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«Lewis Call “That Weird, Unbearable Delight”: Representations of Alternative Sexualities in Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men Comics [1] What does ...»

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[29] Emma not only leads the team herself, but also helps Scott gain the selfknowledge, confidence, and inner peace which he needs in order to become an effective leader himself.8 Without Emma, Scott would fall apart; without Scott, the X-Men would fall apart. Emma Frost is thus the lynchpin of the entire team. Joss Whedon imagines the X-Men as a superhero team whose success depends entirely on a sexually dominant woman. In the language of superhero comics, this amounts to an argument that a dominant woman can not only challenge the subordinate position of women in society (Highleyman 171), but can in fact completely invert that subordination.9 Whedon's Emma, then, is much more than a strong woman who holds a well-deserved position of authority and responsibility, though even that would be enough to make Astonishing XMen far more feminist than the average superhero team comic. Whedon's Emma is a feminist superheroine whose well-deserved authority derives precisely from her commitment to the erotics of dominance and submission. She shows the audience that a woman who chooses erotic dominance consciously and consensually may be trusted with power in other realms.

[30] Not all X-Men recognize the benefits of the DS relationship Scott and Emma share. Naturally, Kitty objects to Emma's dominance over Scott: "I see him questioning himself, taking orders from you—" (#2) Emma rejects this charge: "I never give—" And in fact she does not give Scott orders, at least not the kind that Kitty means. Emma is Scott's Mistress, so she tends to give him orders that he wants to carry out, as well as orders that will improve his mental health. It is also important to note that Emma is just as happy to receive orders from Scott as she is to give them to him: they switch. Scott gives the X-Men their marching orders as they engage a monster that's attacking Manhattan. "I positively throb when he gets that tone," Emma purrs (#7). Emma likes Scott to be dominant as well as submissive. Indeed, she understands that Scott's submissive and dominant aspects are interdependent: his submission to her gives him the strength and confidence he needs to assume a dominant position as team leader. By submitting to Emma, Scott learns to be both submissive and dominant. Theirs is a sophisticated and mature DS relationship.

[31] In a pivotal scene which occurs almost exactly in the middle of Astonishing's overall story arc, Emma uses her mental powers to stage an elaborate DS scene inside Scott's head. At first this scene seems to devastate Scott, so when we learn that Emma is being mind-controlled by the powerful evil telepath Cassandra Nova, we're tempted to conclude that the scene was nothing more than an attack meant to take Scott out of commission. But this is an incomplete reading. Scott derives so much long-term psychological benefit from this intense scene that we must conclude Emma has found a way to provide Scott with beneficial, loving dominance while maintaining the illusion that she is destroying him. Thus she can appear to advance Nova's agenda, while secretly protecting and helping her submissive. This shows that Emma is both a subtle telepath and a truly accomplished dominant.

[32] Emma lures Scott into the scene by wearing his favorite outfit (#13). Since the outfit in question is the image of Scott's dead lover Jean Gray, this scene invokes not only costume play or "cosplay" but also necrophilia. Scott stands visorless in Emma's mindscape, admiring a bright blue sky for the first time in years (#14). Emma as Jean puts her costume back on; apparently she and Scott have just had off-screen mind-sex.

She hugs Scott as he puts his visor back on. "You can let go now," Scott says. Scott gazes through the visor into the green eyes of Jean/Emma and says "I just want you to know, I understand about power that has to be controlled." Scott clearly wants his lover to control his superpower; he desires her dominance and her discipline. Scott needs a strong, dominant woman to control his power. Once he turned to Jean for this. Now he gets it from Emma. It always comes from a powerful telepath.

[33] The scene also reveals that Scott, like Kitty, experiences a disabled sexuality.

Scott admits that when the visor's on, he experiences a kind of colorblindness. Scott has just had visorless mental sex with Jean/Emma, so he knows that she's "really" a redhead. She finishes the thought for him: "—and a natural redhead, too." The fact that the whole scene exists only in Scott's mind renders words like "really" and "natural" meaningless. Nonetheless, this exchange reveals that Scott and Emma both view the red hair as a sexual fetish, and they both perceive Scott's inability to see the red hair as a sexual disability.

