Just the mere thought of ‘X-Men in the MCU’ conjures up a whole host of dream scenarios. Wolverine scrapping with Winter Soldier, Magneto as a new Big Bad, the Phoenix Saga being done right – all are realistic possibilities. But with the mutants joining the Avengers comes a story-shaped roadblock, one that Marvel has to overcome if it wants the X-Men to be a benefit, not a burden, to the MCU’s increasingly complex shared universe of superheroes.
Kevin Feige’s one-word tease of “mutants” (opens in new tab) at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019 may have seemed simple enough. However, introduce them too soon and Marvel could turn off audiences unfamiliar with the source material. Similarly, staggering things out across several years could risk fans growing increasingly impatient and losing interest in the X-Men.
The solution, though, has been hiding in plain sight. Jonathan Hickman’s 2019 X-Men comic run not only rebooted Xavier’s mutants into a more streamlined timeline, but serve as a successful foundation for a new X-Men story when transferred to the big screen.
How? Say hello to Moira X and her many lives.
Previously in Marvel lore, Moira MacTaggert was a scientist loyal to the mutant cause – even appearing as a geneticist in X-Men: First Class (opens in new tab) and X-Men: Apocalypse (opens in new tab). In his comic run, Hickman decided to retcon her human status and turned Moira into a mutant capable of resurrection. Not just any old resurrection, though. After being killed (be it deliberately or otherwise), she goes back to the moment of her birth and keeps the memories of her previous lives intact.
In Hickman’s comics, Moira’s powers are used as a way for mutantdom to change the future and learn from its fatal mistakes. Moira essentially became a walking, talking reset button. On its own, it’s a pretty fun plot point. In Hickman’s hands, it became a way of trimming the fat; decades of convoluted relationships and adventures could be remoulded into one singular universe to play around in. It’s a problem not dissimilar to the one Kevin Feige will have to face beyond Marvel Phase 4 (opens in new tab) with over a half-dozen X-Men movies, parallel timelines, and not-quite-canon entries such as Logan to wrestle with.
There are many lessons that can be learned here. For example, one of Moira’s early lives saw her come in contact with a classic X-Men team, but crucially not one that Hickman would be using going forward. For Moira – and readers – that version of the X-Men still exists, albeit in another multiverse and another life. It could be the same deal in the MCU.
The character of Moira can be an effective tool in bringing the X-Men in while still respecting the Fox film legacy that came before. By using Moira’s mutant powers, Feige could feasibly hand-wave away Fox’s universe of square-peg heroes that don’t quite fit into MCU’s grand vision. They can merely exist separately, while still technically remaining canon, as one of Moira’s previous lives. Then, the life she’s living now – the MCU as we know it – can slowly integrate new (and old) faces, whether it’s a case of wholesale recasting or cherry-picking actors to make the jump over to the Marvel Studios umbrella.
The results would be revelatory. Not only would it make the likes of Xavier and Jean Grey already a big deal out of the gate because of their past history, it would also untangle the messy web of stories that have been weaved over the years. In effect, it’s the best kind of reboot – a clean break that still honours the past.
From there, origin stories can still play out. In Moira’s MCU life, Wolverine may not be the Hugh Jackman Wolverine we know and love, nor would Xavier’s mentorship of mutants be known to the public either. This allows characters lumbered with years of baggage – in much the same way they were when Hickman took lead – to shift all that excess weight and gets them primed to have some Marvel magic sprinkled on them. All that without spending half-a-decade introducing each mutant, nor complicating matters by doing a Mysterio Far From Home-style retcon and saying they’ve been there all along, just out of sight.
Of course, there’s the small matter of bringing in Moira herself. Where could she fit? Doctor Strange sequel Multiverse of Madness sounds like a prime candidate. The movie’s likely exploration of parallel universes gives a feasible enough excuse to have Moira’s past lives exist as multiverses that can be explored by the Sorcerer Supreme. Her final stop can be the MCU. Multiverse of Madness could be a launching pad for whatever X-Men stories come next, and Moira is the key to all that. It’s just a case of bringing her in at the right moment
With the introduction of the X-Men, the MCU is at risk of collapsing under its own weight. It desperately needs the type of sleight-of-hand storytelling introduced by Hickman to seamlessly integrate a new stable of superheroes. And all it takes is a few lives.