Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How the Status Quo Ruined the X-Men - On Racism and Failed Allegories in Superhero Comics

I don't care about the X-Men. This might sound like a strange thing to open an article about the X-Men with but I would actually like to explain why I don't like the X-Men.

 In theory, the X-Men are what I want from comics or even literature in general: a cool concept that can also make you think. The whole thing about the X-Men has always been that they are an allegory about racism and homophobia. Okay fine, that's a really great thing. That's not just a cool concept, that can lead to all thoughts of great story lines. Unfortunately, the execution of that was lackluster at best over the past few decades and is now arguably the main reason why I actually hate the X-Men and refuse to pick up their books. Let me explain. 

Most people would agree that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You introduce your story, build up the characters and the world, then you tell the story and explore your themes, they might need to overcome obstacles in order to succeed, but in the end they triumph (or not, depending on the tone of the piece and the message you wanna sent) and then the story is over. You may begin another one or not, that is all up to you and whether you think that the universe and characters you have created can support a sequel.



The reason why I bring up Writing 101 is because I believe that writers and editors working for DC and Marvel seem to not understand even the basics of writing you learn in Lit 101 in university. To say it with the immortal words of Yathzee Croshaw: "A story is like a good bowel movement: it ends at some points, or you're gonna shit yourself to death". At least that's how I think it went. Point is: the main plot line, for which the X-Men have been lauded for for decades, falsely, I might add, has never been completed. And all they would have needed to do was follow history.

The story of the civil rights movement is a long one, a bloody one, one filled with desperation, sorrow, oppression, but also hope and triumph. The night is darkest before the dawn and whatever else Harvey Dent said before his face was blown off. Point is, while it took decades and centuries for black people in America, or other oppressed groups, to win their rights, eventually they did. Or they are still fighting. But overall the majority of people living in the western world do now seem to support equality, even though there is still a long way to go.

But the problems the X-Men face is that there is no advancement in the cause. There is no forward, there are no incremental betterments, there are no changes in the mind of the populous of the Marvel universe. Worse yet, not one person seems to exist who actually steps up and goes "What the hell people?" like in this anvillicious scene but beautiful scene from Alien Nation:

The mutant cause in the Marvel universe hasn't really advanced since their first appearance in the 60s. No one ever brings up changing attitudes, nor is the cause ever won. And it can' be. Because then, the "smart" editors at Marvel would say, you couldn't publish X-Men stories anymore. Yeah, because that's what they did for the past 45+ years: just write about civil rights. And they wouldn't need to stop if attitudes were allowed to evolve over time. The same way there are still civil rights advocates and groups that champion human rights, the X-Men wouldn't lose their message or one of their main goals. Things have gotten better in real life, but there is still room for improvement. And that would, ironically, be a better message for the X-Men comics than change is impossible, an accidental aesop that happened because of their refusal to change when all the comics are doing is tread water till the next writer puts everything back to where it was before his predecessor started his run. Say what you will about X-Men: The Last Stand, but at least that thing had a conclusion.


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