Thoughts on Uncanny Avengers and Privilege

Okay, okay, I know I’m writing a lot of comic related stuff as of late.  I plead summer vacation.

And so, with the time that comes with summer vacation, I’ve spent a bit of time catching up on the recent plots going on in various X-Men related books (I’m peripherally aware of what’s going on with other major heroes, but they just never seem to hold my interest like the melodramatic mutants).  Most recently, I did a little reading through Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers that launched in October of 2012 (I’ve read through issue #11, which catches me up with the second major arc of the series).

The starting lineup of Uncanny Avengers. Note that in a book that should be an allegory about the privileged mainstream acknowledging and conversing with minorities that everyone is white and the male:female ratio is 2:1. Cover of Uncanny Avengers #1. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

So far it’s not bad.  I’m not in love with it, but I chalk a lot of that up to the fact that this is an ongoing team-up book, and I don’t usually care for team-ups (it’s not because I don’t care for the idea, but if I’m not regularly reading about what one half of the team-up is doing, I don’t feel invested in the adventure).  The point of Uncanny Avengers, for anyone not following at home, is to follow a special squad of Avengers comprised of mutants and super powered humans as they try to navigate the PR nightmare that was the conflict between the Avengers and X-Men in Avengers vs. X-Men.  On a meta level, this is a book that’s intended to help tie the events of Marvel’s X-Men comics in with the larger goings on in its shared universe (historically, the X-Men, despite their popularity, have been kind of the redheaded stepchild of Marvel’s larger bullpit when it comes to connecting with continuity).  In practice, it feels more like just an Avengers book that happens to have some X-Men included for fun.  I’d probably chalk this up to the fact that Remender, whose only other credit on an X-Men book was his run on the first volume of Uncanny X-Force, seems to be pulling in plot threads from other books that he’s worked on in the Marvel universe.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I enjoyed Remender’s X-Force, and I think he did some interesting things with the characters in that book; it’s just that those events are the only ones from the X-books that have come up so far in what I’m reading (besides much larger plot points from years ago, like the Scarlet Witch’s connection with the Mutant Decimation).

I bring all this up because one thing that Remender seems unable to get away from in Uncanny Avengers is the ongoing debates between different members of the team for how to approach the mutant issue.  For the most part, ideologies are split along team affiliations with the X-Men on the team feeling like kept mutants and the Avengers wondering why there’s so much angst over the difference in how anyone acquires their superpowers.  I suspect that Remender is trying to go for a balanced view on the issue, especially since mutant-human relations are ostensibly what the book is about (also, Havok, who leads the team, has a position right in the middle where he wants to set aside the mutant issue and try to get people to judge him based on who he is instead of his label; though all the characters seem to get pretty equal attention, his seems to be the position we’re supposed to sympathize with the most).

The irony of taking a balanced view on the issue is that Remender’s betraying his own inexperience with the material.  Havok takes the individual meritocracy position, which is problematic because Havok is a mutant.  People who trumpet meritocracy as the panacea for discrimination are typically too privileged to realize that meritocracy only works when the playing field is leveled.  Mutants don’t get treated like other superpowered people in the Marvel universe, and it’s naive for Havok to act like they already do (I can give Havok some leniency for his naivety since he’s also Cyclops’s brother, and Cyclops currently looks like the face of mutant terrorism; that doesn’t excuse Remender making it seem like Havok is the reasonable one in the group, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind when doing characterization, and would actually involve drawing in other things that are happening in the X-books).

Besides Havok’s clear “I’m the right opinion in this book and everyone else is just angry and bitter” position, we also have Rogue, who gets written as, well, angry and bitter.  This review of the first couple arcs of the book makes the point that Rogue’s characterized as a petulant child and claims that it’s bad writing, but I see it in a slightly different light.  Rogue’s suspicious of everyone else on the team; she doesn’t like the Avengers because she thinks the whole thing’s a PR stunt designed to make the Avengers look like they care about mutants when thirty years of comics history suggests that this particular conflict just doesn’t matter much to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (personally, I see things like the callous way the team treated Carol Danvers after she was raped, and I figure that it’s just a case of a bunch of superheroes who get treated like celebrities being ignorant of how good life is for them in comparison to other corners of the Marvel universe).  Yeah, she’s abrasive, but Rogue’s got a point.  The Avengers historically stay out of mutant issues, and it took a head-on conflict with the X-Men that nearly destroyed the world for them to decide they should pay attention to what’s going on with mutants.  Besides explaining the (highly justifiable) chip on Rogue’s shoulder, her distrust of the Avengers means that she’s the token voice of extreme mutant pride.  She thinks Alex’s position is idiotic and sends the message that mutants should make themselves invisible in the public discourse when we should all know that making an oppressed group invisible only makes them more vulnerable.

The point that I’m trying to get at is that Remender’s writing on this book, while not particularly bad, is haphazard and betrays his ignorance of what’s going on with the X-Men.  Whether he’s read the team’s history or not, he isn’t seeing how his mutant characters (who, besides Havok, are honestly all pretty surly; I personally like that they’re surly because the Avengers in this book, including Scarlet Witch, do not impress me) would naturally react to being treated like an inconvenience to the rest of the superhero community and how that reaction should garner sympathy instead of disdain.  Remender’s wallowing in his privilege.

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