Today is for taboo II

newrepublicThe topic is Marvel mutanthood and racism, and its relationship both to prejudice against black Americans and to Jewish-American identity, or a sector thereof. It’s the sequel to Today is for taboo earlier this month.

Everyone has an opinion about how much Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were going on in the concept and execution of the “X” in The Uncanny X-Men in the early 1960s.1963 is two years before Malcolm X was killed, five years before King was killed. This was the period when King’s activism in the American South was foundering badly. The Freedom Rides were facing violent and institutional repercussions, and were even being condemned by the Kennedy administration. It was also the time of Malcolm X’s ongoing interview series with Alex Haley in Playboy, which would be published much later in collected form as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and of his break with the Nation of Islam. (For you youngsters: the old joke “I only read it for the articles” is subtler than it looks: the 50s-60s Playboy was one of the best literary and political magazines in the world.)

If you care to know, I’m inclined to think that the X-Men were strongly informed by Lee’s and Kirby’s views on civil rights. This is also tied into Lee/Lieber and Kirby/Kurtzberg as older Jewish Americans in their 40s and 50s respectively, just before the murders of Freedom Riders James Chaney (black), Michael Schwermer (Jewish), and Michael Goodman (Jewish), and a few years before the Six-Day War. That debate can go on and on, but my present point is only that the time was very different from the distorted later narrative of successful, visionary King, and marginal, violent Malcolm.

Racism = bad idea, do not pass Go

Racism = bad idea, do not pass Go

Lee’s and Kirby’s primary X-Men story about racism came in 1965, #15-16, which introduced the Trask family, the Sentinels and the Master Mold. In a word, although Bolivar Trask’s racist messaging does seem to strike a chord among the masses, i.e., the greater populace is vulnerable to fear-mongering and propaganda, they don’t harbor a nugget of “to be triggered” mutant-hatred at all times. The Sentinels then show that racist programming results in tyranny for those who thought they’d benefit from it. Unfortunately, here’s where my experience shows its limitations because I did not have these comics, and I don’t know when the crucial moment arrived when Master Mold juices up its mutant detector to maximum, to discover that it detects everyone on the planet. Mutant detectors have a squishy relationship to Marvel mutant-hatred in the first place and I imagine tracking their conceptual description and their role in stories throughout the decades would make a dandy Master’s thesis for someone. This moment – whenever it was; I do remember it being referenced in a 1987 issue of X-Factor – totally subverts and negates the very idea of essentialist designation among people, though – the best possible , as I see it. Unfortunately it seemed to gain no traction in Marvel story-telling in the long run.

In my original stash

In my original stash

Roy Thomas picked up the Sentinels in 1972 as The Uncanny X-Men was canceled and the story in that title’s #57-59 continued in the Avengers #102-104. In that case, the bonkers robots were using solar flares to sterilize humanity (not “harming them”) so no mutants would be born ever again; that no one would be born didn’t concern them. So again, well and good: you can’t really separate mutant vs. human as concepts or in practice; racism is not only immoral but factually entirely mistaken, therefore acting upon it is insane. This sequence also includes one of the most impressive heroic action moments in superhero history, when Quicksilver defeats a Sentinel alone through clear thinking and at great personal cost. It’s his peak moment of matching his loyalty to his sister/fellow-mutant with genuine service to all persons.

So fast-forward into the mid and late 1970s, via the 1967 and 1973 wars, and the period in between which includes the War of Attrition and the Black September events in Jordan, as well as actions such as the Munich Massacre and the events on the Achille Lauro. Some of American Judaism has undergone a major shift of attention to Israel, which has itself undergone its single most significant shift in governance, not quite so much in actual policy but very much so in domestic demographics and open rhetoric. Lots of variables were involved but came to be symbolized in a new coalition which effectively became a party, Likud, and one of its co-founders who was elected prime minister in 1977.





Menachem Begin came to Israel late in its early days as a refugee from Europe and as the perennial Other Party leader during David Ben-Gurion’s long – pretty much lifelong – premiership. After the latter’s death, Begin finally hit upon a winning political combination in the Labour government’s bungling of the 1973 war, the discontent among nonwhite Israelis, the national confusion and frustration over having become occupiers and effective governors of 3 million (more) Palestinians in the 1967 events, the occupation of Gaza, the Sinai, the Golan, and the West Bank, and the power of organizing via conservative religious networks. The real power in Likud was held by Ariel Sharon, but Begin’s rhetorical intensity and emphasis on racial-nationalist unity among all Jewish Israelis was its selling-point. His style of public speech wigged out more than one lefty Israeli observer: weeping, fist-shaking, leading chants in crescendoing shrieks, all about seizing and holding territory, low on reasoning and high on belligerence. Jewish intellectuals in the U.S. of the 1950s, including Albert Einstein, protested his appearance in the country as an obvious fascist.

A good book, but only beginning the needed discussion

A good book, but only beginning the needed discussion

So how does any of that relate to black civil rights in the U.S..? Murkily. In the early 60s and before, the most common attribution to Jewish Americans was radicalism and communism, both pilloried for daring to demand change regarding Jim Crow and voting discrimination. HUAC’s assault on communism often focused on Jewish targets for just that reason, and as another way to look at it, many vocal and visible northern activists for southern black civil rights were Jewish and openly leftist. But by the late 1970s, this association – however strong or consistent it really was – had disappeared. There’s not enough public discourse about this. The best I’ve got so far is Jonathan Kaufman’s Broken Alliance, which bluntly investigates northern racism and landlord abuses (this is the book that explained “white flight” to me, it’s an incredible scam) as well as a series of specific events in New York school districts which overtook the larger issues. I think more could be brought in, specifically the 1970s construction of myths about both King and Malcolm X, the little-known course of the 1973 war, and a deeper look into how civil-rights-y the larger Jewish-American population of the 1950s and 1960s really was. The latter would by no means devalue the real and politically-important presence of many young Jewish Americans in the civil rights movement.

Next on the reading list

Next on the reading list

It also should be read in close partnership with Eric Goldstein’s The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity, Karen Brodkin’s How Jews Became White Folks, and especially, Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People. What happened in Israel is very different from what happened in the U.S.: Begin secured the nonwhite vote for the Likud by appealing to militarism, exceptionalism, and automatic national loyalty, but Jewish-American support for the Likud is tagged by disdain for nonwhites. (There’s a lot to talk about here. Briefly, ethnically-Arab Jewish Israelis, Mizrahi in Hebrew, bought non-Arab-ness via their willingness to despise Palestinians, just as at the same time, Italian, Polish, Jewish, and Scots-Irish Americans bought whiteness by distancing themselves from black Americans.) All of this ties in as well to the issues raised today by Philip Weiss regarding privilege. Ooh! This just in: Keith Feldman’s new book A Shadow Over Palestine, which looks to be exactly what I was seeking, so it’s next on the reading list.

Kaufman explicitly calls out Marty Peretz’s 1974 acquisition and long-time editorship of the previously liberal-radical magazine The New Republic as a key opinion-making organ for Jewish Americans, and for liberal elites in general. Briefly, it eradicated both the presence and memory of the Jewish leftist-radical from American culture, and contributed greatly both to identifying U.S. interests with those of Israel, and to disavowing black civil rights as a concern for anyone who isn’t black. There is a lot of subcultural history here, in which I’m not particularly involved. I’m a Left Coaster, and the designations of upstate WASPs vs. New Yorkers, and whatever nuances of Long Island or the Catskills, isn’t part of my experience. I easily see how deeply-felt they are via literature and film, as in Salinger, Roth, Allen, and others, but I’ll leave discussion to others, except to say that I have never understood this publication’s reputation as liberal or intellectual. It seems to me ethnocentric and dishonest, the smiling face of a particular form of American exceptionalism which in application is not particularly opposed to the ham-fisted and openly vicious version. It may not have invented, but certainly promulgated the pathologizing of black anger, whether due to the “history of slavery” or innate deficiency. Yeah, you heard that right – consider the later topic of its extensive support for The Bell Curve, which any actual scientist or statistician (I am both) wouldn’t trouble to spit on if it were on fire, and which remains disturbingly entrenched, and underlies a recent spate of further nonsense misappropriating the prefix “bio-.”

