The X-Men hold a special place in the heart of every queer geek. And for good reason: the metaphor for outsiders scorned for being different who draw power from those differences is obvious enough, but we are now at a time when there’s always a comics storyline or video game or movie to serve as a touchstone, regardless of our biological age. Could the best time to have been an X-fan have been the very beginning, when the Civil Rights metaphors were fresh and new? They were popular even then.
For a lot of us, the best time to be a fan of the X-men was in the 90s, when the cartoon aired on Fox. Objectively one of the better animated adaptations of a superhero property, it’s now painfully dated (which adds to its appeal, at least for those who grew up watching it). One of the best superhero arcade games came out the same year it premiered, and I still look for it anytime I visit a beercade. (I recently had to fight two co-workers over getting to play as Storm. No one wanted to be Dazzler.)
On the other hand, between Legion and Logan, perhaps now is the best time to be an X-fan. They both garnered an unprecedented level of critical acclaim for superhero stories (though no Emmy nominations for Legion, which is practically a crime against Aubrey Plaza and several directors). My husband even loved Logan, and tells me that Legion is very popular in Thailand.
After we saw Logan, he asked me about "the guy who looked like Voldemort," and was answered with a detailed history of Caliban, an explanation of who the Morlocks were, and a long rant about how criminally underused Storm is. (I’m lucky he thinks I’m cute when I get like this.) All of this helped me appreciate the film on another level, because it didn't feel the need to pander to any nostalgia or shoehorn in any fan service. ComicMix wrote back in April that "X-Men has become too old, too bloated, and is crippling itself under its own weight in continuity." And if you got mad at my husband or me for likening Caliban to Voldemort when they're obviously two very different characters, maybe you also would have appreciated being pandered to.
This illustrates why it's also possibly the worst time to be a fan of the X-men. The franchise really does threaten to buckle and collapse. Fan expectations are higher than ever, but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of enjoying great art, we’re nitpicking over devotion to storylines and character designs that are sometimes several decades old. I've read on Twitter about how Logan ruined the goodwill of First Class and Days of Future Past. (For the record: No, it didn't. That was one of the many, many sins of X-Men: Apocalypse.) I've known some fans who gave up on Legion before it began because it lacked the main character’s gravity-defying haircut from the comics.
We can't let our nostalgia blind us to what deserves attention, and we can't let what has gotten our attention to allow us to become smug toward people who don’t know any better. I understand the frustration of discovering new fans. We were there for the missteps and the rebranding, and now that our patience and diligence have paid off, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to force us out! But this is all the more reason to be patient. Why be the reason they stop enjoying something?
We can't ignore the quality of what's right in front of us. Never before has there been so much quality work, and hopefully it will inspire more. The Gifted premieres later this year, and X-Men: The New Mutants will be released next year. The reception of those will probably be divided too, but I appreciate the bold decision to make the latter a horror movie. Such experimentation should be rewarded, not hamstrung by fan expectations; it's the best way to create and inspire new fans of what could become but never should be a worn-out idea.
So maybe the best time to be a fan of the X-men is the future.