Today, Drew and Michael are discussing All-New X-Men 41, originally released June 3rd, 2015.
…it was a good metaphor for what was happening with the civil rights movement in the country at that time.
Stan Lee on creating the X-Men
Drew: The X-Men’s role as a metaphor for the civil rights movement is as well-known as it is obvious — a group of people, marginalized by a coincidence of birth, struggle to be accepted by a society that fears and hates them. With so many institutions codifying racism with backwards rules, from school boards to lunch counters, it didn’t take much exaggeration to blow up that marginalization to comic book proportions. As those policies fell out of use, though, the X-Men came to stand in for other groups that were institutionally marginalized. As society continues to discard bigoted policies, however, the struggle for civil rights becomes less and less about fighting institutional rules that can be pointed at, and more about combating smaller day-to-day injustices. By their very nature, those smaller conflicts don’t lend themselves as well to superhero action: exaggerate them, and you lose the insight into how they affect people every day; don’t exaggerate them, and you don’t have anyone for your hero to shoot eye-beams at. Brian Michael Bendis and Mahmud Asrar opt for exaggeration in All-New X-Men 41, and may lose their message along the way.
Concerned about the mutant activity on Utopia, Maria Hill asks the X-Men to investigate. There’s some back-and-forth about how S.H.I.E.L.D. found them that kind of awkwardly hangs a lantern on the absurdity of a “secret hideout” when you’re on the run from an international intelligence agency, but for me, the real question about this action is: why come to these X-Men in the first place? Uncanny X-Men 34 found Maria enlisting the help of Dazzler and the new mutants, while previous issues of this series have established a semi-stable relationship with the Jean Grey School, so why turn to what has been variably referred to throughout this series as a “terrorist group”? I have two theories that I’d like to posit:
1. Their radical politics make them ideal for taking down whatever this threat is. Maria isn’t sure if these are “good mutants, or bad mutants,” so she opts to send the team that can relate to either. That is, assuming “bad mutants” are of the even-more-radical variety.
2. Their status as “original X-Men” — icons in the mutant world — make them more effective ambassadors than any of the other teams Maria might enlist.
Since their opinion of Old, Evil Scott’s politics have never really been addressed (at least, not since naming him “Old, Evil Scott”), I’m inclined to dismiss the first option. Moreover, since the mutants they face on Utopia are so the opposite of iconic (in spite of what Ryan may have suggested last month), it makes sense to leverage some more well-known mutants against them. However, if the identity of our team has any effect on the Utopians, we don’t see it. Indeed, it’s ultimately their ability to relate to the team that allows them to resolve this issue — by basically absorbing them.
It’s not the most thrilling conclusion, and may mostly be marking time to get to the conclusion of Bendis’ run in Uncanny X-Men 600, but I can’t help but see this as a metaphor for the new guard becoming the old guard. The original X-Men are icons of a bygone era, and their iconic status lends their politics legitimacy. The Utopians don’t benefit from the same iconic status, and are seen as more radical. They’re not really in conflict, and the original X-Men don’t exactly change anyone’s mind — they simply absorb the team, giving them the legitimacy they already benefit from. Oh, and also removes them from society, which is I guess the thing that everyone wants?
Honestly, I’m struggling to pin down what the takeaway is supposed to be. I know we’re simply gearing towards Jean’s “solution” to their problem (the rumors of which I won’t substantiate here), but they resolve their conflict (and I guess humankind’s conflict) with the Utopians by separating them from humanity. Is segregation really the message the X-Men, comics’ best allegory for the civil rights struggle, is sending? Michael, I’m sorry to leave you with a question like that, but it’s hard for me to find a positive moral here.
Michael: Drew, I find that very often the changes or new directions of comic book characters can be reduced to the arbitrary movement of chess pieces around the board. That’s the skeptic in me, but I’d argue that self-induced segregation/seclusion is (hopefully) not Bendis’ message or solution. Rather, the choice to absorb this group of Utopians and move them into their Weapon X base is change for change’s sake.
The conceit of Bendis’ X-Men run is “what would happen if I brought back the original X-Men?” That’s what this “separation from humanity” is for me — a question of “what would it be like if the mutants DIDN’T have to deal with humanity’s hatred?” I’m not judging this possibility however; of course it is exciting and interesting to see how a series will deal with fundamental changes to their status quo. So without talking about potential future story possibilities, I’ll leave it at that. To put it far less eloquently, Bendis wants to throw shit at the wall and see what sticks.
Echoing what Drew said, a lot of what has been happening in Bendis’ X-books has felt like filler before the grand finale in Uncanny X-Men 600.The stories at the end of his run are short-lived and seemingly random. But let’s examine the possible reasons that Bendis decided to tell the story presented in All-New X-Men 41. Drew mentioned Maria Hill’s curious choice to come to the “terrorist group” of mutants. To get a little Cold War political for a second, if S.H.I.E.L.D. is the American government and Jean & Co. are the Mujahideen. We’ve got the government quietly approaching an “outside force” to do their dirty work for them. I read this as an “off-the-books” assignment from S.H.I.E.L.D. to our X-Men because 1) It’s “a mutant problem” and 2) S.H.I.E.L.D. can claim ignorance if things go south. Hill is trying to solve a problem and protect humanity from a potential threat, but she is also setting up Jean & Co. as patsies should the need arrive. I dunno, maybe it’s because I kinda hate the MCU incarnation of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I never trust them — especially when it comes to mutants.
Let’s approach the incorporation of the Utopia squatters into our home team from another perspective shall we? I hate to further disparage Ryan but I’m of the mind that most ‘90s comic book things are awful. You might argue that this is a narrow-minded viewpoint but I counter with two words: “hologram cover.” So here we have a group of ‘90s mutants who are causing a stink and the solution is for our guys to take them in. (Let me remind you that this entire “problem” was presented to us in the previous issue and resolved by the end of this one.) One way to look at this is that all mutants are strays and they take care of their own.
BUT what if while Bendis is spinning his wheels until his grand finale he’s commenting on the concepts and continuities that a writer inherits when he takes over a series? X-Men books are especially thick with continuity so when a new writer jumps on a series they often find themselves justifying certain things from the previous run or undoing them altogether. Whatever the reasoning, I’m just very curious as to why Bendis decided to throw these mutants into the mix just as he’s getting ready to complete his run.
We’ll have to stay tuned to see what “Jean’s solution” actually ends up being, but you do feel for our mutant brethren; what do they have to do to stop being the universal scapegoat? There’s an old argument in comicdom (similar to “Why didn’t Tony just call the Avengers in Iron Man 3?) that boils down to “why do mutants get persecuted and non-mutant powered heroes get a pass?” The simple answer is that as Drew said, the X-Men were created as a metaphor for the civil rights movement. There is not going to be a day where the human population of the Marvel Universe comes to the logical conclusion that if you can trust a genetically-modified super soldier you can trust individuals who came by their powers biologically. We are always going to need a group like the X-Men that we can empathize with for feeling different, isolated and unloved. But DAMN, when are these mutants gonna catch a break?
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