A few days ago Brett White wrote a passioned defence of teen hearthrob X-Men character Maggott on CBR. Many would mock him for such a claim, and poke him with brightly painted sticks – but no! Put down those ribbon sticks. Maggott is a character worth defending, and I’m going to give some of my own reasons for just why you should learn to love the guy – and why perhaps a lot of people don’t.
Now — in case his name didn’t give you enough of a hint, Maggott was a mutant who didn’t look like a bronzed adonis. His mutant power was disgusting by the worst of standards, as he didn’t have a digestive system of his own, so-to-speak. Rather, he had two slugs which burst in and out of his body at random, who acted as his system for him. Sometimes he was black (he’s South-African) and sometimes his skin was bright blue. Artists who like exaggerating drew him as a hulking giant, but otherwise he was a person-sized… person.
He was, well, super-weird. And as a result he has a reputation amongst fans and creators as being one of the stupidest ideas to ever hit the X-Men. But despite his powers, Maggott was rather well written by several writers like Joe Kelly and creators Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira, and showed quite a bit of promise before being killed off unceremoniously during the Weapon X series. Brett defends the character – and, blast it all to heck, I’m going to join him in that! His piece raises a few interesting points, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s always fun to ramble about the X-Men.
Maggott, for me, represents a line most fans will not cross. If you stand the X-Men in a line, going from ‘human’ to ‘inhuman’ in appearance, there eventually has to become a point where fans are no longer willing to identify with a character, regardless of how well they’re written. Walking down this line, you start with nice blonde Havok, before moving along to furry blue ape-man Beast, inhuman demon Nightcrawler, and finally Maggott at the end, chewing on his thumb. As you walk down this line, the characters get less human and recognisable, and more unsettling and unnerving. It’s harder to empathise with a blue bug dude than it is somebody who looks a bit more like you do – it’s all about self-insertion. If you can identify with something happening to a character in a comic, then you’re more likely to be interested and involved in them. And Maggott, with his two giant slugs, isn’t very easy to identify with. Especially as the slugs looked like this:
The last few years have seen a noticable move away from the weird-looking Morlocks first established by Chris Claremont, who were the weird mutants who didn’t get to retain their statuesque good looks. The Morlocks has arms in the wrong place, bones sticking out their faces, and all kinds of other physical problems. As a result, they chose to hide in the sewers, away from public view. Because their appearance was strange, they elected not to subject themselves to judgement from society. It’s theme often returned to by writers like Joe Casey, Grant Morrison, and Claremont, but a theme which has vanished from current-day Marvel. Nowadays new characters tend to look human, and anybody who is visually unusual is treated as a joke character – look at ‘Eye Boy’ from Wolverine & The X-Men as the most recent example.
Marvel’s greatest successes have been when they ignore visual appearances and stick to character. So it doesn’t matter if Vision is a robot – he can still get married to a human woman. It doesn’t matter that Tigra is a tiger-lady who got pregnant after sleeping with an alien who was disguised as her partner and then kept the baby and the baby turned out to be ADORABLE. The visual aspects of this don’t matter – it came from a place of character. So it’s interesting that Maggott was treated as a joke, a character to dislike based mainly on his looks, and so many other attractive characters get a pass. When readers hit that point where they can no longer stick by a character, that’s when the warning alarm goes off. ‘Death imminent’.
Most of the weird characters are dead or ‘fixed’. Skin was crucified. Maggott was executed. The Morlocks are mostly dead. Even characters like Beak – a human chicken person – has now been turned into a conventionally normal looking bloke as a result of M-Day. The weird looking characters are being thinned out!
The central point of Brett’s article is that any character can be redeemed – the “there are no bad characters, only bad writers” idea. But what I pick up more than this, is the idea that any character can be redeemed – as long as they’re pretty. Because there are characters who are thought of as ‘bad’, and the interesting thing is how often these characters tend to be the stranger ideas, the more off-kilter and bizarre creations. Whereas I agree that characters aren’t bad characters simply because they look unusual, I don’t agree that there is no such thing as a bad character. And to prove this point, I’m actually going to turn to one of the most desired and attractive characters in X-Men history. Yeah – I’m going to address The Psylocke Problem.
Although Psylocke is a former supermodel who wears revealing outfits and always jumps towards danger vagina-first, she’s exactly what people say Maggott is — she’s a bad character. And it’s not because of the writing or artwork she’s had over the years. In fact, the last few years have been utterly wonderful for her, from Chris Claremont reviving the character through to Rick Remender’s recent work in Uncanny X-Force. She’s been well written, characterised, and drawn. She’s even got a decent costume now, courtesy of Kris Anka! But despite all that, she’s inherently a bad character, and it’s a shame she isn’t more notable for that.
The thing is, fundamentally Psylocke is a white woman in an Asian woman’s body. She’s not Asian. (And, in fact, her body is’t even Asian anymore – it was a magical construct created by her brother Jamie who can warp time hurray for comics). The point is, here we have a character whose mind was put into the body of an Asian woman…. and then immediately adopts the stereotypes and traits associated with Asian women in media. She starts wearing ninja outfits, and liking dragons, and wielding katanas. She moved from being a scrappy former model who wore body armour to being a stealthy shadow-hider, who keeps getting drawn over to Japan for more stories. It’s all fairly dubious.
She is a character who looks like she’s a lovely strong Asian woman. But she’s actually a white woman acting out what she thinks is the life an Asian woman should be leading. Her every decision comes from the wrong place. As a result, she ceases to be anything resembling a powerful, inspirational figure who proves even Asian women can make it in the X-Men, and becomes part of one of the most misguided character arcs in the history of superhero comics. Inherently, she’s a bad character, even though she doesn’t look it on the outside.
So isn’t that interesting? Arguably because Psylocke looks cool, people ignore the problems with the character. But because Maggott looks unusual, he’s written off as a bad character.
But at least he has the potential to develop and progress and be a worthy addition to the X-Men. Psylocke can’t argue the same, can she?
Ten points to Maggott! Now definitively not the worst X-Men character of all time. Try picking up some Joe Kelly backissues and seeing for yourself!