Category Archives: History

The Wicked + The Divine 1831: A Review Of A Single Sentence

By Maya Garcia

When the creative team behind The Wicked + The Divine announced the The Wicked + The Divine 1831 special, the classic literature diehards in the fandom rejoiced. And we rejoiced by flocking to social media to post long threads about our hopes and predictions for the issue and dashing to the library to pick up biographies, poetry collections, and campy 80s movies pertaining to the English High Romantics.

I opened 1831, fingers twitching with excitement at the thought of seeing my old friends the Romantics in a strange new way, and was delightfully thunderstruck to find among them the Romantic nearest and dearest to my own Russophilic heart – Aleksandr Pushkin. His appearance in the comic is brief and oblique, consisting in fact of a mere ten words in a speech bubble.

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No unit of literature is too small to be given an in-depth analysis by a properly enthusiastic and imaginative reader. And I hope that by performing such an analysis on this single sentence (in the context of the comic up to this point) I can offer fellow fans entertaining and edifying insights into one of the myriad literary allusions in 1831.

Let’s have a go.

“Perun…” This is the name of an ancient Slavic sky god, the supreme deity in his pantheon. There are frustratingly few sources of information on the gods of the ancient Slavs as they had no known systems of writing before the 9th century C.E., when Greek Orthodox monks invented the Glagolitic and later Cyrillic alphabets to aid in bringing Christianity to the region. Much of what we know about Slavic mythology is extrapolated from visual artifacts and reports by monks. Perun is one of few figures who emerges from this tradition with a relatively clear image, that of a kingly, bearded warrior who commands stone, fire, and above all, lightning.

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This image doesn’t call any 18th or 19th century Russian writers to my mind (other than maybe Tolstoy who had the long beard and patriarchal wrath thing going on, but he was just a baby in 1831 and wouldn’t be caught dead in a story about Romantic poets anyway). But why spend time wondering which Russian writer is best fit to wear the mantle of the highest god, because Russia has already chosen Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin.

There are endless fascinating cultural artifacts that one can point to illustrate the extreme degree to which Pushkin is venerated in Russia, and my personal favorite examples are: that time I was street drinking in St. Petersburg with a group of American college students and tipsily exchanged recitations of classic Pushkin verses with a couple of strangers we met outside a bar; the presence of civic artwork and/or tourist traps in every place the man ever set foot; and the fact that even the radically avant-garde Futurist poets and critics, who exhorted the Russian literary community to cast its old writers overboard from the “Steamship of Modernity,” still wrote essays and poems that praised Pushkin.

“…collapsed in Petersburg…” Ah, Petersburg! Petersburg! My favorite city for many reasons, one of which is the fact that you can’t go more than a few blocks without seeing the name or face of a dead poet. When I first saw the city in the fall of 2011, several metro stations had translations of verses by of the Romantic poet John Keats displayed in the big frames where metro stations usually hang advertisements. When I asked someone why the metro was advertising for Keats, their answer was “It’s pretty. It’s poetry.”

This is a city that may no longer be the political capital of the country, but proudly considers itself to be “The Cultural Capital of Russia.” This is the city to name drop when making a shorthand reference to Russian Romanticism. And yes, of course Pushkin died there. I’ve been to the lovingly preserved room where the tragic event occurred (a real must-see for melancholic comparative literature majors doing a year abroad in Russia).

“…pure language raging from his guts…” What a lovely turn of phrase, moving from the almost-Biblical mysticism of “pure language” to the (literally) visceral brutality of “raging from his guts.” The juxtaposition of these elements is very Russian Literature ™, but the resulting phrase is original and compelling enough to reach my ears over the din of lesser clichés one encounters daily in Slavic Studies. I can’t trace it to a quotation (though I’ve only been working it over for a couple days and I mostly work on 20th century literature anyway…), but I can see what moments in the Pushkin Mythos to which it could refer.

“…pure language…” Students of Russian literature learn to recognize the particular aspects of literature with which each canonical writer is most strongly associated – their divine domains, if you will. Dostoevsky is the Patron Saint of Unreliable Narrators; Pushkin is the All-Father of the Modern Russian Literary Language.

“…raging from his guts…” Unlike Shakespeare, Pushkin lived and died a well-documented and very public life. An incredible amount of detail concerning his day-to-day existence is available to the dedicated archival scholar and such major moments as his death are familiar to all. Pushkin’s death is such a well-known moment in Russian culture it is the subject of countless paintings and poems, and even has its very own Wikipedia page. It doesn’t get much more Romantic than dying at 37 (just a few months older than Byron) from a wound sustained in the course of a duel defending his wife’s honor against a dastardly French officer. While he did die in bed several days after the duel, the image of the poet collapsing in the snow, bleeding from his guts, is entirely true-to-life.

I think I’ve proven the connection here thoroughly enough to move on to examine the possible implications of Pushkin-Perun’s inclusion in the Wicked + Divine world. In particular, this implied character invites comparisons with a certain member of the contemporary Pantheon – Baal. Baal (the Sumerian deity) and Perun have very similar functions and imagery in their respect mythological traditions – it’s not too outlandish to posit that they, along with the other ruling sky-gods that appear in nearly every other Indo-European pantheon (i.e. Zeus, Jupiter, Indra) could perhaps be regional interpretations of the same figure.

Baal (the comic character) and Pushkin-Perun might also be regional interpretations of the same figure: the Black superhero with lightning powers. Pushkin, like Baal, was Black – well, not Black like Baal as he was Black under very different historical conditions. He was a member of the nobility whose maternal great-grandfather, Abram Hannibal, was African. Hannibal was kidnapped from Central Africa as a child and held in bondage at the court of the Ottoman Sultan for a year before being bought by Russian ambassadors and given as a gift to Tsar Peter I. Peter made Hannibal his godson and gave him a nobleman’s education and military rank. Pushkin’s relationship to his African heritage, as understood from his poems, letters, and unfinished biography of his great-grandfather, is a complex topic of interest to many scholars. I have not (yet) studied it closely, but I am familiar enough with Pushkin’s heritage that imagining him with lightning powers brings to my mind a certain racialized superhero trope.

The “Black Lightning” archetype has a long history in superhero comics, and may have been propagated by a certain laziness among white comic book creators when it comes to making new and interesting roles for characters of color. As a non-Black person, I have a limited capacity to comment insightfully on this trope, and I hope that my writing here is just the beginning of a larger conversation that will prominently feature input from Black readers. Examination of archetypes and stereotypes is one of the main forces that drives characterization in The Wicked + The Divine, and it is up to people of color in the fandom to judge how sensitive and useful this examination is. Until there’s a Latinx character in The Wicked + The Divine (a moon goddess Selena would be fantastic!), I’ll be careful to stay in my lane. The comparative reading of Baal and Pushkin that I’m attempting here will be done from a literary criticism standpoint, but I invite other fans to bring the ethical questions to bear.

