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).
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.
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.
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.
What should you read?
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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).
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.
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.
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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 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 #5forced 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 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:
the healing, protection, empowerment, and support of the victim,
the healing of community relationships destroyed by the transgression and
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.
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. Xavierhas 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.
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 Frostthat 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.
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 theAfrican 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.
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.
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.
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 toRobert 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.
Why do concepts like HellionsandSuicide-Squadappeal 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Hörnigis 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.
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
The moment comic book shops started transitioning to mail orders and curbside pick-ups due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans and owners alike have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. On March 23, 2020, the drop came in the form of a letter from Diamond’s chairman Steve Geppi. In it, we learned that the distributor would not be taking orders on new products. Anything slated for an on-sale date of April 1st would not be shipped.
Given that local comics shops rely on weekly comics sales to stay alive (although some stores have done wonders with their backlogs to make them an even more essential part of their business model), this sounded off an alarm many expected but no one wanted to hear.
The letter goes on to specify what exactly it is that this means for Diamond. Geppi spoke about how hard it was to make the decision and explained that it boiled down to the safety of his team and shop owners alike. Health in the workplace is essential and no one can fault Diamond for taking measures to ensure its workers remain safe, but the decision to stop distribution didn’t hurt any less because of it. One thing did stand out from the letter, though.
In his message, Geppi offered some advice to owners that continue to operate remotely: get creative. He says:
For those retailers who remain open in various forms, I encourage you to let loose your own creativity. For the time being, you will be able to replenish your perennials from Diamond and/or Alliance, but you should also remember the stock you already have in your stores. If your doors remain open, it’s likely you will have customers who will continue to seek diversion from events of the world. Special sales, promotions, and even eBay can help you bring in cash during this trying time.
Initially, this sounded to me a bit like “you’re on your own.” To be fair, Diamond did state it will be evaluating debt accrued and credit options to help out stores affected the most by the economic pressures of the pandemic. But the stores that might receive any help from Diamond are those that would’ve already survived the pandemic’s hit on the market, in all its dimensions. This consideration made it difficult to take Geppi’s words as the rallying cry for comic shops that I think it was intended to be.
I should clarify, I’m commenting on this situation as a concerned comic book fan who buys weekly periodicals, the bread and butter of the current comics market in America. I’m standing on the outside of this, given I’m not a shop owner, but following industry developments and writing about comics has given me some insight into the workings of Diamond and just how difficult it is to rely on one major distributor of the product.
All of this led me to think about the concept of creativity in sales, which the letter alludes to. I remember thinking that shops were getting creative with their stock well before the pandemic hit and that many stores had already put certain ideas in motion to stave off closure because of economic constraints coming from many different shifts and outdated ways of thinking from multiple sides of the industry. Diamond is not the only entity to carry the blame here (lack of unions, the volatility of freelance work, and the state of print media, in general, are important factors as well).
This pandemic, though, did put the spotlight once more on one of the comic book industry’s biggest problems, market-wise: weekly periodicals cannot continue to depend almost entirely on Diamond if comics are to survive in print. We need more options.
As this pandemic has shown (and if nothing changes, it’s possible we see a repeat of this), a single comic book distributor cannot account for the survivability of an entire industry.
The comic shop owners that adjusted to the new normal—and responded in kind by fully embracing outside-the-box problem solving—have shown that creativity isn’t choice but a rule if they are keep their doors open, even before a pandemic forced them into stretching that creative streak further.
There’ve already been a lot of stores that have found that becoming more of a community-driven space (invested in creating local shop culture through reading, talks, author events, and creative discussions) results in a loyal customer base that will do most of its comic book purchases with them.
Anyone Comics in Brooklyn, for instance, has been churning out social distance events to keep its customers ‘in the store,’ if you will. They hosted a social distance signing with writer Vita Ayala on March 26, complete with Q&A and the promise of customers getting free signed books with regular orders; Midtown Comics in New York has offered generous discounts on entire purchases to motivate buyers; and Challengers Comics in Chicago has teamed with SKTCHD to give customers the chance to win a new Hoth Battle scene Star Wars sketch by Daniel Warren Johnson.
If anything, the chaos that the Coronavirus pandemic has unleashed will make many of these stores stronger once we get clear of it. But not everyone is going to survive. One of the reasons survival isn’t guaranteed lies in Diamond remaining a necessary evil for weekly periodical distribution.
