On Thursday evening, “Uncanny X-Men” legend Chris Claremont, “X-Factor” scribe Peter David, “Jean & Scott” cartoonist Max Wittert and Marvel editor Daniel Ketchum took the stage at New York Comic Con to discuss the X-Men’s LGBT legacy. Additionally, the creators shared how they feel about the direction of Marvel Television, whether Marvel is becoming more diverse and more.
Claremont opened the panel by addressing whether or not he had always intended the X-Men to be a queer allegory. “Blacks, Mormons, Jews, Hispanics, Arabs… [‘Uncanny X-Men’] was, as pretentious as it sounds, non-denominational and inclusive. I wasn’t thinking of a gender-specific analysis.”
“The way I was structuring it was to try and make the stories simple and obvious for the early teen, middle teen readers but with layers that become clearer as one grew older,” he continued. “I knew exactly what the relationship was between Mystique and Destiny — it always was there, it was always part of the mix… It was like doing the relationship with Misty Knight and Danny Rand. It was doing something that hadn’t been done before… I didn’t want the cover to say, ‘For the first time, Spidey takes drugs!’ Read the book, draw your own conclusions.”
Asked whether the Comics Code Authority ever impacted his work, David recalled his “Justice League Task Force” story arc, where J’onn J’onnz transformed into Joan Jones and married a woman — something that passed the Code, up until the part where the two “women” kissed during the marriage ceremony; subsequently, the panel was edited to remove the scene. The Code has since been abolished, but “we have internal monitoring… but they don’t give a crap if [the characters] are gay or straight, which is how it should be!” David concluded.
Ketchum also revealed how Iceman’s coming out happened behind-the-scenes. “There really wasn’t [a plan],” he shared. “Brian Bendis had an idea for Iceman… he just came and he pitched his story and we ran it through the Marvel machine just so everyone had a chance to look at it.”
“It made print and there were editors on the floor who didn’t even know we were going to do that. There was no hubbub,” he added.
David also discussed Shatterstar’s return and first on-panel kiss with Rictor. “You know what, this is the 21st century… And I had them kiss on panel. How is that a big deal?” he said. “To me, it was a throwaway bit. I thought nothing of it… 98% of the reaction was very positive… I would love it at some point in the future if it wasn’t a big deal.”
“My generation, 20 years ago, [on] gays in the military? Unthinkable,” he recalled. “These were non-starters for conversation. The modern generation doesn’t give a crap about gays in the miliatary or gay marriage… They don’t care! I’ve been watching the development of people in this country… and I think it’s just wonderful. We have fundamentally a liberal mindset as people become more and more open to things changing.”
Wittert, who had a short piece in “All-New X-Men” #25, shared how he got his Marvel Comics start thanks to his “Jean & Scott” web comic. “‘Jean & Scott’ is a humorous web comic I made based on the relationship between Jean and Scott Summers,” he explained. “I grew up really heavily on the ’90s cartoon, and me and my friends would make fun of these moments with Jean Grey where she was like, ‘Eugh, I can’t hold him much longer’… I always latched onto that.”
Asked what they viewed as the most important thing a gay character could do for a story, David responded, “The same thing any character does for a story!”
“Have a lot of laughs?” Claremont pitched in.
“The sexuality shouldn’t be particularly relevant to the story unless it’s… about something that’s happening in their personal lives,” David continued. “If they’re fighting Apocalypse or whatever… that shouldn’t factor in.”
“I do think there’s something to be said for ‘X-Men’ in general,” Wittert added. “‘X-Men’ in general is very obviously an allegory for the gay struggle… Even if the character isn’t explicitly gay, I feel like there’s this gay influence… These characters are influenced by outsider-hood and draw in audience members who have that same ideology.”
Referring to himself as a gay adopted Asian man, Ketchum shared, “Looking at the ‘X-Men’ and being like that African America immigrant [Storm] is leading the X-Men… That’s incredible! That spoke to me.”
“Marvel’s undergoing this Renessaince right now,” he said. “It’s more diverse and it’s getting more diverse by the day… It’s a huge deal. It’s amazing how those characters are embraced.”
As to which character speaks to him personally, Wittert said, “Rogue, for me, is a huge gay icon. I sort of feel like she’s the perfect gay struggle character, where it’s like she has this incredible potential and it’s what keeps her from getting close to people and sort of be stuck in her own world… but at the same time she’s bodacious and powerful.”
When the subject of Marvel Television’s Netflix shows came up, David shared, “‘Jessica Jones’ is my favorite, followed by ‘Luke Cage’ and the ‘Daredevils.'”
“I’d love to write more for TV,” he added. “I think that’d be great. The last thing I wrote was ‘Young Justice.’ I’d love to work on some of the Netflix series.”
“I would love to explore more non-binary anything [in comics],” Ketchum said. “It’s tough, because you want people to come in the door and tell those stories… finding creators to do that on the mainstream Marvel stage is hard.” He ended the sentiment by calling for the audience to come forward with any stories they might have about non-binary characters.
“I would like to do a story where the country found itself a presidential candidate who actually will get elected preaching traditional values and then sets out to enforce them, where it actually comes down to the fact that reality as we know it may not be as etched in stone as we tell ourselves it is,” Claremont said, following up on Ketchum’s sentiment, “That if you take thing too much for granted you may wake up and discover they’re not there anymore… how you deal with it, how you move forward with it, how you survive it.”
“I’m very small-scale, but — in my work and the things I’ve taken — I’m always being driven toward more and more intimate stories,” Wittert pitched in. “I don’t think I have a grand-scale concept of what queer stories I’m looking for, but I find myself driven towards things that are a little more minute… because that’s how I experience the world.”
When a fan asked if Marvel would ever publish an X-Men team featuring only LGBT characters, Ketchum said, “That’d be awesome! I don’t know if we could float the book, because it’s so specific… What’s nice is we’re being increasingly mindful of… having a mix of voices in a book.”
“One of the great things about ‘All-New X-Men’ [#13], where we have Iceman going to a [gay] club with Idie, is that we see their different perspectives on it,” he continued. “There are pros and cons to both. I kind of like the setup that we have,” he said, comparing the idea to “Luke Cage,” which featured a mostly black cast. “I feel like it’s only a matter of time before we can do that with ‘X-Men’ as well.”
Another fan asked about the representation of the Romani people in comics, specifically citing Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Doctor Doom, who — at some point in their comic careers — have been villains. David responded to the question, bringing up his experience with the Romani during the filming of a movie he was working on, and said that he encountered children whose legs had been broken by their parents in order to make them better beggars. He then called the subject closed. As the panel drew to an end, he apologized for his tone in answering the question.
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