Tag Archives: X-Men

#XMenDOFP and the Nuances of the Human vs “Not Human” paradigm

Blink from the movie, X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Image from i09

The X-Men has long since been my favorite group of super heroes. I have often wondered what it was during my childhood that attracted me to the X-Men more than any other group of super heroes in the Marvel or DC Universe. Was it that I thought they had the best powers, did they have the coolest characters, or was I most intrigued by their story lines? I found myself most readily able to identify with the X-Men because I saw myself in the mutant species. It is no secret that the X-Men series is rich in metaphors for the Civil Rights struggle. In both the X-Men comics and in X-Men TAS Charles Xavier is an allusion to the Civil Right leader Martin Luther King Jr. Even though the X-Men save the world on a weekly basis they struggle to find acceptance, for no other reason than because they are mutants. It was this connection that fueled my intrigue with the X-Men film franchise. Indeed the most recent film X-Men: Day of Future Past is rife with analogies and parallel to both past and modern Civil Rights struggles. For the record the X-Men series in all forms has great limitations in its use as an analogy to the struggle for Civil Rights. Nevertheless, as I reflected on the film and the history of the film series I found that the most provocative feature of the film was the deeper meaning found through how the film questions what it means to be human and perhaps more importantly what it means to be “not human.” In light of this question it becomes important to examine what factors have motivated ethical treatment for those considered human and “not human.” As I reflect on the realities that depict “humans” and “non-humans” I am reminded of the writings of Giorgi Agamben and his work entitled Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Agamben describes the process by which groups of people become labeled as “not human” using the term homo sacer. In ancient Rome the homo sacer was a criminal who was declared an unperson. They were deemed inadequate as a form of sacrifice, while simultaneously not receiving any protection from the law.

Without any form of protection from the law through being stigmatized as the unperson, the homo sacer is left with no recourses and thus is a bare life. Agamben analysis of the homo sacer as the unperson, who is without protection, rights, or official recognition. The nation- state is capable of labeling undesirable people within a particular context as the homo sacer. This adequately describes the treatment of the mutants throughout the X-Men film series. They are not given the provision of protection by the government through the legal system. There is no vote on their systematic extermination the perceived fact that they pose a great threat to society far outweighs any rights of humaness that they may have. This feature is exemplified by Bolivar Trask initiative to exterminate all of the mutants because of the threat that they pose in X-Men Days of Future Past, and through the passing of the Mutant Registration Act in X-Men the Last Stand. Both acts are guided by a conscious decision to protect the “humans” from the “not humans.” The distinction between who is considered human and “not human” is clear. It resonates with the treatment of the immigrant population who are forced to “prove” their citizenship and in many instances seen as a threat to our borders. It also resonates with racial and ethnic minorities living in an Urban setting, who are disproportionately killed by our justice system to keep our “streets safe.” In both instances government protection and human status are sacrificed for the perceived safety of the community. Merely examining Agamben’s notion of the homo sacer as the “not human” falls short of a nuanced understanding of examining ethical treatment of humans and “not humans.” To do this one must look at some of the root causes of how one receives the label of homo sacer. Again the X-Men series is helpful towards examining one of these causes as well. An implicit message that pervades the entire X-Men film series is that both mutants and humans fear what they do not completely understands.

Mutants such as Rogue and others fear the humans not only because of whatever damage they can do to them but also because there lack of understanding of the human race. Rogue in a physical level can never understand the ways of humans as she is not able to even touch one without killing them. She still suffers from the the trauma of from touching her first boyfriend and rendering him unconscious. She is also afraid of her own powers because of the damage it can down, her inability to control them, and how little she really knows about her power. More obviously, humans fear the mutants not solely because of the power but also because of they can not fully comprehend the mutants power. Despite the X-Men consistently saving the world humans still question their intentions and the extent to which they use their powers. Even in X-Men TAS the phrase “people fear what they do not understand” is stated twice in the first two episode to make even more explicit this motif in the X-Men series. This at a very basic level alludes to what can be deemed as the chimeric quality of ethical treatment. In Greek mythology the Chimera is a mythical creature sort that is a hybrid of several different creature and is a fire breathing dragon. However, more importantly it as creature that has never been. No one in Greek mythology is said to ever encounter it through personal experience. It exists through fear and the imagination. Despite this in Greek mythology it provokes a very real and visceral emotional reaction. Thus the chimeric quality of ethical treatment is the way people are treated based on the fear of the unknown. Whether it be Mark Cuban’s comments describing his reaction to seeing a black man in a hoodie on the street or a white man covered in earrings. In both instances he said he would cross to the other side. Although there are definite racial undertones to this statement he is also very specifically alluding to the fear of the unknown. In both instances he is not afraid to admit that he is scared of what he does not know about either person.

