‘The Gifted’ And Righteous Anger

I have mixed feelings about The Gifted. Acting-wise, the disparity between the quality of some of the performances is jarring. Writing-wise, it’s so inconsistent my general reaction is meh. I’m still bitter about Sonya and all the ways she could have been used.  My feelings about the Struckers are best left unsaid. But when it first came out, I loved it.

The Gifted started off as smaller, more intimate look at the X-Men universe. That was why I was so excited to watch every episode. The marketing for the first season revolved entirely around the point that these people aren’t special. They’re, for the most part, mutants without any kind of extraordinary powers or ties to any of the major factions, no access to the resources those factions have. They’re people that have to get by in a world that hates them for existing. Each episode explored a different aspect of discrimination against mutants, all of them relevant to the real world. It was a nuanced take on what it means to live in a society that discriminates against you. Now it appears to be falling more into the same trap most X-Men material eventually falls into – trading substance for bombast. Because these people are special! They do have extraordinary powers! And those factions are involved in the show, and their resources, too!

Andy and Lauren are descendants of the von Struckers, who in this universe, were members of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle and are so super duper powerful that everyone wants them. Reed is coming into mutant powers late in life. Caitlin is a nurse that can perform field surgery without breaking a sweat. The Inner Circle is going to be playing a major role in the upcoming season. And all the promotional material for said season is focusing on mutant underground vs Inner Circle, good vs bad, rather than the wide range of ideas in between. Which I think is just missing the point.

What I loved about season one was there was some element of moral ambiguity. Lorna was treated as Lorna, not Magneto 2.0.  But by the end of the season, Lorna was isolated as the “angry” member of the underground, which I find deeply unfair, because part of what I enjoyed about the show was how much it showed that none of the characters were into passively sitting around to ~show humans that they don’t mean them any harm. They weren’t “ideal victims” by any means. They were full of righteous anger and even if they weren’t “fighting back” in the sense of planning assassinations and killing the people that attacked them, they were still resisting. They were going out to rescue mutants from people that were hurting them and fighting those people in the process. They were breaking laws and protecting fugitives. Sentinel Services classified them as a terrorist group.

Marcos revealed plenty of his own aggression, to the point where Lorna was bothered by how much he’d enjoyed torching a truck for Carmen. Sonya may have been more pacifistic than the others, with no desire to physically harm anyone, but she also had no qualms against using her powers against someone if it meant keeping more mutants alive. Clarice was obviously ready to fight, because her reaction to meeting Lorna, Marcos, and John for the first time was to throw stuff at them. John physically broke things or shouted at people on multiple occasions when he was mad and he allied with the Cuckoos to go after Campbell partially because he wanted to avenge Sonya. And that’s just the core characters, not getting into characters like Fade, who also demonstrated their anger at baselines. Lorna was not even remotely the only one. She may have been angry, but her anger wasn’t treated as something that made her a bad person, because everyone else understood it and felt the same way.

Exploring Lorna’s character and darker impulses could be fantastic. Because it makes sense that her learning she’s pregnant would lead her to be more ready to fight for her baby! But the way the writers seem to be going about it is by taking it to the extreme. They’re taking a very broad, complicated topic that encompasses a lot of smaller problems and a wide range of perspectives, and looking at it as a single black and white issue. They’re ignoring how much the mutants resonate with minorities that are angry to instead focus on the simplistic idea that Lorna giving up on hiding and choosing to fight back is her crossing the moral event horizon, not her being justifiably done waiting for more mutants to be killed and bringing down a private plane where the only people on board were those that were associated with Montez and Campbell, not random civilians.

It’s been a longstanding problem in the comics where anyone that gets angry and starts to actually do something to stop mutant persecution is claimed to be acting just like Magneto. This was most obvious with Cyclops – after fighting for years for peace and coexistence only for more mutants to be experimented on or murdered, he decided enough was enough and founded Utopia. He drew his line in the sand and stuck by his principles – sure, he’d still protect humans from mutant criminals and fight for those that valued mutant lives, but he refused to sit by and let his people be slaughtered. Seems perfectly reasonable, but according to comics writers, that means he’s essentially Magneto. That’s what the writers on The Gifted are doing with Lorna – they’re so desperate to have her be in the wrong, they’re not exactly doing a good job proving she is wrong.

Lorna is by far the most interesting and well written character in the show. She’s layered, she’s consistent, and out of the characters in the show that originated in the comics, she’s probably the closest to her comics counterpart. Even though the writing that’s supposed to convince me she’s in the wrong is weak, the writing for her and her decisions is still believable. Without her? I wouldn’t bother to watch season two. As it stands, the only reason I’m still watching is that it has to do with the X-Men. Had it been an original property, I’d have probably given up a long time ago, but I love the X-Men and have to hold on hope that it can improve.

Substance and bombast don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And stories where factions are pitted against each other can be great. There could be a wonderfully layered story featuring different groups that disagree on the how but agree on the what – mutants deserve safety and freedom from persecution – coming together to get things done, where both sides realize that neither militant pacifism nor offensive violence is the solution they need. They could do all of that with bigger action sequences and dramatic uses of mutant powers than in season one. But instead, the season is being marketed as a pick a side, underground or Inner Circle. It’s veering away from the actual point and into the cliché of infighting.