Competition is key, and stores all around the country have shown they are willing to experiment in order to keep selling comics well into the future. Back issues can be made appealing again, trades can be discounted, and figures can be sold in fairly priced bundles. But having a diversified market is essential as we move forward, with a mind to prepare for any other crisis that might come our way. We can’t assume nothing like this will ever happen again.
I’m not calling for the dissolution of Diamond nor for it to close its doors to let others take over. I just think it can do better and it should focus on contingency plans that don’t require the suspension of sales in times when stores need them the most. It can be via limiting the size of orders, coordinating with shops to ship the product in strategic spots to replenish stock, or even offering more generous discounts for local comic shop owners when certain social conditions call for them.
Comic shops are doing their part, putting ideas out there to keep customers happy and satisfied. Maybe it’s time Diamond took their own advice to heart and start getting creative.
Resistance, Reclamation, and the Red-Queen of Anti-fascism
What does it mean for marginalized communities to resist oppression and protect themselves and their kin when the governments of the world leave them behind? [A totally theoretical question, in no way relevant to the world we live in] Marauders asks this question, consistently expanding on the complexities of Krakoa’s role on the world’s political stage.
Having spent years working in multiple above and below ground anti-fascist/anti-racist organizations and affinity-groups, I love X-Books like Marauders, that acknowledge the complexities of revolutionary struggle, telling a story of an autonomous cell of mutants, using tactical violence and property damage, to carry out direct-action operations to defend their community. For this reason, Marauders can help readers approach the stigmatized political ethos of anti-fascism. I don’t expect you to walk away with a full understanding of the history and strategies of anti-fascism. For a more holistic account of the history and political validity of anti-fascism, I suggest Mark Bray’s, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist and Robert Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism.
Anti-fascism or autonomous anti-fascism [as it’s known outside the US, where political discourse can sustain a multifaceted definition of anti-fascism] is an illiberal politics of cultural self-defense, necessitated by the inaction of a corrupt state-apparatus, utilizing historic & emergent methods of protest and direct-action. It’s a single aspect of larger strategies of resistance to white supremacy, not a discrete political ideology. Anti-fascists organize in autonomous cells, collectives, or affinity groups without traceable ties to larger organizations of the left. They reject the liberal formula for opposing fascism; debating fascists in the “marketplace of ideas” or trusting the police to counteract fascist violence. History shows that parliamentary government is not a barrier to fascism, in fact, it’s historically a red carpet. Police, who historically began as slave-patrollers, often share membership with white-supremacist groups and have given birth to reactionary movements like “Blue Lives Matter”. Not to mention they are constantly emboldened by our president’s calls for increased levels of violence.
The series/team’s title is a reference to a group of mercenaries, who Sinister hired to wipe out the Morlocks. Kate chose this name to distance what they’re doing from the X-Men but It’s also an act of reclamation, as Callisto herself notes in Marauders #7. They take a name tied to their own pain and use it in the fight against their oppressors. There are numerous leftist organizations whose names are reclamations, like Trigger Warning,Philly’s Dyke March, the SHARPs, and Redneck Revolt come to mind. This is also seen in revolutionary aesthetics like the pink/purple triangle, used by Nazis to identify queer people, which was reclaimed in the 1980s & 90s by many organizations working in AIDS & HIV advocacy and is used by queer anti-fascist affinity groups to this day. It’s worth noting, that there is a meta-complexity in “reclamation” in comic books. Because these characters are not autonomous and self-aware, they themselves can’t reclaim certain things in the way we in the real world can [ which is still an intense and complex path to navigate]. What I think works here, is that everything is textual. Kate isn’t reclaiming a slur from our world, like naming a non-binary character Snowflake and their twin Safe-Space. Kate is a character, within a constructed world, reclaiming a term specifically located within the confines and context of that constructed world.
The Marauders play a vital role in the safety of mutants of the 616, providing an alternate model of resistance to anti-mutant oppression, a model of resistance that larger structures of mutant governance cannot engage in. In X-Men #4 we see what happens when the X-Men do participate in larger institutions of economic and political governance, specifically the Davos World Economic Forum; the theme, “Globalization for a New Age: How to Secure and Maintain a Cohesive & Sustainable World.” It’s important to remember that by this time, there’s already been one successful attempt on Xavier’s life. Although they toast to peace, yet another assassination attempt unfolds. It’s easily dealt with, but one of the first attempts Krakoa made to participate in global politics is still met with violence. It’s clear that Krakoa cannot trust human structures of governance to achieve justice and equity.
