Page detail from Storm #11 (Marvel, 2015).


The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images. —Guy Debord

JOCKSTRAP NIGHT WAS CANCELED, so everyone at the bar was in clothes they hadn’t planned to wear. I spotted three men in Captain America T-shirts and made out with one of them. I tell this story to my workout partner, who sports Iron Man–themed compression garments from Under Armour. Next to him in the locker room, another jock is squeezing into red Lycra with a Superman insignia on the chest. Walking home, I check Instagram, noting that, in my feed of comic-book memes and action figures, Beyoncé has dressed up as Storm at a costume party. I dodge a little kid on a scooter dressed as Thor, padded muscles sewn into the sleeves. In my apartment, I click on Hulu, scanning blurbs for The Flash, Arrow, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. My domestic partner negotiates a détente: He puts on the news between two superhero shows. Distracted, I swipe through zentai fetish sites, searching for a Cyclops bodysuit, then reach into my bag and pull out the latest issue of X-Men.

Within mainstream gay-male culture, many situate themselves on the spectrum of jock to geek, two “communities” available on Scruff. These terms figure complementary fantasies of bulging bodies, technologized in skintight sheaths, hurtling in foreshortened intensity. In this moment of superhero saturation, I am reminded that it was not the ubiquity of these images that first attracted me to them, but the ways in which they signaled a rejection of the culture that marginalized me because I was different. Am I still different?

I was once a nerdy sixth grader finding companionship in comics shops and conventions, my primary point of contact the monthly issue of Uncanny X-Men. That was before the Fox films (credited with the advent of the “modern superhero movie”) and Capcom video games disseminated X-Men to a worldwide marketplace. Enabled by the Internet, contemporary fandom is a discourse around this mediation, a response to the corporate handling of intellectual properties. This discussion can take the form of sustained critique, as it does on themarysue.com, “an inclusive, feminist community,” or the podcast Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, hosted by a polyamorous couple, one cis and one trans, based in Portland, Oregon. Or it can happen in ad hoc comments on Instagram feeds such as stormfanforever and through Gay Geeks of New York’s Facebook rants. Fandom can even generate new queer theory, as in the forthcoming book The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics by Ramzi Fawaz, assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who argues that “fantasy [is] a dynamic aesthetic and social phenomenon, a mode of communication deployed as a tool of world making.” For an embodied expression of this “world making,” there are queer conventions like Flame Con, started in Brooklyn this past summer, which ended its day-long activities with a climactic display of superhero-themed drag performances.

Instagram featuring Logan De La Cruz, Chun Rosenkranz, Rustin Charles Low, and Paul McGill at the New York Comic Con, October 2015.


Born into an already alienated world, comics functioned for me, as they do for many, as a means to reimagine the construction of identity, often expressed by dressing up as another. Comics can be a way to find allies in a system that is violently hostile to crossing boundaries. In Debord’s Situationist critique of mediation, he cautions that the spectacle promises “all that appears is good.” Today’s image consumers know this to be untrue, even as they agitate for favorable representation: The interface of media culture allows for and even encourages dissent. Flawed as representation is, it is in response to critique—the utterance by intersecting voices that all is not good—that the companies that produce our contemporary mythologies create correctives to invisibility and stereotype. And then sell them to us.

This November, under the banner “All-New All-Different,” Marvel Comics recast many of its best-known brands in brown and/or female bodies. Captain America is black, while Captain Marvel, Thor, and Wolverine are now women. Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani teen from Jersey City. All-Different-ness promises multiplicity: While black Latino Miles Morales is Spider-Man, so is white male Peter Parker, in another series. Gwen Stacy, once Parker’s girlfriend, is now Spider-Gwen; Korean-American Cindy Moon is star of the spinoff Silk; and Spider-Woman Jessica Drew is pregnant. Another white male Spider-Man, Cletus Kasady, aka Carnage, is an antisocial mass murderer, while Web Warriors features Spider-verse characters from other species, such as Spider-Ham. “All-New All-Different” splinters superhero identities, once secret, into publicized identifications, distributed among demographics. Almost half of the people who read comics are women; many, of course, are people of color. The people who write and edit Marvel Comics are predominantly white men, though the pencillers, inkers, and colorists who make the artwork are culled from a more diverse pool. Marvel has recently hired Ta-Nehisi Coates to write Black Panther (Marvel’s premiere black superhero, introduced in 1966 in the pages of the Fantastic Four) as part of “All-New, All-Different,” adding his name to the shortlist of nonwhite guys that includes G. Willow Wilson (A-Force, Ms. Marvel), and Greg Pak (Storm). Marvel Comics, started in the early part of the last century for an audience of white boys, is producing heroes who reflect the specificity of consumers in a twenty-first-century marketplace. All that appears is all that appears.