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I saw the Tweets to the left a while back, and it strikes me as very relevant to this discussion. The way Lorna – and, to a lesser degree, the other members of the underground – behaved for most of the first season was like Emma, not like Xavier or Magneto. She started teaching combat so the kids would be ready for a fight because the world is a dangerous place for mutants. She wasn’t portrayed as in the wrong for that. Even when Caitlin got mad, she pushed back, rightfully pointing out that Caitlin had no right to be criticizing her for teaching mutant children to protect themselves, that Caitlin had no right to come into their home and tell them how they should be behaving. By the finale, she was veering away from that practicality.

The plane made sense to me. It felt true to Lorna’s established character, and it was easy to understand why she did it and support her. But after that? Ending up in a more subservient role to Reeva Payge, rather than as a leader in her own right, while still veering towards the Magneto side of these four options? Less so. What would be more interesting to me is a Lorna, disgusted both by the underground being so passive and the “Inner Circle” – who’s more Brotherhood than Hellfire Club here –  not helping matters. going towards the Cyclops end of the scale. Where she decides she’s going to change the world while still training kids to defend themselves. Where she has complex goals and ways of achieving them. That more than anything would prove to me that they care about Lorna and aren’t just using her because they’re not allowed to use Magneto. Her actions so far have felt authentic enough…but they’re also those that Magneto would take. They don’t feel unlike her, but they feel more like him. I want to see Lorna, see where she falls in between the poles of the “how we live our lives when people want us dead” spectrum.

My feelings towards the show are pretty much the same as my feelings towards the X-Men movies – just about every episode is good for at least a watch, and I don’t realize the problems with it until I start really thinking about it. But once I start thinking about it…it makes me seriously question whether I’ll be able to enjoy future instalments. The Gifted still has room to recover. For all my complaints, the first season still had enough that I enjoyed that I know it’s close to something great. But with all the focus on the Hellfire Club standing in opposition to the mutant underground…I’m not sure it’s going to get there.

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The Importance Of Dreamer To ‘The Gifted’

I saw a post on Tumblr a while back by someone discussing The Gifted and why Dreamer matters. He identified it as something I hadn’t considered before but immediately recognized as true: Sonya was the heart of the mutant underground. You might think that’s weird at first. After all, she was the one doing whatever she had to and using her powers in ethically dubious ways. But it’s undeniably out of love. More than that – it’s out of faith.

To save the others, she gave Clarice her memory and feelings for John. She was the first non-lead character to agree to help stage a rescue and break Lorna out of custody, even though she was the only one whose powers wouldn’t help keep her safe. She reassured John that she believed in their mission and its importance when he was worrying about how they were losing ground. The second Lorna asked her to go find Marcos, she agreed. When Clarice asked her for help, she went with her immediately. Her impulse being to protect mutant children before herself meant that she let herself get caught by the Sentinel Services to buy Lauren and Andy some more time. Out of belief in the importance of mutant safety, she told them not to demonstrate their powers for Campbell. Sonya cared for individuals, but what’s more important than that is how she cared for mutantkind. She’s flawed. Not all of her decisions were good ones. But she was trying, and that leads to a character with a huge amount of potential.

Sonya was arguably more decisive than any of the other main characters. John is concerned with ethics, while Sonya cared more for the morality – a shifting,  changing idea. While John debates what he has to do unless circumstances are actively pushing him towards making a decision, Sonya just acted. And in doing so, she reminded John and Lorna both of what’s important in different ways. With John, she did it by doing what he wouldn’t. Lorna, by telling her what she shouldn’t do.

Despite not being a main character, Sonya was a core member of the underground. Everyone there trusted her. It’s more than just being present. She was the one John called to figure out how to get them to safety, despite the fact her powers were probably the least conducive to directly solving the problem at hand. Because on a subconscious level, John trusted Sonya to find an answer just that much.

Sonya believed in the mutant underground. She believed that her actions had weight, that what she did mattered. She believed that there were things more important than herself or any individual person. And when she gave Clarice her memory, she did so because she recognized the simple fact that she did have a choice – a Hobson’s one. It was do it or let the others die. A huge part of Sonya’s importance to the underground was her ability to see all those things and act on them. She didn’t hesitate. She knew who she was and what was necessary.

She did morally questionable things out of love. She felt guilt about it – when Turner told her that it was personal and he wanted to see her suffer, she was clearly horrified at the impact of her use of powers. She never wanted to hurt anyone. She’s more opposed to violence than any of the others, including Thunderbird, Blink, and Eclipse. She was upset when Lorna punched the guy in the bar, even though he’d been talking about the enjoyment he got from abusing mutants. That would have made her angry, too, but even so, she never thought of hurting him. She didn’t hurt or kill the guard that encountered them in the power station, when she could have easily done so. Instead, she made him throw his gun in the trash and let them pass.

Lorna is the drive, the rage, the sense of purpose. Her actions stem from passionate feelings about protecting mutants. In contrast to her, John and Marcos are different aspects of the logic, John through the way he perceives the world as “this is right and that is wrong and it doesn’t matter if doing this right thing will result in a future bad thing, because we can’t do the wrong thing”. Marcos through his perception that action will make things worse. Sonya, though, she’s somewhere in the middle, and that mix of ethics and necessity, passion and reason, is what makes her the heart.

