Chris Claremont And When Characters Should Get To Move On

So I’ve written about my issues with Grant Morrison. I’ve written about my issues with Geoff Johns. Now it’s time for something a little more controversial: my issues with Chris Claremont.

Claremont is an icon. He defined the X-Men. Forget Stan Lee, it’s Claremont whose baby this universe really is. Most of the best X-Men stories come from him. You can see that by the movies and what they choose to adapt – Dark Phoenix? Based on his work. X2? That’s based on God Loves, Man Kills, another of his. Days of Future Past? Ding, ding, that’s him. And it’s not even just his older work which is good – recently, he’s done the Magneto issue of X-Men: Black, which is fantastic (and anyone that’s read it should totally message me so we can geek out about it together). But there’s a reason that, for the most part, I mostly avoid talking about what he’s done past about the year 1981, and that’s that I staunchly disagree with the way he’s interpreted Scott Summers since then.

Let me be clear. Claremont is one of – if not the – best Cyclops writers of all time, and for much of the same reasons that he’s pretty much the undisputed king of all X-Men material. He’s written many outstanding stories that showed Scott as a human, with strengths and flaws alike. He’s one of the reasons that I’m a Cyclops fan. But he also makes me really sad, because he’s never let go of a certain editorially mandated plot: the Madelyne Pryor thing.

And the thing is, I do understand where his anger comes from! I do! Without Claremont, the X-Men probably wouldn’t still exist. They’d have faded into obscurity, because before him, they were nothing. If anyone has a right to object to how other writers have treated the characters, or what executive meddling made him do, it’s him. I fully understand his commitment to the long game, to character arcs, to letting characters grow and change. I even admire it a lot – he didn’t want the roster to stay stagnant, he wanted the Xavier Institute to be more than just a training ground for superheroes, he wanted the X-Men to have enough successes that the members could move on and have a real life, rather than fighting an endless battle doomed to failure. All that is good. BUT…the characters still have to remain true to who they are, even as they get to grow. And a Scott Summers that would just stay home when someone needs him is no Scott Summers at all. So while I do think the way in which he abandoned his wife and child was poorly written and out of character, I can’t fault him for the action of going, because he didn’t leave Madelyne to be with Jean, he left to see if she was alive and help mutants with every intention of returning to be with his family.

Let me reiterate that because it bears repeating: Scott didn’t leave Madelyne for Jean. SCOTT DIDN’T LEAVE MADELYNE FOR JEAN.  He left to find out if she was alive. He went back because Warren was like, hey, Scott, we need you. And Maddie was all, if you leave, don’t bother coming back. And Scott was just, Maddie, they’re my friends, they need me. The fact that that Claremont has always referred to that event as Scott dumping his wife for his ex signifies to me that he’s so emotionally involved with the characters, that he can’t see them clearly and misremembers the details.

Again, I love Claremont’s work. But I can also recognize that when he started taking all his issues with the editors out on Cyclops, he was forgetting he was the writer. Sure, he didn’t write the issue where Scott left Maddie. He wasn’t the one that made the decision to bring Jean back. But he’s a talented enough writer that he could have made it work, and of the reasons it didn’t was because everything involving Maddie was bad writing from the beginning.

I’m never sure what I think about her as a character, even before the Goblin Queen thing, because it seems kind of like Claremont wanted it both ways. It wasn’t his idea to kill Jean at the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, it was Jim Shooter’s. Claremont wanted her to lose her powers and leave the team with Scott, blah, blah, blah. Obviously, that didn’t happen. What did was Scott met Madelyne and proposed very, very quickly, ultimately going off to do the same thing he would have done had Jean lived, just with a different woman. That looked and sounded exactly like his dead girlfriend. Who wasn’t originally intended to be a Jean clone, but still had a lot of weird things about her character indicating that she was still someone unusual and tied to Jean somehow, even though Claremont claimed she was just a normal woman who, in a one in a million coincidence, happened to look just like Jean. Claremont was simultaneously using Maddie as a Jean substitute and insisting that that’s not what she was.

Did Maddie deserve better? Yes. Undoubtedly. We’re talking about a perfectly nice, normal woman that was turned into a villain so audiences would stop caring about her and the impact of her husband dumping her. She’s Nathan’s mother, who loved him and didn’t get a chance to raise him – and to add insult to injury, Jean did. AKA, the woman Maddie was cloned from and whom she didn’t want to be compared to and whom her husband loved. So, yeah, there’s no argument from me that Maddie deserved better than what she got. But she was also hugely contrived. She was some of the worst writing Claremont has ever produced. For a start, clones are almost never the right answer, but somehow, Claremont managed the one storyline where that made more sense than just about anything else. Beyond that, Maddie just didn’t feel like a Claremont creation.

Claremont usually plays the long game. He sets things up that you have to wait to see pay off. Not so with Madelyne. Everything involving her happened way too fast for that. Her first appearance was in April of 1983. The issue in which she and Scott got married? That was released in November of that same year. So in the span of three years real time, Scott lost Jean, met a woman identical to her that he thought was her, and married her. It was rushed. It was sloppy. Neither of those things are things Claremont is known for.

It was undoubtedly sexist that everything that went wrong in Scott and Maddie’s relationship got put on her and she was made a villain so people would stop blaming Scott for walking out. But it was also sexist that Claremont’s vision of a happy ending involved Scott leaving the team with a woman identical to Jean, who he couldn’t have because she was dead. There’s a disconnect between what the Scott/Maddie relationship was supposed to be and what it came across as. Scott claimed he knew Maddie wasn’t Jean and loved her for her, but their whole relationship progressed so fast, and for the sake of letting Scott fade to black, that it didn’t at all feel like the happy ending Claremont saw it as. Especially when you consider the scenes of things like Maddie angry with Scott for still being worried about mutant issues, as if retiring from the X-Men changed the fact that he was a mutant. Their marriage involved glossing over Scott’s grief for Jean, the discrimination he faced as a mutant, the importance of the X-Men to him, and his years of trauma. It felt more like a deeply traumatized man that was still grieving latching onto someone because of how much she reminded him of the love of his life and trying to convince himself it wasn’t just him trying to replace her, like a story about loss and unhealthy coping mechanisms, than a romantic happily ever after.

Sure, looks aren’t everything. But I’d still see Claremont’s side of it a lot more if Maddie looked nothing like Jean. If she was just some random woman that Scott happened to fall in love with, who helped him get over losing Jean. Because as much as Claremont tried to say that that’s what she was, it was at least partially negated by her resemblance to Jean, because it would never have been possible for Scott to look at her without seeing Jean, who he wasn’t with because she died, not because they’d broken up. Maddie was fine. And it did make Scott look horrible – and very out of character – to leave her. But for me, Claremont never put enough work into actually defining her outside of who she wasn’t.

Claremont was so bitter about how Scott treated Maddie, he felt so strongly that that tarnished Scott’s character forever, that I think he ultimately did more damage to more characters because of it. He took out his anger at the editors out on Scott, which ruined a lot of stories and assassinated even more characters in the process, especially Jean.

