Category Archives: Commentary

You Were Never My Age: Unpacking Quentin Quire’s Problematic History

Quentin Quire

You were never my age professor. 16 million mutants died in Genosha while you were planning new ways to do nothing.”

All images are taken from “Riot at Xavier’s” New X-Men #135-138 (2002), Written by Grant Morrison, Pencils by Frank Quitely, Inks by Tim Townshend and Avalon Studios.


I’ll admit, for a time I was delighted at Quentin Quire’s many deaths in the modern era. Even if I understand where his pain is coming from, he still expresses it like a little shit. I credit working with writer, critic, calligrapher, knitter-for-good, and all around amazing human Jay Edidin, for helping me pivot my frustrations with the character to a curiosity. In our prep for our Flame Con Panel “We Hope You Survive the Experience: The Mutant Metaphor and Youth Advocacy”, we returned to the Morrison era a few times.

It was hearing Jay talk about this character through the lens of seeing Quire not as a “school-shooter” as many fans reductively label the character, but as a traumatize minority youth, that opened the door for this re-reading of Riot at Xavier’s. Of course Quentin Quire is a little shit, he was never allowed to be anything else. If anybody adult had approached him as something more than a nuisance, perhaps the Riot could have been avoided. If Prof. Xavier had made him feel seen and heard, if Xavier had celebrated Quentin’s commitment to defending the mutant community instead of passing judgment on the methods of a child, maybe Quentin would have been kept from going to the extremes he did. Xavier though is not a good man. He’s not even a good educator. So…the riot happened. People got hurt. Someone died.

Let’s set up the pins of Quentin Quire’s breaking point.

  • Genocidal Violence Enacted on the mutant community in the attack on Genosha
  • The world’s institutions of power respond by ultimately increasing hostility towards mutants
  • Xavier only doubles down on his neo-liberal, almost centrist, “both sides” narrative, going so far as to invite humans to this mutant safe space
  • Quentin Quire finds out he is in fact adopted, and thus “neglected” by his biological parents.
  • Jumbo Carnation is thought to have been killed in an anti-mutant hate crime.
  • Quentine Quire, desperately seeks the protection of the leaders of his mutant community, only to be continuously written off and mocked
  • Quentin Quire, feeling helpless turns to substance use to offset these feelings of powerlessness

Quentin Quire did not fail the Xavier School, it failed him. If you focus too much on the riot itself, and not the contextualizing story around it, you may not see it that way. I’d like to make an argument for curiosity and empathy. Not just for this character, but for every real life Quentin Quire. For the children who are written off, pathologized, and neglected because of the pain they feel and their inability to process that pain in ways that did not cause others’ harm. There are many Quentin Quires in my community, people who were failed by their communities, their families, by the institutions of power in the world that we’re told should protect us.

As I write this, the trans community continues to face an explicitly genocidal campaign of eugenics. Our aggressors seek to criminalize gender-affirming care and therefore shutting down access to life-saving resources for trans youth. States like Idaho are attempting to make it punishable by life in prison to provide this life saving care. Texas, passing similar legislation, has officially begun investigating the families of trans children, both presently and families of people who provided their children GAC , even if they are no longer children. The international trans community watches on in horror, as something grimly similar to Days of Future Past begins to ramp up.  

Given that most of this legislation falsely claims to being attempt to protect children’s normative reproductive “ability”, it’s easy and accurate to call this a campaign of eugenics. This coordinated attack on youth is no accident. It’s known that when you withhold gender affirming care from people, their mental health declines. I need not quote suicide rates here. Trust that this legislative campaign will result in the deaths of trans people, and categorically is an act of genocide. And trans people? We’re left to just cope, as our allies continuously fail to stand up for us in material ways big & small. ( author’s note: in the weeks since writing the initial draft of this piece multiple states have begun to push and in some case have passed bills forcibly detransition trans folks up age 25 and criminalizing gender affirming care. I tried to track it all to keep updated links, but the tragedy is that would be a daily task. You need only do a quick google to see the rising waves of anti trans eugenics legislation.)

I reread Riot at Xavier’s feeling like the page and the world outside my window are not that different. Trans people are in pain. We feel hopeless, we feel despair, we feel rage; we cry out in agony while our “allies” could barely rally enough to retweet an article, let alone read it. We’re forced to clock into work, where the pain we’re feeling is painted-over and suppressed to keep ourselves safe. Trans rage has no place in a cisnormative society and we face being demonized if we let slip even a sliver of that rage in the wrong space, to the wrong people. Our government fails to meaningfully intervene, despite promises that they’ve “got our back”. We’re watching our own genocide be debated like a conversation about how you take your coffee. As I watch comics spaces online rage on with discourse after discourse about the most inane and trivial bullshit, I feel Quentin’s pain.

Almost every trans person I know finds themselves grappled in a loop of psychic agony and the dissonance of the passive reactions of those in their environments. We have been failed by those who continue to claim to protect us. To see leaders who are supposed to protect us talk about “ peaceful resistance” or “patience” while you know the lives of everybody like you are being threatened. When people who should have kept you safe fail you, what options do you really have?

I know there is an aesthetic of pro-fascism present in this story about Quentin Quire. But are Quentin’s actions those of a reactionary? No. Not if you’re using the term in its correct context. Quentin’s politics are radical for sure, but reactionary politics are typically in service establishing a return to tradition or fundamentalist framings, often conservative aligned framings.

Quentin is not a reactionary. He is radical and extremist in methods and separatist in his leanings. It’s a politics of insurrectionism, though poorly executed. Or more accurately, it executed commensurate to Quentin’s emotional capacity, as one caught between several overlapping dynamics of privilege and marginality. Quentin’s actions are dangerous, violent, misplaced, and ultimately lethal, but the values that underpin his actions are not those traditionally understood as “reactionary” values. They are a temper tantrum; they are an attempt to utilize the means of communication one has to seek out a means to fulfill their emotional needs. Quentin has been systematically let down and written off by everybody he trusted to protect him. He is dealing with feelings of rage, abandonment, and powerlessness. Well… hurt-people hurt people. That is what this story is trying to say.

It takes work to reframe this story. You have to believe that there are no bad kids, there are only kids whose needs are not being met. You need to have a sense of how minority stress is one of the leading catalysts of  intra-community harm. You need to get curious, not judgemental. I spend a lot of time surrounded by therapists, ones particularly with an abolitionist, anti-carceral framework to their approach. Through these lenses, I see the callous and violent actions undertaken by Quentin not as a supremacist movement, but a literal minority grappling with an immense amount of pain, fear, and disappointment.

Being a minority is messy, messy stuff when the world is trying to wipe out everybody like you. You will not react “rationally” to anything you encounter, especially if what you encounter is more pain. When the story opens, we find Quentine Quire as the recipient of some world shattering news; Quentin Quire was adopted. And we see him struggling to process this in the very next scene. Like the hurt child he is, Quentin immediately turns to lashing out at those around him. Quentin does not have a support system, and so he processes his pain in one of the only ways he understands, by making somebody else feel his pain. It may not be fair or “right”, but emotions aren’t clean and tidy, nor are the people feeling them. We have all had experiences like this: somebody hurt us and we attempt to process that pain by inflicting it outside of ourselves, to attempt to regain a sense of control over one’s life and environment.

X-Men

When he is brought before Xavier and Beast, instead of getting curious about the root of his behavior, they get judgemental. They even go so far as to literally pathologize Quentin’s emotional state. They handwaive away his concerns about Xavier’s endangering liberalism and they side-step the pain he is feeling over finding out he was adopted. His pain is written off as the result of his brain “burning sugar fifteen times faster than normal.” In this moment, they don’t approach Quentin as caretakers in an emotional sense, they act as school administrators, and poor ones at that. This encounter, rather than de-escalating Quentin’s feelings of alienation, only pushes him further down the path towards his breaking point.

On the very next page we see Quentin taking “kick”, a fictional drug that not only elevates one’s abilities but also seems to provide feelings of emotional power & control. It’s an elevating drug, very appealing to somebody who, like Quentin, feels increasingly powerless inside. In a moment of reflection, Quentin takes a puff. Immediately after, three strangers cruelly kick through the flowers left at Jumbo’s site of death on the sidewalk. Quentin continues to see a world that not only hates mutants, but makes a mockery of the pain trans people— I mean mutants, are communally feeling.

Substance use is not an uncommon coping mechanism for marginalized youth. I say this as a recovering addict, who is in community with a number of other recovering addicts. Numerous studies have uncovered an array of health and well-being issues among trans adolescents, including elevated rates of depression, suicidal ideation, sexual risk behaviors, and self-mutilation. When compared with their peers in schools, trans students have reported higher rates of physical victimization, verbal harassment, and cyberbullying, as well as lower social support from peers and school staff.

Trans youth’s inclination towards substance-based-coping strategies is increased when these youth do not have the support of their parents or caretakers. There is nobody looking out for Quentin Quire’s emotional needs and few people will make an earnest effort until Jubilee and Chamber lead the next Generation X team. It is no surprise that Quentin, and so many marginalized youth like him, turn to substance use and this coping mechanism is arguably one of the leading catalysts to Quentin’s actions, second only to the following scene.

The scene where Quentin, Charles, and Emma intellectually spar is a fascinating one to me. Remember that everybody who Quentin is seeking validation and support from is in this room. He’s expecting Xavier to support his emotional needs, he’s expecting validation from his peers, and in some ways Quentin is trying to establish himself as their caregivers. He is trying something that many adults grow to do, expressing love and care in the ways they wished that they had received love and care.

Quentin rightfully takes issue with Xavier’s “non-confrontational” liberalism, which leads him to invite humans to school in a performative piece of stunt politics referred to as “Open Day”. Consider that the school is positioned to students as a safe-haven and many come to this school looking to escape the trauma inflicted on them by an inherently anti-mutant society. Many of the children here can be assumed to have been victims to anti-mutant violence within their previous environments. You are essentially granting access for the oppressor class, to the oppressed class by way of turning this safe-space into a thought experiment. Quentin says as much within the scene, posing the question very explicitly to Xavier. Xavier plainly side-steps Quentin’s critique and instead plants his flag in addressing the classroom to discuss the legitimate though, less relevant here, dangers of “Kick”.

