Why Maggott Isn’t the Worst X-Men Character of All Time

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A few days ago Brett White wrote a passioned defence of teen hearthrob X-Men character Maggott on CBR. Many would mock him for such a claim, and poke him with brightly painted sticks – but no! Put down those ribbon sticks. Maggott is a character worth defending, and I’m going to give some of my own reasons for just why you should learn to love the guy – and why perhaps a lot of people don’t.

maggott1 Why Maggott Isnt the Worst X Men Character of All Time

Now — in case his name didn’t give you enough of a hint, Maggott was a mutant who didn’t look like a bronzed adonis. His mutant power was disgusting by the worst of standards, as he didn’t have a digestive system of his own, so-to-speak. Rather, he had two slugs which burst in and out of his body at random, who acted as his system for him.  Sometimes he was black (he’s South-African) and sometimes his skin was bright blue. Artists who like exaggerating drew him as a hulking giant, but otherwise he was a person-sized… person.

He was, well, super-weird. And as a result he has a reputation amongst fans and creators as being one of the stupidest ideas to ever hit the X-Men. But despite his powers, Maggott was rather well written by several writers like Joe Kelly and creators Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira, and showed quite a bit of promise before being killed off unceremoniously during the Weapon X series. Brett defends the character – and, blast it all to heck, I’m going to join  him in that! His piece raises a few interesting points, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s always fun to ramble about the X-Men.

Maggott, for me, represents a line most fans will not cross. If you stand the X-Men in a line, going from ‘human’ to ‘inhuman’ in appearance, there eventually has to become a point where fans are no longer willing to identify with a character, regardless of how well they’re written. Walking down this line, you start with nice blonde Havok, before moving along to furry blue ape-man Beast, inhuman demon Nightcrawler, and finally Maggott at the end, chewing on his thumb. As you walk down this line, the characters get less human and recognisable, and more unsettling and unnerving. It’s harder to empathise with a blue bug dude than it is somebody who looks a bit more like you do – it’s all about self-insertion. If you can identify with something happening to a character in a comic, then you’re more likely to be interested and involved in them. And Maggott, with his two giant slugs, isn’t very easy to identify with. Especially as the slugs looked like this:

maggott3 Why Maggott Isnt the Worst X Men Character of All Time

Uggh!

The last few years have seen a noticable move away from the weird-looking Morlocks first established by Chris Claremont, who were the weird mutants who didn’t get to retain their statuesque good looks. The Morlocks has arms in the wrong place, bones sticking out their faces, and all kinds of other physical problems. As a result, they chose to hide in the sewers, away from public view. Because their appearance was strange, they elected not to subject themselves to judgement from society. It’s  theme often returned to by writers like Joe Casey, Grant Morrison, and Claremont, but a theme which has vanished from current-day Marvel. Nowadays new characters tend to look human, and anybody who is visually unusual is treated as a joke character – look at ‘Eye Boy’ from Wolverine & The X-Men as the most recent example.

Marvel’s greatest successes have been when they ignore visual appearances and stick to character. So it doesn’t matter if Vision is a robot – he can still get married to a human woman. It doesn’t matter that Tigra is a tiger-lady who got pregnant after sleeping with an alien who was disguised as her partner and then kept the baby and the baby turned out to be ADORABLE. The visual aspects of this don’t matter – it came from a place of character. So it’s interesting that Maggott was treated as a joke, a character to dislike based mainly on his looks, and so many other attractive characters get a pass. When readers hit that point where they can no longer stick by a character, that’s when the warning alarm goes off. ‘Death imminent’.

Most of the weird characters are dead or ‘fixed’. Skin was crucified. Maggott was executed. The Morlocks are mostly dead. Even characters like Beak – a human chicken person – has now been turned into a conventionally normal looking bloke as a result of M-Day. The weird looking characters are being thinned out!

maggott2 Why Maggott Isnt the Worst X Men Character of All Time

The central point of Brett’s article is that any character can be redeemed – the “there are no bad characters, only bad writers” idea. But what I pick up more than this, is the idea that any character can be redeemed – as long as they’re pretty. Because there are characters who are thought of as ‘bad’, and the interesting thing is how often these characters tend to be the stranger ideas, the more off-kilter and bizarre creations. Whereas I agree that characters aren’t bad characters simply because they look unusual, I don’t agree that there is no such thing as a bad character. And to prove this point, I’m actually going to turn to one of the most desired and attractive characters in X-Men history. Yeah – I’m going to address The Psylocke Problem.