The gods of the contemporary Pantheon incarnate a range of pop star archetypes and Baal is one of the more easily identifiable of the group. The “elevator pitch” one might give for Baal could be “What if Kanye West really was a god?” Of course, both Kanye and Baal have a lot more going on beneath their cosmically egoistic personae. Baal’s character arc (in my opinion, one of the most emotionally compelling in the comic) explores the cognitive dissonances of being a self-aware celebrity, of having tremendous power, but still not being able to control how others will ultimately judge you. The dynamism of Baal’s character is built on a series of seeming contradictions in his personality and positionality in the narrative: he’s “bad” and revels in the label, but he is also a proud Sky God who (for most of the narrative so far) takes Ananke’s side in the fight she frames as being one of law, order, and light against rebellion, chaos, and darkness; he performs a particularly forceful type of straight masculinity, but is involved in one of the series’ most tender queer love stories; he’s a man of action and violence, but also a genuine poet (he briefly hints at having had an artistic career before he met Ananke – and he delivers some of the best one-liners in a comic full of quotable one-liners).

Baal’s character development seems to be in the process of undermining and overcoming these ultimately artificial contradictions, with the result being a more complex and human character. In this context, Baal’s being an instantiation of the comic-book cliché linking Black men and electricity might be another way of exploring celebrity persona as self-parody.

The Wicked + The Divine’s central conceit of Recurrence allows its creators to explore characterization and archetype in a way not confined to a single, linear storyline. The first tableaux of the comic features four gods of the 1920s and judging by the iconography (Baal’s sigil is a ram’s head), one of their number is also a Baal. The man whose place at the table matches the placement of the ram’s head in the pantheon wheel is Black, and while he doesn’t bear a strong physical resemblance to Baal or comport himself as flashily as Baal does, he does exude a similar strong, masculine confidence.

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Writer Kieron Gillen has said in interviews (and his notes to issue 4) that Baal is “inspired by the whole line of archetypes between Bo Diddley doing Who Do You Love? And Kanye West doing Power.” Now, Bo Diddley came too late to fit in the 1920s pantheon (and the man in the comic lacks Bo’s iconic glasses – you know the ones that Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello, and Morrissey all copied?), but if we trace the genealogy of the Blues back a few decades, there’s a wealth of iconic musicians who might provide inspiration for a Wicked + Divine character.

Robert Johnson leaps off the pages of musical history as an obvious choice for inclusion here (perhaps team WicDiv could deconstruct the rather patronizing legend about him meeting the devil at a crossroads and selling his soul for musical talent), but equally strong cases could be made for such other early blues and jazz pioneers as Jelly Roll Morton, W.C. Handy, and Lonnie Johnson. The creators may be going for a more composite character anyway (the other 1920s characters seem like they might not be as directly based on real celebrities as the 1830s characters were).

Going back one more saeculum (90-year cycle), we return to Pushkin-Perun It seems more than coincidental that we’ve been presented with another pantheon member who is a thunder god and a black male artist. Of course, one could say that he’s just a combination of the most prominent Russian Romantic with the most well-known East Slavic deity…but that would be boring. I personally would not have thought of Perun when assigning a god to Pushkin (in Russia he’s often compared to Apollo, and while I would rather not continue in the hellenocentric tradition, I would also have gravitated towards such a god of music and prophecy, or perhaps a messenger god with a mischievous streak).

But what fun would it be to read this comic if the creators thought the same way I do? I have enjoyed the chance to think about Pushkin in a different way by comparing him to the Baal archetype. To do this, I’ve considered how Pushkin (the myth if not the man) related to power.

Pushkin had a complicated relationship with authoritarian power that makes Baal’s relationship with Ananke look blissful. He was a rebellious youth who wrote politically charged poems that earned him repeated exiled from the capital in the early 1820s. He was welcomed back to Petersburg after the newly crowned Tsar Nikolai I squelched the Decembrist Uprising of 1925 (in which a large group of reform-minded officers refused to pledge allegiance to the conservative Nikolai). For the rest of his life he would be under close police surveillance and his works would be personally edited by the Tsar before publication. Despite having voiced anti-authoritarian views in the past, he would publish poems in praise of the Tsar. To what extent he was motivated by concern for safety, defeated resolution, and/or a real change in belief is unclear. Ultimately Pushkin, like Baal, had to negotiate having a fierce, iconoclastic spirit, with serving a violent, paranoid dictator who ruled by divine right.

Defiance of authority and social expectations is only one connotation of the versatile descriptor “bad” that Baal claims for himself in issue 4. It’s also a bold assertion of sexuality.

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In a society where the dominant group (i.e. white men) sees black male sexuality as threatening and deviant, to be a black man who revels in his own sexual power and refuses to apologize for being beautiful and aware of it is a radical provocation.  This framework doesn’t exactly map onto Pushkin, who could almost pass for white and lived in a society where aristocratic poets such as he were expected to be sexually voracious. Pushkin had many lovers and wrote a fair number of sexually explicit poems (my favorite is the one where Satan fingerbangs the Virgin Mary and she likes it so much that her eventual holy union with God the Father ends up being a real disappointment).

And what of the connection to power as visually manifested in the command of thunder and lightning? Baal characterizes his electrical abilities with the phrase “I do power,” which suits his magnetic charisma and assertive sexuality (lightning, once thought to be the literal “spark” of life, is a time-honored symbol of virility). Pushkin too had charisma and physical charm in spades. Moreover, I think inserting lightning into his mythos amplifies his association with nature, the vast, wild Russian nature into which this Romantic (and political) exile wandered when he needed (or was forced by the tsar to take) a break from being an urban dandy.

The future issues and special issues of The Wicked + The Divine will doubtlessly reveal many more facets and complexities in the characterization of the current Baal and his predecessors. If I have inspired even one reader to help pass the time until the next issue by reading some Pushkin, I have done my duty as his loyal follower.

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Maya Garcia is a recovering Romantic and current graduate student specializing in music, literature, and youth cultures of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Originally from Southern California, she currently resides in Somerville, MA, where the climate is much more suitable for melancholic brooding. She writes and draws things as @gothshostakovich on Tumblr and @otterhouse_5 on Twitter.

The Wicked + The Divine: Depiction of Baal in Majesty, AD 2014

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Baal’s atrium in Wotan’s Valhalla features a gigantic mural of Baal dressed in an understated black suit and tie. His suit is the only thing understated about his portrait, and I love him for that. The mural is a fresco, pigment painted onto a wet plaster wall. It reaches from vaulted ceiling to floor on a Heroic scale. Baal is the central figure, positioned like a god—which of course he is—attended by archangels and cherubs. At his feet and supplicant are the devil, the Egyptian god Horus, Zeus and another angel. That bearded figure might be “God the Father” but it’s probably Zeus, a lightning god.

The arrangement of figures evokes traditional depictions of “Christ in Majesty” or “Christ in Glory,” but with some key differences. Christ in Majesty is usually seated and serine whereas Baal’s face and posture are determined, he is ready to confront world. Others have pointed out the image looks a bit like Kanye West’s video for “Power”.

Artist Jamie McKelvie renders the fresco differently from his standard bold and graphic illustrations because making this art resemble a hand-painted fresco is significant.

