Comics Watch: Mutants and the Future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Although some fans are questioning the longevity of the MCU following 'Avengers: Endgame,' the arrival of mutantdom sets the stage for the cinematic universe to truly touch infinity.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big screen. 

The Dawn of X is fully upon us. Following Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva’s monumental shift to the X-Men mythos in House of X and Powers of X, Marvel has relaunched its X-Men line with a new resolve and sense of clarity. The entire lineup of X-books hasn’t felt this exciting since Chris Claremont’s expansion of the line in the late '80s and early '90s. Comics Watch has already delved into how Hickman’s miniseries could set the stage for a conflict between the X-Men and the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. This week saw the release of two new X-books, New Mutants by Hickman, Ed Brisson and Rod Reis, and X-Force by Benjamin Percy and Joshua Cassara. These books join the previously released X-Men, Marauders, Excalibur and the upcoming Fallen Angels as the ramifications of the first mutant sovereign nation, Krakoa, are explored, and perhaps set the stage for the future of the MCU.

When it comes to the place of mutants in the MCU, we’ve largely been thinking in terms of X-Men, the classic characters who were centric to 20th Century Fox’s franchise for 19 years. But there’s a likelihood that Marvel Studios' exploration of the X-Men mythos will hinge on more than familiar lineups and story beats. At the end of the Marvel Studios’ San Diego Comic-Con panel, Kevin Feige told the audience, “There's no time left to talk about mutants, and how mutants fit into the MCU." Of course, this was taken to be a direct reference to the X-Men, but Feige, who’s known for being coy and choosing his words carefully, said "mutants" rather than "X-Men," which got my brain spinning. Mutant-dom forms the largest cast of characters in Marvel Comics. They are a universe unto themselves, positioned within a larger universe. 20th Century Fox showed audiences only the tip of the iceberg, and they were only just beginning to understand the richness of the property in terms of different solo characters, teams and tones before the studio was acquired by Disney. And now Marvel Studios has the opportunity to explore an avenue that Fox only set foot into late in the game: Mutants mean so much more than X-Men.

There’s been a massive amount of mutant teams in Marvel Comics for a long while now: X-Men (Uncanny, New, All-New, Astonishing, Red, Blue, Gold), X-Force, X-Club, New Mutants, Fallen Angels, X-Factor, X-Factor Investigations, Excalibur, Generation X, X-Corporation, X-Corps, X-Statix, X-Terminators, The Brotherhood, Marauders, Acolytes, The Hellfire Club, The Horsemen. It honestly gets a little absurd after a while, especially when you look at how many teams Wolverine is on and try to imagine how he manages his time. But with the current X-book relaunch, Dawn of X, every team has a specified purpose and cast of characters, some of which go back to the team’s original inception and others that have new responsibilities in the wake of Krakoa. The X-Men are the field team; Marauders are the revolutionaries freeing mutants from enemy countries; Excalibur is comprised of the explorers of science and magic; The New Mutants are the next generation of mutant leaders and operatives; and X-Force is the CIA, doing the dirty work in the shadows. These delineations not only allow every book to have a different feel, but for a wide cast of characters to be included out of the thousands of mutants that exist in the Marvel Universe.

If Marvel Studios plays its cards right, it could conceivably build a mutant-centric franchise that permits the existence of multiple teams. And as Feige increasingly discussed his desire for Marvel films to cross genres and be more than traditional superhero films, the diversity in mutant teams could arguably help with this matter. Looking at this week’s two books, New Mutants and X-Force, as examples, the two could not be more different. New Mutants is light on conflict and heavy on the humor. It’s a road-trip story through space with an optimistic generation ready to embrace the paradise their mutant sovereignty has to offer. X-Force, on the other hand, is a group of soldiers who have fought the war between man and mutant long enough to know that peace comes with a price, and that public declarations of justice only function when there are those who exist to force change into existence, often violently. These distinctions don’t just come down to the writers’ unique styles, but also the artists whose work makes certain that no X-book can be mistaken for another.

What’s interesting about the tone of New Mutants and X-Force is that they are the exact opposite of the X-properties that Marvel Studios is inheriting. Deadpool, who formed the X-Force on the big screen during Deadpool 2 (2018), is expected to head to the MCU, or at least Disney, in some form. Is it possible the X-Force could come with him? Presuming the rest of the cast, Domino (Zazie Beetz) and Cable (Josh Brolin) will return along with a few new faces, and the threads of the first two films will be followed, then it stands to reason that a Marvel Studios’ X-Force will be something of a comedic affair. And then there is Josh Boone’s long-delayed New Mutants film, which was set to adapt the famous Demon Bear storyline as a horror film. While The New Mutants is on the schedule for 2020, if it does make its way into theaters it's going to go the way of Dark Phoenix, a movie made by Fox pre-Disney acquisition that will have no connection to the MCU.   

With the arrival of mutants in the MCU comes so much more than X-Men. If the Dawn of X titles serve as a foundation for film adaptations, then it’s possible for Marvel’s mutants to emerge as something even bigger and narratively ambitious than any of the Avengers pics or their solo characters. Although some fans are questioning the longevity of the MCU following Avengers: Endgame, the arrival of mutant-dom sets the stage for the cinematic universe to truly touch infinity.