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Thoughts on All-New X-Men #40 and Whether Flawed Characters are a Sign of Flawed Writing

by  in Comic News Comment
Thoughts on All-New X-Men #40 and Whether Flawed Characters are a Sign of Flawed Writing

Today, Marvel releases All-New X-Men #40, by Brian Michael Bendis and Mahmud Asrar, a comic that contains a major event in the lives of one of the time-displaced teenage members of the original X-Men.

This event has drawn a good deal of praise from fans, but also a lot of criticism. I’d like to take on one particular piece of criticism, so read on to see what I’m talking about (SPOILERS for All-New X-Men #40 ahed!).

In the issue, young Bobby Drake makes a comment about how hot he thinks Magik is, and his teammate, young Jean Grey, essentially tells him to drop the act…

Okay, so whatever, I’m sure you all have your views on whether you think Bobby should or should not be gay. I’m sure you also have thoughts on what this means for adult Bobby Drake. Duly noted.

However, I’m here to talk about one specific issue, and that’s the relative jerkishness of Jean Grey just plucking this info from Bobby’s brain. I don’t wish to spotlight any one specific person making this critique, as it has been very widespread among Tumblr, message boards and social media, so I’m going to paraphrase a few different people who are all making the same basic critique, which is:

Jean Grey is being rude and thoughtless by reading Bobby’s mind without his permission and then she is being rude and thoughtless when she identifies his sexuality for him. Therefore, this is bad writing by Bendis.

So here’s my issue.

1. No one in the comic (or outside the comic) is saying that Jean ISN’T wrong to be doing what she did here.

2. Jean’s carelessness with reading the minds of people around her has BEEN a plot point THROUGHOUT Bendis’ run and clearly will CONTINUE to be a plot point as his run comes to a close.

3. Saying that this fictional character did something that was rude/thoughtless is not, in and of itself, a critique of the comic book story.

4. The views and attitudes of comic book characters should not be construed to be those of their writer.

A pair of teenagers not handling a discussion of sexual identity well seems pretty darn par for the course to me for teenagers (not even getting into the fact that we’re talking time traveling teens here). The idea that there is supposed to be some perfect primer on how someone should come out in a comic that shouldn’t be differentiated from is unreasonable to me. Similarly, I don’t think that having your characters be flawed is a sign of a flaw in ones writing, especially in a situation like this, where the given character flaw is a key plot point in the series at large!

I understand that a lot of this is tied to the general approach (which is particularly popular on social media) of reacting to excerpts without putting them into the context of the larger run (you know, sort of like “Read these two pages and form an opinion on the writer’s 80-issue storyline based on them!”) but even without that aspect of the situation, just in general I think that we should not be discouraging the use of flawed characters within stories.

Jean and Bobby didn’t handle the whole situation perfectly. And that’s okay.

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