We never saw the full fresco within the comic as published. We only see it in issue #4 of The Wicked + The Divine, obstructed by the characters viewing it. The image above is taken from the backmatter of the trade paperback. It shows that the fresco was important enough that it was made separately from the panel and then set at an angle. It was drawn digitally by McKelvie and then colored over by Nathan Fairbairn. In issue #4, we see scaffolding for painters in front of it, indicating that the work is not yet complete.

Why does it matter that we read the fresco as a painting executed on wet plaster? Because Baal’s wall isn’t decorated by poster art, or by airbrush or any modern technique– it’s Renaissance Art. Baal is positioning himself in a European pantheon. He is showing the lineage between himself and eurocentric culture and he is dominant over it.

He is Baal Haddad, a Canaanite god but painted like this he could also be Zeus or Jesus. Or Yeezus (aka Kanye).

This powerful statement reminds me of the heroic scale paintings of Kihinde Wiley. Wiley is one of the most important contemporary visual artists. He’s an African-American artist depicting black subjects. In many of his jaw-dropping traditionally executed oil paintings he casts contemporary black men (some famous, some not) as the central figure in paintings like: “Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps” or “Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares”.

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From the National Portrait Gallery’s website :

For most of Kehinde Wiley’s very successful career, he has created large, vibrant, highly patterned paintings of young African American men wearing the latest in hip hop street fashion. The theatrical poses and objects in the portraits are based on well-known images of powerful figures drawn from seventeenth- through nineteenth-century Western art. Pictorially, Wiley gives the authority of those historical sitters to his twenty-first-century subjects.

In 2005, VH1 commissioned Wiley to paint portraits of the honorees for that year’s Hip Hop Honors program. Turning his aesthetic on end, he used his trademark references to older portraits to add legitimacy to paintings of this generation’s already powerful musical talents. In Wiley’s hands, Ice T channels Napoleon, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five take on a seventeenth-century Dutch civic guard company.

In Wiley’s own words he “posit[s] young black men, fashioned in urban attire, within the field of power reminiscent of Renaissance artists such as Tiepolo and Titian.”

While Wiley’s depictions generally cast his subjects in the position of historical figures, never religious ones, Baal’s fresco depicts him in the position of the Christian god– the most important figure in European culture. And why not?! He is a god!

We may not have seen it on the page yet, but I’m confident Baal has one of Wiley’s paintings somewhere in his room because if Baal is sort of Kanye then Wiley has already created his portrait.

Plus, Baal does have impeccable taste. As of course does this comic’s creative team Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKevlie for using expert visual strategies to show us how Baal sees his place in the world especially in relation to the eurocentric culture of the past.

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I’m aware of the criticisms of his Wiley’s work, particularly from a socialist perspective. But a lot of criticism of his work is racist and homophobic. Here’s a really nice defense of him.

Gerry Conway Dishes on the Creation of Black Lightning

black_lightning1News broke recently that Greg Berlanti was working on a Black Lightning television show. Today it’s reported that the show has been picked up by Fox. That seems to have prompted comic legend Gerry Conway to Tweet out some history about the character.

Debuting in 1977 at DC Comics, the character’s creators are credited as Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden. But Conway indicates that’s not the whole story and that Bob Kanigher deserves some credit as well. Kanigher is primarily known as the creator of Sgt. Rock.

Isabella took exception to some of Conway’s recollections responding on Twitter:

 

Conway has made further updates and a retraction on his Tumblr:

Open Mouth, Insert Foot, Part Infinity

For what it’s worth (since I can’t seem to comment directly on Tony Isabella’s Facebook post, I’ll post my response to it here) I’m perfectly willing to admit my memory of events is faulty. I constantly am asked questions about things that I wrote forty to fifty years ago and I’m often embarrassed to admit I don’t remember. I wrote a lot of stuff, did a lot of stuff, offended a lot of people, and hopefully supported many others. One fact I am sure about, is that memory is fungible and affected by many factors. Honestly, my memory of the sequence of events is different from Tony’s, but given his firm adherence to his version, I accept it totally and offer my apologies. Rather than diminish Tony’s work (though that was the outcome) I simply wanted to acknowledge Bob Kanigher’s. In my memory there was more of a direct connection between Kanigher’s creation (which we backed away from as soon as he delivered those first scripts, and tried to fix but absolutely couldn’t) and the Black Lightning that came after. I feel protective of the older forgotten writers of the 60s, especially Kanigher, who was treated horribly by DC at the time (though no worse than Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, and Bob Haney) when the company replaced them with a new generation of writers like me. In my desire to gain justice for Bob I did a major injustice to Tony. Obviously I was wrong. Sorry, Tony.

And the Isabell responded:

I thank Gerry for his retraction and his apology.

I consider the matter closed and ask my friends here to do the same.

 

Captain America: Steve Rogers #2: What We Talk About When We Talk About HYDRA

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About a month ago, there was a huge controversy when Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 revealed that Steve Rogers was a HYDRA agent and had always been one. A lot of people, myself included, really didn’t like this retcon. Some other people rather condescendingly said that this was just comic books, it was clearly mind control, or false memories, or some other trick, it’s all been done before, and you’re all getting mad over nothing. Now, that kind of missed the point – that Nazism is maybe something more serious that shouldn’t be handled like a Silver Age Superman story where Jimmy Olson is forced to marry a gorilla – but now Issue #2 is out…

…and lo and behold, the Red Skull did indeed use the Cosmic Cube to rewrite Steve Rogers’ memories. So were all us who didn’t like the change a bunch of SJWs who need to Get Good at comics?

Read more

Marvel’s Cancelled Daredevil Game

Unseen64 is a non-profit archive which works to preserve videogame history. In one of their latest videos, the site looks at Daredevil: The Man Without Fear which was developed by 5000ft inc. The game was to be a third person action game that was to be released for the Playstation 2.

When the movie began to be worked on, that original plan shifted and it was changed to an open-world game and then to be released on the Xbox and PC as well.

Check out the video above!

On Nazi Captain America and My Jewlessness

Captain America Steve RogersI’m Jewish. I don’t look it and I don’t practice much, but I was raised Jewish. I had my Bar Mitzvah. I was even Confirmed. Yet if you met me, or even knew me for some time, you probably wouldn’t know it. That’s because I learned to hide it due to Antisemitism I experienced growing up. This was the 1990s, not some long time ago. Living in a suburb of Buffalo I was called “tacky” due to my religion (I still can’t figure that insult out 30 years later), or blamed for ruining Christmas because of changes to the school’s holiday program, or had pennies thrown at me and told to go fetch. You can understand why I exchanged my Jewishness with Jewlessness after a regular barrage of what can be only summed up as abuse by my “peers.”

And being a Jewish kid, I found my connection with comics, an industry built my the hard work of Jews (and women and African-Americans) who couldn’t find work elsewhere due to antisemitic (and racist and misogynistic) quotas. You can read the history here and here, and there are dozens of books that can walk you through even more. The industry’s original greats such as Will Eisner, Bill Finger, Max Gaines, Bob Kane (born Robert Kahn), Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber), Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel, Joe Simon (born Hymie Simon), and so many more were Jewish. And that Jewish tradition continues today with Neal Adams, Brian Michael Bendis, Roz Chast, Howard Chaykin, Peter David, the Kuberts, Jeph Loeb, Marv Wolfman, and seriously too many creators to name. Comics are not just an American art form, but also a Jewish one. Consciously, or unconsciously, I found my connection and community.

