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All You Need To Know To Get Caught Up On X-Men Comics

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Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics

So, you want to start reading X-Men comics again but it's been years and you're feeling overwhelmed at the thought of everything you might have missed. That's understandable—X-Men consists of multiple ongoing series, a constantly expanding cast of characters, and decades of convoluted (and sometimes contradictory) continuity. Don't fret, here's all you need to know to get caught up.

Mutants became an endangered species.

First there was the Sentinel attack that wiped out 16 million mutants by destroying the island of Genosha in New X-Men #115. Then, in the mini-series House of M, Magneto's daughter, Scarlet Witch, decimated the mutant population with a simple three word spell: "No more mutants." This de-powered all but a few hundred of the mutants in the Marvel Universe, but don't worry, most of the A-list mutants were left untouched.

A few years later, in the three-part series of Messiah Complex, Messiah War and Second Coming, the first post-Decimation mutant was born and is aptly named Hope. After being brought to the far future to grow into an adult under the protection of the mutant Cable, a grown-up Hope is returned to present day and she happens to look very much like another red-headed mutant of great importance: Jean Grey.

Jean Grey died. Again.

Jean Grey and her symbiotic relationship with the Phoenix Force is one of the most epic ongoing plot threads in X-Men history. At the end of the "Planet X" storyline in New X-Men #150, Jean once again taps into the powers of the Phoenix only to be killed by an insane Magneto (who may not really have been Magneto, depending on whether you believe writer Grant Morrison's intentions or the subsequent writers who later contradicted him).

Before her death, Jean and her husband Scott (Cyclops) Summers found themselves growing apart. Scott began a telepathic affair with former villain-turned-X-Man Emma Frost, and with Jean gone, Scott and Emma became a couple.

Professor X died, too. Again.

The Phoenix Force returned to earth in the 2012 mini-series Avengers vs. X-Men, threatening all of existence. The assumption was that it was coming back to inhabit the so-called "Mutant Messiah" and Jean Grey look-alike Hope Summers. But everyone was wrong.

Instead, the Phoenix merged with five separate mutants: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Piotr (Colossus) Rasputin, his sister Illyana (Magik) Rasputin, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner. The "Phoenix 5" used their nearly omnipotent power to try to remake the world into a better place until its corruptive nature turned them on each other. In the end, Cyclops takes in the power of the entire Phoenix Force himself and, when confronted by Charles Xavier, lashes out and kills him.

New mutants are popping up everywhere.

Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers manage to wrest the Phoenix from Cyclops and, before casting it away, Hope uses its power to restore the mutant population, reversing the damage the Scarlet Witch had previously done. Now, people all over the world are suddenly manifesting mutant powers and the X-Men are divided in how they aim to help these new mutants.

Cyclops is the most wanted mutant in the world.

Cyclops has always been a bit of a boring character, but over the past 10 years he's gone through some dramatic changes. After killing Professor X, he has become Public Enemy No. 1 and hated by many of his fellow X-Men. He is also the poster boy for a more militant wing of mutantdom. Like a mutant Che Guevara, he sets up headquarters in the old, abandoned Weapon X facility and leads a new team of X-Men with Emma Frost and Magik.

Cyclops' radicalization had been building for a long time and manifested itself originally in a clash of ideals with Wolverine. Cyclops now stands for the idea that mutants need to militarize while Wolverine has taken up Xavier's mantle of peaceful coexistence and the need to protect and educate younger mutants.

Wolverine is the headmaster of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.

The idea of Xavier's school being an actual school full of actual students only became the status quo around the time of the first X-Men movie in 2000 and Grant Morrison's New X-Men series around the same time. With Xavier dead and the school destroyed by Magneto, Logan has built a new one called The Jean Grey School of Higher Learning and brought in Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Storm, and the Beast to teach the students.

(Edit: A reader in the comments below pointed out that the Xavier school was actually destroyed by Sentinels which happened during the Messiah Complex storyline).

The original X-Men have time-travelled to the present

(And Jean Grey is back)

The threat of a dark, dystopian future has been at the heart of many X-Men stories since Chris Claremont and John Byrne's classic 1981 "Days of Future Past" (the inspiration for the upcoming new film). In Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen's new series All New X-Men, they have brilliantly turned this idea on its head by making our present the dystopian future that needs to be avoided at all costs.

In a desperate plan to prevent Scott Summers from becoming the Professor X-killing mutant terrorist he is today, Hank (Beast) McCoy travels back in time to the early days of the X-Men and brings the original teenage versions of himself, Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, and Jean Grey to the future to show them how messed up things have gotten. Even though their very presence endangers the timeline, they decide to stick around, figuring Professor X will just wipe their memories when they go back (or something).

So, not only do we have Jean Grey back, but suddenly there are brand new relationship dynamics to be explored. The original X-Men now look up to Kitty Pryde as a mentor. Jean, Scott and Angel have to deal with the terror their future lives have become (did I mention that Angel died during Uncanny X-Force's "Dark Angel Saga" but came back with amnesia?). Even the love triangles have become more complicated (Do Jean and Scott really love each other? How do older Scott and Logan rectify their feelings for Jean with this teenage girl that's now before them? Does Jean have feelings for Hank? And what does Rachel Grey, Scott and Jean's grown daughter from the future, think of all this?).

There are a LOT of different X-Men books now

At some point in the 1990s, the X-Men became way too big to be contained by just one book. Here is a brief rundown of the major books and what they're ostensibly all about:

All New X-Men: This is a new title that began last year. Its main focus is on the introduction of the original young X-Men into the present day timeline, but it operates pretty close to the center of the X-Men universe and involves a large cast of characters including Wolverine, Kitty, Iceman, and Beast (in addition to the time-displaced young X-Men).

Uncanny X-Men: The original flagship title has gotten smaller in scope since its relaunch. It follows Cyclops and his renegade team of Magik and Emma Frost as they build a new school of students that have just manifested mutant abilities. It crosses over a bit with All New X-Men, especially in the beginning.

X-Men. This is sometimes referred to as "X-Women" since it follows a loose-knit team of female X-Men including Storm, Rogue, Psylocke, and Jubilee, among others. It aims to be a high-octane, non-stop action comic for fans of 1990's era X-Men.

Wolverine & The X-Men: This book focuses on the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning and its cast of students. This is the fun, light-hearted X-Men comic, mixing high school melodrama with ridiculous sci-fi concepts. There is a quirky mix of students, and part of the fun is seeing characters like Logan and Kitty stepping up into their new roles as teachers.

Amazing X-Men: This comic is only a couple of issues in and aims to be the one for fans of 1980s era X-Men. The plot (so far) involves the return of long-dead fan favorite Nightcrawler.

There are also a lot of books featuring related X-teams like Uncanny X-Force, Cable and X-Force, All New X-Factor and Uncanny Avengers (a hybrid team of X-Men and Avengers).

Where you should start

The biggest story being told right now is happening in All New X-Men and it's really the most enjoyable of the books at a time when, overall, the X-Men comics are the most interesting they've been in years. It's written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Stuart Immonen. Start with #1 or the first collected volume titled "Yesterday's X-Men."

Buy the first volume on Amazon.com or ask your local comic book store retailer. You can also buy the collected volume or individual issues digitally on Comixology.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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