On Feeling Compelled to Boycott Greg Land’s Uncanny X-Men

I can’t do it, I just can’t. It doesn’t matter how much I admire Kieron Gillen as a writer, and admire him I most certainly do. He’s undoubtedly one of the best half-dozen writers currently at work in the superhero sub-genre, and his fine scripts have seen me return to the buying of Uncanny X-Men after 28 years of apostasy. But all the craft and ambition and decent-hearted humanism of his scripting can’t compensate for artist Greg Land’s utterly wretched storytelling and the despicable sexism that marks so much of his work. No, it just can’t.

Of course, no-one’s going to surprised to hear a blogger lambasting the shameless Mr. Land and his pathetic artwork. In fact, I’d assume that the general response of any who stumble across this page would be “why bother?” Surely it’s a debate which has been and gone, surely we’ve moved past this? And there’s certainly a sense on the net that sexism is a social ill which comicbook fans don’t need to be concerned with, as if they’ve survived that argument, as if no-one but the stubborn, the obsessed and the congenitally joykilling would want to go through all that fuss again. Perhaps it’s that weariness which the poor harassed superhero fan may feel which accounts for the fact that of the first dozen reviews of this comic to be found when using Google, none of them even mentions the unarguable sexism of Land’s work.

Nope, not a single one. I’m sure that there’s a great number of pieces which have noted the problems in this specific comic, but those first dozen destinations certainly didn’t. From sites as high profile as Comic Book Resources to I Fanboy, and then to all points beyond, any restrained criticism of Mr. Land to be found was strangely centered on his reliance on photo-resources, with the exception of one review, where Land’s choice of a cowgirl outfit for Emma Frost was objected to because, it seems, such would be out of character for her.

And while I could only applaud a great breadth of opinions being expressed across the net, a thousand flowers blooming and such, the absence of sexual politics in these blogs didn’t mark any broad measure of debate and difference on other topics. In fact, what these critics have produced between themselves was a great homogeneous and politically-disconnected mass of incredibly similar and mostly lukewarm-to-positive reviews, although the blogger whose responses was to ask “Would the Mayor of San Francisco really be that sexy?” at least made me laugh. Yes, mate, that’s the context within which the argument ought to be framed. You’ve nailed it and closed it too. Well done! Just a little less sexiness for the middle aged female politicians in Marvel’s books, please

In this perplexingly staged scene, the mayor of San Francisco is shown arriving without warning in the X-Men's "Psionic Conference Room." Note that the first response of the mayor is to mimic a scene from "Bus-Stop" while looking as alluring and passive as possible. Quite why her response to this situation is to grab her dress in the manner of a nervous, helpless child crossed with a guileless "glamour" model must be obvious only to Mr. Land. It is, of course, cheesecake that makes no sense in the context of the script, though no doubt someone will pay very good money for the original art. But if the first panel is pathetic, then the next one is incredibly ill-judged, as you'll note below.

Well, why don’t more folks buy superhero comics? I couldn’t possibly say…

Hardcore comic book fans, you undoubtedly get what you deserve, but your beloved hobby will wither and die, as it indeed is, because few beyond your ranks are going to want to spend money on such celebrations of contempt for 51% of the human race.

Good to see that in a virtual environment where Mr. Land could have placed his characters in any relationship to each other, he's chosen to present us not with the mayor's face, but with her right breast, the line of which then leads the reader's gaze down to Emma Frost's chest too. Note how ineptly constructed the frame is, with Cyclops being placed in the background in a way that seems to mimic a child's control of composition. So, Mr. Land, why did you choose to focus on cleavage rather than narrative here, given that the mayor's expression might have been interesting to actually see...

Yet oddly enough, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to put Uncanny X-Men back onto the shelf if the likes of Land’s objectivized super-people were removed from its pages. And I simply can’t buy into the premise that anyone searches out Land’s work simply because it gets them not just hot and flustered, but ultimately relieved and somewhat sleepy too. After all, there’s surely enough porn to be had for nothing more costly and demanding than an internet connection and the capacity to manipulate a mouse while exercising a less than entirely limp grip too. And if there is a tiny minority of boys who’ve somehow sexually imprinted upon Land’s work, well, I doubt they constitute a commercially vital niche. No, Land could produce superhero books without the most unedifying of cheesecake and most consumers would, I suspect, keep investing.

No one will be shocked if I respectfully remind them that while men are often represented in Land's art as bearing different body-types, ages, faces, and so on, women are nearly always stereotypically and tediously "beauteous" and "alluring."

So why does Marvel keep commissioning and publishing work that’s not just so often technically inept, but morally contemptible? Is it stubbornness, an unwillingness to avoid being seen to bend before the tyranny of kind-hearted ideals and simple ethical decencies? Or is it that the short-term business of making money is more important than the more generous and inclusive of moralities to Marvel? If so, the company has already crossed a decisive moral Rubicon. Once a publisher recognizes the immorality of its product and yet continues to produce it — and how could Marvel not see Land’s art for what it is? — then there’s no reason to note any significant ethical restraints at all. The basic principle that making money trumps ethical standards has already apparently been established, and all that’s left is the key question of “what can we get away with and profit by?” Why, there are as yet untapped niche markets of sexists and racists and homophobes and a thousand other worryingly hateful minority tastes just longing for comics to cater to their beliefs in a far more specific way than at the moment. If filling up comics with Land’s representations of women doesn’t upset too many folks while also making you money, well, why not have the courage of the lack of your convictions and go a touch further, and further still? It’s only business, after all, and it’s only comics, and why doesn’t the publisher of Peter Parker and Jessica Jones and T’Challa make the bravest stand against the strictures of political correctness? After all, you’re already effectively doing exactly that with artwork such as Mr. Land’s.