[34] Scott suddenly realizes that Emma is playing mind games with him, and he snaps out of the scene. "I don't like games, Emma," Scott declares (#14). Emma as Jean as Dark Phoenix delivers a scathing critique of Scott's unkinky "vanilla" desire. "No, you're Scott Summers. You like homework and vegetables. But you do play games with me. When Jean was alive, you loved our games." Back then (in Grant Morrison's run) Scott and Emma were having a purely telepathic affair. Here we see once again that among the X-Men, the boundaries of eroticism extend far beyond simple physical sexuality.

[35] Jean/Emma reminds Scott of his failures with Jean: "You couldn't control her." In a DS context, Emma may be suggesting that part of Scott's problem with Jean was that he tried to be dominant with her when what he really needed was to submit, presumably to Emma. Jean/Emma leans in to kiss Scott, and as she does so, Jean's ruby red lips fade to Emma's white. The kiss occupies the top half of the next page. Emma looks like herself again, but Scott now looks like Logan (Wolverine), whom Emma describes as "the love of her [Jean's] life." This is enough to make Logan/Scott thrust his claws between Emma's breasts and all the way through her. She lands right where she wanted to be all along: in the bed, legs spread, unharmed because, as she reminds Scott, "you don't have any claws." When she lets Scott "claw" her, Emma is suggesting that she would gladly let Scott be on top if that's what he needs. Switching effortlessly, she "de-claws" him, to remind him that she can be on top whenever he needs that.





Emma seems prepared to do or be anything in order to satisfy Scott's needs.

[36] Emma is now ready to reveal simultaneously the source of Scott's psychological problems, the essence of her relationship with him, and the thing which will let her save him: "Control. First to last, that's the thing." Emma reminds him that his power is, first and always, a disability. "It's your great setback, isn't it? The source of all your extraordinary self-doubt." She shows Scott a crucial moment from his childhood.

Young Scott sits in bed, his eyes bandaged. "The world is a terrifying place for some children," Emma explains—disabled ones, for example. "That lack of control, that fear of abandon." Grown-up Scott watches child-Scott deciding not to try to control his power, choosing to let it be his demon. Emma kisses grown-up Scott's cheek as a single tear rolls down from beneath the visor. "You can let go now," Emma says, and colorist Laura Martin fades to a full-width panel of pure blue. Blue is the opposite of red, so the blue panel means that Scott's red eye beams are now totally disciplined.

[37] Emma has brought the scene full circle, from Scott telling her that she could let go of his power, to her telling him that he can let go of his power and everything else. When a dominant tells her submissive that he can let go, it means that he can let go completely, because she'll bring him back, and he can trust her to do so. That trust is not misplaced in this case. "You're free, my love. You're free," Emma says, and she means it, even if she says it in voice-over against Scott's mindless, drooling body. This particular freedom, the freedom of total submissive surrender, is exactly what Scott needs at this moment. True, Scott does spend the next three issues completely catatonic thanks to Emma's mind games. But when he finally comes back, he's a whole new Scott: confident, insightful, decisive. Recognizing that the "Hellfire Club" are merely Emma's mental projections, he starts shooting them with a large-caliber handgun (#17).

He begins by putting three rounds into the chest of the White Queen, Emma's projection of her younger, more evil self. A full-page panel shows Scott, visorless, aiming the smoking gun at the White Queen. "I don't have any claws," he says with irony. Scott has "re-clawed" himself: after submitting utterly to Emma in the previous scene, he has landed firmly on top.

[38] Scott reveals to the other X-Men that Cassandra Nova has used Emma's guilt to control her mind. Kitty grabs the gun and threatens to kill Emma. "Doesn't anybody care about what she did to us?" Kitty demands. Whedon lets Hank McCoy deliver the argument that Emma's DS games were actually therapeutic. Natty in his vest, jacket, and bowtie, Hank is the very voice of scientific reason. He can provide a far more effective endorsement of Emma's dominance than could Scott, whose views on Emma's motives are presumably suspect. Professor McCoy lays it out for us: "following Scott's logic, what Emma did was confront us with our worst fears.... which we faced, and here we stand."

