“Oh Hell No!,” or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the M Word

M Word

We at Von’s Comics are huge X-Men fans (shocking, I know) and as such we have been following developments in Marvel’s mutant corner pretty closely since the end of Avengers vs. X-Men.  Overall we have been very pleased with the direction the X-Franchise has taken, but there have been moments that have sparked debate at the store.  One of these moments is the controversy regarding Havok’s M Word speech in Uncanny Avengers #5 and its aftermath.  Today we are going to have Mauricio and Paul discuss the comics in question and the controversy that surrounds them.

Mauricio: Despite my usual distaste for most of Rick Remender’s writing, I have to say that there is a lot to like in the first ten issues of Uncanny Avengers.  Remender has kept the book going at a quick pace despite the industry conventions of story decompression.  The art by Olivier Coipel, Daniel Acuña, and Adam Kubert has been top notch.  Many of the story beats in the last issue were executed far better than Remender’s usually derivative collection of action moments.

There are things, however that have been bothering me about the book.  The characterization is simplistic and takes an intriguing concept (two factions recently at war coming together) and turns it into a “who can be most unpleasant” contest.  As such I find that I don’t particularly like anyone in the book, though I love a lot of the characters in the book, and I am bored by the manufactured, over-the-top feel of conflict in the book.  The thing that bothers me the most about the book, however, is when Remender tries to deal with mutant politics in his scripts.  The results have been, honestly, abhorrent.  Uncanny Avengers has been sending a message, but is has been a message that is dangerously naive in relation to the world we live in.  It’s not just that I disagree with the stance Remender is taking based on my personal politics, which I do, but from a publishing standpoint I think Remender is running the risk of harming the X-Men as an intellectual property in the long run.

Oh, now I’m just being melodramatic, aren’t I?

No.  Bear with me here.  The X-Men are fundamentally different from just about any other team of heroes out there.  The Avengers and the Justice League are collections of big guns from their respective universes presenting the first line of defense against world-shattering threats.  The Fantastic Four and the Teen Titans are, at their core, families that adventure and fight crime.  The X-Men, however, are heroes brought together by a common heritage and by the idea of a better future for their people and for all mankind.  The genius of the X-Men concept is that, like most good science fiction, it takes an aspect of society and moves it through a prism of fantastical trappings to present a story that appeals to our experiences.  Good science fiction is like a fun house mirror: the image we see is distorted, but we recognize ourselves in it.  In the case of the X-Men, we don’t know what it is like to have mutant powers, but most of us know what it’s like to feel like an outsider, to feel different.

Why were the X-Men movies, at least the ones directed by Byran Singer, so successful?  It wasn’t because they were particularly strong ensemble pieces or because they had over-the-top action.  Instead, the filmmakers embraced the idea of the X-Men as metaphors for persecuted minorities.  They were, as most of the truly great X-Men stories are, powerful messages about what it is to be othered.  They are also powerful messages about finding others like you and about hope in a future in which you can be who you are and be accepted by society.

That is what is so cool about the X-Men: they are us.  Were you ever picked on for your ethnicity or the color of your skin?  For your sexual orientation?  For your weight?  For being the kid who read too much?  Did you ever feel like you were different for whatever reason?  The X-Men taught you that it was not wrong to be different, that you could stand up for yourself and those like you, and that, in time, you could be accepted and be able to walk hand in hand with those who might not accept you now.  The X-Men are all about identity and hope for a better future.

So, how can Rick Remender’s little Avengers book possibly hurt something so powerful?  Well, consider the team dynamics of the Uncanny Avengers in issue #9.  During a training exercise the Scarlett Witch goes to great lengths to defend Alex Summers’s speech in issue #5, asserting that the word mutant should be abandoned as a label because mutants have no common culture, but are only tied together by the way in which they got their superpowers.  While this last sentiment is just factually incorrect, it could be interesting if Remender was playing with the idea that Havok and the Scarlet Witch have some self-hate for their status as mutants.  This, however, is not the case.  We know this because Remender dismissed that idea weeks before Uncanny Avengers #9 was released.  In an interview with Comic Book Resources the author stated the following:

I disagree with your assessment that he is a self-hating assimilation. What is he assimilating into? What is the difference between human culture and mutant culture? Assimilating implies that all mutants share some sort of common way of life, some shared beliefs or faith and they do not. Mutants come from all walks of life, all races, all nationalities, all sexual orientations, and all religions. The only thing they share is a delivery system through which they acquire superpowers.

