Welcome to yet ANOTHER episode of “Life On Mars,” you lucky devils you! You might be asking yourselves: what did you do to deserve such a bounty of pointed pop-culture insight and spicy media criticism. Well, that’s between you and your Confessor!
I will start this column by saying two things:
a) I think there should be more comic books out there addressing a whole range of “social issues.”
b) I don’t think that the only writer “qualified” to address a social issue is one with personal experience w/said social issue.
c) A “woke” comic done “wrong” (or even simply half-assed) can not only be terrible, but even harmful to the social issue being addressed.
d) While the only writer “qualified” to write about a social issue doesn’t necessarily have to be one w/personal experience of said issue…IT CAN SURE AS HELL HELP!
Let me reiterate that last point—point “d”—just in case I stuttered…
HAVING A WRITER WITH PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF SAID ISSUE CAN SURE AS HELL HELP!
Now, I grew up on comic books tackling social issues which were mostly written by just white straight cis males. They tackled these issues with a wide spectrum of success/failure. But I will say…that had these comic publishers (and TV producers, and movie producers, etc.) chose not to tackle those issues, I probably might not have been introduced to many of them.
From which comes the question—is it better to have a social issue addressed in a possibly ham-fisted way than not addressed at all?
Like many of these types of questions (as we saw in “Life On Mars” #2), the answer is not on the strict yes/no binary (though, I know there are some who would love that it were so). On one hand: it can help, even if half-assed/half-hearted, simply by putting the issue out there. On the other hand: it can inadvertently harm things by presenting an incomplete or skewed version of said social issues.
And then, of course…there’s also the possibility that a publisher feels so woke and benevolent putting out these stories that they are blind to their own flaws; basically cultivating the attitude, “Oh, I gave at the office! I’m good! I did my part!”
This brings us to the much-maligned Uncanny X-Men #17, in which longtime character Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane is beaten to death by a pack of boys who are apparently insecure about their hu/manhood after lusting over a werewolf. And the basic criticism here is…this is like a bad allegory not only of hate crimes, but specifically hate crimes against the trans community. To reiterate: Rahne is approached by these boys, they show obvious non-platonic interest in her, she defensively turns into a wolf-person, they beat her to death because, as one boy literally says, she’s “a trap.”
Now, Wolverine makes it his “mission” throughout the issue to get justice for Rahne…culminating with him confronting the boys and making them “say her name.” And the further criticism here is that this is all rather unconvincing and ham-fisted…and FURTHER, that a cis male wrote the issue instead of hiring an actual trans comic book writer (of which there are many at this point so don’t give me this shit like you can’t “find” them).
NOW: I do not identify as “trans” but I do feel I have a more “fluid” gender identity than many of my peers. And so: I think I have something to say about whether Uncanny X-Men #17 “worked” or not. And here is my honest-to-god gut reaction after reading this comic:
I was not offended. I just wasn’t. I think the writer Matthew Rosenberg had good intentions writing this issue. He tried.
Did he really succeed?
This issue didn’t succeed for me as a convincing or life-changing story about discrimination based on one’s personal identity because #1 it didn’t feel real & organic enough and #2 because it was rather boring.
Uncanny X-Men #17 was boring, folks. Is there a bigger sin? At least some Ethan Van Scivery nonsense would have been all ideologically gory and outrageous and just make you want to burn something down and create change.
You…you killed off this classic New Mutants/X-Men character in this tragic way and it just ended up feeling banal. No emotional resonance. And so it’s like…the progressive readers don’t want it because it lacks a soul. And the more conservative readers…well, I do have to wonder if Poe’s Law might apply to them & the lesson they took away was, “if you come on to some chick, make sure she’s not a “werewolf.”
‘Cause you know—I get a number of emails from male fans of my writing who kind of…”confront” me on the gender fluidity thing. Usually they tell me that I’m “wrong” about being gender fluid, and that I’m really just a “tomboy,” or some shit like that. And when they send me these emails it creeps me out because I get the sense that…they “like” me, but anything I might allude to outside the female gender norm makes them insecure.
And so honestly: I read Uncanny X-Men #17 and it basically reminded me that I might be putting myself at the risk of possible violence. Was that Rosenberg’s intention? Was that Marvel’s? Probably not…but it was also not a comic that made me feel empowered in ANY way, either.
Here’s the thing: I couldn’t get outraged at this comic because, ultimately, I never expected Marvel to competently tackle this issue to begin with. Uncanny X-Men #17 deftly met my expectations for it.
And so it goes…