X15: Playing X-Men

X15 is a series of blog posts celebrating the 15 years of x-fandom I have experienced. From the 15th anniversary of first seeing the X-Men in Fox's animated series (late October 1992) to the 15th anniversary of my first comic book purchase (January 1993), I will expore every facet of Professor Charles Xavier's gifted youngsters.

Role playing is a big part of childhood, no matter who you are or where you grew up. In fact, I'd say that most childhoods are spent pretending that you are someone else doing things you have never done. The most fun I ever had in elementary school were the hours we would spend outside in the big playground (as opposed to the little playground, frequented by the kindergarteners). Most kids would swing, some would play sports, but a select few would consistently play ____. Like "play Ninja Turtles," "play G.I.Joe," play "Star Wars" (with the one other 2nd grader that knew what I was talking about) and, come third grade, "play X-Men."

I went to Wessington Place Elementary, a school which I just found out has since been renamed George Whitten Elementary, after my old principal. I inspected their website and found that both my 4th and 5th grade teachers are still there...after 15 years. Crazy.

Anyway, the animated series hit hard. I remember my third grade class being so swept up in x-mania, there was really no other choice for me but to become a fan. I know that I initially scoffed at the X-Men, being wary of something debuting with so much fanfare that I had never heard of. I haven't changed, by the way. Most all of the super indie cred bands that explode onto the scene I initially question. I didn't think the Strokes were much at first, but I came around on them quickly just like I did with X-Men. The year was 1992 and the spectator boom was in effect, with issues of comics selling over a million copies. Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld were ditching Marvel to create Image alongside other disillusioned Marvel superstars, adding to the idea of comics as viable a force in entertainment as film and tv. The creation of Image, with the big guns, robots, big boobs, and aliens, marked the height in the early 90s comic craze. The only Image characters I cared about were Jim Lee's Wild C.A.T.s, and even then that was only because of the awful cartoon that aired on CBS.

While the X-Men editors at Marvel were scrambling to figure out who exactly was going to make the comics they were producing (John Byrne, Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson had all left in the last few years due to the increasing importance of 'hot artists' over credible writers, just before the 'hot artists' themselves left in a huff), the cartoon based on those comics was a runaway success. The X-Men toy line was huge, the trading cards were bought and sold during reading time in class, and you couldn't turn around without seeing some chubby third grader wearing too-cool X-Men shorts and/or t-shirts (yep, totally had them). The X-Men were everywhere and, of course, this led to playing X-Men.

At the start of recess, the kids interested in playing X-Men would meet up. I don't even know how we found each other. Perhaps it was our mutual discussions of X-Men during the day, or maybe it was just those of us who didn't make a mad dash for the swings or kickball field. Doesn't matter, we all knew we were about to become more than third graders. We were about to become superheroes. I always chose to be Gambit, never really caring to join in the inevitable argument about who could be Wolverine. Honestly, playing Gambit and Wolverine were never that different. Both could fight, both were tough, the only real difference being powers and I would much rather throw pretend explosive cards. Plus, as Gambit, I could also be saracastic. There would always be the kid who wanted to be Beast or Cyclops, which always made me wonder about that kid. Going off of the cartoon, why would you want to be a character that was always in jail (Beast) or a super stick in the mud (Cyclops)? I know I liked Morph, the character added to the cartoon to be killed off in the first episode to add drama, but would never play him unless we were specifically playing an origin story of some sort.

The actual play was hilarious, looking back on it. I specifically remember being Gambit and doing all sorts of "martial arts moves" (a.k.a. jumping and kicking while yelling two letter non-words) against an unseen Sentinel while non-playing kids would laugh at me. Whatever, in my head I could have smoked them all with a kinetically charged ace. As a group of kids, we were very adamant about not repeating the format of episodes we had seen. We had a kid who was always Cyclops and would only repeat lines from the cartoon. He also had a slight stutter, so he'd constantly say "L-laser blasts huh? Here's one from a p-pro-pro!" We didn't like playing with him, but we did anyway...maybe out of pity.

I know girls were allowed to play with us but, unlike the neutral gender of improvisers, they always had to play girls. It was rare that we got to have a Rogue or a Storm, but I remember being filled with a quiet dignity when I could look over my shoulder and see pretend Wolverine, pretend Storm, pretend Beast and pretend Colossus fighting imaginary Morlocks with me. The notion of bringing non-cartoon X-Men into play was done once the class started to get more acquainted with the trading cards and guidebooks. Nightcrawler, Iceman, and the aforementioned Colossus were all added at some point or another.

Playing X-Men came to an end one day but we went out with a bang. One day on the big playground, my class got to play with another class (it was rare that two classes would be on the playground at once). This resulted in the biggest playing X-Men ever. I've always estimated around thirty kids, and that's the number I'll stick to, playing X-Men. I know I encountered another Gambit and I think some poor girl was actually Polaris. After seeing the mass destruction caused by our epic battle of good and evil, the teachers had a talk and told us we couldn't play X-Men anymore. And that was it. Looking back, this was actually the end of comics as a unifying force in school. Selling the trading cards was banished, discussing the cartoon was over, and playing X-Men gave way to sports and teasing (ouch). Most of the kids gave up on comics, as did most all of the spectators that started buying comics in the early 90s convinced they were going to be worth millions. The Image comics all ended up tanking, the x-books got darker and more depressing, and I was the lone kid that stuck with it.

This did not, however, stop me and my cousins. I was going to write about the times I played X-Men with my cousins but, after thinking about it, there is more than enough x-related cousin nonsense to fill another blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My God the times. I still stand firmly in my stance that the best years of my life were around the 3rd through 5th grades.

Between the games, the crushes, and just the fun of being so imaginative and young, I could never ever hope to be that happy again.

Nice blog.

p.s. I should mention this is Darius...err, Sabretooth, except when we needed a goodguy, then it was Colossus.