by Daniel Abraham
This would have been in the late 1980s. I was just finishing high school and starting up as a freshman in college. I was still living at my parents’ house, but I had my own car and my own door where I could come and go. That didn’t matter much, though, since I was spending most of my time with my girlfriend and her family. Including her little brother. I would sleep over there pretty often, which wasn’t as racy as it sounds. I had a guest bed in her little brother’s room. It’s where I learned how to sleep with my head on one upraised arm to block one ear against my bicep, and my free hand over the other ear. Life skills come from all directions.
And I got deeply into her little brother’s comic books.
Now I’d read comics on and off all through my life. Spider-Man was a particular favorite, in part because he was on The Electric Company, but my tastes were wide and varied. I liked all of them, and even though I was allegedly a sophisticated college type now, or nearly so, I found myself really enjoying The Uncanny X-Men. And especially a short run with its own title: The Fall of the Mutants.
It’s been a lot of years since then, and memory fades. I had to go online and look up the detail of the plot and when exactly it came out. Those weren’t the things I remembered. What stays with me was the feeling I had when I was reading it, and realizing that the heroes were going to die. Storm, Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus. All gone. A whole new slate of X-Men would have to take up the torch. I remember being in awe that the authors would do something so definitive and powerful.
I got suckered. I was young. Cut me some slack.
When the X-Men got hauled back up out of the grave, I felt disappointed. More than that, I felt ashamed of having had the emotional investment that I did. I had been carried along by the story. I’d been excited. And it had been a con. The story had promised me one thing, then at the end, pulled it back and given me something else. Something less brave, less risky, and less real. Something that made it clear that the author hadn’t ever meant to deliver on my investment. It’s happened a few times since then in other venues – TV shows, novels – and I have a phrase for it now: Ha ha. Made you care.
And here’s the thing. Anyone gets to do that to me once. After that, I don’t care again.
After the Fall of the Mutants ended in no one having fallen, I stopped reading comics. When I came back, years later, it was when someone told me I had to catch up on DCs Vertigo titles. By then there was a decent backlog. I never went back to the straight superhero comics.
There’s a dignity in endings. There’s a grace in the story that you loved and the characters you cared about coming to a conclusion and leaving. The melancholy of knowing that the story is told is, for me, a beautiful place. And it’s one of the things I appreciate about the Wild Cards universe. It has its superheroes and its villains, but it also has its endings. A fallen hero in Wild Cards is mourned, and the world goes on without them. We don’t haul them back up, put strings on them, and make them dance after their time is done.
We don’t play you for suckers. And we don’t laugh at you when you care.