We made mad love, shadow love
Random love and abandon love.
Accidentally like a martyr.
The hurt gets worse, and the heart gets harder.
- Warren Zevon, “Accidentally Like a Martyr”
Let a complex system repeat itself long enough, eventually something surprising will occur. That, too, is in God’s plan.
- Head-Six, Battlestar Galactica
When Warren Ellis took the reigns of three low-selling X-Men spin-offs—X-Man, Generation X and X-Force—around a decade ago, fans quickly weighed in, judging his ‘soft reboot’ of Nate Gray, the multiversal refugee and titular hero of X-Man, to be the greatest success of the ‘Counter X’ line. Transforming Nate from an angsty, displaced young man into a hero with a purpose, a literal shaman of the mutant ‘tribe’, Ellis tapped into the pre-millennial subconscious. It was this mood that had just been attempting to properly filter the alleged ‘Millennium Bug’, the upcoming elections in the United States, the creation of the Euro, a rash of high school shootings, and the resignation of Boris Yeltsin, which led to the subsequent rise to power of Vladimir Putin.
Instead of just another superhero, Nate Gray became a new man on the cusp of a new millennium, fulfilling all the duties of a shaman in the modern age, protecting his tribe, spinning stories and communing with those from worlds beyond our own. While a deeply spiritual work, the ‘Counter X’ run of X-Man also found time to play around with aspects of fringe science that reached a fever pitch in popularity at the turn of the millennium, most notably the genetics of mutation and multiversal travel.
But Ellis’ reinvention of Nate Gray as a spiritual vanguard of the new millennium didn’t emerge from a vacuum. Nothing artistic does.