Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

367 – Jay and Connor X-Plain X-Casting

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!

In which Jay and guest X-Pert Connor Goldsmith explore approaches to podcasting about X-Men; difficult characters; costume preferences; our mutual mistrust of horses; owning our perspectives; and good on-ramps.


  • The ghost of Madelyne Pryor
  • Cerebro (podcast)
  • Good Selene stories
  • Potential vs. payoff
  • Costume opinions
  • Fashion in comics
  • Horse problems
  • The Maple Hill Farm books
  • Science vs. magic
  • Learning to love X-Force
  • Speaking ~as~ vs. speaking ~for~
  • Twitter
  • The (fairly uncomplicated) ethics of liking things
  • Reading as a prosecutor
  • Catching up to the modern X-Men
  • Critical perspective

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    1. that said, I really enjoy the episode. liked listening to Connar, &what Connor had to say. Added Cerebro to my podcast player. Cool how it’s taking an alternative route and doing one-episode character-bios.

  1. I found Cerebrocast through their Cypher and Warlock episodes (I know, big surprise there, but I find both characters make a handy benchmark for assessing a podcast’s approach to the non-A-listers) and did enjoy them, so this was an entertaining guest spot.

    It was also a fascinating discussion about the different approaches both podcasts take and the benefits of each.

    The discussion about problematic readings and problematic characters is one I’ve come across a lot being a Mod on scans_daily (So “Hi Connor!” from your past! Or possible present) . It’s a tough call sometimes, and I know I’ve probably messed it up a few times myself.

    I do wonder, are there any moral event horizons beyond which characters just ARE poison without serious retcons? (I had a long screed here with an example or two, but none relevant to this discussion, so would rather phrase it as a question to see what others might think)

    I think I rewrote this next bit a half dozen times so, in case I messed it up, let me make it clear from the outset I am NOT judging anyone for their likes and dislikes of a fictional character. I can, usually, distinguish reality from fiction and these next comments refer to MY OWN thoughts only.

    Using the example the episode mentions, I think Claremont made it especially difficult for me with Mr Sinister (a character I have little fondness to begin with, which doesn’t help) by not having him just mention he worked with the Nazis, but to specifically mention that he worked with Mengele at Auschwitz. That mixing of the fictional abomination with the real abomination is a tough one for me personally to disentangle. It seems like it an overly forced attempt to make it “serious”, which at one level is a nonsense (especially given the absurdity of the Sinister character and all the other ficional horrors he has perpetrated), but at another is like fingernails down a blackboard to me.

    I should also add, though I hope it’s self evident, that making someone ELSE feel shitty for their likes and dislikes of a fictional character is reprehensible. We all parse things in our own way and listening to other people’s can lead to a real “Oh, NOW that character makes sense” moment .

    And of course, “Enjoyment does not mean endorsement”. (Hmm, I’m going to have to remember that phrasing).

    1. I think a key point is whether the earlier horrific deeds of character X are active in collective memory or not.

      Often, they’ve been tacitly forgotten. Emma Frost is a case that you and I have discussed — only the broad strokes of her original characterization, and the actions that went along with it, are really things that can be said to be true of the version of Emma Frost that has become the standard one.

      That probably has something to do with the fact that Emma I’s horrific actions, while horrific, were also pretty generically supervillain-y. (Bodyswap? Yawn. Torture? Yawn. Accessory to sexual assault by mind control? OK, that one is more distinctive, or would be, except that the comic was written by Chris Claremont.) The distinctive stuff was elsewhere, which makes it easier to forget

      Or there’s Magneto, where the idea that he was a mutant supremacist *was* at one time distinctive, something where might seem a bit surprising if it could be suppressed. But it had been a while since that had mattered. Even in the Silver Age, a lot of the time, Magneto is fairly generic in his actual plans of supervillainy. And Claremont had basically confined him to being someone who had a personal vendetta against the X-Men. And it probably helped that it was a comparatively subtle shift to Magneto being someone who saw what he was doing as defensive, but was still about mutants vs. humans.