The reader will similarly not be astonished if Mr. Land's reliance upon the "widescreen" panel is remarked upon. Note how the artist works from the assumption that this type of frame is the best option for four very different types of content. It's as if Mr. Land never actually thinks about how best to tell a story, but simply divides up his page according to whim and ease. Note, for example, the inexplicable choice to make the almost meaningless shot of the Juggernaut's face in panel three larger than the shot of Colossus punching him. But my favorite example of careless and surely lazy storytelling can be found in panels one and two: note, in panel one, that Colossus is considerably smaller than his opponent. Strangely enough, the two of them are almost the same size in the next shot. Well, what does it matter?

Yet although I doubt Land’s work brings too many extra panting and trembling consumers to the cash register,  I do find it easy to believe that a great many more folks might just give up buying certain comics because they’re ashamed to spend their money on such regressive, ugly-minded, and cruel-looking piffle. Me, for one.

Because it’s not just that some of us despise Land’s ethics, or his lack of any considered body of such, since it’s hard to believe that he’s ever given too much thought to his money-spinning, status-weaving activities. It’s also that his ranks of sexualized women contradict the very meaning of the books he illustrates. He’s not just producing tacky sexism, and poorly illustrated tacky sexism too. His representations of women actually work against the stories which he fails so conspicuously to bring to life. It’s certainly hard to buy into the adventures of a team of superheroic outsiders expressing support for the struggles of the powerless against the powerful as long as the women involved look just like stereotypical porn actresses.

Give the X-Men the Marvel Universe’s tired, its poor, its huddled mutants yearning to breathe free, but just make sure that they’re built like the least edifying masturbatory fantasies of a ten year old boy so immature that he can only stir up bubbles of air while staring-staring-staring at the cleavage of Mayor Sadie, M.I.L.F.

Again, Mr. Land has chosen to fill his page with four panels which are the same shape. In doing so, he produces a considerable amount of dead space; panel two is a prime example, giving us a great deal of the back of Juggernaut's shoulder -- and to what end? Panel three is a particular example of waste; who knows what's going on there, or why such a vertical segment of a face which simply can't transmit a great deal of emotion has been given such prominence?

Good work, publishers and editors at Marvel. Your wives, your sisters, your mothers, your daughters, as well as your husbands, brothers, fathers, sons and indeed everyone you know and don’t know — that’s everyone, really — must be proud of you. How you must long to take copies of Mr Land’s Uncanny X-Men into schools and churches and town halls to show off the contributions you’re making to a braver, better, more compassionate world. Well done for persevering with such a principled and well-thought-through stance. Hurrah for Marvel!

Marvel Comics can do all the thinking it wants about attracting wider audiences, and babble on in public about its progressive and well-intentioned strategic policies. But until the company fully recognises and accepts what shame is, they’ll not attract anyone from beyond the hardcore who’s got the slightest idea that loathing “sexism” isn’t an aspect of “political correctness,” but of basic human decency.

What profession and character might we associate with this woman? Indeed, can we even tell how old is she? What's her emotional state in this shot? Why is she looking at the reader with that strange gaze? What is the reader supposed to feel about her?

It’s doesn’t matter what I say, of course. What I do or say won’t affect a thing, except that I’ll get a few more contemptuous and insulting comments. Writing about these things is never a ratings winner or a nerve-soother, I’ll tell you. Oh well.

But I did want to continue to read your work in Uncanny X-Men, Mr. Gillen, and to be inspired by it too, and I really am sorry, but I just can’t.

Shape up, Marvel. It’s 2011. If you’re not going to be consistently and deliberately kind-hearted and generous in all that you’re doing now, after 60 years and more of publication, then when will you?

I wonder how many folks aren't buying the likes of Uncanny X-Men because they're uncomfortable with the objectivization of teenage girls, such as with Hope here? However, please see below.

Folks who might want to see what Marvel can publish in the way of mutant tales that’re in a considerably more compassionate and laudable vein ought to race off now and buy Generation Hope #9 by Mr. Gillen and Mr. McKelvie, in concert with a long list of collaborators and enablers from the X-Office. It’s worth the investing in, I really do assure you.

Hope from the same week's Generation Hope by Mr. Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Why, she looks like a young woman and not a sex object. Human, fallible, charming, distinctive, and anything but objectivized. Gosh, it can be done. In fact, Marvel is hiring folks who are doing so already!

This review originally appeared on Colin Smith’s blog Too Busy Thinking About My Comics.

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Colin Smith is currently Q Magazine’s comics columnist and blogs at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and on Tumbler.

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1 Comment

  1. Great article! I had seen an article online lambasting Mr Land’s swiping of women from porn movies and pics. It did not, however, go into the ramifications of the total lack of dignity.
    Not to mention the fact that it is out right pandering.
    Anytime a comic book reader is lead to the register by his erection from Land’s pornographizing (neologism) of comic books, we lose. Simple as that.
    This is pandering. Pure and simple.
    I am not sure how such an intelligent writer as Gillen could go along with this?
    On a lighter note, I would highly recommend Fraction’s run on the series. It was some of the best since Morrison wrote it for his short time.

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