Page detail from All-New Wolverine #2 (Marvel, 2015).


Marvel Comics’ lurch toward a new superhero body politic was not achieved without bloodshed. In May of this year, Marvel Comics commenced the “Secret Wars,” a massive, multititled maxi-series scheduled to destroy the Marvel Universe (and its parallel, the Ultimate Universe), setting the stage for “All-New All-Different.” “Secret Wars” played out over the summer and into the fall in almost fifty different miniseries, the flagship title selling around 200,000 issues a month. The event was advertised as an end to the interconnected continuity that has been the setting for Marvel’s superhero stories since 1961, beginning with the publication of Fantastic Four #1. The Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “first family,” has been canceled, its last issue coinciding with the beginning of “Secret Wars.” Marvel Comics also announced that monthly titles X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men, Amazing X-Men, and spinoffs Spider-Man & the X-Men, Wolverines, Storm, Magneto, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and X-Force were ending in the runup to “Secret Wars.” If you wanted to see your favorite X-characters, you would have to read the various “Secret Wars” titles, although in those series, they were alternate-reality versions of themselves. All dangling story arcs from the canceled monthlies, and central continuity, would be resolved in the final Uncanny X-Men, #600.

“Secret Wars” is an apt name for the event of these cancelations. A 1993 deal 20th Century Fox made with Marvel before the latter had its own film production company licensed off the X-Men film rights while keeping the merchandising at Marvel. Fan sites host heated debates on the vicissitudes of intellectual property, bifurcated by competing interests: In the case of X-Men, Fox can make movies (and television, as in the upcoming pilots for X-Men spinoffs Legion on FX, and Hellfire on Fox TV, coproduced with Marvel), but Marvel appears reluctant to continue to make merchandise that could benefit its former collaborator, now competitor. This impacts the content of the comic books: A 2002 court case ruled that Fox also controls the term “mutant.” So mutant characters can’t appear in the Marvel cinematic universe, which includes Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers. The Walt Disney Company’s 2009 acquisition of Marvel Entertainment (for $4 billion) is the object of much consternation on fan sites, fans knowing, as they do, that the bottom line determines their access to, and the fate of, these highly cathected-to avatars.

Page detail from All-New X-Men #40 (Marvel, 2015).


IN APRIL, prior to cancelation, All-New X-Men #40 came out, and in it, Iceman, one of the original X-Men, came out too, as gay. The scene, scripted by Brian Michael Bendis, with art by Mahmud Asrar, depicts the young mutant Bobby Drake being confronted by his telepathic teammate, Jean Grey, who calls him aside after he makes a sexual comment about one of their teachers, the demonic teleporter Magik. Jean knows, because she can read his mind, that Bobby is gay, and overcompensating. Iceman protests: “Maybe I’m bi.” Jean answers, “They say everybody is. But I think you’re more full gay.”

X-Men is about a community of mutants facing extinction: To avert genocide, they often resort to time travel. The Jean and Bobby of All-New X-Men are teenagers displaced from an earlier time, and they discuss the fact that people in the current era are more accepting of homosexuality. Paradoxically, Iceman is a teenager living in a time continuous with his older self, in a separate body. He ponders what this means about the older Bobby’s sexuality. He asks if Angel, a flame-winged mutant with blond hair, is gay too. Jean says, “No.” Two pages later Angel is flying in the air with his girlfriend, a transgender clone of Wolverine.