Quentin makes a final attempt to press his concern, citing the recent murder of Jumbo Carnation. There is a reveal in the later story that will reframe Jumbo’s death, but keep in mind that at this moment Quentin and much of the mutant community believe he was the victim of a violent anti-mutant assault.

These types of communal traumas are regular occurrences for the trans community. For the last 5 years, each subsequent year has set a new record of anti-trans murder; and we know the reported numbers are lower than the actual death toll due to the transphobia of the media and law enforcement. However unlike in Grant Morrison’s story, this epidemic of transmisogyny fuel murders disproportionately target trans women, specifically trans women of color, and more specifically Black trans women & trans feminine folks who face greater threats of fatal violence, Intimate Partnee Violence, micro-aggressions, discrimination in housing & employment, among countless other manifestations of transmisogynoir. This is the news cycle the community is dealing now and always.

We scroll social media: child protective services is investigating the families of trans children, a bill is being pressed that would make providing gender affirming care a felony, a Black trans woman was murdered in cold blood, another state is banning trans children from sports, another trans person is murdered in in a “trans-panic” killing, a major new outlet platforms another bigot to turn trans lives into a thoughts experiment, another trans person murdered. It’s an endless loop that we do not escape. Mix that up with the apathy of our cis “allies”, who ignore it all at or at best “send love” or offer empty affirmations of how they “see” us. Know this, allies: being seen isn’t the problem your inaction is. We don’t need “allies”, we need accomplices”.

How any trans person stays sane and balanced during these times is a mystery to me. I can’t help but see Quentin through that lens. Rather than being systemically disenfranchised, he has actual power through his mutations and the mutations of others and so, he uses what he has to do what he sees as right. Now, we could attempt to further dissect the concept of “what is right ” for a traumatized minority teenager dealing with personal & communal trauma, alongside substance abuse or we could lead with empathy.

Quentin’s actions are dangerous, they are violent, and they are largely unproductive as a path towards building collective power for mutants. He in fact, is really only endangering mutants with his actions. This is his tragic irony at the end of the story. Bleeding from every orifice on the steps of the school at the moment the bubble bursts, we see the scared and hurt child. We see a child who lacked a support system to safely de-escalate his actions through curiosity and compassion. We see a child who was ignored, whose pain was ignored and who is so clearly seeking out any course of action that will give him a sense of control. I’m not asking anybody to excuse the character’s actions, instead I’m asking that we understand them within their context.

X-Men

There is a narrative that Quentin is a “reactionary”, which as we’ve touched on, is not an accurate use of the term. Instead of demonstrating a fundamentalist or “supremacist” ideology, he’s more in line with a sort of violent sepratist thinking. There is also a narrative of Quentin as a “proto-fascist”, which I believe really has its roots in aesthetics. If you drop Quentin’s look into our own world, he closely resembles a proud-boy wannabe, or what I refer to in my Marauder’s essay as “pin-stripe fascism”. Those aesthetics however, were not as widely associated with far-right movements during the time this story was released. I suspect though, that even if they were, Morrison would be utilizing them to play on our conceptions of fasci-aesthetics. I think these ways of seeing Quentin are valid, especially if you’re not sympathetic to Quire’s character.

Riot at Xavier’s (for me) will always be a cautionary tale about the unchecked rage produced by minority stress, compounded with the neglect felt from those we expect to care for us. I’ve been there and I’ve lost things and people along the way. But, I keep trying. I put in a lot of effort to try to learn from my failures and to do better in the future. It can be hard to convey that at the source of all my rage and anger, there burns a deep love for all in my community. I like to believe that we’re all more than our worst day. We’re all more than what systems of neglect and oppression have turned us into. We can always come back and we can always heal.

I didn’t know if I’d ever write this piece, but there are a lot of trans folks I know, who look at this story and see reflections of our own pain. I don’t know, but suspect other marginalized communities may as well. In leftist communities, we have a tendency towards disposability that can be truly, truly toxic. I’ve seen it destroy careers, lives, and relationships, because for some reason it’s easier for us to permanently ostracize community members for their failures, rather than building communities that cradle failures and heal from them.

I see this in the text of Quentin’s story, I see this in how the character is discussed, and I see it in the ways we navigate our own communities. Perhaps that’s what hit me about this story. It’s seeing a kid at their lowest and wishing for something better for them. It’s the prayer that we can fuck up and be understood as human rather than “bad” or “dangerous” or any of the other labels we throw at people when they fail us.

There is no easy conclusion to had. This story and this character is messy and there are really justifiable and nuanced reasons to stand on either side of it. There’s just as much reason to straddle the story with suspicious appreciation.

This is a traumatic story, with a literal body count and like all those who do harm, it’s about cycles of trauma that are too complex to easily untangle. Another notable facet is that it was written by a closeted non binary author in the early 2000’s. That alone is a set of relationships that could easily warrant another 3000 words. Maybe one day I’ll write that essay, but not here.

I’m not expecting anybody to leave my essay having had their entire view of Quentin Quire shifted, nor am I defending the characters choices or the author’s in constructing them. I hope though, that I’ve added a question-mark to your thoughts in this story and engendered a lens of curiosity into a character who is often too easily written off. Because that has stakes in the real world, to allow for the pain and suffering of masculine folks and those who are or are culturally read as men, to have space to be understood rather than sublimated.

 As somebody who spent 25 years being read as a man, I’ve seen the way people reacted to my pain, which only became culturally “ valid” when I revealed the truth of my identity to that ignorant world. It reframed what everybody thought they knew about my pain. This is also an experience that continues on well after I’ve come out, due to much of the cultural transmisogyny, that leads many to still read me ( a trans women who does not pass ) incorrectly as a man. This is something that plagues many AMAB trans folks, and particularly targets AMAB people of color; as the ideals of feminine beauty that trans women and trans femmes are held to, is a Eurocentric mode of beauty that is rooted in whiteness. As a result trans feminine people of color, are exponentially more targeted by transmisogyny than white trans feminine folks.

X-Men

The lens of how racial identity informs our response to an individual’s pain and frustration is absent from this story. In fact the few people of color in the story are victimized and exploited by Quire. Perhaps, if  this lens’ presence is felt by the reader, it is in a marked ignorance of this lens, which informs Quire’s racist actions, particularly the way he disempowers characters of color.

I’d begun this essay sometime in the early spring months of 2022, and I’m here wrapping it up in Fall. A lot is different and a lot is the same. The attacks on the trans community are becoming more and more alarming. Threats of violence against hospitals that provide gender affirming care, fascists storming community events, politicians and writers openly discuss “the transgender question” in the media. New legislation keeps being proposed, in the hopes of wiping out trans people, all the while we fail to see our “allies” even acknowledge the existence of the threat let alone its scope.

Quentin Quire

Along the way, I’ve been doing a lot of trauma-work. I’ve confronted the sad, angry, shivering Quentin Quire within, desperate for anybody at all to take them seriously. Balancing familial trauma with the CPTSD of living in a world actively lobbying for the genocide of everybody like you…Well, it’s a lot.

Quentin’s “riot” has become even clearer to me. He’s not rebelling against Xavier as a figurehead or even the school’s faculty. He’s rebelling against hopelessness & apathy in the face of genocide. He’s rebelling against a culture of internalized liberalism that declaws the mutant population at the moment where they’re most vulnerable. I see that fear behind every word-bubble of his in this story.

This essay turned into something else here at the end. Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it was always about addressing the cultural gaps in structures of caretaking for the emotional needs of those who we have written off previously. Quentin Quire is not a villain. He is a victim. He is hurt; and hurt people hurt people.


By night, Sinead Kinney is a trans rights activist, patient advocate, comic writer, artist, dungeon master, major dyke, and comics journalist. 

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle takes a measured approach to the story of a murdered American veteran

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle

Fabien Nury and Brüno had a difficult task ahead of them when they decided to tackle the story of renowned sniper Chris Kyle, the subject of the Clint Eastwood-directed movie American Sniper. Books about real soldier experiences can be quite rough, difficult to digest even. There’s the temptation to expose and judge the soldier solely based on his actions, context be damned. In cases such these, though, context matters. Military training comes with a very specific set of experiences that blur the lines between duty and morality, both during and after a war.

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle: An American Legend is a graphic novel documentary (and I use this word intentionally) that goes beyond the subject alluded to in the title. It explores Chris Kyle’s life post-military service, the events that led up to his murder by the hands of Eddie Ray Routh, and how his wife Taya took over her husband’s businesses while also being the face of his estate.

Kyle is known as one of the most effective snipers in American military history, having more than 150 confirmed kills in his service record along with several commendations for “acts of heroism” in combat (most notably during The Iraq War). To argue against the man’s resumé is an exercise in futility. Kyle fulfilled his duty and did so in a fashion that earned him the nickname “The Legend.”

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle

Here’s where things start to get complicated. Upon the release of his autobiographical book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (co-written by Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice), and especially during the book’s promo tour, it came to light that Kyle used to refer to enemy combatants in Iraq as “savages”. He never held back in affirming his position on that, although he did clarify that the term was only applied to the enemy soldiers he engaged with in the battlefield due to their treatment of the general populace.

Nury and Brüno decided to approach this part of Kyle’s mentality by letting Kyle do most of the talking. They did so by adopting extensive recreations of TV interviews where Kyle explains his word choice and how it shaped his understanding of the role he fulfilled in the military. Specifically, Nury and Brüno adapted an interview with Fox NewsBill O’Reilly in which the American Sniper book was being promoted to address the language Kyle used to refer to the enemy.

Nury’s script makes sure the segment doesn’t condemn or support Kyle’s views. They’re just allowed to become a part of the graphic novel documentary, there for the reader to process and think on. Whatever political musings make it to the surface are left entirely to the dialogue exchanges contained within the sequence.

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle

In adopting this approach, the book projects an unbiased quality that lets the reader come to their own conclusions as to Kyle’s worldview. This is also evident in how Nury and Brüno treat Kyle’s enthusiastic appreciation of guns and his support of gun rights. For instance, Brüno doesn’t go out of his way to take special of care of every minute detail usually afforded to guns shown in this type of story.

Guns in The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle are part of the culture Kyle was immersed in. The become an interesting counterpoint to the book’s treatment of the man who shot and killed Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield, Eddie Ray Routh. Nury and Brüno’s psyche profile of Routh, who was also in the military, is given all the complexity it requires to get to the reason why he turned to murder.