The foundation for these “bio-ethnic” narratives lies in the emphasis Peretz’s version of the magazine laid on Jewishness as ethnicity, as opposed to Judaism as religion – a phrasing I first encountered from my girlfriend during the mid and late 80s, at the very time that I was getting back into comics and becoming a considerable X-head. She was enticed into Marvel comics via me, especially the X-titles, and became quite a fan along with me. We were together for a long time (my longest relationship prior to my late 30s and my eventual marriage at 38) but baffled one another on this very issue: to me, naively or at least very regionally, Jewish-American tradition was founded in civil protest and painful awareness of anti-Communist and hard-Christian persecution, and had much in common with Unitarianism; to her, Jewish meant Jewish wherever she was, with latent anti-Semitism surrounding her pretty much anywhere that happened to be, and non-negotiable respect for Israel no matter how much liberal one was otherwise. This was also when I learned that “Democrat” didn’t mean anything similar from place to place in the U.S. For perspective, when Maus came out in book form we were both impressed with it and discussed it a lot, and we were also big fans of Magneto’s now-established history. So we didn’t clash about these things but we never could see eye to eye either.

Ready yet? Here it is: Zionism, Aryanism, most late 19th-century ethno-nationalism, and the resulting offspring, Cold War Americanism, are all the same things. Bellicose, bigoted, non-negotiable, acquisitive patriotism raised to the level of a national religion, official or otherwise, and tied tightly to a local ethnic power-structure that does not stint at exploitation and savagery of all kinds. Beginism + New Republic Judaism, better described as Israelism, is one of many heightened and explicit examples, refined and redefined at this time in a specific relationship to the United States. In other words, Israelism in the U.S. goes hand-in-hand with anti-black prejudice. It taps into institutional Northern racism which gets a pass because it’s not stereotypically Southern. It leads white people to ask “Why are you still so angry” because they keep thinking it’s about voting or lynching in far-away states and about how virtuous they are in comparison, instead of the every-state, every-city War on Drugs, the gross misuses of arrest and sentencing for black Americans, the strict tacit social rules regarding which few black Americans may succeed professionally, and the hideous impact of No Child Left Behind and its predecessor policies. These policies were not generated by the New Republic and in no way can be laid on the lap of Jewish Americans as a body, but the magazine fanned those flames across the whole spectrum of political intelligentia, and in no small way in the service of Zionism.

Like it or not, that’s my observation, unfortunately among real people I know. Does it characterize Jewish Americans? I’m convinced it does not (I don’t think any one term does or could, for any designated group). Is it a powerful political force, often through specific individuals, Jewish and otherwise? I think it is, and would prefer to call that out honestly without distractions. I am particularly unsympathetic to the response called “whataboutery,” for instance citing American black support for Palestinian rights (for which I see no reason to criticize), and which also invokes false equivalence. Black Americans were and are subject to unacceptable rights abuses(Charleston: Do Black and Palestinian lives matter?; How poor black lives matter to US capitalism today) and that’s what I’m talking about.

So here we are in the 1980s, with black civil rights and Jewish political organizing certainly not paired any more insofar as they were, but with the details or significance becoming very sticky in the American mind. Specifically, idealism about Jewish American activism has been confounded with Israeli power (there’s a long-standing issue there too, from the earlier romantic notions of the Zionist “socialist endeavor”), and black Americans are being told that civil rights was victorious, King’s Dream is fulfilled, so what’s your problem. In my experience, these tensions appeared, often with much emotion, in campus arguments about Jesse Jackson and Spike Lee’s first two films, my point being that plenty of semi-lefty liberal students were well-prepared to argue against college-libertarian Reaganites, but not at all against this new and unfamiliar critique from within their own midst.

And here we were with our 1980 comics, well into the development of mutie-hatred as the primary thematic content at Marvel. And now, to some extent beginning back with Len Wein’s New X-Men, then radically so with God Loves, Man Kills, and firmly established in the comics of 1987-1988, the whole Marvel setting of mutantdom shifted into some distinctive new features.

  • The concept of retooling one’s “freak” feature into an advantage is replaced by plain old superpowers, no more “children of the atom” humanizing their disabilities, but instead Nature’s next step into demigod status.
  • The squicky notion that “Homo superior” is taken as a given rather than as a delusion put into Magneto’s mouth as the obvious ravings of an obvious bad guy.
  • The sudden psychosis of “everyone hates us” becomes bluntly literal, the default for any non-mutant [also a New Republic motif, that anyone not Jewish harbors a hidden or not-so-hidden uncontrollable hatred for Jewish people, always on tap for a new Holocaust, and for which the modern telltale is to be critical of Israel].

What seems to have been completely junked and forgotten is the prior notion from the Sentinels stories (again, whenever it was!), that everyone’s a mutant, that the entire human/mutant divide is a false construct. That’s crucial: the difference between racism being factually incorrect vs. racism being factually correct but we’re on the top, not on the bottom. It perfectly matches the difference between the mid-20th century so-called Red Jew, in which the tradition of Jewish-American participation in civil rights is grounded, and the late-20th century New Republic ineradicable ethnic identity, which invokes that tradition as a cover while reversing its every precept. (Again, this and its associated Israelism cannot be said to have swept or “converted” any single group as such. But it exists, and it’s present in the corridors of power.)

There’s the question, capital-Q: to what extent is the mutantdom of these comics a legitimate Other – to be addressed as a thematically charged issue – vs. genuine “Homo superior” … that is, this is completely tied to the issue of Magneto is right, but about what? What do the comics say, as text? Do they provide that “match” I’m describing as content (the bad kind), or as provocation (the good kind)? That’s completely up for debate. I think, for instance, that the more unpleasant interpretation is textually showcased in “Days of Future Past,” perhaps the ur-X-Men story, which not only comes down to “Magneto was right,” but also, “yes muti-hatred is unfathomably extreme and reflexive,” and “what the hell are the X-Men playing at.” But there are other stories too. Like a lot of superhero comics, the issue gets teased, taken to extremes, reversed, and generally experimented with. Does the larger sweep of the X-Men, specifically the mid-70s through the early 90s, come down on that end like that? I’d like to think not. I’d even like to be debated about it and to lose.

And now let’s cause further trouble by getting into the real taboo discussion territory, particularly among just-an-inch-left-of-center Americans. I think the picture here is more grim. It’s frankly squicky that I’m trying to think of a single black American mutant character at Marvel during my time of reading (say, up through the early 90s), across all those X-titles … and hardly coming up with any, and of those, fairly irredeemable bad guys, like Masque (maybe – this character was variously depicted). Has no one noticed this? Still, I don’t go so far as to call Marvel mutantdom openly racist toward black people, but it’s such a match with the “soft” or liberal version of this newly-minted 1980s pro-Israel ethnic-Jewish identity that it can’t be ignored.

Let's talk.

Let’s talk.

I remember this panel well from those comics my girlfriend and I avidly bought, read, and discussed. “You a mutie then, Pryde – like him?!” “Gee, I dunno, Phil — are you a nigger?” At first glance, and I submit that this first glance was important for me because I was not at all familiar with the New Republic mindset, this exchange appears anti-prejudice, pro-civil rights, essentially humanistic: racism is bad no matter from whom or directed toward whom. That might even be its intention; I have no reason to think otherwise. However, notice the agrammatical, forward-aggressive, squinting black presentation, and Kitty’s recovered flinch (via the hair motion) but resolute response, with fearless and also mocking wide-eyed sarcasm. Note the ambiguity of whether she’s saying “you’re not, so I’m not,” or “yeah I am, and guess what you are.” If it’s not crossing the line into the world in which ungrateful blacks spew Jew-hatred now that they’ve been “freed” from oppression, and in which newly staunch Jews face down ancient hatred with superior wit, then it’s at least standing on it. [I use the noun forms here, and only here, for a reason; the “world” I speak of is an objectified one]

Here’s a sequence which in my mind is the primary late-80s display of the new construction of Marvel mutant-bigotry, especially in its subtlety. As I recall, in the previous page or two, either Rogue or some of her teammates just saved two honest working-men, one white and one black, from an accident on a Manhattan street. Then Rogue is subjected to racist abuse.


So where’s Joey?

