You just can't have an X-Men movie, comic, game, or TV show these days without relying on the same old villains and social commentary. And now, even the Marvel mutants are aware of how old the story has gotten.
The very first X-Men movie showed a new audience the inherent symbolism and metaphor of mutantkind, but the moral and social truth it arrived at wasn't exactly complicated: "hating entire races of people is wrong." And one movie after another, the message remained just as bland, and just as obvious. Thankfully, the new heroes of Marvel's Uncanny X-Men relaunch are also aware of just how boring the story has gotten, too.
The reference is clearly meant as a wink to the fans, with Uncanny X-Men #1 starting a new chapter of one of Marvel's most iconic X-books. There's the usual battling of dinosaurs and an out of control horde of Multiple Men, as is to be expected. But just like clockwork, the action shifts to Senator Ashton Allen giving a speech to throngs of reporters and citizens about the threat of mutantkind, "weapons of mass destruction walking among us" normal, human, Americans.
As the young Jubilation Lee watches from the crowd, she can't help but feel the weight of every other "boring politician in a suit" to have made the same speech, using the same terms, and - wouldn't you know it - conclude by outlining plans to get a "mutant vaccine" out to the public as quickly as possible. It's nice for readers to know that in these trying times, even the writers know that Americans of Marvel Comics hating mutants on principle is established tradition.
But the joke becomes a lot less funny in the next two issues, as angry crowds surround the Xavier School brandishing the same old "DIE MUTIES" picket signs, shouting the same words of hate, with seemingly no purpose or larger commentary whatsoever. By that point, even the observation that the crowds demanding these outsiders "go back to where they came from" are really not all that original in their hate chants has lost its self-aware humor. Same old X-Men, same old opposite-of-subtle racism.
The real tragedy is the comic readers (ourselves included) who gave the benefit of the doubt to the new Uncanny creative team in the first issue, assuming the self-aware look at the usual form of bigotry, xenophobia, and racism flung towards their heroes meant this time would be different. Is it worse, or better, if readers know that the boring antagonists are being knowingly recycled? And worst of all, the detail that actually seemed to make Senator Ashton Allen different, and potentially far more interesting has also proved fruitless, seemingly a false start.
Rather than painting mutants as villains and monsters (which the crowds do anyway in subsequent issues) Senator Allen paints them as victims to their uncontrollable gifts, as much as anyone. That language, that the vaccines will help minimize risk, damage, and trauma for mutant and non-mutant child alike, could be offensive. But in the Marvel Universe, where mutants unable to control their powers wreak immeasurable havoc on a weekly basis, and even Professor X has been forced to remove a child's power, Senator Allen at least has an argument more compelling than "mutants are scary and bad."
Hopefully the Senator's promise will return in Uncanny X-Men #4, and bring some of the nuance we glimpsed back with him. Until then, readers will have to take comfort in knowing that as boring and unoriginal as the crowds of "Go Home Muties" are to them, they're just as dull to the X-Men, too.
Uncanny X-Men #3 is available now from Marvel Comics.