Nothing’s changed

Yesterday, the X-Office at Marvel announced their post-HoX/PoX books and rosters. And…

Nothing’s changed.

The “new era” touted with Hickman is the exact same as everything that came before. I can say this before HoX/PoX even come out for one reason: their treatment of Polaris.

This is where a typical fan in typical fashion would typically assume the only basis I have for making this remark is fanboyism. Allow me to explain.

Marvel has an established corporate culture. Outsiders need not apply. Marvel would like people to think that they are very open-minded, willing to try new things, accepting of different perspectives and suggestions. But the reality is that they are not. Sina Grace recently outlined his struggles with Marvel while he was working there, as one concrete example. And that was with a high-profile character recently touted and publicized in media for his recent reveal as being gay. It’s worse when you dig deeper down to characters traditionally looked down on at Marvel… like Polaris.

In the past, I have seen countless forms of dickery out of Marvel. To go through every single one of them would be (and has been) a post in itself. Today, I am going to focus instead on the biases against Lorna that have been reflected in people who work at Marvel.

A year ago, a fan asked Gail Simone about a Polaris solo. Her response? “Polaris might be a hard sell, but I think a few lady mutants could carry their own book…”

I want to stress that we do not know how Gail feels about Lorna with this – whether she likes or hates Lorna. What we do know, is that as an employee working at Marvel, she thinks a Polaris solo would never happen at Marvel, or that it would be an excruciating uphill climb.

This is echoed in remarks from Jordan White last year.

This came out of a back and forth I was having with him at the time. In his (mistaken) belief, Lorna doesn’t have enough fan demand to sell a book.

Lastly, recently, I found out a Marvel artist viewed Lorna as a “third tier character” from the 90s, in response to a Lorna fan cosplaying as her at a local convention.

That’s three comments from people who work for Marvel that all converge on a central perception: that Lorna is worthless, has nothing to offer, and shouldn’t get much (if any) use – especially not as her own character.

Here’s why this is a problem: Polaris is one of the most high profile underrepresented, underappreciated, misunderstood characters within Marvel’s entire roster of X-Men characters. No, she’s not the only character where these descriptors apply. But unlike other characters, she has a LONG history of mistreatment to go with it, and she has the Gifted version of her breaking out in popularity recently despite all expectations.

When Gifted was first coming out, majority focus of advertising and promos was on Blink. During that time, Marvel put Blink on a team book AND released a new volume of Exiles with her as the leader. But when Polaris became the breakout star instead, they… used her to promote Havok. Twice. Including this cover that makes her look like a trophy for Havok and Magneto to fight over.

Since 2017, most of her use has put her in lesser roles, building up other characters – so far, all of them men. But the main beneficiary has been Havok. In all her appearances except the Uncanny X-Men event (NOT ongoing book), she has been used to promote him in some way. Whether it’s her return to comics getting hijacked, or a kissing image forced into Prisoner X, or releasing a Marvel Tales book with Lorna on the cover but the actual story inside is of Havok.

This treatment of Lorna is traditional. It’s how she’s been mistreated for decades: as if she has no value whatsoever except as a man’s (Havok’s) pet/status booster/helper. If she’s not being used to support Havok, then she goes into limbo, because that’s the only “worth” Marvel culture has seen in her for most of her existence.

And that is the crux of my argument behind why nothing has changed with HoX/PoX and what comes after. Lorna’s absence.

If Lorna was unhampered by old time bullshit biases, her newfound popularity via Gifted would have resulted in not only a meaningful presence in coming events, but a big spot of some kind (leadership, or a solo or mini, etc) to at least test the waters and make a bit of extra cash. Marvel’s argument for not giving characters books has been “they wouldn’t sell,” but Marvel has had no problem giving books to characters like Lockjaw, or Multiple Man, or Chamber, or countless others. Even Strong Guy got a oneshot in the 90s. Lorna has been given nothing.

More importantly, if the X-Men books were going through any kind of real change, part of that process would involve seeing where they have done poor work in the past and making amends for it. Spotting characters long overdue for a fair shot and giving them that fair shot. Finding important events and history that have gone ignored for far too long, sometimes decades, and bringing them back and revisiting them.

Polaris has all three in spades. The negative attitude toward her at Marvel alone is proof of this. The poor treatment she’s received across decades has become so ingrained in Marvel’s corporate culture that they can’t see her potential, and dismiss and downplay fan interest. Interest, I will add, that has led to countless pieces of fanart, fanfic, cosplays, full-fledged game mods, and so on. I even made a Polaris minicomic (commissioned Mlad for art, written by me) for her 50th anniversary. A character with no fandom does not get this level of fan activity.

It is also important to add within this that both Matt Nix for Gifted and Chuck Austen on Uncanny X-Men in the 00s originally planned to put Lorna in a “token girlfriend” role, but radically changed their plans when they actually got to know her. When they put some real thought into Lorna, really dug into who she is, Lorna’s popularity soared.

So this is the summary. The lack of any meaningful presence for Lorna in HoX/PoX means they haven’t put any thought into her. If they haven’t put any thought into her, it means they haven’t done so for the franchise as a whole either. Putting deep thought into the X-Men franchise as a whole would’ve inevitably turned up the need for a serious overhaul in how they view and treat Lorna given her history and recent events. She would not have been the only character to come out of the woodwork with this need, but she would’ve been one of the big ones.

If nothing is changing for Lorna, then nothing is changing for X-Men. It’s that simple.

This is not a prediction of the success or failure of HoX/PoX or what comes after. It’s an assessment of what will come regardless of the outcome.

My final point. There has been a hell of a lot of hype surrounding HoX/PoX about how it’s supposedly a huge revolution for the X-Men franchise. How it’s supposed to change everything we know. To which I have two things to mention.

It’s evident that X-Men is intended by Marvel to make a huge comeback from the past decade of Marvel undermining it due to their spat with Fox over the film rights. In video game terms, this makes HoX/PoX the equivalent of the most important AAA game being released by a major video game publisher for the year.

You know what happens in Japan with such games? Famitsu gives it near-perfect scores. Doesn’t matter how good or bad it actually is, Famitsu will score it highly because they know it’s too important for the company to assess properly. The same goes for most publication style reviews. Only exceptions are cases like the original FF14 release, where they’re so bad that calling them out is a near necessity.

Writers, artists, etc working in the industry also have a vested interest in going along with what Marvel wants people to think. Play nice, and you stay on Marvel’s good side. Stay on their good side, you have a higher chance of getting gigs.

Of course, not every reviewer, writer, etc is going to behave this way. It would be asinine and insulting for me to say that. Many will speak highly and genuinely believe it. This is where hype comes in. Hype has a tendency to make feelings stronger than normal. I’ve seen it countless times, as initial hype for a game gives way to apathetic response once the hype is gone. Huge Marvel fans who want to believe Marvel is the best will see what Marvel releases exactly how Marvel wants it to be seen. Actual response by non-hardcore fans will be much different, and even hardcore fan attitudes will change somewhat once the shine of hype is worn away.

I’ve seen this play out with various Marvel comics already, by the way. Where fans of a writer will say bad depictions are perfect, or haters will say great depictions are awful, but when it’s been out for a while, the real views rise to the top.

In the end, I could always be wrong. I might be missing something and not realize it. I don’t know what I don’t know. But this is what I expect based on all the evidence I’ve seen – and my sense of Marvel has gotten much keener in the past 2 years than it was any time before.