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“Logan: Here come the tights.”

An excerpt from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men (from Kevin Breen on the Tony Isabella message board via Alan David Doane)? I don’t know if this is real… I don’t know who Kevin Breen is or why he would have access to dialogue from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. Maybe it’s real, though?

Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men:

Scott: …we need to get into the world. Saving lives, helping with disaster relief… we need to present ourselves as a team like any other. Avengers, Fantastic Four — they don’t get chased through the streets with torches.

Ah, right, Cyclops, that’s worked so well for the last 40 years, hasn’t it? (Where did I see some insane thing about how if gay people dressed up as superheroes and saved people then people would stop being homophobes?) Remember protecting a world that hates and fears you? I guess not. I guess Marvel’s new retro policy doesn’t include a return to paying attenton to continuity.

Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men:

Logan: Here come the tights.

Scott: Sorry, Logan. Superheroes wear costumes. And quite frankly, all the black leather is making people nervous.

Ooh, but who are these nervous people—the people in the Marvel Universe or the X-fans reading the comics in the real world? Joss Whedon’s going all meta on us! Three lines into this (possibly fake? possibly real?) excerpt, and New X-Men is already being dismantled: back to spandex, and if Scott is babbling on about how the X-Men need to save people, I suppose we shall assume the X-books are now ignoring the X-Corporation—you know, the huge multinational corporation the X-Men set up to save lives and help with disaster relief and serve as “traditional superheroes” when necessary.

New X-Men:

Hank: I was never sure why you had us dress up like super heroes anyway, Professor.

Scott: The professor thought people would trust the X-Men if we looked like something they understood.

Charles: That’s correct, Scott. However… I’ve been working on better ways to encourage people to trust mutants.

OK, there’s so much (meta)criticism of the X-Men as a metaphor of political activism in New X-Men, and this passage from Astonishing X-Men is so clearly against that criticism. Against the specific criticisms offered by New X-Men. Possibly against any deep critical readings of the X-Men at all—it seems very much in line with Chris Claremont’s goals as writer:

7;s an opportunity to tell the kinds of stories I love best — that is to say, ones which are grounded in attitudes of classic heroism and hope, the idea of characters working together towards a common and positive goal. Good guys versus bad guys, and the good guys win because that’s the way the world ought to work. And yes, this is fantasy but I can get a poisonous dose of dystopic reality — of the venality and banality of everyday life — just by reading the morning newspapers.

To me, a critical function of an escapist medium is not to mirror the life in which we live but present a brighter, more hopeful, dare I say more ultimately enjoyable alternative that possibly enables us to cope just a little bit better with all the crap. Here, in Excalibur, we start on the day after Armageddon — and the struggle here will be between those whose response is that of anger and retribution (yes, my friends, 16 Million has a critical place in the first year arc — the blonde from X-Treme #30 has a name and a purpose and pals) and those who want to try and build something better from the ruins. Not that much different from the struggle we see being played out in the Middle East.

(This is the philosophy of the guy who wrote the Dark Phoenix Saga in Uncanny X-Men?)

“Good” guys vs. “bad” guys. So… the X-Men are the good guys, right? Professor X would be a good guy, in Excalibur? Charles Xavier whose sole major accomplishment toward his goal of mutant-human peace in recent years (maybe ever, really) was coming out on national television while possessed by “bad guy” Cassandra Nova? And Xavier’s other big accomplishment has been setting up a superpowered militia in the guise of a school.

Magneto was a bad guy, right? Erik Magnus Lensherr, Holocaust survivor—and that’s not a moral justification for becoming a terrorist, but compare with Charles Xavier’s more privileged background (son of two of America’s top scientists, Oxford-educated). Erik Magnus, who was the real driving force behind the new mutant rights movement (hence the ubiquitous “Magneto was right” slogan). So he fucked up in the end and turned into a sad, addled drug addict, but just listen to his speech in issue #132, “Ambient Magnetic Fields,” in which he describes his own transformation from merely mortal mutant terrorist to transcendant mutant martyr (a transformation which, by the way, turns out not to be quite what it seems in Planet X):

This is the voice. This is the voice of Magneto. This is the voice of the Genoshan Nation. It’s a strange thing, to die in the darkness. It’s a strange thing to die. I was Magneto, the master of magnetic forces. Now I will be a voice in the darkness, echoing forever. Once, I was a mortal man. Now I am becoming memory, immortal. They must have thought they could silence us forever. Instead we have become magnetic. Unstoppable. Do you understand? Our voices will be broadcast around the world… into space. At the speed of light. At the speed of radio. Our voices traveling without end through the depths of time and space. Beyond this life. And far, far… beyond this death.

