The X-Men are curious (black)
December 18, 2013 7:18 AM   Subscribe

"Simply changing the skin color of the mutants obviously doesn’t address all of the issues around privilege in the Marvel Universe. The visual and narrative sexism that permeates superhero comics remains intact. Some characteristics of white characters also become negative stereotypes when applied to non-white characters. Wolverine is a symbol of wild, untamed, white male power, but when I recolor his skin to imagine him as a person of color, his snarling, predatory aggression reads as a stereotype of wild black men." -- Orion Martin reimagines the X-Men as mutants of colour to make clear why the idea of mutant discrimination as standin for real world issues is problematic. He does so by recolouring some famous X-men images.

Martin draws his inspiration from Neil Shyminsky's Mutant Readers, Reading Mutants: Appropriation, Assimilation, and the X-Men (PDF):
Erik Dussere characterizes the majority of comic book readers, and X-Men in particular, as “mostly people like me: boys, mostly geeks, weirdos, smart kids - in a word, mutants” (2000:1). Dussere explains that young, male readers are taught to associate their own hardships with those represented in X-Men, as “the comics'evocation of the ordeal - and the hostile rhetoric - that many gay men and wome nface allows the adolescent reader to see his or her own alienation in the experiences of these characters” (2). But while the X-Men metaphor appears socially progressive in its inclusivity, the company and creators’ refusal to suggest that some identifications are closer to the mark than others – and indeed, that one person’s unique ordeal can be easily substituted for or appropriated by another – implies an equivalence between all of the various readers’ oppressions.

Though adolescence is often traumatic, the implication that being a“geek” brings with it oppressions that are akin to those of racism, sexism, or homophobia seems wholly overstated, especially when the majority of X-Men’s readers are white, male, and heterosexual. It is useful to think of the advantages of being male and/or white in North American society not simply from the perspective of educational and professional opportunities, but as an “invisible knapsack” of unearned assets, advantages as simple but important to one’s sense of safety and well-being as “the expectation that neighbors will be decent to you,or that your race will not count against you in court” (McIntosh, 1988:11). It is this suggestion of equivalence that is the key problem underlying the politics of mutanity in X-Men: If being a straight white “weirdo” or “geek” is equated with being a gay and/or racial minority reader and all can claim mutanity, what kind of reader is X-Men actually soliciting and how is it empowering them? As a substantially young, white, and male group of heroes within a genre whose creators and reader are nearly uniformly white males, the X-Men actually solicit identification from a similarly young, white, and male readership, allowing these readers to misidentify themselves as the “other”. Rather than reflecting McKellan’s suggestion that disempowered minorities are reading about and identifying themselves in the pages of the comic book, most readers are being taught to identify with oppressions that are unfamiliar and, I would argue, unequal to their own. Additionally, the use of racialized and gendered victim positions by white male readers is particularly troubling when one considers that, despite the obvious difficulties associated with being a teenager or a geek, these readers still often benefit from the “unearned advantage… of our arbitrarily awarded power.
In a slightly different context, comics critic David Brothers also examined the whole "mutants as metaphor for actually existing oppressed (minority) groups and argued that it only works if it's kept broad and doesn't go into specifics too much:
BUT! I do think doing this sort of story with the X-Men is a mistake. The X-Men are, in the eyes of both Marvel and the vast majority of fans, an oppression metaphor. Mutants-as-blacks, mutants-as-gays, mutants-as-outcasts. You can fill in the blank with your preferred marginalized group, up to and including white dudes. It’s a tremendous asset to the franchise, because everyone feels alone and like an outcast sometimes. The X-Men are feared and hated by a world they are sworn to protect, which sets them up as underdogs.

BUT!!! This is an example of the franchise flying too close to the sun and getting too specific, which is usually a mistake. The metaphor has worked for so long because it’s amazingly broad and they rarely ever address the actual factual parts of being marginalized within the text. The X-Men franchise is a soap opera about pretty people having sex and fighting evil and sometimes disfigured bad guys, but somehow they’re still underdogs and we love them for it. They’ll borrow specific things here and there, but fictionalize them to the point that they have a taste of real life, rather than a full bite.
Mind, Brothers is also criticial of the whole idea of recolouring the X-men:
These are palette swaps, not actual characters. They’re still White(ish) Psylocke, White Wolverine, Black Storm, Chinese-American Jubilee, and so on. Their ethnicities may not be front and center in the text, there’s not a lot of “I, (attribute), feel this way,” but they still matter. Black Wolverine’s life would have been drastically different from White Wolverine’s, and the odds of them ending up the same person are vanishingly small, right? Professor X debuting an all-black team of teenagers with wildly destructive powers (and I guess wings, sorry Angel) in the ’60s would have been stopped dead in the water on several different fronts.
posted by MartinWisse (104 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
"What’s disturbing about the series is that is that all of these issues are played out by a cast of characters dominated by wealthy, straight, cisgender, Christian, able-bodied, white men. The X-Men are the victims of discrimination for their mutant identity, with little or no mention of the huge privileges they enjoy."
The whole article seems to read everything in the worst possible way ("Since the original, largely unpopular episodes written by Stan Lee . . . ") in order to make a point that's not entirely clear to me. I think it's, "These characters used to teach about prejudice fall short for me because I can't relate to them." Which is fine, but I don't think it invalidates the idea. The author mentions the series began in 1963, but criticizes all of the decisions as if they were made in the current era. If Stan Lee had made the series about a group of gay African American women in 1963 perhaps he could hold his head a little higher (if that's even possible for Stan Lee), but the audience he then spoke to would have been much smaller than the one the series reaches today. The quotation above misses the point for me: isn't it possible this is a world where being a mutant is so horrible and so crippling that even being a white male billionaire isn't enough to be accepted? Where even the lowliest "normal" person can reasonably assume a mob will form behind them to attack you no matter what the cause? That seems to be a good way to communicate the feeling of powerlessness from being in a minority for kids in the majority.
posted by yerfatma at 7:33 AM on December 18, 2013 [23 favorites]


If being a straight white “weirdo” or “geek” is equated with being a gay and/or racial minority reader and all can claim mutanity, what kind of reader is X-Men actually soliciting and how is it empowering them?

