By Jeff Jensen
May 12, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Comic book adaptations of movies based on ongoing comic book series come with an inherent drawback. Since fans are such slaves to continuity, they want to believe what they’re reading actually matters, especially when they’re on a tight allowance. So movie adaptations, beholden only to the movie’s warped reflection of the comic book reality, do them no good—unless they want a souvenir of yet another lame superhero flick that has broken their geeky little hearts.

Leave it to the X-Men—the popular Marvel Comics team of superpowered mutant heroes—to save the day. With Twentieth Century Fox’s $75 million movie debut set for July 14, Marvel has hatched a tie-in strategy with a mission. Beginning June 7, Marvel will release three weekly prequels focusing on three characters pivotal to the flick (Wolverine, Rogue, and Magneto), and the events leading up to their introduction in the film version. What happens? See the movie—although yes, there’s also the obligatory comic adaptation on sale July 5.

”This is really our first major comics launch based on one of our properties, and we wanted to do something a little special,” says editor Mike Marts. There were, however, complications, thanks to a studio paranoid about plot leaks. The screenplay supplied to Marvel was encoded, the artists and writers had to sign nondisclosure agreements, and finished pages were handled only by need-to-know staff. Marvel even had to make do with ”dribs and drabs” of visual reference from the film. ”When it came over,” says Marts, ”it was like gold.”

Marvel and Fox agreed that the comics should reflect the film’s production design and costumes, but for familiarity’s sake among core fans, the characters’ faces were based on the comic (it also spared Marvel and Fox the tedious task of getting approval on every page of art from the film’s sizable cast). Fox’s only veto came when Marvel wanted to add some X-Men not in the movie; the studio feared the choices might conflict with its sequel plans.

Industry analysts applaud the prequels’ creative purpose but add that they’ll preach best to the converted. ”Fans will buy them to see how Marvel explains the movie material,” says John Miller, managing editor of The Comics Buyer’s Guide. ”But most people don’t know X-Men from Adam.” Marvel is nevertheless aggressively trying to reach non-geeks, distributing the prequels through new channels like Toys ”R” Us and Tower Records. If the flick’s a hit, Marvel may launch more movie-inspired X-books. ”Year 2000,” understates Marts, ”is a really big year for X-Men.”

At least one new fan is ready to read—if not buy. ”Forty-eight pages of Rogue? I feel so special! I’ll have to go buy it,” says Anna Paquin, an X-Men virgin prior to playing Rogue in the movie. But then she comes to her senses: ”Oh, wait. I’ll just have someone at Fox send it to me.”

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