In a sense, Routh is the antithesis of Kyle. His military experience is that of a person at odds with the things he expected from Army life. There’s doubt as to whether he killed anyone while in service or if he ever truly adjusted to life as a soldier. We’re told he admired Kyle and that he perhaps might’ve felt there was some kinship between them based on certain commonalities found in the military experience. Ultimately, though, their lives could not have been more different.

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle

Again, the focus falls on the presentation of as much information as possible for the purpose of understanding the man and his actions. In a sense, Nury and Brüno take as much care not to turn Routh into a classic villain as they do in not making Kyle come off as a heroic martyr. There’s some commentary on gun violence and how it’s at the center of Kyle’s legend and Routh’s crime, but again, they are presented without approval or condemnation.

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle subscribes to the idea of understanding the events that transpired among the people involved in its story and how they led to the tragedy that transpired in February 2013. Nury and Brüno recognize their story is full conflicts and contradictions, but they don’t try to clean it up. They lean into the messiness and try to portray it sensibly. It’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck for this kind of exercise to be successful, but the creative team achieve it by leaving as much as possible in the reader’s hands.

Those Who Ban Books are Never the Heroes of the Story

Maus

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and inappropriately timed is news that a Tennessee school board has removed, aka banned, Maus from the curriculum due to “language and nudity” concerns.

Maus is the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel by Art Spiegelman about the experiences of Holocaust survivors. The Tennessee school board of McMinn County voted 10-0 to remove the book from the curriculum to be replaced by another book that didn’t feature “objectionable” content. Maus is based on Spiegelman’s parents in 1940s Poland, their experiences of anti-Semitism, and their internment in Auschwitz. Jewish people are depicted as mice and Nazis as cats.

McMinn County Director of Schools Lee Parkison stated:

The values of the county are understood. There is some rough, objectionable language in this book and knowing that and hearing from many of you and discussing it, two or three of you came by my office to discuss that.

The word “damn” was brought up as an example of an objectionable word.

Talking to CNN’s New Day, Spiegelman said:

I’m trying to, like, wrap my brain around it. …I moved past total bafflement to try to be tolerant of people who may possibly not be Nazis, maybe… They’re totally focused on some bad words that are in the book. I can’t believe the word ‘damn’ would get the book jettisoned out of the school on its own.

I think they’re so myopic in their focus and they’re so afraid of what’s implied and having to defend the decision to teach ‘Maus’ as part of the curriculum that it lead to this kind of daffily myopic response.

English language arts instructional supervisors spoke out at the meeting explainging why the book was used in the curriculum.

Board member Tony Allman showed further ignorance by stating:

We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff. It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy.

Allman apparently is more offended of reminding people about the six million murdered than the six million murdered. One wonders what Allman thinks about teaching the reality of slavery, and Jim Crow in the United States which also saw hangings and kids being killed.

An instructional surpervisor responded:

I was a history teacher, and there is nothing pretty about the Holocaust, and, for me, this was a great way to depict a horrific time in history.

Mr. Spiegelman did his very best to depict his mother passing away, and we are almost 80 years away. It’s hard for this generation. These kids don’t even know 9/11. They were not even born. For me, this was his way to convey the message.

Board member Mike Cochran stated in the meeting:

I went to school here 13 years. I learned math, English, reading and history. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. … So, this idea that we have to have this kind of material in the class in order to teach history, I don’t buy it.

We highly doubt that was reality and sure Cochran has no issue with the violence, rape, and murder that is depicted in the Bible.

The issue isn’t as it stands isn’t about dropping Maus for another text to teach about the Holocaust. It’s calling it “obscenity”, a slippery slope of a claim. Even the preacher of Footloose realized their mistake and what a slope that claim is. It should also be noted that no text has been suggested to replace Maus showing that part of the argument is dubious at best.

This is the latest example of book banning that is being pushed by right-wing provocateurs to make gains politically by stoking “culture wars”.

As has been shown, a dark money network is funding campaigns against “Critical Race Theory”, something not being taught in schools. This book banning is an off-shoot of that showing these pushes are about as natural as an oral bowel movement. The “movement” is being used as a wedge issue to whip up voters and by the right since they have nothing else to run on. It pits parents vs. bureaucrats (and teachers), a match that’s pretty easy to get traction on. The movement has been working for decades and continues the right-wing push to take over at the local level, first at the state and now even lower to get their regressive agenda passed.

The controversy and backwards thinking has just shined a greater spotlight on Maus causing it to sell out and rocket to #1 in numerous lists.

Guest Post: The Choice That Defined Kitty Pryde

The below is a guest post courtesy of Priya Saxena exploring the choice by Kitty Pryde to become an X-Man. Priya enjoys reading comics and writing about comics. She hopes to one day own every single issue of the original New Mutants series (except #98, because screw Deadpool) Follow Priya on Twitter.

In the world of the X-Men, one becomes a mutant through birth – arbitrarily – but one must make the conscious choice to become an X-Man. This is the choice that 13-year-old Kitty Pryde is forced to wrestle with soon after she learns that she is a mutant. In Uncanny X-Men #129-131, Kitty becomes entangled in the Hellfire Club’s plot to capture and eliminate several members of the X-Men. This series of issues is well known for kicking off the Dark Phoenix Saga, the storyline in which Jean Grey, known as Phoenix, taps into the dark, destructive side of her recently acquired cosmic powers after discovering she has been manipulated by Mastermind of the Hellfire Club. For this reason, critical examinations of these issues tend to focus on Jean, her descent into Dark Phoenix, and the effects this has on the characters surrounding her. However, these issues also serve as the heroic origin of Kitty Pryde. Although Kitty doesn’t formally join the X-Men until Uncanny X-Men #138, it is in issue #129 that she first truly chooses to be one of the X-Men – a choice she will continue to make again and again throughout her history.

Kitty Pryde

When we’re first introduced to Kitty in #129, she’s got a lot on her plate. She’s 13, her parents are splitting up, they’re looking to send her to boarding school, and she has been experiencing awful headaches. These headaches, we soon discover, have been brought on by Kitty’s emerging mutant power, something that has caught the attention of both the X-Men and the Hellfire Club. From the moment we meet her, it’s clear that Kitty is in a stage of her life that is full of change and upheaval. Equally clear is the fact that she is not happy about it. All she wants is for her life to go back to the way it was, before her parents began talking about divorce and before she starting getting these headaches.

It is no coincidence that we are introduced to Kitty as a teenager here. Many of her woes are related to the adolescent state she’s in, as someone who is not quite a child anymore but not yet an adult. Her parents’ impending divorce and their attempts to send her to boarding school signal the fracturing of her family and the end of her childhood. The emergence of her mutant power occurs at puberty, which previous X-Men comics have established is common for mutants. But the aches and fatigue which accompany the onset of her power are new to X-Men lore, and are rather reminiscent of menstruation symptoms – something else that arises at puberty. Initially, Kitty  is frightened by these changes and resistant to them. But like it or not, she must accept the way that her life is changing. Her story across these three issues of Uncanny X-Men is the story of an adolescent who is forced to choose who she is going to grow up to be.

In #129, Kitty comes home from dance lessons to find her parents talking with Ms. Emma Frost, representative of a school in Massachusetts and, unbeknownst to Kitty or her parents, the White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Even though Kitty doesn’t know about Frost’s villainous background, she immediately dislikes the woman. Right after Frost departs, the Pryde household is visited by Charles Xavier and several of his X-Men. Like Frost, Xavier seeks to convince Kitty’s parents to allow her to attend his school. But unlike Frost, Xavier’s intentions are good; while Frost intends to recruit Kitty into the Hellfire Club for nefarious purposes, Xavier wants her to join the X-Men so she can learn to control her powers and defend herself. While Xavier talks with Kitty’s parents, Kitty goes to the malt shoppe with the other X-Men. She decides she likes Ororo Munroe, known as Storm, as instantly as she had decided she disliked Frost. 

Kitty Pryde

Emma Frost and Storm are very clear parallels here. For Kitty, they represent the two possible paths she could take, although she doesn’t yet know just how drastically they are opposed to each other. She could go with Frost and become initiated into the Hellfire Club, deceiving and manipulating others for personal gain. Or she could go with Ororo and join the X-Men, protecting humanity from mutant threats and working to achieve Xavier’s dream of a world where humans and mutants are equal. Looking at Kitty’s amazed expression as Ororo tells her that she and the others are X-Men while they chat and have milkshakes together, it seems obvious that Kitty will choose Ororo and the X-Men over Emma and the Hellfire Club. However, the attack and abduction of the X-Men by the Hellfire club soon complicates things.

In the mayhem of the attack in the malt shoppe, Kitty accidentally uses her mutant power to escape, phasing outside the building. The X-Men fend off some of their attackers, but a telepathic attack from Frost, now in her White Queen attire, takes them down. Frost and some Hellfire goons load the unconscious X-Men onto their hovercraft. The final page of the issue shows Kitty sneaking onto the hovercraft using her phasing power and observing Frost and her lackeys rendering the X-Men defenseless. Kitty is horrified by this sight. She feels obligated to help the X-Men, but also recognizes that she is way out of her depth.

Kitty Pryde

Uncanny X-Men in this era is very interested in choices and their repurcussions. At the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean Grey makes the choice to sacrifice her life in order to stop Dark Phoenix from causing more death and destruction. A few issues later comes the Days of Future Past storyline, which imagines a grim, dystopian future for the X-Men that came about as the result of anti-mutant legislation in response to mutant terrorism. In both of these situations, it is the actions of one person or a small group of people at a particular point in time that have drastic effects on the rest of the world – the rest of the universe, even.

At the end of #129, Kitty is faced with a choice: whether or not to help the X-Men. The outcome may not be world-shattering, but it is nevertheless crucial for Kitty as a character. One option would be for her to simply turn around and leave the way she came, phasing through the back of the hovercraft and abandoning the X-Men. Neither the White Queen nor the X-Men would even know she had been there. She could allow the X-Men to meet whatever horrific fate the Hellfire Club has in mind for them, and wait at home for Ms. Frost to contact her family about boarding school again.