Another battle-cry for the humanist message at first glance, and as such, well and good. But I’m doin’ a little Roland Barthes on you now. First, here’s the openly-genocidal and also unquestionably privileged WASP-y bigot, tall, well-coifed, and well-dressed, buttonholed by the honest in-his-overalls working man with his patriotic tattoo – it’s all about who’s the “real melting-pot American,” and pitches the New York City southern-European immigrant-heritage fellow as him, regardless of the considerable anti-black bigotry that can be observed in that location and demographic. Second, as I have captioned, the black American is invoked as support, but he is unequivocally both absent and silent, in favor of the colorful, non-problematic Calabrese ethnicity. See? Blackness in the U.S. is just like bein’ Calabrese! No biggie! Joey agrees with me, don’t ya, Joey? (crickets) See?

What, no one has cried out “But Storm!” yet? Perhaps because you’re seeing the character’s correspondence with the romantic Israeli narrative of rescuing Jewish Africans: the “not really black” African, any of whose local political history or prior cultural identity is flatly silent, obviously as dross compared to her mutanthood. Or noted how thoroughly de-politicized and reassuring the characters of Misty Knight and Stevie Hunter are, or I should say “were” since they vanished without trace sometime in the mid-80s.

How does the 1981-and-later Magneto relate? Well, that’s why the topic got its own post earlier, but here, and to be textual rather than personal/reflective, as depicted in a flashback set in early Israel (1950s maybe), he certainly seems relaxed and at home. A couple relevant links: Who is the biggest villain; Professor X or Magneto? PART ONE: The Silver Age (1956-1969) and Who is the bigger villain; Professor X or Magneto? PART TWO: The Bronze Age (1970-1985). I have not read the later Genosha storyline about a separatist mutant utopia, so maybe an X-scholar can help with that. magnetoisrael There are some larger issues here that I’m not addressing and don’t feel competent to do so: superhero comics as Jewish-American art form, and Jewish creators as agents. Specifically, I’m talking about shifting to the biologized, static concept of mutant “race” as a text feature and it should be discussed in the entire context of U.S. society as a comics-making, comics-buying place. The New Republic POV I’m criticizing was by no means restricted to Jewish Americans, and its presence in U.S. policy-making has been represented mainly by both mainstream and evangelical Christians. Today, it’s arguably more prevalent among and more widely funded by Christian Zionists. Therefore I take a dim view of turning this discussion into an accusation of Jewish agency in the comics.

Let it be said as well that I do not like discussing author motives or intentions in general, and specifically, that Chris Claremont’s birth religion and political views, whatever the latter are or may be, are not my topic and are off-limits in the comments.

Links: The Myth of the ‘Liberal’ New Republic, Comics legends revealed (a dissenting view about the early X-Men), Claremont Re-examined, The Millions: The Survivor (this article’s #4 is crucial), What if the X-Men were black?, there’s a Ha’aretz article on the X-Men/Israel topic too but it’s behind a paywall; see also Mondoweiss. It’s also as good a time as any to point you to the About the Blog page and the social contract PDF embedded there.

Next: Stars and garters

About Ron Edwards

Game author, publisher, consultant, teacher

Posted on June 25, 2015, in Politics dammit, The 80s me, The great ultravillains, Vulgar speculation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. Ok, man of endless reading lists, I have suggestions for you:

    You know Leslie Fiedler? He emerges from the Jewish, East-Coast, radical matrix that gave us Alan Ginsberg and the characters in Doctrow’s Book of Daniel. And in 1965 he gave a name to a burgeoning post-Marxist, post-Enlightenment, post-Modernist intelligentsia: “the new mutants.”

    Look at that Partisan Review cover page: Harold Bloom goes on to rewrite the history of American society and Western literature with an idiosyncratic blend of psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and Rabbinical midrash (Derrida’s debt to Hebrew traditions of textual commentary become sharpened). He has an insider-outsider take on the Western Canon as does Fiedler. But the queer — and, as they went on, increasingly uncloseted — Sontag and Bersani? And Bayard Rustin? An activist participant in a religious community-based civil rights movement who was a gay, atheist socialist. They are the new mutants of which Fiedler speaks.

    Bloom and Fiedler have their own takes on what it means to be a Jewish intellectual in America, very different from what Marty Peretz or the Podhoretzes promoted. Both Bloom and Fiedler “make it” in the WASP academy but never make “Making It” some kind of moral victory in the way The Pod did. For them it is a compromise, an ill-fit.

    Is it possible that the editorial and writing staff of a comics publishing operation caught the vibe of what was being discussed in the Village, The Village Voice, and the New School for Social Research?

    That whole fall ’65 issue is a synchronic slice of an intellectual transformation.

    Fiedler’s essay points to the science-fiction trope of the mutant as a paradigm for understanding the transformation in intellectual life: “the post-human future is now” and we are the mutants that we only pretend are a future possibility.

    One of his fears is that the “post-humanist, post-male, post-white, post-heroic world” will have no place for a Jewish voice like that of Saul Bellow or even his own, one that proclaims a long-delayed arrival in the Western/humanist intellectual life. It will be “post-Jewish” as well.

    And there he says it: anti-Semitism is as part of the new mutation as it is in the “movement for Negro rights.” The new mutation is characterized as both “post-Jewish” and “anti-Semitic.” Those aren’t the same thing in his rhetorical formulation (2 different adjectives built from 2 different proper nouns, and one uses a preposition of temporal succession while the other is relational or logical). But both are his concern: a future is unfolding that will not only relegate him and his attachments to the past, but which will be actively hostile to him and and seek his negation or, in a dire case, his extermination.

    The prospect of a radical new mutation seems to have been registered in the sci-fi addressed by Fielder and in the comics you point out. But, like Fiedler, were the early writers for the X-Men responding to new mutations around them and the prospect of post-Jewish and anti-Semitic currents welling up in the social ferment? Fiedler as a Marxist and former Trotskyite was always suspicious about Zionism and every time he visited Israel in subsequent decades he felt less and less hopeful about its future. But in this 1965 essay he seems alert to the possibility that America’s culture will persist in anti-Semitism even as its culture mutates away from old structures of authority and domination.

    Moreover, he suggests that the post-Modern world is a post-heroic one, where the idea of a steely-eyed and pure-hearted hero rising up like a Lohengrin or a George Washington to save the day and redeem his people is being pushed out by a new mythology: the polymorphously perverse space men/interdimensional agents of William S. Burroughs.

    I’d like to pose you questions about two areas I don’t know much about: comics and the American underground.

    * Aren’t the texts you are talking about here a retreat from or denial of the new mutation? Superman still crusades in his cape and his lantern jaw. Batman, the lunar double of the solar hero if we follow Frank Miller’s imagery, is a dark loner but is still a hero. The image of the super-potent body and mind that can secure the community’s safety against threats and inspire it to moral renewal, isn’t that the essence of the comic superhero? This is characteristic of all Romance narratives, but in the mass media of the 20th century is has been the locus for some pretty dubious masculine fantasies.

    (see Male Fantasies, vol 2:

    * Did you ever see any hold-over anti-Semitic sentiments in the radical world you came out of? Something along the lines of Gilad Atzmon or Leninists, who say that the very idea of a “Jew” or a “Jewish people” is reactionary and that progressive persons should divest themselves of all particularistic ties and merge with all humanity or the revolutionary masses or whatever.

    P.S. Roland Barthes gets a shout out in the Sontag article.

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  2. I am convinced by Colin Woodard that North America features over 11 distinct nations, meaning consistent policy traditions, ethnic structuring, and specific vocabulary, and that none of them correspond to designated borders at any level. I’m from his designated Left Coast, which is not the same as the common epithet of that phrase, and with rueful resignation I recognize my own history and self in his description thereof. Whatever relationship anti-semitism or Judaism in general has with the other demographics in this region, the terms were not used as such and the phenomena were simply not the same as the terms’ much more familiar usage in New Netherland (“greater New York”) or Yankeedom. These nations are so different that I do experience them as utterly foreign, more so in fact than in visiting many other (formal/recognized) nations. (Coastal El Norte, colloquially “southern Cal,” includes enclaves which do correspond to these eastern regions; these and this whole region are also equally foreign to me.)

    I’ve never seen or read any structural description of Left Coast culture which provides me with context I’d need (and which I’d need others to see) to answer your first question. All I can say here is that Mexican-American, black, military, ecological (concrete, important versions), anti-war/establishment (at the time), and service/townie vs. affluent social issues were prevalent and that being Jewish or not, or what to think about that, was a miniscule or absent signal on the local child’s radar in comparison. And that’s from a highly-politicized, argument-filled, diverse household and range of acquaintances including this and other religious backgrounds; it has nothing do with lack of potential contact with the issue.