And then yesterday I received a punch to the gut that took me right back to the 90s.

cap retcon 1In Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 written by Nick Spencer it’s revealed that Steve Rogers may in fact be a deep cover Hydra operative/sleeper agent when at the end of the comic he proclaims “Hail Hydra” after he throws an ally of his to his apparent death (Superman and Batman doesn’t kill, but Captain America certainly does). This is juxtaposed with Steve growing up and it turning out he and his mother were recruited by Hydra in the 1930s.

Hydra is Marvel’s version of the Nazis, having worked with them in World War II, and much like real world Neo-Nazi’s are doing today, the Red Skull and today’s Hydra are stoking fears of refugees and immigrants to bolster their numbers. While in the Marvel Cinematic Universe they’ve been shifted to an Inhuman worshiping cult, in comics they are more along the line of real Neo-Nazis and white supremacists mixed in with a bit of ISIS for good measure.

I’m not naive. This won’t last forever. In a year or two an out will be found, or if sales tank, even quicker. Comics are built on the shock value of cliffhanger endings, bait and switch, and fake out deaths. Superhero comics are soap operas in spandex. Executive Editor Tom Brevoort hints at this in an interview with Time where Marvel spoils their clickbait gimmick:

But I certainly believe it’s not a gimmick. It’s a story that we spent a long time on, that’s compelling and captures the zeitgeist of the world. It will make readers wonder how the heck we’ll get out of this.

We’ve been assured this isn’t mind control or some sort of clone, this is in fact the real Steve Rogers. We can, and should, absolutely debate if this is the best way to “capture the zeitgeist.” I’ll admit I’m intrigued by the twist, but I’m also disgusted by it too. I’m disgusted by how it craps on the legacy of the character and his creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and those Jewish creators who found refuge in comics.

captainamericacomics01Captain America was created in 1940 and debuted in Captain America Comics #1 on December 20, 1940 (the cover date is March 1941). To understand his creation, one has to understand the time.

World War II began September 1, 1939 with the United States not entering the war until December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Opposition to the United States entering the war existed and war high. There are many arguments and beliefs as to why the United States stayed neutral, but one can’t deny the support of the Nazi party in the United States at the time. In 1936 The Bund was founded in the United States (ironically in Buffalo) to help promote Germany and the Nazi party with their most well-known activity being a 1939 pro-Nazi rally held at Madison Square Garden which around 22,000 individuals attended. They rallied against “Frank D. Rosenfeld” and his New Deal which they dubbed “the Jew Deal.” It wasn’t until after the United States entered the war was the Bund clamped down with arrests for everything from “subversive activities” to violating the 1940 Selective Service Act. It wasn’t the antisemitism they spewed that got them in trouble with the law, it’s the fact they supported someone we were at war with that was the problem.

Enter Kirby and Simon. Simon has said the creation of Captain America was a consciously political one spurred by their repulsion to the actions of Nazi Germany in the lead up to the United States entering World War II. They felt that war was inevitable. In Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, Simon is quoted as saying:

The opponents to the war were all quite well organized. We wanted to have our say too.

Captain America famously debuted with his punching Hitler a year before the United States entered the war. And while the comic sold nearly one million copies and most responded favorably to it, some objected. It was provocative. In Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed, Simon is quoted as saying:

When the first issue came out we got a lot of … threatening letters and hate mail. Some people really opposed what Cap stood for.

People protested and loitered outside their office. The threats proved so serious that police protection was ordered and New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia personally contacted Simon and Kirby to voice his support.

As recounted by friends and family in Marvel’s Captain America 75 Heroic Years Special, Kirby and Simon specifically created Steve Rogers/Captain America as a response to the bullying they themselves experienced growing up, he was a direct response to the atrocities, the genocide, being committed to the Jewish people and others an ocean away. This was their way of taking on the Nazi empire and they received real threats for that stance. Simon and Kirby are the definition of heroes, standing up for what they believe and standing against injustice. They believed in this so much, they signed up to fight in the war. They saw combat, they were Steve Rogers in many ways.

But, to boost sales, to up chatter Marvel has decided to stomp on that history, even if it’s just one issue (though comments by Spencer and Brevoort indicate it’ll be much longer). They have made this symbol of justice that fought the Nazis into everything he stood against, siding and in league with xenophobic racists. He is tainted now and forever just by the fact we can now utter “remember that time Cap was a Nazi?” By making something “new and unexpected” Brevoort, Spencer, and Marvel have insulted his real world origin and made light that he was in fact created in response to genocide. A genocide perpetrated by those he is now in cahoots with, and apparently has always been.

This is clickbait as a story. It’s devoid of any moral obligation. It’s devoid of any sense of history. It’s an empty corporate decision that shows Marvel is only chasing dollars and begs me to question “progressive” moves and decisions they’ve done as just that, a sense of dollars instead of what’s right when it comes to history or the industry. My cynical nature should have known better.

This is an insult to Simon and Kirby, this is an insult to every Jewish creator who found refuge in the comic industry. And all of it to sell some comics, make some short-term money, and get articles like this written to “advertise it” even more.

Whatever Happened to Jessica Jones?

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Unfortunately, Jessica Jones hasn’t had a solo series since The Pulse was cancelled in 2006, except for a special one-off for 2015’s New York Comic Con. She’s had stories featuring her as the lead character in Brian Michael BendisNew Avengers, had a solo story by Bendis and her co-creator Michael Gaydos that is all but a pitch for Alias II in the Marvel 75th Anniversary Special, and even was a co-headliner in Chris Yost and Mike McKone‘s Spider-Island: The Avengers with Carol Danvers, but there have been no ongoing or miniseries with her as protagonist.

Also, even though Bendis gave her the semblance of an arc through six years of New Avengers as she went from mom to superhero and back to mom, Jessica has sadly become defined by her relationship with her husband Luke Cage and her daughter Dani. However, along the way, he has developed her relationships with Carol Danvers, Daredevil, and even Spider-Man, who she used to have a crush on back in high school and inspired her to first put on the Jewel costume. (This story is told in a wonderful backup drawn by former Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada.)  And when Bendis was running the Avengers (and by extension) and the main Marvel events, she made appearances in such high profile storylines as Secret Invasion, Siege, and Fear Itself and the tie-ins to Civil War and Avengers vs. X-Men. With Hickman in charge of the Avengers the past couple of years and Bendis focusing on the X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, she hasn’t appeared in any recent Marvel events, but this is going to change with Bendis penning Civil War II with artist Dave Marquez. Finally, Jessica is a consistent source of sarcasm and one-liners in the Marvel Universe making her a natural fit for the quip-heavy back and forth of the New Avengers team.

