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 Ryan K. Lindsay, who chose number 297 for the roulette – so it’s time to see how X-Cutioner’s Song affected the team.
It’s common knowledge now that Charles Xavier is, to quote Kitty Pryde, a jerk. Boosted not just by a growing awareness in the readership that his military-style training camps were a little unnerving but also by writers like Joss Whedon and Ed Brubaker actively turning him into a villain through acts of slavery, gaslighting and overt mind-control, the character went from being the awkward leader of a new race of people to being a sinister and untrustworthy figure. And that’s worth interrogating a little. Why did writers push him in that direction?
In Uncanny X-Men #297, the X-Men have just made it through X-Cutioner’s Song, where the Summers family had to fight an evil clone on a huge moon fortress. As is customary, the issue which immediately follows a major x-crossover then becomes a cooldown, where the characters reset themselves, recover, and rest up before whatever comes next. For Angel and Beast that means sneaking off at night to a building which was destroyed during a previous fight, so they can fix it up as an apology. For Rogue and Gambit, it means more of their typical drama.
For Professor Xavier, it means a few hours where he’s able to walk, boosted momentarily by the aftereffects of the virus Stryfe infected him with. Able to walk again for a little while longer, he walks the grounds of his mansion until he bumps into Jubilee, who is celebrating the victory of the crossover by rollerskating in the courtyard. In all respects, it’s exactly the character who he should cross paths with: Jubilee is brash, abrasive, and blunt, meaning she slams straight through Xavier’s defensive nature and gets him to talk about things he wouldn’t with anyone else. In her company, he talks about his disability and how it has affected him all his life, and prompts the question of if he’d ever give up his telepathy in order to regain ability in his legs.
It’s a reminder that this is a character who has lived with disability on top of everything else: that his time in charge of the X-Men has not just seen him work through anti-mutant prejudice and an increasingly harsh world which slowly closes the fingers around everybody he cares about: every day he also lives life in a wheelchair. His nature as “a tightly stitched ‘dilt”, as Jubilee describes him, comes from a hard childhood, a constant present-day battle, and an unpredictable future for him and his people. At the end of the issue his ability to walk once again fades from him, and Jubilee watches him struggle by himself to get back to his chair.
He’s not going to make it, but doesn’t ask for help. Over two pages we see him try as hard as he can to make it without falling over, leaning on a tree for support, and it’s an incredibly affecting scene – especially as Jubilee, realising he needs assistance, races over to grab him and help him make his last few steps. It’s a strong moment for both characters, as only a few pages before, Jubilee had persuaded him to go – what else – rollerskating with her. He opens up to her while they’re blading together, open and without any defences up (which Jubilee takes advantage of by catching him by surprise and throwing him in the fountain). As we get to see him have some fun and Jubilee understand him better, the comic follows up by showing him put the fun to one side as he goes back to his struggles, leaving Jubilee behind so he can shoulder his personal burdens by himself. She intervenes: he doesn’t have to do this by himself anymore because he has people who love and respect him and want to help.
Which is why it’s a bit of a shame that across the last decade or two he’s been taken off in another direction, and become an untrustworthy and disreputable leader figure. This issue shows that Xavier could have easily been pushed into a grandfather figure for the mutants as successive generations came into the world of the X-Men (as you could argue has now happened during the Krakoa era, albeit requiring a reset before it could happen). But instead, writers decided that the man who set everything in motion had to have a series of sins, each one stronger and less subtle than the last.
Perhaps it’s the nature of a coming-of-age story, which you can argue the X-Men have always be. As you get older, your relationships with family members grow and change, as you see them less as invincible heroes and more as actual people, with flaws and missteps in their lives. One day your uncle is the cool guy who shows up as family events and makes everyone laugh; the next you realise he’s got imperfections and scratches on his surface. It’s what growing up is about. But when writers realised that the student characters in X-Men had to start ageing because new generations of students were constantly being introduced, they decided that Xavier wouldn’t just start to show imperfections, as he does in Uncanny X-Men #297. He instead became a hurdle they’d have to get past.
Perhaps it shows a little ageism, and perhaps it shows the impact of a franchise which has mostly been written by straight white men. The idea of elders is one which marginalised groups don’t get to experience as often: seeing elderly queer men and women can often be a victory in itself, because society doesn’t allow an easy or long life to those it wishes to abuse and marginalise. White writers, on the other hand, have an abundance of older role-models to look up to, which makes it easier when you want knock someone off their perch and have them fall hard. Reading an issue like #297 is a reminder that Xavier didn’t have to become a bastard, and it was a choice that Marvel made with the character.
In 2021 it’s taken for granted that Xavier’s nature is to be manipulative; to undermine and betray the principles he claimed to have created. I’d argue that could be a real shame: it’s nice to see him grow, progress, and understand future generations of mutants, like Jubilee, and open himself up to be both a leader and be led himself by the people he inspired.
Uncanny X-Men #297: Up And Around
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Brandon Peterson
Inker: Dan Panosian
Colorist: Marie Javins
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
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