Saturday, February 20, 2010
X-Men = Child Soldiers?
That is the question I put before you all today in this later than usual post.
Now, yes, it is true that a lot of these critiques can be applied to any underage superhero (e.g. Robin) and yes, of course it's not an intentional thing on the part of the writers. It's also true that the teen/young sidekick hero has lasted since the Golden Age as a staple of the genre. Fine, so be it. I'm still taking a look at it and I'm curious what you think.
First, how do we define a child soldier? It's a controversial subject with a fair degree of leeway, but to use a general description;
-Organized into a military structure and hierarchy such that they are NEVER viewed as a superior to any adult.
-Radicalized into a specific doctrine.
Now, let's apply this to Xavier's original class, pictured below.
While continuity nuts may haggle on this one, I'm going to discount Hank McCoy (Beast) from this list as while his age varies depending on the depiction, he's generally been portrayed as the eldest of the first class by some years, so saying he was likely 18 years of age is not much of a stretch. For the rest of the team, and particularly Cyclops, the definition applies. From other iterations, I would also include Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Jubilee and every single New Mutants/New X-Men/X-teens/Generation X member.
Now, what makes the "child soldier" label stick to the X-Men in my mind is that of a specific ideological bent - that of mutant co-habitation, enforced by a group of militants (The X-Men). No matter the (real or imagined) nobility of Charles Xavier and his cause, he made a very dubious moral compromise when he recruits these teens - he is bringing them into a conflict that they are (from a legal standpoint) not capable of making an informed decision on. Consider this: in many of the recruitment stories of these individual young X-Men, from Cyclops and Iceman, to Rogue, to many of the individual New Mutants, they are recruited after an incident of anti-mutant paranoia or some other factional conflict. In effect, they are recruited at a moment of weakness and in a state of fear, trauma or shock. Rarely if ever is there an intelligent argument made by another adult advocate for rejecting the option offered by Xavier or to act in any other way. If this were a government military doing this recruitment, there would be no question that a immoral act of coercion was being applied to a minor. While there is the minor caveat that many of the X-Men have the option of returning to normal lives, in reality after they have been identified with that faction they remain with it out of fear of reprisal from the group's many foes.
What does this mean? Well, for one, it means that "The Ends Justify the Means" is a label that should rightfully be applied to Xavier as well as Magneto, and it makes the moral grounding of the X-Universe and the mutant struggle that much more murky. It also means that most of the X-Men, recruited when they were younger, could be considered the subject of brainwashing and would need to be subjected to intense therapy. I would think this would be the case with Scott Summers, after being recruited at age fifteen after a traumatic encounter with anti-mutant hysteria. He even took on Xavier as a surrogate father and completely adopted the ideology at the expense of any semblance of any other life, but that's completely understandable; he was never given another choice.