I’m not talking about the recent announcement of “Death of X”, which seems to herald the death of the X-Men. I’m not even talking about the fan theory that Marvel is trying to end the mutant race to devote itself to the characters it can adapt to the screen. No, on a more basic level, I’m talking about Marvel’s longtime habit of killing and torturing its mutants.
The Marvel writers love inventing new ways of hurting the mutants. Of course, this is what makes the X-titles exciting, and enables the characters to become legends as they prevail. This is also logical, insofar as mutantkind is an analogy for real-life minority groups. But I would argue that when real-life discrimination takes different guises, Marvel has only been representing one: physical violence.
I can cite examples of the most extreme form of discriminatory violence, genocide, at the top of my head. There’s the X-tinction Agenda (1990), Operation: Zero Tolerance (1997), the Legacy virus (1993 to 2001), M-Day (2005), the current Terrigen Mist, and so on. These events are not necessarily acts of discriminatory violence within the narrative, but they definitely are from the writers’ perspective, in the sense that they are aimed at wiping out the mutant race specifically.
On the other hand, it’s a lot more difficult for me to remember storylines, especially major ones, that involved forms of discrimination not rooted in physical violence. There’s the various mutant registration act storylines, not violent in and of themselves, but I would argue that they count as physical violence insofar as they presage it- their appeal is in summoning nightmarish images of people in chains and concentration camps. I’m sure there must have been stories dealing with, say, the treatment of mutants in the workplace, or their relationship with human neighbours. But the fact that I can’t remember them tells me they are not that numerous, nor prominent.
This is problematic. Not only because it makes for repetitive storylines, but because it paints a picture of oppression that is far from complete. Discriminatory violence might be a reality, but it is but one manifestation of prejudice. By ignoring all the others, the Marvel writers fail at writing the mutant metaphor, but more importantly, they imply that violence is the only form of oppression that is worth discussing. By extension, they say that violence is the only mark of oppression. The gravity of the others is scaled down, and they become “not real discrimination”. Put this into practice, and a trans person who gets refused access to a public toilet is not considered a victim of discrimination unless they get beaten up.
It was my friend John who woke me up to this incessant anti-mutant violence, when he reminded me there were alternatives:
There are a lot of discrimination stories to be told that do not involve a single drop of blood. I want to see a disabled mutant win the right to claim benefits. I want to know what happens when mutants try to register their kid at nursery. When they absent-mindedly use their powers at work. When they travel (#flyingwhilemutant, anyone?). There’s a lot of drama there. Maybe not of the explosive variety, but it’s drama nonetheless.
Look, I know blood sells comics. I know Marvel Comics likes to keep their stakes high. But I don’t think it would hurt their bottom-line, or the appeal of their money-grabbing crossovers, to devote more time to the realities of casual oppression. Not to mention that it would make for finer characterizations, and more complex writing.
I love your mutants, Marvel. Stop killing them, and show me how they live.