And again, let me be very clear, I’m writing a story about a variety of mutated superhumans in a fantasy world. The various metaphors that we draw from the mutants are myriad, but to extrapolate from what I am writing and apply it to any one real world group is a mistake. It is not the place I am writing this from. The mutants are metaphor for many things, to many people, each one of us seeing them as something different, through our own spectrum we each see something that represents our beliefs, our clan and our struggles in life.

While Remender acknowledges that people can identify with the mutant metaphor because it resonates with them, he is actively working to weaken the concept of mutants as a group and thus the very metaphor that makes mutants attractive.  When he says that mutants come from all walks of life, all races, all nationalities, all sexual orientations, and all religions he is stating something that could be reworked easily for other groups, ie. “gay people come from all walks of life, all races, all nationalities, and all religions,” or “Muslims come from all walks of life, all races, all nationalities, and all sexual orientations.”  Is this to say that homosexuals or the followers of Islam have no common culture?

Remender doesn’t want us to equate mutants with any particular group, or, more to the point, he doesn’t want to give the impression he is attacking any group by suggesting they subsume their identities into a larger culture as he is suggesting mutants do.  It is, in essence, the author dodging the backlash that came after Uncanny Avengers #5.  He is, however weakening the conception of mutants as a group by suggesting integration to the point of invisibility.  We know he is advocating this because the Scarlet Witch’s position reproduces his own response from the interview almost verbatim, when she states that being a mutant is “merely the delivery system of a super-power and really that’s the only thing any of us universally share in common.”  Her opponents, however, are cast as the fans who took offense to Havok’s speech.  They are presented as unreasonable and called out by their teammates as “very rude” and “unpleasant.”

The problem is that Remender is putting a degree of separation between Marvel’s mutants and Marvel’s readers.  If mutancy becomes just a delivery system for superpowers and mutants have nothing more in common with one another as a group than that, then the X-Men as a property become as generic as any other team of heroes instead of a metaphor for humankind’s struggles with identity.  We don’t need all mutants to be unified in thought within the Marvel Universe, conflict breeds good storytelling.  We could have some great stories exploring the idea of mutants turning their back on a group identity and their relationship to other mutants.  The problem comes when this perception is put forth as a revelation of truth and, hey, if you disagree you can go drown in hobo piss along with the petulant X-Men who can’t learn to play nice with the Avengers.  If Remender’s perception takes root then it has the potential to inherently damage the X-Men brand by eliminating the strong science fiction concept at the core of the property and turning them, essentially, into the heartless x-team clones that Image published throughout the 90s.

Normally, I would not worry much.  Rick Remender is nothing if not mediocre and I would expect that we would forget about his association with Marvel’s mutants as quickly as we have forgotten about the middling work of so many other writers.  Uncanny Avengers, however, is Marvel’s intended flagship title.  Should it become influential to future writers it might result in a self-perpetuating trend that can do real damage to the franchise in the long run, and that is very problematic from an industry perspective.

Jewis and a mutant

Paul:  I would like to start out by saying I agree with Mauricio on just about everything he’s mentioned above. Rick Remender has written some fun action adventure comics with some really beautiful art but he is putting forward an incorrect and damaging message for the mutants.

Remender has Havok take a stance not dissimilar to what a lot of straight, white males take when talking about race, religion,  sex, or orientation. It is the stance of colorblindness and uniformity. Now, I’m sure the sentiment is meant to be positive and one that brings us all together. The problem with this is that that common ground that he is trying to find, is tainted by the fact that we are only finding that ground by not seeing the many, different facets of the other people there with us.

A writer for Kotaku, Evan Narcisse wrote, “Well, if you’re not seeing a black guy, then you’re not seeing all of me. And if you’re seeing just a black guy, you’re not seeing all of me in that instance either.”
http://kotaku.com/5897227/come-on-video-games-lets-see-some-black-people-im-not-embarrassed-by

This pretty much sums up why this stance is so wrong.

Thankfully, this message is not going wholly without some discontent from within the universe.

