It’s all Brian Miller’s fault.
A few weeks ago, Brian, my friend and former law school classmate, emailed me a link to the March 28 edition of Marvel.com.It said that the mutant superheroes, the X-Men, would do battle in the next issue with a mysterious new villain identified only as “Russia’s deadly Red Room.” It looked like a convergence of my past and my present was about to take place. I’ve been an editor at redroom.com for five months. I’d been a huge X-Men fan as a kid, and as a young gay man, I’d been interested in the implicit and explicit subtexts that cultural critics had ascribed to the book. While I hadn’t bought an issue of Uncanny X-Men since early in the Reagan Administration, I knew I’d be going to my comics store in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District to pick up a copy.
I began reading Uncanny X-Men in 1977. My new friend Jeff had pulled me into his world of comic books after introducing himself to me on a school-bus ride home. From the beginning, I liked comics about groups of superheroes—the Justice League, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four—better than titles devoted to heroes working alone like Wonder Woman or Spider-Man. I was attracted to the drama among the members of the teams, of course, as well as the greater array of colorful costumes and super powers; however, what I think I loved best was the camaraderie and teamwork that were always the key to defeating that month’s super villain. Whenever a member of the Fantastic Four, say, became alienated from the team, it gave the villain an opportunity to win; only after the team reunited could the bad guy be defeated. I know I wasn’t the only lonely eight-year-old boy who was encouraged as this moral was repeated again and again.
When I was twelve I left behind both the X-Men and comics in general. I’d occasionally plug into the cultural criticism about the group, fascinated by comparisons that were drawn between how mutants were treated in that fictional universe and how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are treated in the real one. These parallels were explicit in the three X-Men films of the early-to-mid-2000s: An anti-mutant politician asks whether parents would want a mutant to teach their children; mutants have to “come out” as such, usually to their parents’ horror, with one mutant’s parent asking if he’d ever tried not being a mutant; and when a “cure” for being a mutant is developed, should it be used? I realized that, even as a boy who wasn’t sure yet how he was different, I’d identified with the X-Men for reasons in addition to their camaraderie.
I read Uncanny X-Men #497 the other night in about five minutes. It’s good to see “my” X-Men again, especially as brought to life by Michael Choi’s illustrations. As usual, the drama comes from the most recent catastrophe to split the team into small groups—the series is even called “Divided We Stand.” Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus are attacked and kidnapped by what looks like a cabal of shadowy Russian gangsters calling itself The Red Room, while Angel, Cyclops, and Emma Frost are lost in a time warp to San Francisco of the 1960s. (And I bought the comic in the Haight!) Whoever this sinister, mysterious villain turns out to be, it’s a sure bet it will be defeated only when the team stands united, but always outside the mainstream.