Caitlin is frequently pushed as the heart of the show through her role as team mom. But it’s not the same at all. Caitlin is an outsider lecturing the underground. Sonya was one of them, and she chose to stay, unlike Caitlin being cornered into it. Sonya could have gotten out of there before the whole mess with the Struckers left them trapped, but she didn’t, because she wanted to help others.

We don’t know much about Sonya’s circumstances, but everything we do and can observe tells us that she was living a pretty comfortable life. She had enough time to volunteer, and the extent to which the things the women there had been through stuck with her suggests she’d never experienced anything remotely like that. She said she joined the mutant underground as a refugee and decided to stay, and at her funeral, Polaris said she could have disguised herself amongst humans forever, but chose to stay with them. The combination of these things suggests that she figured it would be safer to skip town and went to stay with the mutant underground on her own terms, not because she was forced to. It seems like she intended to move on, but realized that they needed help and stayed.

This is backed up by the costuming choices. Her clothes and hair were always noticeable more elaborate than anyone else’s. When episode 10 aired, I had a Twitter exchange with someone about the jacket she was wearing to go break into that facility. We  were laughing a bit, because it was a nice jacket but it was also such a statement piece and it seemed so out of place for the task at hand. The hair can be dismissed as her having a bit more time than the others because she doesn’t have an offensive power, but not the clothes. Her wardrobe being so extensive and elaborate indicates that, not only did she probably have a decent income, she didn’t leave in a hurry. She had time to pack. That means there was no one after her, that she could have gone anywhere she wanted. But she still chose to join the mutant underground to help people.

Caitlin and Sonya both came from a fairly privileged background, even if it’s more implicit with Sonya. But Sonya was a mutant,  whereas Caitlin is just a parent to mutants. And that provides a much different context for their actions. Caitlin didn’t care about mutant issues until it started to affect her – she didn’t care that her brother worked for Senator Montez, that her son referred to mutants as “muties”, she didn’t care about all the issues mutants were facing. Not until Andy manifested and they had to get out of there. Sonya’s sense of responsibility towards others was a much more genuine thing.

When she took away memories from those women in the shelter she volunteered at, that was risking outing herself as a mutant. But she decided that there were some things more important than her and her personal safety. The needs of the many, after all. You see the other side of that idea when it comes to how she argued that it made more sense to move Clarice when she lost control of her powers than to evacuate headquarters. Yeah, she cared about people and preventing strangers from coming to harm…but when she had to make a choice between one and many, she’ll choose the many. Especially because she saw the members of the mutant underground as her family. Clarice was still an outsider. Sonya might have wanted to help her…but not at the expense of everyone else there. Not at the expense of people she knew and loved. Sonya was willing to risk herself to help someone. But she didn’t want to ask that of anyone else. A little selfish? Maybe. But her heart was ultimately in the right place.

There were so many ways she could have been used. I don’t think her story was over. I don’t think her death really served any purpose. To an extent, I think that was kind of the point. She was killed for no reason at all. It was unfair and unjust, it was a white man murdering a woman because she was standing in the way of him getting what he wanted. Death isn’t fair. Not all deaths are going to be satisfying, like something has just been completed. Some will just be tragic and brutal and leave an entire life unlived. But you know where we already saw that? With characters like Pulse and Chloe, the Hounds that died just because. We don’t need more examples of that, we need deaths that matter and feel earned.

I’m going to miss Sonya so much going forward. I’m probably always going to be a little bitter about her death. I’m not going to stop watching the show because as much as I sometimes complain about it, I still think that it has more positives than negatives, and I don’t think there’s a show in the world where I’ve always liked the writing. Sonya may have been treated poorly throughout, but that’s really not the case with the other characters. Besides, if I stopped consuming a bit of media every time I didn’t like how it handled a character, I’d only have about three things that I could read or watch. And there are plenty of ways to handle the issue in the future:

  1. Bringing her back. Her death was unnecessary, and she could contribute far more to the show alive. She had a lot of unrealized potential, especially when you consider how much she acted as the link in the chain in the underground.You could make a case that John connected all the members, and that’s certainly true, but I think Sonya did so just as much. She was Lorna’s best friend and John’s girlfriend. The character that had most of the meaningful interaction with Clarice. Clearly close with Marcos, given that he spoke at her makeshift funeral.
  2. Obviously by not letting Dreamer become a Forgotten Fallen Friend, and acknowledging that something is missing, that losing her changed them all and played a role in their decisions. The team fractured after Sonya, and while that was about a lot of things, and the writers brushed her off and made the Cuckoos the takeaway of the episode featuring her death, Sonya’s absence was one of the major reasons why the last couple episodes felt so different.
    1. Using her as a sort of point of contention between Lorna and John. John could point out that Sonya wouldn’t want this. I can imagine Lorna retaliating by telling him not to tell her what Sonya would want, questioning how much he’d ever loved her if he was saying Lorna shouldn’t retaliate against the people that had killed her, pointing out that she’d been dead for a day before he’d moved on with Clarice. He could respond by pointing out that she allied herself with Esme, who was indirectly responsible for getting Sonya killed. And so on.Aside from their debate as to what Sonya would feel about the division between them, I can imagine Lorna perceiving John as disrespecting Sonya’s memory with how quickly he began a relationship with Clarice. Supposedly, the entirety of season one took place over eighteen days, part of which Lorna was in prison. Lorna knows Clarice even less than the others, even if she called her a friend in the finale. They had precisely one scene that was just the two of them.