JessVows

The first defining post-Pulse event in the life of Jessica Jones as a character is her marriage to Luke Cage in New Avengers Annual #1, which acts as kind of an epilogue to The Pulse. Also, it ensured that thousands of more readers would be exposed to the relationship between Jessica and Luke, and it gives their wedding an “event” feel, like the previous high profile Marvel weddings between Reed and Sue Richards, Vision and Scarlet Witch, and Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson. Luke and Jessica were separated once when she decided to sign the Superhuman Registration Act to protect her and her baby, but they still remain married after 10 years. Bendis also doesn’t give into cliche in this issue and has the New Avengers fight the Super Adaptoid before the big day instead of having Black Widow’s replacement ruin the fun. Jessica also makes her own vows and says that Luke has inspired her and helped her not be stuck in her own head all the time, like the early arcs of Alias. It is touching climactic moment in their relationship, and artist Olivier Coipel captures it in usual clean art style and gives her a really poufy dress.

JessvsStark

The next big Jessica Jones moment (Sans her final guest spot in Young Avengers as team mentor where she gives Hawkeye’s bow to Kate Bishop and a couple appearances in Black Panther with Luke) is in New Avengers #22, which is a Civil War tie-in focused on Luke Cage deciding to not sign the Superhuman Registration Act. Bendis uses lots of loaded language and metaphors about the KKK and Jim Crow laws, but basically Luke wants to protect Harlem on his terms, not the government’s. Plus Jessica gets to call SHIELD, “the United States of corporate sellouts”. She shares a sad moment with Carol Danvers as it looks like the superhuman Civil War is going to fracture their friendship for a while, and she ends up not taking part in it going to Canada with her still unnamed daughter in tow for the duration of the event.

BabyDaniDanny

After the war, Jessica ends up on the run with the New Avengers, but instead of going on cool missions with them in Japan and fighting Japan, she stays cooped up in the Sanctum Sanctorum with Dani. Wong or Luke even does her shopping for her because of the Registration Act. Of course, this leads to some major cabin fever, and she snaps in New Avengers #33, which kicks off “The Trust” arc when the New Avengers decide to work with the Mighty Avengers to take on the Hood and a consortium of supervillains, who want to blow up Stark Tower. As a stay at home, she feels like she is suppressing who she really is, and this is confirmed in New Avengers #34 when Doctor Strange does an “imagery” spell on the team to see who they really are on the inside (and if they’re Skrulls.), and Jessica’s image is her in her Jewel costume. Bendis is foreshadowing her possible return to the superhero life, but she won’t join the New Avengers for quite a while. She does get to name her daughter, Danielle, after Danny Rand even though she jokes that the baby was named after Danny Partridge and empathizes with Luke’s paranoia that Dani is a Skrull in light of Elektra being outed as a Skrull in a previous arc.

JessWarOver

If New Avengers Annual #1 was the happiest moment for Luke and Jessica’s relationship, then New Avengers Annual #2 and its followup issue New Avengers #38, which is drawn by Michael Gaydos, is its darkest hour. In a frightening sequence of events, the Hood, who is majorly overpowered, overcomes the defenses of the Sanctum and Sanctorum causing Jessica to give Dani to Spider-Man while she runs away. She and Dani almost get sniped by Punisher villain Jigsaw, but Spidey saves them with his webs. The trauma of this attack causes Jessica to go to Avengers Tower and sign the Registration Act to protect Dani from both supervillains and Skrulls. She and Luke have a long argument where she tells him that he put his principles before being a father, and that all she cares about is Dani’s safety. He even almost gets arrested by the Mighty Avengers, but Carol does Jessica a solid and lets him go if he “thinks” about registering. Because Luke put his ideology before his family, Jessica and him separate with her staying in Avengers Tower, and him in an apartment owned by the Rand Corporation with the other New Avengers.

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However, thanks to a Skrull invasion and crossover event, Jessica and Luke reunite as she joins the fray in Secret Invasion #7 leaving Dani with Jarvis in Avengers Tower. This is the first time Jessica has been in action since she fought Norman Osborn in the first arc of The Pulse, and there’s nothing like a big group superhero fight to rekindle a relationship. Unfortunately, Jarvis is a Skrull and kidnaps Dani. In spite of this momentous event, Bendis even takes some time away from the action to tell a flashback story in New Avengers #47 with Michael Gaydos from her days in Alias Investigations when Luke hired Jessica (His third P.I. choice after Jessica Drew and Dakota North.) to find his dad so he can tell him that he’s not a criminal, but a hero. The flashback part is paced much like an issue of Alias with silent opening sequence and a dialogue heavy interview sequence shot with Luke emoting while Jessica is quiet and listens. Jessica does track him down and meets Luke’s step mom, who reads about his exploits as Power Man in the newspaper, and tries to show his father Luke’s good side. Sadly, they aren’t reunited, and Gaydos puts a literal screen door between them. However, Luke and Jessica grow closer and share a joke about Luke’s costume choices during the Bronze Age, and it cuts to the present where they talk about how Dani won’t have a normal life because they’re both superpowered people, but at least she’ll see the world.

Bendis uses Dani’s kidnapping as an opportunity to make Jessica and Luke the focus of the first post-Secret Invasion arc of New Avengers during 2009’s Dark Reign when the US government thought it was a good idea to put Norman Osborn in charge of SHIELD. After being just a mom and wife for most of his New Avengers run, Bendis and artist Philip Tan give her a more active role in the plot as she, Luke, and Wolverine interrogate a SHIELD agent, who is a Skrull after Jessica gets a Skrull detector from Invisible Woman. Then, Luke shows that he is willing to put Dani first and teams up with Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers to get her back from the Skrulls. However, he beats up Venom and Bullseye with a crowbar to show them that he doesn’t work for Osborn, which creates a tension leading to a conflict between the New Avengers and the government sanctioned, yet utterly evil Dark Avengers.

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At her new abode of Bucky’s apartment (He’s the current Captain America.), Jessica doesn’t get to play superhero, but she has more input in the New Avengers plans, like telling them to keep their battle with the Dark Avengers out of the apartment, and starts to forge a platonic relationship with Spider-Man after he reveals his secret identity to the team. Bendis and Tan mine a lot of humor out of Jessica’s high school crush on Peter, Luke’s feigned (Or is it.) jealousy, and the fact that he only knew her as “coma girl”. Bendis and Joe Quesada explore their relationship in more depth in a backup story in Amazing Spider-Man #601 retconning a background girl in Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man #4 to be Jessica Jones as she watches Spider-Man beat up Sandman. She also gets a great line about Spider-Man starting his own religion with  “With great power comes great responsibility” and says she’ll teach Dani about that. Spider-Man talks to Jessica about showing Dani her best side, and maybe that means a return to superheroing. It’s a great backup that gives Jessica another relationship outside of Luke and Carol, but Quesada’s art is overly posed and not his best work. Jessica Jones also looks like Mary-Jane Watson with brown hair for some reason.

