The Uncanny Dead
It’s no secret that Robert Kirkman is a fan of 1980s-90s Marvel comics. Any reader of Invincible (and if you aren’t one, I recommend you rectify that tout de suite) can tell you that the fantastic series from Image is more or less a love song to books from that period and it would fit right in with those titles were it on the rack in 1989, save for its R rating.
However, while the comparisons between Invincible and Spider-Man are right at the surface, it’s a bit more difficult (and certain conjectural) to point out the similarities between the X-Men comics of yesteryear and the multi-media juggernaut that is The Walking Dead. Naturally the subject matter of the two series never overlap, the Walking Dead is a survival horror story set in a world only slightly different from our own and the classic X-Men stories are adventure tales in a wildly fantastic universe. But the characters, and the relationships between those characters are often so similar that I just can’t goddamn ignore it any longer.
I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility in any way that Kirkman may have been influenced by these comics. Hell, the man wrote a Jubilee mini-series and it actually wasn’t bad. Anyone who can have fun with a character like Jubilee has to love the X-Men in some capacity. There was a standalone issue in his Marvel Team-Up run that starred Cable (back when he was still a mysterious loner with a sentient spaceship) and a brown-suited Wolverine. He even wrote Ultimate X-Men for a stint and incorporated all kinds of characters and themes from the late 80s and early 90s.
Now, just because there are a great many similarities doesn’t mean that one should force non-existent parallels. To say that the team is, in essence, the X-Men of days past, does not necessarily mean that every character from one series has an analogue in the other. Also, the relationships between these characters do not necessarily, and in fact do not even often, correspond with one another. So let’s remember not too take it too seriously and get ourselves started, here.
Let’s kick this off with the leaders of the two groups. Rick Grimes and Scott “Cyclops” Summers. While the reader may be quick to point out that Rick lacks the ability to fire concussive blasts of crimson energy from his face, and I must admit that I cannot deny that this is the case, I would ask that these sort of comparisons be set aside in favor of personality-based examples. Both men are born leaders, yet also put-upon in their task. They each step down from their position for a spell only to return to their rightful spots. Interestingly, both characters are recently pulling up from protracted spirals into the darkest parts of their souls. While these two characters both started out squarely on the bright and shiny side of law and order, in recent years (our time) they’ve began, in the interest of the preservation of their own factions, making some very difficult decisions. In fact, both have sanctioned pre-emptive killings of perceived threats whereas as they were once hesitant to kill even as a last resort. That sort of work is better handled by our next pair.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all the comparisons that can be drawn between the series is the remarkable Daryl/Logan correlation. The surly loners of their respective groupings, Daryl Dixon and Wolverine are both grungy hillbillies none too proud of their pasts. I personally imagine that neither or the two smell very nice. They’re also paired with unlikely friends in the form of teenaged girls and are the slightly more civilized version of a bigger, nastier older-brotherly scumbag. Let’s discuss those gentlemen as well.
Say what you will about fellas like Daryl and Logan. Dirtbags? Sure. Killers? Oh, most definitely. But evil? Now, that’d be a stretch. While troubled souls like those two do what they must for their cause, guys like Sabretooth and Merle Dixon actually get off on the dirty work. In recent years, Wolverine’s origin story has been horribly mishandled, and the first step in messing it up was telling it at all. If you read X-Men comics from the 80s and early 90s, you pretty much assumed that Wolverine and Sabretooth were brothers, if not father and son. The rednecky familiar bonds between the two were as obvious as the sideburns on their faces! Nowadays, they’re just old pals who both used to be werewolves or some shit (not even making that up, sadly). Now, Daryl and Merle are always explicitly stated to be brothers, but they both suffered at the hand of an abusive father and their relationship as adults is, while not adversarial, hardly balanced. Merle is bigger, badder, and the clear leader. And another thing these two scumbags have in common is that, when the stakes are down and the going gets super-rough, they step in on the side of the angels. Every couple of years, Sabretooth decides to have another go at being a good guy. Case in point, he recently switched sides to honor the memory of the fallen Wolverine. Don’t worry, I’m sure Wolverine will be back in no time, and not in the form of a mindless flesh-eating monster. The X-Men are lucky enough to be reincarnated in far more charming ways than the characters of the Walking Dead.
Ororo Munro and Carol Peletier share one thing above all: they each undergo a drastic change during their time with their respective groups. While Storm is initially a naive young woman in a strange land, she eventually comes into her own as the savvy warrior queen of the Morlocks and team leader. Likewise, Carol’s beginnings were almost embarrassingly meek. She was the subject of abuse in her marriage and she seemed far too weak to survive in the world in which she’d suddently found herself. However, Carol persevered through her struggle and evolved to become a strategist and warrior on par with Rick and Daryl.
Similarly, Michonne and Psylocke also changed greatly once joining up with their respective crews. And from what little we’ve seen on Michonne’s life before the shit hit the fan, we can tell that she was a woman about town with an eye for fine art and fine living. For those familiar with the early days of Betsy Braddock, prior to her being body-swapped with an Asian assassin (I don’t wanna get into that), she came from a similar world. They both now operate as steely and silent assassins and carry imposing katana, and I think that superficial similarity is all it takes to sell this one.
Colossus and Tyreese, the Gentle Giants of these two worlds. Each of them an imposing physical presence reluctant to full let loose on others. When the going gets rough either can soundly handle a small army of enemies, as evidenced by Tyreese working his way through a herd of walkers with just a hammer and by Colossus being enormous and made of motherflipping metal. Heavily concerned with the safety of their little sisters, and while both hail from worlds where the death of a friend is a fairly commonplace occurrence, the two seemed to be mourned a bit more deeply than their other fallen comrades.