      It would be kind of crazy if Lorna didn’t feel defensive on Dreamer’s behalf after seeing John so easily get past her death without even a discussion about it. It won’t be about Clarice, really – it would be about the history between Lorna, John, and Sonya. It would only tangentially pertain to Clarice. Lorna likes her, Lorna considers her a friend, but at the end of the day, Lorna’s only known her for a couple weeks as opposed to however long she knew Sonya. In Lorna’s eyes, looking at John and Clarice’s relationship, Clarice would be the other woman. Even if season two shows John mourning Sonya, that won’t change the fact that he and Clarice kissed pretty much as soon as Sonya was out of the picture.

      We don’t know why John originally fell for Sonya or any of the details of what happened between them. We just have the gist of their history, and can logically conclude that Sonya loved him more than he ever loved her. It makes sense to me that Lorna would bristle at that.

    2. Mentioning her when they meet the Morlocks. Yeah, it wouldn’t make sense to have her having been one of them once, but some of their members could easily be people she helped out when she was working at that shelter. It would be a nice mythology gag to bring up her connection to the Morlocks.
  3.  Placing more emphasis on the similar traits Marcos has. Not trying to replace her, of course, because that wouldn’t work, but instead having it done intentionally in universe – him recognizing her role on the team and making an effort at filling it, because he’s closer to that than anyone else. More emotional than John. More reasoning than Lorna.

Unfortunately, I doubt any of these are likely. The writers don’t seem to care as much about her as I – and many other viewers that I’ve seen comment – do. From not giving her a character arc, to inconsistency in her writing, to considering her a way to add drama to other characters’ storylines rather than as something with its own value, they’ve demonstrated that to them, she was more a tool that they don’t need anymore than a character. I think that’s a mistake.

Lorna may be the emotional core of the show, the driving force that moves the story along. The Struckers may be the supposed lead characters with the most attention given to them in terms of subplots. But Sonya guided them and provided something that helped hold them together. It’s not easy to articulate just what that something was, but it’s best described as balance. She was the team’s heart. She kept the show centred. And it won’t be the same without her.

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.

Trying To Understand The Most Inconsistent Comic Book Writer Ever

Grant Morrison utterly fascinates me. He’s one of those guys readers tend to have strong opinions about. But I don’t. He’s written both some of my absolute favourite comics ever – Batman and Robin, All Star Superman – and some that still upset me to think about – primarily New X-Men. He’s almost impressively inconsistent. And it results in me having absolutely no idea what I think of his work.

Only an idiot would deny how influential he is to the art form. He came up with a lot of what’s general pop culture knowledge. Emma’s creepy clone quintuplet – and later triplet – daughters? His creation. Bruce Wayne’s only main-universe biological son? His work. And you know what I find most interesting about New X-Men? As much as I hate to acknowledge it, due to the bad taste in my mouth from the way it treated Scott, Jean, and Emma, some of the concepts and characters Morrison introduced were excellent. Emma’s relationship with the Cuckoos was one of the things I liked best about the run.

He upended the status quo, and even though comics are full of various writers contradicting each other both knowingly and unintentionally, parts of it have lasted, from his new characters to parts of the Emma characterization/Emma becoming an essential member of the team to more plot related details, like the reveal of the true nature of the Xavier Institute to the world. On the other hand, his Magneto characterization is a complete canon discontinuity. It’s not acknowledged, it’s not ever mentioned again, it’s completely Morrison’s. There hasn’t been a single writer since him that thought, hey, that’s good, let’s do that.

And now that I think about it, actually think about what happened in his various Batman runs, beyond just the obvious “Dick and Damian as the new Dynamic Duo” bit that I loved, I remember something else: I do not like how he treated Talia at all. As much as I love the Dick and Damian relationship as written by Morrison, to the point where I forget a lot of what happened in his Batman aside from their dynamic, his depiction of Talia was just insulting. Damian’s conception went from being a result of a brief, consensual relationship to occurring because Talia drugged Bruce. It’s a weird vilification of a character that, for a lot of her history, committed criminal acts out of loyalty to her father more so than out of actual gain. Maybe it was an attempt at making Talia a more independent character whose actions are in pursuit of her own interests rather than just alternating between supporting Ra’s and helping Bruce – a valid goal. But I didn’t like the way of going about it.