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And Jessica does return into action when the Dark Avengers kidnap Luke, and Stuart Immonen ups New Avengers‘ visual quality when he becomes the new artist on the title towards the end of 2009. After shaking off some criticism from her mother, who is keeping Dani, Jessica spearheads Luke’s rescue by saying, “You don’t fucking mess with Luke Cage.”, a one-liner that should definitely be said some time in the Netflix Defenders show. And, in New Avengers #59, she assembles her own Defenders lineup of Daredevil, Hellcat (First canon meeting between Patsy and Jessica.), Dr. Voodoo, Misty Knight, The Thing, Valkyrie, and of course, Iron Fist to spring him from Norman Osborn. They rescue him easily, but in action movie villain fashion, there’s a bomb on Luke’s chest. It doesn’t detonate when Spider-Man plays it cold and blows up Osborn’s summer home again. (He probably did Harry’s homework there.) These events cause Luke and Jessica to consider their mom’s advice about finding a more normal life about Dani, and they daydream about walking through the park with Dani in her stroller and finding a place to live where they don’t have to be in hiding.

JewelisBack

Continuing the tradition of big Jessica Jones moments in New Avengers annuals, New Avengers Annual #3 features the return of the Jewel costume thanks to artist Mike Mayhew, who did the covers for The Pulse. The setup is reminiscent of DC’s Birds of Prey as the female members of the New Avengers: Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, and Mockingbird plus Jessica Jones team up to rescue Clint Barton from the Dark Avengers. They infiltrate Osborn’s helicarrier, kick around Mentallo aka the wannabe version of Mastermind, and grab Clint in a majestic fashion thanks to Mayhew’s painted art style. The successful mission has Jessica even more interested in being a superhero again and also features the return of Steve Rogers back from the dead to throw a wrench into everything as he becomes the head of SHIELD after Norman Osborn is arrested after the events of Siege, and the Superhuman Registration Act is repealed. This has a huge effect on the life of Jessica and Luke as they are no longer fugitives and take Dani on a simple walk in a New York City park in a gorgeous splash page from Bryan Hitch in New Avengers Finale #1.

But even if the happier times of the Heroic Age are upon Jessica Jones, she drew the short straw as Luke Cage got his own four issue miniseries called New Avengers: Luke Cage, written by BPRD‘s John Arcudi and drawn by Eric Canete (Martian Manhunter) and Pepe Larraz (Kanan). While Luke is off busting a crime and drug ring in Philadelphia, Arcudi writes Jessica Jones as a stereotypical nag constantly calling about him being back home instead of being sarcastically empathetic as a former superhero and private eye. To add insult to injury, Canete draws her like a teenage girl in a manga instead of an adult woman adding an air of creepiness into her all too brief scenes. Arcudi can spin a crime yarn, and Anete’s Philadelphia has real character, but their depiction of Jessica Jones is one note.

JessPunchesAgamotto

But even as she is turned into a sitcom wife in New Avengers: Luke Cage, Jessica Jones fared much better in the Heroic Age relaunch of New Avengers where Luke Cage bought Avengers Mansion from Tony Stark for $1 to house and support the New Avengers, who received a paycheck from SHIELD. Luke was still wary of getting a government paycheck because of his desire for independence, but Jessica accepted the check on his behalf and made a great quip about him being the original “hero for hire”. And she almost immediately jumps right back into battle when the Eye of Agamotto possesses Luke in New Avengers #2. Jessica punches it off him, and there is a lot of magic and possession genre stuff going like The Exorcist meets a standard superhero comic. She does get to punch ghosts and fly in Luke Cage to stop Agamotto (He’s a guy, actually.) opening a portal to scary dimensions along the way and rescue Carol Danvers from being incinerated by magical energy. You basically just want her to join the team.

JessBeatsDoombot

And she does take another step to being a full-fledged New Avenger by searching for a nanny in New Avengers #7, which features some funny Marvel D-lister cameos as Bendis and Immonen show they can deftly balance humor and action. She and Luke eventually settle on Squirrel Girl even though she has a bushy tail and a weird past with Wolverine because she can easily control her powers and is interested in working in childcare while she is a student at NYU. Getting Squirrel Girl as a nanny allows Luke and Jessica to go on their first real date possibly ever in New Avengers #8 as Daniel Acuna draws her at her most gorgeous. Luke thinks that Jessica would make a great Avenger as well as a mom and suggests the moniker “Power Woman” for her, which of course, she vetoes. In the issue, Bendis shows her torn between wanting to be present for Dani while wanting to inspire her as a superhero. And there’s a battle between her, Luke, and Doombot where she take the robot out with a fire hydrant. This is the spark that she needs to decide to join the New Avengers for real with Luke adorably saying, “Boo yah.” New Avengers #8 is the lighter counterpart to New Avengers #31 as Bendis focuses in on Jessica and Luke’s ever changing relationship and takes a break from villain plots or magical mumbo jumbo to give her a real milestone as a character even if she is technically a supporting character in the title.

JessJoinsAvengers

Jessica’s first mission is a pretty fun espionage tinged one fitted for Mike Deodato‘s photorealistic, noir style of art as she and the New Avengers hunt down Superia, who they later find out has a briefcase with the Infinity Formula that Nick Fury alive, not too old, and strong. She gets a pretty fun moment as she actually drives a truck to take down Superia while Luke carries his with his super strength with Iron Fist in it because Danny doesn’t have a driver’s license. Later, as a tie-in to Fear Itself, Jessica gets to punch Nazi robots controlled by the Red Skull’s daughter Sin, who has godlike status. It’s nice to see Jessica have an active role in a Marvel event for once instead of running away to Canada in Civil War, or staying in some kind of domicile like in Secret Invasion and Siege. She also gets a mini-team up with Squirrel Girl, who surprises Jessica with her squirrel summoning abilities, and successfully sets up the Avengers Mansion safety protocols to protect Dani. Nothing climactic happens to her in New Avengers Annual #1, but Bendis remembers she has a friendship with Daredevil from his days as her lawyer in Alias and client for her bodyguard services in his run on Daredevil. This is why it’s fitting that she gives him an Avengers keycard and welcomes to the team for a short duration as Bendis basically gets to make the New Avengers a clubhouse of all his favorite characters.

NormanThreatensDani

However, Jessica Jones’ Avengers status is less than permanent, and she completely unravels as a superhero in New Avengers #16.1, a special issue drawn by Neal Adams. Jessica is part of an escort to transfer Norman Osborn to the Raft when he becomes the Green Goblin again and threatens to kill Dani until Wolverine forces him to stand down with his claws. However, he ends up escaping, and a few issues later, Jessica confides in Luke that she is afraid to leave Dani’s side because Norman Osborn on the loose. Jessica’s concern for Dani’s safety causes her to sit out of the team’s next mission even though Squirrel Girl is there to watch the baby. Later, she uses her status as a relatively unknown superhero and tries to speak to protesters who decry the destruction left in the wake of the Avengers’ battle, but gets called a spoiled princess. This causes her to go on the run yet again with Dani and Squirrel Girl and argue with Luke for putting their daughter in harm’s way by being at Avengers Mansion. This is basically a rehashing of what went down in “Dark Reign”, but with Deodato instead of Immonen art except with Jessica quitting the Avengers team. Bendis and Deodato also make a clumsy parallel between Luke’s participation in Avengers vs. X-Men with a soldier going to war and leaving his family behind.