This is particularly interesting especially given the recent FPP on Big Bang Theory, where the concept of "nerd blackface" arose. It would be interesting to see how much overlap there is between that particular brand of outrage, and of X-Man readership.
posted by corb at 7:37 AM on December 18, 2013


The whole article seems to read everything in the worst possible way ("Since the original, largely unpopular episodes written by Stan Lee . . . ") in order to make a point that's not entirely clear to me.

Oh thank God, I thought it was just me.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:37 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm on board with this article and it's an interesting look that I have not really considered much before. However:
He concludes that, “While its stated mission is to promote the acceptance of minorities of all kinds, X-Men has not only failed to adequately redress issues of inequality – it actually reinforces inequality.”
Is the stated mission of X-Men really to promote acceptance of minorities? It seems rather that this is a work of fiction which uses some of the historical tone and shading of the Civil Rights era and the AIDS crisis. I don't know if it's fair to burden a comic book series with such a weighty task.
posted by deathpanels at 7:40 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


able-bodied, white men

If only their leader could have been elderly and wheelchair bound. But they would never print a story like that, especially in 1963.
posted by EnterTheStory at 7:41 AM on December 18, 2013 [22 favorites]


It seems somewhat off to add "able-bodied" to the set of privileges that the X-Men enjoy. Leaving aside Xavier, who is clearly not able-bodied, they're mutants. Their bodies aren't "normal" bodies. The challenges of having "abnormal" bodies are precisely the point of the whole story. Mutants don't look or act like people with real world disabilities, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that part of the reason that non-mutants are disgusted by/afraid of mutants is related to the reasons that people have those reactions to the disabled.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:46 AM on December 18, 2013 [18 favorites]


The bigger problem with X-Men as stand in for minority of choice is that they really are different and separate. If the homosexual agenda actually existed and gay men did have the sexuality warping powers credited us by eg Tony Perkins then the whole acceptance thing should probably be a non starter. Same with eye beams, I claim.

Magneto is right, in other words.
posted by PMdixon at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel there has been a recent spat of "That think you like that is sort of progressive? IT'S ACTUALLY TERRIBLE AND OPPRESSIVE" essays recently. Essays that frequently seem to miss the point in all sorts of ways.

Maybe the person writing this should consider Stan Lee wrote the comics from the perspective of a Jewish guy for whom the Holocaust was less than two decades old, who was familiar with immediate survivors of the camps (I mean, he made one of his anti-heroes a survivor of the camps), and knew a lot of comic artists, including himself, who changed their Jewish-sounding names to something more Anglicized. Then you get a lot more parallels. Sure, some mutants "pass" for humans--while others have physical characteristics that immediately give them away. But even if you pass as soon as people realize your background they hate, fear, and ostracize you. They treat you like a monster, they want to round you up and put you away, they want to eliminate your race . . . I think his parable of prejudice can apply in a lot of ways, but if you're primarily trying to apply it to skin color and complaining it doesn't fit you're totally missing the background of the creator himself.
posted by schroedinger at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2013 [87 favorites]


Is the stated mission of X-Men really to promote acceptance of minorities?

It's pretty heavily built into the foundations of the series. I mean, maybe not as the primary mission (which is to sell comics) but as a dominant theme which has proven remarkably sturdy over the years.

I do think that the X-Men probably work best as a metaphor for sexuality, gender identity, neurological difference, and other "potentially hidden" differences, since the tension between "mutants who can pass" and those that cannot appears again and again. X-Men: First Class has some of it's best moments showing that Xavier just does not get what many other mutants experience. It's a really good portrayal (in a fantasy action film) of privilege-blindness. The passing/not passing divide does occur in race-, class-, and physical ability- based oppression, but perhaps not as vividly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but see, there's a bigger problem here. Using the X-Men as a metaphor for any group of social outcasts--be they racial, sexual, religious, ethnic, whatever--is fundamentally and inherently flawed in such a way that any Aesops are necessarily Fantastic Aesops. And make no mistake: it's something that happens with depressing regularity and it fails almost every time it crops up.

Why? Well, the basic X-Men message has been, basically forever, "Don't fear or discriminate against people just because they're different." Which is a decent message as far as it goes.

But it's completely nonsensical in context. Discriminating against mutants is not the same as discriminating against the real-world standard list of protected classes (however long you care to draw that list) because the standard list of protected classes does not include people who can level most of downtown Manhattan without breaking a sweat. Or, you know, completely remake reality without meaning to. There are good, compelling, and--here's the kicker--manifestly and objectively good reasons for treating mutants differently than non-mutants. Especially ones with dangerous powers.

So I think this analysis kind of misses the point a bit. True, the way the stories are written seems to give the X-Men far more privilege than a supposedly-oppressed group should probably have. And there are more stereotypes than you can shake a stick at. But I'm sorry, there is a category difference between banning black people from the lunch counter and banning a guy who can shoot ridiculously powerful energy beams from his eyes. If anything, the message kind of backfires a little bit, as it implies that people who are different may actually be dangerous. I think the X-Men of Color project highlights that a little bit. What is an arguable metaphor for civil rights in the original, if a lackluster one, can turn into something on par with the most hysterical race-bating white-panic propaganda if you swap the color palette.

This is one of the reasons that the Marvel Civil War event came off so badly in fan and critic reviews. The editors clearly wanted to have some kind of debate about the post-9/11 political/security situation. But given the setting of the Marvel comics universe, the only way to make the Registration faction look unreasonable was to have them all act like assholes all the time, even if that meant having characters do things completely inconsistent with their established personalities. I mean, hell, gun control is pretty controversial in the real world, but even the most ardent NRA fanatics don't generally think that civilians should be able to buy RPGs, let alone heat-seeking missiles. It's not unreasonable to think that the government ought to be able to keep tabs on people who can level city blocks on a whim. So the Marvel editors' attempts to make this seem like a drastic invasion of civil liberties came off really badly.
posted by valkyryn at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


Oh thank God, I thought it was just me.

Yeah. I get a little annoyed with this sort of thing. It's possible (and in fact entirely credible) for Stan Lee to be both a shameless, self-promoting shyster and someone who genuinely worked to address issues of race and diversity in his work.