X-Men has long been a site for a speculative interrogation of the construction of sexuality, veering between essentialist rhetoric and the fluidities of queerness. With “Secret Wars” raging on, the question was: Would the time-traveling teenage Iceman confront his older counterpart about his “full” gayness before the end of the world? If Iceman admitted to his younger self that he was gay, would that mean he had been gay since his first appearance, in The X-Men #1, released in 1963? And was this revelation to be undone with the end of Marvel’s continuity?

In comic books, continuity describes the holism of a fictive reality created by multiple authors using the same consecutive narrative elements: character designs, biographies, geographies, and timelines. These elements of continuity become a canon. When a canon is changed by altering the fictitious history that established it, the term in comics is retroactive continuity, or a ret-con. The revelation that the X-Men character Phoenix was an alien clone of Jean Grey, who was alive in an energy pod, even though everyone thought she had committed suicide on the moon, is a ret-con. A narrative conceit that destabilizes the continuity it produces, a ret-con is a means of revising the shared production of an imaginary world, of redressing wrongs and creating new problems for others to undo. The X-Men’s corner of the Marvel Universe’s overall continuity is a baroque entanglement of paradoxes. That time-travel is a regular occurrence in X-Men comics make them particularly rife with ret-cons.

Cover detail from Secret Wars #4 (Marvel, 2015).


The premise of the nine-issue “Secret Wars” is that the villainous Doctor Doom has, through nefarious means, become “God-Emperor” of the Marvel Universe. Dislocated from a now-defunct continuity, the series places Marvel’s characters in a medieval-ish realm, answering to a cloaked and armored Doom who sits in his big chair surrounded by brainwashed minions, most of them blond women. The Invisible Woman, wife of Doom’s rival Mister Fantastic, is his consort, and the names of all these characters tell you everything you need to know about the gender politics of this book. “Secret Wars” depicts a melancholic patriarch’s dysfunctional omnipotence, as Doom consolidates control and staves off the inevitable coup. Each of the territories under Doom’s dominion is an alternate reality chronicled in a different series. The same characters appear as versions of themselves in different contexts, and comics, at the same time. Continuity is shattered into discontinuous products.

Doctor Doom is an omega male—marking the end of the line of male privilege, the death throes of patriarchy taking everyone else with it. If the Marvel Universe is to contain the multitude, its white male “God-Emperor” must both kill everyone and be killed by them. This is the promise and the threat of the omega male, troubling in the way that most dystopian extinction narratives are, centralizing the survival of humanity around a white gender-conforming body. The omega male is the villainous version of this fantasy, a negative identification, an antimatter cancelation.

The obvious antidote to the omega male’s tyrannical mismanagement of the (Marvel) universe is the community called the X-Men, their name promising a postmale, nonhuman collectivity. The sole X-Man to survive “Secret Wars” #1, Cyclops, leads a rebellion: His neck is snapped by Doom in issue #4. The violence meted out to the X-Men in this “crossover” indicates a disturbing trend in the comic-book company’s attitude toward violence in general and specifically against its fictional universe’s beleaguered minority group. In “Secret Wars,” the X-Men are sent to the periphery, their communitarian ethos dislocated to a range of institutional settings that place them outside Doctor Doom’s castle, from the utopian Mutant Museum of X-Men ’92 (a camp homage to the 1990s Fox Kids cartoon) to the concentration camps of Years of Future Past. These series are set in alternate timelines with many of the same characters reappearing as different versions of themselves. In “Secret Wars” miniseries Age of Apocalypse, Inferno, E is for Extinction, and X-Tinction Agenda, various incarnations of the X-Men fight for their lives in panels overcrowded with death; they are killed by biological warfare, demons, psychic trauma, apartheid, and one another. If the violence meted out at “Marvel’s merry mutants” (as Stan Lee once dubbed them) was traumatic for readers (as it was for me), one could take heart that it was not in the true continuity, and none of this “really” happened. What really happened to the X-Men, readers were reassured by Marvel’s editorial teams, was to be resolved in Uncanny X-Men #600. I want to review Uncanny X-Men #600. But to get there, I have to trace a history of representations of difference within X-Men comics, and the shifting signification of its primary sign, “the mutant.”

Page detail from The X-Men #1 (Marvel, 1963).