Her descent into outright villainy wasn’t so much a descent as her waking up one day and deciding, I know, let’s shake things up a bit and do terrible things for the sake of it. She went from being a flawed but loving mother to someone that would stick an implant in him so she could control his body, clone him, disown him, put a bounty on his head, and more. She had her pet the dog moments, but as a whole, her character was highly erratic. The contrast to classic Talia is glaring. And looking at his version of her compared to those that came before, I couldn’t help but notice that the artist actually drew her in accordance with her ethnic background, Talia is often whitewashed in art. She’s supposed to be part Arab and part Chinese, but oftentimes, you wouldn’t know that. That’s not the case in Morrison’s Batman. Which is good…except for how she’s more a villain there than in any other depiction. It probably wasn’t an intentional “play up our villain’s ethnic features” or “make the Arab evil”, and I can hardly pin that on Morrison himself, but all together, it’s uncomfortable.

I think his strength is that he’s not afraid to push the envelope. He’ll introduce new characters or concepts and long running plot arcs and take his time developing them. He knows his vision and he commits to it. And the character part of that clearly works – he’s not one of the writers who creates a character that no other writer cares about or finds interesting. The Cuckoos were his invention, but they’ve been used fairly regularly since then, even becoming prominent characters in The Gifted. He took the different stories that had to do with Bruce and Talia’s child and reinterpreted them, creating Damian. The list of his creations is extensive and includes many well known characters. He seems to even prefer working with his original characters than with established ones, which is an interesting aversion to what a lot of other writers do. Others make the characters they like fit the stories they want to tell. Morrison doesn’t hesitate to create a new one. It speaks to his experience with the medium. He understands the power of using a new character instead of an existing one, and is confident enough to do it and risk them being hated.

New characters, like everything, have positives and negatives to them. For one, readers are protective of existing characters. They have very fixed ideas about what they should be, sometimes justifiably so and sometimes not. So they’ll object to forcing an existing character into a role where they might not fit, but can’t do that as much with a new character. New characters can also bring in new readers, who might find them an easy place to start. It’s much less daunting to get into a character that’s been around for a couple of years than one that’s decades old and has had all sorts of different, contradictory stories. But they can also alienate longtime readers. Comic fans tend to be resistant to change. New characters take time to get accepted, especially when they’re a legacy character. Morrison is good at writing new characters well enough that they’re quickly accepted, or even at rescuing characters he didn’t create from fan hatred.

I think it’s probable that his DC work isn’t actually better than his X-Men stuff (except for All Star Superman, that one is just amazing) and that I’m only perceiving it that way. Most likely, they have the same strengths and flaws and my feelings towards them are more based in my feelings about the characters he handles. Maybe it’s just my personal feelings towards the characters he handles. Dick is my favourite DC character and Scott is my favourite Marvel one. I get prickly over perceived mistreatment of those characters. And Dick came across very well in Batman and Robin, +while New X-Men made Scott look terrible (and that doesn’t even get into how poorly Jean and Emma were treated). In Morrison’s Batman, it was characters like Talia that got the brunt of it, not Dick. I like Talia, enough to notice when she’s being treated poorly, but not so much that it bothers me on the first read through when other characters I like more are being treated well.

Morrison kind of serves as an example of the potential pitfalls of having fans as writers. He writes like a fan. He has the same continuity obsession that fans do, trying to tie everything together and fill in plotholes. If he wants to explore something – a character dynamic, a minor plot point from earlier, anything – he just does it, regardless of what that involves doing to other characters. But this isn’t fanfiction. What one writer does impacts what others can. They can’t just toss aside a character or their established characterization/development/relationships for the sake of focusing on someone else, or making a different character look better by comparison (Or, well, they can, but they usually shouldn’t). Every writer is bound to have their favourites. But the nature of comics, the way they’re created through collaboration, with every issue built off of the years of work before it, means that it’s insulting to disregard other people’s hard work and depict something exactly how you want without attention given to the previous incarnations of a story/character/etc.

Different aspects of all his stories are good. He has lots of great ideas. Even with some of the things that I don’t personally like, I can recognize that there’s probably a good story there. But a problem arises in that he has too many ideas and not enough time. His stories feel overstuffed with many of the plots not having enough room to breathe and developed. They feel smothered by the way so much is happening. With most writers, that would probably make me dismiss them, because ideas don’t mean much without good execution. But I can’t do that with Morrison, because, as I said earlier in this post,  All Star Superman is absolutely incredible.

All Star Superman never felt like too much to me. For all that goes on, it never forgets what’s important. The scene with Superman talking down a suicidal teen, where Clark finds the time for one person, is one of the most moving moments I’ve ever read. It’s one of the most memorable panels of all time. That one page was a love letter to Superman and his long history. It was the distillation of all his best qualities into one beautiful moment. If anyone were to ever ask me to describe Clark Kent in one panel, that would be it. It was Morrison at his absolute best, and even if the rest of the run was mediocre (which it wasn’t), that scene alone would have been enough to make me love it forever.

Maybe it’s just this: there are characters that Morrison fundamentally understands. He gets their strengths and their flaws. He understands what people love about them and why. He gets why they’re interesting, and because of that, it’s easier for him to write an interesting story that’s true to who they are. Superman is one of them. Characters like Talia, Magneto, and so on, not so much.

Morrison is a very good storyteller. He’s demonstrated that repeatedly. Do I love all of his work? No, absolutely not. No one’s perfect. And Morrison is, in my opinion, more inconsistent than most. I’ll probably complain about him more than I will most other comic writers. But I’ll also praise him more, because no matter what, his works aren’t forgettable. Even when I don’t like something he’s written, I can recognize there’s something redeeming about it. I still don’t know if my overall impression of him is positive or negative. What I do know is if you disagree with what I say about him on one day, wait a week and come back to me – I’ll probably have changed my mind again.

