The X-Men's Latest Death Highlights Why Marvel's Mutant Metaphor Can't Be A Substitute For Representation

The X-Men paying their respects at a funeral. (Image: Carlos Gómez, Guru-eFX, Marvel)

Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men #17, from writer Matthew Rosenberg, artist Carlos Gómez, and colorist Guru-eFX, is meant to be an issue about the kinds of evil and hatred the X-Men have sworn to protect their fellow mutants from.

Instead, it’s actually an example of how using mutants as a metaphor for persecuted minorities fails when the groups the mutants are meant to be standing in for don’t really exist in the comics.

Despite everything they’ve been through over the past few months, including Cyclops and Wolverine’s return from the “dead,” the spread of a vaccine that eradicates the X-gene, and X-Man effectively erasing the X-Men from the face of the Earth, the handful of mutant heroes left standing all come together in Uncanny X-Men #17 to mourn one of their own.

Rahne Sinclair, one of the original New Mutants, was murdered in Uncanny X-Men #16, and emotions run raw as the X-Men gather for her funeral. Given the existential threats facing all of mutantkind, a death scene has the potential to really hammer home the stakes the X-Men are up against. But the circumstances of Rahne’s murder undercut that potential, and instead draw attention to the concerning way that the violent deaths of women have become the centrepieces of Uncanny X-Men’s story.

While the bulk of the X-Men pay their respects at Rahne’s funeral and reflect on the relationships they had with her, Logan and a recently-returned Kwannon go off in search of revenge after Jaime Madrox tips them off that the police don’t plan on arresting Rahne’s murderers.

It isn’t hard for Logan and Kwannon to find the group of young men who killed Rahne, but what is difficult to deal with is how the comic depicts Rahne’s death.

Though Kwannon’s reluctant to show Logan, he insists she use her power of mental projection to tap into the four men’s minds and replay the night when the group crossed paths with Rahne. After she rebuffed one of their advances and revealed herself to be a mutant, the men attacked her.

Though the comic doesn’t explicitly frame the scene as a moment of transphobic violence, it’s almost impossible not to read it that way given the language and imagery it deploys.

Wolverine preparing to kill Rahne’s murderers. (Image: Carlos Gómez, Guru-eFX, Marvel)

At first, Rahne’s attackers tease their friend for being attracted to a mutant, but their attention quickly turns deadly as they accuse Rahne of trying to “trap” and “trick” them, a bunch of “normal guys” into believing that she’s a “normal girl.”

These are the kinds of things that have been said as actual trans women have been brutally attacked by (almost always) men in a variety of circumstances, and Rosenberg obviously knows his script invokes that fact.

But, as Reed Puc accurately points out over at Comics Beat, the way the scene ends highlights the misguidedness of the entire endeavour.

Logan forcing the bigot murderers to say Rahne’s name doesn’t amount to much more than a hamfisted attempt at conflating anti-trans violence and the violence black women experience at the hands of police in order to present a singular, convenient metaphor.

Rahne’s the latest woman to die so that a male character has the motivation to go out and keep living, but the inherent queer-codedness of her death also underlines the fact that actual trans characters are largely missing from the Marvel Comics landscape.

The lack of proper trans representation (read: people who identify as trans) is a problem in and of itself, but especially so in this instance because in her moment of death, we’re meant to read Rahne as subtextually trans, not necessarily in terms of her self-expressed identity, but in what kind of person she’s meant to represent within the story.

The nature of Rahne’s metamorphic powers lend themselves to this kind of queer reading as well, but in this issue specifically, Rahne’s potential to be seen as trans is used to explain why she died. Before this issue, Rahne had come to the decision that she was ready to leave the superhero life behind and attempt living a regular life among baseline humans.

For that decision to immediately be followed up with a sudden and entirely necessary death is questionable on its face, but because of all the attempted metaphors, Uncanny X-Men’s failings are more than the sum of its parts.

Rosenberg, for his part, has responded to criticism of the issue in good faith, and recently took to his Twitter account to express his apologies to readers:

It’s been said before, and it’s worth repeating now: These are the kinds of things that happen when marginalised groups aren’t represented in media on both sides of production. If you’ve actually got trans characters to work with, they’re right there and ready to be part of stories about trans people.

If trans writers are given the chance to tell these stories, they can craft them in ways that meaningfully reflect the experiences of trans people. Without either, Marvel — and others — will continue to miss huge opportunities to get these stories right.


Comments

    I can't say I noticed any trans subtext there.
    Sure, the idea of her attackers thinking they were tricked because she ended up being something she isn't (in their view) would certainly lean on that but a complete lack of trans affiliation on behalf of the character at all means I would've seen the context being she's a mutant.

    The female death motivator is definetly a tired trope and I have nothing against trans stories being told either but this feels a little bit like a false association for a narrative shift.

      The fact that you personally can't see a trans reference in someone being murdered for "trying to “trap” and “trick” a bunch of “normal guys” into believing that she’s a “normal girl.”, despite that person doing absolutely nothing other than existing, says far more about you than it does about the comic.

        Nice try....
        I clearly state I can see the reference and only mirror the article by pointing out the disassociation with trans folk by using characters that aren't actually representative of that.
        That doesn't in any way dismiss the fact that the theme of being a "mutie" does in fact align with the narrative, does it...

        To quote the God damned title of the article and my final comment, the mutant metaphor can't be a substitute for representation and it's a false association for a narrative shift.

        Unfuckingbelievable....