Claremont wrote the definitive Jean Grey story in the Dark Phoenix Saga. It’s been retconned to hell and back, but it’s his most well known story. It’s the one that just about everyone, comic fan or not, knows. It’s the single greatest love story in all of X-Men canon, and it’s not just a love story about Scott and Jean, it’s one to them. Because Jean is love, because it was the love she and Scott shared that brought her back to himself. It was an amazing story that showed just what Claremont thought of the two characters. It was also very clearly intended as an ending for them, in a medium that doesn’t really have endings in that sense. Because of that, because Scott lived while Jean didn’t and Claremont tried to give him an ending similar to what he would have had if they’d both survived, things got messy. And since 1986, when X-Factor started coming out and the whole Scott Jean Maddie thing went down, Claremont hasn’t looked at them the same. He’s been trying to kill their relationship ever since, cheapening Jean’s love for Scott, making Logan look like an obsessive stalker creep. Classic X-Men, which I’m pretty sure was the first time anyone had ever indicated that Jean was attracted to Logan, rather than it being entirely onesided. X-Men Forever,  where Jean cheated on Scott with Logan. I saw someone comment a while ago that if Claremont were writing the Dark Phoenix Saga today, he’d have probably made it about Jean and Logan rather than Jean and Scott, and it breaks my heart to realize that that’s probably true. He’s been so bitter about Cyclops that he’s assassinated not only Scott’s character, but Jean and Logan’s as well.

I think my main problem with Claremont is that I know he’s largely right – not about Scott, not about Maddie, but about the progression of characters in general –  but I hate how he deals with that on a fundamental level. He’s of a mind that the roster can’t be ever expanding. People have to leave to make room for the new ones. Which I get. Like I said in this post, I’m all for stories that are self contained and that end. But Scott Summers matters too much to me. The idea of shelving him upsets me beyond the point of rationality. For me, saying that he should just be put aside to focus on other characters, maybe dusting him off now and then to cameo…it’s the equivalent of someone saying, oh, how about we send Superman back to his farm so we can focus on Kara and Kon instead?

I’d love it if characters could leave the teams they’re on, stop fighting crime, while still continuing to exist as characters. I’d love a comic about Scott and what he does outside of being a superhero. I’d love more stories about pushing for mutant rights in the political sphere, or teaching kids physics. But I know that’s now how it works. Characters are either in the thick of the action, or ignored. I – and I think most readers – believe they have more value than their role as fighters, but that’s not what the powers that be want to focus on. They don’t think long term character development is as important as cool powers and big fight scenes. Claremont may not have wanted Scott to entirely disappear, but if he had gotten his way, with Scott never returning to a team, he would have essentially done so.

X-Factor wasn’t what Claremont wanted. Jean coming back wasn’t what he wanted, and Scott and Jean getting back together definitely wasn’t what he wanted. But in a way, it’s a compliment, too – because Claremont crafted a Scott/Jean romance so convincing that people find it inconceivable that they won’t come back together. That doesn’t hold true for any other X-Men relationship.  It’s a testament to how powerful Claremont’s writing can be, even if he didn’t see it that way at all. Generally, I don’t mind – too much – what characters a writer chooses to pair together if the story ultimately works. And I would have been fine with Scott staying with Maddie, even if the “looks identical to Jean” thing still creeped me out. But it bothers me that Claremont remained so bitter about Scott leaving to form X-Factor – and not getting back together with Jean for a long time after that – that he could never move on.

I love Claremont. I do. But I’m not a believer in creator worship, and I have a lot of problems with some of his stuff. And that extends far beyond Scott, it’s just that Scott’s my favourite Marvel character, and I have the most opinions about him. Claremont’s positives include revamping countless characters, awesome women, clear depictions of bisexuality even when editors wouldn’t let him say it outright, and some incredible  stories. His negatives, that creepy Kitty and Piotr relationship and (I think) that gross “white woman inhabiting the body of a Japanese woman” thing. Frankly, I hold Claremont to higher standards than I do most other writers, because I think he’s better than this. He has more talent than just about every other writer that’s handled the X-Men. He completely reinvented Magneto from standard and forgettable villain to the complex, brilliant character he is today – and I repeat, everyone should go read X-Men: Black – Magneto, it’s amazing. Claremont is awesome. I just wish he could let go of the past and stop taking out his anger at editors out on characters.

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The Impact of Adaptations on Perception of Characters

Adaptations are a funny thing. When it comes to superhero movies or TV shows, it’s almost inevitable that someone out there will absolutely hate it.

It’s easy to mock the “not muh Superman!” people that complain about a different interpretation of the character that holds true to the source material. But some of the time, I do understand where they’re coming from. Sure, with a lot of characters, one bad adaptation isn’t the end of the world, but adaptations have a major role on how people perceive comics and comic book characters. Especially live-action adaptations and first adaptations. Especially when the adaptation is of a character non-comics fans don’t know much about.

One of the reasons I’m so anxious about Titans is because as much as I adore Dick Grayson, as much as I know he’s popular among comic fans, I also am painfully aware of the fact that despite his longevity as a character, he’s simply not taken very seriously by the general audience. He’s not Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. All of those characters have gotten multiple adaptations within my lifespan, but Dick? While we’re supposedly getting a Nightwing movie, that’s like the Flash, Cyborg, and Batman ones – stuck in development hell to the point where I doubt it’s ever coming. If he doesn’t stand out as awesome in Titans, he’s not gonna get another chance to do so for a long time.

It’s a similar issue to bad interpretations in a long running series or a shared universe that includes a lot of characters and movies, rather than just a standalone solo movie, or even a trilogy. I mean, consider Harry Potter. In the movies, Hermione took on basically all Ron’s skills and personality. Despite the massive popularity of the series, I highly doubt there’ll be a reboot any time soon, so the only visual adaptation we’re going to have for a long time will be one that stripped one of the most important characters in the series of what made him interesting and managed to make a lot of people – an astounding number, really, considering that Harry Potter was the series that got pretty much the entire world to line up at midnight for a book release and learn about the book version of the characters’ real traits – forget just how important and skilled Ron was.

Take the X-Men movies. Those did a similar thing. Yes, they’ve had both highs and lows that I’ve commented on repeatedly. But what’s more important than deciding how good they are is they’ve had a huge impact on perception of the X-Men. The X-Men were introduced in 1963. The first movie came out in 2000. That means this interpretation of the characters has been around for more than 30% of the characters’ entire lifespan – at least. The characters introduced in 1963 were the original X-Men, from the days before Claremont, the days before characters like Storm, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Emma Frost. Saying that the X-Men movies ruined a character, while still dramatic, is much more understandable than saying the same of a character like Superman or Batman. I have to suppress a laugh at people saying Zack Snyder ruined Superman because that just sounds ridiculous, but complaining about the movie interpretation of the X-Men? That I completely get.

Superman and Batman have had multiple different interpretations in my lifespan, in the forms of both TV series and movies, both live action and animated. The X-Men? Not really. When it comes to live-action, it’s just been the one set of related movies where no one that wasn’t Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto, or Mystique got any real attention and we had to sit through Xavier giving Magneto the same “there’s still good in you” speech like six times. And since there’s never been a real reboot, none of the characters got to be rewritten in a more interesting or more comics accurate way. I try not to say things like X movie ruined Y character, because oftentimes, that’s not fair. There are a lot of unseen people that work hard in the industry on every movie and we should at least try to find something to appreciate before we start complaining about what we didn’t like. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand bitterness towards the X-Men movies for how they treated most of the characters. Scott Summers is my favourite Marvel character, and I had to watch first the original trilogy strip away his background, personality, leadership skills, tactical instincts, and fighting ability, then the alternate timeline make him a totally different person. Believe me. I get it.

Adaptations have a huge impact on perception of characters and stories. Whether it’s how the Richard Donner Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve were so influential that people start talking about that as the source material rather than the comics, or how a first adaptation of a character can make or break their possibilities for a future adaptation, adaptations of superhero comics are arguably even more important than the comics themselves when it comes to keeping those characters alive in public memory. It’s disappointing. Comics are a wonderful medium with amazing stories and brilliant characters that should be acknowledged as such. And superheroes are a major part of cultural knowledge. But when it comes to the general audience, most of that knowledge comes from adaptations, or in a diluted fashion through cultural osmosis.