      For a contrast, the Red Skull. You can’t imagine someone doing this successfully with him, because what’s distinctive about him is that he’s a Nazi. Take that away, there’s not really a character there at all. As long as you’re using him, you’re pretty much bound to keep that element active in collective memory.

      But if you do tacitly forget things, that’s more effective in redefining than outright retconning. A retcon is a story, it stands out, it has a target on its back for the next writer.

      So in the case of Emma Frost and esp. Magneto, I personally think things have long since passed the point at which it is useful to think of them as any sort of unified character: they are characters that have existed in different irreconcilable versions, and that’s fine.

      Which is also what I think about Quentin Quire. I completely agree with our host’s guest about Riot at Xavier’s — he is, as far as I’m concerned, 100% right about how he reads that story and Quentin Quire in it. But I also like current Quentin Quire, who has essentially nothing important in common with that Quentin Quire aside from thcharacter design — and frankly, even that is not all that similar.

      My “Am I a terrible person for liking this?” question: I quite like the sound of a podcast in which people would come on and talk about the character they hate. Non-stop healthy, cathartic negativity. Get it all out.

      1. Good points, and I wonder if that is part of the issue with older fans in particular (and I’m definitely in that category), that the longer context is harder to ignore than it might be for those who only came in recently.

        As you say, I found Emma’s heel turn to be less convincing than many at the time because her “I always cared for my students” approach clashed rather horribly with her initial recorded treatment of her students which was “Useful, but expendable, and have to be kept strictly in line”. Yes, I enjoy current Emma because she’s a terrific character, but also yes, she’s pretty much nothing like Emma 1.

        (I also, alas, have the sort of memory which remembers things like that for a very, very long time, with no effort required on my part worst luck. I can’t even make it focus on useful things, just this sort of fictional trivia)

        Re-reading my last post, I’ve also realised that if Sinister had been mentioned as working with Baron Strucker rather than Mengele, I’d probably have less of an issue, which sounds odd even as I type it, because yes they are both Nazi’s but the former allows them to be off in their own weird supervillain corner doing wacky evil supervillain stuff that didn’t impact on anyone real, and the other… doesn’t.

        I was about to say that Quentin Quire was perhaps the accelerated version of the process you mention, until I rememebered that his character has been around for nearly twenty years and now I want to go and shake my stick at the whippernsappers on my lawn… Except I’m still not sure I know what a “whippernsapper” is and all I can see on my grass is a pigeon and a squirrel and I don’t think it’s either of those. Plus the last time I “shook my stick” on the lawn, well, phone calls were made and it became a whole thing with court cases and you don’t need to hear about that…)

        1. I’ve always been a fan of Emma Frost but part of that stems from a lack of knowledge of her past. I got into X-Men only a couple of years before Mutant Genesis so I didn’t know her history. I did read Dark Phoenix in trade at one point but it seemed so divorced from the current comics I was reading; Jean Grey was alive in X-Factor after all.

          So I didn’t know how much of a villain she had been until going back and reading her previous apoearances a couple of years ago.

          So I think that’s another thing some people need to consider when looking cross eyed at someone else for liking a certain character.

        2. Also, I’m a “Whipper Snapper!” My grandfather used to call me that when I walked on his lawn. Or his sidewalk. Or in his general vicinity…

        3. I can reconcile Emma’s early villainy with her later appearances because her motivation was always to gain power in the Hellfire Club, i.e. over her abusive boyfriend. Shaw was terrifying and I understand sinking to horrible lows in order to try to be free of him. I think she did care about her students, but was still willing to sacrifice them to get out of a horrible situation.

          1. See, that’s another interesting one, because I never saw Emma and Shaw as being anything other than platonic allies within the Hellfire Club, rather than having ever been in any sort of a relationship.

            Frost was “Old Money”, Shaw was “New Money” and all they really had in common was being wealthy mutants with political interests and that, to me, made a more interesting dynamic.

            I _think_ it was Morrison who retconned Emma’s introduction into the Club as being the result of her starting as a pretty much penniless dancer and working her way up through the ranks, and having a relationship with Shaw along the way.

