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Tag: opinion

Whatever happened to X-Men's Jubilee?

Contributed by
Jun 23, 2018

If you were an X-Men fan in the '90s, you no doubt had an opinion on the yellow-jacket-and-pink-sunglasses-wearing mallrat Jubilation Lee. A misunderstood favorite for some, an obnoxious plot distraction for others, Jubilee has always been a bit of a room divider among X-Men fans. One of the very few Chinese-American protagonists in comics at all, Jubilee could be touted for providing representation as much as we could similarly condemn her positioning as a main character in the animated series almost totally whitewashed. While her heritage in her early appearances in the comics left us with a lot to unpack in concern to the complicated feelings of white assimilation that many first-generation Chinese-Americans go through, the cartoon doesn't reference it really at all. Through the cartoon, we lost many important elements of Jubilee's character, leading a white actor to eventually be cast to play her in an ill-fated made-for-TV film called Generation X, which was released in 1996.

In the '80s, when a 13-year-old Kitty Pryde was introduced to the X-Men, she was intended to serve as a point-of-view character for younger readers. At the time, comic book superheroes were mostly adult, with sidekick exceptions in DC but few counterpoints at Marvel after Peter Parker aged out of his teen years. Eventually, younger heroes were introduced, first with Kitty Pryde, then the New Mutants, and then later with Jubilation Lee. Jubilee wasn't the first teenager to join the X-Men, nor the first teen girl to develop a partnership with Wolverine, but she was unique in a lot of other ways.

In her first comics appearance, Jubilee's performance of a light show with the use of her powers at a local mall caught the eye of the female X-Men, who happened to be there on a shopping trip. Later, Jubilee followed the X-Men through a portal to the Australian outback and stowed away at their base there. She witnessed Wolverine being attacked and tortured by the cyborgs known as the Reavers, and saved his life, which led the two characters to form a bond. Wolverine would serve as a mentor to many young mutants, but there were few that he actually owed his life to. Jubilee eventually went on to join the X-Men as an official member.

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In X-Men: The Animated Series, Jubilee was more an amalgamation of herself and Kitty Pryde. Her antics were toned down quite a bit, so her rambling and often incoherent style of monologuing fell by the wayside, simplified into short catchphrases like, “Does a mall babe eat chili fries?” Typically, she showed up to play the role of the well-intentioned heart of the X-Men, a role the comics version of Jubilee would have certainly scoffed at while she was busy playing video games in the rec room. Seldom centralized in any way, Jubilee was reduced to comic relief for the show, leaving her most visible role her least important.

Jubilee's time in the Generation X comic series was where she stood out the most, taking on a sort of leadership role among the less-experienced students. While the others might have found her a bit bossy, no one could really argue with her experience or her authority. Years earlier, Kitty Pryde had refused to join the original teen X-Men group, the New Mutants, referring to them as the X-Babies and disregarding their skills as rudimentary at best. With Generation X, readers got a glimpse at what would have happened if Jubilee had been a bit more emotionally mature in her interactions with the New Mutants, the more worldly kid serving as the unlikely leader of a group of uncertain, hesitant, self-conscious peers. While Generation X started strong, it then drifted into irrelevance as the stories grew ever more needlessly complicated and incidental to the X-Universe, but Jubilee was consistently one of the best parts of the book from beginning to end.

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After the end of Generation X, Jubilee was in limbo. She was depowered as a result of M-Day, in which several characters lost their abilities after the Scarlet Witch famously uttered “No more mutants” and very nearly caused the extinction of the race known as homosuperior. As a result, Jubilee evolved to rely on a technologically enhanced power set instead and renamed herself Wondra. She joined the New Warriors, but found them somewhat boring and grew disillusioned and left the team after only a brief run there. Later, she was transformed into a vampire during the unintentionally absurdist Curse of the Mutants story arc.