Marauders #1 establishes the team’s two objectives. The first, to bring Krakoan drugs to countries without “legitimate” trade agreements with Krakoa, prioritizing Nations who need it most. In Marauders #2 we see Kate liberating a shipment that Shaw diverted from a nation in Africa who can’t take Krakoa’s deal publicly as it may start a civil war. The second objective is to liberate mutants being held against their will.
To an extent, the Marauders travel by sea because Kate Pryde can’t use Krakoa’s gates, but as Emma Frost states in Marauders #1 this is “…an opportunity”. In House of X, it’s observed that Krakoa’s gates have a military capability to move forces any distance instantaneously. Humanity implicitly sees the gates as a threat. This is why in some places they’re policed, making it difficult to utilize them to support mutants refugees. That’s where the Marauders come in, operating within the gaps between larger Krakoa’s politics and the rest of the world, through which the most vulnerable of mutants will fall. Revolutionary struggle is complex; at times necessitating open conflict, such as the ongoing Hong Kong Protests, the Ferguson Riots, the J20 Protests, the Warsaw rebellion, theBattle of Cable Street. Revolutionary struggle can also be immensely complex though, requiring less overt forms of resistance. In the new paradigm, mutants have the upper hand, but only the mutants living there and on the world’s political stage, Krakoa can only do so much to help them.
Building Power in the Gaps
There’s certainly a complexity to the various political parallels to navigate on Krakoa. X-Force, a covert-ops/CIA analog, establishes its own surveillance state within Krakoa. We’re spoon-fed that reading by the text itself and marketing. In X-Force #7 we learn Beast is investigating methods of surveillance with Forge, using sound-absorbent stone and placing objects made of this substance around the globe. This is certainly one way to read their actions. Although it’s easy to pass judgment on some of Beast’s recent actions, I would politely challenge that interpretation along with anti-fascist framing. Sometimes resistance is ugly; sometimes when they go low and you go high, they take out your legs from beneath you. Beast’s actions throughout X-Force, have been in the grey, but that is much of what it feels like to be involved in anti-fascist organizing. Sometimes protecting your community isn’t squeaky clean. While this is not me condoning some of Beast’s more questionable choices, this is me saying it should take much more for us to condemn them.
But surveillance doesn’t always just serve the state. Surveillance & data-collection can be used to protect marginalized communities. In my years of “organizing”, I’ve encountered and partnered with multiple organizations that did just that, dedicated to observation, surveillance, and consolidation of data regarding the personnel, operations, and whereabouts of known fascists, neo-nazis, and abusers. Sometimes organizations come along, like the One People’s Project, [ founded in 2000 ] by Daryl Lamont Jenkins, whose sole mission is to prove “ hate has consequences”. Through OPP’s “Community Watch” project, they’ve created regional databases of known fascist organizations and personalities, to ensure they cannot use anonymity or opacity as tools in their rampage against marginalized communities. Countless times the information provided by these groups is used to make split-second safety decisions regarding the presence of known instigators and agitators, violent abusers within the community, and to anticipate and intervene in potentially dangerous fascist actions.
Krakoa itself is a unique composite of various modes of social-governance. On the one hand, there’s a radicality of Krakoa that stretches beyond a socialist model, leaning into an almost anarcho-syndicalist model. I see this mostly in the way that Krakoa’s exports of various drugs become a foothold for further economic and political power. These drugs become economic leverage on the global scale, much in the way that anarcho-syndicalist models utilize the power of the worker. There are also parallels to the way that mutant identity itself, rooted in Krakoa, becomes surrogate for the role of the union as a sort of consolidation and point of focus for work-power. Krakoan also represents a semi-liberal state apparatus, though without even a symbolic democratic element given the nature of the Quiet Council’s structure and formation. Krakoa is best understood as a combination of Monarchy and Oligarchy. The Monarch [Charles] establishes a puppet Oligarchy [The Quiet Council], which he assumes a major role on. Charles often makes major choices unilaterally, without consulting the council. This council was not elected and contains members such as Sinister, responsible for the genocide of the Morlocks and Sebastian Shaw a serial abuser.
The Marauders embody the anti-fascist slogan “outside and within”; both a part of these larger structures of power and yet operating entirely outside of them at times, both with and without the blessing of Krakoa’s elites. Anti-fascism isn’t all about bandanas and brick-throwing, so I’d like to return to the first mission of The Marauders, to distribute Krakoan drugs to vulnerable communities. This idea of “outside and within” is not just how The Marauders engage in acts of resistance, it also impacts how they provide radical forms of aid to others.