Although Psylocke is a former supermodel who wears revealing outfits and always jumps towards danger vagina-first, she’s exactly what people say Maggott is — she’s a bad character. And it’s not because of the writing or artwork she’s had over the years. In fact, the last few years have been utterly wonderful for her, from Chris Claremont reviving the character through to Rick Remender’s recent work in Uncanny X-Force. She’s been well written, characterised, and drawn. She’s even got a decent costume now, courtesy of Kris Anka! But despite all that, she’s inherently a bad character, and it’s a shame she isn’t more notable for that.

The thing is, fundamentally Psylocke is a white woman in an Asian woman’s body. She’s not Asian. (And, in fact, her body is’t even Asian anymore – it was a magical construct created by her brother Jamie who can warp time hurray for comics). The point is, here we have a character whose mind was put into the body of an Asian woman…. and then immediately adopts the stereotypes and traits associated with Asian women in media. She starts wearing ninja outfits, and liking dragons, and wielding katanas. She moved from being a scrappy former model who wore body armour to being a stealthy shadow-hider, who keeps getting drawn over to Japan for more stories. It’s all fairly dubious.

psylocke Why Maggott Isnt the Worst X Men Character of All Time

She is a character who looks like she’s a lovely strong Asian woman. But she’s actually a white woman acting out what she thinks is the life an Asian woman should be leading. Her every decision comes from the wrong place. As a result, she ceases to be anything resembling a powerful, inspirational figure who proves even Asian women can make it in the X-Men, and becomes part of one of the most misguided character arcs in the history of superhero comics. Inherently, she’s a bad character, even though she doesn’t look it on the outside.

So isn’t that interesting? Arguably because Psylocke looks cool, people ignore the problems with the character. But because Maggott looks unusual, he’s written off as a bad character.

But at least he has the potential to develop and progress and be a worthy addition to the X-Men. Psylocke can’t argue the same, can she?

maggott4 Why Maggott Isnt the Worst X Men Character of All Time

Ten points to Maggott! Now definitively not the worst X-Men character of all time. Try picking up some Joe Kelly backissues and seeing for yourself!

Comments

  1. I’ve long maintained that if Maggott had been created by Grant Morrison in his New X-Men run, people would have called him a brilliant mad crazy idea, and probably lament that later writers didn’t use him at all.

    But he’s from the 90s, so obviously, he must suck, right?

  2. I really liked the post OZT issue of X-Men (or maybe it was Uncanny… I don’t have my collection with me) where the two teams of X-Men reconvene in the stripped down mansion and have to work MacGuyver style to remove a bomb from Cyclops’ chest. It’s the issue where Marrow, Maggot and Cecelia Reyes are all made members of the team. Lacking their medical facilities and technology, they have to resort to using rudimentary bone-tools provided by marrow, Cecelia’s medical training, and Eeny and Meany’s ability to dispose of the explosive. One of the best things a writer can do with a Super-Team dynamic is line up a story to exhibit each characters’ abilities and strengths and this is one of the better examples of that. It’s a shame they sort of wrote all these characters out over the years, as each was very interesting in their own way.

  3. Agree with the two above posters. Also, how could Maggot be the worst X-Man when X-23 and Gambit exist?

  4. Nick Jones says:

    It’s amusing to see you suggest that the problems with Psylocke don’t stem from the writing and then list a bunch of qualities that have been dumped on the character by writers. It’s been a conscious choice by the people producing the X-Men books to attach all of the stereotypical Asian attributes to Psylocke that have made the character “bad” over time; however, in a fictional setting filled with super-science, magic, alternate universes, and other forces which enable a writer to literally do anything they can imagine to the characters, even the problems that have been built into Psylocke over the past twenty-five years could be fixed.

  5. Maggot and Marrow both had/have so much potential. Would love to see Joe Kelly or Steve Seagle get another crack at them. Unfortunately, the mutants as minorities motif doesn’t seem a popular one with today’s X-Men writers. Which is sad.

    As for Psylocke, doesn’t she have all of Revanche/Kwannon’s memories? I thought Fabian Nicieza had cleared up Besty’s ninja obsession years ago, though I must confess, I’ve missed a lot of X-Men comics over the past 15 years.

  6. Charles Knight says:

    Two words – Adam X.

  7. Maggott’s a perfectly okay character underneath the vaguely silly gimmick. I agree that he gets an unfairly bad press.

    The problems with Psylocke which you mention were (to some extent) addressed during the Fabian Nicieza run in the early 90s, which basically tries to establish that she got bodyswapped with a ninja woman and their minds got blurred together in the process. That at least goes some way to explaining her personality shift. But there’s a lot to be said for the view that Psylocke is a fundamentally broken character at this stage; most of the good stories written about her in recent years have been in one way or another ABOUT the fact that she’s a broken character without a proper sense of identity.

