“Uncanny Avengers” Writer Stirs Controversy With Storyline About Identity Politics And The “M Word”

Havok Uncanny AvengersLGBT issues have been cropping up in mainstream comics with increasing regularity, from the announcement that Green Lantern Alan Scott was gay to Northstar’s marriage to his boyfriend in the pages of the X-Men. (Northstar and his husband are also struggling as a bi-national same-sex couple under DOMA.)

But in last week’s Uncanny Avengers #5, writer Rick Remender stirred controversy with a scene that had a major mutant superhero bemoaning his minority identity and requesting that he no longer be identified as a mutant—or as he put it, “the ‘m word.'”

“Having an X-gene doesn’t bond me to anyone,” the mutant Avenger Havoc, a.k.a. Alex Summers, declared at a press conference. ” It doesn’t define me. In fact I see the very word ‘mutant’ as divisive.”

While most of us in the LGBT community want to be viewed as people first, and sexual minorities second, the speech rankled many for promoting assimilation over pride—be it mutant, gay or other.  It was especially galling since so many parallels have been drawn between the X-Men and gay people, both by comic writers and readers themselves.

ComicsAlliance writer Andrew Wheeler writes:

havok-16Havok’s speech makes a huge leap from, “my minority identity doesn’t define me” to a rejection of minority identity.

Havok is a mutant, but he says the word is divisive and that it represents everything he hates. He asks people not to use it. He is, definitively and explicitly, self-loathing about his identity.

There is an implication in Havok’s speech that “mutant” is a slur, “the “m” word,”—which, whether the writer intended for it to or not, very obviously draws parallels to the n-word—but it’s the word mutants use to describe themselves. It can be used pejoratively—as can “gay”, “girl”, “black”, “Jew”— but it’s still the definitive linguistic presentation of a minority identity…

The speech leaves us to believe that Havok doesn’t want there to be any word that describes his minority identity. He’s not saying that he’s not just a mutant, but that “mutant” is not among the things he wants to admit to being.

rick rememderRemender (right) recently spoke with comics site Newsarama about the controversy.

I was looking to give Alex a POV that was unique, that was the polar opposite of his brother, thus defining him and giving some context to his character and his struggles, and opening the door for continued debate on the issue. Alex might wonder why people hate and fear him and his super powers, but not Thor and his super powers? Is it simply because he’s been labeled a “mutant” instead of an “Asgardian God?”

Alex has come to the conclusion the labels are the problem. [The Scarlet Witch] has a very different dilemma coming up, and ultimately a very different solution to the same question. But, again, none of these characters or their dilemmas should be read as metaphors for any real world position I personally take on anything.

The beauty of the mutant metaphor is that it’s so inclusive — there are so many ways a person can relate to it. The mistake, I think, is to apply your own personal metaphor onto it and assume everyone else sees it the same way or that your version applies more than someone else’s. Everyone sees the mutants as themselves. Everyone.

We all love these characters and love seeing them stand up against a world that hates and fears them. We can all feel that way and identify with that; it isn’t a metaphor for any one single type of real world person, I think we all get to share ownership to the identification of being/feeling on the outside to varying degrees.

Does Remender have a point? Do characters in a comic book (or movie or TV show) have to have the “right” political philosophy? Or is it more realistic to make them wrongheaded or even prejudiced?

Or should a straight, white male think twice before writing long speeches about how annoying identity politics are?

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