When it comes to providing much-needed material aid to vulnerable communities, there many examples of such work within anti-fascist organizing for us to turn to. And this aspect of anti-fascist organizing is very similar to the first objective of the Marauders that we’ve discussed, and that is to provide Krakoan medications to vulnerable communities. An example that many on the left may already be familiar with is the “Food not Bombs” movement, popularized by many anarchist and anti-fascist communities. The goal of which is to consistently host soup kitchens, food drives, and community potlucks within under-resourced communities. While not all members of FnB also do anti-fascist work, there is a significant overlap between the two. There are many other organizations dedicated to this type of work. Much like the Marauders, anti-fascists serve as both swords and shields to the communities they place themselves within.
In issues #5, #6, & #7 it becomes clear that Sebastian Shaw has formed alliances with Verendi. Like many anti-fascist organizations, the Marauders deal with the never-ending struggle of sectarian in-fighting. While it never gets as heated as Democratic-Socialists drowning members of anarcho-communist affinity groups in the ocean, a sizeable amount of time and energy is spent vying for new footholds of power when the focus should be on fighting oppression. Shaw’s plot to kill Kate, his choices of who he appoints as Black Bishop and Black Knights, and his constant attempts to undermine Emma, are all very similar to how some organizations on the left squabble and feud over things like, membership, titles, and power.
From Jackboots to Pinstripes
We’re introduced to a group named “Homines Verendi”. “Homines” translates from Latin into “ people/mankind”, in this context, it means human. “Verendi” is the masculine, vocative & nominative conjugation of the Latin, “verendum”, meaning “awe-inspiring”. The title alone paints Verendi as a human-supremacist organization, evocative of many “pinstripe fascist” white-supremacist groups, like the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys have over time made them the darlings of the established right, unlike many groups of the alt-right. In fact, the Proud Boys’ notable assault  on counter-protestors in Manhattan, happened at all because of an invitation of members of the Metropolitan Republican Club, a mainstream Republican organization.
Verendi and Proud Boys share aesthetics of class, building a “legitimate” image that contrasts the “messy” aesthetics of the left. Like famously punchable Nazi, Richard Spencer they present themselves as well-groomed, and well-dressed “intellectuals”, endearing themselves to far-right elites. As Emily Gorcenski states in her profile on the fascist group, “Compared to the white supremacists they march alongside, Proud Boys enjoy comfortable proximity to the Conservative Mainstream”. Even at protests, they appear in collared shirts, cufflinks, and styled hair. They fit right in, rubbing shoulders with politicians and billionaires, masking their continued reactionary violence. According to their own official publications, two of four spokes of membership to the group require acts of violence. Their founder Gavin McInnes has openly referred to his group as “gang” on multiple occasions, defending members’ senseless violence. In March 2017, Proud Boy Kyle Chapman was photographed beating a counter-protester over the head with a 2×4, earning him a role in the alt-right mythology, “Based Stickman”. He went on to form the “Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights”, which McInnes refers to as the “military wing” of the Proud Boys on his twitter.
More recently, fascists like the Proud Boys, Richard Spencer, Baked Alaska, Gavin McInnes, Jason Kessler,and their ilk have attempted to rebrand referring to themselves as the “alt-right“. It’s a clever bit of branding for sure, “violence fringe fascists” doesn’t quite seem too palatable. The alt-right, on the other hand, sounds like a contingent of principled youngsters who land a little further to the right of most party republicans. It’s a name that washes over their hate, their violence, and the overtly fascist goals they hold.
A common misunderstanding of fascism, as Robert Paxton points out, is the neo-liberal Western interpretation of fascism as a form of extreme “evil”, forced onto societies by a single evil individual. Fascist power comes from their ability to co-opt, manipulate, and navigate established institutions of power, while still assaulting marginalized communities at the street-level. Respectability politics allows them to systematically acquire and consolidate power, through entirely “legitimate” means. Mussolini’s march on Rome was a mere spectacle legitimizing his prior invitation to form a government. Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 failed miserably; it was only when President Hindenburg appointed him chancellor that he was able to seize and consolidate power, along with parliamentsEnabling Actthat granted him complete power. The US elected flavor-blasted garbage pile Donald Trump, and we may do it again.
“Wear a sheet get beat!”