    Even your examples of anti-semitism are flawed, to my eyes, which probably means they make a lot of sense in those “foreign” nations. As I see it, though, Atzmon can say what he likes about it, and it’s no skin off anyone else’s nose except in terms of ego. It’s not like he has policy-power over any such thing. Same for Israel Shahak. I’m not interested in bigotry in emotional or psychological terms, only in policy terms. Anyone can hate anyone in their “heart of hearts” as far as I’m concerned, as long as, or rather as I’d wish for, institutional discrimination and cruelty were always brought to light and punished.

    Your academic question should be killed with a rock.

    The image of the super-potent body and mind that can secure the community’s safety against threats and inspire it to moral renewal, isn’t that the essence of the comic superhero?

    Regarding the comics I’ve mainly been talking about in this blog, the response to that is, “Horse shit.” Nothing in this phrase matches to an iota of the reality of these comics. These superheroes and their close kin, the monster-heroes, grappled with life and politics, with varying success and to various purposes. They were not saviors, and they were explicitly trapped by immediate history, socioeconomics, and corrupted policy just like everyone else. This is the era when Captain America discovers that President Nixon is the head of the Secret Empire, fails to stop him escaping justice by blowing his brains out, quits being Captain America, then forges a new hero to be, with a cape (“because I always wanted one”), then trips on the cape in a fight and nigh knocks himself out on the curb, prompting the pleased, escaping villain to say, “I’ve been waiting years to see someone do that,” and meanwhile various people are trying to be Captain America and coming to horrible grief each time.

    I come across a lot of academic bleating about “colonial imperialist establishment” superhero comics as I search online for blog images and links, and it shows me that none of the fuckers ever read any. (Movies absolutely, comics no.) If anything, the early superhero comics arose from admirable speaking-out from alienated Jewish-American culture with lots of crossover with other alienated groups, to shift to the other topic for a second; and so-called Silver Age and Bronze Age superhero comics were a hotbed of fervent dissent and open grappling with current issues. Also, “solar hero,” “lunar double,” my ass; that’s the stuff of Moore’s bloviating and second-rate, i.e. typical, thesis writing copying it.

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  3. Gordon Landis

    Total side note – there’s an odd (I assume unintentional) repetition of the end of paragraph 2 in paragraph 3.

    Maybe something substantive later …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fixed. It was mentioned at G+ too, and for the life of me, I couldn’t see it. After your post I tried again, and it took multiple re-readings with the help of my actual finger. Chalk up another point for “get an external edit for your own work.”


    • Jeez, what happened to all my paragraph breaks? This used to be a well-organized point-by-point essay, I swear. (fixed now. what the hell was that?)


  4. epweissengruber

    I was leaving an opening for a jab and — bam — I got it.

    Most discussion about comic images and their effects is no different from the Wertham panic. I go with Gerard Jones and others who discount attempts to psychopathologize pop culture.

    “These superheroes and their close kin, the monster-heroes, grappled with life and politics, with varying success and to various purposes”: this is a killer line and I want to keep it. I always wondered if the Marvel crew got some of their facility for handling family and romance from the romance comics they worked on.

    Images of human body in action are a the locus for a mass of intuitions and projections and sentiments. The thing about the Theweleit book Male Fantasies is about how German vets of World War I USED the pop culture imagery around them to build a kind of social identity. It does not make the error of attributing magic power to the images themselves. You should check out the book sometime because Theweleit uses 70s underground comix as counter examples of how explicit images of bodies to not have to be tied to narratives of conquest and domination, etc.

    You make a good drive-by comment: “it shows me that none of the fuckers ever read any”: so, sometime you are going to have to take on the dismissive take on comics that persists decades on after the nervous mid-century middle-brow reaction to comics. At least we are getting to a place where there are places for scholars with direct expertise in the medium rather than the “I am holding my nose while I examine this garbage” stance.

    On the sun and moon thing. Hey, I was just going with the images that Miller uses in his take on Batman vs. Superman in The Dark Knight issues. All sunlight and radiant energy and open skies for Supe and all sorts of chiaroscuro for the Bat and crescent moons and clouds.

    And Fiedler is a mythographer like Northrop Frye. He is trying to make people see that the texts they often don’t take seriously are the ones most attuned to what is going on. Romance — in the sense of adventure tales, epics, stories of incredible heroes in astounding landscapes — is not childish escapism but the establishment of an imaginative universe. In other words, near the wellspring of artistic creation.

    On the first question: I’ve always had an interest in Central European nationalism and anti-Semitism and the radical political movements of the turn of the century. It’s close to my personal biography. My antennae are out for recycling of some of those sentiments and doctrinal disputes from a century ago. And despite the slurs from various right-wing propaganda orgs,, I just don’t see them at work in BDS, solidarity movements etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gordon Landis

    So, let me check … this post documents a transition (in comics, and some public discourse) from “racism is bad” (generally, and with some understanding of complexities) to “antisemitism is bad” (particularly, and defining anything Israel-critical as antisemitism)? From “we should defend all people from racists” to “we must defend against Jew-hating anti-Semites no matter what”? There’s more, of course – important aspects like the assumed reality of homo superior, the idea of being automatically, uncontrollably hated, and the particular changes regarding black (esp.) Americans – but the focus I’m seeing is on the transition from mutants as stand-ins for any unfairly treated human to mutants as an elite (with maybe some bad apples, but-) unfairly under attack. And the parallels in places like the New Republic.

    Is this all in the neighborhood? If so, I (a born-and-raised New Amsterdamian? Amsterdamite? who moved to the Left Coast in ’91) would join your comments about not understanding anger to the fear(s) I remember dominating New York in the 80’s (and maybe those that dominated and still dominate Israel?), as help in understanding why that transition may have happened. Not an excuse – that there is a reason to fear particular persons is of course not a reason to fear all people somehow “like” them. Or at least, you can’t use fear to justify heinous acts. An audience (readers of comics/whatever, viewers of movies/whatever) deserves better than that.

    But I want to make sure I’m understanding … I’m not sure if there’s a need to develop “anger” and “fear” any further, but I’m not going to even consider it if I’m somehow off-track.


    • Hi Gordon, you gotta unpack that second paragraph. I can’t understand it at all, subjects and verbs wise.


    • Gordon Landis

      Oh, and because I knew folks with kids after I moved to the (SF) Bay Area…

      “Confused, Trask reminds Master Mold that he and the other Sentinels were programmed to only hunt and control the mutant population, not the humans, but is shocked when Master Mold reminds him that mutants are humans; therefore, logically, humanity must be protected from themselves, regardless if they have mutant powers or not.”

      Not sure where a 1993 cartoon fits in the analysis, but it seemed worth including.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Gordon Landis

      Did the first paragraph communicate? That’s probably more important ..

      But second paragraph – let me try this: IF I’m on track, I think understanding the shift in attitudes in the New York area that came with increased crime and the like in the late 70’s/80’s is part of the equation, and wouldn’t be surprised if your Begin/Israel stuff parallels that. Fear, and failure to understand anger, especially of those you fear.

      (I’m convinced that the SOURCE of the crime increase and etc. is also usually misattributed, but that’s not my focus here).


      • So two things about your first paragraph.

        1. I’d refine it with the issue of whether the Holocaust, specifically the Final Solution as policy, is “another genocide” which happens to have been the first to use industrialized assembly-line methods, or a unique outcome that could have (and inevitably would have, and possibly inevitably will) happen(ed) only to disempowered Jewish people because of a distinct anti-Jewish principle embedded deep in everyone else, perhaps intrinsic to Christianity and as framed more recently, in Islam. Meaning that this issue underwent changes in public discourse too and remains very, very touchy.

        2. You’ve jolted me into considering again the remarkable whiteness of the original X-Men, which has always puzzled me – for contrast, the FF and Spider-Man have certain regional-possibly-ethnic tags or “echoes” which keep them from being generic; at the very least, they’re profoundly New Yorkers. Same goes for most others – Daredevil’s so Irish it becomes commentary, not stereotype, for example. But Scott, Jean, Bobby, and Hank are frightening white-bread voids, with only Warren’s blatant WASPiness serving, and I mean this, for “color.”