That speech seems to emerge from the gigantic Magneto Memorial some of the former Brotherhood of Mutants have built on Genosha (I hope Chris Claremont at least keeps that around in Excalibur). This isn’t some lame “Hitler was a vegetarian” moralizing. Magneto is a person—a fantastic and incredible person, because he is in a narrative of the fantastic, but still a person, and his fantastic and incredible qualities are the qualities of a real person magnified through the lens of fantastic metaphor. He’s a terrorist, and he eventually becomes a martyr, like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. I know people have trouble accepting that terrorists often have political agendas more sophisticated than “We hate X and want to blow it up,” but, well, they do. Magneto is a terrorist, not because he hates humans and wants to blow them up, but because he believes violent force is a legitimate means for achieving is political goal of avoiding a mutant holocaust. He’s a Jewish Holocaust survivor who’s willing to start a human holocaust to prevent a mutant holocaust. Yes, Magneto does bad things, but to reduce him to a villain who is defeated by the heroes is to engage in a dangerous moral and political simplification of extremely complex issues which seem inconsequential in an X-Men comic book only as long as you refuse to engage the text critically and acknowledge the possibility of reading it as metaphor.

My point: to say without irony that Professor X is a hero and Magneto is a villain must require an almost willfull ignorance of the text. To call Professor X a “flawed hero” and Magneto a “sympathetic villain” is even worse, because it indicates the speaker grasps some of the moral sophistication of the text but is unwilling to let go of easy readings and engage the text critically. I guess this is my own contribution to the question of whether superhero comics are worthy of critical analysis (I know, I know, I’m several days late to the conversation). “Superheroes” is just not a good name for this genre. So many of the texts have progressed in moral sophistication far beyond the point at which clear binary oppositions like “hero vs. villain” stop making sense, and to dismiss texts in the “superhero” genre as simplistic morality plays must require, again, an almost willfull ignorance of the texts. Now certainly plenty of “superhero” comics don’t transcend simplistic moral binary oppositions (e.g. the sort of thing Chris Claremont wants to write, apparently), but so what? It’s not Grant Morrison’s fault Claremont sucks.

Where was I? Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men:

Scott: …you’re not a fighter. Your power isn’t aggressive, it’s protective. That’s good to show. And people like you. Hank’s articulate as anything, but what people see is mostly… well, a beast. Emma’s a former villain, Logan’s a thug.

Didn’t we have a whole subplot in New X-Men about Hank challenging perceptions? That whole “gay” thing. “Logan’s a thug”? That’s a bit of an understatement at this point… maybe Whedon hasn’t read New X-Men: Assault on Weapon Plus or New X-Men: Planet X, in which Wolverine seems on the verge of giving up his personhood and becoming an animal. It’s not that any of this is bad (except the moronic idea that Emma is a “former villain,” see above), it’s just, if New X-Men is barely over and the X-books are already doing watered-down versions of its stories… Frankly, I’m suspicious of this excerpt’s veracity, because it’s such a precise and efficient demonstration that the Reloaded X-Men creators are trying (probably partly unconsciously) to pretend New X-Men never happened.

Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men

Kitty: So I’m what, a PR stunt?

Emma: Yes, our own poster child. Isn’t it sweet? “The Non Threatening Shadowcat. Or “Sprite” or “Ariel” or whatever incredibly unimpressive name you’re using nowadays.

Scott: Emma, shut up.

Hank: Am I the only one who’s dying to see the costumes?


Actually, having just read Planet X, I’m not surprised that the X-Men Reload books are ignoring New X-Men. Planet X is so gloriously apocalyptic that the X-books could spend years dealing with the fallout. I’m convinced I saw Morrison say he saw his run on New X-Men as the final end of the entire X-Men story (I can’t find the interview though), and I can certainly see how Marvel could have called this X-Men: The End and been done with it. Now, I haven’t read any of New X-Men: Here Comes Tomorrow yet, but here, at the end if Planet X, this alleged Astonishing X-Men excerpt just seems silly and inconsequential.

More on Planet X later, though.


  1. Shawn Liu says:

    “Charles: That’s correct, Scott. However… I’ve been working on better ways to encourage people to trust mutants.”

    One quick thing you have to keep in mind though about this new ‘better’ way Prof X was going for with the leather outfits and X-Corp and the school and the new teaching style and what not is that it all blew up in his face.

    This whole new MO came crashing down and ended up causing (yet again) the destruction of his school, the thrashing of NY (again), the death of Jean (again), etc, etc.

    I feel that Morrison ultimately portrayed this shift in focus as a near complete failure, which is why he had Charles finally step down from the authority role.

    Within that context, I think the spandex return (which I am actually staunchly against) makes sense.

    Now about Wheadon’s stereotyping of the characters and their “roles”, I don’t think he’s actually saying that this is what each character is and how they really fit, making them all one dimensional. I think he’s commenting on that is how the mainstream audience views them - mainstream never looking beyond the simple exterior.

    I have faith in Joss’s writing and I think that what he’s going for is portraying characters who still have the same depth and richness as the ones we love during Morrison’s run, but who are now forced to cram themselves into these simplified niches to be accepted by the public, for the sake of the success of their goals.

    Think X-Force/X-Statics but with less death and paparazzi.

    This could be just wishful fanboy thinking however, and if it is… shame on me.

    — 9 April 2004 at 2:31 pm (Permalink)