Gabe Jones of the Howling Commandos was Marvel's first black hero. In the first issue, the printers just presumed the instructions were mistaken and took it upon themselves to color him white. Marvel literally had to fight with their printing company over this. You might say, "Yeah, one supporting character in a war comic, whatever," but I'd argue that the fact that Marvel actually cared enough to make a fight of this back in 1963 is genuinely significant.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:51 AM on December 18, 2013 [23 favorites]


I was pretty impressed by how differently black Wolverine reads, tho. Especially the stripe of white hair, for some reason.
posted by PMdixon at 7:56 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The comment by Brothers in the final link seems quite astute, both with regards to how metaphors in fiction have their limits in applicability and on how race is actually representative of a suite of lived experiences, not merely melanin. The one quibble I would have with it is that "palette swaps" at least get non-majority characters into the picture. They may just be a differently hued version of the same White-identified character in the beginning, but it does give writers the opportunity to explore that initially shallow ethnic signifier later on. It's akin to how Brothers notes that Storm's Blackness, initially just a novelty, gave later writers the chance to do something with the character on that point specifically.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:56 AM on December 18, 2013


So the Marvel editors' attempts to make this seem like a drastic invasion of civil liberties came off really badly.

The registration act in the comic wasn't just "registration" and "training;" it was a straight-up mandatory draft, yet somehow this was hardly ever a point of debate. This is just one example of the nonsensical way the storyline was handled (to say nothing of it requiring dozens of characters to act completely out of character for it to happen at all). Within two issues, it became painfully obvious that neither the writers nor the editors really had any sense of what they were putting out.

I really wouldn't use Civil War as an example of much of anything other than a giant slew of bad comic book writing.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:56 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, that page from "God Loves, Man Kills": is the writer here confusing Stevie the dance instructor for Storm? They're the first two black women in the X-Universe that I think of off the top of my head, but when I see a picture of one and then the name of the other, I'm left wondering if somebody got them confused.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:59 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mutants don't look or act like people with real world disabilities

Depends on the mutant. Some, like Cyclops and Rogue, need assistive technologies to function in society. Some have bodies that are disabled by the ordinary definition. For example, Nightcrawler only has three fingers on each hand.
posted by jedicus at 7:59 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's certainly worth saying that the idea behind the X-Men was revolutionary in its own way, though certainly imperfect, in the era in which it was created. Yeah, all the characters were white, but it snuck a metaphor about civil rights and prejudice into a whiz-bang piece of Atom Age sci-fi. It was taken as a given that the comic's audience would be almost entirely white, so it was a story with white people in it.

That said, I also think the idea is one that could stand some updating. At the time of its creation, X-Men was a broad metaphor which spoke about prejudice in a country where the civil rights movement was in full swing and the Civil Rights Act hadn't been signed yet, and it made its point to an audience which rarely had to think about what prejudice might be like from the other side.

I don't know that the concept scales as well to the modern world - we're past the age of Selma to Montgomery marches. Which obviously isn't to say that prejudice is not still pervasive and a huge issue, but it's now more of an issue of understanding and combating the pervasive way that prejudice and privilege are built into our social constructions than an issue of someone noticing that maybe it kind of sucks that the law says you can spray people with a firehose for wanting to vote. And I don't know that a mainstream superhero comic, with all its attendant creative obligations, is capable of the kind of granularity that would be required to educate a reader about their invisible knapsack in any way that's effective.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:01 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Given that DC was knee-deep in fluff at the time, the X-Men having metaphorical racism in 1963 was pretty advanced for comics. I mean there was that one anti-racist EC strip ten years earlier, but with the Comics Code the remnants of the industry were literally straightjacketed into superheroes and bad monster sci-fi. Social commentary was very hard to come by at all.

Does it hold up 50 years later? Not as well, certainly, and the comics now are a muddled soap opera with all kinds of weird morals built in and ret-conned into an incomprehensible mush. But at the time of the Civil Rights movement it was a positive stand.
posted by graymouser at 8:02 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


If anything, I think Wolverine as the "...symbol of wild, untamed, white male power" is in fact very progressive in its lofty goal of combating common stereotypes about Canadians.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:02 AM on December 18, 2013 [20 favorites]


There are good, compelling, and--here's the kicker--manifestly and objectively good reasons for treating mutants differently than non-mutants.

The table-top RPG Mutant City Blues, a police procedural game set in a world with fairly well-understood mutant powers, does some interesting things with this -- the section on each power talks a bit about the legal ramifications with some powers requiring registration and constant monitoring (the ability to explode, for example), while other create legal problems (is the power to make people angry different from using words to make people angry). In some cases, government agencies are working to make certain powers (telepathy) "illegal" hoping to corner the market on the power. Anyway, it's a fun idea for a game.

Alternatively, you have the second appearance of the Brotherhood of Dada in Doom Patrol. The US government seems OK with Lex Luthor leveling Metropolis every so often, but when Mr. Nobody sets out to call the electoral process into question through a series of relatively mild stunts, then the gloves come off and the hidden arsenal of really hideous anti-superhero tools comes out.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:03 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


"What’s disturbing about the series is that is that all of these issues are played out by a cast of characters dominated by wealthy, straight, cisgender, Christian, able-bodied, white men.

Is that the point? It's presenting discrimination to people who may never have thought about it or been touched by it before, especially kids.

The X-Men are the victims of discrimination for their mutant identity, with little or no mention of the huge privileges they enjoy."

They don't really enjoy privileges in the context of a world where there are mutants that the government is hunting down, for Christ's sake. Sure, some of them could catch a cab because they can "pass" which isn't really what privilege means.
posted by spaltavian at 8:04 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


The registration act in the comic wasn't just "registration" and "training;" it was a straight-up mandatory draft, yet somehow this was hardly ever a point of debate.

Maybe. Having written extensively on the subject, I'm pretty comfortable saying that that was never definitively established. There were certainly stories that talked that way, but other stories that implied that a superhuman who registered could then simply go home if they wanted to, i.e., registration was mandatory but federal service optional. The writers never seem to have figured out which version of the law they wanted.

But I think all of that just underscores my basic point that using mutants as an analog for an oppressed social group doesn't work very well. There are too many legitimate differences between superhumans and regular folks to make them useful in conveying social messages in anything but the broadest strokes. This only gets more apparent the harder the writers try to make it work, e.g., with Civil War.
posted by valkyryn at 8:10 AM on December 18, 2013


There are good, compelling, and--here's the kicker--manifestly and objectively good reasons for treating mutants differently than non-mutants. Especially ones with dangerous powers.

