Monday, November 12, 2007

The Mutancy Meme, Part 2: Do the Evolution

Being the second installment of an essay on the subject of Mutancy as Meme in the (Mainstream) Marvel Universe. Part 1 is here.


Borrowing from Gladwell, one may posit mutancy as a kind of "social innovation", in the fictional culture of the Marvel universe. So, over time, it should (theoretically) gain acceptance within the broader population, down an echelon of levels:
    ... from a limited number of "early adopters" (the first batches of the X-Men and the rival Brotherhood of Mutants),
    ... to a larger number of "secondary adopters" (the pan-cultural 'Second Genesis' that was initiated with Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975),
    ... and from them to "tertiary adopters" (the younger New Mutants; and even later, Generation X, who probably came of age with the experience of mutancy as a fairly common occurrence),
    ... then to "quadranary adopters" amongst the general non-mutant population, etc.

This diffusion of "the mutancy meme" within 616 society follows (appropriately enough) the self-replicating nature of a virus, as it spontaneously adapts to its host bodies.

This process was further egged on by the paradigm shifts taking place in the "real-world" comic industry that keeps the X-men franchise in business. A handful of innovative writers started to recognize that mutancy's central tenets needed to be retooled and updated to fit the increasing complexities of a globalized world. Unstable trans-national boundaries and the spread of information across the world marketplace made the over-simplistic tropes of past decades now seem like hoary clich├ęs -- was it honestly conceivable that a large and potentially influential minority would remain despised and marginalized forever? Not likely.

Nevertheless, it would be an uphill struggle to present mutancy as a respectable condition, when the species' most prominent radical terrorist group, the Mutant Liberation Front, looked as hokey as this sorry bunch:


Something urgently needed to change. And so, after the line-wide "Revolution" campaign in 2000, we began to see a more nuanced vision of mutancy. Mutants are still hated and feared by the public at large, but they're also the subject of much fascination and envy. They're marketed, branded, and commercialized, in the same way the mainstream culture has deigned to adapt specific aspects of other minority cultures (the design sensibilities of queer aesthetics, for instance; or the macho posturing of black American hip-hop).

Joe Casey introduced the X-Corporation as a way of establishing mutant presence in the realm of transnational business -- a concept that was sadly never fully realized (in the Marvel universe, anyway). Meanwhile, Brian Bendis conceptualized the synthetic Mutant Growth Hormone as a lethal means for humans to simulate the mutant experience, mimicking the advent of "designer drugs" in the 'real world'.

But perhaps nobody redefined the scope of mutancy quite like Grant Morrison, over the course of his run on New X-Men. Yeah, I know -- the hype! But you know what? It's almost entirely deserved. Srsly.
Let me count the ways:
    :: He took the concept of unchecked evolution a step further with the innovation of secondary mutations.
    :: Morrison's run brought to life an entire mutant-centric youth culture, with its own music, iconography, slang, and (perhaps most radically) fashions catered to mutant physiology.
    :: His stint replaced the sewer-dwelling Morlocks with a more believable immigrant-style community of lower-income mutant outcasts. Known informally as Mutant Town, the neighborhood was later fully realized by crime writer David Hine, in District X.
    :: He posited the idea of the U-Men, a contraband paramilitary organization that harvests mutant organs to bestow powers on wealthy human clients. These memorable villains combined the real-world horror of illegal medical trafficking with the outlandish notion of a uniform-wearing sci-fi death cult.

And that doesn't even begin to cover individual figures like Sublime and Xorn, each of whom are inspired by the key themes of the franchise, in their own unique ways.

Of course, all of this would soon be undone by the (completely misguided) advent of House of M, and the resulting Decimation storyline. But i'll save that for my next installment...

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