The Marauders’ first mission is reactionary, much like a lot of anti-fascist organizing. This is not to say that anti-fascist politics are reactionary, but that they quite literally react to fascists. When a threat emerges, they rise to meet it, popularized in the Antifa slogan “ Anywhere they go, we go!”. In issue #1 Iceman discovers that on the other side of a less active gate, the Russian military has established a blockade around the gateway, which may be evocative of continued travel bans instated by the flavor-blasted bowl of bird shit, Donald Trump. Kate, Iceman, and Storm see vulnerable mutant refugees being policed and their rights denied, so they intervene. Their violence is never an escalation, but always proportionate. They fight to disarm and de-escalate. The Russian military is the one who escalates. The Marauders’ use of violence is tactical, measured, and defensive. We see a mission like this again in Marauders #4, when the team liberates a group of younger mutants trapped by their country’s naval forces. By issue #5, the Marauders have brought many dozens of mutants refugees home to Krakoa. Have real-world anti-fascists ever gone to bat for refugees?
The Syrian Civil War  catalyzed the largest influx of refugees that Europe has seen since the displacement caused by WW II. In 2015, 1.3 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere fled to Europe, in 2016, another 350,000. At least 4,812 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2016 alone. With this influx came a rise in nationalism & xenophobia. Despite the fact that economic experts stated firmly that the refugees had not caused a notable increase in poverty or crime, nationalism fomented into violence. As Georg Pazderski of the far-right Alternative fur Deutschlandhimself admitted, “perception is reality,…our citizens feel unwell and insecure“. This is another way that fascism solidifies power, providing easy answers to the anxieties of the middle and lower classes, jettisoning their explicitly racist trappings for dog-whistles about “scarcity” and “security”.
In the following October, nationalists attempted to burn down a refugee camp near Bostock. By July 2015, matters escalated further forcing anti-fascists mobilized to defend a refugee tent city from neo-nazi attacks in Dresden. One month later, the conflict reached a breaking point. On the evening of August 20, 2015, an attempt was made to burn down the refugee center. The next day, buses carrying 250 refugees into Heidenau (outside of Dresden ) were blocked by a thousand members of the neo-nazi National Democratic Party and anti-immigrant locals. Several hundred anti-fascists responded to a call to defend the refugees in what had quickly become a matter of life and death. Dressed in black and black bloc, they waited out in front of the tent city to defend the refugee populations from “nationalists” with bricks, bottles, firecrackers. A large number of refugees even join the black-bloc to defend the encampment.
In issues #5 & #6, a major clash plays out between Verendi and the Marauders, which reveals the synergy between various fascist organizations & mobilizations. Verendi has conspired to incite violence in the streets of Madripoor. Verendi has invaded “legitimate” political structures and demonstrated their flexibility to work outside of them. In issue #6, we learn that the Russian ambassador from House of X has a deal with Verendi, to exchange the intel gathered by the “yellowjacket” probe, for her supply of power-dampening technology, both in the suits that we saw in earlier issues and future generations of weapons. In issue #6, we also learn that they’ve made an arrangement made with the ambassador of Madripoor, Donald Pierce while simultaneously working outside of governmental structures, hiring fringe fascists like the Hate-Monger and the X-Cutioner to kill Kate and the Marauders, characters with long histories of ant-mutant violence. Their designs alone evoke explicitly fascist images like Klu Klux Klan hoods, which is even more vile when you consider the origin of Hate-Monger as a clone of Hitler himself. X-Cutioner, on the other hand, is a “former fed”, drawing on the familiar trend of ranking government officials having ties to the Klan and other white-supremacist organizations.
For a bisexual, Jewish woman to face these two is an intense challenge, one many anti-fascists and activists from marginalized groups face; putting your body on the line, in direct opposition with those who wish you harm. In the context of the comic, they’ve been hired to kill Kate. In real life, it gets much blurrier, but at times members of marginalized groups have been injured and killed during protests or actions where they stand against their oppressors. This is why even though Donald Pierce and Chen Zhao claim diplomatic immunity, Kate doesn’t get hung up on bureaucratic international diplomacy. Kate recognizes them as oppressors, intending to harm her and her community. She doesn’t take this to the floor of the UN or try to beat Hate-Monger in the “marketplace of ideas”. She fights them where they can’t hide behind the shield of civility politics, and that’s exactly what anti-fascists do.
