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Mutants: Why does this idea work?


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In the world I live in (Earth 2021) the vast majority of the world's population would hate and fear all superpowered beings.  Even in the supposition that said superpowered beings save the world from some externality, they would be accepted for a very short period of time ('Thank you very much for saving us from that comet, now piss off'), and if they ended up fighting amongst themselves as is the premise for most superpowered rpg's, the general population would rapidly grow to fear and hate them while the rich and powerful would seek only to monetize and/or militarize them.  The idea that there would ever be some sort of publicly known 'superhero school' is reserved for only the most absurdist fantasy.

 

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Supers are just people with extraordinary gifts.  We see how post-modern western society treats the extraordinarily gifted.  They are built up as celebrities - as N.carpenter pointed out, monetized - then eventually they say or do the wrong thing and are excoriated, torn down, and forgotten - or even 'canceled,' criminalized, or found dead from apparent suicide or OD. 

 

Heroes are just people who in extraordinary circumstances who get through those circumstances in a way that their culture approves of.  That used to be things like courageously killing a lot of the enemy in wartime or inventing the lightbulb or curing polio or winning the world series.  

Now it's things like blowing the whistle on a vile corporation or being the victim of a high-profile murder.

 

If they appeared here, our world would make a place for superheroes - the elements are already there.

 

 

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My problem with Mutants hating is encapsulated in a story I read once.  I will attempt to repeat it here:

 

Jim Bob is walking down the driveway to his friend Billy Ray, when he sees Billy loading all his hunting gear into his pick up.  Since hunting season is not for a number of weeks, Jim is curious.

 

Jim Bob "Billy."  

Billy Ray "Hey Jim."

Jim Bob "Whatchu doin?"

Billy Ray "I heard a mutant moved into the old Johnson place.  I'm gonna run him out!  No place for that type of scum in our town!"

Jim Bob "Hey Billy, he ain't no mutant.  He was the victim of some experement!  He just wants to find a quiet place to live and get out of the press!"

Billy "Yeah!  Right!"

Jim "No really he has a certificate from Captain America stating he's the victim of cercumstance!"

Billy "Your not joshing me?"

Jim "The Lord strike me down if I'm lying!" "Anyway I'm hear to see if Bobby Sue has any of her pecan pies left?  We plan to do a house warmin for him of Friday!'

Billy "Wellll......"

Jim "And he like Hooters!"

Billy "Well lets take em there Saturday!  What does he drink?"

Jim "Bud."

Billy "Well, no accounting for taste!"

 

Billy turns to his house "YO! Bobby Sue!  You have any pecans pies left?"

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45 minutes ago, Mr. R said:

My problem with Mutants hating is encapsulated in a story I read once.  I will attempt to repeat it here:

 

Jim Bob is walking down the driveway to his friend Billy Ray, when he sees Billy loading all his hunting gear into his pick up.  Since hunting season is not for a number of weeks, Jim is curious.

 

Jim Bob "Billy."  

Billy Ray "Hey Jim."

Jim Bob "Whatchu doin?"

Billy Ray "I heard a mutant moved into the old Johnson place.  I'm gonna run him out!  No place for that type of scum in our town!"

Jim Bob "Hey Billy, he ain't no mutant.  He was the victim of some experement!  He just wants to find a quiet place to live and get out of the press!"

Billy "Yeah!  Right!"

Jim "No really he has a certificate from Captain America stating he's the victim of cercumstance!"

Billy "Your not joshing me?"

Jim "The Lord strike me down if I'm lying!" "Anyway I'm hear to see if Bobby Sue has any of her pecan pies left?  We plan to do a house warmin for him of Friday!'

Billy "Wellll......"

Jim "And he like Hooters!"

Billy "Well lets take em there Saturday!  What does he drink?"

Jim "Bud."

Billy "Well, no accounting for taste!"

 

Billy turns to his house "YO! Bobby Sue!  You have any pecans pies left?"

Yes it is silly.

 

Which begs the question...what if one day one of dem mutant haters woke up one day peeing acid with no harm to themselves, what would dey do?

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41 minutes ago, Mr. R said:

My problem with Mutants hating is encapsulated in a story I read once.