The other option is the more life-threatening one. Kitty could stay and try to help the X-Men escape. In doing so, she would be making an enemy of Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club. Given the Hellfire goon’s weapons and the White Queen’s psychic powers, Kitty could be caught, injured, or even killed. But at least she wouldn’t be turning her back on her newfound friends. Also, if she helps the X-Men, then they might be able to help her avoid the clutches of the Hellfire Club.

In #130, Kitty makes her choice. Hiding in the industrial complex where the White Queen has imprisoned the X-Men in cages, Kitty thinks, “I oughtta have my head examined, thinking I can free the X-Men all by myself. But I’ve got to do something. Storm is my friend. I can’t desert her—or the others.” In the next panel, as she sneaks toward the cage holding Storm, she thinks, “’Sides, from what I’ve heard, once these creeps are done with the X-Men, they’ll be coming after me!”

Kitty Pryde

In this moment, Kitty choses Storm over the White Queen. She chooses the X-Men over the Hellfire Club. In sneaking over to help Storm, she shows her allegiance to Storm and the rest of the X-Men. Although Kitty is well aware of the danger, she tries to help Storm anyway because of the friendship she feels toward her. This friendship causes her to feel a responsibility to help Storm and the other X-Men. Her desire for the X-Men to protect her from the Hellfire Club factors into her decision to help them, but it is secondary to her need to stand by her friends.

In a larger sense, this is Kitty taking her first step into her new life. Now that she has shown her allegiance to the X-Men, her life will be forever changed. In #130-131, she helps the X-Men by calling Xavier’s mansion for backup and, as Cyclops instructs, sneaking back into the compound and freeing Wolverine from his cage. It is frightening for her, this teenage girl who discovered her powers and met the X-Men only a few hours earlier. But Kitty and all the X-Men make it out safely, and it’s all thanks to Kitty’s help.

At the end of #131, Kitty returns home to her worried parents. But she won’t be staying there for too much longer. Kitty’s parents decide to send her to Xavier’s school (albeit in part due to Phoenix’s mental manipulation), and she shows up on the steps of the mansion in #138. From there on out, she begins training with the X-Men, learning to control her powers and becoming better acquainted with the other members of the team. She leaves her old family behind and integrates herself into a new one, all because of her decision to help the X-Men instead of fleeing. She takes this essential step in determining what kind of adult she is going to be and what kind of life she is going to live.

The X-Men are often described as a family, and that’s what they are to Kitty. In this tumultuous time in her life, with her parents splitting up and her powers emerging, she craves a stable core of people who will love and support her. She finds this in the X-Men. Not only do they welcome her onto the team, they nurture and guide her, both in the use of her powers and in her moral and psychological development.

The X-Men provide the sort of care that Kitty needs in this stage of her life as she transitions from child to adult. Kitty’s parents wouldn’t have been able to nurture Kitty in this way, because they are humans and because she has outgrown them for the time being. The Hellfire Club would have nurtured her in a very different way, perhaps grooming her to become evil just like them. So it is something very unique and valuable that Kitty Pryde receives from her time with the X-Men. Clearly she made the right and necessary choice for her personal development. Who she becomes going forward – X-Men member, Excalibur co-founder, X-Men schoolteacher, Marauders leader – can be traced back to this very crucial moment early on in her publishing history, where she chooses compassion and growth over cowardice.

Election Terror: What Happens when the Dead Come Back to Vote in Homecoming

Homecoming
Homecoming

Jane Cleaver: “It’s words. It’s a game. You say whatever it takes to win.”

David Murch: “Well, maybe that’s the problem.”

This dialogue exchange happens early in Homecoming (dir. Joe Dante), a strange but unique zombie story from the Masters of Horror anthology series created by director Mick Garris (The Stand). It serves as a preamble for what’ll come soon after the two conversations between the two characters ends, which flips the zombie formula on its head with bravado. An army of undead war veterans rallies from beyond the grave for one final mission: to vote against the president that sent them to war based on a lie. A lie that killed them.

The episode came out in 2006, two years into George W. Bush’s second term as president, at a point where the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ excuse used to justify the War on Terror was wearing off and being heavily portrayed as the lie that got the US stuck in the Middle East (and the reason why dead soldiers come back to vote in Homecoming).

Homecoming follows a White House speech writer called David Murch as he navigates Bush’s reelection with a team of public relations pundits hellbent on winning the election, by any and all means necessary. During a televised panel discussion, Murch is confronted by the mother of a dead soldier who’s protesting the war, which inspires the conflicted speech writer to sincerely wish her son could come back and tell the world why he died for his country. He gets his wish, only it comes with a battalion of undead combatants desperate to fulfill their civic duty.

Watching it now, just as Americans are casting their ballots on the Biden v. Trump election, it’s unsettling how relevant this story still is, if only for its discussion on how politics is ultimately a game of words. As Murch and his team pick up on the fact zombie votes are leaning towards the other side, a mad dash for control of the narrative takes place. What was first scene as an act of patriotism—rising from the grave to vote—becomes an un-American rebellion looking to steal the election from the living.

Homecoming
Homecoming

While Homecoming is firmly rooted in the context of the Bush presidency, it comments enough on the dangers of political storytelling to effectively turn its metaphors on the politics of today. Murch will struggle with his own morality throughout most of the episode, always hesitant as to how and when to use the undead as part of the campaign. Here’s where Jane Cleaver comes into play.

Basically a stand-in for Ann Coulter, Cleaver becomes the right-wing commentator that puts on her radical pro-America persona when in front of a camera only to later admit she’ll say anything to secure her party’s victory. She basically stands as the unethical extreme of public discourse. The game, as Cleaver puts it, is won by the best storyteller. Homecoming does a magnificent job of proving this point through her, with the other PR people acting as her chorus, encouraging her to further spread her warped political views.

There are a lot of parallels between Cleaver’s philosophies and Kellyanne Conway’s media performances (which she had to put on as the former counselor to the President), especially when she was asked to explain or defend Trump’s comments on most about everything. There’s a scene in Homecoming, after the soldiers have revealed who they’re voting for, where Cleaver doubts the legality of undead voting after previously championing it. She supported the undead vote before she knew the problem it posed to her party. Conway’s “alternative facts” statement comes to mind here, which was uttered when asked to comment on the actual number of people that attended Trump’s inauguration. It’s as if you can trace a solid genealogical line, if you will, from Bush era politics to Trump era politics. The side with the best spin on information wins the crowd, and potentially their vote.

Homecoming
Homecoming

It should come as no surprise to Joe Dante fans that this movie is as blatantly political as it is. As Homecoming’s director, Dante pulls out every trick in his book to make each metaphor land. Be it the violent nature of American politics (seen in his werewolf movie The Howling) to a people’s inability to keep chaos at bay by following simple instructions (Gremlins), Dante likes to put his movies’ messages in full view, covered in blood if he has to. Homecoming is no different.

During a televised Presidential rally, Murch and Cleaver ruminate on Bush’s ability to command an audience. Cleaver asks just what it is about the President that makes people adore him. Murch responds, “He’s not stupid. He has a way to make stupid people feel like they’re just as smart as he is.” A bit crude, but it speaks to the power of storytelling. In Bush’s America, militaristic values were the way to win hearts and minds, especially after 9/11. There was an appeal to patriotism that the Bush administration took and turned into a party value. As a result, to criticize the war was to criticize the need to protect America, to badmouth its soldiers. Being anti-war meant being un-American.

Homecoming

In Trump’s America, the idea is to show America as a place that’s been robbed of greatness by liberal policies that see their own country as the problem. The principle is the same. It’s just a matter of taking outdated story elements out and putting new ones in. By then, it’s a race of two stories and it all boils down to the side that tells it better.

Homecoming is a horror story with a call to action. It’s not cynic in its entirety but it’s not entirely hopeful either. It’s about awareness. Stories are never one thing or another in the world of politics. They’re in constant spin and can spiral out at any moment to the benefit of those who can harness their power best. It might take zombie voters to come back and put us all in our place for things to get better. Until then, it’s up to the living to make sure we don’t screw up so bad this time.

Dynamite Issues a Statement Regarding Their Stance Over Comicsgate

A little over a week ago, Dynamite Entertainment found itself in hot water after the publisher’s involvement with the harassment group Comicsgate was fully unraveled. What started as anger over covers turned into a revelation the involvement was much deeper. The comic publisher had been releasing variant covers with CG involved individuals for some time now and it was revealed after things had boiled over that Dynamite founder Nick Barrucci had been working with Comicsgate ringleader Ethan Van Sciver in various capacities.

Comicsgate is a harassment campaign presented as a consumer revolt. A conservative, regressive backlash to the world moving forward with equality and generally growing up. You can read more about it here.

Dynamite has officially released a statement regarding their involvement and the fallout from it.

Dynamite Entertainment is a partner in the fight for equality and inclusion. Our company was founded on these core values more than 15 years ago and they are essential to the creative process – the work of visionary artists and entrepreneurs – that we are passionate about. Intolerance has no place in our company or our industry. The impulse behind this brief association was that of helping a friend of many decades and his family, and not how that assistance could potentially affect our valued colleagues, partners, and friends. That association is behind us and this time has strengthened our resolve to continue working with the most diverse talent in creating the best comics possible.

It’s a statement…

What the statement glosses over is the publisher, and more importantly Barrucci’s, actual involvement with the movement that has been ongoing for years. Were they instrumental in getting EVS up and running? Did they connect and hire creators? What other services did they provide? These are all unanswered questions that will haunt the publisher until it comes clean. While being involved with Comicsgate the publisher at the same time was hiring rather progressive creators, some of whom have been targets of CG. It feels like a poor attempt to have their cake and eat it too.

The initial reaction to the statement has been one of skepticism and a general consensus that it’s a weak attempt at a response.

Dynamite and Barrucci need to sit down and answer hard questions to get behind the situation and come clean with their involvement and more importantly show through action their values. As a saying goes, deeds not words, and it’s a saying they should be focusing on as a publisher.

Valiant Hero Of The Week: Doctor Mirage, Divinity, Quantum and Woody, and Animalia

Every Monday for the next few weeks, Valiant Entertainment is running a poll on their Twitter feed to provide fans with some escapism while new comics are in short supply. The poll allows Valiant fans the opportunity to select the Hero Of The Week from four choices – this week, the poll features Ninjak, Doctor Mirage, Quantum & Woody and Animalia. That week’s hero will then be the focus of free pdfs featuring the character, videos from Valiant staff, giveaways, and more.

