We are gathered here today to recognize the 10th anniversary of Bryan Singer’s X-Men. It was this very month that the comic book genre was kick-started, ushering in a decade overflowing with billions of dollars worth of attention paid to one of the toughest crowds ever in the history of entertainment: the nerd.
Some argue it was 1998’s Blade, or even 1989’s Batman that created the modern comic book movie. Burton’s Batman foreshadowed what the 90’s could make out of the comic book film (i.e. not much), and with its 3rd sequel, imploded the genre. A year later Blade showed there was still a little potential in these “funny books” as source material.
Under the intense scrutiny of 20th Century Fox and the added burden of a laughably small budget for such a large picture, Bryan Singer carved out a movie that had a far more lasting impact than I think it ever intended to.
Now, let’s go back to summer 2000. We knew the internet, and some of us had already been using it as a bitching-cannon for their “very important” and “profound” opinions. We uploaded any bits of information about upcoming movies and tv shows and other things we loved as fast as our 28k or, whoa, 56k modems would allow. I remember going to my Dad’s place of business only to find the glory of high-speed internet. Let me tell you, I still remember the feeling of bliss that it was to watch all the latest trailers instantly. I just saw The Matrix the previous year. I think we were all daydreaming about where we could go in movies with what The Matrix hinted at, and how fucking cool sl0-mo and wire-work were. For me, it was the fact that the style all those 80’s John Woo action movies my Dad used to show me was finally infiltrating the mainstream fare I ate up like fat kid would cake because, well, that was all there was for me at the time. No car. No money. I was 15. I took what was given to me, or what my video store carried.
The summer opened with me coming out of an intense spinal surgery. I was confined to my house and television for the latter half of my freshman year of high school. Survivor just premiered and Gladiator was the new big movie. I remember telling myself it looked terrible because of the sole fact that I couldn’t go to the movies (which was my favorite thing ever) due to not being psychically capable to sit upright for its 150min running time. Finally, by the time M.I.2 came out, I forced myself to see what John Woo and Tom Cruise could do with the IMF in the follow-up to one of my all time favorite movies. Sadly, John Woo wasn’t the director I remembered. I may have been disappointed with the movie, but I was still able to enjoy the posters of things to come. And then I saw it, a poster I’d never seen before. It was an image of a door, looking like it just slammed shut. And as shut, formed the image of a giant “X”. The poster needed to say nothing more to me to let me know that behind it was the Blackbird jet, along with Cyclops and Wolverine gearing up to do battle with Magneto and his Brotherhood. In other words, an X-Men movie was upon us. It was finally going to happen, and it was coming out in about 6 weeks. I turned to my friend Travis in disbelief and I remember him saying simply, “I know.” A silent agreement was made, “we will see that fucking movie.”
July 14th, 2000 finally rolled around. Travis and I were in summer school (I had a lot of work to catch up on due to the surgery). Another kid overheard us geeking out about seeing the comics and cartoon we grew up on getting a kick-ass looking movie and how absolutely stoked we were to get out of school and head straight to the San Marcos Edwards. That kid started ragging on us and spewing out the usual “nerds! geeks!”… you get the idea. Don’t feel too bad for us, our skins were thicker than that, but bear with me because there is significance to their venom, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Cut to the two of us arriving at the theater, sold out. X-Men was sold out for the night. Unacceptable. I needed to be in that theater. I bought a ticket to Scary Movie instead. Interesting that they sold that ticket to me, the 15 year-old, and the film was rated R, but whatever. Once inside, Travis and I navigated the line which stretched down the seemingly endless Eduardo’s hallway. We neared the front just as they started letting people in, and before the manager could check tickets our skinny asses glided right in, cutting the line. We got inside and found primo seats. This started Travis’ and my uncanny ability to navigate extremely huge crowds and cut crazy long lines (something I can drill you on if you ever go to San Diego Comic-Con, it turns the con into a game, and it’s fun!).
After hearing Patrick Stewart gracefully prologue the world we were about to enter, nothing was ever the same. Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Magneto, Rogue, they were all flesh and blood. Portrayed with skill and not like cartoons. This was what I was waiting for my whole life and I never even knew it. I never thought about a movie as much the following week, and never have since. I believe this is what they call a life-changing experience.
