It’s 2020, can this be the year we finally stop pretending that the X-Men are the champions of diversity within the social justice spheres? I’m sorry to break this to you true believers, but – historically speaking – the X-Men is one of the least ‘woke’ franchises in comic books. Yet somehow, the franchise has managed to maintain a loyal and devote fanbase.
A History of Indifference
I get it. People on the outside look at the uber-famous ‘90s X-Men animated series line-up and our eyes immediately train upon Storm, and maybe Jubilee – although I seriously doubt anyone looked at her and realized she was Asian. I suppose back then, the one apparent character of color was enough to keep the representation mob at bay – or perhaps it was just the lack of social media that kept them quiet.
The comics were a bit different. They already had those two, plus Bishop and Psylocke divided between the two flagship titles. Keep in mind, Psylocke is a British-born European, commandeering the form of a Japanese woman with ninja skills. Faced with today’s political climate, I can’t blame management for reversing that – but after 30-years, in my opinion, what’s done is done.
So, before the introduction of Jubilee, the new Psylocke and Bishop – along with Dani & Sunspot in New Mutants – there was just one non-white character among almost two-dozen regular X-Men, over several books. I suppose you can count Thunderbird, but he was killed off almost as quickly as he debuted. With the track record, the X-Men franchise had in the first 25 years, I just don’t see how the social justice crowd can put them on a pedestal today.
New Characters, Same Old
As time passed, there was an infusion of other types of characters, but most would just come and go. Fans never got too much of a chance to get attached to the new additions before they would be killed-off, depowered or just forgotten about. The treatment of some of these characters by writers has been downright appalling – and at times, really insulting.
Synch – a founding member of Generation X – became a fan-favorite almost immediately after his debut. Sadly, he was killed off towards the end of the series. French-Muslim character, Monet, and the Latino, Skin, also debuted around this time. Later, characters like Maggot and Cecelia Reyes were introduced. I used the word ‘introduced’, but Maggot was more ‘inserted’ without much cause and then removed just as abruptly.
Cecelia, however, was done quite tastefully and though spent much of her time in limbo, she received quite a bit of side quest-like development over the years. Towards the end of the decade, Indian characters in Neal Shaara (Thunderbird III) and Karima Shapandar (Omega Sentinel) were introduced when Claremont returned to the franchise.
While Neal would get used for a couple of years, he faded into obscurity fairly quick. Karima would go on to be utilized as both a protagonist and antagonist throughout the next two decades – most recently as part of Hickman’s Powers of X. It’s funny. When it comes to developing characters of color, X-Men writers seem more willing to focus on the fairer sex.
Seduced by Pop-Culture
After the X-Men evolved from action-team to educators – following the success of the X-Men movie that used a similar theme – dozens of diverse characters were introduced. Dust, Tag, Prodigy, Landslide, Angel, Surge, and Bling! (yes, with an apostrophe) all made their first appearances during this era. Some fared better than others, although most would meet their end via missile attack or be depowered.
Bling! was one of the few characters that survived the M-day mutant culling. She’s also one of the best examples of how tone-deaf the X-Men editors and writers have been since the turn of the century. Bling! got her codename from her body which is a diamond-like substance – not unlike what Emma turns into – except she’s stuck in the form 24/7.
So, yeah, they wrote her as the daughter of a gangster hip-hop music artist. The name is derived from the slang term for ‘jewelry’ which was made popular by the Cash Money Records hit song “Bling, Bling”. It’ss by far one of the corniest things I’ve ever read in comics. Like Brian Michael Bendis-level of corny. And they just got away with that. Not a word. Moving on.
Addressing the Elephants in the Room
Bishop – undoubtedly the most impactful non-Caucasian male the franchise has known– was originally intended to be African-American. This was made most obvious by the hairstyles applied to his model including; a New York-style Caesar, dreads, and most famously, a jerry-curl. From inception, he was honorable, courageous and kind. By the end of the ’00s, he was retconned into a raving, murderous, genocidal, infanticidal, Australian mad-man.
Something else that gets overlooked is the fact that throughout 60 years of storytelling, Bryan Edward Hill’s Fallen Angels is the first ongoing X-Men title to be written by an African-American. It’s not a problem, per se. More than 25 of those years were monopolized by a single creator, and others typically stayed around for quite some time. Frankly, there’s only so much book to go around.
I know it’s hard to believe, but Marvel hasn’t always carried a dozen X-Men books all at once. Like it or not, the comic industry has historically been dominated by white men, on both the consumer and production ends. It’s just reality, and getting upset over that would be like moving to France and balking at the fact everyone speaks French.
From a number’s standpoint, the X-Men – for most of their existence – have been heavy-hitters for Marvel’s bottom line. Anyone would be hesitant to take chances on new talent piloting one of their best breadwinners. Today, that’s not so much the case. The pool is considerably larger than it used to be, and now there are more opportunities to go around.
The Heart of the Matter
Even with all these examples of questionable management of their characters and creators of color – the X-Men have consistently been looked at as one of the most impactful and important comic franchises in history. This was achieved by presenting interesting stories and developing engaging characters and concepts. Today’s forced inclusion of characters simply based upon their appearance in no way improves a narrative or corrects a legacy.
Pushing characters to the forefront based purely on superficial aspects outside of the bounds of the story will result in said characters being nothing more than tokens simply inserted for the sake of insipid virtue-signaling.
Such things only spotlight the author for self-serving reasons and will be to the benefit of no one else in the present or to potential future readers. Instead of demanding forced inclusion- why not ask that they fix what’s already been damaged?