Unfortunately, in 21st century America the unknown is too often equated minorities and people of color. Whether it be Trayvon Martin walking in a predominantly white neighborhood, or John Crawford III ( fatally shot because he was playing with a toy gun in Walmart and someone got suspicious), the chimeric quality of ethical treatment is a major threat to the bodies of people of color. Just as mutants both good and bad are murdered in the X-Men series on the basis of their perceived threat because of their unknown abilities; scores of minorities are also murdered daily and deemed as “not human” because of their unknown qualities. Realizing the dangers posed by the chimeric ethical treatment model can serve as one way to begin to form a more nuance understanding on how to distinguish that which is considered human and “not human.” Humaness as a general category should imply the fair and ethical treatment of all people regardless of perceived chimeric qualities. While the “not human,” is that which does not provide this basic ethical treatment for everyone. This articulation of humaness is exemplified in several instances in the X-Men film franchise. Perhaps most poignantly is at the conclusion of X-Men Days of Future Past. Mystique finds her own humaness by saving the life of Bolivar Trask. Trask, one of the major antagonist of the film commits a plethora of act making deserving of the title “not human,” including being responsible for the Sentinel program aimed at totally annihilating the mutant population. He appears to not be worthy of such ethical treatment by Mystique. However, by seeing the humaness in everyone she is able to find the humaness within herself. She simultaneously dismisses the chimeric quality of Bolivar Trask as well as the uncertainty of what will become of the mutants in the future. Although both she and the X-Men series do not provide an explicit solution to understanding way of providing the ethical treatment to that which is considered “not human” both certainly provided a starting for this discussion. 

For a possible Foucauldian take on the original X-Men trilogy, see Rod’s 2010 post: Re-Watching the X-Men Trilogy.

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 3, Wolverine

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 3, Wolverine

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.

Wolverine (comic book)

Wolverine (comic book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who doesn’t love Wolverine? Well, a lot of people actually. But that hasn’t always been true. Back in the day, when those of us who actually knew who the X-men were (the same people who were shoved in lockers and given wedgies), all loved Wolverine the best. He had the most character, the best lines, and he was the best there was at what he did (and what he did wasn’t pretty). Time has passed and like all things good, he was exploited and now shows up in 75% of Marvel’s product line, just for sales. So what about Wolvie? Can he be my new favorite superhero?

Who is Wolverine?

 Wolverine is a mutant, and most notably, part of the X-men. However, it should also be noted that he has been part of the Avengers, X-Force, the Fantastic Four, and Alpha Flight, among others. He is short – only 5’3”, is chock full of overgrown body hair, and can heal from nearly any wound in a matter of moments. He also has a nigh-indestructible metal skeleton that also covers his claws, which can pop out ouf his wrists and slice and dice nearly any foe. His past remains somewhat of a mystery and he is apparently very, very old.


Is this character heroic? Yeah……ish…mostly…probably…yes. Wolvie treads dangerously close to the anti-hero line. He has definitely gone to much darker places than nearly every other “super” hero, but he has always come back, if only by the literal skin of his teeth. Having said that, he has also had quite a few of the more memorable and heroic moments in the entirety of comic-dom, saving the universe any number of times, and proving that while he might struggle with his feral nature, he is loyal and willing to do what is needed to save others. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Wolverine pretty much fights against the powers. While he has taken up stints in various armies, and has certainly done the bidding of others who sought to use him, he remains an outsider, with a chip on his shoulder towards authority of any kind. He has been marginalized, and therefore, is quick to see behind the curtains of what the powerful are saying. He is the first to point the finger at the “man” and as a mutant, he is already standing far outside the party line. Of any party.  (1 points)

Does this character kill? So… about that. Its kindof what he does. A Wolverine that didn’t kill would be such a departure for the character and his abilities that it just wouldn’t work. His razor sharp claws and deadly reputation simply do not lend themselves to non-violence, and while he may try to keep his animalistic urges under control, he is the first to “do what must be done,” no matter how internally conflicted he is about it.  (0 points)

Does this character have a spirituality? Yeah. But it is spotty. Like most comic characters, they are subject to the whims of writers. For example, in one episode of the 90’s X-men cartoon, after talking with Nightcrawler and doubting God for the entire episode, Wolverine appears to become a Christian. He has had multiple religious/spiritual experiences, mostly focused through Japanese/Shinto cultural contexts, but also in more traditionally western ways as well. Still in other mediums, he portrays himself to be a practical agnostic. So spiritual? Yes. Religious? Not really. But the dialogue is there. (1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? For sure. One of the reasons that Wolverine has had such a popular 40+ years at marvel is that the character bleeds interesting. Given his long life span, his mutant powers, his shadowy background, his struggle with himself, his love life, there is literally no end of stories that are waiting to be told about him. Now if only we can create other characters like that instead of being lazy and just sticking Wolverine in EVERY SINGLE MARVEL BOOK…. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes and No. The truth is, whatever book he is in, he shines. If you put him in X-men, he is the one everyone loves to read. If you put him in Avengers, all of the sudden, even Iron Man and Thor take a back seat. And yes, Wolverine does have supporting cast members of his own, but they are soooooooo one dimensional compared to Wolverine (when is the last time Mariko, Yukio, or Amiko?). Rather than say that others are around to make Wolverine look good, it is closer to say that the presence of Wolverine can actually diminish the presence of otherwise interesting characters… (0 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Not any cool ones… (0 bonus point)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Partially. His attitude towards how to solve problems is, well, problematic. When all you have is razor sharp adamantium claws, every problem looks like meat. Still, he is a family man at heart, and when he is forced into positions of leadership, particularly with students, he is the first to critique his own methods. He is conflicted, and hypocritical, but empathic, self-sacrificial, and he loves people dearly. Until he doesn’t. (.5 Points)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Yeah. to a point. Let’s be honest, the first time you see Wolverine absolutely gutted and you think, “there’s no way he can come back from that…” and then he heals, you are like, “WOW! Awesome!” But after the 50 billionth time you see some variation of that same thing, you are a little bored. His claws, same thing. Slash! Snikt-snikt! Slash! Cool the first 100 times… After a while, you have to pull a Superman with him and either take away his powers or give him some stupid weakness so people don’t feel that he is invulnerable, and therefore boring. (.5 point)

Verdict: 5 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Power Girl….


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