Lorna Dane, Ororo Munroe, Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, and Rachel Summers: Marvel, Treat the X-Women Better

I’ve whined about Marvel’s treatment of Jean Grey before. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the myriad of other ways in which she’s been mistreated outside of the Dark Phoenix saga, in terms of comics, cartoons, and movies alike. But as poorly as she gets treated, there’s something to be said about the fact that people at least remember she exists and know to include her. I’ll admit, as a Jean fan, that isn’t much of a comfort, when it involves so much of her getting treated as just an object in someone else’s story with no agency of her own, to the point of her role in The Wolverine being “a figment of Logan’s imagination that he apparently forgot he’d only known a week during which she wasn’t into him”. But it’s something, and compared to the other X-Women? It’s kind of a big deal.

Lorna Dane, 1968. Ororo Munroe, 1975. Kitty Pryde, 1980. Emma Frost, also 1980. Rachel Summers, 1981. None of these are new characters. The youngest of them has still existed for more than thirty five years. But they still don’t get treated with as much respect as they should. So, in the order of their first appearance, an explanation of why they all deserve more.

Lorna

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Let’s make a list of characters Lorna has been around longer than, shall we? Wolverine, of course. Nightcrawler. X-23. The list goes on. Nightcrawler has been in cartoons, in movies, and had lots of his own storylines. Wolverine is literally everywhere and I’m sick of him. X-23 was one of the main characters in Logan and has had plenty of issues about her and even a solo title, despite only being introduced in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon in 2006. For the most part, Polaris only exists in the background.

Lorna’s profile has risen due to The Gifted. Sure. That’s to be expected – generally speaking, adaptations have a wider audience than comics and people become aware of different characters through movies and shows. But despite how long Lorna has existed, she’s never had a solo title. Never appeared in the movies. Only briefly appeared in the animated series. She did play a pretty big role in Wolverine and the X-Men, but that one is known for being so stuffed with characters, that it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to claim just about every character that had more than one appearance in the comics got at least a cameo. It’s kind of weird – there really aren’t many characters like that, that are that old but so underused. It comes across feeling like people at Marvel have something against her.

Lorna was the second X-Woman. This year is her fiftieth anniversary. You’d think that would mean something special happening – whether that be a miniseries, a one off, or a merch release. As far as I know, there isn’t. Now, I’m a DC fan at heart, and I don’t follow Marvel accounts on social media, so for all I know, Marvel isn’t about that “celebrate characters’ birthdays” life – though I think I remember Spider-Man getting something when he turned 50. But DC does make a point to commemorate its characters. For Superman’s 75th anniversary, we got an animated short of the character through the years. That year also had Man of Steel come out. A similar thing happened with Batman – the year he turned 75, there was an animated short released. The first season of Gotham started to airProduction on Batman v Superman started. There were variant covers. Wonder Woman made her silver screen debut on her 75th anniversary and got a special issue with new stories and art. It’s not at all unprecedented to celebrate.

Of course Lorna doesn’t have a profile as high as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or the like. So naturally, her fiftieth isn’t going to be as big a deal as them turning 75. And to be fair, as far as I know, Havok isn’t getting a celebration either. He was introduced the same year she was, and for quite a while, she’s been treated as…like…his pet girlfriend, thinking about him and focused on him even when she has much more important things to worry about, so I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if this year was advertised as his fiftieth anniversary without any mention of her. It hasn’t been. But even so, most characters get something special happening on major anniversaries. A comic, a rerelease, even a Tweet, acknowledging that it’s their birthday. It doesn’t look like that’ll be the case. Sure, Lorna still might get something in October acknowledging that she’s a great looking fifty year old. But she’s spent decades consistently treated as a perpetual second stringer with none of the same attempts made at pushing her into the A-List that other characters get. I’m not expecting anything.

One thing we can often count on when it comes to the X-Men is writers latching on to a specific character, whether that be a new kid or a little used character that they want to get to create the defining version  of, and trying to make them popular. Kitty, of course – she was the first of those and by far the most successful. But also Jubilee, Quentin Quire, and the like. Despite the long stretches of time in which Lorna doesn’t get much to do, or where she just disappears because people forget about her, I can’t think of any writer that latched on to her.

Lorna’s stories often revolve around her being Havok’s girlfriend/ex/whatever their status is now or Magneto’s daughter. And yes, those things do matter for who she is. But I’m still looking forward to the day where we get more exploration as to who she is and why she matters outside of the men in her life.

Ororo

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Storm is one of the most iconic X-Men characters. That much is indisputable. To the general public, she’s more recognizable than many characters that have existed longer. I’d be willing to bet that more people recognize Storm than they do Angel, Iceman, or Polaris. Be that as it may, Storm is more an icon than she is a character to a lot of people. She’s a symbol. Look at the reaction after Black Panther came out – how many people were jumping up and down about how Storm needs to be in the sequel because they were married in the comics? A lot. But either these people haven’t actually read any of the comics or don’t care about Ororo as a character, because that relationship ended terribly, T’challa never deserved her, and it was written poorly from the get go.