It’s neither good nor bad that the general audience doesn’t read comics and gets their knowledge of the characters from adaptations. Disappointing, sure, but not intrinsically bad. What is disappointing though is the lack of respect for comics in the writers and directors of a lot of these adaptations. I want the characters I love to get the best possible chance at making it into the public consciousness in an accurate sense. That won’t happen unless adaptations respect them and give nuanced takes. We’ll all still have different perspectives on whether or not those takes are good ones…but we’ll have to respect that there was thought and care put into them. In the long run, that’s what’s good for characters.

An Easy Guide To Identifying the White Male Comics Geek

Fact: there are white male comics fans, and there are White Male Comics FansTM. The latter are a pain. But worry not, friends! For I can help. If you look out for these warning signs, you may well be able to get the hell out of there before some loser starts demanding you prove your geek cred through answering some test.

  1. Their favourite X-Man is Wolverine.
    Look, Wolverine is fine. I might have several different posts in the works explaining my problems with him as a character, but those issues don’t have much to do with him. They’re more about the audience reaction to him. And they’re why it’s generally a red flag to me if someone says they love him.

    Unfortunately, White Male Comics Fans gravitate towards Wolverine, because he’s “cool”. They think because he stabs people and isn’t cautious, he should lead teams and be the main character, regardless of his absurd hypocrisy and terrible judgment. It makes no sense, but it is what it is. I generally take a love for him as a sign I should avoid the person expressing it and move on.

  2.  They think Robin is stupid.
    Interestingly enough, Robin was both the first kid sidekick and the last. Robin has become a legacy character and the mantle has endured while others haven’t because a younger Robin to an older Batman is crucial to the dynamic. We see again and again why Batman needs a Robin and how important Bruce’s children are to him, but the Robins – mostly while they’re Robins, not after they take up other mantles – are dismissed as unnecessary sidekicks.

    …quite frankly, this one is a sign of people that don’t actually know anything about Batman, but try to claim they do. God, I hate fake geek boys.

  3. They hate Scott Summers.
    Look, Scott has gotten a lot of hate over the years for stupid reasons. People that think he’s boring; people that think he’s not good enough for Jean; people that think he’s a bad leader; people that make statements about him that are technically true, but so far taken out of context or distorted to make him look bad, they’re not accurate to the text anymore. The list goes on. I disagree with all these assessments. But mostly, I can just ignore them as people that don’t actually think about the text and that are instead relying on the pop culture osmosis and the say so of writers that hate him. What I can’t deal with is when they go all “Cyclops was a terrorist” on me.

    If someone claims that “Cyclops Was A Terrorist”, they clearly don’t know jackshit about what terrorism is, because what Scott did was mind his own business, give mutants a safe place to go, and warn people that if they continued to attack innocent people, he’d have no choice but to retaliate. Then he destroyed a gas cloud that was killing mutants, that’s not terrorism, that’s retaliating against oppressors. The people that think that’s a bad thing? Those are the pseudo-intellectual, “if you fight back against your violent oppressors, doesn’t that make you just as bad as them, hmmm? Check and mate” idiots. Those aren’t people I’m interested in talking to, and are pretty clearly people that don’t get what the X-Men – and mutants in general – represent to minorities. However, seeing as you usually can’t tell the Cyclops hater that is operating on misinformation from the Cyclops hater that thinks minorities should just sit back and ask politely for people to stop killing them…I find the safest option is just to avoid.

  4. “The Nolan Batman movies are the best!”
    I like Nolan. I have a lot of respect for his directorial skills. And I think there’s a lot to enjoy from his Batman trilogy. But it would be a total lie to say that parts of them don’t set my teeth on edge – primarily, their depiction of Bruce and the way they propagated the idea that Batman is a loner that doesn’t need other people.

    Nolan didn’t understand why Robin matters. That much is obvious. If he did, he’d have gotten why having the character killed by the Joker be a love interest instead of a son isn’t true to the story. He’d have gotten why some random adult that Bruce met five minutes before doesn’t fill the same role in Bruce’s life as the child he raised into an adult that he’s called “the one thing I ever did right”, the one that Alfred has described as Bruce’s optimism. The Nolan movies are fine. They’re well-crafted, well-written movies with compelling performances. But as far as I’m concerned, they miss the mark when it comes to Bruce.

    Batman isn’t a loner and he shouldn’t be. Robin is one of the oldest mantles in superhero comics, and Dick Grayson has existed nearly as long as Bruce himself. He even predates Wonder Woman. Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl – because we are absolutely not getting into the Batgirl Bat-Girl distinction here – was created in the sixties. Bruce has more family and allies than just about any other DC character. The Nolan movies might be good, but they didn’t respect that. As such, I’m never going to be able to consider them the best anything.

  5. “Hahahaha, Batman v Superman is so bad, they stopped fighting because their moms had the same name!”
    If they think this, well…there’s probably no helping them. Just get out of there. I wrote a whole post on why that moment was awesome, and I still got people complaining about how I was wrong and it was stupid. There’s no helping some people.
  6. “Superman has to smile all the time and never have doubts or fail at anything.”
    For me, a major part of the appeal of BvS is Clark’s reactions to the world and the world’s reactions to him. I find Superman far more interesting when he’s real, when he has actual emotions. He’s not a god, he’s a person that grew up knowing he was different. Presenting him as an always happy optimist that thinks the world is perfect even though he’s being told that he doesn’t belong on the only planet he’s ever known would be disingenuous.

    Like the Robin issue, this warning sign tends to highlight people that think they know more about the comics than they actually do – that or people that are so fixated on their nostalgic memory that they forget what actually happens in comics. Or both. Minorities recognize the immigrant story in BvS and appreciate it. The White Male Comic GeekTM, on the other hand, wants Superman to be a escapist fantasy that’s just for him with no grounding in real world political issues.

    I totally get not reading comics. I’m not passing any judgement on that. Watching cartoons or movies or whatever is a perfectly acceptable way to engage with the material. But you can’t say something is wrong or a bad adaptation if you’re only getting your understanding of the “right” way to make a Superman movie from the Donner movies.

I know, I know – most of these don’t so much help you avoid the annoying white boys so much as give you signs to watch for so that you can hightail it out of there before they start saying racist, sexist things. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to avoid all annoying fanboys without cutting off all interaction with comics fans in general. I don’t want to do that, because talking about comics is fun, and for all I know, that dude that wearing a Wolverine shirt actually has interesting opinions and isn’t going to start lecturing me on comics. In order to be sure if the person in front of you is a White Male Comic GeekTM, you’re going to have to talk to them, for at least a while (or don’t bother trying to figure it out and leave. That’s usually what I do).

I was once caught in a situation where I was forced to choose between making it clear that I knew Nathan Summers’s biological mother was Madelyne Pryor and saying that he was Scott’s son with Jean because she raised him. I said the latter, already braced for the “well, actually…”, so I could swiftly add on that I knew about Madelyne. More recently, someone started Tweeting at me about how I was totally wrong for saying Scott was acting in self defence during Avengers vs X-Men, and, like an idiot, I was baited into responding. Lesson learned: when in a situation where you have to decide how to respond to an annoying White Male Comic GeekTM, think, what would Keya do? Then, your safe bet is to do the opposite.

The Problem With Fanboys Running the Asylum and the Importance of Critical Nostalgia

I will absolutely never say that nostalgia is a bad thing. It’s a major part of why we continue to love things as we get older, even as our tastes evolve. It’s what leads us to revisit works we enjoyed as children and, if we’re lucky, get something new out of them. To an extent, it’s why a lot of us love superhero comics. It’s why those characters survive.

