Some of the Iffier Characters from Marvel Comics

Sometimes on Twitter somebody mentions Psylocke to me, and are subsequently completely baffled by my intense and unsubtle reaction against her. Although the X-Men are thought to be some of the more progressive ideals in comics, packaged within superhero fighting and slaps, that need to constantly address a somewhat shoddy ‘central metaphor’ has led to some really dodgy ideas over the years.

In essence: just as some characters can be progressive and smart, several others were really poorly-advised and faintly offensive. Here’s a list of five characters who are most commonly talked about online as being problematic, along with the main cause for complaint:

1: Storm

Storm was the first African-American member of the X-Men, who joined alongside other members like Colossus, Banshee and Nightcrawler. This was part of a deliberately provocative attempt to thrust some diversity into the central concept, because so far the team was made up of five or six white people and their white headmaster.

Storm quickly rose in popularity, thanks to her leadership and status as an independent and headstrong female character. She was also drawn by Paul Smith a lot, which usually helps. She rose to be leader of the X-Men, and is one of the most recognisable and marketable characters.

The Complaint:

Storm has a history of being used as ‘the exotic’ character, which has led many in recent years to accuse her of being an idealised ‘white’ idea of what a black woman was. Her marriage to Black Panther pleased many readers, who felt she was written as an actual African-American woman for the first time (and was handled by African-American writer Reginald Hudlin). Others felt that she was reduced as a woman and made subservient for the purpose of being a ‘trophy’ for Black Panther.

Regardless of that, there is something troubling about the idea of the most iconic black woman in comics having white hair and blue eyes. It seems that only a few artists, also, draw her with a distinctly African-American bone structure, rather than a generic white face – David Yardin and Phil Jimenez are notably spot-on with their versions of the character.

2: Psylocke

Captain Britain’s sister became a part of the X-Men quickly, being a key part of their time in Australia. She’s been present ever since, although one storyline early on saw her mind swapped into the body of that of an Asian woman. She inhabited that body for decades afterwards, until Chris Claremont killed her off in the 2000s, intent on returning her to the original body.

That was vetoed by Marvel, who viewed Psylocke as one of their most prominent Asian characters. As a result, Claremont wrote a story where she had a new body ‘created’ by her magic-wielding brother Jamie Braddock, and returned her to life.

The Complaint:

Yeah, so the most famous Asian character at Marvel is actually a white woman on the inside. Psylocke has been highly problematic for years and years and years. The problem wasn’t that she was switched into an Asian body – but that the character immediately changed in personality as a result. She became more closely associated with ninja iconography, wore Asian clothing, and wielded a katana. Every single decision she took was seen as being not a natural move – but the move of someone ‘acting’ like she was Asian.

Other aspects to the character, like her infamous ‘thongkini’ outfit, also caused criticism.

3: Dust

Created by Grant Morrison during his run on New X-Men, Dust was part of an extended response the writer had to the events of 9/11. One storyline saw Professor X and Jean Grey onboard a plane which was hijacked by terrorists, for example – the Prof wiped their minds and had them sit back down.

Dust showed up around this time, an Arabic character who later moved to the X-Men school and appeared prominently in Academy X, New X-Men, and Young X-Men. And she’s been written pretty decently for most of that time.

The Complaint:

She does, however, turn into sand. She can be written by the best writers there are – but she TURNS INTO SAND.

4: The Celts

This refers to Moira MacTaggert, Banshee, Siryn, Shamrock – any character from Scotland or Ireland who isn’t Wolfsbane, basically. The X-Men have a number of Celtic members in their midst… or, well… had. They all seem to have been killed, turned into death gods, or wandered off at the moment.

The Complaint:

These are the most stereotyped characters at Marvel, it could be argued. Because what do they all seem to share, for some reason? A drinking problem. Ireland and Scotland have a reputation – as does all of Great Britain, really – for being drinkers. But does that really mean every character from those two nations has to be a drinker? Currently, it looks as though you can only be Celtic at Marvel if you carry an AA chip.

5: Mandrill

Mandrill is not an X-Men character. But, regardless, he should never be forgotten. BECAUSE HE IS THE VERY WORST THING EVER.

He has the power of coercion, essentially. He can make any woman fall in love with him, and control them like dolls. He is the very essence of the creepiest aspects of the Marvel Universe. At least, I suppose, he’s never portrayed as anything aside from a villain – which at least elevates him above similar creepers Starfox and Longshot.


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