Hello, Brian Michael Bendis, Kitty Pryde, and All New X-Men #13

Bendis has been been responsible for lot of the good things that are happening in the X-Men corner of the universe post Avengers vs. X-Men. He’s writing both All New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men and both have been great. All New X-Men focuses on strong characterizations and an examination of how dreams change while Uncanny X-Men gives us the X-Men recruiting new, emerging mutants; defending against and protecting a world that fears and hates them, and dealing with their personal/interpersonal demons .

In All New X-Men #13, Bendis has Kitty Pryde’s rebuttal to Alex’ speech. Kitty believes in accepting who she is, all of who she is. She tells a story that has a personal resonance about how standing up for herself and who she is made her feel proud for the first time. This is the message Marvel and the X-Men franchise should be sending to its audience if it wants to maintain the metaphor that has led to and continued its massive success over the years.

The other problem with the stance of colorblindness that Remender and Havok put forward besides ignoring the facets of others is ignoring the facets of the speaker.  If we live in a world where we all see each other as just “Alex” or “Katherine” where we ignore the history and culture of victims then we also ignore the history and culture of the people responsible for the wrongdoing. If we ignore those histories for periods of time, long or short, it can lead to forgetting those histories, and forgetting those histories can lead to things like this,

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’

3 guesses where that’s from.

That’s Havok’s point – he doesn’t want to be quantified, segregated, reviled, supported, looked at because of WHAT he is, but because of WHO he is. The content of his character, not his existence as a “mutant”. His point – though we have our differences, we are all human. It is a foundation we all share. It’s a common point of reference. Break down the divisions. Tolerance that leads into acceptance over time.

Pryde’s point is the the calling card of the “victim” – she will forever put WHAT she is in priority over WHO she is, and thus, will always draw a line between herself and others. She’s a MUTANT first, a human second, if at all. And thus, she invites others to do the same, creating more “groups” and more “conflict” over what? Race, genetic status, etc. Acceptance, NOW, by all for all reasons, or else.

So what happened to that first boyfriend – did she tell him how he hurt her, how she felt, did she explain why she felt he was wrong, ya know, in order to have him see his error? It implies she told him to f’off and never spoke to him again.

Iceman’s response is great – “You’re Jewish?” He had no idea, and apparently didn’t care, until she brought it up. But it’s amusing that someone that’s so “rah rah” about it like Pryde isn’t proudly displaying it on her uniform via a Star of David, etc. like she does the “X”.

So if she’s a “mutant”, and she considers herself different, apart, and what’s to be seen as such, is she really Homo Superior? Try to sell that to the rest of the populace. I know Magneto would approve.”
http://www.bleedingcool.com/forums/front-page-comic-news/71633-kitty-pryde-talks-about-m-word-todays-all-new-x-men-2.html

Now, obviously, he’s misinterpreting the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and calling Kitty Pryde a “victim” for standing up for herself(I could write another entire article on this mindset but let’s try to stay on point for now), but did you catch the part where the poster unironically and unwittingly finds it amusing that Kitty Pryde is not putting a giant Star of David on her clothes when she’s so “rah rah” about being a mutant?

This is why when it comes to history and heritage it’s very important to forgive but never forget, and to never be afraid to look at all of the parts that comprise us as people.

It’s not about completely ignoring differences. It’s about seeing them and realizing there’s even more there, some of it different, some of it the same. Recognize, celebrate, and even joke about differences. Just make sure you do not let them become a factor in how you judge a person’s character.

Mauricio: The issue of integration vs. invisibility is an incredibly important one in American politics.  Now, this front in the culture wars has come to the forefront of Marvel’s X-Men franchise.  As Paul shows us, the discussion of these books touches on larger issues in our political life.  Comics, like politics at large, could use a robust conversation regarding these issues.

In the end, I think I agree with Bendis’s approach to this issue.  He places an opinion in the mouth of a particular character and let’s that stand as a particular viewpoint.  He may agree or he may disagree with it, but it is left as an issue for the characters to discuss and for the readers to discuss and decide.  The problem with Remender’s approach is that he seems to have imported his clash with certain fans into the comic and placed a stamp of legitimacy on one viewpoint in a ham-handed manner.  This is not meant to foster conversation but to end it.

We would love to hear from you on this issue.  What do you think of the controversy?  Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!

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