MARVEL’S MUTANTS were a childhood obsession that resulted from, and contributed to, my own alienation. Mutant teens bound by a shared genetic condition, they were described as both “children of the atom” and “the next step in human evolution,” eliding atomic-age anxieties with a speculative rewriting of Darwin. The original team, consisting of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, and Marvel Girl (better known as Jean Grey), were trained in the use of their powers by Professor Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, a telepath bound to a wheelchair, at his School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester, New York. Tasked with fighting bad mutants to prove that not all mutants were bad, these teens awkwardly mitigated their differences in order to conform: Angel hid his wings in his jacket and Cyclops wore “ruby-quartz” shades to contain the concussive blasts shooting uncontrollably from his eyes. Unlike Captain America or the Fantastic Four, the mutants were “The Uncanny” personified. That is, “Unheimlich,” or “un-home-like,” the familiar made unfamiliar, figured by Freud. It has been suggested that these X-Men were a way to discuss being Jewish (as both Lee and Kirby were) in an era when this was not talked about in comics, or presumably, mixed company.

I first encountered the X-Men under the stewardship of Chris Claremont, who from 1975 to 1991 was head writer on the series, which was drawn by a pantheon of celebrated cartoonists including John Byrne, Terry Austin, Paul Smith, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rick Leonardi, Arthur Adams, Bill Sienkiewicz, John Romita Jr., and Marc Silvestri. During this time, X-Men and its spinoffs—The New Mutants and X-Factor, written by Louise Simonson—used “mutants” as a conceit to explore the relationship between otherness and the construction of group identity. In issue after issue, the X-Men faced the discrimination of a world that “feared and hated” the difference that marked them and which, ironically, was also the source of their power to survive it. Their extraordinary abilities served as a shifting metaphor for difference, that state of non-belonging that resists, pressures, and at times destroys the structures that demand normalization.

The mutant metaphor has adapted with the sway of identitarian politics. Much has been made of the conflict between Professor X’s integrationist ethos and Magneto’s separatist ideology. This debate has continued into the most recent issues, the oppositional positions occupied by educator and community organizer Storm, and educator and revolutionary Cyclops, each of whom lead rival mutant schools. The politicized status of mutants in Marvel Comics was fertile territory for a variety of storylines that echoed 1960s discourses on race. And yet, the original X-Men’s all-whiteness made it impossible for the mutant metaphor to further the discussion of difference without calling into question the lack of its representation within its pages. The Xavier School had to be integrated.

Cover of Giant-Size X-Men #1 (Marvel, 1975).


In 1975, the flagging title was relaunched with Giant-Size X-Men #1 and the introduction to the team of white-haired African weather goddess, Storm; blue-furred Bavarian Catholic, Nightcrawler; Soviet metal man, Colossus; Japanese firebrand, Sunfire; Native American tracker, Thunderbird; and Canadian animal-man, Wolverine. Multiculturalism had shifted the mutant metaphor from one of discomfort with conformity to its utter impossibility: These “international X-Men” were ethnicized in a way that was no longer subtextual, and their physical appearances, more spectacular and seductive than their predecessors’ (thanks to Dave Cockrum’s ingenious character designs), made it impossible for them to blend in—and who wanted to blend in in the 1970s? The question asked by this team of X-Men was: What if your “difference” cannot, and should not, be hidden, because, strange as it may be to some, it’s also beautiful?

During Claremont’s run as head writer of the “X-Men,” it became one of Marvel’s best sellers, the comic’s popularity due in large part to his skill at interweaving a political milieu—in which difference was reviled by the dominant culture—with well-wrought characters, many of them women, such as Kitty Pryde, the first openly Jewish mutant, whose power was to become, and make other things, intangible. Storm replaced Cyclops as leader, making the X-Men the only superhero team in the Marvel Universe lead by a black woman. She also got a Mohawk, echoing the transition from hippie to punk as a generational marker of opposition. With the X-Men fighting to survive increasingly hostile prejudice, Claremont created situations that echoed twentieth-century realities of violence against minorities, from governmental surveillance to bashings on the street to televangelism. The pejorative “mutie” was introduced as the term of choice for antimutant bigots, hurled at the characters in graffiti and verbal attacks. Like many other pubescent readers of the 1980s, my anxieties about my own set of differences seemed to be reflected in the challenges faced by this diverse band of outsiders.

