X-Men Red gets back to the franchise's original politically metaphoric story of mutants as the stand-in for marginalized groups in society. And by drawing on current political happenings, X-Men Red asks two important questions: what should marginalized groups do in a world that fears and hates them? And what can they do?
After the events of Phoenix Resurrection, omega-level mutant Jean Grey is alive again, and with a new purpose: she wants to fix the world. She travels across the world to get the expertise and advice of the most important and prolific minds alive, rallies some support, and sets out to change the world for the better.
But as the saying goes, "easier said than done," Jeanie. And we find art imitating life in the pages of Marvel's X-Men Red, by writer Tom Taylor, artist Mahmud Asrar, and color artists Ive Svorcina & Rain Beredo.
In its first arc, "The Hate Machine," Jean goes to the UN to ask world leaders to recognize mutants as a nation and to work with them to forge a real peace. Jean's plan, however, is thwarted by Cassandra Nova, evil telepathic twin sister of Professor X. She utilizes nanite technology to weaponize humans and mutants in her effort to eradicate mutantkind.
Much has changed in the comics' world (and our world) while Jean was gone, but one thing remains: she still believes in her late professor's dream of peaceful co-existence between mutants and humans, and protecting the world that outright fears and hates them.
This perspective, of course, rings back to the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which initially inspired the X-Men. Yet, while the old approaches to civil rights are seen as more acceptable avenues of protest, contemporary movements like Black Lives Matter have stressed a departure from the old methods of liberation praxis; playing the establishment's game employs respectability politics. This departure from the old ways of doing things is referenced when Jean asserts to the UN that mutants shouldn't have to be heroes to have their existence validated by the majority, making it clear the onus is not on the oppressed to end the oppression put upon them by those in power.
Anti-mutant mutant Cassandra Nova stokes the fear and hatred of mutants worldwide, motivating world leaders to pass anti-mutant legislation across the planet. Nova also infects some world leaders, humans, and even mutants across the globe with her Sentinites, nanites that turn beings into living sentinels. Once infected, a person is able to detect the X-Factor chromosome in any individual, and when they do, the Sentinites overload the infected host's brain with hate, and the imperative to kill mutants they find.
This is no different than what's currently happening in our world: politicians learn the motivations and bigotries of their base supporters and fan those motivations to gain support, especially when enacting "Muslim ban" legislation (upheld by the Supreme Court on Tuesday) or empowering law enforcement to round up groups deemed undesirable and hold them in detention centers.
Red team member Trinary, a technopath, tells the group about the uptick of half-truths and false narratives that are being spread on news media and social media to further stoke hatred for mutants within society at large. This is a nod to the United Nations investigation citing that social media platform Facebook was utilized to fuel further hatred towards Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar via spreading misinformation and hate speech. Alum X-Men member Remy LeBeau, aka Gambit, used his kinetic powers to disrupt a mutant hate rally in Louisiana, where anti-mutant bigots were protesting with tiki torches. I'm sure folks can guess what that's a nod to.
In X-Men Red Issue #5, we see Poland pass a law calling for the detainment of all mutants in the country; luckily for the mutant population that fled their homes, Jean and her X-Men were there to save them and grant them sanctuary at their base of operations in Atlantis, home of King Namor. The issue was planned months in advance, but who could've guessed that at the time of its release, we'd currently be seeing sharp increases of detainment of Latinx families seeking asylum in the United States?
This is the critical ingredient that makes X-Men Red work so well: it functions as a mirror of the society it's created in, presenting circumstances which, when seen played out within its pages, helps to clarify the phenomena we see occurring in the real world, and informs the reader whom they should side with. Whether that empathy transfers from fiction to reality, however, is up to us.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.