        But I think I get it now! It relates to an idea I’ve always wanted to develop more, and mentioned only briefly in the post, that the original X-Men’s powers are only powers because they work at it and had to find ways to control or manage socially. They’re turning disabled features into super-abled ones. The danger room isn’t just combat training; it’s physical therapy. Therefore it’s important to show that disabled status (and the potential to make it great) happens to “anyone,” and you can either do that by making it full-spectrum diverse, probably not an option in 1963, or more subtly by showing that classic generic whiteness, and its “apex,” Anglican wealth, are subject to disablement. Hmmm!

        That’s not to say they still aren’t powerful symbols of minority re-empowerment at a generic level either, but I think disablement is the touchpoint.

        Your second paragraph is something you’d have to bring up with a person who “gets” the relevant region and its political vocabulary. I confess New Yorkers (meaning NYC, the Jersey Shore, that whole super-urban harbor complex, never mind which formal state or city) are almost completely opaque to me, collectively and politically. I’m not talking about individual friendships, but any concerns at the level you’re talking about.


        • My inclination on 1 is to collapse your another genocide vs. unique outcome into a “of course it’s both.” I read recently about (and damn if I can find where now) Germans present during the Armenian genocide musing on horrifying industrial “improvements” to the slaughter, just as you say – so yeah, of course “another genocide.” On the other hand, there are special circumstances from the long history of European antisemitism – just like there are special circumstances from, say, the long European history of hatred towards the various Romani peoples. Also, I think there’s some uniqueness – then, though not now – to the overt, and immensely politically useful propaganda used in the Holocaust (as opposed to only “dirty stuff we basically know about and secretly endorse but don’t actually TALK about”). But I’m WAY out of my comfort zone to draw strong conclusions.

          I would say (in light of your insights) that if “mutants” become unique targets rather than continuous with the general “killing people not like us” problem, there’s a loss of richness to the concept.

          On 2, that disablement touchpoint is great, but I think it’s also fair to say that the remarkable whiteness does (to some degree) undermine them as symbols of minority re-empowerment.

          Because of my personal background, and what I’d assume to be a significant impact of the “super-urban harbor complex” outlook on many Marvel/lDC/and more creators, I’d love to see something help you break through the opacity. But I don’t have enough comics-fu to be the one to do it here, so I guess my second paragraph is just me pointing at the mess of 1980’s NYC and saying “Crime! Poverty! Authentic civil rights activists/supporters suddenly living in (sometimes justified, often not) fear of dark skin! Bet that matters.”

          Man – white guy talking Holocaust and racial stuff on the internet. Hope I haven’t embarrassed myself too much.


        • Don’t be such a wuss. Inauthenticity or non-reflection is found everywhere, but it’s not intrinsic to anywhere.

          Your “both” answer is missing the extremity of the exceptionalism claim. It has nothing to do with understandable historical trajectories with necessarily distinct features, which as you rightly say apply to any genocide or indeed any event at all. I suggest looking into Israeli rhetoric a bit more, and its echoes/correspondences here, and you’ll see a degree of exceptionalism that approaches extra-dimensional.

          It’s going to be fun to talk about whiteness later in the blog process. Here I’ll only say that the Angel, Warren Worthington III which you may not know, is a good example of a recognizable American ethnicity, one of many which are called “white,” but that the other characters are a different sort of construct with its own, wholly literally or wholly coded meaning, which lacks historicity (reality) but plays a unique role in literary meaning.

          No historical human experience (or its depiction, however distorted) is a void, whereas some depictions of human categories are counter-historical voids. Perhaps lacking the external opportunity or even internal habit to use diverse human historical experiences in a 1963 comic, meant this void could be turned to something useful.


        • Gordon Landis

          Let me rephrase (since that last comment obviously didn’t convey what I intended) – there are many places on the internet where I’d trust neither myself (some) nor the internet (a lot) when posting on such subjects. Glad that “here” isn’t “the internet.”

          On the degree of exceptionalism – I don’t disagree, but your take still bothers me somehow. Maybe it’s just that I’d rather focus on misuse of exceptionalism (real or not) to justify atrocity, not on the exceptionalism itself? Because that is where Magneto is plain and simply NOT right – right?

          I’ll look forward to future whiteness – I don’t think I’m precisely clued-in to the details of your literary/coded meanings, but the ethnicity of a Warren Worthington III vs. other white folks (and vs. black folks, and vs. Jewish folks) is where I grew up and lived for close to 30 years, so …


  6. epweissengruber

    What kept the Marvel crew from dealing with America’s real mistreatment of Jewish refugees in WW II? Or, from representing the history of exclusionary racist polices that are addressed straightforwardly today in the signage at Ellis Island and other sites of public memory?.

    This does relate to the big capital Q question: “to what extent is the mutantdom of these comics a legitimate Other … vs genuine ‘Homo superior.’

    You point to a persistent ideological slant of the Marvel crew: “anti-prejudice, pro-civil rights, essentially humanistic: racism is bad no matter from whom or directed toward whom.” And New York City, USA is the place where that humanistic impulse is exemplified. You have Presbyterian WASP Peter Parker and the Jewish Thing and the Heroes for Hire all clobbering villains on the streets of a recognizable NYC.

    That image of a composed of a querulous but functioning ethnic patchwork is the antithesis of the policies directed at determining who was to be admitted into America and for what reasons. The U.S., like Cuba and Canada, closed the ports for the refugees on the St. Louis. The US gov stuck to the immigration quotas in the face of the European refugee crisis. Famously, a Canadian politician when asked about how many Jewish refugees should be admitted, pronounced “none is too many.” There were policies and politics at work not just sentiments and stereotypes. We’re not talking about a few stereotyped bigots or persistent bad attitudes.

    Do fragments of the immigrant and refugee experience — the immigrant as subject to government policy and not just hard times, or the refugee fleeing persecution or seeking a temporary haven — make it into the comics?

    It would mean acknowledging long-standing policy as a factor in allotting different positions for different groups in America.

    The Godfather II provided a montage where Corleone, a child migrant from Sicily goes through the Ellis Island experience, and portrays some of the mechanisms for sorting and treating immigrants. I am searching my mental database for any similar moments in the comics (although IIRC, one of the X-men movies has one). But do we ever see what it was like for Ororo getting into the country and growing up in an African immigrant community?

    (Strange: when I think of Marvel heroes, I always think of New York. What’s going on with taking New York as a synecdoche for America? I remember spotting graffiti that read “U.S.A out of N.Y.C.” and I think the feeling might be mutual.)

    The mutant Other stands as a challenge to existing structures of belonging, and as was the case with immigrants or refugees, people and their governments respond with categorizing, sorting, and policing that challenge. Do the Marvel crew ever get reflexive about that challenge, showing the mutant being subject to administrative measures like those of migrants? That could include showing both mutants and migrants as being in the same boat.

    Or does the take away message become “look at how these gifted members of Homo Superior are being bullied by untermenschen who don’t understand them”?

    Think of it in the terms of awareness of systematic problems versus a suggestion that meritocracy will allow the exceptional to become stewards of what is, essentially a fair system? “Why should we worry about equal rights or affirmative action — Nick Fury rose to the top of S.H.I.E.L.D!”


    • Where to start. First, there have been at least twenty distinct “Marvel crews,” under at least a dozen different, very different managements or lack thereof. The one most relevant to your questions would probably be the early 60s, in which case, the only “crew” is Stan, Jack, and Steve, with a very few additionals, as a tiny side business of the magazine sector of Goldman Publications. But that ought to be understood as a strange survivor of the previous decade, with a much broader and active community of creators who all knew each other, and as I understand it, dozens of companies. What became DC by the 70s was a bunch of disconnected companies a decade before, for example, to be bought up by National Publishing. So for that generation it’s not just Marvel we’re looking at.

      Your question is also pretty psychological and not where I typically go. If I had to, I’d point to the primary experience of those men being WWII veterans, itself much more of a melting-pot or at least tossed salad than any region or city. And also the curious mix of “never mind the Old Country” as evidenced in the very names Lee, Kirby, Heck, and others, with a rough willingness to poke authority in the eye. I’d recommend reading the original G. I. Joe cartoons by Bill Maulden to get an idea of the mind-set. They weren’t really dumb-ass patriots or Cold Warriors, nor were they proud-to-be-ethnic activists like the generation that followed.

      How this generation related to the immigrant experience of their parents and grandparents is something to be investigated, and I suspect it was quite diverse, but still less concerned with “how we were treated at Ellis Island” than the next generation would be.