In the decades that spanned the Claremont era, the mutant metaphor was a way to talk about how fear of difference supports systemic injustice and state-sanctioned murder, with the characters themselves fretting over what they would be forced to do to survive, including killing their enemies. X-Men comics have always had a high body count, with characters such as Thunderbird and Jean Grey (who had transformed from Marvel Girl to Phoenix—echoing the empowerment of Women’s Liberation—to Dark Phoenix—echoing, perhaps, a sexist backlash) among the first to die in the struggle. One could argue that this exploration of the mechanics of prejudice set the stage for less nuanced and skilled writers to get the wrong message, making of this conflict a perfect mise-en-scène for the video-game-style carnage unfolding in the pages of “Secret Wars.” As a reader, I can attest to no desire for mutant genocide, and am much more interested in the ways that these characters have staved off annihilation for fifty-plus years.

Advertisement for Marvel crossover series “Fall of the Mutants,” 1987. Art by Jon Bogdanove.


IN THE ’90S, comics became big business: The relaunched X-Men #1 sold 8.1 million copies in 1991. Claremont was replaced by artist and writer Jim Lee as head of the “X-Men” line, which was metastasizing with spinoffs such as Rob Liefeld’s X-Force. The ’90s “X-Men” franchise, as it had become, was dominated by steroidal characters in shoulder pads and high-cut thongs, and they carried weapons. Cable, Bishop, and Domino, with their mutant-powered guns, Psylocke with her psychic knife, and Gambit, able to throw explosive playing cards, signaled a move to the weaponized body, capitalizing on the popularity of the seminal Wolverine, with his “Adamantium” claws. These antisocial X-Men were part action hero, à la Terminator, part school shooter: They often wore trench coats. On the flipside, other X-Men introduced in the ’90s exhibited outlandish physical deformities, their mutant powers manifesting at adolescence just as teenage body issues converge with the emergence into adult sexuality. If I am more than a little put off by gun-toting Cable, I have a certain love for grotesques like Chamber, whose powers blew off half his face, leaving him with fire coming out of a jawless maw, and Husk, who tears off her skin to reveal a crystalline body, and Marrow, bones growing on the outside. Like the impossibly sexy Rogue (introduced by Claremont in the ’80s), whose hamartia is that she cannot touch anyone skin to skin without absorbing their psyche, these characters flesh out the mutant metaphor, extending difference past the category of human.

Queerness was the subtlest dimension of the mutant metaphor during the Claremont era. Storm and Kitty shared a sapphic dynamic, as did the villains Mystique and Destiny, foster-mothers of Rogue; in teen melodrama New Mutants, the earth boy Doug Ramsey could physically and psychically merge with his “self-friend,” the mutant alien boy Warlock. These characters exhibited affective relationships with other same-sex characters, though queer sex itself remained elliptically off panel throughout the ’80s. In subsequent decades, as the closet opened wider in the larger culture, more explicitly queer characters emerged. The mutant and intermittent X-Man Northstar, a high-flying Québécois speedster, was the first superhero to come out, and the first to have a same-sex marriage, to his nonmutant, African American boyfriend, Kyle, during Marjorie Liu’s run as writer on Astonishing X-Men. Since then, the lineup of queer characters has grown to include the lizard boy, Anole; the rock-skinned daughter of hip-hop producers, Bling; and the shape-shifting “transmorph,” Benjamin Deeds. There is also the bisexual male couple Rictor, an earthquake-making Latino, and Shatterstar, a time traveler whose backstory includes the paradox that he is his father’s father. Longtime character Karma, a Vietnamese immigrant with the power to possess peoples’ minds, was revealed to be a lesbian at about the same time she lost a leg.

