There are so many X-Men out there! You can’t walk round your private island paradise anymore without bumping into twenty mutants. But that raises a question which Shelfdust are going to try and answer! Who is the Best Mutant? We’ll be inviting some of the best writers in comics to argue their case!
By Jean Brigid-Prehn
I ought to admit upfront – I’m a child of Utopia. My introduction to comics came from whatever trades were floating around in the local library in the mid 00s – and, since they weren’t buying Masterworks (and they stopped collecting Ultimate X-Men around volume 3), the most complete saga was the run written by Matt Fraction and later Kieron Gillen all the way through Avengers Vs X-Men. As a result, while I would eventually pore through a good deal of the back catalog of mutant history, my primary context for Mutants is as a population reeling from mass death and depowerment, a population for whom the threat of extinction is very real.
I was compelled by the depiction of a paranoid, vigorous atmosphere through all the X-Books, as well as the various ways that the children of the movement navigated the battlefield left behind. In the years since, the mutant metaphor which has continued to resonate most for me is the one trying to reconcile the memories of a cataclysm with the dream of Utopia.
My case for Hope as the “best mutant”, then, relies on how well she exemplifies this idea. Hope too is a child of Utopia, and the conflicts that characterize that period play out across her face. For much of her first few years of existence, she was viewed most of her fellow mutants (and by fans-at-large) as a living mcguffin, every one of her appearances treading water until editors would ultimately, eventually smash the “Break-For-Phoenix” glass and help Marvel get out of the mutant population hole that they’d been digging since House of M. Yet, the more she faded from the spotlight, the more interesting Hope became to me.
While the Wednesday to Wednesday churn of the 616 meant that most of the world around her moved on after Avengers Vs X-Men, Hope’s character remained grounded in it. She’s a character who, both in text and out, had to live at the epicenter of a series of crises and then just keep… existing afterwards. As a result, she’s been able to reckon with that crisis in a way that characters are rarely given the chance to. At her best, Hope shines as a character who is able both to preserve the lesson of survival and to articulate a new vision of the future.
Hope’s mutant ability being power mimicry compliments this characterization. At her worst, Hope takes the powers of others wantonly, deciding she can use them better than they can. At her best, however, Hope takes the powers of her allies; understands them; synthesizes them; and then uses them in concert with her teammates. Hope, then, is a dialectic that walks like a mutant.
In their Uncanny X-Men run, Matthew Rosenberg and Salvador Larocca took the opportunity provided by the upcoming soft reset with Jonathan Hickman et al, and used it to stretch their characters to the limit. This somewhat forgotten run follows a ten-issue event called ‘X-Men Disassembled’ wherein a mutant messiah comes down, wrecks shit, and then raptures most of the merchandisable X-Men. As a result the run strikes up a desperate tone immediately, with the remaining X-men left outnumbered; facing anti-mutant legislation; and returned to being outlaws. By returning to the paranoia which in particular Hope’s era was defined by, the run leaves room for her to step up as a character who is able to carry the wreckage of the past and use it to conceptualize a future.
Readers catch up with Hope in issue #15 of Uncanny X-Men, as Cyclops’ team hears of a brewing scheme by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to assassinate a politician touting an anti-mutant vaccine. Arriving at the scene, they find Hope at the head of the brotherhood The moment isn’t shown as a particular surprise, as Rosenberg instead plays it as the end of a tragic throughline to the character – Hope’s need to lead something, anything, has led her her assembling a new Brotherhood of Mutants from a group of shameless mercenaries and a literal zombie. Hope spouts some vague lines about mutant liberation but, once our heroes get close up, it’s plain that she’s arrived sans manifesto – sans, frankly, any reason to fight except for a desperate reflex.
The survival instinct drilled into Hope’s bones during her childhood and adolescence has emerged in full force, manifesting now as a need to keep an immediate threat in her sights… and a finger on the trigger. Scott and Logan are too late to stop Hope from killing the senator, and in confronting her they realise that she’s just as burnt out as the smoking rifle she’s holding. After a few lines of canned activism, the raw emotion behind her actions comes out. She says bitterly to Scott:
“You know how I know the universe doesn’t care about me? You’re the Summers who came back”.
