By Arturo R. García
This month’s issue of Uncanny Avengers served as the most explicit follow-up to the much-maligned “we are all humans” speech written by Rick Remender in an apparent stab at “colorblindness.”
Instead of taking to heart the critiques directed toward him, though, Remender seemed intent to “prove his point” via a debate between two of the book’s mutant characters, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff). But don’t let the cover fool you. This may have been intended to read like a battle of wits, but Remender neglected to arm either combatant.
The sequence actually begins with a tete-a-tete between the returning Wonder Man and Sunfire, a longtime member of X-canon but never one especially called on to be a leader in the mutant population. “We’ll always be humans to you,” Wonder Man complains. “Always be something different.” Yes, that’s a white cis-male accusing a Japanese man of othering him.
“I love him to death, but Alex went in public and told Mutants to hide, to be ashamed of who they are,” Sunfire retorts. At this point, the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne) chimes in.
Now, before getting to her comments here, let’s look back to UA #7 and her business proposal for team leader Havok (Alex Summers):
Yes, that’s a white non-Mutant woman — Janet is a WASP in more ways than one — using iconography and apparel long associated with Mutants to create her own fashion line, arguing that “popular culture has a long history of helping ease people into accepting the different” — and oh yes, the money made from these sales will fund their squad. You think Cyclops will see a cut for the use of his signature ruby visor? Or Rogue for using her own green hood?
By Janet’s rationale, American Apparel should be heralded as a champion of civil rights. Now, let’s get back to her part in this new argument.
“He was asking people to judge him based on how he uses his powers, not how he got them,” Wasp argues. Well said, for someone seemingly using her abilities as a fashion designer to justify outright cultural appropriation.
“I’ll never understand why your gifts frighten people more than mine, or Reed Richards’, or Spider-Man’s,” she says next, which is supposed to be her token gesture of sympathy. But longtime Marvel readers already know the answer: Because the company wants them to. Being “hated and feared” is part of the X-Men-as-minority allegory Remender is supposedly subverting. Yet the statement is also inaccurate because Spider-Man’s been considered a menace just as often as a hero, thanks to the press machinations of former Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson.
And way back in Astonishing X-Men #1, Cyclops stressed that his team’s return to wearing spandex uniforms (as opposed to the more practical apparel favored during the Grant Morrison era) was part of an effort to get the public to view them as regular old superheroes. That led to a meet-cute between the team and the Fantastic Four, as Cyclops led his crew to do more standard rescue missions, as opposed to the same old grudge matches. That, of course, didn’t last very long in that particular title. But the X-Men did have a brief stretch where they were taken in like regular superheroes: the Utopia era, when they were encamped in San Francisco. And Janet was off-world while that was going on. So she has almost literally no idea what she’s talking about.
From there we move on to the Rogue/Scarlet Witch clash, as Rogue snidely asks for her take, pointing out how Wanda, a longtime Avenger, is suddenly “such a devoted student” of X-Men founder Charles Xavier.
“How’d you have reacted if Alex asked you to hide your Romani background?” Rogue asks, which is not an altogether good question for her case. Because like Alex, Wanda always has the option of “hiding” her background.
“That theory overlooks the major differences between being born a mutant and being born into a religion,” Wanda says to begin her answer. “Religion is steeped in cultural tradition, shared ancestry, shared values, and most importantly, shared faith.”
And Wanda’s response, in turn, overlooks Mutants whose X-genes have not exclusively manifested as powers, per se. Like, say, Beak, whose “abilities” amounted to looking like a chicken. And though Nightcrawler and Beast both became known as heroes, their mutations also left them unable to “fit in” without the benefit of the Witch’s and Havok’s “I’m just a person” rhetoric. For that matter,Cyclops’ visors aren’t a fashion choice; they’re the only way he can open his eyes without blasting anything he sees.
In meta terms, Wanda’s — and Remender’s — answer ignores the existence of Mutanthood as a stand-in for race as an identification point. Which wouldn’t be so annoying if it weren’t for this:
“Mutants come from all races, all religions and all sexual orientations,” Wanda insists. “Having powers born into us is the only thing we inherently share.”
You have to figure Remender and artist Gabriel Acuña intended for that line to be the big “OH SNAP” moment, since they have her facing the readers. (It’s actually the second time they use this device in the issue; there’s a scene earlier where Wonder Man, having quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to justify his newfound pacifism, looks at the reader and asks, “Too preachy?”)
But the problem is, Wanda’s wrong. Mutants do have is a shared history — one that would be visible, if she or Marvel invested any time in the ones who aren’t wearing spandex for a living. The establishment of Xavier’s original School for Gifted Youngsters qualifies as a shared moment, since it was the introductory point for Homo Superior as a part of the Marvel landscape. One can also point at the destruction of Genosha as a shared moment – a concentrated genocidal attack against them.
Wanda herself was at the center of another tragic shared moment: the depowering of nearly the entire Mutant population at the end of the House of M miniseries, which led to the world’s remaining 198 Mutants to be forced to live at the site of Xavier’s school, Reservation-style. This is why the arrival of Hope Summers and then of the five “Lights” were such a big deal to the community. Somewhere, there’s bound to be a Mutant whose quality of life is still endangered, physically or emotionally, because of what Wanda did. But we don’t read about those stories anymore.
It’s one thing for Wanda to “move on” from her role in that horror, even as she condemns Wolverine for being part of a death squad in Uncanny X-Force. But for Remender to position her as the “reasonable one” in this scene is either ironic or misguided, especially considering how Rogue is drawn as being near-irrational in her anger:
Earlier in the scene, Wanda asks Rogue not to “extrapolate” from Alex’s remarks in UA #5. Well, let’s look at what he said again:
For Alex to use his government-friendly platform to issue platitudes on what qualifies as “divisive” is marginalizing in and of itself. (And, again, note the emphasis on the religious allegory instead of race.) But as we discussed last time, the line, “We are all humans, of one tribe” is John Grisham-style faux-profundity, as has been pointed out over and over and over again. Protip for Remender: if Stephen Colbert says it in character, it’s not a good look for your would-be protagonists.
Making things worse for Remender’s book is the fact that one has to read another book, Brian Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men, for a proper counter-argument, albeit one that also comes from a white character:
Here, Kitty Pryde is allowed to detail the intersection of both her religion and her Mutanthood: “I am Jewish. I am a Mutant,” she tells the time-displaced group of younger X-Men. “And I want people to know who and what I am. I tell people because, hey, if we’re going to have a problem with it … I’d like to know.” And all while acknowledging her ability to pass, to boot.
Bendis has a history of at least giving POC characters some space: Besides his introduction of Black Latino Miles Morales as the new Ultimate Spider-Man and his years of work with Luke Cage and his own multiracial family, he also penned Takio, which explicitly dealt with a multiracial adoptee family. And time has begun to show that maybe he should have been handed the UA assignment. Because for a series supposedly revolving around the forging of Mutant/Human unity, the skewed narrative stemming from Havok’s misguided speech has become an unwelcome distraction that leaves none of its heroes looking very sympathetic. This isn’t the next phase of Xavier’s dream. It’s turning into a sad parody of it.