Let it be known that July 14th, 2000 was the last day kids in school mocked us for being comic geeks. These characters were now cool and the world they inhabited was cool and now everyone knew it. It was epic.
And now, Hollywood knew it too. That was when the floodgates opened. Later that July, I attended the San Diego Comic Con and heard the next big comic book character was about to get his big screen debut: Spider-Man, directed by Sam Raimi.
Hollywood took aim on a new target audience and they hit me right between my eyes. Not only was Spider-Man about to get the X-Men treatment, it was going to be directed by Sam Raimi. I worshiped the Evil Dead movies. He was absolutely perfect to bring the spirit of the Spidey comics to the big screen.
That was how the decade began, our decade. Whether you like it or not, the 2000’s were our better teen’s and twenty’s. And it started with X-Men.
There is quite a bit to say about summer 2000, for both comics and movies. Both came into a very successful age unto themselves, with one supplanting the other over and over throughout the decade.
For comics, summer 2000 began the age of comics as we see them today, and not just due to the movies generating mainstream public interest (though it obviously didn’t hurt). Joe Quesada was given the role of Editor in Chief at Marvel, instigating countless movements that have made comics grow and develop in our quick changing society. The writing in comics also found a new voice, one that was more developed, one that learned from Towne and Mamet rather than Wolfman and Shooter. Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka were just beginning their tenures on Batman, now with a bit more maturity in the “edginess” of his portrayal. Mark Millar was reinventing superheroes with The Authority. Geoff Johns was just getting his foot in the door and his hands on the DC legacy. Jeph Loeb was working his Long Halloween magic on the Man of Steel for the new millennium. But most importantly, Brian Bendis delivered the Ultimate Spider-Man. This was a Spider-Man for my generation with cutting dialogue and situations that spoke right to the soul of my sophomore-in-high-school self. Sentimentality aside, Ultimate Spider-Man was the most relevant comic of the decade. The standard for the 2000’s. So much so, Hollywood took notice and integrated the voice of Ultimate Spider-Man into Spidey’s own movies and other film and television ventures. They even gave Bendis a job to make a Spider-Man series for the MTV audience (perspective: this was for 2001’s MTV, where Jackass was the #1 show, comics were getting into the mainstream consciousness).
My own personal tale: I got to be an extra in Spider-Man a handful of times with my buddy Travis. Talk about formative years. I got to see the biggest movie of all time (at that time) being made. I got to see one of my movie heroes direct one of my comic book heroes. We saw the Spidey and Goblin suits long before Entertainment Weekly showcased them. We were front and center for the film that would become the biggest movie of all time (in its time).
Spider-Man was the Star Wars of the 2000’s and X-Men was the Jaws. Spidey came out in the post-X-Men/Harry Potter/Fellowship of the Ring trifecta era of the modern blockbuster movie, putting the comic book movie scene into maximum overdrive.
After Spider-Man, Hollywood played a game of catch up with inevitable mixed results: the diminishing (Daredevil), the over-reaching (Hulk), the literal (Sin City) and hey, the living up to the potential (X2 and Spider-Man 2). Then DC finally came in and cut the bullshit with Batman Begins, which was the movie that exemplified best how much we as a geeky movie/comic audience had grown up since X-Men. To me, it was this return of Batman that was the natural progression, not just since X-Men, but the 1989 Batman movie which started the first comic movie boom. Interesting that Batman Begins was released dead center of the decade.
Like the previous generations of geek culture before us, beautiful flowers die out and Hollywood makes attempts to get another bullet between our eyes and it just doesn’t work. The X-Men and Spider-Man franchises died out later in the decade due to a variety of reasons. New directors, too much studio input, quick turnaround with underdeveloped scripts, many factors played into the demise of each series. However, not all hope was lost.
