I had something to do with it all, because the timing is uncanny (sorry).
But without the original X-MEN, the superhero film that in many ways, started it all, we might never have seen a world where comic book heroes are the most popular characters in the world, where movie theaters are filled with the biggest characters from our youth, or the most eclectic. ANT-MAN is going to have his own movie, and that’s not weird. That’s exciting. The best filmmakers and actors in the world do some of their best work bringing to life characters that we grew up so urgently pretending they were real. Perhaps even without X-MEN, another movie would’ve sparked a superhero renaissance, an age when Captain America or Iron Man shares equal footing (or towers above) James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Darth Vader and Indiana Jones. But maybe we’d still be waiting for AVENGERS. Or JUSTICE LEAGUE, because the punch line writes itself.
X-MEN’s success led to Sam Raimi getting his hands on SPIDER-MAN, and that paved the way for Christopher Nolan to reboot BATMAN, and for all of our movie going lives to change forever. It certainly mutated mine (oops).
If I hadn’t seen X-MEN, or if it hadn’t had a profound impact on me, I might not have been as invested in the incredible fantasy world that we geeks live in today. When the film came out in 2000, I had never read a comic book before. I was aware of them, having spent most of my money on MAGIC: THE GATHERING, POKEMON and baseball cards at Bigfoot’s Cards & Comics (now and forever closed 🙁 ). I think I knew I’d like them, but I didn’t know if I was ready to fully commit to my nerd-dom, or admit to myself that that was the path I was going down. I was an extremely shy person back then, and not at all comfortable in my own skin, preferring to shield my personality from other people.
I was also a fairly accomplished baseball player at the time (but I was only 12, so that means nothing), and I’m not sure if I was able to reconcile the two worlds together. Being a LORD OF THE RINGS geek on your baseball team in 2000 was a hard sell, and I don’t think it’s an accident that my playing days became more frustrating, difficult and fewer and far between once I embraced comic books and the like. I wish I had juggled the two better (one of my bigger regrets), but I wasn’t very good at managing my obsessions.
When Bryan Singer, a director known for THE USUAL SUSPECTS, took on X-MEN, and brought it into theaters in 2000, I was more than familiar with the X-MEN. Like almost everyone in my generation, I had grown up on the awesome aforementioned cartoon. Jubilee was the worst, Cyclops was lame, the Phoenix Saga was fucking great, etc. I would’ve told you Wolverine was my favorite character (revel in his best quotes, though none top “JEEAANNNNNNN”), but I probably secretly believed Beast to be my fave, since he was the most Donatello-like of the mutant brigade.
Every summer, I’d go with my family to visit Granny in North Lake Tahoe. After a day spent on the beach (likely playing “amazing catches,” a forced childish version of ESPN’s Web Gems with a splash ball), we’d often play a round or two of miniature (don’t call it pee wee) golf at Magic Carpet Golf. While there were many highlights of the experience (including some shooting game that featured a terrifying cowboy/drunk that shot water and hollered at you), I was never satisfied until AFTER I got done in the Arcade Room. Why? Because they had the X-MEN Arcade Game. Magic Carpet was probably one of two places I’ve ever seen it, or played it (until very recently, it was still there; now my childhood is dead).
While I loved playing as Wolverine (in his spectacular brown and tan/yellow duds that need to make it on film) and Nightcrawler (also one of my faves; I wasn’t too creative in my choices), Colossus was the true breakout character of that game in my mind. I would play him the most, and would yell “Hyogen” to emulate the yell Piotr Rasputin makes when he explodes/whatever the fuck he does to destroy all competition. For awhile I think I just figured his name was Hyogen, and that became a talking point with my father for years (he’ll still say it). I shouted Hyogen around the house well after I should’ve stopped, and am still a little upset how awful my ears were, since my approximation of his yell left a lot to be desired in translation:
I like Hyogen better, but there’s a lot to be said for MAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUGH. Or maybe it’s WHOOOOOOOOREE. One of life’s greatest mysteries.
All of this was a long-winded, rambling way to say that I had been primed, and ready for the moment a young Erik Lehnnsherr mangled barb-wire fence at a Nazi internment camp to open X-MEN, and tearing down the barrier to comics and genre in my life forever.
I was thrilled to discover the absolute perfect Wolverine on screen, perhaps the best unknown casting of all-time. One of the biggest travesties of the constant missteps of the X-franchise after X2 has been wasting a willing, loyal and brilliant Hugh Jackman in his prime on a bunch of shitty movies. That, more than anything, is why we need X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST to be awesome, and why I’m totally fine that Wolverine’s role in the film is beefed up. There’s only so much longer that Hugh Jackman can do this, and like Robert Downey Jr. with Iron Man, I want to see as much of him as possible in the role that made us love him.
While Anna Paquin’s Rogue was annoying, I still loved Wolverine and Rogue’s relationship. Patrick Stewart. Ian McKellan. Most associate P-Stew with Captain Picard, or McKellan with Gandalf. This is likely heresy/wrong, but for me, they’ll always be Professor X and Magneto, as X-MEN was my first introduction to them as actors that stuck, and physical evidence that true love exists.
You could go on an on about what’s wrong with the X-MEN movies (Toad, Storm, Rogue, the bazillion plotholes and timeline inconsistencies), but it doesn’t matter. In 2000, when I saw X-MEN for the first time as a 12 year old, it changed my life.
X-MEN was my Gateway drug into comic books. The next week I was in Bigfoot’s, buying comics for the first time. Since that moment, I’ve listened to Joe Quesada or some other boner talk about how these movies try to get kids to read comic books countless times, and they always seem so desperate and laughable, but with X-MEN, the tactic worked.