      As for why Marvel is set in “New York, U.S.A.,” that’s easy. It was published there, owned there, everyone who worked on it grew up there. There’s a bigger picture too. The primary publishing houses for the nation are there and professionally and politically speaking, Hollywood is rightly understood as a New York expat community. If you want national distribution and hope for higher-order media presence, you’re either already in this network or trying to get adopted by it. (You may note that creative works from anywhere else are still treated as curiosities in American publishing, and it’s expected that you’ll move either to New York or to L.A. to work for real. Saturday Night Live was a Chicago creation, but every episode was introduced as “live from New York.”)

      Several things you say make me roll up my sleeves and say, “time for America 102” and “stop watching movies.”

      1. Greater New York, what Woodard calls New Netherlands, isn’t a tolerant or come-together place at all. It’s a hub of hustle and arrival and staking claims. Anyone can come in, but they are a they and will always be; they better stick together and choose allies fast, or vanish. What economic and living territory they stake out is totally their problem, including learning fast what others aren’t available to muscle in on. No derogatory term for your group? Don’t worry, you’ll get one, don’t sweat it, everyone has one. Oh, and did I say “anyone?” Except for the black communities which were and are treated not as immigrants but refugees, and have been treated as such thoroughly and without reflection by everyone else, and don’t think of questioning that.

      2. Peter Parker isn’t a WASP. That term is incredbly badly mis-used. For one thing, it’s entirely regional; no one outside of New Netherlands uses it at all in local political context, only when they’re speaking more broadly and adopting terms from widespread publications like the New York Review of Books. For another, the “P” isn’t actually Protestant at all, it’s specifically Anglican, which is to say the American version, Episcopal, which is tightly allied to the Anglican Church in England and has also always been friendly with the southern branch in the Tidewater region of the U.S. (the Carolinas, eastern Virginia).

      Yankees, for example, are primarily Protestant too, but derived from Puritan roots and opposed to anything and everything Anglican you can imagine, rooted absolutely literally in the English Revolution of the mid-1600s. The primary political newspaper of New England is the Roundhead; the corresponding paper in Tidewater is the Cavalier. Similarly, the white population of Greater Appalachia is continually confused by people calling them WASPs with its association of privilege. They have no idea what it means, and rightly so, as a bunch of evangelical home-grown Christian sect Scots-Irish with the worst health and life-span statistics in the nation. Even “white” is very grudgingly assigned to them; it certainly wasn’t back in the Old Country.

      Well, that’s enough sneak peeking into later posts for now.


      • Gordon Landis

        At the risk of running afoul of “stop watching movies” – I’ve had _A Most Violent Year_ ( on my “I ought to see that” list for a while. It seems pointed precisely in this direction (New York, 1981, you can come BUT) – anyone care to steer me towards or away from it?


        • epweissengruber

          Sorry, that’s Episcopalian. I remember a Marvel omnibus where that was mentioned. And rite, I stay away from the movies. But going forward, if you are investigating Otherness vs. Homo Superior, I would encourage you to pay attention to immigrant/citizenship issues as well as the inter-group tensions in the U.S.


  7. James Nostack

    Ugh. I typed a cute little story about my parents hating on comic books twice now, and the blog ate it. Oh well.

    But! As to the X-Books’ almost fanatical “non-blackness,” two things:

    (1) Hot damn there were a lot of Cheyenne mutants. Mirage, Thunderbird I, Thunderbird II, Forge . . . To make a joke in terrible taste, white folks killed off so many Indians, only the mutant population survived. Claremont clearly had a huge thing for them. Which is okay by me.

    (2) African ancestry + Mutant is a howlingly empty set.

    In the mid-1970’s, Steve Englehart declared that the Falcon was a mutant, in that he had latent psychic bird powers. This was ignored / ret-conned and I don’t think anyone’s done anything with it.

    In some New Mutants issues, Claremont indicates that Cloak (of Cloak & Dagger) is a latent mutant; this sticks, sort of, but C&D are extremely minor dudes in the mutie-verse.

    Sunspot, also of the New Mutants, is the child of Brazilian aristocrats, and hence probably Hispanic, but in the 1980’s he had “brown” skin like any African character, and his power was to turn SUPER BLACK, so I always interpreted him as a black character. Recently they’ve been using a “Latino” color palette for his skin.

    Storm is an incredibly weird character. Indisputably bad-ass, but without any stable personality or really much of an identity. Born in Harlem; orphaned in Cairo; somehow travels hundreds of miles south to Kenya, and she emerges without any cultural identifiers at all, beyond shouting “Goddess!” every so often. This is actually kind of cool in a “Hey look I’m a person not a stereotype” sort of way, but I’m not sure Claremont was doing it deliberately. I feel lucky that I grew up during the “Storm Loses Her Powers But Is Still Insanely Awesome” period, which I feel was the best time for her character.

    Poor Willie Evans! This issue, though ham-handed for adults, made the race discrimination stuff really easy for a child reader like me to understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Nostack

      The one thing I will say about the Marvel mutants: they may have a lack of racial diversity, but they do have a number if genuinely compelling women characters. Storm, Rogue, Shadowcat, Psylocke, Jubilee, Jean Grey, Mystique, Rachel, Karma, Mirage, Wolfsbane . . . Whatever you want to say about Claremont, he wasn’t afraid build teams that were very inclusive of women. (Who could then be mind-controlled and stuffed into dominatrix leathers, but hey.)

      Apparently when the people at Marvel were brainstorming new characters, Claremont would ask, “Why can’t this character be female?” so often that Byrne and others would mock him for it. Girl geeks have their money just sitting on the table, you assholes! Fucking do your job and take that cash!


      • This was extensively discussed in the readership and among the pros at the time, as I can attest. Two concepts remain in my memory from those many late nights.

        1. No one can say why a character “should” or “shouldn’t” be male or female, but in many cases, there is such a reason which we have very poor vocabulary to deal with. In other words, the most neutralist member of the discussion, who keeps saying, “well any character can be either,” suddenly reverses when it comes to some specific characters. At the same time as the most gender-hardline member of the discussion turns on a dime about some specific characters and says, “sure, they could be either, what was the problem.”

        2. The only specific criticism I remember of Claremont’s treatment was not his inclusion of so many women, but their consistent superiority of power-level over the male ones. Until Wolverine went completely through the Sue door (I’d say with the Claremont-Miller mini-series), the distinction was striking and people I knew, who were friends with Claremont, found it embarrassing. And Wolverine turned out to be the only exception; even Magneto was powered-down when he reformed.

        I also think the constant mind-control, out-of-control powers, loss of powers, and squicky rape and near-rape stuff is more serious and merits more harsh criticism than your phrasing does.

        There is also a bit of a memory-hole at work, and was then too, because the 70s were full of interesting female characters. Yet they’re also unfairly ridiculed as tokens and labeled with that catch-all of dismissal, “problematic,” while all that yes-indeed problematic stuff about the 80s women gets a pass. More to post about them later.


        • In the Claremont’s X-Men there is a interesting amount of bondage gear. Apart from the most famous cases (Darl Phoenix in the Hellfire Club – but that was copied by a Emma Peel costume in her own Hellfire Club episode), there is a issue where Prox X get “saved” (and captured) by the Morlocks… and when he wakes up he find himself in a BDSM attire without any reason!
          And did anybody ever count the characters depicted at least once with a spiked collar?

          I didn’t really have a problem with that, or the way his women were always more powerful than men. My problem with his women (and men) was that, apart from some regional speech pattern used to indicate the point of origin of the characters… they all talked in the same way. Everybody from Wolverine to Kitty Pryde used the same way to build sentences, the same verbosity, the same rhetoric. It was painfully clear that every character was only a puppet for the writer’s voice.

          (it was not so bad at the beginning, it was a problem that worsened with time, to the point of ridiculousness after the Mutant Massacre)


  8. With Moreno’s help, I’ve read some comics I hadn’t seen before and tracked down some important details.

    1. The first published mention of Master Mold’s insight that humans / mutants isn’t an opposed set appears in X-Factor #13-14 in 1987, the issue I remember. It’s presented as if it’s former knowledge, which is why I had thought it must be older. The issue is primarily a solo adventure with Cyclops wandering around until he fights the remnant of Master Mold’s head (which runs around on freaky robot legs).