On the night of February 1, 2017, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous, was set to speak at UC Berkeley. He’d become a major celebrity of the `alt-right, using his identity as a gay immigrant to mitigate his racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, transphobia, and promotion of rape culture. Students demanded the lecture be canceled when Berkeley officials announced that Yiannopoulos planned to “publicly name undocumented students,” much as he outed trans students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who were then harassed and assaulted. Shortly before Yiannopoulos’s speech, anti-fascists arrived at the demonstration and launched a quick but intense escalation effort. What weeks of advocacy, petitions, and “reasoned debate” couldn’t accomplish was achieved in 15 minutes. The event was canceled. Undocumented students stated that lives had been saved, as far-right students had made threats on social media regarding the students to be exposed.
Clashes like this catapulted Antifa into the spotlight. Despite a complete lack of historical or theoretical knowledge or awareness, pundits incorrectly concluded that anti-fascism was a greater threat to free speech than fascism itself because they refuse to provide an unchallenged platform for hate-speech. Pinstripe fascists leverage “free speech” to appeal to a mainstream sense of decorum—which they capitalize on to spread their hate. That position incorrectly asserts that anti-fascism is the only threat to an otherwise pristine state of free speech, safe-guarded by the government. The government already restricts speech. It restricts false advertisements, libel, and advertisements for tobacco products and alcohol. The government prosecutes incitement of violence, protects copyrights, and limits where pornographic images can be shown.
When I first started thinking of writing this article just before lunch, it was going to have a lot of different ideas. But as with all things related to the COVID-19 pandemic we’re all experiencing right now, things have changed quickly. The news about Diamond ceasing distribution will have been shocking for a lot of you. After this week there will be no new comics for an undetermined amount of time.
Which means now, more than ever, you need to think about your local comic shop. As with all small businesses, they’re going to be feeling the effects of the shutdown – especially now that Diamond, the sole distributor of comics, has ceased distributing comics to comic shops for the foreseeable future. We’re certainly experiencing something as a society that hasn’t happened in any of our lifetimes, and so the way we shop and support our local comic shops have to change.
(I know that there are far more businesses struggling than just our LCSs, but as a comic/nerd site I wanted to focus on comic shops).
All of the following suggestions are subject to the health rules in your area/state/province. If you’ve been told to shelter in place, or are in either quarantine or self-isolation, don’t go into your comic shop. Do what you’re told by your government (regardless of its level). However, if you can leave your house, then ask if you can pick up your comics from the side of the road, or if an employee can drop them in your trunk. If the shop can deliver or mail them to you, then do that. If you’re fiscally able to.
That said, how can you help your LCS?
Pick up your damn pull list. Look, I get that it’s hard to get in to your LCS every week. But if you’ve got months of comics to pick up, pick them the fuck up. Your shop has ordered them in for you. Letting the comics build up over months is bad form. Not picking them, especially now, is really uncool. If you’re on top of your list, and I hope most of you are, then try and stay that way this week. Your LCS is going to need your support, so the least you can do is pick up part or all of your pull list.
Fill your want list. After this week, new comics will be in short supply. But you what they will have? Potentially boxes and boxes of back issues. Send your shop a list of what you want. If you want to save them time and effort, send a priority list of the comics you want and a maximum budget that you’re able to spend. That way the staff aren’t finding your entire list for you to only buy two comics.
Buy that book you’ve been eyeing up. Most, if not all, comic shops stock soft and hardcover graphic novels of various sorts. Whether it’s the classic book you never got around to reading, or something entirely different, now is a good time to pick that up.
Bored? Games. My LCS also has a pretty robust selection of board games, which can be a great way to pass the time. Ever played Zombicide? Elder Scroll? Forbidden Island? Scotland Yard? Many carry Magic: The Gathering. This is probably going to be a good time to invest in a game you and your family can play multiple times.
Pay in advance. So you can’t go and get your books for a couple of weeks. If you can, consider paying for them anyway. Think of it like you’re buying yourself a post quarantine gift of comics, games, toys or whatever other goodies you think you’ll want when this is over.
Waive your discount. There are a lot of shops that offer a discount to certain customers. If you’re one, consider waiving part of, if not all of your discount. It could be a small gesture, but at this time every bit can help.
Don’t shop online. Unless your local shop has an online store, most of us tend to think of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers. Yes, they stock comic book collections and board games. Yes, they’re probably a bit cheaper and are easier to get. But if you spend all your reading money there during the pandemic then that’s not helping your LCS.
Don’t read digital. It’s easy to say, but if you’re stuck for new comics, and publishers are still releasing them digitally… you know what I’m gonna say. Unless you’re the kind of person who will buy digital then buy the physical issues because you’re a collector, try and resist temptation. It will be hard.
