When George Floyd was suffocated in Minneapolis, MN, I was a couple of issues into a re-read of X-Tinction Agenda, a 1990 Marvel comic book crossover that ran through Uncanny X-Men and its spin-off titles, X-Factor and New Mutants.
I was horrified by the video I watched and crestfallen after my 11-year-old daughter watched it, heartbroken that my generation had allowed a world to exist for her where something that inhumane and tragic could occur. Then, as many nerds are wont to do, I processed the events by retreating into books, finishing my re-read of X-Tinction Agenda.
X-Tinction Agenda is a dark 9-issue storyline from the last few years of the indomitable Chris Claremont era. The not-so-subtle subtext of the storyline is a to delve into the slave background of the fictional country of Genosha, written as an analogue for apartheid-era South Africa which was very much still going on at the time.
Genosha was located off the east coast of Africa, imagined near real-world Zanzibar. Genosha boasted an excellent economy and standard of living, a stark contrast to the political and racial turmoil that characterized neighboring nations.
But Genosha harbored a dark secret: The prosperity was built upon the enslavement of its mutant population.
Mutant children in Genosha were screened for the mutant gene by David Moreau, commonly known as the Genegineer. The Genegineer stripped mutants of their free will so the country could utilize their mutant abilities as slave labor. This arrangement was forcibly maintained by a special police force known as Magistrates.
Just like its real world counterpart South Africa (or antebellum America), Genosha gave the outside world a false perception that it was a land of hope and freedom, despite the abhorrent reality that it was a nation that segregated and enslaved those who were deemed not “normal.”
Re-reading X-Tinction Agenda offers some eerie parallels and dour messages for us today.
First, X-Tinction Agenda wasn’t the first storyline to feature Genosha. During the Australian years of the X-Men, Wolverine, Rogue, and their ally Madelyne Pryor were kidnapped by Genoshan Magistrates.
While that short storyline (Uncanny X-Men 235-238) ended with a “live and let live”-type moral, Genosha was right back at it again, less that 50 issues later. It’s hard not to draw the parallel of Eric’s Garner’s suffocation in 2014 and those subsequent riots to the suffocation of George Floyd in 2020. Both men were killed saying, “I can’t breathe,” yet nothing changed, just liked nothing changed in Genosha, despite the heroic efforts of the X-Men.
Those in power compromised and rationalized to maintain Genosha’s lie. X-Tinction Agenda doesn’t pull punches as a storyline. It’s not subtle. And those in power aren’t shown as sympathetic characters. There is no “fine people on both sides” argument here. In fact, several pages are utilized to display just how callously those in power in Genosha are willing to dehumanize others for their own gain.
I wish X-Tinction Agenda had a happier ending. Lives were lost, some truly evil people ultimately faced few consequences, and not everyone had a happy ending.
Still, the X-Men were heroic in that they stood up for what they knew was right and they fought hard against what they knew was an injustice. May all of us be able to say we’ve done the same.
- Uncanny X-Men #270 (November 1990)
- New Mutants #95 (November 1990)
- X-Factor #60 (November 1990)
- Uncanny X-Men #271 (December 1990)
- New Mutants #96 (December 1990)
- X-Factor #61 (December 1990)
- Uncanny X-Men #272 (January 1991)
- New Mutants #97 (January 1991)
- X-Factor #62 (January 1991)