Episode #43 - The X-Factor
Original Airdate - March 21st, 2012
Tony’s new friend Annie turns out to be a mutant on the run from Magneto! Iron Man tries to protect her, but how can he fight a mutant with a mastery over all things metal?
Written Brandon Auman
The X-Men have always functioned with a straightforward tagline – “Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them.”
The mutants’ struggle for acceptance is intended to mirror any and all civil rights struggles through history.
Charles Xavier functions as a stand-in for Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and those who choose nonviolent methods; Magneto is Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, AIM and anyone else who embraces the “by any means necessary” mantra.
Extending this metaphor, the Mutant Registration Act (which would force mutants to identify themselves) is the equivalent of the Nazi’s yellow badge, the brand on a slave and any other form of government-sanctioned ostracizing.
And the humans who don’t like the X-Men – the ones who say things like, “What are you? Some kind of mutant?” – they’re bigots. The kind of people we shake our head at and pity for their lack of understanding.
But here’s the catch. In the real world, if somebody could read your mind or warp metal with a thought, you’d demand to know about it. Most people wouldn’t view it as a civil rights issue (as we have been trained to see it,) but as a law-and-order issue.
We don’t let people get onto planes with nail files, but we’re concerned about infringing on the privacy of a person who can manipulate your own brain with their thoughts?
And the most interesting thing about X-Factor is it lets one of the good guys point that out.
At the heart of X-Factor is an ideological discussion.
Sure, this episode brings in some big-name guest stars – Magneto and double-secret-fake-named Jean Grey – but X-Factor focuses more on how the leading trio of Tony Stark, James Rhodes and Pepper Potts react to the mutants in their midst.
Pepper’s reaction is, by far, the most intriguing. She points out that mutants are legitimately dangerous and probably should be registered. This is interesting because it’s usually a point of view expressed by villains like Senator Kelly or nameless hate mongers in the Friends of Humanity.
But this perspective is entirely in character for Pepper. Despite her dabbling in vigilantism, she’s always been the law-and-order candidate on the ballot. (Remember, her father works in law enforcement and she, one day, wants to follow in his footsteps.)
It’s also noteworthy that the writers don’t try to villainize Pepper for her stance. They don’t force her to recant her opinion later after learning some big lesson.
And, to keep Pepper’s position from being purely ideological, the writers salt in a little jealousy toward Jean Grey. (“Do we need another redhead? I think not.”)
Meanwhile, Rhodey takes the stance we’re used to seeing. “Segregation is wrong, period.” While the writers never stoop to Rhodey saying that he feels this way “because I’m black,” it’s fair to note that – in the United States – racial minorities are acutely aware of the sting of segregation. (Of course, Rhodey’s opinion could have nothing to do with his skin tone. He also tends to be the big-hearted one in the group.)
Finally, Tony is more interested in the actions of the person than the label. Hence, he likes Jean, who helps him, and is less keen on Magneto, who tries to kill him a couple of times.
The writers don’t dumb these differences in opinion down by telling us who is clearly right. By providing all of these perspectives without undercutting any of them, X-Factor manages to do something that hundreds of episodes of X-Men cartoons have not: it tells the story of how baseline humans would react to super-powered mutants.
Now, you may notice that I’ve said very little about the story itself. That’s because the story itself isn’t very interesting.
Magneto comes to town to forcibly enlist a young mutant (in this case, Jean Grey) to his cause. The good guys stop him from doing that.
We saw this same plotline for the entire first season of X-Men: Evolution; and Iron Man handles this plot with all the subtlety of first-season Evo. (To be clear, that’s not a compliment.)
So if we’ve seen the plot a dozen or so times before, the only wrinkle of new is in the leading trio’s ideological debate.
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