I have never before met someone who's both pro-Sentinel and pro-Registration. I would submit that this proves the point that these comics were, in fact, necessary - because some people could think that the oppressive measures taken against mutants were totally reasonable.

Also, insults to Civil War? Pistols at dawn!
posted by corb at 8:11 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


They don't really enjoy privileges in the context of a world where there are mutants that the government is hunting down, for Christ's sake.

To be fair, Magneto never seems to be short of cool secret lairs, often in space, which most real-world minorities have yet to manage....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:11 AM on December 18, 2013


I feel there has been a recent spat of "That think you like that is sort of progressive? IT'S ACTUALLY TERRIBLE AND OPPRESSIVE" essays recently. Essays that frequently seem to miss the point in all sorts of ways.

Well, you know the old adage - The perfect is the enemy of THE AMAZING X-MEN!
posted by FatherDagon at 8:16 AM on December 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


> Nightcrawler only has three fingers on each hand

Yeah, but he can freaking teleport! That seems like a fair trade, even with the tail and looking like the Duke mascot. To quote Joker from Mass Effect, "I break ribs if I sneeze too hard - being able to move crap with your mind is not a handicap."

It's there that the analogy of "superpowers" to "ethnic/sexual minority" kind of breaks down. Both face discrimination simply due to ascribed characteristics innate to them and outside their control, but if gay people want abs of steel, they have to spend a lot of time at the gym, not just literally turn to steel. Like valkyryn pointed out, once you get beyond the message of "Don't fear or discriminate against people just because they're different" the X-Men as a metaphor for discrimination starts to be less applicable to the real world, since the differences in the former is having superpowers.

Which is why the drama in the X-Men has always been aided by a Nazi metaphor of a persecutory government agency.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2013


I have never before met someone who's both pro-Sentinel and pro-Registration.

Who said anything about that? I'm definitely pro-Reg, but anti-Sentinel. Even if you think regulation of powers is absolutely necessary, the Sentinels are a terrible idea. I mean, geez, Rule Zero of the creation of massively destructive giant death robots ought to be to not make them autonomous. Way to go, morons.

posted by valkyryn at 8:20 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I prefer the X-Men message that tolerance is a good thing to 90s-style grimdark cynical nihilism where everybody sucks and is secretly or not-so-secretly awful. The analogies can be dated and don't always hold, but I'd rather see trying and falling short than not trying.
posted by immlass at 8:20 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, insults to Civil War? Pistols at dawn!

You liked Civil War? Are you insane??!1!
posted by MartinWisse at 8:25 AM on December 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Now I'm wondering, have there been mutants in the X-Men universe which just have total crapsack "powers?" I know there have been mutants with tremendously underwhelming abilities, but has there ever been a character whose mutation is like, unending back pain, migraines, and poor digestion? And not like "well it turns out they can also melt metal by touching it!"
posted by Panjandrum at 8:26 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was pretty impressed by how differently black Wolverine reads, tho. Especially the stripe of white hair, for some reason.

I've speculated elsewhere that imagining Mister Fantastic as African-American does a lot of interesting things to the 1960s stories in particular, whether it's altering the origin story in which he and his crew have to defy authorization to test their own rocket, adding a very different dynamics to the Namor-Sue-Reed triangle, or providing subtext for his choices to take on a logo and a superlative as a codename. (Obviously, these ideas were in response to the usual emergence of the lowlights of the fandom after Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm, the Human Torch.)

It's not just a palette swap if you really reimagine the stories in light of the changed dynamics of privilege that result from such "recastings."

re: Civil War

That crossover has two huge problems: first, all of the books agreed that the penalty for refusing to register was basically extraordinary rendition to a prison outpost in a hostile alien dimension; two, it was written by Mark Millar, who was well into the hugely problematic and desperately pandering stages of his writing career by that point.
posted by kewb at 8:28 AM on December 18, 2013


What’s disturbing about the series is that is that all of these issues are played out by a cast of characters dominated by wealthy, straight, cisgender, Christian, able-bodied, white men.

I always saw that as a feature of the allegorical nature of X-Men rather than a bug. There are a lot more people in America who fit most of the list of "wealthy, straight, cisgender, Christian, able-bodied, white men" than there are people who aren't any of those things, especially among the population that's likely to pick up a comic book. So if you show that population this discrimination faced by people who would otherwise fit right into society, it's more likely to resonate than if you start off by presenting characters who were wildly different from them and mutants.
posted by Etrigan at 8:33 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


...it was written by Mark Millar, who was well into the hugely problematic and desperately pandering stages of his writing career by that point.

Is it me or is Millar's work worth reading now basically a footnote in his career.
posted by griphus at 8:33 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


You liked Civil War? Are you insane??!1!

I have a soft spot for "Captain America defies his government for Principles" stories.

it's a sickness
posted by corb at 8:37 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I haven't bought a non-graphic-novel comic off a rack in 20 or so years, can someone tell me how common development of new, distinctly minority characters (as in their minority status isn't just limited to skin pigment but plays a part in their backstory, arc, etc.) has been in that time?

Also, I'd think stories that introduce a minority perspective (allegorical or not) would be better served by employing a greater number of minority writers (other than Jewish). What's the current state of diversity there?
posted by echocollate at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2013


Now I'm wondering, have there been mutants in the X-Men universe which just have total crapsack "powers?"

Meet Ugly John. Only in a few pages of a couple of issues of New X-Men (Morrison's first, IIRC) and still one of the most poignant X-Men moments I can think of offhand. Morrison's a hell of a writer.
posted by Shepherd at 8:39 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


has there ever been a character whose mutation is like, unending back pain, migraines, and poor digestion? And not like "well it turns out they can also melt metal by touching it!"

As in Jokers or Deuces?

A few. There was Wraith, whose power was transparent skin. Choir had a few extra mouths on her neck. Beak was sort of a half-bird half-man who couldn't walk or fly particularly well, and looked damned hideous to boot.