JessCaptainMarvel

Michael Gaydos makes his final (for now) return drawing the character of Jessica Jones in New Avengers #31, which is mostly a conversation between Jessica Jones and Carol Danvers, who has taken on the identity of Captain Marvel. Jessica feels like she has driven Luke to quit the New Avengers and is a “bad wife”, but Carol reassures her by telling her that it just took him a while to understand his responsibilities as a father and husband. Jessica is really happy with Carol’s new name and costume saying that it suits her as a great superhero and friend as she gets sarcastically sentimental. Even though some of the writing makes Luke seem flighty or a deadbeat dad, Bendis and Gaydos really capture what is great about Jessica and Carol’s friendship, and it’s a pity that they haven’t had much time to interact in issues after this arc of New Avengers. This is probably because Carol’s solo books, especially the past two volumes of Captain Marvel, are more concerned with cosmic threats and adventures than earthbound things. With Bendis on Civil War II, their lack of interactions will likely change, and it will be interesting to see if they resent each other after such a long absence.

ByeAvengersMansion

After a magically caused battle between the New Avengers and Avengers team, Jessica Jones finally says her goodbye to the team in New Avengers #34 as she, Luke, and Dani are there for the unveiling of a statue of Victoria Hand, who went from Norman Osborn’s stooge to government liaision to the Avengers, and dying heroically. It’s a pretty touching issue filled with lots of jokes about the events of previous issues, and she even gets a warm hug from Spider-Man. Deodato draws a beautiful double page spread showing all their big moments from Alias onwards as Bendis tries to make an argument that they were the heart of his New Avengers run. I could maybe see that Luke Cage was the focal point of his nine years on the family of books as he went from being a barely used supporting character in Daredevil and Alias to a team leader of both the New Avengers and the Thunderbolts. (He was more of the Tbolts’ babysitter.) However, Jessica Jones, despite her showcase issues, ended up mainly being a mom and sarcastic comic relief. For every scene where she got to punch a Doombot or joke around with Spider-Man, there’s another one where she’s standing silently with Dani on her arm with a baby bottle.

But, at least, while Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers was a key book in the Marvel Universe and led to or tied into the big summer event books, Jessica Jones got panel time. This hasn’t been the case since Jonathan Hickman and other writers have taken over the books titled Avengers and New Avengers. Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn, and Mike Hawthorne use her as a nagging wife stereotype in a couple of stories dealing with Deadpool’s team up with Luke Cage and Iron Fist against the racist supervillain, White Man. It’s a pretty funny parody of the old Power Man and Iron Fist comics, and Jessica Jones does get one great moment when she punches Deadpool out a window when he remarks on her “post baby body.”

Jessica later becomes a supporting character when Luke Cage starts yet another Avengers team in Mighty Avengers, but Al Ewing is careful not to tread on old Bendis plot points and has Luke have the team meet in an old theatre while Jessica and Dani have their own apartment. She doesn’t factor into the plot much except for a great scene where she gets to clock Superior Spider-Man (When Dr. Octopus’ brain was in Peter Parker’s body, and he was a pompous ass.), but continues to be occasional support and comic relief and gets past Blue Marvel’s hard shell to chat about his college age daughter. Jessica plays a similar supporting role in David Walker and Sanford Greene‘s Power Man and Iron Fist where she exists to say funny lines and get on Luke’s case for not spending enough time with Dani. Again, she hasn’t factored into the plot so far in the first three issues.

On a brighter note, Jessica made an appearance in the epilogue of Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat #5 in an homage to her friendship with Patsy in the Jessica Jones television show, which is the equivalent of her friendship of Carol Danvers in Alias without the extra Avengers and cosmic baggage. Jessica Jones is a P.I. for Alias Investigations in Hellcat and is actually working for Patsy’s rival, Hedy, which should stir up some real drama as the comic continues. And hopefully this portrayal continues to seep into the other corners of the Marvel Universe as Jessica is supposedly playing a role in Civil War II and getting her own solo series in its aftermath, written by Bendis with art by Michael Gaydos and covers by David Mack.

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Thanks to the high status Brian Michael Bendis has had in the Marvel stable of writers since in the mid-2000s, Jessica Jones had consistent appearances in the New Avengers titles as well as appearing in Avengers when she became a New Avenger during the Heroic Age. Because of her friendship with Spider-Man, she also appeared in some issues of Amazing Spider-Man, like when the New Avengers helped in the whole “Spider-Island” situation when random New York citizens all got powers, including Dani Cage-Jones, who promptly stuck Squirrel Girl to the wall. But her myriad appearances were mostly in support of Luke Cage or the New Avengers team with the exception of the occasional “solo” issue of New Avengers that Gaydos drew, or special annual that gave her a semblance of an arc.

Fans of Jessica Jones can only hope that Marvel’s heroic character who doesn’t want to be a superhero, overcame PTSD to be a great mom and Avenger, and might have the sharpest wit in all the Marvel Universe, but cares for the little guy and often helped out civilians while the rest of the New Avengers were punching things, gets a story of her own in the years to come and doesn’t have to play second fiddle to Luke Cage. The other Jessica gets a nuanced portrayal as mother, friend, and superhero in Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez‘s Spider-Woman, and I hope Jessica Jones gets a series like that soon, especially with the critical and commercial success of her Netflix show.

A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 11: The Mutant Metaphor (Part III)

Face front, true believers!

In Week 9, I discussed the link between “the mutant metaphor” and 1950s and 1960s science-fiction. One of the most important of these links was the overwhelming presence of the nuclear threat in the post-WWII world – almost as soon as the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sci-fi creators began to think about the dangers of the new atomic age, and whether mankind’s future was to travel the stars in ships powered by atomic energy or to see their species and their civilization end in nuclear fire.

And the X-Men are part of this tradition, as the so-called “Children of the Atom.”

phomu 11 1When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were designing the X-Men back in 1963, the original idea was to have mutants be an unintended consequence of the nuclear age – having been changed in-utero starting with the first atomic bombs in the 1940s and then the prevalence of nuclear tests throughout the 1950s, nuclear energy would explain the common origin of Xavier’s team and allow for the creation of new mutants as needed:

phomu 11 2 phomu 11 3Eventually, this close of a connection to atomic energy was moved away from when later writers and artists realized that having every mutant’s backstory involve parents working in the nuclear power industry was actually somewhat limiting, but it was very much a part of Silver Age X-Men comics. What persisted from the Kirby/Lee era through to the Chris Claremont era was the fear that mutants would take over the world after a nuclear war. For Magneto, and indeed with other “evil mutants,” the idea of a nuclear war took on the same significance that colonial wars would for revolutionary Marxists.