There's a story like that about RL racism, too:  Tom Driscoll in Mark Twain's Puddn’head Wilson.

 

Like Marvel's mutant-hating metaphor, racism doesn't actually make sense or hold together logically, because the arbitrary definitions of race can oblige the committed racist to flip-flop from embracing an individual as a brother to hating him (or vice versa) with proof of pedigree - like the a wave of the metaphorical mutant-detector.

 

(ps: I hope I'm not appearing too strident on this topic.)

 

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Well... The question for me is: Does the allegory or satire make sense on its own terms?

 

Bigots believe the hated group is fundamentally different from them. With Marvel mutants, this is true. They have different genes.

 

Bigots believe the hated group is intrinsically dangerous, even if individuals aren't harming anyone right now. With Marvel mutants, this is true. Any super-powered person is potentially dangerous to the non-powered. They are destined to supplant baseline humanity, and some high-profile mutants speak of doing this by force, right now.

 

Bigots often believe they can detect members of the hated group no matter how superficially they might "pass" For Marvel mutants, this is true: There really are mutant-detecting machines.

 

If one wants to condemn bigotry, it seems like an odd approach to create a fictional group for which the delusions of bigots are actually true.

 

The argument, unpacked, seems to be: Minorities really are different, are "Other." Maybe even dangerous. But you must not hate them for that.

 

Still, if this feels "right" to people, I guess I can't argue with feelings.

 

Dean Shomshak

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5 hours ago, DShomshak said:

Bigots believe the hated group is fundamentally different from them. With Marvel mutants, this is true. They have different genes.

I haven't been reading Marvel comics for some decades, so correct me if I'm wrong, but Marvel Mutants can be born to typical human couples, and "humans" and "mutants" can mate and produce fertile offspring (scientific definition of the same species)?

 

Bigots /can/ & do point to contemporary genetic testing for relative occurrence of various markers to show genetic differences, and they can point to all sorts of statistics that 'prove' meaningful differences between themselves and the objects of their ire (who, in turn, can point to the same statistics as proof of oppression). 

 

Ultimately, it comes down to what you choose to believe.  If you want to arbitrarily define a group as Other and persecute them, you can, and you can come up with 'real' reasons to rationalize what you're doing, people who want to join you will find those reasons real (regardless) and compelling (though it's the group cohesion gained from Othering the out-group that's compelling), and those who want to oppose you can poke holes in them and hopefully persuade most more rational people not to join you.  

 

Maybe the willing suspension of disbelief traditional in the genre is problematic for that metaphor, since it's easy for the reader to accept "mutants are different because some of them have powers and some look different and all ping a 'mutant detector,'" as part of the willing suspension of disbelief that allows for superpowers &c in the first place.  Or, maybe it's just that much more powerful, because it lets you - hopefully very uncomfortably - into the mind of the bigot who /really believes/ in the differences among the arbitrary races (or whatever) he choses to believe in, all evidence to the contrary subject to rationalization and confirmation bias.   OTOH, I couldn't quickly find any confirmation that Marvel canon says Mutants aren't human and are destined to supplant humanity - seems some mutants on Magneto's side of the fence believe that, and some humans fear it, is all.  OTOOH, I could find virtually nothing about non-powered mutants, which makes me wonder what the X-gene is supposed to be or how it's supposed to work in the Medelian sense, at all....?

 

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, DShomshak said:

The question for me is: Does the allegory or satire make sense on its own terms?

It wouldn't be a very good metaphor if it did, because racism doesn't make sense on its own terms.  

 

And, if I'm following you, that's your point: that Marvel Mutant Hysteria makes too much sense, and is too reasonable? 

 

Even though, for instance, the rationalization that they're a threat breaks down since - as was one of the first things pointed out in this thread - mutates, aliens, sorcerers, and super-tech geniuses are every bit as dangerous, but can somehow be trusted with their earth-shattering powers (or, at least, judged for how they use them) because they're not mutants?

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I think it rings true on several layers. First of all, as noted above, mutants have been used to tell parallel stories about civil rights struggles. Originally race was often the salient comparison, but in recent years, parallels have been drawn to sexual minorities.