The problem arises when the nostalgia filter makes us blind to the flaws of a work in the past and closed off to any changes. It’s common in sci fi, and it’s common in comics. I’ve noticed that when start talking about when a piece of media was at its best, they’re often not talking about the original themes of a work. What they’re usually talking about is the way they remember it – often inaccurately – before someone decided to take a different approach or introduce new characters and concepts. They don’t want characters to develop because they prefer archetypes rather than actual characters with arcs.

These forms of media have become an echo chamber, filled with writers addressing people like themselves. It’s a vicious, endless cycle. A vocal minority of white male fans jealously guard something they consider theirs by right. They’re the root of a lot of backlash against anything that dares to be different. This includes – but is by no means limited to – new characters, new interpretations of old ones, and challenges to the status quo. It further propagates the idea that comics are for white men and alienates other people that would enjoy it and that could contribute to bettering the genre.

Star Trek

The Original Series is seemingly paradoxical. It’s mired in the 60s at the same time as it was ahead of its time. It defined modern science fiction and influenced countless other pieces of media at the same time as its fans were considered the geekiest of geeks. It was Fair For Its Day and still is adored for it, while also standing as an example of something out of date that should be adapted to better suit our more evolved society, and appreciating the show requires the modern viewer to remember the historical context of when it was made.

Yes, at times, Uhura was basically a glorified secretary and she didn’t get an official first name until long after the series first aired. Yes, all the women were wearing short skirts with most of them seeming only to be around to look pretty. Yes, Chekov was a bit of a caricature. But Uhura was – still is – an icon. She was a Lieutenant that repeatedly demonstrated her ability to man other posts besides her own. She was involved in what wasn’t the first interracial kiss on television, but certainly the most remembered. She inspired Mae Jemison, Whoopi Goldberg! The actresses wanted the miniskirts. They liked showing off their legs, and besides, the miniskirt was a trademark of that second wave feminism. According to George Takei, every Asian actor of the time was clamouring to play Sulu because he wasn’t a stereotype. There was no call for a heavy accent. He was a pilot, a botanist, a fencer – he was at heart, a Renaissance Man. Chekov wasn’t any kind of villain, he was there to appeal to teenage girls. The Original Series presented a black woman in a major role during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a Japanese man twenty years after the US had stuck all Japanese people in internment camps, a Russian character that wasn’t a villain played by the son of Russian Jewish immigrants during the Cold War. It was imperfect – especially the treatment of women – but that doesn’t change the fact it was revolutionary.

I didn’t mind Star Trek (2009). I thought it was a decent movie. But, like others have pointed out, it felt like the work of someone that would have much preferred to be making a Star Wars movie – which, five years later, he’d be doing. I got the feeling that the people involved had a general understanding of the source material, a vague knowledge of what a Star Trek movie should be…but that knowledge is so coloured by the way Star Trek is perceived in popular culture, it didn’t feel authentic.

The macho womanizer Kirk was depicted as in the 2009 film, that he’s remembered as, really doesn’t have much basis in canon. In TOS, he was the balance between Spock’s logic and McCoy’s emotion. He wasn’t nearly as rash as some would have you believe. And the claims that he was a womanizer takes away a lot of the agency these women have. He was a charmer, and he flirted with a lot of women, but there really isn’t much canonical evidence for him having the degree of chauvinism required for him to be an actual womanizer. Kirk was attracted to smart, driven women that he usually developed genuine feelings for. I seem to recall an episode where a character mentioned that they tried to distract him from a class he taught by orchestrating a meeting between him and some technician that he wound up nearly marrying. He respected the women on his crew and fell in love easily. The idea that he just slept his way through the galaxy because every woman fell for him came more from people that wanted to live vicariously through him than the actual character.

In some ways, the 2009 movie is a step up from the misogyny of TOS. But it wasn’t done thoughtfully. Uhura got to do more than just answer the phones, which was great. Both Kirk and Spock were far more demonstrative of toxic masculinity in the 2009 movie than in TOS. Reboot Kirk was prone to violent confrontations and with much less respect for women. He got into a bar fight, ignoring Uhura when she told him to stop. He hid under Gaila’s bed while Uhura undressed. There was more focus on Spock’s anger at the claim he’d never lost his mother than on his grief for her passing. It felt as if J.J. Abrams had known enough to keep the Star Trek trappings…but not the soul.

To me, it felt like kind of a homogenization of Star Trek and Star Wars. Those stories are so different, trying to blend them together results in something utterly generic that doesn’t have what makes either of them good. Star Trek (2009) was missing something special. It was missing some of the heart. It lacked the social messages, the pacifist ideals, the recurring idea that we can build a better tomorrow. And in terms of the diversity themes…Society has caught up with Star Trek as it was when it first aired. As such, the alternate origin movies just aren’t the same kind of progressive. Sure, Uhura and Sulu are still there, and Uhura has a more important role than she did in The Original Series, but that’s no longer revolutionary. Chekov was still there – though Abrams saying they won’t recast after Anton Yelchin’s tragic death means he won’t be there in future movies – but without the real world backdrop of the Cold War, the fact that he’s Russian no longer means as much. Star Trek: Discovery is lacking in some departments – the core of idealism that is absolutely integral to the franchise doesn’t exist to nearly the same degree – but is doing more to further the diversity at the heart of Star Trek than the movies have.

The Original Series was, in part, about the wonder of the world. It painted an image of a future worth dreaming about, worth fighting for, worth building. I don’t see much of the point in making a Star Trek movie if you’re not a fan of that message. You can study it, delve deeper into it, deconstruct it…but if that kind of thing bores you, you should be making something else. Nostalgia matters a great deal when it comes to Star Trek. Star Trek Beyond managed to strike what I thought was a good balance between nostalgic respect for what Star Trek: The Original Series represented and making critical changes that updates the concepts to become better suited for today. It did a good job of translating the spirit of Star Trek. It stands as a pretty clear example of how future instalments in the franchise can honour that long legacy. To be true to what Star Trek has always represented, the Star Trek movies, books, and shows of today must keep pushing. They need to become more inclusive. They need to normalize diversity and push for a better tomorrow at the same time as they respect the core ideals of TOS. There’s no place for either creators who don’t respect the franchise history nor those that are determined to keep things precisely as they were in the 60s.

X-Men

We really, really need more diversity in comics. Like I said at the beginning, comics fans aren’t just white men, but that’s who comics are perceived to be for, because that’s who most of the writers are and to whom they’re talking. One of the consequences of that is how it results in a lot of characters that don’t appeal to that demographic being underused and poorly treated.

You can often get a pretty good idea of who a writer’s favourite characters are if you think about how old they are and what characters were popular around the time they were about ten. Nostalgia makes it a pretty safe bet that those characters will be treated well in the writer’s issues. A good character stands on their own without needing propping up. Fanboy writers, though, feel the need to completely disregard characters that aren’t their favourite in favour of trying to make their favourite look better. This can include writing characters they dislike badly in an attempt to make readers hate them, characters getting derailed to make the writer’s favourite look better, and more. The most obvious example of this I can think of is the eternal white boy favourite: Wolverine.

There’s something so…white dude about the fact that so many writers are determined to make Wolverine look better. Which is weird. Not all white dude characters lead to the same feeling of, oh, dear god, this is too much white male for one issue. Like, take, I don’t know, Colossus. He is white and he is a dude, but he doesn’t come across as nearly as much of a white dude as Wolverine does. That’s largely because Colossus is a genuinely good guy, not a designated hero who can only be viewed as a good guy because of major Protagonist Centred Morality. But Wolverine? Oh, boy.

When he’s written well – preferably in a more minor role – Wolverine is fine. He was fine back when he was first introduced and used as more of a Lancer, or just the guy whose impulsive running off and insistence upon doing things his way landed him in trouble that had to learn how to follow orders. The problem arose when people that read about him and thought he was cool when they were kids grew up and became writers themselves. Unfortunately, that’s most of today’s writers.

