The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why did the late 80's/90's suck so much?

I already explained in my previous post that I am not much of a fan of Venom. But, I think right now I'll look at the X-Men's rogues' gallery and explain why I dislike two fan favorites.

I know I'm in the minority on this, but I think characters like Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister are really, really lame villains.

It took over a decade for either of them to be defined at all. Apocalypse was a great big powerful uber mutant who had this ill defined survival of the fittest thing going. Sinister, we didn't know what he was about for over a decade, then they connected him with Apocalypse, which came out of no where.

The problem was, they were both introduced as "mysterious" villains, and nothing was revealed about them, hints that went no where, it was dragged out, creative teams changed, new ideas were added, and what we got was a jumbled mess.

I think the X-Men films did the right thing by sticking with Magneto for all three films. He is a compelling character, and he's not entirely wrong. And you know what, it has always made for fascinating debates on morality and ethics when one is discussing Xavier and Magneto. Personally, I think making nice with those who are trying to kill you is stupid at best.

The thing about Apocalypse is, pretty much every plan he's ever tried to enact (with the possible exception of his first appearance) has been complete crap. He's got a killer rep, but you have to look beneath the surface: is he actually an interesting character? Has he really done anything too villainous? His greatest success has been in an alternate reality, for crying out loud... what's our Poccy ever done? And sadly, the answer is: not much. We're told frequently that his power is immense... but again, when is that evidenced? He doesn't fight hand-to-hand too often. His powers are entirely generic- shape-changing, getting bigger, super-strong, fire energy blasts.

Just as an exercise, stack Apocalypse up against Magneto: Mags has interesting, innovative powers; a deep, nuanced backstory; a philosophical stance that you can actually relate to, sometimes even support; and actual character development on his side. Poccy has none of those things, with the arguable exception of a mildly interesting backstory. It's just not enough. When Apocalypse is due to appear, I roll my eyes and think, "Oh crap, three months of bellowing about 'Survival of the fittest!' and world-shattering events, at the end of which absolutely nothing will be different."

Which, frankly, is Apocalypse's other problem as a character- his rep is such that every appearance has to be a MEGA HUGE EVENT, after which the X-Men's lives "will never be the same!" And then the story comes and goes, and the status quo is exactly the same, except Cyclops is dead for three months or Wolverine is evil but will probably be good again in the other five books he appears in this month. You can do a one-off issue with Magneto, you can do a story investigating Mystique's past, or Sebastian Shaw's motivations for what he does. You try to do anything less than an ultra-big life-altering story with Apocalypse, it ain't happening. He's the summer blockbuster of X-Men villains... and like most summer blockbusters, the first one was pretty fun but most of the sequels have sucked, and sucked hard.

So, yeah, keep the big, convoluted "OMG! KEWL MYSTERIOUS!" characters away. The long dragged out, often changing the mind mystery didn't make them cool, it made them dull.

Which is why I thought Colonal Stryker was a great choice for the villain in X2. He represented what the worst of human kind would do to mutants. He was the face of human bigotry. Which is really what these movies, and what X-Men are about. Mutants and humans. Bigotry, tolerance and understanding.

X-Men is not about cosmic entities, aliens, and ancient Egyptian all powerful beings.


  1. I think Apocalypse's big problem is that the writers don't really know what to do with him. I don't think there are that many folks at Marvel itching to do a "Books of Apocalypse".

    But at the same time he's one of the X-Men's more marketable villains so the X-writers feel obliged to keep bringing him back whether or not they have any good ideas for him.

  2. Btw Greg, when are we going to get a "Top Twenty Comic Book Villains" post? ;)