Storm is a mutant. That’s important to who she is as a character. She is not an accessory to T’challa, she’s one of the X-Men. T’challa? He’s aligned with the Avengers. And for a long time now, the Avengers have treated the mutants terribly. It would be hugely offensive to her long history as an independent character to have her be okay with that. In concept, there’s nothing wrong with their relationship – it could actually be really good – but the divorce was bad, she was used more as a prop in the comics during their relationship than a character in her own right, and there’s something gross about how they were on different sides of a war where the Avengers brought an army to try to destroy the Phoenix Force and a country for mutants.

The reason most of the people want them together in the movies is that they recognize the name Storm, know she’s one of the X-Men, and think they would be an awesome power couple. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong about that, but it’s got very little to do with her as a character. While I can’t really blame comic writers for how Storm is perceived by the general public, I can criticize the people behind the movies and cartoons. A lot of the time, she’s there for a combination of reasons: to make whatever the adaptation in question is less white, to fill out a roster, because she’s supposed to be there. It’s not about actually contributing anything to the story or getting interesting development, it’s about putting her there for the sake of putting her there. She deserves to have an actually fleshed out role and character development, rather than just being around to throw lightning and look cool.

Kitty

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Kitty is a weird case because she was a childhood favourite of so many people that are today running the asylum. So in general, she gets treated pretty decently in the comics. But outside of that? It’s been years, and I’m still mad about how Kitty was treated in Days of Future Past adaptations. This applies to both the movie of the same name and the animated series. Let’s start with the movie.

The Days of Future Past comic was Kitty’s first major story. It’s very highly regarded and pretty much the most well known story featuring her in a major role. So of course, the movie shoved her out of her own role and pushed her into Rachel’s so that Wolverine could take her spot. Let’s set aside the fact that that didn’t even make sense, and focus on the ludicrous reasoning given for why she didn’t get to be the central character. The claim was that it couldn’t be her because of the way it was the mind that went back and not the body and only Logan was alive then, but that’s clearly nonsense. They were okay with completely changing the story, but not with changing the time travel rules, or even just time to which someone had to go? Everyone involved did a whole lot of mental gymnastics to justify removing Kitty from the story.

She wasn’t used in the cartoon adaptation, either. I think she was one of the only then X-Men to not make a single appearance in the entire show, which in itself demonstrates why she deserves better. In terms of the Days of Future Past arc specifically, Bishop took her role. That bothered me quite a bit less than the movie, actually, even though it was basically the same concept. Partially, that’s because of all the simplification that went into adapting the story, but more so, because Kitty wasn’t in the animated series. It wasn’t that she was there and they weren’t using her, she was just not present, which was bad for a different reason. And they wanted to use their recently introduced and pretty popular character. I get that. What I found more frustrating about the show was that Kitty was in general replaced by Jubilee – AKA, the Kitty of the 90s. It didn’t usually bother me, because the similarities seemed mostly at the surface level, but the episode “Jubilee’s Fairytale Theatre” was obviously an adaptation of a comic about Kitty. Now, I have nothing against Jubilee, and but the way to popularize a character can’t just be to try and mimic a different one.

Kitty was the ultimate escapist character. She was wish fulfillment. She was the naive newcomer that readers of the time watched grow up and rooted for as she went from sidekick to hero in her own right. She was essentially the X-Men equivalent of Robin. But we’ve never gotten to see that outside the comics. Obviously, adaptations aren’t the be all end all. Comics are not a lesser form of art, I love reading them, and characters can still be treated well without adaptations. How else would we get all those lists of characters we want to get a solo movie? And I don’t especially want Kitty to get one. The movie she allegedly has (had?) in development doesn’t excite me. But the fact remains that she’s perceived as important enough to merit appearing, but not so much that she gets to keep her most famous storylines to herself, and even in the comics themselves, she spends so much time hooking up with writers’ author avatars that it actively detracts from her individual story.

Emma

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Oh, Emma. The queen of inconsistent writing.

Yes, different interpretations are inevitable when it comes to comic book characters. Of course. Comics are a collaborative medium, with lots of different writers and artists working together to create each character over a long period of time. And at some point, it would probably get boring if we only saw the same aspects of a character explored and handled in the same way. But even so, there has to be some level of continuity, some consistent character traits that hold throughout. Emma doesn’t really have those. Not really.

I have very complicated feelings about Emma. When she’s written well, I do like her. In the hands of a competent writer, she’s interesting and entertaining and complicated. Her ambition and brilliance made her manipulative, but she still cared deeply for her students, and losing them turned her into someone that spent years trying to make up for what she’d done. But her years of character development have been thrown away repeatedly by different writers. Look away for a second and she swings from flawed woman that cares about mutants and is trying to do better to spoiled brat villain whose intelligence and qualifications are ignored in favour of painting her as the “sexy, evil teammate”. To an extent, that character derailment happens with every character, but it’s frustratingly and glaringly obvious with Emma.

