My friends, I have the perfect case study.
Sr. Weasel is obsessed with the X-Men. His love started in his youth, with comic books, and the comics grew with him. Whenever there’s a lull in conversation that’s where his brain defaults. I admit that, even though I enjoy comics, I don’t fully understand what spurs a grown man to fill his home with action figures. We have five full - sized posters framed on our living room wall. Jane Foster’s Thor, Storm v. Colossus, a Sentinel, The Dark Phoenix, and for myself, She-Hulk.
Childish, right? But this man is very much an adult. He’s a child clinical psychologist who specializes in OCD and tic disorders. He is responsible for most of the household revenue, he is running his own business, and he’s a conscientious spouse and father. He has sooooo many spreadsheets. He’s one of the most “adult” people I know.
So, I asked him. It went like this:
Me: I have a question that I will almost certainly regret asking.
Him: jumps up and down on the balls of his feet Please let it be about X-Men. Please let it be about X-Men!
Me: (sigh) It’s about X-Men. What about the X-Men appeals to you as an adult?
After a 90-minute conversation (sigh), I have synthesized his responses for our edification.
Relates to the profound sense of alienation and rejection based on personal identity (linked to experiences as an adolescent, mostly for being a nerd)
Pushes him to think more critically about social justice issues, including race and gender. Example given: The moment he discovered that “Xavier is Martin Luther King, Jr. and Magneto is Malcom X” parallel was ignorant and reductionist spurred him to develop a more nuanced understanding of MLK and other racial justice leaders
The X-Men put the lie to the idea that “the arc of the moral universe bends always toward justice.” Out of all the Marvel characters, the absolute worst things happen to the X-Men because of who they are. Evil often triumphs. Relates this to being liberal in real life and watching evil triumph despite our best efforts.
Even when the X-men set aside a whole country (Krakoa) and just want to be left to themselves, people still hunt them down just to fuck with them. They will forever be hated for what they are and they will never be able to escape persecution (reflects reality.)
BUT despite this bleak reality, the serial nature of comics gives us always another chance to dust ourselves off and fight again***
The X-Men take a very clear and consistent stance on right vs. wrong. Discrimination based on immutable identity is wrong. Always wrong.
The thing that sets the X-Men apart - their unique abilities - is also their greatest strength. He admits this is a bit juvenile but still feels good to read
The women are incredibly powerful. Enjoys that throughout its history as a comic run, X-Men has gotten a lot of things right including women with a high degree of agency. Enjoys critiquing what they have gotten wrong. (Can confirm: Storm is a badass.)
***I relate this to Derrick Bell’s assertion that despite the inevitability of white supremacy, “in the struggle lies liberation.” The X-Men reflect how the struggle for justice is, in itself, liberating (that’s MY observation.)
You could argue that one or two of these things are a bit adolescent, but this strikes me as a pretty sophisticated and adult analysis overall.
Besides, I write fiction. Science fiction romance, the two ‘‘lowest’’ genres combined. Being a writer is basically playing in a sandbox. My action figures live on paper. So I have room to talk. And I take my writing just as seriously as he takes his X-Men - that’s the subject he’s afraid to bring up.
In my personal opinion, the best literary fiction is the best genre fiction. Even stuff like Dickens’ Bleak House fits the crime genre. When someone can deliver a nail-biting, page-turning plot imbued with depth and meaning and meditations on the human condition, I am sent.