At Graphic Policy, we’re going to be running a spotlight on the winning character all week through various features depending on the character, but at the very least you’ll see our favorite covers and stories.

But Valiant has a lot of great characters, and it’d be a shame to not let you know which stories to read to get to know some of them a little more in case they don’t end up winning the fan vote. This week’s characters are a prime example of this, and the exact reason that we wanted to shine a little light on all four ahead of the week.

Below you’ll find a brief snapshot of the character and a trade paperback or two to check out. For fun, I’ll also note who I think is most likely to win (bear in mind this is being written on Sunday).


Doctor Mirage

Who is she? Shan Fong. A woman who can communicate with the dead, including her late husband Hwen (who is the Doctor Mirage from the original Valiant run that began in the 90’s). She is also a former reality television star and a woman versed in magic. If there’s a supernatural threat, then Doctor Mirage is going to be the first person that the general public turn to.

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage

What should you read?

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage

Doctor Mirage talks to the dead…but the only spirit Shan Fong can’t find is that of her late husband, Hwen. Instead, America’s favorite semi-retired paranormal investigator is haunted and raw, using her gift to solve homicides and bring peace to the recently bereaved. But when a big-time occultist with a classified military past hires her for a special job, Shan discovers a lead that might close the greatest mystery she’s ever tackled – how to get Hwen back. Now, Doctor Mirage must enter the undiscovered country and cross all the realms of the underworld, if she has any hope of rescuing the man she loves…or be forever lost beyond the earthly plane.


I copied the above directly from Valiant’s website because I couldn’t remember much about the book other than I really enjoyed the story, which is great because this also happens to be a great place to pick up the character’s story.

Purchase: AmazonKindlecomiXologyTFAW


Divinity

Who is he? One of the three most powerful beings in the Valiant universe, Divinity was a Russian Cosmonaut who gained phenomenal power, and can manipulate reality as he sees fit. Essentially a man who has become a god. Fortunately, he is also a pacifist and just wants to be left to himself. You can imagine how that ends up.

Divinty

What should you read?

Divinity

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union – determined to win the Space Race at any cost – green lit a dangerously advanced mission. They sent a man farther into the cosmos than anyone has gone before or since. Lost in the stars, he encountered something unknown. Something that…changed him.

Long thought lost and erased from the history books, he has suddenly returned, crash-landing in the Australian Outback. The few that have been able to reach him believe him to be a deity – one who turned the scorched desert into a lush oasis. They say he can bend matter, space, and even time to his will. Now the rest of the world’s powers must decide for themselves – will the enigmatic Divinity offer his hand in friendship, or will Earth’s heroes find themselves helpless against the wrath of the divine?


The above text, again taken from Valiant’s website, describes a four-issue miniseries that introduces the character, and is an example of some of the best stuff Valiant put out. Divinity kicks off a four-part epic encompassing the Divinity trilogy and culminating in Eternity. Regardless of whether Divinity wins the poll this week or not, I highly recommend you reading the books.

Purchase: Amazon – Kindle – comiXology – TFAW


Quantum and Woody

Quantum And Woody: The World's Worst Superhero Team

Who are they? Yes, they. While one can wonder about the technicality of including two characters as one, Quantum and Woody are inseparable. Including one and not the other would make as much sense as playing football without a ball. It’s just not the same. Quantum and Woody are adoptive brothers who must touch the golden bracelets on their arms once every 24 hours or they’ll explode into nothingness – potentially taking the planet with them. That the brothers are polar opposites only makes the comics even better; Eric Henderson, aka Quantum, hides his identity to protect those around him because he wants to be a hero. Woody Henderson doesn’t. He’s all about the fame.

What should you read?

Quantum And Woody: The World’s Worst Superhero Team

Honestly, the Quantum and Woody story I’m the most taken with is the one being released currently. However, that’s not ideal for you if you’re looking to check them out now because the last two issues will be released…. eventually. Instead, then, I’ll point you to Quantum And Woody: The World’s Worst Superhero Team because it’ll introduce these guys to you in the most honest way possible. The title alone should give you an idea as to what you should expect; this book isn’t dark and moody but is injected with humor as it deals with the estranged brother’s relationship and their new place in the world.

Purchase: Amazon (Paperback)KindlecomiXologyBookshopTFAW


Animalia

Generation Zero: We Are the Future

Who Is She? A former child soldier for Project Rising Spirit, Animalia was one of the psiots rescued by Bloodshot during the first Harbinger Wars. Her psiot abilities allow her to create constructs of animals (real or imagined), which in turn grant her incredible strength and durability and flight (though within the construct she is still vulnerable).

What Should You Read?

Generation Zero: We Are The Future

Generation Zero: We Are The Future may not be her first appearance, but since that has been recommended numerous times across the Bloodshot, Peter Stanchek and Toyo Harada, rather than recommend Harbinger Wars and the final volume of Harbinger, I think that this volume is also worthy of a look.

The Generation Zero story has the young psiots that were rescued from Project Rising Spirit offering up their services to other kids who are being downtrodden, who need help, and have nowhere to go. It’s kinda like the Littlest Hobo meets the X-Men, and it works better than you’d expect.

Purchase: AmazonKindlecomiXologyBookshop


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The Thin Line Between Good And Evil: Toyo Harada

When you look at the typical comic book bad guy, there is often a clear cut case of black and white. Hero and villain. Good verses evil. This is never clearer when it comes to the Joker, or Sabretooth (although that has been known to be more in flux over the last half decade or so).  However with some antagonists it can be a bit murkier, sometimes a villain’s motivations are almost understandable when you take a moment to remove yourself from the hero’s narrative. When you look at the antagonist’s motivation removed from the protagonist’s story you can begin to see that when experienced from a different angle, these characters wouldn’t be seen as villains.

The Thin Line Between Good And Evil aims to take a look at the characters traditionally portrayed as villains within the world of nerd culture, primarily comics, and explore if it were their story we were reading, whether the villain would instead be seen as a hero.

Toyo Harada

This month, in honour of Valiant’s Hero Of The Week event, we’re taking a look at Toyo Harada.

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Toyo Harada is just your standard evil overlord/CEO, but that would be doing a huge disservice to the character. Instead, it’d be slight more accurate to suggest he’s a blend of Professor Xavier and Magneto, but only in broad strokes.

Harada is a rare psiot born with incredible telepathic and telekinetic powers; within the Valiant Universe, most psiots are dormant until they’re activated – usually by an incredibly painful and risky procedure – but very few, often the most powerful, are born with their abilities activated. Harada’s abilities were activated by the nucleor weapon dropped on Hiroshima, and this understandably shaped a lot of the man he would become (explored in detail during The Life And Death Of Toyo Harada, though it is touched upon in Harbinger and Imperium briefly).

Toyo Harada is arguably one of Valiant Entertainment’s more complex characters. He is a Psiot using his incredible telekinetic and telepathic powers in order to shape the world into a better place for everyone by using his company’s immense wealth for philanthropic efforts. Harada’s methods haven’t always been perfectly angelic, and he exemplifies the phrase “the end justifies the means.” But his heart has always been in the right place.. his end goal is to end war, to which he conquered a small country… and then tried to turn it into a Utopian free state (in Imperium).

Toyo Harada

The more you learn about Toyo Harada, the more you realize that he’s far from an evil man. He spent decades trying to influence political policy, gradually and gently nudging the world in the direction of a Utopian future while gathering and training the smartest minds and craftspeople of their generation to further the technologies that humanity will come to rely on.

Only for some ungrateful little drug addict that wants to start to tear down everything you’ve worked for (which you can read all about in Harbinger). Now it wasn’t all Peter Stanchek’s fault; circumstances didn’t quite favour Harada. He’d spread himself too thin, and eventually the final straw landed upon his back and things started to fall apart, but one has to wonder whether things would have been different if not for Stancheck. Whether Harada could have continued to guide the world in the shadows rather than forcibly showing governments how to create a self sustaining society.

But this column isn’t about recapping the man’s history; there’s a great resource here if that’s all you want to know, or you can check out the links below with the first volume of Harbinger, which kicks the saga off.

Instead, we’re here to look at why Toyo Harada is considered a villain, and I genuinely think it’s because of how he’s been framed in stories. When reading Harbinger, you’re following the story of Peter Stanchek and the Renegades. In X-O Manowar and Unity you’re naturally rooting for X-O because of Harada’s desire to acquire the armour whilst also preventing a cataclysmic confrontation.

Toyo Harada

If it wasn’t for that, and his penchant for making some questionable decisions in pursuit of (what he believes to be) the greater good, then I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in viewing Toyo Harada as Valiant’s greatest hero. He’s doing what he feels he needs to do to save the world, despite our best efforts to the contrary. He’s been working for decades to make the world a better place, and in the grander scope of things he forms the question: can we save ourselves, even if we wanted to?

That’s what this really comes down to; as a global society, are we really capable of lifting the most unfortunate and desperate members up and coming together to save ourselves? Toyo Harada clearly doesn’t think so, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Toyo Harada is the villain we need to save our world.

And he’ll do it, by any means necessary.


Read the start of Toyo Harada’s story here:

Purchase: Amazon – Kindle – comiXology – TFAWBookshop

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the site.

Beyond Utopia: Exploring Krakoan Justice

House of X #3
House of X #3 by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz, August 28, 2019, Marvel Comics

The Paradigm and the Shift

Krakoa has proposed a radical new vision of a mutant society, but in its hasty formation, it has also planted the seeds of it’s very undoing. I’d like to examine both the successes and failures of Krakoa’s model of justice and along the way explore some models of justice and community protection of our own world. There will be moments of alignment and moment of dissonance, both of which are infinitely fascinating in their own right.

