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The Distressing (But Relevant) Questions Raised In Uncanny X-men #1

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The most relevant stories are often the ones that ask the most difficult questions. The nature of those questions vary among places, people, cultures, and whatever happens to be pissing off a significant chunk of the population. Regardless of the circumstances, those questions are important and sometimes they come from unexpected places.

I wasn’t expecting such questions when I picked up “Uncanny X-men #1,” the latest relaunch in the most iconic X-men brand of all time. I was just glad to see Uncanny X-men return to prominence after an extended absence dating back to 2016. This first issue was over-sized and priced at $7.99, which is a lot for a single comic. I still feel like I got my money’s worth.

In addition to telling a great story that brought many prominent X-men characters to the forefront, “Uncanny X-men #1” did something unique in terms of how it established a conflict. For once, it didn’t involve killer robots, preventing a genocide, mutant terrorist, or alien space gods. Instead, it asked one profound question.

What if there was a way to preventing people from becoming mutants in the first place?

That may sound like a question that has come up in other X-men stories, but that’s only partially correct. This isn’t about curing mutants, a story that Joss Whedon brilliantly told during his run on Astonishing X-men and that “ X-men: The Last Stand” botched horribly. This is about inoculating children the same way we do for polio.

Specifically, a lab develops a vaccine that prevents the X-gene from expressing. Technically, they would still be mutants in that they would still have this gene. It just wouldn’t express itself. It would be akin to turning off the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia. It essentially treats mutation the same way we would treat any other genetic-based disease.

Naturally, the X-men and many other mutants don’t like this idea and not just because it’s akin to treating homosexuality as a mental illness. It reeks too much of genocide, something they’ve faced on more than one occasion. It would’ve been easy for “Uncanny X-men #1” to present it in that way, but that’s not how it plays out.

The all-star creative team of Ed Brisson, Kelly Thompson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Mahmud Asrar frame the issue in a very different way. Instead of some anti-mutant racist like Graydon Creed or William Stryker calling for mutant extermination, we get Senator Ashton Allen. He’s as generic a politician as can be in a superhero comic, but what he says and how he says is revealing.

Amidst a crowd of humans, mutants, and X-men, he talks about this mutant vaccine as a tool to alleviate suffering. He doesn’t rant about the dangers of evil mutants like Magneto or Apocalypse. He talks only about mutant children developing powers that could be dangerous to themselves or others. In that context, a vaccine might actually help them.

When you consider the mutant powers of characters like Rogue and Cyclops, who have mutant abilities that do real damage when uncontrolled, it seems entirely reasonable to make this vaccine available. Senator Allen never says anything about forcing it on kids or on mutants that already exist. He only ever emphasizes making it an option for concerned parents.

That’s distressing for the X-men because they don’t need to be omega-level psychics to imagine the implications. They can easily envision a concerned parent who doesn’t want their child to deal with the possibility that they may shoot lasers out of their eye one day. Any parent who cares for their child will want to mitigate the chances of them enduring such hardships.

In a world populated by mutant-hunting robots, parents already have plenty of incentive to use this vaccine. Given the damage that mutant-led conflicts often incur, the government has just as much incentive to make that vaccine available to everyone, free of charge and tax deductible. Governments less concerned with things like human rights could force it on children and that has some real-world parallels.

For mutants and the X-men, though, that means a permanent loss of their identity. Considering how mutants act as a metaphor for other oppressed minorities, this has implications for the real world, as well. I would even argue that the question will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades.

To appreciate just how relevant it could be, you need only look up the heartbreaking stories of parents who have disowned their children because they’re gay or transgender. In tragic some cases, people are driven to suicide. Even for those who aren’t parents, anything that might avert this kind of hardship is worth considering.

Given the complex causes of homosexuality, as well as the many factors behind transsexuality, it’s unlikely that there could ever be a vaccine to prevent it. The same can be said for conditions like Dwarfism. It’s not just genes, hormones, or radioactive spider bites that shape an individual’s persona. It’s a complex confluence of many things.

However, we are getting very close to a point where it’s possible to design children at the genetic level. Thanks to tools like CRISPR, it might even be possible one day to cut out entire traits from the human genome. That could, in theory, eradicate both cystic fibrosis and Dwarfism. More than a few people have expressed concern about that possibility.

Homosexuality and transsexuality are a bit different since there is no one gene or hormone that causes it, but most contemporary research suggests that genetics do play at least some role. Using similar technology, it might be possible for parents in the future to minimize or eliminate the chances of their children being homosexual or transsexual.

I imagine many in the LGBT community feel the same way about those efforts that the X-men felt about Senator Allen’s efforts in “Uncanny X-men #1.” Even if it only extends to giving parents this option for children and provides strict protections for those already born with these traits, it still treats who and what they are as a disease.

It’s dehumanizing and demeaning. More than one X-men in “Uncanny X-men #1” makes that abundantly clear. They don’t see being a mutant as a disease any more than homosexuality, transsexuality, or dwarfism. The fact that there’s now a way to prevent this makes for an existential crisis with some pretty heavy implications for the real and fictional world.

