Uncanny Avengers #5 – Important lessons in mutant race relations

Rick Remender has been a favourite writer of mine for a long time now. His excellent work on Venom, Fear Agent and Uncanny X-Force saw him push the protagonists through personal tribulation, whilst developing a very natural story. What’s all the more impressive is that he manages this whilst still indulging his propensity for the fantastical, such as his current work on Captain America. Olivier Coipel steers the ship with Remender and has been drawing big titles for Marvel for a few years, and his bibliography includes House of M, Seige and The Mighty Thor. He has taken over from John Cassaday, who had a rather disappointing run on the series. The premise of Uncanny Avengers is, as the rather uninventive title suggests, that the X-Men and Avengers have combined to create a new superhero team. This title is still a lot better than the name given in the book: The Avengers Unit Division, which just sounds like a combination of horrible governmental buzzwords. Like so many meaningless bureaucratic phrases, the idea is a convoluted exercise in public relations, designed to improve the public image of mutants after Cyclops went crazy with the power of the Phoenix.

UXMFrom the outset of this book, Remender has set the scene for the next arc as a continuation from the Dark Angel Saga of Uncanny X-Force. It appears a little confusing to the new reader because the antagonists are not well introduced and they are new characters. The cast of this book appears to have gained in number with the introduction of Wonder Man, Wasp and Sunfire. Remender spends a few pages building these backgrounds by having Wonder Man and Wasp talk about their anxieties on the way to the Avenger’s Mansion, and Wolverine hunt down a depressed Sunfire in Japan. There are a total of four separate couple conversations meaning that seven pages are dedicated to character and relationship development. I also adore the single panel, which reflects a key memory of a character during their deep and meaningful conversations. When it comes to the group sequences the dialogue is heavy but relevant, with Cap and Havok resolving their power struggle. Aside from the final action sequence and twist, Coipel spends the majority of the issue focusing on minimal movement conversation panels, which he does not appear to be suited to. He has a full range of character costumes and physical attributes to play with, and for the most they look great. As we move into the action pages there is a significant escalation in artwork. Captain America’s gymnastic routine is wonderfully depicted with a real sense of movement and fluidity throughout. The final action panel is exciting and impactful with the facial expressions of despair and anger coming more naturally to Coipel.

Steve Rogers

I like how Remender aims to develop his characters, even though it is an uphill struggle given the number of heroes in this book. This issue has dedicated time to this compared to the first four, but the battle pages almost take away from this central focus. The premise of this book lies with mutant race relations with the Avengers playing the role of the favoured superheroes. I have always had a problem with the Avengers being relatable to humans. They all have superhuman powers except for Tony Stark, who is not even in this book. Captain America, Wonder Man, Wasp obtained their powers through scientific intervention, and Thor is a God. Their actions and abilities are far from human, and the fact that they defend the people is the main reason they are in public favour. If you look at recent Bendis Avenger’s work then there is an unerring drum of discontent for the Avengers. Couple with this the X-Men and you are left with a mess of unresolved and poorly connected subjects.


The X-Men have always set themselves out to be a comparison for the persecuted minority in society. The tension lies in their goal, especially Xavier’s dream, to live a life integrated with the rest of humanity. Mutants themselves, as a real life metaphor, have no direct parallel with reality. As similar the ostracization of racial minorities and homosexuals may be, the underlying principles of that hatred are incredibly complex and exclusive. The mutant segregation has a multitude of facets and defining issues, which have been covered over the years in various X-books. Even evolution is addressed with the continued wars with Magneto and Brian Bendis covers another specific aspect in Uncanny X-Men: the understanding and teaching of uncontrolled new mutant powers. It is unfortunate that this issue fails to refer to the precedents that lie before it. A single page of a whole comic book to address the mutant/human divide is extremely naïve in its efforts, especially with seven pages of background. Remender poorly addresses the specific theme of identity and tolerance by gross oversimplification. He equates the “M” word with the “N” word, which is far too clumsy and inexplicable an idea. The “N” is a pejorative derivative of the word Negro, which is often deemed offensive in itself. The M word refers to mutant, which is a scientific descriptive term to a species containing a gene mutation. Over the years the words mutant and, more specifically its derivative mutie may have been used as derogatory terms but not as especially offensive as the “N” word. In now highlighting mutant as a pejorative word, Havok has unintentionally brought negative connotations to the word in its future use. The politics of identification and integration are rife with complexities and one gets the sense that Remender has inadvertently introduced this without fully considering the implications. It seems the only reason why this was even mentioned, was so Havok can end the speech with the line, “How about Alex?”

The idea of how we view ourselves, and the people around us is predominant in this speech. The question posed by the reporter, who represents the people, is quite castigatory. It implies that there is an irrefutable divide, us and them, which I think wipes away any progress made by Professor X over the many years of his efforts to unite the species. However crass it may be, it does serve a purpose in playing the counter viewpoint to the speech.  There were many criticisms of Remender and some accusations of racism, and from what I understand they focus around the idea that mutants should normalise themselves to society. Alex states that he is human and refuses to be labelled as a mutant. Though weakly worded, I took this to mean that Havok should be seen as an individual, hence why he wishes to be called by his name and not by what he is. You judge a person on who they are and the choices they make, not by the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation or the fact they possess an X-gene. It is a well-known paradigm of refusing to be labelled. I do not think for a minute he alluded to hiding who he is and becoming like everyone else. When I initially read this book I paid little attention to this page, as I found it quite weak but not overtly offensive. However the page is embarrassingly immature and garnered single-minded criticism affecting an offensive response from its author. As a mainstream comic writer who is active in the social media forum, I find it difficult to understand the angry retorts of Rick Remender. Not all of his naysayers were rude and uncivil and they deserved a more worthwhile response. Twitter may not be the best forum for a reasoned debate because of word restrictions. Of course great importance is placed on Remender’s apology but it is shameful that the public dissenters rarely throw out similar courtesies.

Race relations is a subject fraught with opposing views and muddied waters, and from the simplistic mutant speech to the base twitter insults, we can see that in future, it needs significant forethought or to be just left well alone. Using the X-Men as a metaphor for real life struggles of the minority, just may not be tenable for a mainstream superhero comic.

1 comment

  1. Seeing as how The X-Men (to me) seemed to serve as an allegory of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s and 70s there’s no denying that the series will always ties to race, sexual politics, etc.

    This could’ve been a great avenue to once again spark dialogue among people regarding important issues. My biggest problem with this particular incident is that, like you said, it’s very naive. Perhaps if the wording was different it’d be less controversial. Also, I don’t think Rick Remender is a competent enough writer to handle situations such as these.

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