  8. Rick Remender did easily the best Psylocke character work ever in Uncanny X-Force.

  9. James says:

    I actually enjoyed Maggott. I was really digging the X books when Marrow, Cecelia Reyes and him were introduced. It was some much needed new blood. His power was original and he had a nice subplot with his slugs being potential murderers (eating them).

  10. george says:

    Chris Claremont’s ludicrous idea of a Southern accent (for Rogue) always cracked me up, being a native of Tennessee.

  11. Dan Ahn says:

    I don’t exactly LIKE Maggot, but I do think there was potential there, and more than anything I like it when ’90s X-comics are stood up for.

    Most of them aren’t that bad. Many of them are quite good. Of course there was a lot of editorial interference. Of course there were too many crossovers. But in between all of that stuff, there was a lot of quality comic booking going on. Lobdell and Nicieza aren’t the greatest writers ever, but they did a solid job! They actually did! For the first time in twenty years, I recently went back and reread some of the issues that JRJR drew circa ’93. It’s good comics! Lobdell has a nice voice for the characters. Maybe it’s a “Claremont circa 1985″ impression, but he pulls it off very well upwards of 80% of the time!

    As to Psylocke, I do think the character is fundamentally broken, but mostly do to convolution rather than “racism”. She acts like a ninja because she was bodyswapped with one. She’s been to Japan several times (not as often as people think!) because she has traumatic history there. What’s wrong with that? It’s like expecting Wolverine never to have gone back to the Weapon X compound.

    It isn’t like Psylocke is shown holding chopsticks and eating sushi all the time. She became an Asian ninja because Ninjas were hot in the late ’80s and Jim Lee felt like drawing them. Is that racist? Well, isn’t Jim Lee of Asian heritage himself?

    What happened with Psylocke was very cliche and stereotypical for the time, but I don’t really see how it’s a racist black eye.

  12. Xenos says:

    Hmmm.. I forget if I had jumped into the cespool of internet comic book fandom when Maggot was in the X-Books. I remember enjpying the hell out of the character. I tiink after Kelly and some of those guys left, X books kinda coasted and I lost interest save for Morrison and then Whedon’s runs later. Before Morrison, Kelly’s run was one of the last hurrah’s for my X reads. And Maggot was a favorite in them. Only now eading articles like these do I realize there was a backlash among fans.

  13. charles says:

    Funny enough, I never had any problem with Maggot. Yes, his powers are quite gross but they’re actually quite unique and are rather original (something we don’t see much of these days). As Xenos mentioned above, I never even knew there was such a backlash against the character. Same with Gambit and X-man, these are characters I felt were awesome when I was young and I have no problem with but it seems the audience these days are very quick to throw everything from the 90s under the bus. What Johns and David on Aquaman have proved definitively is that there are no bad characters but bad writers. I know this might sound like a flippant statement but I suspect that the hate that a lot of these characters get aren’t from folks that actually read the comics back then but are from people who are recently reading the comics and are viewing them from a different perspective. Heck, I suspect some of the folks lashing these characters weren’t readers of X-men back then at all but simply join the “hate” train because it’s the cool thing to do.

  14. Nathan says:

    worst X-Man is Gambit. It is known.

  15. Jamie says:

    It never really occurred to me until recently that Psylocke could be construed as racist… but it is fairly true, especially given the lack of self-reflection the character had about the whole body-swap thing and the issues of identity that would obviously go along with that. A trick was missed there, and it’s only ever been dealt with outside the main books. I always liked her as she was the “British” X-Man, and it still surprises me when younger readers or people on forums don’t realise this! But for all that, yeah, she’s fairly messed up and probably should have been retired long ago. But she’s a hot visual for artists really, and that’s how she’ll forever remain.

    On that note… when Claremont wrote her, even in the Asian body, you’ll notice her does have her drinking tea, reading Vogue, and doing things you’d associate with a posh English bird. Not many other writers remember these tics.

    And I always think it’d be interesting to have her be “killed” again… only for her to transfer her mind into *yet another* body. A completely different ethnicity again. Then she’d be some kind of psionic bodyhopper, with worrying ethical considerations, and another “weird” X-Man :)

    I do miss Marrow, and Cecilia Reyes (Maggott felt too thinly drawn). None of these characters did get a chance to grow, and that post-OZT issue did show so much promise before they were unceremoniously shoved aside for Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Colossus’s return (who then all became wallpaper for years). Interestingly and in line with your article, Marrow got “prettified” too. I always liked her for being unusual, gross and also female – not many ugly females in the X-Men!

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