You know who the X-Men are. Maybe you’ve been into comic books for a long time or you’re a newcomer or you only know from the movie franchise starring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Ian McKellen. Regardless, you know who they are, and you may find yourself wanting to know more about them but don’t quite know where to start because of their complicated publishing history that began in 1963 and has continued with a only brief interruption since then.
In the decades X-Men has been published, it has produced a nearly impenetrable mythology and chronology through multiple comic book titles (X-Men, X-Force, New Mutants, Excalibur, various solo titles, stand alone graphic novels, and miniseries to name a few), multiple animated series, and a decades-long movie franchise covering a broad array of social issues, character deaths and resurrections, adventures on earth and in space, various loves and losses. Legendary X-writer Chris Claremont grabbed the reigns of this dead-in-the-water series in 1975 and developed it into the sales and narrative behemoth it became, being the exclusive writer of the mutant line for over a decade as it produced its most classic stories like ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’, ‘God Loves Man Kills’, and ‘Days of Future Past’ with stories that take years to go from seed to tree. Just the list of iconic characters he created or developed during his run is astonishing in and of itself, including Wolverine, who though he existed as an obscure minor character prior to Claremont’s run, emerged as perhaps Marvel’s greatest character under Claremont’s creative direction.
How do you as a reader break into this multi-faceted story without finding yourself hopelessly behind and lost? I have found the answer to this question.
‘Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men’ is an ongoing podcast that goes step by loving step through the history of the X-Men, explaining many of the iconic stories and characters in an entertaining, smart, highly listenable narrative. It is long, as of this writing sitting at 169 episodes, but worth the time and investment if you are at all interested in the podcasting medium or the X-men. It is both a loving tribute by fans and a smart deconstruction by clearly intelligent commenters who have sat through all the good, all the bad, all the slightly racist story beats of the X-Men publication and broadcast history.
Before I go further talking about ‘Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men’, listeners are sure to notice that hosts Jay Edidin and Miles Stokes have their own complicated history. At the beginning of the run of ‘Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men’ it was called ‘Rachel & Miles X-Plain the X-Men’. Rachel and Miles were a married couple. Rachel then came out publicly as transgender and changed his name to Jay. Podcasting continued uninterrupted. Eventually Jay and Miles divorced. Podcasting again continued uninterrupted. Because it pays to listen to this series in order from the beginning, most of the episodes I have listened to were recorded during the ‘Rachel & Miles’ phase though I have listened to selected later episodes out of order. I will refer to Jay as Jay with masculine pronouns.
Whatever complicated emotional relationship Jay and Miles may have, they have an excellent podcasting rapport and make a great team for discussing the X-Men, and obviously still care deeply about each other. Between the two, Jay Edidin (@raebeta) brings the most intellectual heft to the discussion. The X-Men titles explore complicated themes and have byzantine narratives. Jay excels at explaining those narratives and threading through those themes in a way that suggests he may have a Ph.D. dissertation and professor job in his future. Miles is no slouch intellectually, and he has a deep knowledge of the story and the history of the franchise. Miles seems content at times to be a foil for Jay and allow him to drive to the discussion.
Each episode begins with a cold open where Miles asks Jay some question about X-Men continuity and Jay gives an explanation leading to additional questions and answers, concluding with an absurd story beat illustrating just how ridiculous some of the stories get, to which Miles shouts “WHAT!?” The episode proper then begins with the theme song of the old 1990s animated series.
While the labyrinthine continuity and endless death-resurrection cycles are sometimes treated with undisguised derision, and some of the wilder character arcs and uneven writing quality (particularly before and after Claremont’s run) are held in contempt, it is unmistakable that Jay and Miles have a great fondness for the body of work that constitutes the X-franchise to go along with their intellectual insights. It is material that was meant for adolescents but that stands up to serious adult scrutiny even after decades have passed, and Jay and Miles give it a serious but loving treatment. Jay and Miles also have the respect of the comics community, having scored guest appearances by writing stars like Greg Rucka, Dennis Hopeless, G. Willow Wilson, and recently Chris Claremont himself just to name a few.
I was going to wait to write about ‘Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men’ until I caught up to the present day, but I like this too much to wait that long, and you shouldn’t wait either.