X-Men: The 198 (2006, Marvel)
This five issue mini-series takes place after the events of House of M (2006), a crossover that I avoided for a couple of reasons. First off, the aftermath of the House of M reduced the number of mutants from millions to hundreds. It seemed to me that this was a huge step backwards; the path that Marvel was previously on, which featured the mutants gradually replacing the human race on earth, was exciting. Plus, if this plan didn’t include a consolidation of the number of X-Men related books, then why bother? There had already been a mutant genocide (New X-Men: E is for Extinction) a few years years before, so a decrease in the world’s population of mutants isn’t even a fresh idea. From the outside this appeared to be Marvel further unraveling all of the progress Grant Morrison (who authored E is for Extinction) had made during his stint on New X-Men. The changes that I favored basically involved introducing new characters, and killing off old ones that had long since lost their appeal. Gradually the new characters were forgotten, and the old fan favorites were brought back. It didn’t take long for me to lose interest and discontinue my monthly purchase of any X-Men title.
I was surprised then to find that this series was quite enjoyable. It helps that it wasn’t necessary to read the much larger House of M in order to follow what was going on. The book fully won me over by prominently featuring mutants that have weird abilities, including ones that may not even be useful for fighting bad guys (an element that was key in Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men). Oddball mutants in this story include; Lorelei the stripper who can control her long hair; Johnny Dee, the villain with an octopus on his chest that gives birth to voodoo dolls when provided with a sample of someone’s DNA; Manuel, who can alter peoples feelings; and the mysterious M who can increase nearby mutant powers and possesses other psychic abilities.
The series finds the X-Men agreeing to the increasingly unreasonable demands of the U.S. government to restrain their fellow mutants, who are forced to live outdoors in tents. Bit by bit the mutant refugees find that they cannot leave the Xavier estate, have to wear electronic tags if they do go out, and will be shocked by these tags if they act out.
What a nice twist to see the X-Men reluctantly working with the U.S. government against the interests of their fellow mutants. The day to day experiences of the non-X-Men mutants and their issues at the Institute (overcrowded, no TV, not enough bathrooms or drugs) gives the story a nice layer of realism. The murder of one of the refugee mutants and the rising tensions within the camp are the focus of this book, rather than the usual superpower slug-fest, though there is some of that.