In the world of Marvel comics, a world without mutants has its own set of issues, the least of which would be the loss of a top-selling comic series. In the real world, though, the stakes are even higher. What would we, as a society, do if we suddenly had the tools to prevent homosexuality, transsexuality, and dwarfism in children before they’re even born?

I’ll even ask a more controversial question that’s sure to draw plenty of ire. What if those same tools could be used to modify the skin color, facial features, and overall appearance of our children? We already understand how genetics affects our appearance to some extent. What happens when we’re able to determine that for someone before they’re ever born?

These are objectively distressing questions. I’m glad “Uncanny X-men #1” dared to ask them. I doubt they’ll get debated or resolved completely in the proceeding issues, mostly because such resolutions are impossible in superhero comics. It still presents the X-men with a unique issue to confront and one that we will likely have to confront in the real world.

As is often the case with difficult questions, the answers are likely to anger some and distress many. Most people genuinely and sincerely want what’s best for their children. In the world of Marvel Comics, that could mean preventing them from gaining the kind of superpowers that makes them targets for Sentinels. In the real world, that could mean removing an entire class of people from the gene pool.

In issues like this, there are no heroes or villains. There are just difficult choices that we must make before someone else makes them for us.

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Filed under comic book reviews, futurism, gender issues, human nature, sexuality, superhero comics, Thought Experiment, X-men

Sharing Thoughts: The Ultimate Intimacy?

What would you do if you could share your most intimate thoughts directly with your lover? That’s not a rhetorical question. That’s not another one of my sexy thought experiments either. It’s a real, honest question that may end up having major implications in the real world.

I like to keep up with technology. I’ve always been interested in what the future holds. However, I’m one of those guys who likes to contemplate how this future technology will impact our sex lives. It’s not just because it makes for some crazy sexy thoughts. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, it helps give me new ideas. Some have already found their way into my novels, namely “Skin Deep.”

So why does something like sharing thoughts seem so relevant? It’s not like it’s a new idea. Sharing thoughts, or telepathy as some call it, is already a major part of popular culture. From movies like “Inception” to iconic superheroes like Charles Xavier from the X-men, it’s just one of those fun concepts that makes for interesting plots, but doesn’t exactly surprise anyone anymore.

That could change one day though. In fact, that day may come sooner than you think. Brain-to-brain communication, or techno-telepathy if you want to call it that, has been under development for a long time now. It’s not just so we can share our dirtiest fantasies, including those that involve clowns and steel dildos. There are major medical applications to this concept.

Earlier this year, the first major tests in brain-to-brain communication allowed two humans to exchange thoughts, albeit in a very limited fashion, to answer a series of yes-or-no questions. This isn’t David Blaine playing mind games with card tricks. These are ordinary people using extraordinary technology to share thoughts. For those trapped in comas or paralyzed by strokes, this technology is critical.

While I’m all for helping those in comas or those who are paralyzed communicate, I think the larger implications of techno-telepathy are more enticing, especially when applied to our love lives. All technology starts out bulky, expensive, and limited at first. Then, once it matures and people realize it has profitable, non-medical uses, it gets more compact and efficient. It happened with smartphones. It can happen with techno-telepathy.

This technology may still be a ways towards maturing, but it’s no longer something that’s just on the drawing board. This technology has already come out of the womb and is starting to grow. All the incentives are there. It’s just a matter of time and energy.

So going back to my original question, what would you do if it were possible to share your intimate thoughts with another? What kind of thoughts would you share? Would it make you and your partner closer? Would it make them run away in disgust, traumatized that anyone could think about their old history teacher in that sort of way?

Granted, there may be some awkward moments. The entire first half of the movie “What Women Want” explores those moments. However, we humans are capable of overcoming awkwardness. If we can overcome puberty, we can overcome pretty much very kind of awkwardness that doesn’t involve our mothers and the delivery guy.

There’s also a pragmatic element to sharing thoughts with someone. Poor communication is one of the quickest ways to kill a romance that doesn’t involve bankruptcy. Poor communication, or a failure to understand the context of someone’s words, isn’t just damaging to our love lives. It’s basically the plot to half of every episode of every sitcom and romance movie ever made.

It happens so often that we think it’s normal. Two people are in love. They want to build a relationship. They struggle because someone says something that gets taken the wrong way. They can’t be sure what they meant or how they meant it so they get all upset and agitated about it. Hilarity, heartache, and entertainment follow, usually culminating in some big romantic speech by Hugh Grant at the end.

Pretty much all of that crap could be avoided if those involved could just share their thoughts. There would be no ambiguity. There would be no doubt, uncertainty, or reservation.

Imagine a relationship where you knew your partner really loved you. They weren’t trying to get your money. They weren’t trying to impress their parents. They weren’t secretly gay or bisexual. They just really love you and you didn’t have to doubt that. What would that mean for your relationship and others like you?

If we live in a world where we can share our most intimate thoughts, then would that strengthen our romantic bonds? Would that reduce the amount of stagnant, passionless relationships? Would it also necessarily undermine the privacy of our thoughts?

These are all important questions to contemplate, especially for those of the coming generation who already share so much of themselves on social media. Is this the natural evolution of intimacy and romance? Only time will tell. I just hope I can turn it into some sexy stories before then.

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