Second, the Silver Age was a time of social upheaval. Mutants could be your kids, anybody's kids. The message being that we should have compassion for each other, even if we are drawn into battles that weren't ours to begin with.

Third, there is a message of individuality. The mutants is a very American story. Someone who can walk through walls or lift a bus isn't just different, they are powerful. And there can be an impulse to lash out when we see others have a power we don't have. But ultimately, for society to work, we have to have some faith in each other. We might worry about someone taking a rifle and shooting up a story, or rioters tearing up a store, or cop abusing their authority, or an education system misinforming our children. But to actually solve those problems requires seeing past the person in front of us, and envisioning how a society operates where we are all free, and where we have the potential to do good or harm. We see this fear in an older generation looking down at a younger generation with access to online tools they never dreamed of, and a younger generation looking at an older generation on a road they no longer with to follow, with old ideas about politics, the environment, and so forth. So I think there is a powerful metaphor in the mutant, that of someone who is powerful but whose right to make decisions has to be respected. And Magneto represents the banding together with your own kind for protection, and Professor X represents trying to find a connection with the wider world so there can be some hope.

Fourth, mutant powers are really about human potential. With our minds and our technology we can completely change the world like no other animal ever has on Earth. Mutants represent those among us whose capabilities drag us into the future, whether we are ready or not. A mutant who can read your mind is like a phone that can read your shopping history; a mutant who can defeat an army is like a versatility aircraft; a mutant who can control others is like a pathogen unleashed by a careless lab or a desperate terrorist; a mutant who can walk through walls is like a kid who hacks the school's computer network and changes their grades. Nuclear power, information networks, cloning, weaponry... our evolution has prepared us for none of these things, which are both opportunities or threats. So mutation is a metaphor for "what can arise among humanity that could save us or doom us."

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So I did some quickie research, since I'd been away from Marvel for many years, and, well, another thing pops up, for me.

 

While mutants are subjected to discrimination in the Marvel universe, turning out to be a mutant, in addition to possible cool (or icky, or overwhelming) powers, is also an instant membership in an exclusive club.   Defining an out-group creates another in-group of it's own, and it's part of the Mutant X-whatever franchise's appeal, identifying with your heroes in that group.

 

But, it's also problematic, because it gives the victims and the oppressors *both* an incentive to keep the artificial divide going - and it makes being an 'ally' problematic, too - normal humans don't go joining the X-Men just to show solidarity and help out, presumably, not because there aren't a few humans out there who'd be more than willing to, but because Xavier &c don't ever even think of recruiting them, because they're not mutants.  It's equally problematic IRL, so the analogy continues....

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9 hours ago, Opal said:

I haven't been reading Marvel comics for some decades, so correct me if I'm wrong, but Marvel Mutants can be born to typical human couples, and "humans" and "mutants" can mate and produce fertile offspring (scientific definition of the same species)?

 

It's been a while for me too, so I took a refresher course through Wikipedia. The article on "Mutant (Marvel Comics)"says this:

-----------

In American comic books published by Marvel Comics, a mutant is a human being that possesses a genetic trait called the X-gene. It causes the mutant to develop superhuman powers that manifest at puberty. Human mutants are sometimes referred to as a human subspecies Homo sapiens superior, or simply Homo superior. Mutants are the evolutionary progeny of Homo sapiens, and are generally assumed to be the next stage in human evolution. The accuracy of this is the subject of much debate in the Marvel Universe.

Unlike Marvel's mutates, which are characters who develop their powers only after exposure to outside stimuli or energies (such as the Hulk, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Absorbing Man and Captain Marvel), mutants have actual genetic mutations.

-----------

As for where the X-gene came from, the old Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe says the First Host of the Celestials implanted a "DNA complex" into proto-humanity a million years ago. Rising radiation levels activated the DNA complex in some people, resulting in superhuman mutants.

 

So the parents of mutants apparently do carry the X-gene (or genes?) but in some inactive form. Nevertheless, mutants apparently do have some objective genetic difference from their parents and other humans, which is why they're called mutants.

 

Beyond that, no, I don't expect a detailed and rigorous exposition of super-powered mutation. All that matters is that within the setting, it's an objectively real difference between mutants and non-mutants.