This is an unprecedented time. You’ve heard that said a lot, and it’s true, and more than ever we need to find new ways to come together while also staying apart. I want my LCS to still be in operation in a year. I want yours to still be there. With all the months, years and decades of enjoyment, they’ve helped to give us, it’s time for us to help them.
When I saw that a non-binary character was being introduced by Marvel in the upcoming New Warriors I was elated. When I saw that they were panderingly color-swapped with their sibling, playing on conservative gender coding between pink and blue, I was trepidatiously excited. Sure, they meant well. They didn’t realize that by engaging in the semiotics of gender and color; boy=blue and pink=girl that their subsequent inversion of these semiotics may implicitly unravel the work being done in representing a non-binary character. Then I got to their names and assumed that it was all some kind of fever dream.
I think it’s admirable that a cis white writer wanted to create a trans character, specifically a trans person of color. So much of our current comics status quo is cisnormative. Especially House of X, Powers of X, and Dawn of X; runs known for incorporating big status quo shifts and radical ideation. On that note, it’s admirable again to not consistently force writers like Leah Williams and Vita Ayala to become these monolithic creators, tasked with making up for the lack of trans representation that has gone on for over 30 years. Daniel Kibblesmith’s attempt to take on some of this responsibility is definitely commendable, though ultimately doesn’t deliver on the promise.
The characters’ names and their origin in New Warriors fails to hit the mark in so many ways.But it’s also important to recognize that they’re really the first to give us a character who is canonically trans at launch, rather than making it subtext or speculative, or read it post facto. Largely trans representation in comics has been within margins of magical transitions, post-facto applications, shapeshifters, fan theory, and subtext. It’s commendable for a writer to come out of the gate with a character who is unquestionably trans before the first issue even drops.
To write characters with names like Snowflake and Safespace is being pitched to us as attempts at reclamation. That’s definitely ground to stand on, but more akin to a thin layer of ice, in early April; destabilizing by the second. The trouble here is that it’s not reclamation really. Reclamation is a matter of an autonomous and informed contingent or individual who sets about to take a slur used against them and to recontextualize it. A common use example is “queer”, which has risen to occlude terms like ” gay” “lesbian” and “bi”, for a variety of equally complex and valid reasons. But these characters [ Snowflake and Safespace] are not autonomous individuals. They are specifically constructed characters, that serve as an extension of the writer’s biases and ideas. They can’t reclaim anything, because they are not autonomous. They are in a sense puppets for the creative team. A puppet cannot reclaim a slur. Nor is that slur one that the creators own and hold. From the use of the two terms as names, in the context that they’re used, it’s also clear they don’t understand the terms and their impact. So the reclamation just falls apart on contact with any level of scrutiny. Constructed characters cannot make autonomous decisions, therefore they cannot reclaim anything.
In confluence with all of this, I put my sensitivity reader hat on and ask the litmus test question,
If this was the first time a person heard of “non-binary” as a gender experience, is this what you would want them to see. The reason that I ask this question of writers, is because in a drought of positive representation (specifically in a conservative proving grounds like marvel comics ) it very well may be. It takes so much contextualization for even Marvel insiders and long time fans to even give those name choices the benefit of the doubt, so imagine what outsiders will think about it.
There is something to be observed that nearly all the NB folks I know think this was a bad idea.
And then there’s the Comicsgate crew, who will absolutely use this as ammunition in their campaign of regressive and oppressive ideology through comics and comic adjacent spaces.
It ultimately could go wrong in thousands of ways, and really does not good. So with no benefits to the community, it really comes down to the writer thought it would be cool, and either didn’t hire a sensitivity reader or did, and ignored their feedback.
When taking these two names “ Snowflake” and “Safespace” on their own, it’s an incredibly insensitive and insulting decision. When you combine these names tertiary issues like their peer, Screentime’s power coming from “internet gas, it sounds as if Vox Day or EVS wrote the characters, not “a progressive” comics writer. Trans folks already are constantly having their immersion in social media and online communities by conservatives a way to “explain “ their trans identity. Gen Z and Millennials in particular face the invalidating and bigoted idea that “the internet made them trans”. So, what good does “ experimental internet gas” do for the trans community that Snowflake should represent?
And that’s the big question, what good does this do? As a sensitivity reader, a question I always ask of writers in this position; “What good does this do?” especially in contrast to potential harm. In this case, I see no potential for good, but plenty of potential for harm.