Throughout the 2000’s, comics were in what I can only describe as a New Wave. Film/TV/Theater writers started to acknowledge their love of the medium from their childhood and joined forces with the comic creators who were and still are some of the best talent ever to tackle the four-color world. It was win-win for fans. We had some events that meant something and in some ways were just as anticipated and entertaining as summer blockbusters. To name a few: Infinite Crisis, 52, House of M, All Star Superman, Astonishing X-Men, The New Avengers, Civil War, Bendis/Maleev Daredevil, The New Frontier, Secret Invasion, Runaways, The Sinestro Corps War, Blackest Night. And that’s just superhero. Outside the superhero realm we got: Fables, Y: The Last Man, Blankets, The Acme Novelty Library, Persepolis, The Walking Dead, Criminal, Asterios Polyp, Alias, Box Office Poison, both lists go on and on. Some comic creators went to work in TV and movies with mixed results and the same could be said for the film/TV guys who came in to work on comics.
The success Marvel Comics had in the 2000’s, both in comics and movies, led to what I think is one of the most unprecedented developments in the history of comics: the incorporation of Marvel Studios. Lets think in retrospect, this is how big these comic book movies were at very start. It’s damn incredible that Marvel did so well that they could get some of the control back from the studios to make their own movies, and what’s really incredible, they’re doing them “The Marvel Way”.
I really, really hope Stan Lee is prouder than ever to see his dream finally realized. Anyone who shit-talks Stan Lee should just give it up, he was fighting for the process in which they made Iron Man to come to pass since the 70’s.
And that was it. After Batman Begins, the next natural progression and maturity movement in this era was Iron Man. Gathering the best of the Marvel Comics talent pool and hiring an impressive number of Hollywood talents, many of which were/are hungry to make good material. Iron Man was a marriage of what came of comics and movies since X-Men.
Since Iron Man and The Dark Knight, the genre developed once again. But what will become of it? Who knows? Iron Man started a march of future Marvel movies with The Avengers at the end of the journey. Batman director Christopher Nolan must now follow-up the incredible The Dark Knight without its centerpiece, the late Heath Ledger. Alas, the 3rd outings for Spider-Man and the X-Men were the cause of the current retooling now underway. I hope the new movies are a return to a certain quality, that there is a new rediscovering of the concepts. I really hope there will be a kid like me, able to fall in love the same way I did 10 years ago.
The 2000’s were an ever-changing time, in movies, in comics and the world. Keep in mind, a year after the release of X-Men, 9/11 rocked America and the world to its core. Movies and all entertainment reacted to it directly & indirectly regardless of intention. The world needed heroes, wanted to know who the good guys and bad guys were; Hollywood delivered just that.
In the years since X-Men, I’ve devoted most of my time to school, learning the crafts necessary to produce some form of the entertainment I’ve loved and continue to love so much. I also remain an avid comic book fan. Technology, opinions, tastes continue to change, as they naturally do for everyone through the years. However, those closest to me over the decade all share the common goal: we wanna play too. We work constantly to play in the sandbox our real-life heroes get to inhabit, and we all do it in whatever ways we can. We make shorts, plays, work for studios, other filmmakers, etc.
The main point I take from this past decade, watching it all unfold, going to all of these movies, reading all these comics, is that the men and women who made them were the children of the heroes they had when they were in High School/College. They are all the children of Scorsese, Bob Towne, David Mamet, Coppola, George Lucas, Stan Lee, Marv Wolfman, Jim Shooter, Alan Moore, etc.
Now, we, whether we like it or not, are the grandchildren of these individuals. The men who were just cutting their teeth in the days of X-Men now own the kingdom and call the shots of the current entertainment fare.
We are now the children of Nolan, Singer, Tarantino, Rodriguez, Bendis, Raimi, Jonze, Whedon, etc.
In the days where anyone can upload anything to achieve viewership, the situation may be tougher rather than easier to express yourself and react to the popular culture in your own personal work.
My advice is my own personal anecdote, no matter how bad things get in the movie/comic industries or your struggle in your own work, never forget how you felt when X-Men (or whatever movie made you feel that way) came out. That certain heart flutter, the over-excited butterflies in your stomach, and the fact that a summer flick can get you right between your eyes and change your life.
It’s up to us now. We hope to do them proud.