The Ultimate Weapon Of X-Men: Red's Greatest Villain Is All Too Real

Jean Grey proclaiming to the world. (Image: Rogê Antônio, Rain Beredo, Marvel)

Tom Taylor, Rogê Antônio, and Rain Beredo’s X-Men: Red has been telling the story of how Jean Grey’s newest team of handpicked X-Men are fighting to establish better mutant international relations while also battling the literal embodiment of racism that’s born out of viral hate speech generated online.

As tends to be the case with X-Men comics involving Jean Grey, X-Men: Red has been somewhat dense (in a good way) that makes catching all the way up to this week’s issue #10 something of a chore. But the major beats you really need to know in order to contextualize one of this issue’s narrative devices boil down to three things.

And they are: 1) Anti-mutant racism fueled by factually incorrect stories is on the rise on social media, leading to anti-mutant sentiment taking root in people’s minds; 2) at one point, a new breed of microscopic Sentinels was developed that could “infect” baseline human beings and cause them to suddenly turn into expert killers hellbent on murdering mutants in their vicinity; and 3) all of the mayhem Jean’s team has been facing up until this point was all orchestrated by Charles Xavier’s parasitic, psychic twin Cassandra Nova.

While Jean is locked in a psychic battle with Cassandra Nova to free Rachel Grey from her control, the rest of the X-Men are busy spending their time on the internet in search of demonstrably-false stories demonizing mutants. Trinary, the team’s technopath, reasons that she can easily enough fix a large number of the articles in hopes of staving off the influence they can have to drive people to actually lash out at minorities.

Within the context of the comic, the link between those things is direct and explicit, but it’s interesting to compare it as a plot device to the controversial study linking people’s engagement with hate groups on social media to upticks in real world violence.

Trinary and Honey Badger scouring the web for anti-mutant sentiment. (Image: Rogê Antônio, Rain Beredo, Marvel)

With some classic, X-Men psychic trickery, Jean is able to free Rachel from Cassandra’s grasp and regather her troops before striking her final attack. At first, it doesn’t seem as if Cassandra would have any substantive way to get back at Jean in a way that would hurt. But rather than trying to fight using her telepathy to get into people’s minds, Cassandra instead decides to use methods much more human in design.

If you’re reading Kotaku, then you probably know what deepfakes are. For those who don’t, they’re videos — often of people’s faces —that have been manipulated to make it seem as if people are saying things they are not. Deepfakes have always been creepy, but now they’re getting good to the point that some lawmakers fear they could pose significant threats to society.

Instead of just using racism and hatred at large to disrupt the world, this time Cassandra gives humanity the kind of singular target it can easily aim itself. Using a sophisticated deepfake of Jean, Cassandra announces to the world that “Jean” is prepared to bring about the end of the human race (no Phoenix required).

Trinary and Storm discussing the fallout of Cassandra’s attack. (Image: Rogê Antônio, Rain Beredo, Marvel)

Of course, Cassandra’s threats are nothing Jean and her X-Men can’t ultimately take down. But while discussing the impact of Cassandra’s use of Jean’s likeness to push her agenda and feed into the rising tide of online hate, Storm points out something important. No matter what they’re able to prove about what actually happened, there’s a contingent of society that will cling to whatever it wants to believe about mutants.

As small as an evil that might seem compared to some of the other foes the X-Men have fought over the years, it gets at the heart of the X-Men franchise being built on stories about persecuted people trying to save a world that hates them.


Comments

    Remember those really old golden age comics? They're really interesting reads... not storyline wise but more of a social examination on whats happening at the time... a small social photo if you wish.. barely anyone remembers most storylines just the quirky or propaganda stuff which was a product of its time... and it makes sense as before that the most we got was the 4 panel funnies on a newspaper and people were getting used to writing in the format or comics was just flat out being used for propaganda eithout the experience of nuance and subtlety in writing to allow them to craft stories and still weave some commentary under the surface if they wanted too

    But then the medium matured and we got those timeless story arcs dark phoenix, infinity gauntlet, civil war and so forth as writers got better at crafting stories..

    And now I see this... comics with the subtlety of a sledgehammer like those golden age stuff we would shake our head at for being far too obvious at pushing its "message" at the expense of good story. An obvious quirky social snapshot like of the golden age stuff but for this geheration. Has writing really gone backwards that we literally have lost any form of nuance when tackling issues? Or are we as an audience have completely lost the ability for nuanced thought requiring this style of writing to be back and center again? I honestly cannot decide which is worse..

      It's because many of the writers are activists first and writers second. those awesome stories were by writers who had a message they wanted to share. I believe this is a massively important distinction. one is a person dedicated to their craft with an important message to share. they can be subtle and still get their point across. the other has a message but, has no dedication to the craft of writing beyond expressing a message which means that message comes across like a sledgehammer as you've described.

      Another problem is that in this day and age with social media we have far more direct lines of address to the writers. the writers who spend more time politicising things than actually promoting their own books(at least in a way that actually interests people). with the social aspect their bias and agenda becomes plain to see and we are far more likely to notice that agenda because they are so vocal about it online.

    If you want to maximize the output of a message you need to cater for the lowest common denominator. Nuance is fine for surgically targeting a specific group (who are usually well educated. You fall into this category. Yay! You're not an idiot!) who are already up to speed with what's going on, but could be swayed by the finer points of the topic. Or to reinforce beliefs they already hold. But that's really just preaching to the choir. But if you want more people on board with your ideals who are new to whatever topic you're putting forward (particularly teens or young adults that comics are mostly aimed at), you do the good ol' KISS- Keep It Simple, Stupid. Fine distinctions n nuances are for after 1st contact. That's why the ads you remember (and probably despise) are the catchy, bleeding obvious ones. Aside from all this- how much subtlety and nuance do you run into these days? Sadly that's not where most of society is at unfortunately.

      Yes, this exactly. Taking into account that thanks to the MCU, the audience has expanded beyond the archetypical "nerd", this is especially important.

      Another reason: A significant intended audience of comic books are young teens. They are not super-versed in nuance and they are the ones about to join the intensely tribalistic discussion on the Internet regarding these matters.

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