Because Logan is considered “cool”, he gets to be a huge hypocrite. He does any number of terrible things without facing consequences for them. He’s a self righteous jerk. And he’s straight up over exposed. Wolverine fans complain every time he demonstrates interesting flaws. So none of his myriad of character defects ever gets portrayed as a bad thing. He ends up winning every fight, even against opponents that should, by all logic, defeat him. He gets to lead teams and head the school despite his character being utterly unsuited for the job. He promptly forgets every lesson he’s ever learned. He very rarely has any lasting development. It’s incredibly irritating.

Beyond my issues with fanboys writing Wolverine, a lot of writers seem to be kind of missing the point of the X-Men – that or not really understanding the mutant metaphor, because again, most of them are white men. The introduction of the timeshifted original X-Men seems kind of like the result of writers longing for the version of Scott before all his years of character development, because that’s the version of the character they first got to know. That feels wrong to me on a visceral level. Scott becoming angrier and more driven to fight for a place for mutants is immensely relatable. He’s been told for years that what he has to do is play respectability politics and show repeatedly that he means humans no harm, only to learn from hard experience that that doesn’t work.

Nostalgia is all well and good. Longing for that more innocent version of the character is understandable. But to suggest that it would be better for Scott to go back to that version of himself is an affront to all those people that see themselves in the X-Men and in Scott’s growing cynicism and persistent idealism.

DC

Infinite Crisis is pretty much my favourite crisis story. And mostly, that’s for shallow reasons – Dick Grayson is pretty much my all time favourite comic book character; his relationship with Bruce is amazing; and the “what about Dick Grayson?” scene where Bruce is on the verge of giving up but believes that any universe with his son in it is worth fighting for and where thinking about how good a man Dick is makes Earth-1 Superman question what he’s doing is one of my favourite scenes ever. But it’s also for a deeper reason, and that’s that it’s critical of looking at things through the nostalgia filter. It’s critical of the idea that the Golden Age was fundamentally better. Which is why I find it all the stranger that it was written by Geoff Johns. Johns weirds me out, because he stands both as an example of the positive and negative aspects of nostalgia. That results in some of his stuff really working, and others…not.

The Good: respect for the past and existing characters, like the importance of Dick Grayson and Barry Allen, without denigrating them to make newer creations look better; creating some great characters, like Kate Kane and Jessica Cruz.

The Bad: his sense of nostalgia and love for old characters resulted in him doing dumb things, like erasing legacy characters for the sake of bringing back his old favourites and, well…Justice League. I think that movie shows off the flaws in his approach pretty well.

Geoff Johns is, in a sense, the opposite of Grant Morrison. As I said in this post, Morrison is completely unafraid of making big changes, regardless of how far from convention they be. His Batman and Robin took place without Bruce, the character that even people like me, who loved Dick as Batman, recognize as The BatmanTM. He introduces new characters and concepts, blows up the status quo. He makes his own world without ever looking back. And while that sometimes works, it sometimes really doesn’t. Everyone draws the line somewhere different, and for me, Morrison crosses it – he doesn’t have as much respect for the work of others even as he operates under the idea that everything that’s ever happened is in continuity. Johns, on the other hand, goes back to what’s familiar, when concerning characters he didn’t create. To what’s safe. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No, of course not. There’s a reason there’s so much love for his Green Lantern, his Aquaman. He likes the classics and is very much a fan. But his love for the classics involves doing things like kicking Wally West out of continuity to bring back Barry Allen, who at that point hadn’t been the Flash for over two decades.

This is similar to what happened with Cassandra Cain, Bruce Wayne’s only daughter and the second Batgirl. The New 52 erased her, a move comics still haven’t fully reversed. While Cass exists again, and while she’s loosely affiliated with the the Bats, she’s not a member of the family in the same sense as she used to be. She’s not being used as one of Bruce’s children, which was made painstakingly obvious by the fact she – like Tim, actually – didn’t get an issue of her facing off against a member of the Batman Rogues Gallery during Prelude to the Wedding. Her identity just rubs salt in the wound, because it wasn’t enough to strip her of her Black Bat mantle, wasn’t enough to make her the only member of the family without a bird or bat motif in either her code name or costume. No, they had to rename her Orphan. That’s adding insult to injury – before the New 52, she was happily adopted with a family that loved her.

While I can’t be certain as to why Cass and Steph were temporarily removed from continuity, the only reason I can think of is that it was about making it easier to return Barbara to the Batgirl mantle. In that one fell swoop, the writers took away the only Asian member of the Batfamily and one of the most popular disabled characters in all of comics. Which…thanks, I hate it. Barbara has outgrown Batgirl, but the writers are so nostalgic and change-averse, they don’t want to believe it. They don’t care about the close to thirty years she’s spent as Oracle and all the character development since her paralysis. They just immediately associate Batgirl with Barbara and because of that, are willing to toss aside years of content to go back to that without regard for what it’ll say to the readers. It’s unthinking nostalgia that does nothing to better the genre.


Works are best when they both respect the past and look to the future. Writers in shared mediums need to hold on to some level of nostalgia and respect the worlds built by others, but they can’t let it hold them back from trying new things and pushing boundaries. I want all writers in these mediums are fans – I just hope they aren’t fanboys about it, unable to let go of what they love for long enough to make changes.

Superman and the X-Men: A Sense of Inclusion In Superhero Stories

Just about any good character is relatable in some way to the audience. Superheros are a form of escapism, that much is true, but stories of all kinds matter because they allow us to connect to other people. With Batman, it’s trying to reclaim some sense of control in a world where you feel powerless. With the X-Men, it’s the concept of being hated, not because of anything you’ve done, but what you are. With Superman, it’s the desire to do the right thing, the idea of lost culture, being a good person – it is and always has been an immigrant story. With DCEU Clark specifically, it’s all of that plus that feeling of isolation, of being alone.

The DCEU version of Superman reminds me a great deal of classic X-Men stories. After all, the idea of him being an immigrant is heavily highlighted. The X-Men represent persecuted minorities that do just what Clark did throughout all of Batman v Superman. He saves the world, but gets criticized and berated and treated as the other for it. The motto of the X-Men has always been to protect those that hate and fear them.

I saw a debate on Tumblr recently over the use of the word “uniform” vs “costume” to describe what the X-Men wear. One person took the fact Scott prefers “costume” as classist and lacking respect for blue collar workers that wear uniforms, but several other people pointed out that that’s not it at all, because Scott wasn’t raised at the school. He spent his childhood on the streets and in an orphanage, told no one would care about him. His preference for costume over uniform isn’t that he considers janitors or fast food workers beneath him. It’s ideological. It’s tied with his identity as a mutant. Being an X-Man isn’t a job for him. It’s not a choice. I’d argue that it’s even more than a calling, because Scott can’t stop being a mutant. It’s to be recognized as someone not dangerous, someone that can and will help.

Costuming is an interesting thing to consider. The X-Men movies are the codifier for the Movie Superheroes Wear Black trope, right? And I get why that’s how they were costumed. It served a purpose. The first X-Men movie was a new, darker take on the genre, and they figured that that would be a good way to distinguish them from previous superhero movies. The X-Men are a team, not just a single person, so it made a degree of sense to put them in matching suits that looked like they could offer some amount of protection, like a military unit. But that’s not what the X-Men are. They’re not a military organization. Sure, not everything they do is out in the open. But that’s for the safety of both them and their students. Their primary goal is to help mutants learn to control their powers, not fight anyone. They’re not supposed to scare people, they’re there to help. They’re there to be unashamedly mutants, to show people that the majority of mutants aren’t bad, aren’t there to hurt anyone. They stand as an example and a symbol of hope, to mutants and baselines alike.