While the first comic book character and series I fell in love with based on the merit of the character and the writing was GREEN ARROW, thanks to Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s genius resurrection of Oliver Queen, they weren’t the first comics I ever read.
That would be X-MEN #110-113 and UNCANNY X-MEN #392-393, a unique and interesting period of X-Men comics that people would prefer to forget.
Somehow, Scott Lobdell’s “Eve of Destruction” arc didn’t ruin comic books for me forever. At the time, tt was seen as the last big crossover between the X-titles, while simultaneously being “filler” before Grant Morrison and Joe Casey (blergh) took over the flagship books for Marvel and revolutionized the mutants (one of them did). I honestly don’t remember Eve of Destruction in the slightest, except for their covers (and the brilliant song Lobdell was referencing), which is probably for the best. I do remember being kind of bummed out that Hyogen/Colossus had just died (sacrificing himself to save mutant kind from the Legacy Virus), right when I was started reading. Figures. Of course, years later, Joss Whedon would prove perhaps for the first time that he would always have my back, resurrecting my Arcade fave in ASTONISHING X-MEN.
Pretty soon, I was spending all of my allowance and savings on comic books, broadening out to AVENGERS, FANTASTIC FOUR, JUSTICE LEAGUE, and in a couple years, onto Vertigo titles like FABLES and Y: THE LAST MAN that really showed me the kind of diverse storytelling that could take place in a medium that I had always thought was devoted solely to masked heroes and villains.
When I was first delving in, I craved more. I wanted to talk about them, I wanted to pretend like I knew what I was talking about, and I wanted to meet other people like me. That’s when I found the Marvel message boards, and stumbled upon a world of role playing, constant threads filled with silly arguments debating your dream X-MEN team, or what mutant powers you wish you had, or who you’d want to fuck, along with various get to know you games with nerds of all shapes, sizes and ages. My moniker was DrDoom2099; to this day, I’ve never read a comic book with the 2099 version of Doctor Doom. Very soon, I had created my own message board called Comic Castle, that brought with it several iterations, a lot of wasted time, and a few long time members and friends.
One of whom was ShadowWolf214, or David Youngblood, a name you might recognize. He writes about owls and Red Pandas on this very site, and mind-bloggingly does so without any encouragement from me. 13-14 years after I first met him on the Marvel message boards and talked to him on AIM, I probably text David more than I do my Mom, Dad or best friends that I actually see on a consistent basis. David has been my nigh constant online companion ever since I learned to stop worrying and love the genre, and the bizarre, incredible, and life-giving worlds that that has opened up. In many ways, because he was so much older (it’s a one year difference, but it seemed/seems like a decade of difference when I was 12) and had been reading comics for longer, he kind of clued me in on what to read and what to shit on, until I was able to stand on my two feet in the comics community (I don’t know if I ever did). Whenever the other watches a new show, or movie, we’re likely the first to know about it, or receive a snarky comment. We practically have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to pop culture, and there are few people I trust more than him when it comes to recommendations.
It’s one of the weirder and cooler friendships and stories I’ve had the good fortune to stumble upon. I “met” David when I was 12 years old (though we both lied about our ages for at least a year or so), and we both stunningly turned out to be who we said we were, and kept in contact long enough to the point where it wasn’t weird when we finally met. I went to his wedding in August of 2012, finally meeting David and learning his disturbing predilection for chicken fingers in person for the first time. Here I was, the night before his wedding, crashing on his couch. It was surreal, kinda awkward, yet undeniably wonderful to be chatting about THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and PROMETHEUS with David and his drunk friends during the most important days of his life.
It’s reassuring to have someone in your life that not only knows you and has your back, but loves all the same things you do. It’s creepy/insane how similar David and I are in our pop culture consumption. He will get all the jokes, all the references. And that all came, in part, because of Bryan Singer’s first X-MEN. Without seeing it, I would have 100% less dragon socks, Edward James Olmos t-shirts and people to talk Agent 355 with, things no one should live without.
Before I became comfortable waving around my hobbies, and personality for all to see (which came in senior year of high school and college), the Marvel message boards were the first lifeline to who I really was. Nowadays, I don’t care what other people think about the weird or girly or nerdy things I like (MARY POPPINS, DAWSON’S CREEK, etc.), and am in fact proud of it, since I never shut up about them.
But without the Marvel Messageboards, and discovering the internet as this bastion of reflection, discussion and access to knowledge and people I’d never be able to meet in Edmonds, WA when I was in middle school, I never would’ve made Comic Castle or discovered things that truly inspired me. I might never would’ve written about comics, movies and the things I love, and without that, I don’t know if I ever would’ve realized how much I like not just writing online, but writing in general.
You could make the argument that seeing X-MEN was the most impactful thing that happened to me in my childhood, aside from a non-serious car accident that happened to me when I was 15 that robbed me of my license for a year and inadvertently introduced me to DAWSON’S CREEK, or not making the baseball team my freshman year of High School. Oh, and being loved and raised by a pair of wonderful parents, I guess.
While X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST has the potential to be awful, and I’ve kind of held my expectations in check because of that, I’m optimistic. It’s actually snuck up on me how happy and ecstatic I am to see this crazy ballsy sequel/prequel/reboot/eraser fourteen years later, with Bryan Singer back in the saddle.
Maybe afterwards, I’ll find myself wandering right back into a comic shop, ready to restart the addiction. What’s Scott Lobdell doing these days?