[39] The Breakworld's Powerlord Kruun captures Scott and tortures him for information. Kruun turns out to be a standard B-movie sadist. He threatens to increase Scott's pain "a thousandfold" and points out that he could take Scott apart and keep him alive in a jar (#23). Kruun's non-consensual political torture contrasts sharply with the consensual DS that Scott shares with Emma. Whedon plays up that contrast by ensuring that Scott experiences Kruun's sadism and Emma's dominance at the same time. Emma is with Scott telepathically as Kruun tortures him. Even though she is not physically present in the torture chamber, she helps Scott make it through the session, providing him with the same kind of strength, guidance, and support that a dominant might give to her submissive during a DS scene. Thanks in large part to Emma, Scott is powerful enough to blast Kruun into unconsciousness with his (fully controlled) eye beams. He stands triumphant over Kruun, visorless, eye beams ready but held in check, perfectly disciplined. Scott issues Professor Xavier's classic telepathic summons: "To me, my XMen." This is the sign that Scott has finally achieved true leadership. At long last he is team leader, without doubt or reservation, and he owes it all to Emma and the DS relationship he shares with her.

[40] Back on earth, Scott surrenders control to Emma once again (Whedon and Cassady, Giant-Size #1). This time there are no mind games: Scott is clear-headed, able and willing to consent. Emma is amazed that he held his power in check for as long as he did. "Clarity," he replies. "It was a beautiful gift. But it'll go, and I don't want to wait for that." Scott has learned that being a submissive means he can surrender control on his own terms, at a time of his choosing. Most importantly, he has learned that he has the right to surrender control to whomever he chooses. He surrenders to the woman he trusts. "I love you," he says. Emma gazes through the ruby quartz as she installs his visor, embracing the sign of his disability, controlling his power, dominating him. "I love you too," she replies. They kiss. This is the final kiss of the series. As Scott and Emma embrace, a voice-over repeats Kitty's words of wisdom: "Everything is so fragile." The voice-over suggests that Scott and Emma's DS relationship counts as "actual happy." In this way, Whedon's Astonishing X-Men endorses relations of erotic DS, particularly those f the female dominant/male submissive form.

Loving a "Blue Furry Monster": The Furry Sexuality of Hank McCoy and Abigail Brand [41] The relationship between Dr. Hank McCoy (Beast) and Special Agent Abigail Brand models the sexual culture of furries almost perfectly. Beast resembles a "fursuiter," those members of the furry community who dress in head-to-toe animal costumes or fursuits. Brand represents the "furverts," people who are sexually attracted to fursuiters. As Shari Caudron observes, the furry subculture favors "animals who speak English and wear vests and clean house" (182). It is no surprise, then, that Brand likes the dapper, articulate Dr. McCoy. Furry males are less likely than most males to be strictly straight, and there is a high incidence of bisexuality among male furries (Gerbasi et al. 206). Like many male furries, Hank belongs to what Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin called the "considerable portion of the population whose members have combined...

both homosexual and heterosexual experience and/or psychic responses" (639). On Kinsey's famous seven-point scale for sexual preference, Hank would probably be rated a 1 or 2: he is "predominantly heterosexual," but at least "incidentally" homosexual (1), perhaps "more than incidentally" so (2) (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin 638). Although Hank has no homosexual experience that we know of, his "psychic responses" are quite queer. In Grant Morrison's New X-Men, Hank came out as gay, in order "to challenge preconceived notions of language, gender and species" (New X-Men #131). He's been a bit queer ever since. The bearish Beast embodies the furry slogan that "by and large furries are bi and large" (Caudron 202). Like real-life furries (Gerbasi et al. 220), McCoy is perceived by those around him as an unconventional individual with strong aesthetic interests.

[42] Hank McCoy presents as a kind of gender-queer Victorian aesthete. While most of Whedon's X-Men are skeptical about the team's new superhero costumes, Hank is "the only one who's dying to see the outfits" (#1). He offers a queer eye for straight guys like Logan and Scott. Hank continues to play the role of queer aesthete as Whedon's narrative progresses. He compliments Emma on her taste in coffee: "Peruvian blonde, first beans of the season" (#3). His extremely precise language suggests that he has a very strong interest in matters of taste. The apotheosis of this interest occurs as Hank rides a crashing spacecraft down to the alien Breakworld. As the ship plummets towards the planet's surface, Hank spends his time in a mental simulation of a tasteful parlor, thoughtfully provided by Emma (#20). Scott and Brand look very uncomfortable as they take nonexistent tea with Emma, but Hank looks right at home as he sips delicately from a china teacup, his furry blue pinky extended.



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