From what I understand of a certain Justice League deleted scene, Clark looked past a black suit – pretty similar to what Jor El was wearing under his armour in the Man of Steel opening scene – and chose his traditional blue and red over it because that’s the symbol of hope. That suit and emblem are what people recognize. When he’s flying through the sky, too far for people to tell what he looks like, they first see movement and then they see colour. Zod was wearing black during their fight in Man of Steel. Choosing the blue and red suit gave the humans on the ground – including the ones who’d feared and hated him to the point of waving signs saying he didn’t belong on the planet – a clear way to recognize him and distinguish him from Zod and the other Kryptonians that invaded. Clark cared about the people that hated him enough to reassure them, and on a meta level, the fact that those people were reassured by that choice says a lot about the maliciousness of their attitude towards him in Batman v Superman. Most of them do recognize the difference between him and Zod. They were just being assholes, hating the different.

Bruce uses fear as a tool, unlike Clark or the X-Men. He can do that because he’s human with no special powers. He doesn’t want the innocent to be afraid of him – as the woman Clark spoke to in Batman v Superman said, “the only people scared of him are the people that got reason to be.” But he’s not afraid of being perceived as a soldier rather than a superhero, because a superhero isn’t what Gotham needs. Batman is a crusader in a war against crime. He doesn’t have powers, there are just rumours. He’s a threat to a corrupt institution, but innocents aren’t afraid of him.

Bruce Wayne can be reassuring. He can run through a disaster zone and tell a child he’s going to find her mom. He can act like a harmless rich guy with no day job at a party. But Batman has to be scary because fear helps him keep crime in check. It works because of the kind of place Gotham is – a corrupt cesspool that can’t be fixed with superpowers, because many of its problems are deep rooted, system issues involving people taking advantage of those that can’t protect themselves. Gotham doesn’t trust idealists. It’s a city that at times seems designed to chew people up and spit them back out. As Bruce himself said in Batman v Superman, “Twenty years in Gotham, Alfred; we’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” Good guys die. They get corrupted and become villains. And because of that, the people of Gotham don’t so much want a symbol as they do an example. An example of a good guy that doesn’t give up on them, even when it’s hard and seems like a struggle that never ends. Yes, the bat is a symbol of hope to Gothamites, but what matters is why: Batman is trusted in Gotham because he’s still there. All these years, and he’s still fighting for the people that live there. That can also tie into the X-Men – because even if baseline humans don’t, mutants trust them for continuing to fight for them – even if you can look at it as the opposite of Superman’s  idealism being what people respect and admire.

Xavier had an enormous influence on Scott’s worldview, and Scott was devoted to his dream. Even when everyone accused him of straying away from it, he was still fighting with the same end goal in mind: building a world where mutants can be safe. The X-Men fight to protect those that hate and fear them, both because that’s the right thing to do and because of their goal of peaceful coexistence. In recent years, Scott has become known as a mutant revolutionary. Before his death, he drew a line in the sand and refused to not fight back when humans tried to harm mutant children. But even then, his defence of himself and his people had nothing to do with stopping defending humans. Helping people is not a zero sum game.

Even if Scott’s power was something less destructive, something he could control, he’s still been doing this for so long, it’s not an option for him anymore. He was a child soldier. He became a teacher. Caring for, teaching, and protecting young mutants is what he does. It’s pretty much his entire identity. He’s a crusader, dedicating to protecting mutantkind, because someone has to, and no one else is good at it. He’s lost everything that matters to him because of what it means to be a mutant and what it means to be a mutant leader. Jean, multiple times. Madelyne. His relationship with his friends and family. His life. He keeps at it because he has to. Because he’s a good guy that can’t not help people.

In that regard, Clark is very much like Scott. As Lois said in Man of Steel, not helping just isn’t an option for him. He can’t sit back and not do anything when there are people that need him, when he can see and hear so much that he can prevent. Both Superman and the X-Men are torn between a feeling of responsibility to protect other people and a need to take care of themselves.

Clark blocks out some of the stuff he could hear and see. He has to, because otherwise, he would probably be unable to help anyone. In Man of Steel, we saw a younger version of him in a flashback, overwhelmed by his senses and terrified about the world being too big. What that scene really reminded me of is a scene from X-Men: Evolution, when Rogue was overwhelmed by all the personalities she’d absorbed. Both these scenes are a sobering reminder that saving people isn’t easy. And we don’t have a right to demand it of anyone. It’s easy to say that people who can help others should be obligated to, that we all have responsibility towards our fellow man. And to an extent, it’s true – humans are social creatures, we’re in this together, and we’ve survived this long because we help each other. Doing that is the right thing to do. But in practice, it’s not that easy. It’s one thing to help someone up when they fall or give the homeless guy on the corner a few bucks, but having to constantly be aware of everything, every bit of suffering? That’s a horrifying thought. Even people that work with amazing organizations like Doctors Without Borders can’t spend all their time and energy on other people. It’s unsustainable at best.

Even if Superman dedicated every minute of every day to saving people, he still wouldn’t be able to save everyone. If there were two people drowning on opposite sides of the world, he’d have to pick one. And knowing that would destroy him. He’s just a guy that wants to do the right thing. He’s not a god. He’s not omnipotent. Clark does help people. He’s even glad to. He’s willing to give his life for others, as he demonstrated in Batman v Superman. He’s willing to come testify before Congress to justify his actions even though none of the deaths were his doing. But asking him to give up his relationships with other people, any semblance of a life, his very sanity? That’s asking too much. Of anyone. No one is obligated to set themselves on fire to keep you warm.

There is a scene in, I think, Civil War, where Cyclops confronts Iron Man. Tony tells Scott that the government wants the X-Men registered, and Scott counters by pointing out that being a mutant isn’t what they do or a choice, it’s what they are, and that what he’s asking is for them to register for being born.

Scott and His Armour Piercing Question

He disbands the X-Men, leaving all the former members as just citizens with no secret identity. He limits their ability to help people for the sake of keeping them safe and free. And that’s not a particularly difficult choice for him, because it’s not just about him. He has to make decisions with his entire species in mind. That’s something a member of any minority can understand – we get judged as a group. We’re treated as a monolith, not as individuals.

At the end of Man of Steel, Clark destroys a drone, saying that while he wants to help, it has to be on his own terms. That’s not an option for the X-Men, because they don’t work alone. They do what they do to protect people, yes…but it’s about more than that. It’s about mutant children. It’s an interesting contrast – Clark doesn’t have the same support or sense of security of knowing there are other people like him out there. His abilities isolate him. But to an extent, it’s also freeing. His decisions are simpler than those of the X-Men. He doesn’t have to think what doing one thing could mean for all the people like him around the world. Knowing what the right thing to do is isn’t easy…but it’s easier when you don’t have to consider the political ramifications of it and what acting would mean for your people.

Remember the old joke about the Superman comics and how no one would be surprised if it turned out nobody died on Krypton but Jor El, because of all the Kryptonians that kept showing up alive? Well, seeing as that’s not really the case in the DCEU, Clark being alone is arguably the primary difference between his story and that of the mutants. Kara isn’t around in the DCEU yet – maybe never, what with the whole scout ship thing – and neither is Kon, so Clark doesn’t have to worry about them in the same way the X-Men have to worry about their students. But you know who in the DCEU did have that same worry? Clark’s parents. Jonathan and Martha may be human with no special powers, but they faced the same primary concern Scott and other adult mutants did: fear for their child. Fear of what would happen if people found out about his powers. It was the same fear Lara had before launching baby Kal into space. He’ll be an outcast. A freak. They’ll kill him. The mutants have additional concerns, like registration and having to find children with the X-gene and train them before they can get hurt.