For those watching, this not how you create positive and empowering representation. Creators who want to represent underserved communities should know better than to try to “reclaim” harmful terms that have been used against those very communities. I think it’s important to celebrate the attempt being made but to also have an honest conversation about the missteps. It does no good for us to excuse this by saying that since “Kibblesmith is a progressive and an ally” we should just appreciate the attempt. We have to recognize that future creators will follow the example set here, and this will continue to be used against trans and non-binary folks, rather than making us feel seen.
I wish I could feel optimistic. I wish that a new non-binary character in a Marvel book was something I was eagerly writing about in joy, rather than trying to channel my disappointment and rage.
If you missed the news, the new comic book company Bad Idea released the first press release identifying how they intend to release their comics. I’ll put a link to the Graphic Policy article here that’ll give you more detail if you haven’t read it, but effectively what we’re looking at is a company who intend to ignore the current distribution method in comics, so Diamond, and instead self-distribute to twenty hand-picked stores (with intention to increase that to fifty by the end of the year). There will be no digital comics, there will be no trade paperbacks. There will also be no variant covers, with each comic being limited to one per customer.
This news has been met with anger, disappointment, optimism, excitement and every other reaction you’re thinking right now that’s going to come from comic fans shocked that they probably won’t be able to get the comics at their regular stop with some stating that it’s a bad idea to go this route. I’ll admit to being disappointed by the news in the press release until I read this interview on Multiveristy Comics with Dinesh Shamdasani, Warren Simons and Hunter Gorinson. The three are all former Valiant employees who were forced out or left after the investment firm DMG purchased the company. After the quality of the Valiant books under their watch, I was intrigued and excited by what they may have up their sleeves with Bad Idea
The above interview with the three reminded me of one of the most exciting things in comics – the hunt for a certain issue. It isn’t a coincidence that I have been slowly building various runs of comics without using online retailers; because hunting in bins has an appeal for me that I can’t quantify.
Dinesh hinted during the interview that the comics will be available online, though perhaps not officially, and he danced around the sad truth that people pirate comics and unfortunately that is a reality these days. It shouldn’t be, but that’s a rant for another day.
By selecting just twenty shops (to start) to sell their comics, Bad Idea is encouraging those of us (yes us, because I know damn well I’ll be one of them) to find ways to get the issues. The list of shops won’t be a secret, which implies the shops must be willing to ship the comics to those outside of reasonable driving distance, which will, in turn, drive the business of certain shops. If Bad Idea becomes a phenomenon then this could, in turn, drive people into comic shops that otherwise wouldn’t step into our world.
I understand the anger and disappointment people are feeling, though. I understand that you want to be able to order these books as you would your normal pull list. But being free of Diamond’s rigid distribution system means the creative teams are free to tell a story in 27 pages or 33. It means they can be late if the book isn’t ready without rushing out a subpar issue that won’t satisfy the fans. It means more money in the pockets of the people putting out the books.
By circumventing the traditional methods of distribution Bad Idea has gotten themselves a lot of people talking about a company who has barely revealed a full page of comics. They’re a company with some of the very best writers and artists who have been given the freedom to create what I’m sure will be some of the best comics we’ll ever read. You may or may not agree – but I have faith in Dinesh Shamdasani, Warren Simons, Hunter Gorinson and the amazing talent that they have accrued around them. I will find a way to get these books because I have faith in the people putting them out, and I want to support them – and at the very least the fact I have to work to get them is strangely exciting for me.
If you just want to read the books, you’ll find a way. But if you want to be a part of what could be the next step in comics… it may just take a Bad Idea for the future to be bright in comics.
Missouri state Rep. Ben Baker (R) has introduced a bill meant to “protect children” who visit public libraries. In reality, that bill will lead to censorship and possibly land librarians in jail.
Any library that receives state funding would need to protect minors from “age-inappropriate sexual material.”
The bill would create “parental review boards” made up of five locally elected community members who would review and decide what content would be inappropriate. If that sounds familiar it’s the plot of numerous stories where it’s never worked.
Librarians who “willfully” violate the decisions could be fined $500 or face up to a year in jail.
The concept is censorship and an attack on free expression. It’s book banning and one step away from book burning.
Books with sexual themes, uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, ones that address sensitive topics, even scientific knowledge, are potentially on the chopping block.
Baker has responded that the books would not be banned but keeps them out of the children’s section. An adult could check the book out for their child. In other words, Baker believes parents are incapable of doing that already and believes in a nanny state.