 

Dean Shomshak

 

 

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10 hours ago, Opal said:

It wouldn't be a very good metaphor if it did, because racism doesn't make sense on its own terms.  

 

And, if I'm following you, that's your point: that Marvel Mutant Hysteria makes too much sense, and is too reasonable? 

 

Even though, for instance, the rationalization that they're a threat breaks down since - as was one of the first things pointed out in this thread - mutates, aliens, sorcerers, and super-tech geniuses are every bit as dangerous, but can somehow be trusted with their earth-shattering powers (or, at least, judged for how they use them) because they're not mutants?

Pretty much, yes. In real bigotry, the threat posed by the Other is imaginary. Like, it isn't that people of color ever posed some terrible, objective danger to white people: The fear and hatred is part of constructing a myth of Whiteness. (If that makes any sense.) Jews never menaced anyone or anything in Medieval Europe or the Middle East; as far as I can tell, antisemitism is about constructing a convenient scapegoat out of a group that people were quite sure could not fight back. I would guess that homophobia arises from an overwrought need for absolute gender roles as part of an absolute social order. And so on.

 

It's all in the bigot's head, for their own psychological needs -- or constructed (likely by the ruling class) to enforce social loyalty and obedience. We know who we are by saying who we aren't, and condemning them.

 

That the object of bigotry is essentially arbitrary is shown, I think, by the way that here in the US, our most visible and virulent  bigots tend to be multi-bigots. Racist, and antisemitic, and homophobic, and misogynistic. And likely more that I'm not aware of.

 

I rather liked a satire on bigotry I saw years ago in the "Nemesis the Warlock" feature in, in think the name was, 2000 A. D. Essentially, the head of the nasty horrible bigoted and theocratic Earth government says, "We need to give people a new group to hate Whaddaya got?" And the underling says this year's propaganda campaign is against people with freckles. You know the dirty frecks are responsible for all that's bad, they out-breed clean-skinned people, and they want our women! Brief, and a bit heavy-handed, but it got to the essential absurdity.

 

With Marvel mutants, it's all backwards. The grounds for concern are real; the irrationality comes in who apparently isn't feared.

 

Dean Shomshak

1 hour ago, Opal said:

That bit says it all, really. 

 

Not objective, but debateable.

Whether mutants are destined to replace baseline humans is debated. That mutants have a genetic difference is apparently not.

 

Dean Shomshak

 

Dean

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6 hours ago, Opal said:

So I did some quickie research, since I'd been away from Marvel for many years, and, well, another thing pops up, for me.

 

While mutants are subjected to discrimination in the Marvel universe, turning out to be a mutant, in addition to possible cool (or icky, or overwhelming) powers, is also an instant membership in an exclusive club.   Defining an out-group creates another in-group of it's own, and it's part of the Mutant X-whatever franchise's appeal, identifying with your heroes in that group.

 

But, it's also problematic, because it gives the victims and the oppressors *both* an incentive to keep the artificial divide going - and it makes being an 'ally' problematic, too - normal humans don't go joining the X-Men just to show solidarity and help out, presumably, not because there aren't a few humans out there who'd be more than willing to, but because Xavier &c don't ever even think of recruiting them, because they're not mutants.  It's equally problematic IRL, so the analogy continues....

*This* part rings true for me!

 

Okay, there have been a few moments when I think Marvel handled the analogy well. For instance, there was an issue of New Mutants in which there's a school mixer between Xavient's and the students of a nearby school. A young mutant, anxious to seem "one of the gang," starts telling insulting mutant jokes. Needless to say, the Xavier's students are not amused.

 

But that was also a bit more delicate than the exaggerated stories of Sentinel robots, Mutant Registration Acts and seemingly universal hatred except by a few personal friends of the X-Men.

 

So maybe the problem is just that Marvel too often went too loud and too stupid. Yelling and waving and hitting you over the head with the message when a wink and nod would have been more effective. I can't say whether it's a problem with the medium, or just with certain writers.

 

EDIT: The difference between a symbol or analogy, and an allegory: A symbol asks a question. An allegory insists on the answer.

 

Dean Shomshak

ADDENDUM: Opal, I think you have a better grasp of how this analogy could, and *should* have been, handled than Chris Claremont did in the 1980s. My judgement on the trope is largely from his work.

