X-Men Red 3 Offers a Portrait of Our Time

by Drew Baumgartner

X-Men Red 3

This article containers SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk.

…it occurred to me that instead of them just being heroes that everybody admired, what if I made other people fear and suspect and actually hate them because they were different? I loved that idea; it not only made them different, but 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

That the mutants of the Marvel universe are reviled and oppressed has long made them an allegory for any number of minorities the world over, which in turn makes the X-Men an allegory for any number of civil rights activists. Much has been written about the MLK/Xavier and Malcolm X/Magneto parallels, but as the twentieth century churned on, those movements coalesced less and less around recognizable figureheads. These movements weren’t leaderless, by any means, but the leaders were no longer the household names they were in the early ’60s. X-Men comics responded in kind, broadening its cast and bringing in an array of perspectives to cover the more diffuse push for civil rights across the globe. This made the X-Men generalists in terms of their symbolic power — maybe they were drawing parallels to the gay rights movement, or apartheid, or even the holocaust. But that generalist nature may also have blunted any one of those parallels, limiting how specific any one of them can truly feel.

Or so I thought. I’d come to accept the X-Men as a broad comment on the nature of oppression and activism, but never turned to it for “ripped from the headlines” representations of discrete real-world events. Maybe I (and the rest of the world) wasn’t paying enough attention to real-world events to recognize them. Maybe those events weren’t being covered in the way they have been over the past few years. Whatever the case, I was completely bowled over by the unapologetic allegory for Charlottesville that Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar present in X-Men Red 3.

Asrar immediately orients us with the unmistakable image of an angry mob holding tiki torches.

Also, we couldn't get real pitchforks, so we're marching with sporks

I mean, there’s no confusion about what this mob represents, right? We don’t know it yet, but Cara, the winged mutant, is our stand-in for Heather Hayer, the woman who died at that rally for having the audacity to stand up for the rights of others. Recreating the circumstances of a real death (however much it is fictionalized here) runs the risk of feeling exploitative, but Taylor and Asrar use a light touch, offering nothing beyond the tragedy of this senseless killing. In a comic universe where the wholesale slaughter of the entire mutant race is commonplace (at least in alternate timelines), drawing from reality gives this single death — of a character we’ve never seen before, no less — a remarkable amount of weight. We don’t need a mutant genocide for the hatred of mutants to be wrong, and with this issue, Taylor and Asrar have found the perfect way to illustrate that.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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One comment on “X-Men Red 3 Offers a Portrait of Our Time

  1. Unfortunately, I found the use of Charlottesville a superficial take. After two great issues, this comic felt like it lacked a true point and instead of using metaphor of real events to underline the meaning of the X-Men metaphor, it felt like a real event was being used to give unearned meaning to a comic that kind of lacked it. Outside of using Charlottesville as a prop, the rest of the comic lacked the death the other issues have. It is notable that the big payoff to Cassandra Nova’s plan at the start wasn’t hate crimes or anything related to racism. It was mindcontrolling Storm.

    Honestly, I think a big problem is that the main characters did little this issue. In an issue where the only active character was Cassandra Nova, who only did something at the cliffhanger, The big Charlottesville setpiece isn’t connected to anything. It feels superficial, because it has no purpose to the greater narrative of this issue except to exist. As of this issue, it is meaningless to the greater tapestry, which is a real problem

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