As Hope fends off Logan and Scott’s further paternalistic interruptions, she fires a shot which takes out one of Scott’s eyes. Wolverine charges Hope in response, and her eyes go scarlet. Salvador Larocca has a particular talent for drawing people in pain – a specialty which was used to grotesque effect in Invincible Iron Man, during which he really dug around into the body horror inherent in a man attempting to, literally, rebuild himself. That same approach is evident throughout this run as well, and the reader can notice how Cyclops’ visor pinches around his eyes. When Hope goes on to borrow Scott’s optic blast power later on, Larocca’s dedication to discomfort means that Hope’s attempt at a badass statement (“You forgot who the hell I am”) is visually contradicted by how much pain she’s in. It hurts to have eyes just like that. It hurts to live like that.
Within the context of the decades-long X-Men narrative, this moment pays off a setup from Uncanny X-Men #525 where Hope’s powers are first introduced to the reader. In that issue issue Terry and Rachel Dodson’s art depicts Hope’s eyes glowing red as she rebukes Scott for his callous reaction to Cable’s suicide mission. Cyclops is left in awe at the sight back then, attempting to describe how “[Hope’s] eyes… were just like mine.” By recalling that moment on that rooftop, nearly a decade later in real time, Rosenberg and Larocca further illustrate the ways in which Hope has become like the Cyclops of the Utopia era. Hope has inherited the powers and mindset which built Utopia; she’s also inherited the ethos that burnt it out.
As Rosenberg’s Uncanny run continues, increasingly stressful circumstances mean that Hope joins the X-Men, despite their previous fight. This dynamic- the coalition building out of necessity – is part of what makes Rosenberg’s run such a good fit for Hope, even though her panel-time is somewhat limited. As much as the X-Men are a found family, they’re also an activist group. Uncanny brings this tension to the fore, with Rosenberg placing a deliberate focus on the conflicts that arise out of navigating relationships to build a team that can get shit done. Making the leadership of the rag-tag X-Men a primary concern allows Uncanny to delve further into Hope’s development, as her tendency to take leadership for granted has been a character struggle going back as early as Generation Hope.
At its best, Hope’s characterization tends to avoid situating the reason for her jockeying for leadership not out of egotism, nor a kind of control freak nature, but as a result of the ad hoc logic of survivorship. As the team she was seemingly born to lead crumbles around her, she keeps them together out of a fear that everything that’s happened to get her there might be meaningless. When the brutal pragmatism of one brand of X-Force (as seen in the Si Spurrier/Rock-He Kim run she’s a part of) is made clear, Hope steps in not to dismantle the extrajudicial kill squad, but instead to take charge of it – because why would she throw away a perfectly good weapon?
All of this history adds significance to Hope’s recognition of Alex and Scott’s similar need to assert control in later issues of Uncanny. Not only does Hope recognize this paranoia, but she acts to address it, stepping in to remind the Summers brothers that the group all agreed to try going forward with a decentralized leadership. Hope is addressing that moment of “the universe doesn’t care about me” on the roof not by asserting herself as the lead, but by ensuring that everyone else can be heard. She takes her resentment of feeling as if she’s now a periphery character in someone else’s heroic narrative, and turns it into something she finds productive.
In her Krakoan appearances, especially in X-Factor or New Mutants, Hope continues to be a fascinating vehicle through which to reckon with what it means to be a part of mutantdom. Her appearances, especially her choice to lead not just in resurrecting clones, but in recognising the personhood of everyone brought back, sees her taking the time to listen to mutants who don’t have the prestige of Council members. She uses her position to elevate those who don’t have that voice, while also exercising her full strength to make decisions which benefit those mutants.
In only a few years of prominence, writers have left a unique space for Hope to articulate a radical future for mutantdom built on addressing and transcending the mistakes of the past, and it is this possibility which makes her the best mutant.
Uncanny X-Men #15
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Jean Brigid-Prehn is a writer & reader. She can be found on twitter here.
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