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1 hour ago, DShomshak said:

With Marvel mutants, it's all backwards. The grounds for concern are real; the irrationality comes in who apparently isn't feared.

I don't think that makes a difference, really.  Every sort of super-origin has produced both heroes and villains, is obviously cause for concern, but the mutant origin is singled out for bigotry.

 

Still sounds plenty irrational.  

 

1 hour ago, DShomshak said:

In real bigotry, the threat posed by the Other is imaginary

It does not have to be that extreme, no. 

 

  It's easy and facile to create a narrative of RL bigotry that paints the bigot as utterly malicious or utterly stupid or both. It's comforting because it absolves anyone with an milligram of self respect from thinking they might engage in bigotry, themselves.  It's dangerous for the same reason.

 

You don't have to just lie, you can always use the lie's kissing cousin, the statistic.   The Nazi doesn't just go "check out the Protocols of the Elders of Zion," he points out, did you know, here in Weimar Germany,  that Jews are diproportionately represented among Bankers?  Then he hands you the Protocols. 

 

RL bigots have pointed to violent crime, high birth rates, - even positive like education and professional success  - to lay the foundations for fear, jealousy, and/or scapegoating.

 

Mutant powers are like violent crime statistics, turned up to 11, as an (in-fictional-world)-factual basis for irrational fears.

 

So, yeah, I do see the problem with that, the threat is too easy to see, that way. 

And, I guess., again, where do you draw the suspension- of disbelief line is an issue, too.

 

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You're welcome. Oh, and reviewing Wikipedia, I found that in the current Marvel Universe there are now "Mutants Only" clubs.

 

Carrying on from what I wrote before, I think mutants can "work" as an open-ended symbol for exploring Othering and Otherness. It's the specific allegory of HEY! WE'RE TALKING ABOUT BIGOTRY, AND IT'S BAD! that I find dubious, or least clumsily done.

 

Dean Shomshak

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What makes a mutant different from humans? Is it one or two genes? If that was the case, then normal human children would need to be classified as a new race since they meet this same criteria. In science,  they say that two lifeforms are different only when there's sufficient difference between them that they have no ability to mate under natural conditions. An example would be dogs and cats.  Once they were the same animal and today they are different that they are not able to interbreed naturally,  resulting in two different species.  Marvel's mutants fail to make this required benchmark, so they should be called homo sapiens,  not anything else. The primary reason for hatred that is expressed in Marvel is nothing more than common old-fashioned hate mongering,  and that has been going on since humans have been able to walk. The hate-mongers only have a new target to focus on, but the message has not changed. 

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On 6/8/2021 at 12:27 PM, Christopher R Taylor said:

I think that's the main draw of mutants: you don't have to figure out an origin

 

I didn't see this thread until today and have just skimmed through. 

 

But I don't think their original intent had intended anything beyond using it as a easy way to sidestep having to come up with origins.   I remember the X-Men from when it was just superhero adventures.  That is when I really enjoyed the books, it was also when we were full into playing Champions. 

 

I remember deploying, and when I got back stateside and was trying to buy back issues to fill the gap is when the end of my comic days began.  When I left it was Heroes vs Villains.  When I returned they were starting to replace that with "other".  Even the beginning of Genicide was written as more  Heroes vs Villains with the mutant thing being just an easy excuse to not think too much about it.  

 

But when I started reading the stories quickly morphed from Heroes vs Villains to thinly veiled and extremely heavy handed moralizing.  Many times completely losing anything resembling adventure and most definitely not having Heroes vs Villains.  In fact, many times the villain was glorified while the heroes were villafied.   

 

Basically why I stopped reading comics and started reading fantasy novels and scifi.  Then I found Anime and by extention Manga.

 

Since the late 90s, my comic experience has been the occasional sampling of mind numbing disappointing mediocre hackdom.

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13 hours ago, DShomshak said:

Carrying on from what I wrote before, I think mutants can "work" as an open-ended symbol for exploring Othering and Otherness. It's the specific allegory of HEY! WE'RE TALKING ABOUT BIGOTRY, AND IT'S BAD! that I find dubious, or least clumsily done.

