[I'm re-posting this because I received an email on my earlier post inquiring as to whether "cartoons" are capable of tackling difficult social issues responsibly. I think this old post demonstrates how something as ostensibly slight as a "cartoon" can have a profound impact on a person's moral development.]
The year was 1988. I was a recent transplant to Louisiana and a tad on the introverted side. (What with being deaf and all.) So I spent endless hours reading comic books. I may have “like ‘em liked” some girls at this point, but can find no evidence of it in my fourth grade yearbook. Not only did I know nothing about girls, I distinctly remember not even knowing what this “rape” thing I heard about on the news was. But I mowed my lawn every day—my father having decided to instill the value of hard work by allowing me to earn $4 whenever I wanted by re-mowing what my new work ethic transformed into a hilariously mangy lawn—and so I had plenty of money to blow on X-books. Meaning I spent most afternoons blissfully unaware of anything that didn’t involve the X-Men or X-Factor or The New Mutants or, if I was desperate enough, Alpha Flight.
One late October afternoon, I purchase a copy of X-Men #236. On the cover Wolverine and Rogue are hung by their feet from a scaffold, flanked on both sides by grinning fools in military garb. (This image disturbs me more now than it did then.) What had happened? The X-Men had sacrificed themselves to save the world, only in the end they were granted a reprieve: they would be dead to the world but would live undetected and undetectable in the Australian outback. They were invisible to all forms of electronic recording devices. They were able to move throughout the world invisible to all by the naked eye. Or so they thought until a fascist state called “Genosha” declared war on them. To make a long story short: shit hit fans. Wolverine and Rogue were captured.
For those unfamiliar with the comics or the films, Rogue has the power to absorb the memories and/or mutant powers of whomever she touches. So, naturally, she doesn’t touch anyone for fear of knocking them unconscious and draining them of their “life energy.” Her entire life Rogue has wanted nothing more than to touch someone without hurting them. To be loved. But she’d come to accept the fact that this would never happen. This self-sacrifice moved my fourth-grade mind. I sympathized with her despite having no clue as to what she sacrificed or why. I only knew that it pained her and, being the good sympathetic identifier that I was, I felt her pain by proxy. So without really knowing why, I wanted Rogue to be able to touch people.
And after she’s captured by the Genoshans, she’s stripped of her mutant powers. Now she can touch people without having to worry about killing them. For a moment, I’m happy for her. If only she can get out of this jam she’ll be able to touch someone! That’s all she ever wanted! Then I hit this panel:
And I was confused. That’s Rogue huddled there in the corner. She’s traumatized. Over the next few issues she’ll disappear. Another personality—and I mean that literally—will emerge. Rogue will be so hurt by whatever “liberties [were] taken when she was being processed” that she’ll cede control of her psyche to Carol Danvers. (Read the link. It’s too complicated to explain briefly.) Needless to say, despite not knowing quite what those “liberties” were, countless data points began to constellate for me. I saw “touching” and “forced” and “fascism” and “liberties” circle the pained figure in the panel above and I was confused. Angry. Upset. I didn’t know why, but I knew that I was. My sympathies had identified with something they couldn’t comprehend.
When I was hit by that car and pain plus medication turned my mind to cottage cheese, the most “intellectual” material I could stomach were comics. Re-reading this one, I stumbled into a realization: my feminist sympathies were first marshaled while reading a comic back in the Autumn of ’88. The medium is far from perfect, but it’s not wholly without value. I’m not defending myself here so much as describing a stage in my development. So please don’t read this and think “Scott think spandex is progressive?” I don’t. Only once upon a time, it inadvertently was.