Remender Responds to UNCANNY AVENGERS 'M-Word' Controversy

 

In last week's Uncanny Avengers #5, by writer Rick Remender and artists Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, Laura Martin and Larry Molinar, team leader Havok addresses the public at a press conference. In his speech, he contrasts his views with those of his brother, Uncanny X-Men leader Cyclops, and calls the word "mutant" — long the accepted term in the Marvel Universe for individuals born with superpowers — divisive, and "the 'm' word." "We are defined by our choices, not the makeup of our genes," the character also known as Alex Summers said.

The scene prompted a considerable amount of controversy and debate across message boards and Twitter, with the interpretation among some readers that the belief championed by Alex Summers was a denial of minority identity and thus assimilation, not integration; one made worse given that it was delivered by a mutant who happens to appear completely human with blond hair and blue eyes. In a column for ComicsAlliance, Andrew Wheeler, while acknowledging that Remender "clearly meant to say something positive," wrote, "That's not good policy for any minority group, even a fictional one that exists as metaphor. It's not a position that any credible spokesman for a minority group would advance."

The situation escalated when Remender, in a Tweet that has since been deleted, wrote that, "If Havok's position in UA #5 really upsets you, it's time to drown yourself [in] hobo piss. Seriously, do it. It's the only solution." The writer says he wasn't aware or the larger debate at the time he made the commment, and has since apologized on his personal website, and discussed the issue with us in further detail.

 

Newsarama: Rick, clearly Havok's speech at the end of Uncanny Avengers #5 struck a chord with a vocal section of the audience. How surprised are you by the response? At any point in the production of the issue, was this type of reaction anticipated?

Rick Remender: Very surprised. I never imagined that anyone would extrapolate from Alex’s POV, and their personal interpretation of the mutant metaphor, that I somehow think anyone should be ashamed of who they are. I've spent the last few days exhausted and deeply saddened that anyone would assume such an ugly thing about my character.

Alex represents just one opinion on what it means to be a mutant in today’s world. His speech doesn't 100 percent reflect my own POV any more than any character I've written — Punisher, Archangel, Heath Huston. A writer learns a character over time — you slowly define their POV, you try and get in their head, but they are not you. The thing is, Alex's speech [in issue #5] is the first step of a character arc for him, and just because Alex thinks that labels are divisive and further separate us from being one clan, that doesn't mean his teammates agree. Wasp, Wanda, Cap, etc. all still use the word "mutant" moving forward.

 

I was looking to give Alex a POV that was unique, that was the polar opposite of his brother, thus defining him and giving some context to his character and his struggles, and opening the door for continued debate on the issue. Alex might wonder why people hate and fear him and his super powers, but not Thor and his super powers? Is it simply because he’s been labeled a "mutant" instead of an "Asgardian God?" Alex has come to the conclusion the labels are the problem. Wanda has a very different dilemma coming up, and ultimately a very different solution to the same question. But, again, none of these characters or their dilemmas should be read as metaphors for any real world position I personally take on anything.

Nrama: The crux of the argument from the scene's critics is that mutants have frequently been viewed as a metaphor for multiple minority groups, and what Havok is advocating is seen as assimilation rather than integration. As the writer of that scene, how do you view Havok's position? For you, how important is the "mutants as real-life minority" metaphor in Uncanny Avengers? And how important is that scene in #5 to the theme of the series?

Remender: The theme of the series is unity. Our focus is on how each of these characters see the best way towards it. The fact that few of them agree is where the drama comes in. They are a bunch of people, all of whom have been given super powers via different methods, trying to work together, to keep their "marriage" together, for the betterment of the collective. Be they Super-Soldiers, Inhumans, Asgardian Gods, or radioactive types, they all have a great responsibility to use these great super powered gifts for the good of all mankind and to get along, to set an example of cooperation.

 

The beauty of the mutant metaphor is that it's so inclusive — there are so many ways a person can relate to it. The mistake, I think, is to apply your own personal metaphor onto it and assume everyone else sees it the same way or that your version applies more than someone else's. Everyone sees the mutants as themselves. Everyone.

I was an awkward punker kid raised in the city. At age 13, I moved to a very small town in Arizona, where I spent years being picked on, beaten up and made fun of, before finally running away from home at 16 and moving back to the city. I related to mutants because they were always up against the wall with no friends and they took no crap. I was this quiet kid no one liked because I dressed weird, wasn't into the same stuff and proudly read comic books, I took endless shit for being who I was. So I identified with the mutants on that level.

What I'm saying is, we all love these characters and love seeing them stand up against a world that hates and fears them. We can all feel that way and identify with that; it isn't a metaphor for any one single type of real world person, I think we all get to share ownership to the identification of being/feeling on the outside to varying degrees.

Nrama: Positively or negatively, one thing that scene definitely did was spur a debate. How intentional was that on your part? Which is to say, should Havok's position not necessarily be seen as the be-all and end-all on the subject, but rather one fictional character's take, which could very well be designed to be open to reader interpretation?

 

Remender: Alex's POV was cooked up to give him a distinct POV about what labels mean in the world of super humans, radioactive men, Mutants, Asgardian Gods, Inhumans, etc. Alex thinks they are all people first and should stop being categorized and stereotyped by the means they acquired these powers. I went with it because it’s a perspective in direct opposition to Alex's brother's POV and it was constructed to be exactly opposite to that, ending with two brothers at war with differing personal ideologies.

Nrama: Your initial "hobo piss" tweet addressing the situation — while, I think, in line with your sense of humor for anyone that knows you or reads your Twitter — definitely seemed to exacerbate the situation. Given that, is there any regret in how the discourse surrounding the issue has gone down so far?

Remender: I deeply regret it. When I made those Tweets, I wasn’t aware there was greater larger debate on the internet, I had no idea there were honest and thoughtful people taking issue with the story; I was just aware of a few people calling me names, or accusing me of being a racist, on Twitter. And because the language I used was so broad, the response was written like a general, "Anyone who opposes this POV is wrong" and "eat ####." It was a moment of low impulse control, a careless mistake made in response to hurt feelings. I meant the comment to be sort of goofy, but that's clearly not how it came across.

I want to be clear about one thing: Debate is fun and healthy. Debating issues can help spread awareness. I love debate and wish I had more time to engage in it, without it we stagnate and become complacent. I appreciate criticism, and I appreciate being shown when I am wrong in order to learn and get better at what I do and the way I think about the world I live it. My intent was not to shut down debate but was instead a poorly executed emotional reaction to some ugly labels being applied to me by strangers. I should have taken the higher ground, but didn't. I own it and truly regret it.

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