Yes, we’re apparently getting a new Uncanny X-Men book in February to accompany Uncanny Avengers and Uncanny X-Force. Putting aside the fact that now we’re apparently having franchises built around adjectives (Please, please, someone at another publisher add “Uncanny” to titles of your series come February; maybe you’ll be able to get some shared heat, somehow – Although I guess they’ve done this since 2000 with the Ultimate line), I am nonetheless somehow surprised that we’re seeing a further expansion of the X-Men line.
I don’t know why I’m surprised; over the last ten years, we’ve seen the number of ongoing series called Avengers go from one to seven (Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Avengers Arena, Young Avengers and Avengers Assemble), after all, and there were already multiple titles with X-Men in the title before that started. But now – or NOW!, perhaps – it looks as if we’re going to have All-New X-Men, Wolverine and The X-Men, X-Men Legacy, Astonishing X-Men, X-Treme X-Men, X-Men and Uncanny X-Men on a regular basis in the Marvel Universe alone, alongside Ultimate X-Men in the Ultimate line. Okay, sure; the adjectiveless book may be ending – the most recent solicits said “End of An Era!” which normally heralds that kind of conclusion, but it didn’t say “Final Issue” – and X-Treme‘s sales suggest that it may not be long for this world, but still: That’s an amazing number of comics with “X-Men” in the title, especially if you consider that the X-Men franchise extends far, far beyond that to include X-Factor, the two X-Force titles, the Wolverine books and Gambit. Of course, both the Avengers and X-Men franchises can lay equal claim to A+X.
I’m not sure what to make of the juggernaut tendencies of both franchises. Theoretically, there are more than enough X-Men and Avengers to be spread amongst these titles to make each one its own thing with its own cast, but that’s not really what’s happening. Think of how many of the above titles will feature Wolverine, for example, and find yourself wondering whether or not the franchises are being stretched towards breaking point.
It’s not just Marvel that does this, of course; DC has a ridiculous number of Batman monthlies, between Batman, Batman and Robin, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight and Batman Incorporated and seems determined to turn Justice League into a viable, multi-book franchise with Justice League Dark and the upcoming Justice League of America, both of which seem to me as if it’s pushing at least one book too many in terms of expansion. But even Batman looks lazy compared with seven Avengers or eight X-Men titles, especially given that both of those lines have books that are officially twice-monthly in addition to other books that will ship more than 12 issues a year, albeit on an irregular basis.
In what I laughingly refer to as my “spare time,” I’m reading Desperate Networks, Bill Carter’s book about US broadcast television in the mid-2000s, and there’s a part in there where newly-installed NBC boss Jeff Zucker makes the case for “super-sizing” Friends and Will and Grace by telling doubtful execs “As a fan, I’d love to see more of these shows, so let’s just make them longer!” It feels as if there’s a similar mentality to Marvel and, to a lesser extent, DC. “You like these comics? We’ll just give you more and more and more of them, and you’ll like those even more because there’s more!” which… doesn’t really follow. Comic books – like television shows, like any form of entertainment – aren’t generic, easily-scalable product to the fans who buy them; the alchemy that makes a comic fun to a reader isn’t something that can be easily replicated or expanded simply by doing it more frequently (Hell, sometimes it can’t be replicated by the same people who did it the first time; how many times have you read a comic by a creative team who once made you excited only to find that the magic was gone?). You can have too much of a good thing, by oversaturating the demand for it and removing the rarity and anticipation that made it so special in the first place, or by overworking those responsible so quality starts to slip in favor of meeting increased deadlines.
All of which is to say: Eight comics called X-Men seems like a lot, even for the most ardent X-Men fan.
Now, watch as Uncanny turns out to be a tease for an entirely different book altogether…