And now, an original 1963 X-Man, Iceman, just came out of the closet. The “coming out” of teen Iceman sparked a debate in fandom, and garnered media attention from outlets like the Advocate. Some critics argued that to change his sexuality was to betray his core. Others countered that these characters evolve over time, and anyway, Bobby had never had a successful heterosexual relationship before, so there was room for this development. (I note that his teammate and friend Northstar had crushed on Bobby.) My aforementioned workout partner had always loved Iceman and was elated. But the big question was, if teen Iceman is gay, what about his older self, existing paradoxically in the same timeline? The question suggested two potential models: Either sexuality is like mutant DNA, hardwired to emerge at adolescence, essential and immutable, or sexuality is like mutation, a shifting property that is created through interplay between genetics and environment. So which was it?

Page detail from Uncanny X-Men #600 (Marvel, 2015).


That question, and others, we were promised, would be answered in Uncanny X-Men #600. In a six-page sequence set in adult Iceman’s bedroom at the School, dressed in T-shirt and cargo shorts, he is confronted by his younger self, Jean Grey dragged along for support. “I’m gay,” says the teenager. “So that means you are too. Right?”

In effect, Iceman never “comes out.” In two consecutive events, he is outed: once by a friend, once by himself. The older Iceman can only confirm his homosexuality to these interlocutors, and the all-too-predictable affirmation merely serves to secure the comfortable borders of heterosexuality. I can imagine more nuanced and interesting responses, as in the older Bobby telling the younger that sexuality is ephemeral and shape-changing, like the ice they both manipulate. Or the two embracing the seeming paradox of their conflicting sexual identifications: one full straight, one full gay, but coinciding in the same character. Or, what if the two Icemans, reveling in a narcissistic fantasy, could transgress all laws of time and space by having a sexual relationship themselves? But Iceman’s explanation for having remained in the closet for five decades (though he is maybe in his thirties in the comic) is another question: “Can I just have one part of my life that I’m not being persecuted for?”

At this very queer impasse—indeed, at the end of the Marvel Universe as we know it—something obvious happens: “Queerness” is abolished and continuity is straightened, expressing the final step in the teleology of the ret-con device. In making Iceman’s sexuality immutable and continuous, his gayness, which is just a promise to be gay since he has never had a diegetic same-sex partner, is used to affirm the heterosexuality of the other characters: Six pages after this exchange, Jean Grey makes out with the teen Beast for five panels.

Page detail from Uncanny X-Men #1 (Marvel, 2013).


“MUTANT,” AS A METAPHOR, used to stand in for specific differences. But as the minority identities for which they once stood have made their appearance, “mutant” has become part of a larger structure of otherness. Mutants in the mythology of Marvel Comics are a device for exploring the way minority subjects are constituted, personally and politically, by alliances across difference with other marginalized groups. As such, the mutant is useful, and urgent, as a narrative structure for telling stories about how difference is imbricated with differences, but it no longer symbolizes specific differences. With the coming of the “All-New All-Different” era, the mutant has become a metonym of difference. “Mutant” means mutant, and these mutants are intersectional.

In a final call for solidarity, the mutant metonym is complicated by its relationship to activist politics. Uncanny X-Men #600 ends with all of the mutants in the Marvel Universe at a “million mutant march” lead by Cyclops. His speech to the gathered throngs:

Revolution! I know that’s a loaded word and that it means many things to many people! Some see it as heroic and some see it as terrifying. Some equate it to terrorism! And I admitted to myself that I did not know exactly what I meant when I called for it… only that something revolutionary had to happen. Well, this is it. This is the mutant revolution. Every mutant in the world on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. In the heart of everything democratic and good… And you hear that? Do you see that? Nothing. Nothing is happening. The humans’ worst nightmare about mutants is that we would unite and attack. Unite and conquer. Unite and come after them. Well, here we are, united. And… isn’t it beautiful?

According to Cyclops, this demonstration of protest and solidarity is “beautiful” because “nothing is happening.” The X-Men’s longest story arc, the clash between a persecuted minority and their oppressors, is resolved with an affirmation that all that is “democratic and good”—the government that in the comics has spent years trying to contain and kill the X-Men—is safe from this soft “revolution.” Magneto responds, shadily: “Charles Xavier would have loved this.” Storm says, “This doesn’t change anything,” and Nightcrawler disagrees: “Actually, it kind of does.” They are both right: The tactic, borrowed from the playbook of mass-media entertainment, is to suggest all possibilities are equal, and in the end, cancel each other out.

