Jul 14, 2018

Incels, MRAs, Supremacists: The Hellfire Cult

A decade ago, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction created a villainous menace, drawn by Greg Land, whose threat has only increased with time, but they didn’t seem to notice. The Hellfire Cult are a gang of men, led by the most butthole-water-flavored pick-up artist in the Marvel Universe, Empath. They are based on a gentleman’s club (the Hellfire Club), based in a strip club. And, they beat up young people, mostly young queer women, for having (presumed) sex without them.

That's their deal, in toto.

Incels, MRAs, Supremacists: The Hellfire Cult
Travis Hedge Coke

Doesn’t that smell like today? That’s our typical school shooter. That’s, hell, our typical spree shooter. That’s your average engagement with any group online who want to talk comics.

Flaws on the table, Brubaker and Fraction manage to write an unnecessarily sexist intro for the Hellfire Cult. And, one that is almost naively racist. I don’t mean, in the sense that the villains they portray are bigoted. The heroes, and the actual structure and machinery of the story are sexist and racist, regardless of how highly I and others think of either writer.

Women, in the comic, are victims or bait. The characters who get the most play, the most dialogue, are men. In an average comic, that might not be so bad, but it’s most X-Men comics, sadly, and on top of that, this is a story about beating up women.

In a scene of three young X-people in a bar, the white boy insults a black bartender by declaring himself, “Free, white, and twenty-one!” And, the bartender, off-panel, explains to him why that’s a problem.

“That’s not racist, T!”

It’s not, on its own.

The white guy returns to his table, with two queer women of color, and starts to tell them about oppression and voting rights.

Yeah. The white guy who just insulted a black man, is taking his small piece of education, turning around, and laying it on two queer, nonwhite women as if they know jack.

And, so the entire scenario gets held back. Cheapened and restrained.

This awesome idea of the Hellfire Cult is downplayed for stuff like that and repeat commentary on what hot thing Emma Frost is wearing or has taken off.

All of Emma’s scenes are her showing off clothes or skin for Cyclops.

That’s a situation that should make anyone pause and rethink where they’re going with their comic. But, especially a comic about girls and women being beat by angry men who think they deserve more sex.

And, the following storyline is a man rescuing a boatload of women impressed into prostitution, who is then in conflict with his male boss over what to do with them. Issue after issue, none of these women are given names, personalities, anything to distinguish them as anything more than “Russian slave women our boys have to deal with now.” The only woman given any personality in that storyline is Emma, and she doesn’t know what to do, or get involved until men tell her to get involved.

Superheroes have a real-world power, these icons of childhood and nostalgia have real-world impact. If you work with them, playing Superman in a movie, writing X-Men, it behooves to channel that power responsibly. To take the weight and the strength of decades of previous appearances, prior uses, and wield them in a way that positively impacts today.

So, let’s do it over! Marvel, bring back the Hellfire Cult. Focus on the people they’re hurting, gay people, young girls out clubbing, not on Cyclops in his big new house, flexing while his wife takes her million dollar top off for him.

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