Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Michael Safranek, who chose number 387 for the roulette – which sees the D’Bari out for revenge on Jean Grey!
By Steve Morris
At the moment there’s a large number of long-term X-Men readers who are convinced that the current Krakoan era represents the X-Men turning “evil”, and shows them becoming isolationist members of a cult run by unrecognisable versions of Xavier, Magneto and Moira. But the X-Men are no strangers to operating in ethically murky waters, and throughout the franchise’s existence we’ve seen all sorts of dubious and dangerous ideologies taken on by various mutants as they attempt to flourish without being hated and feared by everyone around them.
The worst of all of them is actually the one they’ve now thrown to one side as part of the Krakoan era, and it’s a thought process which occupies much of Uncanny X-Men #387. It’s the idea that the X-Men are unquestionably “the good guys”.
A few pages into the issue, the X-Men are visited by Everett Ross and Queen Divine Justice, two characters from Christopher Priest’s Black Panther run, who want to see Storm. They’re hostile and rude, which prompts Jean to run a “surface” scan of their minds to see what their intentions are. When she mentions this to Beast later on, he worries about the way she can easily invade the privacy of others. In fact, he brings up a theory which many readers have considered over the years – that the “mutant metaphor” isn’t particularly solid when mutants can literally read minds on a whim. Prejudice in the real world is fundamentally inexplicable and based on no objective reasoning… but in the world of the X-Men, are people really so wrong to worry about world-ending powers being given to random women from New York?
Jean’s response is simple “Hank, remember, we’re the good guys”.
She puts on some sunglasses and walks off after saying that, inspiring David Caruso and ending the argument without actually offering a proper ending to the argument. It’s a reminder that the X-Men – heck, Xavier’s “dream” as a whole – is fundamentally relying on the fact that the X-Men are “the good guys”. Several X-Men have powers which could destroy the world at any point in time, and the only thing stopping them is the conviction that they should do the right thing. Curiously enough, that’s something Xavier trains into them from outset, “militarising” the mutants he takes under his care so they have that black-and-white understanding of what a moral code should be. It’s a bit like the Marvel Cinematic Universe in fact, I guess. Militarise every hero so they can be coded as inherently heroic, where everything they do (like destroy other countries or possess an entire town of people against their will) can be recontextualised as part of a longer-term good.
Jean grew up in Xavier’s system, and her training kicks in immediately when the X-Men are attacked later on. The first thing she does is get the civilians to safety – explaining her thought-process to Cable as she goes – in a nice mother-son moment which shows Jean’s lifetime of experience. But then we find out who is attacking: surviving members of the D’Bari, the race that Dark Phoenix wiped out when it destroyed their home planet. Jean heads to the astral plane to try and take down the leader, but instead their memories combine and they both have to relive the moment when Phoenix murdered an entire species.
Confronted by what is honestly a genocide (and not the first one the X-Men have been connected to), her instinctive training again starts up. She doesn’t have any empathy for the atrocity she’s witnessing, because her first instinct is to go on the defensive. Just like when she was physically attacked by the D’Bari and turned to defensive tactic, when she psychically witnesses the D’Bari genocide she again becomes defensive. “It wasn’t me!” is her reaction to what she sees.
Whilst that is, y’know, true, it’s also not the most empathetic reaction to seeing this replay of the past. The D’Bari leader saw something that looked like Jean destroy their planet, and Jean offers no understanding for the trauma they’ve been through. Instead she tricks them into thinking that they’ve killed her and successfully avenged their planet, before Gambit says he’ll make the attackers “disappear”, whatever that means. Rogue reiterates the point that Phoenix wasn’t Jean, reconfirming the idea that the X-Men are a united force of “good” who can recontextualise anything into making them appear to be the good guys in any situation. At the end of the day, even if Jean wasn’t the Phoenix who destroyed the planet, she still prioritised Cyclops over the safety of everyone else. Is that what being “the good guys” is all about?
The end of the issue reaffirms this worrying double-standard Jean has. Whilst the other X-Men realise that Earth is being turned into some kind of prison-planet for aliens (there’s a scene in the issue with Xavier and Lilandra which does a surprisingly poor job of explaining what’s going on, which is surprising for Claremont) and vow to track down what’s going on, Jean is lost in her own thoughts. Cable notices this and asks what’s going on, and she tells him that what she’s going to do now is… see if Cyclops is still alive somewhere. She’s not going to talk to the D’Bari she fought; she’s not going to try and help out her fellow X-Men – she’s after Cyclops again. The exact self-centred focus which previously led to the Phoenix going out of control and destroying the D’Bari.
The X-Men have always been trained to believe that they are the good guys, and their every action is done for noble and heroic purposes. In turn, long-term readers have also in a sense “bought into” that exact same way of thinking. I believe that’s why the current Krakoan era has caught so many people off-guard: the X-Men are no longer calling themselves an unassailable moral good. They’re instead the inevitable future, for whatever good or bad that might lead to. It’s not a question of the X-Men being unquestionably “the good guys”, whatever that may mean.
They say that no good villain ever thinks of themselves as being the villain; the idea being that black-and-white morality doesn’t exist. But this is then the reverse of the same theory, where the X-Men no longer see themselves as purely a force for good. They’re simply trying to survive and live the lives they want to lead, and throwing away that trained-in sense of moral superiority has arguably made them far more complex and interesting than when they were self-serving and self-involved “good guys”.
Uncanny X-Men #387: Cry Justice, Cry Cry Vengeance
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Inker: Tim Townsend
Colourist: Richard Isanove
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
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.
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People think that Krakoa is a cult because the writers often can’t be bothered to explain how the characters are so accepting of things like the child deathmatches or the various forms of monster on their oligarchic ruling council; brainwashing is reached to as an explanation because no other explanation has been provided why so many mutants who have otherwise historically been iconoclastic and eager to question authority are willing to live and let live with people with personal body counts in the millions.
The X-men abandoning the label of “good guy” could be a part of it, but the strange, placid acceptance of so many characters of the obvious necessity of having Apocalypse beat children to death, voicing their objections quietly to themselves instead of jumping in to stop it, or the unquestioning of the fact that Mister Sinister, who has never been a mutant but has been a Nazi, now helps rule them, needs further justification. The Morlocks, who Sinister had purged for not matching his visions of genetic purity, seem bizarrely content to live and let live, occasionally beating up Greycrow rather than the architect of the Massacre, for example.