Page detail from Secret Wars #1 (Marvel, 2015).


Then the Marvel Universe blinks out of existence. It is no secret that “Secret Wars” is a means to inspire consumers to buy more comics. That Uncanny X-Men #600 was delayed from its original summer launch until November only made it more desirable, and necessary: We waited to see what befell our beloved mutants, while being pummeled with images of them dying in the pages of “Secret Wars.” By the time Uncanny X-Men #600 finally came out, Extraordinary X-Men #1 was on the shelves. The continuity of the Marvel Universe may have ended, but a new one would take its place: one in which the mutant no longer had the corner on the diversity market.

All-New All-Different Avengers, New Avengers, and the Ultimates, all launched this fall, feature teams whose rosters include a majority of minority superbeings. The Avengers are government contractors: They are state-sanctioned, and the inclusion of these nonwhite, nonmale, sometimes even nonstraight characters has the feel of a corporate mandate, a “diversity push.” In contrast, the X-Men—who, after all, most comfortably fit into an academic model, with their intrinsic conversation around identity politics (not to mention the school setting)—still offer a unique space for exploring the complexities of oppression: In the new title, Extraordinary X-Men, the mutant metonym is attached to a population of refugees unwanted because they are considered politically dangerous and contagiously diseased with something called M-Pox. If it is important that Ms. Marvel of the All-New All-Different Avengers be a Pakistani American teenager as a way to combat stereotypes and offer new role models, it is also important that X-Men remains a space where otherness is not confined to a body, a gender, a culture. Mystique, like so many of her children and relatives, is blue skinned, but she can also change shape. And she can be a villain and a hero at the same time.

Left: Page detail from Uncanny X-Men #188 (Marvel, 1984). Right: LexiMomo as Cyclops (DeviantArt).


In the summer and fall of 2015, the X-Men died, and died, and were alive again, not quite reborn, but recast as truly abject and transgressive bare lives within a newly progressive, if fractured, continuity. Uncanny X-Men #600 led them to the end of a political revolution founded on collective action, only to find them reemerging in Extraordinary X-Men #1, demoralized and diminished survivors of catastrophe. M-Pox, we learn, results from exposure to something called “Terrigen Mist,” a compound from outer space that turns normal people—if they happen to have alien ancestry—into “inhumans.” “Inhumans” are an intellectual property owned entirely by Marvel/Disney. “Mutants” are not. When mutants are exposed to Terrigen Mist, it turns out, they get sick, are sterilized, and sometimes die. So no new mutants will be created, the line will be trimmed down. If it makes little narrative sense, it’s because its logic is financial: As Chris Claremont said during a taping of the Nerdist podcast at the 2014 Phoenix Comic Con, “The X department is forbidden to create new characters … all because all new characters become the film property of Fox.” The X-Men, having survived genocide, may end up purged by capitalism.

And so: Like Cyclops, I call for revolution. The X-Men’s survival depends on their liberation from corporate-owned continuity. “The hero’s immortality no longer originates in the strength to survive all possible ordeals, but from its ability to be Xeroxed, recycled, and reincarnated,” writes Hito Steyerl in “A Thing Like You and Me.” Marvel Comics knows this and has set about remaking many of their icons to appeal to millennial readers, who feel entitled to be reflected in the corporate-owned mirror. We cannot be satisfied with that! The X-Men, emblems of our difference, scarred spectacles of our own oppression, promising as they do an empowerment born from the fragile community of outsiders, are as much ours as anyone else’s. We cannot sit by and watch them be mutilated by the greed of their parent companies: The comics sadistically torture them because they can’t reap the profits from the movies; the movies repress their political urgency to appeal to a mass audience. So let’s rewrite Uncanny X-Men #600 to make Cyclops call for violent overthrow. Let’s produce bootleg Storm T-shirts advertising ecofeminism and make CGI porn of Iceman fucking himself. Debord’s description of “ultra-détournement” includes “the wearing of costumes in public.”

Yes, the necessary means to combat the brutality of the capitalist spectacle is cosplay.

Alexandro Segade is an artist based in New York.