While the X-Men frequently fought evil mutants, there was really only one particular arc where the conflict was both political as well as physical; namely, the Factor Three arc. This arc is largely disappointing in classic Silver Age over-promising fashion – the Factor Three had been acting from behind the scenes for months, sending Kirby robots and a kidnapped Banshee and a jailbroken Juggernaut after the X-Men, only to turn out to a bunch of characters we’d already seen before: the Blob, the Vanisher, Mastermind, and Unus the Untouchable, plus the mysterious Changeling and the Mutant Master. However, in issue #37, Factor Three capture the X-Men and decide to put them on trial for betraying mutantdom:

phomu 11 4Like all trials, this judicial process raises political questions as well: here, the charge against the X-Men reflects the political ideology of “evil mutants,” who believe that solidarity between mutants requires a united front against humanity. And it raises the central problem of the Silver Age X-Men – that with the exception of their fight against the Sentinels , they primarily fight against other mutants on behalf of that world “that hates and fears them.”

Similarly, when the Mutant Master passes sentence against the X-Men, his peroration reveals a good deal about both the political ideology of “evil mutants” and the role of atomic weapons in both their thinking and in the “mutant metaphor:”

phomu 11 5The dominant mode of “evil mutant” political thought is a kind of cod-Darwinian logic that sees the struggle for survival as a zero-sum game in which only one species can win.  Hence the idea that “too long has the inferior species called homo sapiens held sway on the earth,” and that in order for that species to be replaced so that “homo superior shall inherit the earth,” it is necessary that “there must be a total destruction of the power of the human race.” Now there’s a lot to be said about how Marvel’s idiosyncratic grasp of science has shaped the X-Men (I’ll get into this more in a future issue where I discuss the Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon analogy in X-Men comics), but there is a certain resonance here to the use of quasi-Darwinian arguments for eugenics and racial nationalist politics.

However, it is the “evil mutant” embrace of the atomic bomb as the instrument of natural selection where we can see the strongest link between the mutant metaphor and anti-nuclear science fiction. The mutant threat, called into existence by atomic weapons, will use “their own mightiest weapon – the hydrogen bomb!” to bring an “end for all time of the civilization of homo sapiens.” The analogy between the plans of the Mutant Master and the potential outcome of Mutually Assured Destruction is hardly subtle, but there is a crude power in Ross Andru’s pencils and Don Heck’s inks, of cities falling into a Miltonian lake of fire, of the planet itself cracked open by a mushroom cloud.

Moreover, we can see in Roy Thomas’ writing a view of the Cold War that comes straight out of the anti-nuclear science fiction of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Rather than a struggle of ideologies or a struggle between Good and Evil, the Cold War is seen as a dangerous weakness that a third party (or maybe a third factor…) can manipulate through “an infallible plot which shall soon lead east and west into a vengeful and destructive nuclear war,” thanks to a series of false-flag operations designed to convince the US and the USSR that the other is to blame.

phomu 11 6The contrast with Stan Lee’s rah-rah all-American leanings, back when the Fantastic Four went into space to “beat the commies” in the Space Race, is quite striking. And while I doubt that this particular issue was in the minds of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman when they were writing X-Men: First Class, the resonances between the plans of the Mutant Master and Sebastian Shaw to escalate US/Soviet tensions and bring about mutant ascendancy through nuclear war are strong.

phomu 11 7However, there is a flaw at the heart of mutant extremism in Silver Age X-Men. Because of the relative absence of anti-mutant prejudice in early X-Men comics, we don’t’ really get a context for why “evil mutants” view humans as their enemies, let alone why they should describe themselves as “evil.” (This is much the same problem that the original Magneto had. Hence in these issues, we see the members of Factor Three describe in vague and nebulous terms that their “hatred for normal humans” stems from humans’ “fear and hostility toward us,” but we don’t really see mutants suffering the kind of oppression associated with this kind of radicalization.  Thus, we as readers side with the X-Men’s arguments that nuclear obliteration is a bit of a steep punishment for “mistrust of mutants” by humans, which strikes me as a bit of a strawman to say the least.

phomu 11 8And this weakness is a continuing problem, because it means that there isn’t really a foundation for why “evil mutant” politics should exist. And a result, you get a half-hearted and ultimately condescending end to the story; the X-Men free themselves and thwart Factor Three’s plans for nuclear holocaust by showing that, just as the US and USSR were being egged on by a third party seeking to profit from their conflict, the “evil mutants” conflict with the X-Men was due to them being misled by an alien “outside agitator.” (Which clever readers might have guessed from the earlier page that suggested that the mutants would only inherit the “remains of the earth”) And at the end of the day, “my ideological opponents are dupes of evil aliens” is still an ad hominem attack rather than a full response to the arguments of mutant extremists.

phomu 11 9On the other hand, there’s more than just condescending paternalism that emerges from this reveal. For all that Professor X. gets criticized for his high-handed approach to politics, it is interesting that in this moment, Xavier saves the world through an appeal to mutant solidarity, convincing his former enemies to band together with the X-Men, as “there is no need for mutant to battle mutant.” Moreover, once the X-Men and the former Brotherhood of Evil Mutants have defeated the evil alien from Sirius, Xavier’s closing dialogue looks to the possibility that the dichotomy between good and evil mutants might be transcended, as long as we “remember the day when there were no evil mutants, no good mutants, only a handful of men fighting side by side to protect our planet from a common foe.”

This ending probably owes more to JFK’s argument for a nuclear test ban that “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal,” than it does to a fully-thought-out vision for Professor X’s mutant politics. However, it is good to see Xavier thinking and talking in these kind of terms, because it’s something of a rarity in Silver-Age X-Men comics.

Indeed, as “blinded by hatred” the ideology of the “evil mutants” might be, they do kind of have a point in their indictment of the X-Men, in that the Silver Age X-Men are an organization acting primarily in defense of human interests by defending them against “evil mutants.” This is a major problem with the Professor X as MLK analogy, because however committed he was to non-violence as a tactic, King was always engaged in political activism on behalf of African-Americans. And while King was surveilled and harassed by the FBI, Xavier works with them:

phomu 11 10I’m sort of surprised that this wasn’t entered into evidence as Exhibit A in the case against the X-Men, because here we have Xavier proposing to “help you…and the human race by tracking down myself the mutants in this country.” On the other hand, we do see that Xavier is trying to shift government policy as a result – he’s actively trying to persuade the FBI that “mutants may be either good…or evil,” and that “if [mutants] are hounded…persecuted…they may band together to become the very menace that you fear,” and that there is a better way for humans and mutants to interact.

One could also interpret this interaction tactically – through this cooperation, Xavier (rather than the FBI) is the one tracking down mutants, and then enrolling them in a paramilitary organization. And in an era before Cerebro, Xavier’s collaboration gets him access to files about emerging mutants across the country:

phomu 11 11And here’s where the protean nature of the “mutant metaphor” kicks in – Xavier’s dialogue that “the anger of society turns him into the very menace it fears” is far more reminiscent of a liberal social worker or psychologist arguing for gentler treatment of juvenile delinquents in the 1950 than anything having to do with civil rights, or indeed atomic weapons and science-fiction.

It’s all a bit of a mish-mash, which both offered an opportunity and provided a pressing motive for Chris Claremont to put his own stamp on the “mutant metaphor” – but that’s a topic for another People’s History of the Marvel Universe

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