There are several reasons as to why anyone would ever choose to make Jubilee an angsty vampire, and they're all logical. She wasn't the main character nor was she completely incidental, making her the ideal for a writer looking to prove a point that the vampires were a very real threat but not so strong of a point that subsequent writers would have had to scramble in dealing with later on. As previously mentioned, writers haven't had many thoughts on interesting things to do with Jubilee. As her now-dated mall references fell out of style, so did she.

Likewise, writers have struggled with her powers, which appear to be comparatively weak next to many other members of the X-Men. Not every X-Man can be an omega level mutant, so it should be okay for a character to be somewhat less dangerous, but many fans and writers alike have condemned Jubilee for not being the most powerful mutant around. It's likely a result of a lack of imagination from writers used to leaning on power sets rather than an actual problem with the character, but nevertheless influences how she is written. Jubilee always leaned far more heavily on her intrinsic adaptability and intelligence to help the X-Men than she did on her powers, making her a far less interesting character as a vampire. 

After this unnecessary transformation, Jubilee starred briefly in a miniseries with Wolverine as he attempted to help her control her bloodlust. She found and adopted an orphan baby named Shogo, which might not have been expected but has been one of the more interesting character developments for her in the last several years. In the role of mother, Jubilee's sense of fun began to return to her, along with a surprising level of responsibility and even some inner peace.

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Recently, Generation X was rebooted, with Jubilee serving as the leader of a class of teen mutants. The reboot was high-quality, featuring interesting character dynamics between the young students, as well as showing cameos and even guest appearances by other Generation X alumni, such as Jubilee's love interest Chamber, Husk in her role as a counselor, and even the tragic Monet St. Croix, now as a dangerous villain.

While the series was one of many canceled by Marvel in early 2018, perhaps the biggest mistake was calling it Generation X to begin with. In the year 2018, reading something called Generation X comes across dated and inconsequential. Still, it's unfortunate it was canceled, because it was the best and most consistent take on Jubilee in years. Appearing on the first page of the first issue looking for her wayward toddler, Jubilee jokes about not being able to get drunk anymore, flirts with Chamber, and scrambles after her students like the frazzled mom we always expected her to become.

Jubilee is a character that once had and occasionally still has highly entertaining dynamics with the other X-Men. Her friendship with and loyalty to Wolverine was always compelling. Her general sense of antagonism towards Hank McCoy and his disgruntled replies to her in return were often some of my favorite parts of an otherwise mostly serious run of X-Men stories, but they've completely fallen by the wayside. Since both characters have undergone significant physical change, they, as the X-Men books overall, could desperately use the levity a little good-intentioned ribbing would bring. The X-Men comics are often far too serious, and Jubilee is at her best when she's either providing a running commentary on more solemn events or even outright teasing the X-Men about what's going on.

Unfortunately, in all of this, despite being featured in a comic often praised for its diversity, Jubilee's Chinese-American heritage has received little focus. She barely talks about her parents, and, as is typical for the X-Men, any oppression or cultural pride she might feel as a result is placed under the umbrella of overall oppression against mutants. An episode of the podcast Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men with guest and FANGRRLS fave Sarah Kuhn discussing Jubilee and the British-Japanese Psylocke provides a lot more information on what Jubilee goes through as a first generation child of immigrants than I remember ever seeing in the comic itself.

In the end, Jubilee is one of those characters that is popular enough to have a significant fan base but not quite enough of one to sustain her own series, and not enough writers itching to take a crack at writing her to make it onto team books. When readers actually do get a Jubilee appearance, it's often in a comic dealing with a lot of complicated, angsty side stories. We already have a ton of characters that fulfill our need for angst. Personally, I miss the Jubilee that was brash, silly, and fun. I understand that people change, and character growth can be great when it's organic. With Jubilee, however, it's often felt like the writers simply didn't quite know what to do with her.

I don't miss Jubilee being a teenager, as I feel like it's good to have characters grow up, but I do miss the Jubilee I came to know and love in my own teen years, who showed me how to keep cool under stress, to lead by example, and how to always have a wisecrack ready no matter how dangerous or weird things got.