By Steve Morris
I have no idea why issue #346 of Uncanny X-Men was downloaded onto my iPad, but now seems like a particularly interesting time to write about it. You see, issue #346 of Uncanny X-Men is one which plays into the mythos of old-fashioned journalism, and it does so through one of the most resolute and interesting Marvel characters that exists: J. Jonah Jameson. Right now, the journalistic integrity of someone like J. Jonah Jameson is something
When he’s not being ramped up into parody, Jameson is one of the strongest characters in superhero comics. He may be irrational when it comes to Spider-Man, but when it comes to the X-Men he’s always thrown his lot in with the persecuted minority group. So it proves at this point in history, as he sends his reporters out to investigate why the Government are now systematically trying to kill all mutants. He refuses to take the word of anyone else, and he won’t accept what the authorities try to tell him about the operation: he sends his people out to get the actual honest truth on the ground, and report on a story accurately.
His motivation for being so outwardly anti-authority is that one of his own reporters has gone missing whilst hunting for a story – unknown to Jameson, the reporter’s been murdered by Bastion – but it’s also because the character taps into that golden-age feel about what journalists actually should be. There’s no shrotage of other journalists in superhero fiction – from Lois Lane and Clark Kent through to Ben Urich or, heck, April O’Neil. But Jameson is one with a real sense of passion for what he does, and it’s reviving to see somebody so hyped up about reporting the truth and finding out what’s actually going on. At a time now where even the mildest of scoops is met with a flurry of people smugly declaring “this was an open secret anyway” and spinning off complacently without explaining why they kept it so, it’s heartening and powerful to see J. Jonah Jameson turn his energy towards something actually productive and resolutely pursue it.
For all that, it’s important to remember that Jameson is the personification of journalistic energy: it’s great when he feels strongly about a worthy cause that the reader believes in, but he’s still somebody who spends most of his time publishing a long-term vendetta on the front page of his papers; somebody who uses bias as a narrative tool and ignores evidence he doesn’t like. Sometimes he wears a robot suit. And it’s important to remember that not only is Jameson a flawed character – but he’s also somebody who sits in the hands of whoever is writing him. It feels telling that he gets off the phone with a corrupt senator and yells “next election I’m voting Republican!” like it isn’t blatantly the Republians who so openly would want mutants dead to start with. I see you, Scott Lobdell.
That aside, what connects Jameson and the mutants is that they share a particular goal: civil rights for all. Jameson may not support the X-Men as a concept – he thinks they’re dangerous, which seems smart, to be honest – but he understands that the situation isn’t helped by painting the minority group as being outright evil and inhuman, as the Government wants him to. Bastion’s big plan here is to drop a CD-Rom which contains the secret identities of every mutant onto Jameson’s desk, expecting the publisher to abandon his investigation in order to take on the easy, juicy story. Doxxing mutants – before doxxing existed – is a unique point of attack for an X-Men villain to attempt, and you could expect Jameson to eagerly pick up the disk and accept moths of bestselling headlines. Instead he burns it. He wants to find and tell his own narrative, rather than share the one which is conveniently handed to him.
In all this talk about journalistic ethics, I don’t want to lose sight of the Gambit interlude which appears midway through the issue. It absolutely has to be mentioned that Gambit drinks a puddle halfway through the story whilst sat on what looks like another planet. He drinks a puddle and then he sees – reflected in the puddle – that there is a scary zebra behind him. Considering all the chat I’ve offered about journalism, here’s my citation of the scene, for proof:
So I just wanted to make sure that everybody was more or less onboard with the fact that Gambit is terrorised by a space zebra at one point during the issue, and none of it is explained.
Back to journalistic ethics. Jameson is still willing to report on the X-Men and expose anything that needs to be revealed. His point, however, is that he’s being handed everything on a plate by somebody who is powerful and secure. When somebody with a lot of power wants to suggest what the answers are, that makes the questions irrelevant – and Jameson, a reporter, balks at the idea of reducing his job to printing someone elses’ narrative. If he asks no questions but prints the answers he’s been given, he’s lost control of his own voice – and so it’s not just the voice of the X-Men which he’s removing, but his own.
Bastion’s big mistake, you can argue, is when he says he’s handing Jameson a Pulitzer and sneers “what reporter could have given this to you?” which immediately shows how little he respects Jameson. If Jameson were to accept the friendship of somebody who offers him no respect – and basks in that lack of respect – then what kind of man would he be? Bastion understands nothing of Jameson, and nothing of publishing, and yet claims to have something which could win the most prestigious prize in the field. That’s an arrogance which rings especially true at this point in time – from actual reporters being mocked by the President right down to comics critics getting told what their craft is by comics creators (ahem).
That seems to be ultimately what motivates him to tell Bastion to leave the office. It’s one thing to present evidence on something, but it’s another to create both sides of a story and hand it to a reporter as though that’s what their roles are and should always be. Jameson might be biased, and flawed, and complex… but he’s not for sale. Crucially, he sees journalism as something important and powerful, and in turn that’s what makes journalism important and powerful. Not backing down when somebody tells them how to do their job – but respecting that nobody knows their purpose like they do. It’s old-fashioned, but there’s something admirable and inspirational in seeing that vitriolic cigar-chomping journalist considers himself to be, first and foremost, the journalist part of that description.
Uncanny X-Men #346: The Story of the Year!
Written by Scott Lobdell
Pencillers: Joe Madureira and Rodney Ramos
Inker: Tim Townsend
Colourist: Steve Buccellato
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
I love the focus of this review. What’s your take on Bendis’s interpretation of Jonah in his Ultimate Spider-Man run? That’s my favourite iteration of the character, although the interplay between him and Perry White in Jim Shooter’s Superman vs Spider-Man is also pretty awesome.
I’d need to read more of it! Doesn’t it take a U-Turn around the time of Ultimatum, where he actually realises his mistakes and changes his mind about Spidey?
There is some great character work before that, too. I don’t want to spoil it, though. Well worth catching up on. A great run in general.