Jury's out on Gin Genie, who could produce seismic waves in proportion to her BAC.
posted by valkyryn at 8:40 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


That crossover has two huge problems

Three: A vast swath of characters act completely out of character. Tony Stark and Peter Parker make many, many choices that don't jive at all with their personalities or histories. Steve Rogers at least makes choices consistent with his character, but his dialogue is just bizarre--because the writer plainly doesn't know how to handle him. Frank Castle guns down criminals right in front of people whom he knows will object and will put him down, and then is somehow surprised when this happens. The authors all but surgically remove Reed Richards's backbone (har har, stretchy guy) in order to justify his choices. The list goes on and on.

Seriously, guys, we shouldn't even use CW as an example on this. It's all just bad, bad writing.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:41 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Morrison's a hell of a writer.

Also in New X-Men, Xorn's Special Class was young mutants who were severely disabled by their 'powers' far more than they were capable of superheroic acts.
posted by griphus at 8:42 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now I'm wondering, have there been mutants in the X-Men universe which just have total crapsack "powers?"

Wasn't there a kid who blew his own jaw off with his energy-breath powers or whatever? I'd say that's pretty crapsack. If I had to choose between energy beams that could level buildings like a cannon or having a mouth, I'd pick having a mouth every time.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2013


(Obviously, these ideas were in response to the usual emergence of the lowlights of the fandom after Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm, the Human Torch.)

Johnny and Sue are still going to be siblings, right? If she's white, will they try to explain it? I don't care what color or colors they are, of course, nor do I care whether they're step-siblings, half-siblings, adopted siblings, or even if it's never explained at all; the important thing is that they're siblings, because the family dynamic is part of the core of the Fantastic Four.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:44 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought X-Men was about Communism.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:51 AM on December 18, 2013


Well yeah, superhero stories don't make a lot of real world sense, since they're largely built on the premise of a world-eating monster or supervillain conspiracy every story arc. Not to mention the way that some characters get a new lover in the fridge almost every year, while others remain virgins going on decades. Just about any metaphor in superhero comics from the superhero as invisible minority to the pulpy "scientist goes too far" motif is probably best taken broadly without squinting too hard at it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:53 AM on December 18, 2013


I have a soft spot for "Captain America defies his government for Principles" stories.

Well, yeah, as you should, but Civil War concluded Cap was wrong because Myspace.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:55 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but he can freaking teleport! That seems like a fair trade, even with the tail and looking like the Duke mascot. To quote Joker from Mass Effect, "I break ribs if I sneeze too hard - being able to move crap with your mind is not a handicap."

He didn't get to trade, though, that's just how he is. It doesn't matter how fair the trade might seem to someone else or that his situation comes with some advantages as well as disadvantages, because it's not a trade at all, it's a genetic mutation that he was born with, has always lived with, and will continue to live with for the rest of his life barring extensive and life-altering surgeries. At no point did he have a chance to mull over his options and eventually choose to look a certain way in exchange for anything.
posted by Copronymus at 8:55 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a kid who blew his own jaw off with his energy-breath powers or whatever?

Chamber.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:56 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I feel there has been a recent spat of "That think you like that is sort of progressive? IT'S ACTUALLY TERRIBLE AND OPPRESSIVE" essays recently

Alternatively, the Internet has given a forum for sloppy thinkers to strut and fret their Big Idea. I tuned out of the better part of a semester of an undergrad English class in college because we were "blessed" to have a grad student in our class. He refused to let the rest of the class discuss the merits of Lord Jim, preferring we concentrate on how Conrad was a racist. I'm fairly certain the underpinnings of his thesis consisted entirely of looking at the "Other Works by This Author" page at the start of the book.
posted by yerfatma at 8:56 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


There are good, compelling, and--here's the kicker--manifestly and objectively good reasons for treating mutants differently than non-mutants.

A similar criticism is developed by Abigail Nussbaum in her review of X-Men: First Class.
posted by stebulus at 8:58 AM on December 18, 2013


Well, yeah, as you should, but Civil War concluded Cap was wrong because Myspace.

In my fanspace, that reporter pulls off her face and it's a red skull.

...which is to say, yeah, there was definitely a lot of suck there, but I tried to overlook it because the good points were just so good.
posted by corb at 9:01 AM on December 18, 2013


Also in New X-Men, Xorn's Special Class was young mutants who were severely disabled by their 'powers' far more than they were capable of superheroic acts.


That... had never occurred to me. I thought they were the "bad attitude"/"poor communication skills" kids, but now that I think back on it... yeah. They also had bad attitudes and/or poor communication skills, which may be where the confusion came from.

Mind you, when you're a fart in an environment suit, I can understand why you might have emotional issues.
posted by Shepherd at 9:06 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wolverine is a symbol of wild, untamed, white male power, but when I recolor his skin to imagine him as a person of color, his snarling, predatory aggression reads as a stereotype of wild black men."

If the point is that Wolverine is a symbol of 'wild, untamed..male power' him being black or white is neither here nor there to me. I can see no difference in the symbolism. Looking at the recoloured pictures that particular reading seems way more about projection on the part of the beholder than the image itself suggests. Am I missing something?
posted by freya_lamb at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know there have been mutants with tremendously underwhelming abilities, but has there ever been a character whose mutation is like, unending back pain, migraines, and poor digestion?


My mutant power is that all my hair falls out at age 32.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:23 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's odd, my mutant power is that I am slowly growing a thick, lustrous mane on my shoulders and upper back. The only explanation for this is that we are half-siblings, just like everyone else who ever appeared in X-Men.
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wasn't there a kid who blew his own jaw off with his energy-breath powers or whatever?

Yes, but he got better.

And then he blew his jaw off again.

Comics, Everybody!
posted by radwolf76 at 9:44 AM on December 18, 2013


"Problematic" is not the same thing as "kill it with fire". There are some advantages to using white people, there are also disadvantages. There is the same sort of problematic that Joss Whedon ran into with Buffy--if you use the monsters/mutants to tell a story about how oppressed minorities are oppressed, then you're also kind of comparing the oppressed minorities to monsters/mutants, oops.

But, still a Buffy fan. It's still a good show. Still like X-men, too. I just want, personally, to be reminded to be critical of my media consumption even with things I like.
posted by Sequence at 9:46 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


That's odd, my mutant power is that I am slowly growing a thick, lustrous mane on my shoulders and upper back. The only explanation for this is that we are half-siblings, just like everyone else who ever appeared in X-Men.