          I agree with you there 100%. Not sure what Angorafish was going on with. Keep on keeping on.

            Thanks mate, I appreciate it!

            I will be the first to admit I could've worded my first comment better, in hindsight it really could be taken either way for better or worse and despite that I did lose my biscuits in response to the reply.
            But I don't see why my character is called in to question for being honest about my own lack of experience on the subject and metaphor or not, when an existing and more familiar and established context is actually present.
            Sure as shit wasn't my intention to dismiss it all.

              my own lack of experience on the subject
              From what I gathered from your comments in this thread, you actually covered said characters back story and alias information a lot deeply then the article itself, so I doubt you have lack of experience because you are fully aware of the characters. Unless you are speaking of lack of experience in the Trans department, then I can't help you there lol

      I think they’re stretching harder than Reed Richards here. This is far from the first time humans have accused “normal” looking mutants of trying to “trick” them in an X-Book. Sometimes they’re even right.Charles Xavier hid the fact he was a mutant for decades. I know they won’t let things like facts or continuity get in the way of their soapbox,but honestly that’s why comic sales are in the toilet.

    Though the comic doesn’t explicitly frame the scene as a moment of transphobic violence, it’s almost impossible not to read it that way given the language and imagery it deploys.
    groan

      Given the tweets from the comic's writer, it certainly sounds like this is the reading he was going for.

      Translation:

      It isn't actually transphobic, But I'm going to say it is, so I can write an article about it!

      We've gone from finding offence in everything to now making it up because they can't find any.

    I'm not reading this book but it seems weird to me that four ordinary douchebags manage to take out Rahne Sinclair, a mutant werewolf superhero. Rahne always seems to be the punching bag in stories like this

      she didn't fight back. she died because plot and angenda. that's really it.

      Oh it gets even worse than is mentioned here...
      She died for less than nothing in the end, sentenced to the lowest form of plot device.
      They tried to say so much and ended up saying nothing at all, needlessly killing off a character to drape over it for impact.

      When Logan tracks them down they are shown as terrified kids, humanising them more than they deserved for the piss poor plot.
      Logan goes on to have a little three bubble monologue that doesn't begin to cover the gravity of the whole event before throwing them a bag of weapons and requesting they fight back, he's killed for far less but they neuter him for dramatics.
      The special forces cops don't even get an entrance, there's one sound effect and the rooms already filled with gun toating soldier types ready to protect the kids and for Logan to continue his muted point on the cruelty of the world.
      We don't even know if he gutted the bastards, though I'm sure it will pop up later to further someone's motivation or agenda.
      If that's not bad enough, the whole thing ends with all the heros bickering amongst themselves to finish off her needless death with division, guilt rants and ego trips before the the whole thing refocuses to end on a "cliff hanger" that has nothing to do with the whole affair.

    Rosenberg, for his part, has responded to criticism of the issue in good faith, and recently took to his Twitter account to express his apologies to readers:

    Good faith? I doubt it. I guarantee he made that tweet just to placate the outrage crowd. Because had he defended his artistic decisions and independence, He would have been instantly labelled as transphobic and brigaded.

    Just look at the new Earthworm Jim game. A polygon writer has demanded the original creator of the game Doug TenNaple be removed from the game because of, According to him, Transphobia. And then threatened a bad review of the game.

      I am still not sure how the Transphobic argument has even come up. So was the character Trans or not?

        Not at all in any way. It's all in the authors imagination.

          As in the article writer or the comic author, thanks for the clarification.

            The article writers imagination. He even states as such in the article

            Though the comic doesn’t explicitly frame the scene as a moment of transphobic violence, it’s almost impossible not to read it that way given the language and imagery it deploys.

              Yeah see I read it as just the "scene" not the overall picture, like outside of that scene where she was murdered she might have identified as trans or something but that incident didn't picture her as trans. Thanks again for taking the time to comment, appreciate it.

        The character isn't trans, in the same way that the X-Men aren't (as a group) black, gay, or some other real world marginalised group.

        It's no secret that the original X-Men comics took inspiration from the US civil rights movement with black people replaced with mutants, and this appears to be the same trans people.

    The problem with any focus on disempowered or disadvantaged group is that any narrative can be reinterpreted to fit any agenda or renarration in terms of them. The problem really isn't that reinterpretation, but the hijacking of the middle ground and the polarisation of discussion to 'with me' or 'you're against me and therefore a bigot'.

    I'm pretty certain I could come up with another subtext narrative from that story based on race or religion, etc.

    The problem with mutants being persecuted and hated is that it's actually sadly justifiable. I mean in our world we don't have people waking up one day with powers that can destroy city blocks. these mutants whether by choice or by accident randomly develop highly destructive powers. No way people aren't going to be terrifyied by that. you can survive a gunshot. you probably won't survive a mutant nuking the city. obviously most don't have that power but, then... Magneto and a host of others. In fact the public would be even more afraid if they learned about X-force and the like.

    Another problem is say Rahne not fighting back. she was not some powerless minority. she had all the power in the world. she even without powers is perfectly competent as a combatent. certainly enough to run away. it's either a case of a death wish or PIS that she was killed. neither really help any cause.

    At the end of the day I will never be able to see the metaphors that rely on things like this that tend to forget the powers involved. the idea of freedoms violated by the government that can force control? yes because there is actually a power dynamic there that means the heroes are genuinely in peril or are unjustifiably imprisoned. this case that ignores that mutants are walking bombs with the potential to kill hundreds if not thousands by ACCIDENT... you can ssee were I'm going at this point.

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