Heroes Never Rust #39 by Sean Ironman
The cover to New X-Men #135 says it all. The X-Men (Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Beast, and Xorn), all teachers at Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning, stand around helplessly, each looking at another member of the team for an answer. Newspaper articles make up the background. The articles detail mutant discrimination. Quentin Quire, a student at Xavier’s and budding supervillain, says it best, “Didn’t humans provide the weapons which just killed sixteen million of our people in Genosha? Didn’t they just murder one of our greatest artists, Jumbo Carnation? We live under constant threat?” The X-Men, with all that they have done and all the battles they have fought, have not really changed the world that much. Discrimination is difficult to fight. It takes generations, and even then, it may never fully go away. Quentin is a frustrated young man. He’s turned to drugs and he’s angry. Bad things are about to happen.
In Grant Morrison’s first story arc on the X-Men, “E is for Extinction,” he killed Magneto, the X-Men’s long-running enemy. Magneto became more powerful in death because he became a martyr. In this issue, Quentin wears a T-shirt that says, “Magneto was right.” Contrary to popular belief, Magneto doesn’t really want to kill all humans. He will kill to protect his own, but he’s not a madman (not in most stories). While Xavier believes humans and mutants can coexist, Magneto thinks the two can never get along. Many times through the comics, Magneto wants to have his own land, a safe haven for mutants. That’s where he was when Cassandra Nova used Sentinels to attack, and Magneto was killed.
Quentin tells Professor X: “You’ve always encouraged us to dream…I just wondered what would happen if one of us had a dream you didn’t like?” That sums up the conflict for the “Riot at Xavier’s” storyline. A good school encourages critical thinking and not forcing students to think a certain way. Students are taught to question. A good teacher doesn’t shut down their students because they think something different than the teacher. When a supervillain comes out and attacks a city or a person, the X-Men can jump right in and fight. But what happens when a student begins to think like Magneto?
My favorite scene in all of Grant Morrison’s run on the X-Men is in this issue. The X-Men meet in Professor X’s office (and mind, it seems) to discuss Quentin. But what can they do? Wolverine says to wait for Quentin to grow out of it. Quentin, as we see earlier in the issue, has taken to the streets and attacked humans. How long can the X-Men wait? But they also can’t walk into the classroom and beat the child. If they turn him into the cops, then the institute will get bad press. If mutants are so hated, then bad press will tear the school apart.
The teachers turn to blame a drug called Kick, which Quentin has been taking. I think that shows the weakness of the X-Men. They can’t understand that one of their students believes something different than they do. While Kick is making Quentin a bit crazier and amplifies his mutant power of telepathy, he believes the X-Men’s way doesn’t work. Maybe in twenty years he could change his mind, as people do when they get older. But, now, he truly believes the X-Men aren’t doing enough.
While Quentin’s story unfolds, we also get the story of the special class. Quentin puts together a five member team, similar to the original X-Men, and the special class also harkens back to the original team. There’s Angel, Beak, Basilisk (who has one eye), Ernst, Dummy, and No-Girl (who has no body). The special class doesn’t question the X-Men’s philosophy. They follow Xorn on a hike and camping trip. Xorn breaks things down into simple terms. He’s not teaching a philosophy. He’s teaching a way of life. When Basilisk asks why Xorn was imprisoned, Xorn responds, “Crime? There was no crime. I became strange and different. Like you, my difference made me a target of ignorance and fear.” Xorn is turning the special class toward his own end (which is made clear in a later story arc), but he’s not lecturing them. He tells the special class his story and leaves it at that. Maybe that’s what Professor X needs to do. Stop teaching in abstracts, in dreams, and just state his history. Leave it up to the students to decide their own beliefs. Maybe if you level with students, give them the freedom to decide, then they’ll come around. I don’t know. There are no easy answers to a student like Quentin Quire. If he’s going to go evil, if he’s going to strike out against humanity, that’s what he’s going to do. The X-Men will have to be ready.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.