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Despite that title, this post is about something somewhat silly - it’s about X-men comics.
If you’re new here, like, super new (I noticed I got a bunch of followers the last two days, Hi, I’m Jules, nice to meet you) you probably do not know that I am a gigantic comic book nerd. But that doesn’t stop me from examining the sometimes problematic nature of that artform, not one bit.
And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about X-men. I won’t go into my rants about Avengers vs X-men, you can check the tags on my blog for that, but I’m working on a column about it for Comic Nexus and something crossed my mind yesterday that really bothered me:
It wasn’t until Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, was Charles Xavier publicly revealed/outed as a mutant, along with the staff and students of his school. But before that, Xavier still worked as a mutant activist, just under the guise of an open-minded human.
What does that say about the mutant liberation movement? That one of it’s biggest figureheads spent years hiding the fact that he was a mutant.
And then that made me think about the X-Men themselves. Think about it - the X-Men have always been and will always be, with the exception of a small few, the “sexy” mutants.
Most of them are not deformed by their powers, most of them have powers that are combat useful, that would make them viable heroes individually or as a Avengers members
And one thing we saw during books like, New X-Men: Academy X, the minority of students at the school who fell into the sexy mutant category were elevated above the rest and were being groomed for future X-Man status.
For a comic whose central metaphor has always revolved around the Civil Rights movement, that’s kind of problematic.
That’s like bleaching every major Civil Rights leader into being light skinted, and arguably just making MLK jr white, you know?
I don’t really know where I’m going with all of this, but I guess I’m just saying - and this is a question I see people in various groups here on tumblr asking in terms of the focus that gets put on the white and able-bodied - what does it mean for the metaphor of X-Men that its narrative has always revolved around the pretty people?
Since you mentioned New X-men… Grant Morrisson seemed to be trying to throw a wrench into this with his new class of students at Xavier’s school who were visibly mutated and pretty freaky-looking, and how these students formed a front against the “pretty” mutants. Which was in a way a commentary on passing privilege and hierarchies within oppressed groups. (I haven’t read it in a while, though.)
I’m pretty sure Marvel undid all of that as soon as Morrisson left, as they did with everything else in his run. Because like all media, they are only interested in diversity as long as everyone is sexually attractive within a narrowly-defined range.
Yes. The special class was something I liked because as easily as Magneto got those students to rally with him, shown the right attention, I think those students would have made the perfect face of mutant liberation.
It’s easy to tell people they should accept mutants when they look like Emma Frost
what happens when they look like Beak?
I haven’t followed X-men since the 90s, but a fun consideration based on the older history - what about X-Factor? The X-men who broke off to work FOR the government in “controlling” other mutants as a means of earning public trust? (and the fact that the Mutant Massacre was going down at the same time? (the Morlocks, the mostly self sufficient, but not-pretty as well?)
The problem with X-men as a series is that it takes the concepts of oppression without thinking through what it’s doing or saying. Which means we get moments of stories that are really on point (Mutant Massacre, the original Days of Future Past) and then a whole lot of, “Wait, Magneto wants to kill humanity and the Jews too?”, “Xavier WHO CAN READ MINDS feels the best way to help improve mutant/human relations is to hide out in a fancy school in the woods and only have mutants show up in public to engage in acts of violence?”, “Wait, Scott Summers is crying about how inhuman he is while Nightcrawler and Beast are downstairs?”