Recently, I’ve been re-reading my X-Men comics from the late ‘90s. These are comicsI enjoyed quite a lot at the time and I’m having fun reading them again now. However,I’m also aware that these comics have fallen out of favor with the wider fandom. I say “fallen out of favor” because X-Men was still the top-selling comic book in the business. So somebody besides me must have read and enjoyed them. But you won’t hear many fans reminisce fondly now about the days of Joe Kelly and Steven Seagle,Maggott, Marrow and Cecelia Reyes.
One of the things that I’ve found interesting this time around is the way that those three new characters were introduced and utilized. With the passage and perspective of time,I can see how they were intended to fill certain character types. I think they did so moreor less successfully. But I can also understand how their positioning in those particularroles may have prevented them from being embraced by the fans.
Marrow is the anti-hero. An anti-hero is a hero who has some traits that are more normally associated with a villain, such as Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. They often stir things up and cause trouble. They can be caustic, sarcastic or uncouth. They play against the expectation of a normal hero. Hawkeye, Wolverine and Guy Gardner became popular superheroes as anti-heroes. They challenged authority and vied for leadership. They followed their own interests or inclinations. They weren’t afraid to insult or upset their peers. That atypical response helped them to stand out from the crowd. Their anti-hero status is what made them popular as heroes.
Marrow fit into that mold. She was a former villain, having led the mutant terrorist group Gene Nation. But now she was one of the X-Men, having joined their number during the events of Operation: Zero Tolerance. She challenged Storm’s authority and had an incredible knack for getting under the skin of the otherwise serene team leader. She insulted the other X-Men, who she thought had it easy. She particularly picked on Cecelia for being pretty. And I loved it.
I loved the tension and the turmoil that Marrow created wherever she went. I lovedhow she upset the team and got them arguing with each other over her. I thought it was a delightful dose of drama for the team. And I liked the effect that she had on other members of the team, especially Wolverine. Wolverine used to be the anti-hero. He was the one who kicked up dirt and got under the skin of the senior X-Men. But now, he was one of the senior X-Men and it was his job to keep Marrow in line. That led to a wonderful confrontation between Wolverine and Marrow in X-Men #72.
I also like the way that the writers humanized Marrow. That’s one of the tricks of writing a good anti-hero. The character still has to be likable. Marrow displayed incredible loyalty. Her loyalty was first apparent in regards to Callisto, whom she nursed back to health. It was later evident in regards to her teammates. Marrow may not be polite to them but she would fiercely defend them from others. She also idolized Angel, whom she viewed as a savior because of his role during the Morlock Massacre. However, to me, the best humanizing element was her crush on Cannonball. It was completely unexpected to Cannonball and to us. Yet it was amusing to watch her flirt with him and to cherish small reactions.
Cecelia Reyes is the reluctant hero. This isn’t one of the classic archetypes from Joseph Campbell but it’s still a familiar trope. There are certain characters that don’t want to be heroes. They have to be pushed into it by circumstance, like Chuck in the early seasons of the television show. They become heroes against their own wishes and in protest. Yet there’s a reason why the reluctant hero is a common concept. It allows the character to undergo a heroic journey. We see them grow into the role. Each step along the way is a triumph that we as the audience can cheer.
Cecelia was clearly a reluctant hero. Not only that, she was a reluctant mutant. She triedto hide her powers and considered them a hindrance. She wanted to be a doctor. She resented that doors were closed to her because she was mutant. She didn’t want to be an X-Man. She fell in with the team because she had no place else to go. They were the only ones willing to accept her once her mutant powers were revealed.
I think that the readership was supposed to have sympathy for Cecelia. We were meant to feel her pain, to sympathize with someone who had her dreams torn away from her. It didn’t work out that way. I think that’s partly due to the audience and partly due to the writers.
There has always been an element of escapism to comic books in general and superheroes in particular. We dream we can fly. We want to be the heroes we read about. We know it’s not possible. We can’t shoot plasma blasts from our eyes or lift objects with our mind. But we can imagine it. I think that there was a reaction against Cecelia Reyes because she was rejecting the thing so many of the readers wished they could have. We would give anything to be a superhero, to be one of the X-Men, while she had it anddidn’t want it. Instead of feeling sorry for her, we resented her and failed to become engaged in her heroic journey.
Yet I wouldn’t put the blame entirely on the audience. I also think that the writers didn’tgive us enough of a reason to like her. In her initial appearances during Operation: Zero Tolerance, she complained a lot. It was a little aggravating, though understandable. However, at the end of that story, she was given two major moments which should have changed the arc of the character. First, she was shown to be calm and competent when she removed a bomb from Cyclops’ chest. Second, she was shown to reconcile herself to her new life after a heart-to-heart discussion with Daredevil. That should have been a turning point for the character but the writers missed their moment. She reverted too quickly to her role as a reluctant hero and started complaining again. Plus, while Ienjoyed her awkward first steps at the time, in retrospect I admit that her heroic journey moved too slowly. The audience needed to see earlier progress in order to embrace her.
Maggott is the mystery hero. This is the least recognizable type of the three, yet there are well-known occurrences. This is the unknown hero, like the Lone Ranger. We don’t know his name or his background. We don’t know his motivation or why he becamea hero in the first place. That lack of information intrigues us. It becomes a riddle wewant to solve. We enjoy the stories. But we also search through them for subtle clues.This was part of the early appeal of Wolverine. Information about his history leaked outslowly. A stranger called him Logan and we didn’t know if that was a first name or a lastname. The mystery drew us in.
Maggott was supposed to be a mystery hero as well. When he was introduced, hewas a character surrounded by a cloud of questions. Is he a hero or a villain? Why ishe searching for Magneto? What are his powers? What is his relationship to the two worms that accompany him? There was even a question posted beside him when he first appeared on a cover. Yet Maggott never appealed to the audience as a mystery character.
I think he was undone by a change in writers. Scott Lobdell was the writer who firstintroduced Maggott. He’s the one who set up the early questions and clues. Yet Scott Lobdell left the X-Men titles at the end of Operation: Zero Tolerance, just as Maggott joined the team. What happened is that Maggott became a completely different character. Under Joe Kelly and Steven Seagle, he suddenly developed a strong South African accent. His dialogue was peppered with so much jargon that it was almostinscrutable. He also picked up some anti-hero traits, making improper passes at his female teammates. He even changed shape, going from a bulky, muscular guy to a lithe,athletic type.
I held onto some of my initial impressions. I wanted to like the new mystery character.I wanted to be absorbed in the enigma. But I have to admit that the new Maggott was unlikable. We didn’t want to learn more about his secret past. We wanted to get ridof him. We couldn’t understand what he was saying half the time and when we could,he was annoying. I was fond of Maggott at the time but now I view him as a missed opportunity rather than an underappreciated X-Man.