Is it not possible one of you is the other's child/clone/self from an alternate timeline?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of course, this puts you both in danger of being ret-conned out of existence.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:51 AM on December 18, 2013


If the point is that Wolverine is a symbol of 'wild, untamed..male power' him being black or white is neither here nor there to me.

I'm going out on a limb here, but I suspect that in an American context the phrase
"wild, untamed...male power" would have different connotations for some people when applied to a black man. I don't think I would trust Marvel's writers to keep the characterization of Wolverine from drifting in amazingly racist directions.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:51 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jean just can't resist him, can she?
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:03 AM on December 18, 2013


A vast swath of characters act completely out of character

I'm kind of OK with this. Just think of Civil War as a What If series, where it's OK to bend character in the service of a story. I think a lot of the complaints are blunted if you treat it that way. And given that I don't really care about what counts as canon and I'm fine with treating any story as a What If story, I liked Civil War.
posted by painquale at 10:10 AM on December 18, 2013


A vast swath of characters act completely out of character

I'm kind of OK with this.


Yeah, I saw a lot of people acting out of character after 9/11.

Just think, if Nitro had shot up a school with a firearm instead blowing it up with his powers, Civil War probably would have never happened.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:19 AM on December 18, 2013


Just think of Civil War as a What If series

Ironically, the "What If?" extras related to Civil War were a heck of a lot better than the actual series. Not just in terms of outcome, but the actual writing.
posted by valkyryn at 10:21 AM on December 18, 2013


If, as black man, I'm going to be offended by anything, it's the idea that simply changing the color of fictional characters makes them black and this "Some characteristics of white characters also become negative stereotypes when applied to non-white characters." WTH?

The article is not well thought out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:28 AM on December 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


The article is not well thought out.

Welcome to comics criticism.
posted by valkyryn at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


POW.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:36 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, this guy really hates metaphor, subtext, ambiguity and fiction in general. Of course, it's The Hooded Utilitarian, which is wall to wall half-asses contrarianism, so he's perfect for that.

David Brothers is always worth reading though.
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This sort of reminds me of how True Blood started by drawing some parallels between vampires and homosexuals that were ultimately unflattering and not worthy of drawing. In that case Alan Ball can rightfully say that the all powerful vampires were exploiting that false parallel to achieve ends that were still being "worked out" in the larger vampire community (assimilate and coexist, dominate and crush, or some long game combination of the two).
posted by lordaych at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2013


My mutant power is that all my hair falls out at age 32.

Now now, that's just Comic Book Middle Aged Man Head:

* Xavier Bald
* Reed Richards Gray at Temples
* I Can Kick Your Ass Because I Gots a Fucking Ridiculous Helmet

A vast swath of characters act completely out of character

That's assuming there's an "in character" for an industry that's built around "reinventing" everything every two years or so. It's one reason why I think the movies work better because there's no illusion of continuity when you have radically different actor and writers do Batman over the years.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:12 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have been spotty with my X-Men reading over the years, but have there ever been cases where people of strongly opposed cultures have bonded against mutants as the greater horror? I'm sympathetic but don't really buy into this writer's central thesis, but for the counter-thesis (being a mutant is a greater negative than being a rich, handsome white dude is a positive) to hold true, it would be handy to see a bit of Klan-member-and-Black-Panther*-team-up-to-get-muties-out-of-the-neighbourhood stuff.

In other words, if the world really hates and fears mutants that much, would there be as much bog-standard human v. human racism?

I recall Milligan doing some dancing around that with one of the characters in his X-Force (Anarchist?) talking about how being black mutant is like doubling down on minority status, but I don't recall anyone actually tackling black v. gay v. mutant in a serious conversation about status and privilege in the MU. I could be wrong.

*the militant pro-black organization, not T'Challa.
posted by Shepherd at 11:25 AM on December 18, 2013


Wolverine is a symbol of wild, untamed, white male power, but when I recolor his skin to imagine him as a person of color, his snarling, predatory aggression reads as a stereotype of wild black men.

I really don't recall Wolverine's being a half-feral jackass serial murderer being portrayed consistently as something laudable.
posted by kafziel at 11:26 AM on December 18, 2013


lordaych: This sort of reminds me of how True Blood started by drawing some parallels between vampires and homosexuals that were ultimately unflattering and not worthy of drawing.

Well, unfortunately that's been inherent in the postmodern vampire, arguably since The Hunger (parody, abuse of teal and cowbell). My opinion is that vampires lost a fair bit of horror once organ donation and autopsies became routine, and vampirism no longer was damnation with possible parole into limbo if your loved ones were brave enough to commit an act of desecration. Although I'm a bit curious to see how Jarmusch/Swinton/Hiddleston play with the postmodern vampire.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:29 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


"That think you like that is sort of progressive? IT'S ACTUALLY TERRIBLE AND OPPRESSIVE"

Maybe it's more like "that thing that a lot of white people think is really progressive? It's actually not that impressive to people dealing with discrimination in the real world."


I really don't recall Wolverine's being a half-feral jackass serial murderer being portrayed consistently as something laudable.

Fans are fucking obsessed with Wolverine, because he's a white guy badass. If he were black, the fan and media response would be very different.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:30 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I recall Milligan doing some dancing around that with one of the characters in his X-Force (Anarchist?) talking about how being black mutant is like doubling down on minority status

"Hell, I’m a black mutant. In this country, that’s like being black with a little black added."
posted by griphus at 12:06 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


If, as black man, I'm going to be offended by anything, it's the idea that simply changing the color of fictional characters makes them black and this "Some characteristics of white characters also become negative stereotypes when applied to non-white characters." WTH?

Yeah, this blew me away from the git-go. There's a Hulk-sized authorial perception issue there and a bewildering reassignment of it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:08 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Some characteristics of white characters also become negative stereotypes when applied to non-white characters." WTH?

I think there is quite a bit of validity to that statement.

I mean, we often comment in threads about sexism and gender issues that in the workplace women are viewed negatively for behaving in ways that men receive praise for behaving in, and this can be -- and often is -- extended to "good when white cis males do it/bad when everyone else does it". For example, check out how Obama is called arrogant and uppity in some corners for behaving not at all that differently from Bill Clinton.

