Here’s the context:
After saving the universe from near destruction, the band of mutant-hero outcasts, the X-Men, return home in a blaze of triumphal exuberance. Each member celebrates in their own unique way: Storm relaxes with her botanical garden; Colossus writes home to his family in Russia; Nightcrawler jovially prepares for a date with the woman he loves; Wolverine pops open a beer.
All celebrate except one. Scott Summers, also named Cyclops, sits in distress. While grateful that he and his troop of superhero teammates defeated the megalomaniacal Emperor of the Shi’ar, D’Ken, it came at great personal cost. His beloved Jean Grey, while seemingly unscathed and healthy, has undergone a subtle change in personality. The power which she called forth in her triumph over D’Ken cracked the humanity which held back the infinite and animalistic power of her other form, that of Phoenix. In previous episodes, Jean was mysteriously transformed into a being known as Phoenix with power nearing that of a god(dess), when she sacrificed her own life to save her team. Now, beneath her mask of beauty and calm, lay a brewing and ever burgeoning god(dess)-like confidence, thirst for power, rage, and hints of terror at what she is becoming.
Cyclops ponders on these events with awe and fear. His thoughts, while targeted towards no one in particular, question the fairness of fate, of being born a perpetual outcast and second class citizen, of possessing uncontrollable powers that hurt more than protect, of possibly losing the only woman he ever loved. Her life given (or taken, in Scott’s mind) for the life of the universe.
As he broods, Nightcrawler “bamfs” into his presence to provide solace and some light humor. Nightcrawler, one who knows first hand both the power and pain of life lived as a mutant, feels Scott’s plight. He himself, one who was and is viewed as an outcast, freak, or worst yet, monster, has also wondered if he were never given these powers at birth, life might be different, might be better. Rather than succumb to hopeless “what if’s,” Nightcrawler responds instead:
“We are what we are, Scott. Wishing won’t change a blessed thing. Nor will feeling sorry for yourself. I learned very early on that I must either accept what I am, or go mad. And though I am now occasionally crazy, I am not insane. If you keep tearing your guts apart every time you think the world’s shafted you, my friend, you’ll destroy not only yourself – but those who love you.”
Powerful words from a man who’s about as accepted by the general populace as a _____ person is. Yes, we are what we are. Granted, we are partially socially constructed beings who are shaped and influenced by our social environments. The structures around us grant us meaning and (in)significance based upon identity markers such as gender, class, race, sexuality, body. Nightcrawler’s humanity was stripped due to his mutant and (German) immigrant status, and his blue and monstrous physical features. But even though these mutant “social scripts” try to tear away his self-esteem, -confidence, and -acceptance, he alternatively finds empowerment and social significance not only through his capers as a world- and life-saving hero, but as a member of a family of ostracized people. Yes, although Nightcrawler’s hope comes from things and people outside of himself, his hope and acceptance in himself and his world are all the more solidified by the support and love of those who learned to accept him.
1While I could have used a more apt example of people our society is socialized to find repulsive, I chose not to use any so as to not touch anyone’s wounds. That said, I do hope we can honestly and reverently bring our distorted perceptions of one another to the table and find healing from the ways we dehumanize and strip those we deem “Other” of their dignity and beauty.
See also (some cool comic-book related articles):
- Dressed to Kill (Gender and Comics)
- Race + Comics: When is Diversity ‘Contrived’?
- Hair’s to You: The Idie Okonkwo Story Marvel Won’t Tell Us (X-Men; hair as political)
- Race and Women: Some Concerns about X-Men: First Class
- Magneto was Right