The Exiles are back at Marvel Comics this week. Even if that team name doesn't mean much to you, you are in for an absolute treat if you love superhero comics. This team first debuted in August 2001, but has been absent from Marvel's lineup since late 2009. That long hiatus is surprising given just how popular the new concept was following its launch. The original Exiles was co-created by writers Judd Winick and artist Mike McKone in response to Marvel's search for a new "What If" form of title. Rather than offering new stories with different iterations of characters each issue, they conceived of a team that could look at alternate versions of the Marvel Universe while maintaining a core plot and set of characters.
The Exiles were originally a team of superpowered individuals, each from different iterations of a Marvel Universe where they had just died. Snapped out of their own timelines the moment before their death, they were tasked with correcting errors in other universes. Together they explored lots of alternate versions of the shared universe fans love, sometimes losing members as they were snapped back into "fixed" realities and other times to more tragic circumstances. The result was a team unlike any other in superhero comics and stories that couldn't occur in any other Marvel series.
Over the course of three series, two volumes of Exiles and one of New Exiles, they were a regular stop on comics stands until the second volume ended in 2009. Now after almost a decade they're returning with writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Javier Rodriguez at the helm. They're also returning with an almost entirely new cast of characters including the X-Men Blink, a war-hardened future version of Ms. Marvel, and a chibi iteration of Wolverine. It's hard to tell exactly what adventures they'll go on first, but we're excited no matter where these new Exiles go.
One of the essential elements of Exiles is that the only constant is the team. Each new mission entails a brand-new setting and cast of supporting characters. The series will always live or die based on the strength of the Exiles themselves. Whether or not a single version of Earth is saved, the real consequences in each story rest on how they impact those attempting to save that reality. That element is what transformed minor X-Men like Blink and Morph into favorites with dedicated fan followings. Winick's style of superhero comics prepared a stage in which only a handful of individuals mattered, and every subsequent iteration has succeeded to the extent it has followed that concept.
Exiles also provides creators with a lot of leeway in crafting their characters. While fans have an understanding of who Ms. Marvel or Wolverine are, the alternate versions found in Exiles can be radically changed. As long as a creative team can provide a clear concept for their own version of these iconic heroes, then they can do a lot of different things. Assumptions about what having Wolverine in a comic means is upturned when he's transformed into a cartoon, given a brand-new backstory, and is made entirely expendable. Exiles isn't just a character-driven story, but one that encourages the creation of new characters in a way no other ongoing superhero series at Marvel Comics really can.
Suicide Squad Style
The constant mix of missions, rotating cast, and character-focused narratives is reminiscent of another classic superhero series: the original Suicide Squad. That version of the team, created by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell in 1987, permitted its team members to die or retire in a fashion unimaginable with the cast of the current series. Even modern stalwarts like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang were seen as expendable at the start due to a general lack of recognition and popularity. Exiles doesn't have that same problem of growing popularity though. Even its most beloved characters are versions on the core intellectual property that Marvel can continue to sell or revive in its prime universe. Absolutely no one is safe in Exiles, and that does the series a lot of good.
One of the biggest boons of having a cast of only pseudo-recognizable characters is that creators can raise the stakes in a big way. If a reader were to look at the newest iteration of the team, the only character one might be able to assume is safe is Blink. She is the heart of the original team and the most recognizable hook for returning readers. Absolutely no one else in the third volume of Exiles is irreplaceable. That level of threat paid big dividends in the original series with plenty of shocking reveals and twists as members were removed from the team. It wasn't just the deaths themselves, but how well individuals were built over a dozen or more issues so every loss hurt. That's not the only form of increased threats though. Almost every universe the Exiles travel to is equally expendable, meaning they really can fail in a mission with global (or even universal) stakes.
Those alternate Marvel worlds don't simply allow for things to go terribly wrong, they also offer an endless array of settings and premises. There are no fixed rules in Exiles. Doctor Doom can be a benevolent leader in one universe requiring cooperation and the Lizard can have conquered all of North America in another. Nothing is off the table with each new mission as there are endless Earths for the team to explore and attempt to repair.1comments
That's the hook of the original "What If" stories at Marvel and miniseries that spin out of almost every event. They engage with the questions about how the hundreds of critical points in the publisher's history could have played out differently. Any creators with an astute knowledge of that history and bit of imagination can explore those concepts in depth. They can also pair the important factors of the Exiles themselves with universes that might bring out their best or worst aspects. It's a toolbox that seemingly has no bottom.
Looking at all of the diversity and options made available in the very premise is why we love Exiles. Given a great writer and artist, even the sky can't be considered a limit. This is a series that builds on the incredible history of Marvel Comics without any of the rules that normally restrict canonical series. Characters are allowed to have endings, big surprises mean something, and the shape of the universe itself is always in flux. All of those reasons are why we expect this volume of Exiles to be a big hit.