Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Comic Book Mutants

I've been thinking quite a bit about evolution recently, as part of a complicated process of intellectualization, to try to keep at arms length the the fairly strong emotions I tend to have about evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. I might mention that the city where I was born and reared is a center of religious publishing among other things.

My musings (loosely defined) are, in part, a response to a friend's response to the Intelligent Design foufrou. Basically, he and I have been talking about how science fiction has treated evolution. As a result, I've been “reviewing the literature,” as science guys say. The biggest part of reviewing what people have written (and others have read) about this subject is what it says about the subterranean views of those readers/writers. Narrative as an X-ray into the psyche, as it were.

Overall, that's a vastly more complex subject than I have the time or patience for at the moment, to say nothing of my attention span. However, there's a bit of a tangent that I hope isn't too long for this space or my attention span: comic book mutants.

First, an odd little point: mutants in science fiction are usually part of a gaggle having similar characteristics, or they are singular, the only mutant in town, so to speak. But comic books tend to have a lot of mutants, and each one has a different power. Hmm. Does this mean anything?
Well, let's start with one factor: comic books lean heavily toward "superheros" who serve as wish-fullfillment identifiers for adolescent boys (and those of us in touch with our inner teenager). But to notice that superheros tend to have unique abilities only begs the question. Why are they unique?

I'll argue that this is a reflection on the subjective world of adolescence. I remember a Garrison Keillor riff I heard once that went something like: Every adolescent is convinced that he or she is unique, that the world has never seen one so splendid, the sun has never before shone on such a person before. And each and every one of them is right!

In short, one way we are all alike is that we are all unique. (Ah, I love the smell of paradox in the morning; it smells like simile).

Add to that the idea that the outsider is cast in that role because of his/her abilities and virtues (rather than shortcomings or vices), and you have the perfect narrative for the adolescent sensibility. There, there, child, they're mean to you because they're jealous. So you get a message that emanates from material as diverse as the Uncanny X-Men and Atlas Shrugged.

Let's also note that the urge to socialize (and be socialized) is also apparent in all of these narratives, from Galt's Gulch to Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Children. It's also there in the old SF stories about "The Next Step in Evolution," of course, where all the mutants are similar, members of a new race. But (and boy, don't I find myself taking weird comfort from some of these lines of thought), nowadays, we get a more diverse cast of characters, with accordingly diverse abilities. True, some of it is "characterization by funny hat" (or superpower), but one mustn't expect more than the narrative is set up to supply. Besides, and God bless, people often get a little skittish when something looks a little too much like racism, and skittish readers are easily lost. Of course, that may just be me being optimistic.

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