The M-Word

Matt Mallinson

Matt is an aspiring journalist and self confessed nerd. In addition to comics, he has a great love of film, video games and TV, particularly Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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I’ve written before about the ways in which the X-men franchise exists as gay allegory, but a recent issue of Uncanny Avengers hit the point home more than usual, particularly in relation to the slur ‘mutant’. I know I’ve written before about how I intended to stop reading Uncanny Avengers due to its rapid and shocking decline, but discussion on the issue drew me back in. It was actually a notable improvement, while still having some of the old flaws on display.

In the comic, Alex Summers (a.k.a. Havok) spoke at a press conference where he denounced the M-word; “I see the word ‘mutant’ as divisive. Old thinking that serves to further alienate us from our fellow man. We are all humans.” When a reporter asks him “what should we call you?”, he responds simply with “how about Alex?”. I’ve seen two main arguments on the topic, one stating that Alex is right to say labels cause division, the other suggesting that he is rejecting a big part of his identity to fit in. Lets take a look at both.

I’m not necessarily one of those people who feels labels are a totally bad thing. Yes we’re all people, but we’re also individuals. Some of us are straight, others gay, and in the Marvel world some of us can destroy things with our mind. I see where the argument for no labels comes from though, as I’ve been told I’m “a little faggot” by my fair share of homophobes over the years. So I guess I’d say I have problems with labels being used in a negative context, as they often are. Removing labels for a sense of unity does sound a lot like what Rick Remender was trying to get across, especially with the “we are all humans” part. Later on the same page he goes on to state that “the M-word represents everything I hate”, which suggests the same thing.

On the other side is the argument that Alex is a self-hating, self-denying mutant, wanting to remove himself from his mutant identity and just be seen as a person. Some have even gone on to argue that this is basically the equivalent of Alex retreating back into the closet.  Alex has always been a bit less willing to accept his mutant status than his brother, Cyclops. A flashback in the issue showcases him leaving Xavier’s school; Cyclops tells him to just leave as he never believed in Xavier’s dream of unity. It requires a bit more reading between the lines as that “everything I hate” statement could be interpreted to mean he hates his own people. There is an odd stigma around mutants, which simply doesn’t exist with other superheroes. The X-men are hated and feared, whereas the Avengers are loved and adored, when ultimately they are both teams of super-powered freaks. I suppose it’s kind of the same as the way many straight men act towards lesbians and gay men; masturbating to one, hating on the other.

Andrew Wheeler of ComicsAlliance argued that “The speech leaves us to believe that Havok doesn’t want there to be any word that describes his minority identity. He’s not saying that he’s not just a mutant, but that “mutant” is not among the things he wants to admit to being.” Essentially he argues that Havok goes beyond saying that he wants to get rid of labels, that he in fact wants to get rid of his mutant identity entirely. He goes on to suggest that wanting to be seen as just a hero, rejecting all the experiences can be learned from mutant life. Alex offers no alternatives to being called a mutant just wanting to be called Alex. This comes to mirror African-Americans historically reclaiming themselves over the n-word. Mutants have called themselves ‘mutants’ for decades, they’ve taken the slur and re-appropriated the term.

There is further argument to suggest that Rick Remender has absolutely no authority to talk about this issue. He’s a straight, white American; what does he know of labels and discrimination? This is even worse when you consider that he’s chosen the most Aryan mutant available to speak his views. It just seems offensive to be honest. When his work received criticism he took to Twitter, choosing a dickish response over answering rationally: “Heads up – If Havok’s position in UA #5 really upset you, it’s time to drown yourself hobo piss. Seriously, do it. It’s the only solution.” Not only is this immature and incredibly stupid (not to mention poorly written) but it totally misses the problems people have with the issue. Discussing minorities is a sensitive issue and his tweet makes it seem like he doesn’t care.

I think out of the two, I feel that regardless of Remender’s intention, Alex is basically rejecting his mutant identity and diving back into the closet. In short: I’m definitely done reading his comics now.

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