Accountability and justice are among the most complex ideas to navigate in the new Krakoan paradigm. Because of the way that comic-books as a medium frame the morality of the characters in them, it’s unfair to look at their actions through the same moral lens with which we assess our world. With roughly 40 years of continuity, comic-book characters have constantly changed hands from one writer to another, leading to countless departures in characterization  & rebranding, due to a writer’s biases and editorial campaigns. Fans themselves also hold biases for certain characters who have come to more strongly align with one particular reading of the mutant-metaphor or another. For example, Jewish readers may be more protective of Magneto or Kate Pryde, Romani readers will be more protective of Scarlet Witch, queer & trans readers may be more protective of Mystique (lacking explicitly trans characters) and chaos-lesbians would take a bullet for Magik. Because of what some of these characters have come to mean to fans from marginalized groups, their past transgressions can at times be overlooked. All of this leads to characters with immensely complex, at times contradictory, and unresolved histories that complicate any attempt to weigh the morality of any single character. It’s why for mutants, in particular, the semiotics of “hero-villain” taxonomy feels entirely ill-fitting.

House of X #5
House of X #5 by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz, September 18, 2019, Marvel Comics

House of X forever recontextualized the mutant-metaphor, breaking the status-quo for mutant communities and recontextualizing all previous relationships and conflicts, by bringing both “hero” and “villain” together under a single banner (House of X #5), defined by mutant solidarity. When antagonists like Exodus, Apocalypse, Sinister, and Sebastian Shaw showed up on Krakoa, discourse began about who did and did not belong in the new mutant utopia. To some extent, this same discourse continues to this day, and it’s likely that it will continue on for some time. House of X #5 forced fans and characters alike to quickly adjust to this recontextualization in service of a revolutionary vision, without the space on the page needed for characters to work through their past conflicts and abuses. This rapid formation of a mutant nation raised a great many questions and while it may have radically changed the mutant mise en politique, the haste at which it was constructed left many toxic elements of the past unresolved.

Radical community building requires an equally radical approach to resolving conflict and healing broken bonds within the community, which we have not seen. Enter restorative justice.

Restorative Justice 

Restorative justice is a model of community-protection that focuses on rebuilding the interpersonal & community relationships destroyed and/or damaged by crimes. In framing restorative justice in a way that maps to Krakoa, I’ll just say “abuses’ or “transgressions” since, with only three actual laws and no codified rights, most transgressions on Krakoa wouldn’t technically be crimes. Many propose the model as an alternative to the prison-industrial-complex because of the focus it maintains on the rights of the offender, rather than dehumanizing them. The model is built upon three major spokes:

  1. the healing, protection, empowerment, and support of the victim,
  2. the healing of community relationships destroyed by the transgression and
  3. the rehabilitation & reintegration of the abuser into the community.

The process is generally conducted by the community to ensure that the results and the path to achieving them are in the best interest of the affected community. But the community privileges the victims’ needs, recognizing that an outcome can only truly benefit the community if it empowers the victim/s. Advocates of the model recognize that it can’t eliminate 100% of crime, though that would be welcomed if it were possible. The goal instead is to break cycles of abuse and injustice and therefore create safer more sustainable communities.

Restorative justice frames crime as more than a transgression of the law– it causes harm to people, relationships, and the community which the model aims to heal. The process can take many forms but at its core are facilitated meetings between victim and abuser. The goal of these meetings for the victim is healing & resolution and for offenders, it’s accountability and understanding the damage they’ve done. It requires a neutral mediator to first ensure the safety of the victim and to ensure all negotiations are equitable, preventing social power dynamics from influencing the decisions made. For example, a telepath like Emma Frost would mediate for Wanda Maximoff and somebody impacted by The Decimation, such as Melody Guthrie. This oversight ensures that if the conversation got too heated, that Wanda could not use her powers to influence the outcome or threaten the victim. 

The model embraces a form of accountability that rises from within the abuser rather than be imposed onto them. They’re empowered to recognize the damage caused by their actions through a variety of empathy mapping practices and accountability meetings with the victim. Informed accountability aims to break cycles of abuse and empowers the offender to take greater agency in their own rehabilitation. This also builds empathy which in many cases breaks the cycle of violence, preventing relapses. Concretizing paths towards reconciliation is critical in repairing community bonds. Reintegration can be facilitated in many ways, but one of the most common is through community service programs, where reformed offenders are given the chance to not only repair broken community bonds but also to contribute to the growth of the community at large. Another such program for reformed-offenders is serving as mentors for individuals who are currently working through the process, functioning like a sponsor within the AA model. If reintegration is not possible, the goal should be rehabilitation to ensure they do not perpetuate this form of harm in other communities.

The model is far from perfect though and it hasn’t been tested on a scale needed to make it viable enough for many to consider replacing the prison-industrial complex. Beyond that, restorative justice presupposes a cooperative offender, but the model’s ideology breaks down if offenders are recalcitrant, unrepentant, or non-cooperative. It’s immediately undermined whenever it has to deal with repeat offenders and is strained further if the victim/s remains consistent. There are some transgressions that this model at times fails to appropriately address due to the severity of the offense such as assault, rape, murder, hate crimes, etc. And repeat offenders whose transgressions fall on this severe end of the spectrum can greatly challenge faith in the model’s efficacy. Some argue that the model’s idealism can put the community at risk again by reintegrating the offender. Until we see the model used on a larger enough scale, most of the criticism of the model remains speculative for the moment. In the context of applying the model to Krakoa, many of these concerns would be valid, along with considerations of how the model would be further strained by reality warpers or telepaths for example.

Krakoan Justice

Krakoa is what you get if you took the restorative justice model and skipped all the work to get to the goal of reintegrating abusers into your society. It’s the form of privileged idealism we’ve come to expect from Xavier. It’s also great storytelling for exactly those reasons.

The justice system of Krakoa is still largely undefined, and in their current form, Krakoa’s laws make space for gross injustice and abuse, in part because there’s only three of them. Krakoa also does not have codified the rights for its citizens, making finding justice and building equity a moving target. The only forms of accountability we’ve seen so far are an infinite abyss or getting put on the mutant Suicide Squad. Outside of these two instances abusers go free from accountability, holding some of the highest seats of authority. In some cases, this places them in close proximity to their victims or gives them authority over their victims. Again, interesting story-telling, but a bad way to run a nation.

For the reasons I mentioned previously regarding how the medium of comic-books problematizes these considerations, I’m not discussing who is and isn’t redeemable. Many also conflate “redemption” with “absolution”, making those considerations feel even more fraught. But there are individuals whose past offenses make them questionable choices to sit on The Quiet Council, Krakoa’s sole body of authority and legislation. The council is actually composed of a number of current & reformed “villains”, and folks who have certainly “done some shit.” 

Xavier, Magneto, and Emma (who fall into the latter category mentioned above) have each undergone periods of characterization that range from outright villain to morally dubious. Magneto has a history of large scale anti-human violence some of which could be seen as self-defense or preemptive strikes against bigoted humans. But there are also actions that are harder to justify like threatening earth with nuclear missiles from Asteroid M. He is also known to be incredibly manipulative of his fellow mutants. Xavier has done his share of brainwashing, sexualizing his students, knowingly enslaving a sentient being [Danger], erasing memories, building a “theoretical” database on how to kill all of his students[ the Xavier Protocols], endangering the lives of children, and violated countless ethical boundaries while treating Gabrielle Haller. Emma has a history of working against the X-Men, but much of this is wrapped up into her association with the Hellfire Club, and it’s reasonable to attribute some of those actions to the abuse she suffered at the hands of members of the Club such as Sebastian Shaw, who also sits on the council. She’s also known for questionable practices when it comes to mentoring her students.

It is important to note that of these three, only Emma and Magneto are referred to as “reformed-villains”. Charles is not considered a “former-villain” largely because of the nature of publication history. The idea that Charles is a “good-guy” was fed to readers from the beginning, therefore he’s implicitly framed as such. If you were to explain his transgressions to a stranger without the context of his name or establishing him as a hero, they’d likely not even bat an eye at considering him a villain. I’ve done this, and never have I received push back on the label. This is yet another symptom of the way that the medium of comic books continues to frame the morality of characters. At any rate, though, all three are no longer considered to be villains.

The Council does include some explicitly villainous figures. One such figure is Sinister, who has a history of manipulation, abuse, and violence that should exclude him from holding such a position of power. One of the major offenses that should preclude him from holding a seat of authority is his orchestration of the Morlock Massacre. Sinister is responsible for the destruction of hundreds of lives, but because he possesses something that Xavier wants, his genetic archives, Xavier ignores the damage he’s done for his own gain. As a result, Sinister is given power over the very community that he previously attacked. Morlocks don’t even live on Krakoa but in a habitat somewhere in Arizona. Whether this is an empowered choice or not is unclear. Did they choose not to live on Krakoa? Or did they specifically choose not to live alongside their abuser, Sinister? Needless to say, in restorative justice models, you don’t put a violent abuser on the single body of authority within a community and give them further social & institutional power over their victims, while you force his victims to live outside of the community-proper. 

X-Men: Black Emma Frost
X-Men Black: Emma Frost by Leah Williams & Chris Bachalo, October 31, 2018, Marvel Comics

Sebastian Shaw’s inclusion on the council is troubling as well. With his history of abuse and manipulation of both Jean and Emma, who are forced to sit on the council with him, he too should not be permitted to hold such a seat of authority. We learn in X-Men Black: Emma Frost that Shaw also abused and exploited a number of underaged girls “employed” by the Hellfire Club. Shaw has long been an avatar for anarcho-capitalist ideology, a “radical” offshoot of capitalism that focuses on individual and decentralized wealth through participating in unregulated “free” markets. To put it plainly, Shaw is a monster whose sole impulse is self-interest with no allegiances of value. He constantly demonstrates a disregard for mutant identity, throwing mutant-kind under the bus for his own gain. Shaw’s behavior after stepping onto Krakoa represents one of the ills that restorative justice models aim to address, the cycle of abuse left unchecked. With the resources afforded to him by his seat on the Council Shaw wastes no time in conspiring to destabilize Krakoan infrastructure. In fewer than nine issues of Marauders, readers watch Shaw install his own agents into seats of authority [two of which are literal Nazis] and they watch him undermine Krakoan pharmaceutical-trade by disseminating faulty Krakoan drugs to bad-jacket Krakoa. Shaw collaborates with Hominus Verendi, hires X-Cutioner & Hatemonger to attack the Marauders, establishes ties with the Russian Ambassador responsible for developing power-dampening technology, and conspires with Verendi on a plot to use the Yellowjacket Probe to provide various anti-mutant parties with direct intelligence on Krakoa. Not to mention that Shaw murdered Kate Pryde.

