It’s Marvel Week at SB Nation! As you may recall, we once compared the Toronto Raptors to the X-Men — and then we did it again with the Avengers!
But rather than compare our favourite basketball team to, say, the Guardians of the Galaxy (Serge Ibaka is Drax, and there will be no debate), we thought we’d look for something different — in fact, something outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something involving Marvel’s comic book roots.
And, as the resident old guy here at Raptors HQ, and a self-admitted comic book junkie who’s been reading Marvel comics most of his life, it’s fallen to me to dig deep and figure out the comic book connections between the current Toronto Raptors and the Marvel comics of yore.
Our fearless leader Daniel Reynolds put the idea in my head of comparing the current Raptors team to a classic comic book story arc. And I thought about the idea of Kyle Lowry being the last man standing from the start of this current Raptors era. And I went back to the X-Men and the Avengers. How many times has “The Old Order Changeth” and one or two Avengers or X-Men — Captain America or Iron Man, or Wolverine or Storm — stuck around while the rest of the team around them changed? Like, all the time!
The most famous of these “changeovers” might be the All-New, All-Different X-Men that appeared in Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975. In that story, titled “Deadly Genesis,” The original X-Men — Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel and Marvel Girl, along with later members Havok and Polaris — are captured by a mutant island. (Yes, the actual entire island was a mutant!)
Cyclops escapes, and Professor X proceeds to recruit a new team of X-Men: Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Sunfire and Thunderbird. Led by Cyclops, this team rescues the others from the island; the original team members then retire. Only Cyclops remains to lead the new team forward.
That story basically started the X-Men’s transformation from near-cancellation (Marvel had not published a new X-Men story since 1970) into sales juggernaut (pun intended) that dominated the comics market in the 1980s and 1990s and pretty much kicked off the current comic book movie trend in 2000.
How are the Toronto Raptors like the All-New, All-Different X-Men?
Like the X-Men, the early 2010s Raptors team was a nothing franchise, going nowhere. It needed a shakeup. Masai Ujiri couldn’t replace the whole team in one issue, like Marvel did with the X-Men, but he changed it over time, starting with the Rudy Gay trade. Eventually, he turned over the entire team — minus leader Kyle Lowry. Kyle stuck around, re-upping twice, becoming the glue that kept the team together.
The new guys that came in were not necessarily better than the others that left, they were just... different. They fit better. Sunfire made heat, not ice, like Iceman; Beast and Nightcrawler were both acrobats, but Nightcrawler could also teleport! Greivais Vasquez and Patrick Patterson were better team players than Rudy Gay. Norman Powell defended better than Vasquez. Danny Green shot threes, and DeMar DeRozan didn’t!
And hey, speaking Sunfire: of that team that debuted in Giant-Size X-Men #1, one member didn’t stick around. After that first successful mission, Sunfire left to go back home... much like Kawhi Leonard did.
Ultimately, “the old order changed”, except Kyle Lowry, and the team went from non-contender, to playoff mainstay, to NBA champion.
One more comp? Behind the scenes, original All-New, All-Different X-Men artist Dave Cockrum was replaced after a couple of years by up-and-comer John Byrne, who quickly became a superstar and plotted and drew the comic’s two greatest stories: The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Futures Past. We had to replace incumbent Dwane Casey with up-and-comer Nick Nurse, who also led the Raptors to their greatest triumph!
Ultimately, the X-Men often use the idea of evolution as a storytelling theme, and certainly that’s the case here — for both the X-Men and the Raptors. In order to go further, the X-Men comic book and the Toronto Raptors had to change and adapt, to survive and to thrive. The chemistry, the makeup of the book and the team had to shift; new combinations had to be tried, new mixtures added, until the right one was met.
Eventually both found a mix that worked and it led them to success.
Of course, because staying stagnant is death, both continued to evolve. The X-Men comics have been reinvented countless times in the past 40 years, and are currently seeing a creative resurgence with new writer Jonathan Hickman. (Of course, Cyclops is still there!) And whenever the NBA season resumes, and the next season comes along, we’ll witness the next step in the evolution of the Raptors — and hopefully Kyle Lowry will be here for a long time to come as well.