Also, we still sometimes get sports journalists describing black athletes as instinctive, naturally gifted or gifted with an amazing physique while using language like "student of the game" "hustles hard on every play" "hard worker" and "hits the gym religiously" for their white colleagues.

And I think there's a general perception that while a big, muscular white guy might, at worst, be a "stupid jock" or a 'roid abuser, a big, muscular black man is an active threat to white people's safety. ("GIANT NEGRO attacks....")

Consider this also from the Wikipedia entry on Thunderbird:

The character debuted in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975). While working on the first issues of the regular series, the creative team realized that having Thunderbird as a regular character was problematic. According to Cockrum, "...we created him as an obnoxious loudmouth, and we already had an obnoxious loudmouth in Wolverine. So one of us decided to kill him off after all, just for shock value."

I'm sorry but it raises flags in my mind when it's fine to have the white dude be loud and obnoxious, but problematic for the Native American dude to be so. As if they don't reproduce character traits among white characters on super teams all the time. And they couldn't just...change his personality? They had to kill him and let him remain in that highly exclusive group of Well Nigh Truly Dead and Gone Superhero Comic Book Characters?

So I think Martin doesn't make his point as well as he should but...he does have a point. When Bishop made his debut back in the 90s, I remember thinking, "Wait, these cats have spent like the past 30 years supposedly representing disenfranchised and marginalized groups, and they've only just now gotten someone who looks like me in these pages? What the flying flip took so long?"

But I think I can understand at least some of the reasons why white male authors sometimes shy away from writing us "other folk" into their work. One is because they fear the backlash they'll get if they don't absolutely nail it. As well, I've seen comments from white fans of various forms of speculative fiction to the effect that if they see black characters featured prominently in something, they just assume it's meant for black people. (See also: the discussion about female superheros from a few days ago, some of David Simon's comments about how The Wire fared among white audiences.)

So I'm not quite ready to go full on "IT'S TERRIBLE AND OPPRESSIVE" on them. I just keep in mind some of what's said in How To Be a Fan of Problematic Things when I consume X-Men related media.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Reed Richards Gray at Temples

When I was a kid I thought that was a really cool look. At the time I didn't think it was humanly possible for hair to grow that way, but now every time I look in the mirror I am reminded that cosmic radiation is not required.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:27 PM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


So I think Martin doesn't make his point as well as he should but...he does have a point. When Bishop made his debut back in the 90s, I remember thinking, "Wait, these cats have spent like the past 30 years supposedly representing disenfranchised and marginalized groups, and they've only just now gotten someone who looks like me in these pages? What the flying flip took so long?"

It was a stroke of genius that in his first appearance Bishop was big, burly and angry gun toting black man who was trigger happy and had long flowing locks.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


...doesn’t address all of the issues around privilege in the Marvel Universe.

top kek
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:11 PM on December 18, 2013


top kek?

google google...

on the infamous 4chan board /s4s/ there was once a thread that was stickied to the middle of the first page titled “top kek” with this picture on it [a bag of Japanese (?) desert cakes]... that thread stayed there for around 2 months, and was replaced by an identical thread. The usage of the word “kek” has since flooded the board, spread to other boards, and several other sites. I have no idea what the hell it even is, but I saw that there was no entries/threads, so if anybody out there has on information on this subject, feel free to explain it to us.

turbid dahlia, please confirm that you have not joined the Brotherhood of Dada.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:32 PM on December 18, 2013


To do a little decoding there, "kek" is a common standin for "lol" that arose from World of Warcraft. To prevent players on the warring Horde and Alliance factions from communicating directly (due in no small part to the amount of incredibly vile vitriol that would have been slung back and forth), there is no shared language between the two factions. When players say "lol" in the Horde majority language of Orcish, players who don't speak Orcish (which is all Alliance players) see it as "kek".
posted by IAmUnaware at 2:43 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perfect Still Enemy of Good, News at Eleven.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:46 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just realized that I wrote "common standin" when describing the word kek, which probably says a lot about the circles I travel in.
posted by IAmUnaware at 2:46 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


waw
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:47 PM on December 18, 2013


To do a little decoding there, "kek" is a common standin for "lol" that arose from World of Warcraft.

To go back one step further, "kekeke" is a romanization of Korean "hahaha", which has been popularized by the Korean presence in Starcraft. I assume that's why Warcraft used kek for lol.
posted by tychotesla at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


If only their leader could have been elderly and wheelchair bound. But they would never print a story like that, especially in 1963.

Heh.

Although the idea of old white men conducting secret, pervasive, non-consensual global surveillance to fulfil a personal agenda is a laughable one.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:49 PM on December 18, 2013


If only their leader could have been elderly and wheelchair bound. But they would never print a story like that, especially in 1963.

They printed TWO of the fuckers.
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fans are fucking obsessed with Wolverine, because he's a white guy badass. If he were black, the fan and media response would be very different.

Are you kidding? If Wolverine were Black he'd be a hairier, shorter Samuel L. Jackson with superpowers, and people would love him even more.


I'm sorry but it raises flags in my mind when it's fine to have the white dude be loud and obnoxious, but problematic for the Native American dude to be so.


I don't think they thought it was "problematic" in that Native Americans shouldn't be loudmouthed (see: Danielle Moonstar), I think when you're writing a comic book you don't want all your characters to seem the same. So rather than create some weird personality switch kill off the less popular one.

Does anyone actually look at the original X-Men and say "Gosh this is clearly the most progressive and forward-thinking comic ever, even until this time"? I don't think so. But it is worth acknowledging for its time it was a good effort. Uncle Tom's Cabin has a lot of issues, but that doesn't change the fact for its time it had a dramatic effect on the way people thought about slaves and slavery. Does it do much good to shit on Harriet Beecher Stowe forever? Or do we say "Huh, from our current perspective there are a lot of problems but for back then it was trying to make a difference"?

I just don't think the progressive movement is at all helped by its tendency to vociferously eat its own. Thoughtful criticism and debate? Of course! But pitchforks and Tumblr mobs? What are we achieving?
posted by schroedinger at 6:10 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is this where we talk about the Morlocks? The mutants who couldn't pass and couldn't really defend themselves except as a group and who literally had to lI've underground?