            Prior to that she had earned her place in the Inner Circle by way of her family (both wealth wise and connections wise), being chairwoman of Frost International and headmistress of the esteemed Massachussetts Academy (Which had a long reputation amongst the wealthy as Janet “The Wasp” Van Dyne mentions she nearly went there herself).

            Does the new origin make for a more interesting Emma? Probably, but I think it also downplays the original, more interesing (again, to me), dynamic for Frost and Shaw as a pair. It seemed originally that Shaw (who was looked down on by many in the Club because he was a self made millionaire, rather than an inheritor of wealth) owed a lot to Emma (who was instantly accepted), whereas the Morrison version seemed to suggest she owed a lot to Shaw’s influence (because he was a wealthy man, and she was a flat broke woman who encouraged her to get plastic surgery etc).

            So they went from equal allies who trust each other (but only so far), to ex lovers with an abusive relationship and a bad break up in the past, and I guess the more soap-opera approach of the latter offers more drama.

        4. I can reconcile Emma’s early villainy with her later appearances because her motivation was always to gain power in the Hellfire Club, i.e. over her abusive boyfriend. Shaw was terrifying and I understand sinking to horrible lows in order to try to be free of him. I think she did care about her students, but was still willing to sacrifice them to get out of a horrible situation.

        5. Another case is Baron (Helmut) Zemo. Nicieza made a serious stab at Magnetoing him at one point. It’s tricky. He’s not quite the Red Skull: he’s often characterized as driven to prove he’s superior to everyone else because he’s a Zemo, separate from his Nazi connections.

          But… there are rather a lot of uncomfortable Nazi elements in Helmut Zemo stories over the years, and Nicieza’s Zemo didn’t really address those very convincingly. His version didn’t stick all that well, I think, not that I have a very good knowledge of Zemo stories after the classic Thunderbolts series ended.

          1. Also, despite never being associated with Nazis, Hank Pym has never been able to get out of the shadow of the infamous slap. The Ultimate line even leaned hard into it rather than trying get him away from it in a new reality.

            There’s also, as the guest mentioned, Sabretooth who, frankly, make me uncomfortable every time they put him on the X-Men for any reason. It’s bad enough that he’s generally was state owned slave in X-Factor forced to work with the heroes but the Sixis (Axis) stuff where his morality was inversed really bugged me. It was like he was given a clean slate as a character because he suddenly had a conscious. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy him as a villain but there is absolutely no reason, ever, that he should be teamed up with the X-Men.

            And I have to disagree with the guest a little bit; I’m not even an amateur psychologist but Sabretooth’s violence has never come across as sexual in any way to me. Granted, I haven’t read every appearance and I’m not great at picking up subtext so maybe I missed something.

  2. As some who grew up around horses (and continues to be around them) I can actually say that some of them are like overgrown dogs. They’re also very sensitive to human emotions and get nervous or scared around people who feel the same way. And this isn’t me trying to tell someone else how to feel about them. While I’ve never been injured by one, my grandmother was put into traction when she was kicked in the chest by one. So I understand why people don’t like being around them.

    Jay’s read of Gambit is an interesting one that had never occured to me and might explain my own fandom of the character. I’m not trans but I am from a home without a positive male role model so I had to kind of figure out for myself what a man was supposed to be. Of course, this read of the character also lines up neatly with his intended origin of being a construct of Nathaniel.

    Oh, and I never emulated Gambit. I had no idea what sexual harrassment was when he came out but I knew better than to touch anyone without consent. But I was the right age when he debuted to be a fan. He was confident, charming (debateable?) and, most importantly, looked cool. I agree he’s often written better by women than men. I also think Fabian Nicieza wrote him better than Claremont did.

  3. Apropos of the above, I notice that Immortal X-Men #1 DIRECTLY addresses the Sinister issue by giving him this throwaway comment.

    Which is the sort of breathtakingly comic-book-science solution to an issue we just don’t see much of any more.

  4. The conversation with Connor was so engaging and interesting that I’m another who has gone and downloaded an episode.

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