In BvS, Clark is hated for being an alien, for being different, but he’s not the one that brought Doomsday into the world. He’s not the one that wreaked havoc while trying to kill an innocent man. Lex is a human that decided he didn’t like Clark’s power and that he needed to die so that his world would make sense to him again. Bruce is the one who appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner. Clark? He’s just the one that saved people from fires, aliens invaders, oil rig explosions, and more. One of the single most poignant scenes in Batman v Superman was Clark landing in front of the Capitol and turning to see a mob waving signs telling him to go home, despite all he’d done to help people. It reminds me of that one storyline in X-Men: Evolution, where the existence of mutants was revealed to the world. They wound up with the police and the military trying to arrest them. Even after they’d stopped Juggernaut, they were still regarded with suspicion.

Threats don’t come from people that look different. Nightcrawler is blue. He has a tail and fangs. He’s a hero. Mystique can look like anyone under the sun. She’s a villain. The Morlocks are feared and forced to live underground, not because they’ve done anything, or even because they’re powerful mutants, but because people don’t accept them since they look different. Lex and Bruce have no powers whatsoever, but still caused huge amounts of damage in Batman v Superman. The most dangerous people among us are not the ones that look different, that are obviously unlike he supposedly “normal” people. Anyone can be dangerous. It’s not something you can identify from appearance or abilities. It’s actions that matter.

If Clark is analogous to the X-Men, that makes Zod and the like analogous to the Brotherhood. They believe that might makes right. They may have noble goals, but they’ve been twisted and distorted. Zod wanted to rebuild Krypton on Earth and didn’t care how many humans he had to kill to do it. Magneto – sometimes, anyway – wants to protect mutantkind from persecution, but goes so far that he believes baselines should all be wiped out and does more to increase fear of mutants than he does to help them. It’s not a question of appearance. Magneto and Zod look just as human as Clark does. And it’s not a question of abilities. Zod has the same abilities as Clark. Magneto is less powerful than some X-Men, more powerful than others. It’s a matter of what they do with their powers. It’s a choice.

One of the things I have to appreciate about movies based on comic books over the comics themselves is that there can be an end. A happy ending isn’t just until the next terrible thing in the next instalment. Comics can get kind of depressing after a while because of how rarely there are major changes to the status quo. Like, the X-Men have spent the past, what, sixty years fighting oppression? And they never get a victory that lasts because if they ever got to a point where mutants weren’t facing constant existential crises and weren’t feared by a significant chunk of the population, the entire premise of the X-Men comics would have to change. The same holds true for Batman – Gotham City must remain a crime ridden terrible place to live, otherwise Batman no longer needs to exist. But people can change. People can improve. That’s present in both the DCEU and, on a smaller scale, the X-Men comics. Clark inspired Bruce to get back to being a hero in Batman v Superman. In the comics, Senator Kelly eventually started supporting mutant rights after the X-Men saved him a bunch of times, up to the point of seeking legal action against the Sentinel program.

Clark becomes reminiscent of the mutants not because of his powers, and not because of how he’s ostracized because of them – at least, not entirely – but because he’s a good guy. He goes out and saves people, regardless of how they feel about him. He does good and eventually, that inspires other people to do the same, to stop regarding him as a threat. Superman and the X-Men both resonate with minorities because of that sense of ostracization. Superman and the X-Men are two sides of the same coin and demonstrate different aspects of being a minority. As we saw from the reaction to DCEU Clark, this may make their stories seem “gloomy” or “no fun” to a lot of people, but to a lot of immigrants and  other minorities, it’s instead instantly recognizable and beautifully relatable.

The Tragedy Of Cyclops: Why Fox Is Trying To Take The Easy Way Out With Characterization

Scott Summers: boring, rule following, dedicated. Sure, sometimes that gets flanderized in fanon, and he isn’t canonically nearly as much the naïve goody two shoes to Wolverine’s experienced bad boy that so many people consider him – and certainly not the jerk other people portray him as – but it’s an important part of his character to start off as the responsible one who controls his temper, who works hard to protect humankind as well as mutantsbecause he believes that’s his responsibility.

Apocalypse Scott wasn’t any of that. He was kind of generic, and a jerk to everyone, including Jean before he saw her and realized she was pretty. Comics Scott was always a good character, but he became great once he decided, hey, I’m done with this. I’m going to keep believing what I’ve always believed, but I’m going to actually take steps to prevent my species from going extinct. That felt like the payoff from the years of worse and worse things happening to him while he kept doing what he was doing. Apocalypse Scott seemed to me like an attempt to get to Scott’s later characterization without putting in the work to develop the character to the point where it felt earned and heartbreaking. But that doesn’t work. You can’t skip ahead to the end. You can’t get to Cyclops-the-mutant-revolutionary by trying to make the teenage version of him a “rebellious bad boy”. Or, rather, you can…but it won’t be nearly as compelling a story.

look at this loser.png

 

What makes Scott’s story so devastating, is that it’s slow. Sure, there are plenty of bad writers and what not, and many of them try to make it seem like he’s the villain of the piece and everything that’s ever happened is his fault, but his general character arc is going from a kid that thinks, yeah, if we show that we don’t mean any harm, they’ll eventually accept us to a grown adult that’s learned that that’s not true at all.

We first meet Scott as a kid that wants to do what’s right. He wants to be good and do good, in a world that’s never been great to him. He’s lost his family, spent time on the streets, been abused and manipulated by Mr. Sinister, but still, as an adult, he’s an awkward dork that deeply, fundamentally believes in Xavier’s dream of carving a future where mutants are accepted, of building a better world. And what does the existing world do? It beats the hell out of him. It hurts and kills the people he loves again and again.

He swore to protect a world that hates and fears him, because he believed in a world where all of Earth’s children, both mutant and baseline human, might live together in peace. But you know what happened instead?

Where Were You When Our Babies were Burning.jpg

No matter how many times he saved the world, people were still afraid of them. The government tried to pass registration laws. They were experimented on, tortured, killed. Genosha died, and where were the Avengers when mutant babies were burning? Scarlet Witch depowered nearly all the world’s mutants, and when a bunch of depowered kids were packed onto a bus to go home where it was safer, it got blown up by Purifiers. Where were the Avengers at all the funerals? X-Men without the Avengers is still scary and heartbreaking, but that’s infinitely better than when they exist together. In a world with the Avengers, they might be the nightmares and horror stories told by mutant children, because the Avengers aren’t heroes to the mutants. They’re the bogeymen in the closet.

Now, I don’t buy into the idea that you have to show all the past to tell a story. I don’t think you necessarily need a Batman origin to tell a Batman story, or a Nightwing story, or a Batgirl story. But if you want to get to a point where Scott is a mutant revolutionary, you have to, because he’s not Magneto or Wolverine, he’s Cyclops. He’s not any of the angry or cynical characters, he’s the character that loses faith. He’s the character that questions why he keeps asking his oppressors nicely to stop killing mutants. He’s the character that ends up sick and tired of being pushed around, of watching his people be discriminated against. So what does he do? He becomes willing to do morally grey things because nothing else works. He turns around to stand his ground and draws a line in the sand: stop hunting us or we’ll give you a reason to be afraid. And it’s important to depict how he got to that point.

What Apocalypse did was strip him of all his backstory. No plane crash. No manipulation by Sinister. Grew up with his parents and brother, who’s older than him now. Not the first X-Man by a long shot – First Class took place two decades beforehand. No context for why he can’t control his powers, they’re just like that. He wasn’t even the leader of the X-Men, because someone decided Mystique had to lead and train them. You know what that is? That’s a Batman story without his parents getting murdered and with him deciding he needs to become Batman for an entirely different reason, if someone else started fighting crime in Gotham first, with an additional let’s have him learn to fight from the Riddler just for spite. At that point, it’s not Bruce, it’s just a character with his name, just like Apocalypse Scott isn’t really recognizable.