    2. It’s mentioned again in a story which is also about Cyclops vs. Master Mold, in a Cyclops story in the anthology title Marvel Presents, issues #18-24 in 1989. There’s no way to interpret this story as following the one above, and as it make perfect sense as a prequel to the X-Factor story (i.e. how Master Mold’s head came to be buried somewhere, it was likely written earlier. A lot of these anthology titles are filled by more-or-less out-of-continuity “short stories” that have been worked up and are lying around waiting their turn.

    Since this assertion is incredibly late in the game for the topic I’m discussing, it stands out like a sore thumb, completely at odds with the new-race, really-other not constructed-Other which I think had been strongly favored by most of the X-titles and therefore for the concept of mutantdom at Marvel for at least six years, maybe ten. I should mention that one of my many letters to this title (God help me), the one about this issue, praised the humans-mutants synonym and hoped it would receive prominence in mutant stories from now on (it didn’t).

    I think my perceived thematic shift between Lee/Thomas and Wein(?)/Claremont is valid, but the specific concept that mutants and humans aren’t distinguishable sets wasn’t outright articulated in the earlier phase (Thomas comes within an inch of doing so, in my reading).

    Moreno provided some info which dovetailed with my own knowledge to produce an interesting possibility.

    The author of the Marvel Presents story was Bob Harras. He was also the editor of X-Factor during this period, specifically #13-14. He’s also the author of the Iron Man Annual issue (#8, 1986) which James has so fortuitously referenced, which seems to be a lone cry in the night as far as black American mutant characters are concerned, and also showcases points of view about mutantdom across many Marvel characters … all of which are very much in tune with “labeled as Other but we’re all the same.” It also makes no bones to have the members of X-Factor effectively agree that the whole idea of their own group stinks.

    A few years later, as described by Howe, Bob Harras would literally wrest the X-Men and the associated unofficial editorship of X-material away from Claremont, in what amounted to an editorial coup.

    I don’t like to go into author intentions but this is getting too apparent not to. Howe’s book describes how Harras inherited X-Factor from its initial team (under editor Mike Carlin) under absurd circumstances, a completely petty three-way spat among Byrne, Shooter, and Claremont. These relevant texts suggest a picture of someone who really didn’t like the whole matrix of concepts he’d been shoehorned into and knew exactly why.


  9. A couple of additional thoughts:

    1) I flatly don’t believe Stan Lee later assertion that he modelled Magneto over Malcom X. One of the links posted above by Ron already offer a lot of evidence about this, but there is an even bigger amount of evidence that the model for Magneto was SATAN, specifically in the “temptation to evil” role. Just look at the way the horns on the helmet are drawn. The way the face is never depicted, ever (the horns are his real face). His modus operandi of finding super-powered people and “tempt” them to turn to the dark side, offering power, money, revenge, anything (the issue with Sub-Mariner is really in-your-face about this, but it happen with every new mutant he finds).
    And what’s his power? “Magnetism”? Mmmm…..
    Social issues informed the comic book later on, beginning with the Trask storyline, but Magneto was absent from that.
    (By the way…. “Bolivar” Trask? What about that?)

    2) The link between Professor X and King is more possible, but I don’t believe it either. There is no trace of any social/racial hatred in X-Men 1. In their first issue the X-Men are HEROES, and the US Army general who meet them greet them, thank them and say “the name X-Men will be most honored in my command” and Cyclop replies “the day america’s security will be threatened again, the X-Men will be back”
    They are “the strangest super-heroes of all”, not a feared race.
    The same the following issues. It’s only more than a year later, with issue 8, that we see a human mob attack the beast… but they are shown scared by the beast’s movements, and really that raction seems like it come from nowhere.
    it was at this time that Lee and Kirby thoughts of the X-Man as a metaphor of a racial minority? Maybe… but the previopus issue (#7), Prof X left the group! To explore the issue, Lee and Kirby wanted to get rid of the professor!
    Issue 7 is the one where they graduate, too.

    So… Prof X at the beginning is not King. He’s Jiminy Cricket. He’s a good teacher that wants to keep young boys away from evil temptations. (and he can read their thoughts so he can be sure that they are good!). When that didn’t work Lee and Kirby (A) said that the X-Men “graduated” and were not young student anymore, (b) removed prof X, (c) removed Magneto, (d) added the “mutant hatred” issue.

    This didn’t work either, the X-Men never sell well. So they always changed: Xavier returned, Magneto returned, then Xavier died, etc…. It seems like the writer wanted to get rid of Xavier like it was a problem to be removed. And Stan lee left very soon, before any of that wads developed.

    WHEN Stan Lee said that he based them on Malcom X and M.L.King? in…. 2008!!

    From the wikipedia entry:
    “n a 2008 interview, Stan Lee said he “did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He just wanted to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist… he was trying to defend the mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly he was going to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course… but I never thought of him as a villain.”[13] In the same interview, he also revealed that he originally planned for Magneto to be the brother of his nemesis Professor X.[13] Writer Chris Claremont confirmed that Malcolm X was an inspiration for Magneto’s development, as Martin Luther King Jr was for Professor X.[14][15][16][17]”

    So that’s a very, very late development. For Magneto it’s at least years after Claremont started writing the X-Men. For Xavier maybe that can be dated before, but let’s remember that he was dead for most of the first x-men series (he was resurrected in the last two issues before cancellation)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your response to this has always been too literal. Look at what I said – not that Xavier “was” King and that Magneto “was” Malcolm X, but that the language and meanings of those figures in 1963 entered into the title as a concept. People are way too simplistic about this, “oh no, Xavier was bald and white, how could he be involved in black civil rights meanings,” “oh look, the X is on the wrong side, so NOOO,” and it all looks like a dodge. Of course people make up every imaginable excuse as to why King and Malcolm X were not involved in these comics’ meaning. Especially in the 80s, when (1) the false mythology of angel-King and devil-Malcolm took hold, and (2) nothing Lee had ever done could ever be admitted as meaningful or good.

      In the previous post, I didn’t quote Lee as evidence of his creative intentions at the moment, but because the meaning of what he said has strength of its own and was relevant to my point. I never said his statement was what I think happened. I also said that the course of events in the title didn’t carry the concept forward, so nothing anyone keeps dredging up about that is relevant to my point either.


      • I think that there are two different questions:

        1) Social issues, and in particular the racial issues, in the first (unsuccessful) 66 issues run.

        2) The same issues, in the 60s in the Marvel Universe in general.

        I can simply agree to (2), no problem, it’s evident: The first appearance of the Sons of the Serpent (where the racist organisation was a communist plot to divide America) was Avengers 32, by Stan Lee and Don Heck, published in 1966 (two months after the first appearance of the Black Panther in Fantastic Four 52). Gabe Jones in 1963 in Sgt Fury. Joe Robertson in Spider-Man in 1967. But almost every Marvel superhero, from the Fantastic Four (especially the Thing) onward is a “other”, alienated, different, and from time to time, story to story, could represent different “otherness”.

        These depiction have a lot of problems: often heavy handed, paternalistic, simplistic, (racism in the USA a communist plot?), but you can easily see these issues entering the comics, little by little.

        What I don’t see, it’s how X-Men in the 60s can be considered a particular example of this, “more” than the rest. My thesis it that it wasn’t. And this was part of the causes of its lack of success or recognition: these comics were about nothing, and were rather bland compared to what what’s happening in the pages of other Marvel comics: in Spider-Man, Lee and Romita tackled campus protests with more sympathy than Steve Ditko, but in the X-Men, the “beatniks” were derided (the scenes at the coffee, with the “poets”…). The X-Men were “good boys” (as you said, with no discernible difference in background apart from Warren’s richness – that was underplayed at the beginning), that always followed their professor orders, and their enemy was Satan that tempted good boys to go bad.

        Compared to what was happening in the Avengers (ex-criminals turned heroes! Racism! The Vision and the question about what does it mean to be human), Spider-Man (campus protests! Drugs! And girls and money problems) and other titles, the X-Men did seem like a DC title from the 50s! It’s no wonder readers were bored!

        (Personally, I was shocked by their blandness: as i said before, I read Marvel comics out-of-order, or, more precisely, in the order they were published in Italy: the X-Men were published very late, so I first met them in the pages of the Avengers and Spider-Man, and they did seem mysterious, exciting. When finally their own series was translated… it was a big letdown. )

        There is simply no trace of Magneto as nothing else than a evil two-bit thug interested only in personal power and greed, until Claremont. I would say that the Magneto we know today is a total and complete Claremont creation (everything interesting about it was created by Claremont and forced with a lot of retconning in that old bland character that acted, talked and thought very differently). The difference was so big that it had to be explained in fiction (he was devolved into a child and “born again” a different man, a lot younger than before), and that still was not enough and other motivation for that complete and total u-turn had to be added (“Moira McTaggart tampered with his brain when he was reduced to an infant”)

        After 1975, not only I see these issues touched in the X-Men, but I think it was a big part of that title success: finally, after all these years, the X-Men were about something, like the rest of Marvel titles, not a sore thump, a throwback to the 50s.

