For the longest time, when it came to mainstream storytelling, one trope ruled supreme: that it’s always the beautiful ones — the normal ones — who win, who get it all in the end. It's more prominent in TV shows and in the movies, with protagonists often seen fighting tooth and nail just so they could fit into the molds and boxes set by the majority and come out on top, transformed and accepted.
Growing up as tweens during the ‘90s, our impressionable young brains soaked up countless makeover montages that eventually led to shy, virginal good girls nabbing the school’s handsome star athlete and geeks getting the beautiful head cheerleader; scenes that further forced us to ponder — according to the doctrines set by Hollywood — life’s crucial question: How do I become one of them?
My quest to find the answer to that question was quelled the year I turned 12. The reason, I kid you not, was Marvel's The X-Men.
I had just found an old copy of X-Men: Alpha earlier that year, and upon reading it, got hooked. After all, not only is the book packed chock-full of explosive action, colorful costumes, and arresting storylines, the title also featured the most unconventional superheroes to ever grace comic books: mutants who, despite being every bit as powerful as their contemporaries, were virtual pariahs, superheroic acts be damned.
At almost every turn, The X-Men were hunted down, attacked, and demonized by the very people they were saving all because of something they were born with — and for the 12-year-old me, it was exhilarating, it was terrifying, it was new, it was relatable and yes, I wanted more.
Thinking about it now, my then-newfound obsession with comic books in general, and the X-Men and its mutants in particular, makes a lot of sense. After all, comics and other forms of speculative fiction have always championed and revolved around the “outsider” and the “other” — and that was what I have always identified as. I mean, you couldn’t be more of an outsider than a Queer kid in a middle-class, Roman Catholic, Filipino household, am I right?
Reading through the books in the series, I got to see these characters evolve and develop and — despite being considered by the rest of the population in their fractured universe to be otherwise — become fully human: they expose their vulnerabilities, train and hone their skills together, and become stronger as a group. And for people who didn’t quite fit in, their unity, their brotherhood, is nothing short of powerful and empowering.
I admit, The X-Men, as all comic books go, can be quite heavy-handed, overwrought and overly dramatic at times (I'm pretty sure i’m not the only one who can still remember the god-awful saga that is X-Cutioner’s Song) but the fact remains that the issues it explores in its pages represent the problems that a large chunk of its readers still face even today: racism, homophobia, sexual violence, bigotry.
Yes, The X-Men series is the farthest thing from perfect, but it did show to misfits and others who don’t fit in that they aren't alone, that there's nothing wrong with them, and that they have nothing to apologize for.
There’s a particular scene in one of my favorite X-Men novellas, Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson’s 1982 opus X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, that perfectly encapsulates the very core of the message of The X-Men as a whole: Scott Summers, also known as the optic-blasting Cyclops, confronting the nefarious Reverend Stryker after the latter denounced the mutant community’s status as humans, with the mutant hero asking “Are arbitrary labels more important than the way we live our lives; what we’re supposed to be, more important than what we actually are?”
For the longest time, when it came to mainstream storytelling, one trope ruled supreme: that it’s always the beautiful ones — the normal ones — who win, who get it all in the end. The X-Men changed all of that. And I am beyond grateful.
This story first appeared on the March 2016 issue of GIST Magazine.