The “ice queen” thing, or the fire ice contrast with Jean, the “Frost” vs “Summers” contrast with Scott – none of that existed until Morrison. Frost was just her name with nothing to do with her personality until he decided it did. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s helps demonstrate the way writers change aspects of her at a whim. She’s existed since 1980. She’s been the atoner for most of that time now. She’s hasn’t been a real villain since Generation X in, what, 1994? After that, she became pretty much a textbook example of Good Is Not Nice. She has always cared about her students and been fiercely protective of them. Grant Morrison…made her a sex therapist whose “telepathic affair” with Scott felt uncomfortably rapey and whose treatment of him was handwaved because she was in love with him. How he handled Emma is in large part why I have such mixed feelings about his writing. All Star Superman is absolutely incredible, and I adore Batman and Robin, but dear God, his X-Men work is…something. It involved the character assassination of every vertex of the Scott Emma Jean love triangle, and that doesn’t even touch what he did to Magneto. She was derailed even further in the whole  Inhumans vs X-Men arc.

Emma is treated as an object more often than not. She’s used as eye candy. Her intelligence is discounted. She’s both put in revealing costumes for the fanservice and mocked for them. She’s written so inconsistently, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s mostly good or not. Emma needs more women writing her. Maybe it won’t help with all the issues with her writing, but it would at least help in making everything about her feel less exploitative. I don’t know if I’d be as interested in Emma or care so much about well written versions of the character if she didn’t get mistreated so often, but I would love to find out. She deserves enough good writing that people can actually tell if they care about reading her stories.

Rachel

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Rachel’s not a new character. She’s only a year younger than Kitty – a year is nothing in comics – but unlike Kitty, she’s never showed up in an adaptation (unless you count a brief cameo with no lines. I don’t). People responsible for adaptations clearly love Rachel’s stories. And yet she keeps getting adapted out.

She wasn’t in the Days of Future Past movie. I seem to recall someone saying they introducing her would have taken too much time away from the story. My response to that is why? Yes, I’ll admit, I’d probably have grumbles about it had she gotten no attention and just maybe a brief, hey, this is Rachel, she can send you back, but far less than I’m complaining now. And even if they did properly introduce her, it wouldn’t have taken that long. Days of Future Past isn’t her story. It didn’t have to be a huge thing.

While one could argue that they couldn’t use her because Jean and Scott both died in The Last Stand with no kids, I would respond by pointing out that they didn’t have to name her, leaving her as just a cool cameo for the fans. There were plenty of characters that had cameos that didn’t get named in the movie. And Rachel’s last name wasn’t revealed in her first comic appearance anyway. They could have behaved as if she was a new character that was just an expy of Rachel. They could have done any number of things, because it’s not like they care about the timeline anyway. First Class was supposed to be the start of a soft reboot, but that, combined with Days of Future Past, resulted in such a messy and nonsensical continuity, that the general rule has become don’t think about it. They were wiling to go with any number of contrived coincidences to get Patrick Stewart’s Xavier back for the movie. They gave Logan back his adamantium claws after he lost them in The Wolverine with no explanation. But Rachel was the deal breaker? I guess they had to draw the line somewhere.

The villain of her backstory was the central villain of the first season of The Gifted. Ahab and the Hound program weren’t just mentioned in passing, they were deeply involved in the story, to the point when I figured more than once we were about to meet Rachel. I remember at least two for sure – 1) when everyone’s powers stopped working, and I doubted they were going to use Leech, and 2) just before the first episode with Esme aired and all we knew about Skyler Samuels’s character was that she was a telepathic refugee. But we never did. While I know it probably wasn’t intentionally misleading, it felt that way.

Matt Nix said something about not wanting to step into movie territory when explaining why they never use Magneto’s name, and I was talking to someone a while back that speculated that was why Rachel didn’t show up – they’re saving her for the movies. We had a whole debate over who counts as an important character”and how that pertains to who gets what rights – operating on the basic idea, of course, that the biggest names might go to the movies, while the lesser known ones go to the shows. But the thing is, the X-Men aren’t like the Justice League. They can’t be separated into different cities and only meet up for big crossover events. They’re a team, all connected by the fact they’re mutants, or through the mess that is the Summers family tree. They work because of their relationships with each other. And continuing this idea that the major characters should go to movies is a further propagation of the idea that television is lesser than film. Separating the universe into “major” and “minor” characters doesn’t work, and even trying to do that will inevitably leave characters like Rachel in Limbo – she’s a “major” character, so the shows won’t use her, but the people behind the movies have spent the past two decades demonstrating that they don’t care about anyone in her family by not properly using any of them.


Comics can be frustrating, because they’re full of writers that write a character they personally hate badly to try to make other people feel the same way, resulting in a vicious cycle of a character being hated for the worst writing they’ve had. Readers deserve better than to have characters they’re interested in derailed and mistreated with no regard for their development over the years. It’s disrespectful to them, the characters themselves, and writers alike.

When it comes to the X-Men, appealing to the white male demographic means that the women get some of the worst of it. Polaris, Storm, Shadowcat, Emma, and Prestige all deserve way more than what they get. They deserve to be treated as more than just disposable objects whose long character histories don’t matter. They deserve to be written by writers that actually care about them. I doubt that’ll start happening any time soon. But when it does, I’ll stop catching up on comics five years after the fact.