Next up we’ve got Glenn and Nightcrawler. At least in my eyes, and I think it’s the case for most fans, these two are the heart of their respective gangs. Nightcrawler a happy-go-lucky bouncing ball of energy who can even warm the ice-cold heart of Wolverine. If that dude’s heart were a beer, it would be a Coors Light and those mountains would be blue as Kurt Wagner’s cheery little cheeks. Another thing these two have in common, and which separates them from the others, is that they are arguably better suited for lives with their new families than they were in the worlds they left behind. Glenn was a pizza delivery guy, and while I thank those noble men and women who brave the harsh elements to deliver that most satisfying of meals, they’re not exactly Medecins Sans Frontieres. However, in a world where an intimate knowledge of city shortcuts can mean the difference between life and death to a large group of people, Glenn suddenly becomes a whole lot more useful. Nightcrawler, meanwhile, was a circus performer who was so cosmetically different from your average German as to place him on the end of a pitchfork-wielding mob. So I’d say he was probably happier with the X-Men.
I’d also make an argument for Andrea being a better-than-fair analogue for Rogue. They both keep terrible company. Whether it be Andrea sleeping with the enemy in the cases of Shane and the Governor or Rogue’s attraction to Magneto (and Gambit, but does that whole Mutant Massacre retcon count?) or her initial turn as a villain. These ladies are bad news, but somehow Rogue manages to win out in the court of public opinion whereas poor Andrea is just about universally hated.
I realize that this is hardly a comprehensive list of characters for either fiction, but I feel these are the strongest correlations between characters. There are certainly others worth exploring; Abraham as Cable, Beth as Jubilee… Maggie as Kitty? If you think there are any glaringly obvious ones that I’ve missed, and I’m certain there are some, please do leave a comment, I’d love to hear it. I’m fascinated by some of these similarities and I’ll greedily gobble up any more you’d send my way.
Aside from the Daryl/Merle/Wolverine/Sabretooth parallels, what really got me to thinking about this writing this article was a conversation with our own Biff Tannen about the greatly different narrative style of the second half of Season 4, wherein the protagonists were divided into several smaller groups without any knowledge of the goings-on affecting the others. It reminded us both of the post-Siege Perilous time period in Uncanny X-Men. For those who haven’t read this run of issue, or for those who have and quite understandably don’t remember something that happened in a comic book 25 years ago, the X-Men had been operating out of Australia while the world thought them dead after a massive battle in Dallas. In fact, they did die in their showdown with the Adversary, but what the public didn’t know was the Roma, daughter of Merlin and custodian of the Omniverse, whom they had saved in doing so, repaid them by resurrecting the team. She also granted them the irrelevant but interesting attribute of invisibility to technology, which is to say that they couldn’t be photographed or recorded. Just weird. Anyway, her third gift to them was the Siege Perilous, named for the empty seat at King Arthur’s round table. This was not an actual chair, or even a cohesive metaphor, but rather a portal which served as a form of Instant Karma. One would walk through the doorway and emerge on the other side in a new life appropriate to your worth as human being.
This was the kind of shit going on in the X-Men books when they were the most popular comic to a whole generation of readers!
So the Reavers, a gang of mutant-hating cyborgs, all but defeated the X-Men at their Australian base of operations. Wolverine was busy being crucified since the Reavers had a particular dislike (actually, a justifiable hatred as some of them were given cybernetic limbs after he sliced the originals to ribbons) the rest of the team, knowing they were outclassed, stepped through the Siege. Actually, Rogue had already gone through by accident, but Havok, Psylocke, Colossus, and Dazzler all made the jump of their own accord and wound up scattered all across the globe in new lives.
And then the book became about these separate stories gradually working their way toward a grand reunion, introducing or embracing new characters such as Gambit, Jubilee, and Hardcase & The Harriers along the way. Not all of them stood the test of time…
So perhaps it was nostalgia for a long past era of my favorite comic book that fostered my fondness for what turned in to be a poorly received era of the Walking Dead. Not enough huge action setpieces and too much character-driven drama, I guess, and it looks like these season won’t end on such an “unsatisfying” note.
However, it began with a bang that also brought to mind an X-Men story. The discovery that Terminus was not the safe haven it was thought to be could be compared to the mutant paradise Genosha being revealed as a nation where the people it promised to protect were persecuted and enslaved. At least the Genoshan humans didn’t eat the mutants, I guess.
And how about Alexandria? The survivors unknowingly pursuing fool’s gold on their way to Washington D.C. and ending up in the isolated and fortified town that seems to good to be true? Like it’s some sort of Utopia… oh, I went and said it. The X-Men, in the wake of the destruction of the Xavier Institute (this was like the 8th time) headed west to San Francisco to seek acceptance from a friendly local government, but soon took up residence instead on an island (actually the now earthbound Asteroid M) off the coast of the city. If these trends continue, we’re looking at some seriously messed up times to come on the Walking Dead, and while I don’t necessarily think that the writers are being inspired by the stories of the X-Men, the arcs these on which these characters are traveling could verily logically end up in a sort of Schism. But if the show does go the way people are thinking and tackle the Negan story a little ahead of schedule, I would embrace the departure from this eerie synchronicity in favor of the best storytelling they can offer.
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Posted on March 27, 2015, in COMICS!, TV and tagged AMC TV, chris claremont, Colossus, COMICS!, Cyclops, daryl dixon, Marvel, Merle Dixon, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Rick Grimes, Robert Kirkman, Rogue, Sabretooth, Siege Perilous, Storm, The Walking Dead, Wolverine, X-Men. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.