Marauders #6
Marauders #6 by Gerry Duggan, Mario Del Pennino, and Matteo Lolli, January 22, 2020, Marvel Comics

In failing to hold Shaw accountable and giving him a position of power, Xavier has given him the resources to not only fundamentally undermine Krakoa’s diplomatic presence on the world’s stage but to also murder its citizens. Xavier’s ignorance is nothing new, but the choice to provide Shaw and Sinister with seats on The Quiet Council has set in motion the potential undoing of Krakoan society at large. Again, this is really good story-telling but a really bad way to run a nation.

Incarceration: The Metaphor & Beyond

One of the only examples we have of “mutant justice” so far, is the “trial” of Sabretooth. Sabertooth, of course, is on trial for breaking one of their three laws, “ Kill no man”. Only he didn’t break this law, because the law was established only after the violence in question took place. This is referred to as an “ex post facto” law, which retroactively changes the legal ramifications of an action, which many nations regard as a violation of individual rights. In fact, many countries’ human-rights codifications explicitly prohibit this form of legal action, such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Right which specifies in Article 2, Paragraph 7 that

…no one may be condemned for an act or omission which did not constitute a legally punishable offense at the time it was committed. No penalty may be inflicted for an offense for which no provision was made at the time it was committed.

House of X #3
House of X #3 by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz, August 28, 2019, Marvel Comics

In the US Articles 25 & 26 of the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man* , codify a citizen’s “right to be tried by pre-existing laws”. A number of nations have constitutional or equivalent prohibitions of ex post facto criminal trial including Brazil (5th Article, section XXXVI of the Brazilian Constitution), Canada (paragraph 11(g) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), Germany (Article 103 of German Basic Law), India (Article 20(1) of the Indian Constitution, Iran (Article 169, Chp. 11 of Iran’s Constitution), Italy (Article 25, paragraph 2 of Italian Constitution), Japan (Article 39 of Japan’s constitution), Pakistan (Article 12 of the constitution of Pakistan), Spain ( Article 9.3 of the Spanish Constitution), and South-Africa (Section 35(3) of the South African Bill of Rights). 

Since all mutants are Krakoan citizens & cannot be tried by human courts (House of X #3) and since at the time of the mission in question Krakoa had no established laws, there was no jurisdiction to which Sabretooth was subject to that prohibited his actions. That doesn’t excuse his actions on a moral level, but given the dynamics of his citizenship and Krakoa’s lack of codified laws at the time, he is not legally guilty of any crime. This makes his trial definitively” ex post facto”, which again many consider to be a violation of individual rights. It’s also critical to accurately contextualize Sabretooth’s actions; he was sent on this mission by Xavier, placing him in a situation primed for violent interactions with militarized human forces of a known anti-mutant organization. And if you can put somebody on trial “ex post facto” for killing humans, half of the council should also be placed on trial on the same grounds. We haven’t even mentioned that he was tried and sentenced without representation, without testimony or any ability to plead his case. 

House of X #1
House of X #1 by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz, July 24, 2019, Marvel Comics

The viewer arrives at the mission in question in media-res, it’s possible that Sabretooth isn’t the only mutant to take a human life and perhaps the humans instigated violence, causing Sabretooth to fight back in self-defense. Considering the mission involved gathering intelligence for a military campaign, and that Mystique, Sabretooth, and Toad were under attack, Sabretooth’s actions could be argued to be acts of self-defense to one degree or another. So, not only can you not hold Sabretooth accountable to laws that didn’t exist at the time of the actions they prohibit, but given the context of Sabretooth’s involvement in this particular mission, the defense could make a reasonable case for Sabretooth’s actions to either lessen the sentence or have the trial thrown out.  At least that much is true of a nation that has a due process legal system, which Krakoa does not.

Of all the things to retroactively put Sabretooth on trial for, this doesn’t even feel as narratively satisfying as it should have. Sabertooth has a long history of victimizing & attacking countless members of the X-Men with a fixation on the women of the team. He was also a member of the original Marauders team. Perhaps it would feel more like justice if the offense he was tried for had a deeper hook into this history. For a better look at Sabretooth’s complex history of violence and attempts at “rehabilitation”, check out the work of Sara Century. There’ve been periods of detainment and attempted rehabilitation in the past, and in the last 10 years we’ve seen him take a place on teams alongside the X-Men such as in Uncanny X-Men: Superior (2016-17), including some of his previous victims.

House of X #6
House of X #6 by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz, October 2, 2019, Marvel Comics

Sabretooth’s consistent lack of remorse and history of abuse should preclude him from taking part in larger Krakoa society, but I disagree with throwing anybody into a waking void indefinitely. Sabertooth is taken from human custody only to be placed in far worse conditions humans may have placed him in. Let’s look at Xavier’s exact words, just after passing the sentence of “exile” in House of X #6; “Alive but immobile. Aware, but unable to act on it. How long…? Forever.” This type of punishment is a radically more cruel form of solitary confinement, which is already known to have an immensely damaging impact on the victim’s physical & mental health. Solitary confinement has been studied rigorously by neuroscientists, who’ve found that even with less than a year of forced isolation victims experience loss of navigational-reasoning, memory loss, loss of temporal reasoning, develop a form of face-blindness, long term sensory avoidance behaviors, CPTSD & PTSD, loss of reading comprehension, loss of fine motors skills, loss of some gross motor skills and much more. 

This form of confinement also causes the hippocampus [the portion of your brain that regulates learning & pattern recognition ] to shrink while the amygdala [ which mediates fear, anxiety, & stress ] increases in activity. In studies of victims of 10-20 years of isolation, it was observed that the brain significantly slowed the process of creating new neurons; even as little as two months in solitary can cause a 20% reduction in neuron creation. You should be able to extrapolate what happens over the course of 20+ years such as was done to Robert King, who spent 29 years in solitary confinement. It’s estimated that in the US there are an estimated 80,000 men  (a disproportionate of that number being African American men serving in solitary confinement. Solitary Confinement exceeding 3 months is associated with a 26% increased risk of premature death, stemming from an out of control stress response resulting in higher cortisol levels, increased blood pressure and inflammation. Extensive forced isolation and sensory deprivation have been proven to cause permanent and long term damage to the mind of the victim which is the reason many regard it to be a form of torture. This is why a wave of activism, led by Robert King and his legal team to utilize the 8th amendment [prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment] to abolish the use of solitary confinement. 

Comics, like all fiction can help us build empathy, but at the same time it can normalize otherwise cruel forms of treatment. Because of the way that the things media normalizes can spill-over into how we interpret our own world, it’s critical to acknowledge that what the council did to Sabretooth is not humane and that the members of the council who made that choice are complicit in torture & violations of individual rights. Sabretooth’s last breaths, before being swallowed by the void, were a promise of future violence. Clearly absolute sensory-deprivation & isolation in an abyss will do nothing to break the cycle of violence. It’s hard to imagine the idealism of restorative justice’s reform and rehabilitation working for Sabretooth but such an extremely cruel form of imprisonment is not only dehumanizing & torturous, but it’s also unlikely to prove effective. I believe firmly that for all the resources available to the X-men that they could devise forms of accountability that do not constitute torture.

Raising Hell

Hellions #1
Hellions #1 by Zeb Wells, Stephen Segovia, and David Curiel, March 25, 2020, Marvel Comics

Why do concepts like Hellions and Suicide-Squad appeal to us so much? I think many of us long for redemption; to not be judged by our worst choices or our weakest moments. For many, a reformed villain is a godsend; if these people can absorb an entire planet, kidnaps elected officials, or throw the planet of its axis, and still be given another chance, we feel like we stand a chance of overcoming our own mistakes. The Hellions aren’t villains, though some of them may look like it from the surface. Some of them are just looking for a place to be, some need to be looked after, some need an outlet, while others just need to atone. Empath and Scalphunter (I will continue to refer to him by his name John Greycrow, because I think “Scalphunter” is a wildly insensitive name for an American Indigenous character ) are characters whose story demonstrates one aspect of the restorative justice model that we’ve already discussed; reform through community service.

John Greycrow has a history of working for & against the X-Men but he’s largely known for his involvement in the Morlock Massacre. Greycrow certainly took lives, but as the result of his employment by Sinister. This by no means excuses him or assuages him of his accountability or atonement, but it changes the nature of his offense and his rehabilitation. He’s a hired gun, where Sinister is the hateful mastermind. Greycrow has also lived much of his life in a cycle of violence that he cannot escape, which Sinister points out to the council in Hellions #1.  

When Greycrow was “executed” for attacking his fellow soldiers in World War II, there’s an ambiguity surrounding what incited his attack. Considering the way American Indigenous people were treated in and out of the military at the time, it’s entirely possible that his violence was in reaction to mistreatment and abuse from other soldiers. At a time where children were still being stolen off of reservations, indigenous histories were being erased culturally and in the education system, Greycrow was drafted into a war to fight for the country that was destroying his culture and his history. This isn’t the reason he became a mercenary nor am I establishing the two experiences in a deterministic relationship, but it could certainly build up a current of rage within an individual, which needs an outlet. Having settled on Krakoa though, Greycrow is given the opportunity to escape the cycle of violence.

Hellions #1
Hellions #1 by Zeb Wells, Stephen Segovia, and David Curiel, March 25, 2020, Marvel Comics

On the anniversary of the Mutant Massacre, Greycrow is attacked by a band of Morlocks (Hellions #1). He doesn’t argue, he just gets up and prepares to defend himself to some degree and when the council accuses him of attacking the Morlocks, Greycrow makes no attempt to clarify that the Morlocks instigated the violence. The scene reads as him recognizing that he had this coming, showing him begin to more thoughtfully grapple with the role he played in the massacre. It also shows him protecting the Morlocks in question, putting him on a path towards atonement. Krakoa’s resurrection protocols present greater potential for Greycrow’s ability to reconcile with his past victims. This is one of the things that genuinely excites me about the series and its potential. Not only is it providing more nuanced ways of looking at purportedly villainous characters by making space for these individuals to have their own histories and trauma acknowledged, but it’s also creating opportunities for resolution that are unprecedented in our world.