Can we talk about Artie and Leech and how wonderful they are for hours and hours?
posted by elr at 6:30 PM on December 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


And are the X-Men really all that wealthy? Does the Xavier School charge? I figure Ororo and Rahne and the Guthries and Rasputins would all need scholarships.

In fact I figure the only way the X-Men haveany loot is from patents for weapons/vaccines/machines Forge and Beast develop, charitable endowments, the occasional government contract, and aomsome of the telepaths and telekinetics bending the rules at the casino.
posted by elr at 6:35 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or Warren Worthington just pays for everything? I don't think they've gone much into the finances of the X-Men.
posted by painquale at 8:12 PM on December 18, 2013


Alternate versions of superheroes are always fun, but I'm not sure the X-Men are the best target for this. Chris Claremont, in particular, was highly conscious of diversity, and did a far better job at it than most comics of the '70s. (Compare the '70s Justice League or Avengers, for instance.)

To me, Claremont's X-Men wasn't about race in particular; it was about difference. The mutant stuff could resonate with almost anything, but it doesn't teach, nor was it intended to teach, about any particular oppression. It touches on race, but it's not a coded allegory about race... if it were, it'd be completely incoherent. (E.g., mutant powers appear at puberty. What the heck would that have to do with any treatment of race?)

Maybe the best way to state the article's objection is that since mutanthood stands for everything, it doesn't have a good way to represent intersectionality. The book is all about how some folks are intolerant of other folks, but it becomes very binary: you're either oppressed or not. But yeah, Professor X was rich and somehow had access to an SR-71... he's plugged into the power structure in ways that I'm not sure Claremont recognized.)

(I'm referencing Claremont because that's the X-Men I read; plus I think the original article is less convincing because it runs sixty years of X-Men together into a monolith.)
posted by zompist at 8:24 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


30 images from X-Men: Days of Future´s Past take us back in mutant time
posted by homunculus at 10:02 PM on December 18, 2013


And are the X-Men really all that wealthy?

Certainly most of them are in a position that they don't ever seem to need Real Jobs.
posted by valkyryn at 3:37 AM on December 19, 2013


When I was a kid I thought that was a really cool look. At the time I didn't think it was humanly possible for hair to grow that way, but now every time I look in the mirror I am reminded that cosmic radiation is not required.

While my mom greyed into really nice salt and pepper professorial hair, and my younger brother got the "grey at the temples" look, I just ended up with slightly washed out looking hair. Not that I am bitter about this genetic twist, mind you, especially since I got telepathy and the ability to fly instead, but....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:04 AM on December 19, 2013


But yeah, Professor X was rich and somehow had access to an SR-71

That was one of the good things about XMFC (which had a lot of flaws and worked best as the epic b/romance of Xavier and Magneto): Xavier was a rich asshole and neither the script nor the acting pulled any punches on that point, from the patronizing if loving way Xavier treated everybody to the climactic and ignorant line that sets Magneto off down to the bit at the end with Moira McTaggert.
posted by immlass at 8:06 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Indeed. Young Xavier being a dick because he has some much mutant and monetary power makes perfect sense, as well as him morphing into a better person as he grows older. That fact that he was unable to help his own "sister" must have been particularly painful once it home.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:09 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been reading my way through the early Marvel material, and I've begun to believe that people might have things backwards in how they think about the X-Men, at least so long as we're talking about the version that Stan Lee wrote...it might be different when Claremont takes over later, I don't know. But:

One of the things that's striking about these early Marvel comics is that there are a lot of damn teams running around. I'm only a very short ways into the whole narrative, but there's already the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, SHIELD, and the Inhumans. I think I'm probably not mistaken to believe that the team books were more prevalent earlier in the Marvel continuity than they were in the DC universe.

And although Lee certainly repeated himself quite a bit, particularly in how he wrote dialog, one interesting thing about all of these teams is that they each seem to be presenting the fundamental ideal of a superhero team as a different type of social group: the FF are a family. The Avengers are more like is a professional sports team. The core cast of SHIELD is basically a modified version of the military squad from the WWII book that most of the characters derived from.

And the X-Men are a minority advocacy group.

I have no trouble believing that Lee and Kirby were liberals, but I don't think that they mainly approached the X-Men as an opportunity to tell allegorical stories that were "really" about the Civil Rights movemement. I think they borrowed the energy and cultural trappings of the Civil Rights movement's gestalt in order to flavor their superhero stories, to provide one more additional wavelength into which the fundamental concept of the "team book" could be refracted.
posted by Ipsifendus at 10:10 AM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ipsifendus, I think you might be on to something there.

Note that the early covers billed the team as "The Strangest Super-Heroes of All!" I think there was not much mention of the so-called mutant menace in the early years. In fact, I don't recall very much done on the mutants=disenfranchised groups in real life front until the early 80s.

The Wikipedia article on the history of the comic books also has this tidbit to consider: Despite the philosophical concepts which appeared in The X-Men, Lee has said he invented genetic "mutants" to find a way to create a number of super-powered characters without having to come up with a separate and interesting origin for each one.

That kind of supports what Ipsifendus has said, I think. I think, though I'm possibly very wrong here, that Claremont, Byrne and Simonson might be the ones who took the mutant=minorities thing and really ran with it.

I would love to see some writings and discussions around how the mutant=minority angle intersects with something else that appears from time to time in Marvel's comics: the idea that *all* humans have latent super powers but only a very few go through the triggering events that bring them out.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:04 PM on December 20, 2013


Just a note that anyone who finds this discussion interesting should read Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe. It covers a lot of detail about the internal politics and creative and social forces that influenced the development of characters.
posted by camcgee at 4:28 PM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm still waiting for my mutant powers to manifest themselves BTW
posted by The Whelk at 11:53 AM on December 21, 2013


I'm still waiting for my mutant powers to manifest themselves BTW

What, the ability to comment wittily in 11 threads at once not good enough for you?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2013


Damnit I knew I got one of the totally boring ones.
posted by The Whelk at 2:21 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just keep your head down during crossovers unless you want to be pathos.
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I never thought the comic relief character would die, that's only happened a few hundred times before."
posted by The Whelk at 2:28 PM on December 21, 2013


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