I’m not saying that a movie has to show all of everyone’s backstory. X-Men (2000) has aged surprisingly well, and I think one of the reasons why is that it wasn’t an origin story. We got to know Scott not by seeing his past, but by watching him in the present. How he interacted with his students, with Xavier, with Jean. He didn’t get nearly as much screentime as I would have liked, but he was depicted as a responsible adult that cared about his students and doing the right thing, with a lot of bad things happening to mutants. A scene even included Jean trying to explain to Congress that mutants mean no harm to anyone. The movie was a good set up for a future one that revolved around Scott –  obviously, we never got that, but it could have worked. What Apocalypse did doesn’t.

Scott's Utopia Speech

If, in a future movie based in this timeline with this cast, Scott founds Utopia, becomes one of the hosts of the Phoenix Force, forms X-Force, kills Xavier…it won’t have the same emotional impact as it did in the comics, because it won’t be the story of a good, honest man that’s always tried to do the right thing and help people forced, over the years, to become a brutally pragmatic chessmaster that manipulates friends, allies, and enemies alike to keep his people alive. It’ll be a guy that was pretty obnoxious stepping up to the plate and becoming a more responsible person that does what he has to do to protect mutants. That’s not a bad premise for a story. But it’s not Scott Summers.

How The X-Men Movies Did A Disservice to Jean and Scott

Jean Grey and Scott Summers are one of the most iconic couples in all of Marvel. Marvel isn’t like DC in that superheroes and their love interests are inextricably linked – the characters tend to have a wider range of romantic partners, or they break up with their love interest much more often than in DC. Superman has Lois Lane. Batman has Catwoman. Even people that have never picked up a comic in their life know that – these are pop culture icons, a staple in not just comics, but movies and TV shows. The Marvel equivalent is Spider-Man and Mary Jane. Jean and Scott aren’t on that level of iconic, but they’re still one of the couples that a member of the general public will be able to name. I’ve talked before about how Jean and Scott individually got raw deals, but I think a lot of the reasons they were portrayed badly are tied together.

Jean didn’t have much of a character of her own in the original trilogy, as I pointed out in my other post. Most of her scenes were about how Logan was attracted to her. I heard an argument once that Scott was also a part of this – that Jean’s character had to do with him, that he and Logan were just having a pissing contest over her in the first movie – but I don’t think that’s true at all. In the first movie, Scott was perfectly polite and friendly until Logan manhandled him for no reason and started harassing Jean. And his active dislike for Logan didn’t start until, you know, Logan stabbed a student under his care in the chest. And in Last Stand, Scott was grieving, and he was doing that because he knew her. Not all grief is manpain. This was him having lost the woman he loved and not knowing how to deal with it. Jean was his fiancee, his partner, his friend, and the woman he had a psychic connection with. Logan’s so-called love for her couldn’t compete with that – he knew her for a week and came up with some idealized image in his head that had nothing to do with who she actually was. We can’t equate those relationships at all.

This portrayal of them – barely interacting, Jean as so passive with few real stances of her own after Logan showed up, Scott as a jealous child that was so dependent on her he literally couldn’t survive with her gone – was a disservice to them and the years they’ve known each other. They aren’t just random people that barely know each other that are dating because it’s convenient. They’ve known and loved each other for years. They were friends, partners, and X-Men.

The Last Stand partially adapted the Dark Phoenix Saga, and in doing that, failed to do the most famous Jean Scott story justice. It tried to do two things at once, and it didn’t end up doing justice to either of them. Neither was well developed, and either could have been a good movie on its own. It tried to make a story centred around the mutant cure, and it tried to make one about Jean becoming the Dark Phoenix. Because they tried both, Jean as Dark Phoenix was pretty much just her siding with Magneto instead of Xavier and having stronger powers. The tragedy that defines the Dark Phoenix arc wasn’t there for me, and the deep philosophical issues that should be involved with a story about the mutant cure were barely even touched upon. The Dark Phoenix arc revolves hugely around Jean and Scott and how much they love each other, but Scott was killed off rather than being the reason for Jean coming back to herself. They had all the parts necessary to make something amazing, but the movie we got was instead borderline incoherent.

It could have been a story about the mutant cure and all the mutant rights issues going along with that. That would have been great. It could have been about Scott having to deal with grief over losing Jean and still having to teach and lead the team and protect his people, while also confronting the fact that as much as he hates his powers at times, he won’t ever even consider taking the cure because he’s needed. The leader of the X-Men, and the general of all mutantkind, has to be a mutant. One of the flaws of the X-Men movies was that Scott, the leader of the X-Men, was mainly portrayed as Jean Grey’s jealous boyfriend who goes down first in every fight. He’s so much more than that. He loved Jean, and there is some canonical evidence of him having a hard time functioning outside a relationship, but she wasn’t the only thing in his life. Having a movie centred around him dealing with the mutant cure and civil rights would have established him as his own person, while also paving the way for a future movie about what Scott as the mutant revolutionary he’s been for years now.

It could have also been Dark Phoenix story, with Jean losing control of her powers and being brought back to herself because of love. The Dark Phoenix Saga is a beautiful tragedy about a woman trying to find her place in a world that hates her for what she is. She’s manipulated and hurt and still wants to protect the innocent – we saw that clearly with her stopping the Hellfire Club from attacking the newly manifested Kitty. It’s about love, and how much Jean loves her family, the world, Scott. It would have been an amazing exploration of who Jean is as a person. It would have focused on her. It would have been more of a straight action movie and character piece than the philosophical civil rights issues that would be raised by a cure story.

I think it would have best had they done both. I’d have wanted the cure storyline first, because it should have been Scott’s. It’s a concept that ties in beautifully to who Scott is and what he does. Scott’s character can be summed up as “guy that loses people he loves constantly and has to protect mutants from persecution regardless of any personal issues”. By all rights, The Last Stand should have been about Scott mourning Jean and having to keep fighting for mutants despite having lost her, and the franchise as a whole should have had more Scott. In the comics, Scott is always the important character when it comes to the existential threats mutants face. He’s the one that keeps them alive. Not Logan, not Xavier, not Mystique. And despite being what I consider a better, more complex character than any of those three, the original X-Men films cast him aside for them and play to the common misconception that he’s boring, while the alternate timeline changes his character to something completely different to make him conventionally interesting – and that’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

I love Jean. And I do love the concept of an awesome, powerful woman whose boyfriend/husband/whatever loves and adores and respects with all his heart. But I hate the idea of that being the extent of it, of there being nothing more to said woman’s partner than loving her and following her to the ends of the earth, just as much as I hate it when female characters are flat and exist to be a romantic interest. That’s not Scott at all. Killing Scott would absolutely be a valid story choice, but it has to be for a reason. He needs to be dying for a cause, or to protect someone else, or while doing what he does – not murdered by his fiancée after being so grief stricken after losing her that he couldn’t teach his classes or lead his team or focus on anything he had to do. He loves Jean, but he’s not just her boyfriend, just as she’s not just his girlfriend. Both the cure story and a properly done Dark Phoenix story would have showed that off beautifully.

Both these stories would have revolved around Jean and Scott loving each other, something we barely saw in the movies we got. And that’s a damn shame. These two characters comprise what’s arguably the single most iconic X-Men couple, and the conclusion to a film trilogy about the X-Men, an adaptation of a movie about them, portrayed their relationship badly for the third consecutive movie.