Recognizing that for the moment it’s unsustainable for Greycrow and the Morlocks to freely cohabitate, the council assigns him to the Hellions. Many restorative justice models incorporate these forms of community service into the reintegration/rehabilitation process. Sometimes this takes form in community clean-ups, or programs like Philadelphia Mural Arts’ Guild Project. The goal is to allow the individual to contribute to the growth of the community that their transgressions have damaged. In doing so, they build faith with the community, can work to atone for their actions, and can acquire new skills and experiences that the individual can draw on to enhance the reintegration process. 

Hellions also shows how the restorative justice model can provide more nuanced strategies for addressing how issues of class, education, ability, and neurodiversity can be contributing factors to some offenses. Relevant to the mutant metaphor, this is an idea which we see manifest in The Quiet Council’s approach to the actions of Empath, a former member of the Hellions. Sometimes, the restorative justice model embraces models of harm reduction. If we can’t get this individual to cease a certain behavior, then it’s in their best interest and the best interest of the community to find a safe outlet for them, in respect to narcotics these are called safe-consumption sites and they provide a safe environment, intended to reduce unsafe & unclean usage conditions as well as to prevent lethal overdoses. The Hellions provide just such an opportunity. 

Hellions #1
Hellions #1 by Zeb Wells, Stephen Segovia, and David Curiel, March 25, 2020, Marvel Comics

As a result of his mutation, Empath’s mind has developed using “bad data” to quote a data-page from Hellions #1. Rather than being a sociopath who was given powers, as is noted on a data page in Hellions #1, his mutation created sociopathic tendencies. While this doesn’t excuse his abuses or the damage he’s done, if he isn’t able to understand the consequences and impact of his actions, you can’t hold him accountable in the same way you could a neurotypical person. His mutation inherently prevents him from building the same neurological empathy maps that neurotypicals develop to help avoid doing harm to others in the future. If you push over your friend on the playground, your friend may bleed and cry out in pain. For some, this builds a cause-effect mapping in the mind and you’re able to anticipate that pushing over another person will likely have the same effect. But what if, from a young age, you were able to control and manipulate others to not only not crying or expressing pain, but you could manipulate them into thanking you for it. 

Hellions #1
Hellions #1 by Zeb Wells, Stephen Segovia, and David Curiel, March 25, 2020, Marvel Comics

On the data page, Empath is labeled “sociopathic” but in truth, his eroded sense of empathy leaves him somewhere between “sociopathy” and “psychopathy”, both of which are diagnostically known as “Antisocial Personality Disorders” (APDs) in the 5th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders. The two terms are so heavily stigmatized in society because of the way that the media we consume has perpetuated the myth that both are 1.) Interchangeable and 2.) inherently prone to violence. This is largely due to the frequency at which lazy writers attribute a villain/protagonist’s actions to being a “sociopath” or “psychopath” when they need a one-word fix for their poor characterization. While there are cases of individuals with APDs who become violent, it’s a smaller number than we’re led to believe. From what we’re told about the effect his mutation has had on his mind, and what can be understood about the brain of individuals with psychopathy, it’s most accurate to describe Empath as psychopathic rather than sociopathic. While the two have some overlap, Empath’s eroded sense of “right and wrong” stems from his brain’s inability to emotionally & intellectually process and connect the consequences of his actions, which is most consistent with the pseudo diagnosis of “psychopathy”.

Because Empath is unable to recognize the damage he has done over time, he will likely continue to do harm without any awareness. He’s likely unaware that his manipulation of others is abusive, cruel, and invasive leading to an obstructed sense of “moral cognition”, or the neurological coding that dictates “right and wrong” decision making in our minds. This proposes a really interesting framing for mental health and mutant-justice. It’s a terrific example of how Krakoa continues to reframe parts of the continuity that we’ve written off. You can’t look at Empath’s past transgressions the same way after this page. Accountability means something different if you are neurologically wired in a way that prevents you from seeing the harm you do. 

Appropriately, Krakoan leadership recognizes that the same measures of accountability used for neurotypicals, not only wouldn’t be effective for Empath but would not be appropriate either. He’s given an outlet and given a place on Krakoa that neither ignores his transgression nor demonizes him for his neurodiversity. In this sense, Krakoa is arguably embracing a social model of disability & neurodivergence to inform their justice model as well a model of harm reduction.

House of X #6
House of X #6 by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz, October 2, 2019, Marvel Comics

Looking at Krakoa’s failures and successes can help us to learn many lessons about the ways we navigate our own communities. It’s not just a matter of fan-analysis or a thought experiment about mutant-politics. This isn’t just a story, these situations happen within our communities on a regular basis; abusers hold seats of authority over victims, individuals are unfairly tried and subject to cruel & dehumanizing “punishment’, cycles of violence can go unbroken, and people commit offense after offense without understanding the consequences of their actions. Krakoa shows us what happens when abusers go unchecked and at the same time, there can be moments of nuance where communities seek out ways to break cycles of violence by embracing more holistic and humane models of justice.

Recognizing the reality of these situations can also deeply enhance our experiences in engaging with these stories, deepening our sense of nuance and empathy. Understanding just how flawed Krakoa is doesn’t take away from the story that’s being told. If anything, it underscores just how interesting Krakoa is a storytelling device. Krakoa is deeply, almost tragically flawed in some ways, and in other ways, it embraces some truly radical forms of community building. It’s that balance that has made the stories coming out since House of X #1 so much more memorable and engaging and have allowed the fanbase to explore aspects of the mutant metaphor that had gone largely unexamined until now.

Friends Who Play Together, Stay Together: How playing D&D led to publishing our own comic book series

This week sees the release of A House Divided: The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles by Haiko Hörnig and Marius Pawlitza. We have an exclusive essay by Hörnig about how he and his co-creator first met all the way back in middle school playing Dungeons and Dragons—and how that experience directly led to the publication of their own comic book series.

“Friends Who Play Together, Stay Together: How playing D&D led to publishing our own comic book series,” is a funny and sweet look at how the collaborators’ current success can be directly traced back to their middle-school RPGs


When you are 12 years old and able to draw passably well, you quickly become the “kid who can draw“ in your class. I was that kid in my class, and I liked my role. I would scribble in my school books and draw caricatures of our teachers to the amusement and applause of everyone (except the teachers). Life was good. A year later, I met Marius and everything changed. Marius was the other kid who could draw at my school. Problem was, he was way, way better than me. Naturally, I hated his guts.

I met my new nemesis through a mutual friend who was looking to start a Dungeons & Dragons group at our school.I was already vaguely familiar with the concept of role-playing games. When I was 8 years old, I had found a strange game in our garage. The box was a bright yellow with artwork of Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, the Thing and Captain America punching through the cardboard lid. The game was called Marvel Superheros and it was a roleplaying game where you could create your own superhero and experience any kind of adventure—the only thing needed was your imagination! Well, at least in theory. The other thing you needed was a bunch of other 8 year olds willing to spend their afternoons reading a near incomprehensible dense rulebook. Which, to my great disappointment, didn’t happen.

So when the chance presented itself to play D&D, I pounced on it! We played whenever and wherever we could, even at school during lunch break. I was a chaotic evil fighter/priest of Malar, the god of the hunt. Marius was playing a lawful good paladin. Naturally, our characters hated each other’s guts. Meanwhile, I started to realize that maybe, just maybe, sharing the “kid who can draw“ role with someone wasn’t such a bad thing. Marius drew dozens of maps and monsters, crests and coat-of-arms and, of course, our characters. That didn’t just mean less work for me, it also meant everything looked way cooler! We quickly became best friends.

Above: Our first D&D party as drawn by Marius, age 14. As you can see, our early adventures were quite… gory.

Life went on, and when Marius eventually left school to start an apprenticeship, the D&D group slowly disassembled. A few years later, Marius reached out again. It was because of a D&D game. He had recently joined a new RPG group and they were looking for another player. Naturally, I said yes. After gaming for a few weeks, we wondered how we could have ever lost touch in the first place. We never stopped playing again.

Above: Characters from our long standing Vampire – Requiem campaign. This time, I was the DM and wove an intricate plot which the players chose to ignore.

Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, Shadowrun, Star Wars, Warhammer Fantasy, Dark Heresy—no matter the game system, creating characters and crafting adventures became a cornerstone of our friendship. And by graduating from players to dungeon masters, RPGs even taught us how to tell stories: how to create tension, how to subvert player’s expectations, and how to hold their attention.

We were both in our twenties when we started our first webcomic, Selektive Erinnerung (Selective Memory), a gag-based weekly strip. At this point, I had long accepted that I’d never be as good as an artist as Marius, and so I concentrated on the writing part. But as great as making a quick funny strip was, there was an itch Selektive Erinnerung couldn’t scratch. Both of us had long dreamed about making something bigger. Something that was equally inspired by the dungeon raiding campaigns of our youth and classic animated movies we both loved.

Above: Marius did this illustration to commemorate the end of our most recent campaign, Rise of Tiamat, that lasted from 2014 to early 2020. Yeah, that’s me as the DM next to the dragon heads.

After writing hundreds of D&D adventures for our friends, thinking about plot and character arcs and writing elaborate backstories, I felt well prepared for writing a longer story. In the back of my head, an idea had been forming. A story about a girl exploring a gigantic house, much like a dungeon from a D&D adventure, filled with monsters and mystery and magic.

From the very beginning, Marius was game. He sat down and churned out page after page of beautiful concept art. Slowly, A House Divided began to take shape.

When we started working on the first part of the story, The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles, it became apparent how great it was to have a shared shorthand for expressing ideas.

In the story, our hero Henrietta learns that she is the only living relative of the deceased Ornun Zol, a notorious wizard who leaves her a gigantic, magical house. When Marius and I talked about the kind of person Ornun Zol was, we frequently used D&D terms to describe him. “He must have been pretty high level, right? What kind of schools of magic did he use? Is he more of a transmutation kinda guy? Did he have an arcane focus?” Marius even went so far as to write up a whole character sheet for him!

In a way, making A House Divided felt a lot like coming full circle. We’re still creating characters and crafting adventures. I’m still playing make-believe with my best friend, the kid who can draw way better than I ever could. And we don’t plan on ever stopping.


Haiko Hörnig is a writer of screenplays and graphic novels. He lives in Frankfurt, Germany, where he writes for various clients and works with his friend Marius Pawlitza on their fantasy series A House Divided. The first book, The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles is available wherever books and ebooks are sold on April 7.


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