Written by Zachary Richardson
In the summer of 2012, I was mowing my lawn. I wasn’t exactly having the greatest of times. The sun was beating down on me like a wanna-be-drummer with aggression issues and I was the victimized set of overturned pots and pans.
Suddenly, I had an idea as to how I’d make the chore slightly less terrible: I could listen to podcasts as I worked. I slipped my earbuds between my ears and the noise-canceling headphones that kept the roar of the electric-gas mower from damaging my hearing.
The plan worked perfectly and I eventually found myself listening to a podcast called Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men. This show, run by two self-proclaimed X-Men X-perts, sought to give its listeners both a comprehensive and comedic X-planation of the twists and turns of the X-Men canon—from the first books generations ago, to the comics of today. (Not that they’ve reached the present just yet.)
At the time of writing, the most recent episode of JaMXtX was about some comics from 1988. Yes, they’ve only gotten that far after literal years of weekly episodes—the material is as X-tra large as it is X-tra compleX.
X-Men (for those who haven’t seen any of the comics, TV shows, movies, or branded towels) is a franchise about the lives of mutants, a subspecies of humanity with a genetic predisposition for superpowers. The X-Men fight not just world-destroying supervillains, but villains of a super-racist variety.
Mutants serve as a very obvious metaphor for oppressed minority groups, despite the fact that the X-Men lineup tends to be mostly comprised of straight white dudes. (Probably because comic book writers are also mostly straight white dudes.)
Before I started listening to JaMXtX, I thought all of the X-Men’s adventures were about fighting thinly-veiled metaphors of real-world bigotry, but I was entirely mistaken. Their history is a long and strange one, from fighting parasitic aliens in space, to Throg, to unwittingly dating the clone of one’s actually-not-dead wife.
As it turns out, X-Men is also a huge soap opera. Probably the biggest super-soap opera in comics. But that’s not relevant to my feelings, let’s rewind back to Throg.
Throg is Thor when he was a frog. Obviously. What else could Throg be?
I feel that context is important here. Throg provided life advice to Danielle Moonstar, a Native American mutant teenager with the power to show people their greatest fears. She was also a Valkyrie (as in the supernatural warriors from Norse mythology, also Tessa Thompson) and had her own flying horse.
Believe it or not, Danielle makes plenty of sense within the context of her stories, as does Throg in his. Put some time into a good superhero comic, and one shall be rewarded with fun, genuine meaning, and the occasional Asgardian-god-as-talking-frog.
So, long story short, Jay and Miles’ podcast, and by X-tension, lawn mowing, is what got me into comic books, and even better, into appreciating comic books. Thanks, lawn mowing!
But then, as I got into comics, I learned of its dark side. Thanks, lawn mowing.
The Dark Side of Comic Books: A Listicle
- Character consistency. Due to the age of superhero comics, every major hero has been written by approximately one billion people. That means that it’s impossible for any character consistency to exist ever, since every writer has their own unique interpretation. Sometimes those interpretations have some serious, serious problems. Like that time Magneto—a literal holocaust survivor—attempted to commit acts of genocide on the human denizens of New York City. It was an event so terrible and out of character that other writers were falling over themselves to write it out of existence.
- Crossover events. Ever since a few books in the X-Men franchise crossed over in well-planned stories that made big bucks (and subsequent crossovers made even bigger bucks) hero comics have had a big crossover event at least once a year. These crossovers tend to be as stupid and soulless as any piece of media designed more by marketing boards than actual writers.
- Treatment of women. Skimpy outfits and anatomically incorrect poses aside, does anyone remember that time Captain Marvel, then Ms. Marvel, got magically pregnant for the Avengers 200th issue? Y’know, that time she gave birth to Marcus Immortus, who had magically brainwashed and impregnated her with himself? Who then instantly grew into an adult, going on to whisk a clearly-brainwashed Ms. Marvel away, and the rest of the Avengers were all cool with it? Remember that time the Avengers 200th issue was about actual rape? Marvel sure doesn’t want you to.
The Light Side of Comics: A Less Depressing Listicle
- The corners of comic book universes. While the big crossover event books can be objectively determined to be just the worst, there are comics on the edges of their worlds that manage to tell stories that are more or less free from the influence of crossovers and editorial mandates.
- Progress. It’s been slow, but it’s clear that companies like Marvel and DC are reluctantly pushing the medium into the 21st century. Just look at comics like Ms. Marvel and Wonder Woman. Ms. Marvel became the first superhero comic with a Muslim headliner. As for Wonder Woman, after years of avoiding admitting the obvious, DC has finally officially stated that she is bisexual.
- Continuity. While at times it can be really dumb, the decades-long continuities of comic books can give a character’s history a sort of historical weight. It’s a weight that makes these fictional universes feel so much more real. When you step back and look at it all, you see vast web of people and events, all strange, jostling, and more than a little contradictory. Just like the real world, only with more spandex and punching.
Comics aren’t perfect. Anyone who thinks otherwise either hasn’t read any or they’re being willfully ignorant. But the bad doesn’t necessarily cancel out the good, and the good really is worth it. So, despite superhero comics’ numerous flaws, I can say without irony:
Thanks, lawn mowing!”