I suppose another strike against it is age.   60 years ago, speaking out against segregation, even metaphorically, was fraught - you might not have been blacklisted for it like a commie in the prior decade, but it would have been reasonable to fear loss of readership, for instance.  Today, even the most cynical, soulless corporations fervently declare their commitment to inclusion.

Like how Star Trek, in the 60s, was groundbreaking and courageous, but by the 80s was feeling trite and preachy, and it might not be long before reruns of TOS gets a Gone-With-the-Wind style forward alerting the viewer to all the rampant Patriarchy they're about to witness.

 

 

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On 6/14/2021 at 11:39 PM, DShomshak said:

 Jews never menaced anyone or anything in Medieval Europe or the Middle East; as far as I can tell, antisemitism is about constructing a convenient scapegoat out of a group that people were quite sure could not fight back.

 

Pre-reformation, the Catholic church prohibited their members from charging interest on loans. And since there were significant disadvantages to being non-Catholic, almost everyone was a Catholic (whether religious or not) and no one would lend money since all lending of money could only occur at a loss: you lose the use of your money for a certain period of time plus you take the risk that the borrower wouldn't repay and without any possible upside.

 

That left only people who saw a significant advantage to being non-Catholic available to lend money at interest, mostly the Jews.

 

So Jews became bankers and operated unfairly by charging interest (you could tell it was unfair because the Church said what they were doing was sinful).

 

One of the more interesting events in history was the run up to 1000 A.D.

 

Since that was obviously going to be the end of the world because Christ was going to reappear at the end of the millennium, "Christians" decided to live as if it were the end of days. And that included borrowing out the wazoo since they'd never have to repay the loans.

 

As 1001 A.D. rolled around, it started dawning on the Christians that the Jews were going to expect to be repaid. Many of the loans were spent for frivolous purposes and gone and couldn't be repaid even if the borrower was so inclined.

 

For some unknown reason at exactly the same time, there was a spontaneous Europe-wide persecution of Jews (killed, burned out, and/or run off).

 

I'd imagine that people hate the Jews for the same reason that people rail against bankers, the gold standard, the rich, the 1%, industrialists, or whatever other catchphrase happens to be in use at any particular point in time to denote "anyone who is more wealthy than myself".

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On 6/14/2021 at 6:51 PM, Opal said:

So I did some quickie research, since I'd been away from Marvel for many years, and, well, another thing pops up, for me.

 

While mutants are subjected to discrimination in the Marvel universe, turning out to be a mutant, in addition to possible cool (or icky, or overwhelming) powers, is also an instant membership in an exclusive club.   Defining an out-group creates another in-group of it's own, and it's part of the Mutant X-whatever franchise's appeal, identifying with your heroes in that group.

 

But, it's also problematic, because it gives the victims and the oppressors *both* an incentive to keep the artificial divide going - and it makes being an 'ally' problematic, too - normal humans don't go joining the X-Men just to show solidarity and help out, presumably, not because there aren't a few humans out there who'd be more than willing to, but because Xavier &c don't ever even think of recruiting them, because they're not mutants.  It's equally problematic IRL, so the analogy continues....

I do believe there are a few Mutates as members of the X-Men over the years.  So it is possible for those who have powers but got them artificially to join the club.

 

They are:

 

Mimic: Ok, Mimic blackmailed his way on to the team, and didn't last long. But he wasn't a mutant.

 

Juggernaut: Well, he is Professor X's step brother. His powers come from a magical gem created by a demon/god.

 

Deadpool: People forget that his powers are artificially induced by Frances.

 

Ok...not a lot, but we got three of them. Go figure. 

 

Also, could Mimic copy the 'human Shroger's cat' property of Forget-Me-Not?

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I have this idea for a villain, called Piecemeal . Basically he is an scientist from another dimension (in fact the exact same dimension Kinematik comes from). He is obsessed with mutants. He doesn't exactly hate them...it is more of obsession/jealously thing. His thing is to collect mutant body parts and incorporate them into his suit of armor. He prefers the parts fresh off the mutant (living or not), but can clone what parts he needs for his suit if needed.

 

Of course he is crazy and dangerous. Dangerous enough that even his world's government doesn't 100% trust him.

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