X-Men and the Mutant Metaphor: Race and Gender in the Comic Books
Joseph J. Darowski
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First appearing in 1963, The Uncanny X-Men had a rough start, lasting until 1970 when the comic book was canceled due to low sales. Following a relaunch in 1975, however, it found new popularity thanks to intricate scripting by Chris Claremont and the artwork of John Byrne. Within a few years, The Uncanny X-Men was one of Marvel Comics’ best-selling series and over the decades it became one of the most successful and popular franchises in comic book history. Spin-off titles, mini-series, multimedia adaptations, and a massively expanded cast of characters followed. One of the reasons for the success of X-Men is its powerful “mutant metaphor,” which enhances the stories with cultural significance and the exploration of themes such as societal prejudice and discrimination.
In X-Men and the Mutant Metaphor: Race and Gender in the Comic Books, Joseph J. Darowski thoroughly analyzes The Uncanny X-Men, providing its historical background and dividing the long-running series into distinct eras. Each chapter examines the creators and general plot lines, followed by a closer analysis of the principal characters and key stories. The final chapter explores the literal use of race and gender rather than the metaphorical or thematic ways such issues have been addressed. This analysis includes insights gained from interviews with several comic book creators, and dozens of illustrations from the comic book series. Of particular significance are statistics that track the race and gender of every X-Men hero, villain, and supporting character. By delving into the historical background of the series and closely examining characters and stories, X-Men and the Mutant Metaphor illuminates an important popular culture phenomenon.
and whites were swimming in it together. 38 Book 1.indb 38 3/12/14 8:51 AM INTRIGUING CONCEPT, UNEVEN EXECUTION Although the idea of using prejudice as a central theme was present in the dialogue of X-Men comics from the first issue, the representations of prejudice did not come until over a year later. The public debate, the news coverage concerning discrimination, and the political movement of the times likely galvanized what was an idea in the creators’ minds into the central theme of the
Count Nefaria and himself. Thunderbird is the first permanent death in the X-Men comic books series.3 Professor X “died” in the first period of X-Men comic books, but quickly returned. And whereas many other characters since have died, 70 Book 1.indb 70 3/12/14 8:51 AM RELAUNCHING AND REIMAGINING almost as many have been resurrected, but Thunderbird has remained deceased. Count Nefaria, however, was revealed only to have been injured in the explosion and has since returned as a recurring
villain of Iron Man and the Avengers. An upset fan wrote in to Marvel to complain about the short time Thunderbird was featured as a member of the X-Men and the fact that he was killed. Tom Runningmouth’s letter was published in The X-Men #97 (Feb. 1976). He comments on Thunderbird being “oppressed,” likely a reference to Cyclops yelling at Thunderbird and telling him to follow orders and be a team player. The letter reads: After reading GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 I was proud to see one of my people, an
(Jul. 1979), “Listen—Stop Me if You’ve Heard It—But This One Wil Kill You!!” Chris Claremont and John Byrne (w) and John Byrne (a). Book 1.indb K 3/12/14 8:52 AM Book 1.indb L 3/12/14 8:52 AM Image 17. Dark Phoenix’s longing for “rapture” is but one aspect that links her transformation into a villain with her heightened sexuality. The Uncanny X-Men #136 (Aug. 1980), “Child of Light and Darkness.” Chris Claremont and John Byrne (w) and John Byrne (a). Image 18. This controversial panel,
X-Men where she had first appeared. 95 Book 1.indb 95 3/12/14 8:52 AM CHAPTER FOUR Longshot Ann Nocenti and Art Adams created Longshot, who is the first member of the team who is not a mutant. Longshot appears to be a white human male, though with only three fingers and a thumb on each hand. He is, in reality, an artificially created humanoid from another dimension. He has the ability to alter the probability of random events around him so that they turn out in his favor. In the dimension