Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Violence and Superheroes

8 hours ago (at time of writing) Alex published a wondefully ”troperiffic” criticsm of the X-Men as an analogy for oppressed and marginalized minorites. I generally agree with him, and it made think of one of my problems with the merry mutants.

Art by John Cassaday

The purpose of the X-Men is to build goodwill and trust between humans and mutants, which due to Marvel's trademark poetic irony would backfire or have little to no impact, but that wouldn't stop them. The X-Men are about idealism, about how you shouldn't give up on doing the right thing even though it seems impossible, even though the world hates and fears you. You could argue that the struggle of the X-Men can never end, because racism** can never be over, Over time, the in- and out-of-universe perception of Homo Superior* changed, some writers embraced the idea of Mutants as an analogy while others didn't.

Taken from "Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #9"
My problem with the X-Men is that, regardless of their analogous quality, they are lackies of the establishment, when they really shouldn't be. Defending the status quo is par for the course when it comes to superheroes, has been since 1954. The X-Men should be helping build a positive image of mutantkind, and foster coorporation between what is ostentatiously referred to as two different species nowadays. Now to be fair the X-Men aren't government stooges, they frequently oppose the governement and the status quo, but thier loyalties have for most of their history laid with the human establishment. Most of the heroic deeds we see them perform are mostly them, fighting mutants***.

Lip-service is paid to other altruistic acts, like when they welted the San Andreas Fault shut (which is, at best the geological equivalent of drying up an ocean in order to prevent floods). As I was writing this I realized my problem with the X-Men is a problem that extends to a lot of superhero stories: it's the fact that heroism is primarily expessed through acts of violence. Violence is the great equalizer, and while I am not of the belief that violence can't solve anything, or is inherently unheroic, I have in recent years grown weary of the contrived lengths some 
writers will go through in order to make sure that a fight scene happen. Or the mental gymnastics some writers go through in order to justify moral purity of the never ending cycles of violence we see in superhero comics.
Taken from "Action Comics Vol. 1 #775"
It'll get it's own blog post some day...
It's a curious genre convention that fighting is what superheroes do. Plenty of exciting and accliamed books, movies and TV series that make do without mandatory fight scenes. Violence is a natural continuation of conflict, and conflict is the lifeblood of storytelling. I get that. I don't have anything against action, or fight scenes. But do the X-Men have to be warriors? Do superheroes have to?
Art by John Cassaday
The answer is they don't. Plenty of superhero books, like the above pictured Planetary (which casts the heroes as archeologists) have a minimalist approach to fighting; it is quick, visceral and decisive, more over they aren't the focus of the series. Because the members of the Planetary organisations are explorers first, and superheroes second. I don't believe conflict can only be interesting if it is resolved though fighting, that is like saying the only way to make something erotic is to add a rough penetrative intercourse I would like to see the X-Men help mutants and humans (outside of recruiting them or saving them from debris), aid in reflief efforts, build public trust etc. Fighting the good fight is about more than beating up evil people. It's so odd that the premise of a school full of superpowered teens is viewed as being not interesting enough to support a book on it's own. The X-Men are ultimately weakened because they exists in the stereotypical "lawbreaker/"law enforcer" paradigm, where heroism is only expressed through violence, where conflict is resolved by one side beating the other, their entire universe revolves around fighting and it shouldn't have to.

*Technically Homo Sapiens Superior. While my Latin is very lacking, I am pretty sure the proper name should be Homo Superius or Homo Sapiens Superius or something to that effect. I would appreciate sage advice.
**Used here as a catch-all term for social discrimination
***This aspect of the X-Men becomes increasingly problematic if you take their analogous nature into account.

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