Marvel’s Oppression Analogues: When X-Men Reach the Unreachable
I’ve always considered myself a “bad” English major. I love to read, but I have no desire to delve into “high” brow literature. Lolita? Yeah. Not for me. Robinson Crusoe? Hell no. David Copperfield? Over my dead body. I’m not ashamed to say, I’ve read very few of the novels that The Guardian heralds the greatest novels of all time. And I really have no plans to delve into that list either.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of literature as a medium to inspire change and address societal issues. I just firmly believe that I can find modern fantasy and science fiction novels, short stories, and comics that address these issues in a more palatable format.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), in particular, has continually addressed complex societal hot-button issues. Marvel comic-verse features Iron Man coping with alcoholism, Wasp dealing with an abusive ex-husband (Hank Pym a.k.a. Ant-Man), and Jessica Jones conquering PTSD from being kidnapped and held captive for months by a villain. Most of these more adult storylines have been skipped over in favor of cleaner, less adult storylines in the movies. The one, more complex story-line that is consistent across all Marvel media platforms is mutant persecution.
Marvel’s mutants are a race of beings who are born with genetic trait (the x-gene) that allows them to develop superhuman powers and/or superhuman appearance. And unfortunately, as Charles Xavier points out in X-Men 2’s opening sequence:
Since the discovery of their existence they have been regarded with fear, suspicion, often hatred. Across the planet, debate rages. Are mutants the next link in the evolutionary chain or simply a new species of humanity fighting for their share of the world? Either way it is a historical fact: Sharing the world has never been humanity’s defining attribute.
What is the mutant experience? The mutants as a group have to deal with discrimination, the threat of violence, and legislative persecution by a federal government trying to deal with the mutant menace.
The MCU serves as a microcosmic look into minority groups fighting for equal rights while dealing with societal and federal prosecution. The mutant struggle can in particular be directly connected to the struggle that the LGBTQ community has experienced in their struggle for equal rights.
Dazzler, a pop star within the MCU, shared her identity as a mutant only to have her fans turn against her and her career ruined in the comic Dazzler: The Movie. The Wasp hid her mutant identity from the Ultimates due to the potential fallout from her identity as a mutant even with a superhero team in the graphic audiobook The Ultimates: Against All Enemies. The biggest similarity between the LGBTQ and mutant experiences is the federal and state legislation seeking to strengthen or weaken both parties’ rights as American citizens.
The struggle of the mutants to be accepted and afforded all of the same rights as their fellow American citizens can give all Americans a glimpse into the gay and lesbian experience in American society today. As someone who grew up in an uber religious Mormon household, I understand that the journey from being uncomfortable with the idea of the gay community to accepting of it is far easier with a gradual journey. A glimpse at blatant discrimination in comics will trigger the thought this isn’t right. It’s a small step towards acceptance, but sometimes that’s all people are capable of taking in with an open mind. And one day, either through a gentle nudge from articles like this one or a sudden epiphany, they may realize maybe this isn’t right. In an effort to facilitate that journey, we’ll be delving into a few pieces of legislation meant to hinder or protect the civil rights of MCU mutants and American LGBTQ citizens.
Anti-Civil Rights Laws
Mutants (in the comics) and the LGBTQ community (in real life) have faced slightly different types of restrictive legislation. The laws that mutants face tend to focus on requiring the individuals to register their identity and their powers with the federal government. The LGBTQ community tend to face laws that restrict certain rights (for example, the right to marry).
Registration acts were first introduced to the Marvel continuity in issue #141 of the Uncanny X-Men in January of 1981. When the Supreme Court found the Mutant Control Act unconstitutional, the Federal Government decided to program robots to police mutants. Long story short: the Sentinals took over the government, which led to the Days of Future Past storyline. Kitty or Logan (depending on if you go by comic or movie lore) successfully stop this dark future.
Mutants didn’t have much reprieve from potentially restricting legislation. By 1984, Senator Robert Kelly (seen in the original X-Men movie) proposed the Mutant Registration Act. By issue #183, mutants had to register with the Federal Government. The government put together a super-hero team comprised partially of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to hunt down those mutants who refused to register.
Perhaps the most direct correlation between real life and the comics came in the form of a Marvel bill called Proposition X. Proposition X (Uncanny X-Men #509) was developed by an anti-mutant group led by Simon Trask (brother of Bolivar Trask seen in Days of Future Past). The bill, if passed, would have forced birth control on mutants and denied them the right to marry.
Proposition X has been connected to an anti-gay wedding bill passed in California in 2008 called Proposition 8. The bill denied marriage equality in California by claiming that California only recognized “marriage between a man and a woman.” The bill was ruled unconstitutional in 2013. Years before Proposition 8, the Federal Government passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The 1996 law defined marriage as being between a man and a women. This allowed states to not recognize same-sex marriages that took place in other states. It also denied same-sex couples federal marriage benefits (social security survivor benefits, immigration rights, bankruptcy, filing tax returns as a married couple).
Gay marriage laws directly or indirectly meant to whittle away at the civil rights of the gay community. Arkansas and Indiana proposed bills to protect religious freedom, which would grant business owners the right to deny service to gay and lesbian customers. The Conscious Protection Bill was deemed unconstitutional, but the Religious Freedom Restoration Act became a law in March of 2015.
Pro-Civil Rights Laws
Unfortunately for mutants, they continually face persecution without a lot of positive federal or state legislation to protect their rights. (The most they’ve ever received is anti-mutant bills being deemed unconstitutional).
Civil rights protection for the LGBTQ community are slowly being adopted by states and the Federal Government. In 2009, a national bill called The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Junior, Hate Crimes Protection Act expanded hate crimes to include offenses motivated by sexual orientation and gender. And recently, you’ve probably heard of this one (unless you live under a rock), the Supreme Court determined that all states must recognize same-sex marriage.
Despite the groundbreaking legislation, states are still trying to slowly circumvent the rights of the LGBTQ community in small ways, but the path has been set and real progress has been made. And hopefully one day Mutants will also find the peace they have sought since they were created by Marvel. I won’t hold my breath on that front though; things are looking dire for the mutant community right now in the comics.
If things are looking dire in the mutant community, the LGBTQ community’s gradual journey towards being accepted by mainstream America is demonstrated with the sudden influx of gay and lesbian characters in the MCU. In Alpha Flight Volume 1, Issue #106 [who?] became the first openly gay superhero in the Marvel universe. In All-New X-Men #40, the younger version of Ice-Man a.ka.a Bobby Drake has a conversation with teen Jean Grey where it’s revealed that he’s gay. And in 2013 an X-Men issue, a mutant lesbian, Bling, asks one of her fellow mutants out, only to get punched in the nose due to the other girl’s embarrassment. Later, Jubilee hotly tells Bling the violent reaction was “completely unacceptable” of the girl.
Beyond the presence of gay and lesbian storylines mixed into the regular run of Marvel comics being a sign of acceptance, it also serves as a platform for Americans to begin to realize they cannot continue to try to dictate how their neighbors should live and to try to withhold rights based on the decision to embrace who they are. It worked for a young adult who ate, drank, and breathed religious heterosexual doctrine from the time she was born; I’m confident that between the mutant and gay mutant struggle for civil rights others are well on their way to becoming more accepting.
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