        Where were Malcom X and M. L. King in the marvel comics? Everywhere. (at least, King: I am not familiar enough with Malcom X’s wrirings). But the X-Men did lag behind. The choice between Magneto and Xavier was never a choice for the squeaky clean x-men, it became an issue in the pages of Avengers for Wanda and Pietro. We find black supporting characters in the pages of Spider-Man and the Avengers, you have the Black Panther and Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four… but in the pages of the X-Men, as you said, there is not even a single black mutant in the 60s.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I forgot one thing in the previous reply: there was a exception: the sentinels. Every time the sentinels appeared, the X-Men gets interesting. The issue you cite in the initial post it’s the first time the x-men deal with someone that it’s not a 50s DC-style “evil villain” The sentinels were what was missing in the X-Men, and it’s no wonder they returned so many times and they were the template of Claremont’s run (where the X-Men are all they time what they were battling the sentinels)

        But notice one thing: the sentinels were forgotten after their first appearance in 1965: X-Men stories returned to a routine filled with “evil mutants”, poking fun to “beatniks and hippies” and being about nothing until Roy Thomas and Neal Adams make them returns in 1969. (Roy Thomas was writing the comic book from issue 20, so I suspect that Adams was the new spark)

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Claremont’s version (I found it in one of the articles linked in the wikipedia page, but it was a citation from another interview that I could not find):

    “When asked about the comparisons, Claremont said, regarding his early work in the 1970s, “It was too close. It had only been a few years since the assassinations. In a way, it seemed like that would be too raw. My resonance to Magneto and Xavier was borne more out of the Holocaust. It was coming face to face with evil, and how do you respond to it? In Magneto’s case it was violence begets violence. In Xavier’s it was the constant attempt to find a better way.”

    “As we got distance from the ’60s, the Malcolm X-Martin Luther King-Mandela resonance came into things. It just fit.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Nostack

      Damn it, Moreno, I was just gonna say that!

      What’s stunning about the X-Men as a concept is that treating the series as a metaphor for identity politics is a really violent interpretation of the original material.

      Other than the Sentinel storyline in X-Men #14-16, Kirby and Lee never touch on anti-mutant prejudice. Even in that story, there’s no hint that Trask is anything more than a lone maniac, and frankly the focus is more on “Robots! Going berserk! Turning on their creator and not acting as planned! Who’da thunk it?!?” than lynch mobs prowling the streets of New York looking for freaks to string up.

      In late 1967 and early 1968, Roy Thomas and John Buscema tackle the issue of Black Separatism via the mutant metaphor, in Avengers #47-53. For several issues before this, Quicksilver had been acting more haughty than usual around mere humans. When a police man accidentally shoots the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver decides to join up with Magneto again, and they create an artificial island somewhere–ostensibly as a mutant sanctuary, but–stop kicking that dog, Magneto!–the Master of Magnetism plans on ruling over the mutants and killing humans or whatever.

      And until “Days of Futures Past,” published in 1981, that’s basically it for identity politics. Aside from that one awesome story, the topic never gets raised in the Claremont/Byrne run. Even for years afterward, Claremont is much more interested in sending the X-Men into outer space, or having them fight a wizard from Conan Times, or what-have-you. Eventually around 1984-85 Claremont does turn to those issues–the Trial of Magneto, the mutant-neutralizer stories, the never-really-goes-anywhere saga of Rachel Summers. But by 1986 he’s already moved on, with the Mutant Massacre, rebuilding the team, the Fall of the Mutants, and so on.

      The real action on the mutant-identity politics stuff comes over in the first 2-3 years of X-Factor, which debuted in ’85, the bulk of which was done by Louise and Walt Simonson.

      Basically I think the excellent X-Men movies helped focus a lot of attention on the raw social issues underlying all the usual super heroic nonsense, but as a result, now “everyone knows” that Claremont’s X-Men was about bigotry, when it really wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination.


      • Well it’s good thing Moreno did because I can say bullshit to him and he’s used to it. Here you go with all the standard responses, not paying attention to how I’m putting it at all. When I talk about King and Malcolm X relative to the early X-Men, I’m talking about long-lost concepts of those figures (which happened to be real) and early and diffuse fictional content (my phrase: “informed by”) which was emphatically not developed in the events of the series.

        You two! Maddening.

        Liked by 1 person

    • (replying to Moreno) Which supports my point in this post fully, I think. Claremont’s not talking about the 60s title at all.


  11. Reading again the first X-Men by Stan lee and Jack Kirby, I have found another clear model for Magneto: Hitler!

    The proof is right there, in the pages of X-Men #4, 1963 (the issue that introduced the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants: Toad, Mastermind, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver). In that issue Magneto conquer a tiny country. And creates a “police” to keep dissidents away.

    The “police” has very clear and recognizable WWII German uniforms. They have a “M” on the arm in the very exact position where nazists had a swastika. The inference would not be more clear if they had depicted Magneto with Hitler’s face.

    That design not only hints at Nazism, but, if taken literally, would indicate that magneto was in fact a old nazi officer who had fled the country to avoid being arrested for war crimes (I don’t think that the fact that he is shown as taking power in a south-america country – the usual hiding place for nazi fugitives – was casual)

    Lee and Kirby were Jews, they fought in WWII, they had concentration camps and rampant anti-Semitism in the USA during their own life. The had seen Nazism, had listened to Hitler’s speeches, and lived in a country where many Americans agreed with Hitler. What would they think about a villain that always talks about a “superior race”?

    And they never, even not once, did depict Magneto as nothing else than brutish and sadistic fascist.

    Their Magneto is written and drawn with a amount of repulsion, of loathing, that few marvel villains share. Doctor Doom has principles, Magneto don’t. He lie, he betrays his own followers. He has no human face, he has no moment of thought, of introspection, he is only able to show arrogance, rage or dishonesty.
    When Lee and Kirby put Magneto on a page, they think of Hitler. He is the face of racism, of some power-mad asshole that think that “his race” is better than the others.

    The fact they never, ever did give him even a shred of dignity, of humanity, only reinforce this fact: their Magneto is in the same little category of the Red Skull or Zemo: people without face that are no longer human, monsters with no redeemable value.

    At the end of X-Men 4, Magneto arm a nuclear device: if he can’t have that country, he will kill EVERYBODY in the country: men, women, children. Even his underlings can’t accept that, and Quicksilver defuse the nuclear bomb.

    When Claremont reintroduced Magneto in the new x-men in 1978 (4 years after his last appearance and defeat in the pages of the Defenders in 1974, when Magneto was reduced to a child), he created a very different character, with a different outlook, posture, speech pattern, slightly different powers, and a totally ret-conned past (there is NO WAY that Magneto and Xavier had aver known each other before their meeting in X-Men 4, or that they were ever friends: when they meet they are totally unknown to each other, they don’t know their powers, Magneto search for the “mysterious chief of the x-men” to kill him issue after issue but he has no idea about his face, his location or his powers…)

    I would say that Claremont was able to do a character switch so absolute and “in your face” only because there was no internet, comic book circulation was very low, back issues were very difficult to find and there were no TPBs and the readership changed every 3-4 years (so almost nobody among the 1978 readers had ever read a Magneto story before). Today a switch like that would be impossible without a reality-changing storyline as Crisis or House of M.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have found another episode that shows what Kirby thought of “superior races”

    It seems that the “Him” storyline in the Fantastic Four (the “origin” of Adam Warlock, even if he will not use that name until the 70s) was Jack Kirby’s answer of objectivism and the ideas of a “superior man” (or “homo superior”…)
    In the initial kirby storyline, the scientists were not evil: they really wanted to create a superior man “for the benefit of humanity”, but…
    _””Create a superior human and he just might find you inferior enough to get rid of,””_


    • Possibly wildly inappropriate response: it takes considerable effort to read the original Him stories without thinking of Rocky Horror. That’s my version of the William Tell Overture / Lone Ranger problem, evidently.


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