“Witless for the Prosecution”
Writer and pencils: Alan Davis
Colours: Glynis Oliver
Inks: Michael Heisler
Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Original publication date: November 1991
Kurt’s got a cast but he’s not letting it cramp his style in an issue that compels Anna, Mav, and Andrew to question whether 1991 was a particularly sexy year for velvet (spoiler: it was). But Excalibur #44, “Witless for the Prosecution,” does more than establish the precise texture of Mr. Wagner’s fur. It also compels interesting—and sometimes troubling—questions about racial representation which our guest, Dr. Patrick Hamilton, co-author of All-New, All-Different?: A History of Race and the American Superhero, is ideally equipped to tackle. We talk through Meggan’s complicated quest for identity and the whiteness of the Captain Britain Corps alongside deeper meanings of Kurt’s velvet fur—and whether it’s ever okay to ask if you can stroke it.
On new status quos:
“This issue establishes the tone of who Alan Davis is going to be on this book as a writer. He’s got long-term plans for each character and we see him lay it out in this issue.” -Mav
On the importance of representation:
“As Chinua Achebe says—if you talk about Heart of Darkness as a great example of literary modernism without talking about the racism, you’re canonizing that racism. You run a similar risk studying comics without considering what they’re doing well and poorly regarding race.” -Patrick
On race and metphor:
“The superhero genre is explicitly about identity. It was created by two Jewish men at the start of World War II. It’s about double consciousness, and passing, and assimilation, and acceptance—all of these things are woven into the fundamental metaphors of the genre.” -Anna
On mutant metaphors:
“X-Men often embodies the double-edged sword of racial representation in comics. The ‘All-New, All-Different’ X-Men was an explicitly multicultural team. Yet it almost immediately gets reduced to a white, Western European group plus Storm, replicating a common tactic of diversification in 70s superhero comics, of adding a single Black member to a team.” -Patrick
On milage on metaphors:
“The way the X-Men have approached diversity through metaphor is both a blessing and a curse. If you say everyone’s got something different about them, and everyone’s special, you can sell diversity to groups that might otherwise be resistant to the idea of diversity. But the way it backfires is—you can have someone read X-Men for 25 years and still not understand it’s about diversity, because all they see is white people.” -Mav
On shapeshifting and identity:
“Meggan’s susceptibility to conforming to an aesthetic standard—I think that calls attention to the artifice of identity. Having a character who’s a shapeshifter who’s actively exploring her identity can open up a lot of interesting conversations around gender as well as race and ethnicity.” -Andrew
On a truly wild page:
“Everything about this page is wild, starting with Kurt opening the door in his enormous leg cast and tiny track shorts, upside down, with his tail, which invites Dai Thomas to look down at Kurt’s crotch with a bemused expression, cigarette dangling off his lip.” -Anna
On complex objectification:
“Picking this specific texture for Kurt’s fur—it means he doesn’t feel like a real animal. It means he feels like a toy. Like a stuffed animal. In a world in which Kurt also makes toy versions of himself that have a sexual component, and if, like me, you’re interested in Nightcrawler’s objectification and appeal to the female gaze—that’s interesting, to say the least… But also—this is a white woman, entering Kurt’s house, with a cop, and asking is she can touch his difference. There’s a lot going on here.” -Anna
On problematic metaphors:
“I’ve had this happen to me. It is extremely common for certain white people to walk up to Black people and say—‘can I touch your hair?’ It’s weird, it’s creepy—don’t do it. I don’t think Alan Davis is aware of that context at this time.” -Mav
On presumptions of whiteness:
“The mystical premise of the Captain Britain Corps implies divine right of whiteness as an attribute of Britain. I think that’s where things get a bit uglier than we’d want them to be, in terms of how this comic, and this series, handles race and empire.” -Andrew
On Rachel's journey:
“I have never identified with Rachel more than in this moment. I’m deeply affected by how out of place and awkward she looks and feels surrounded by these ‘normal’ people. It’s the feeling of going away to the big city and changing, and coming back to your little hometown and being like—I can’t even exist in this room in these clothes.” -Anna
Want more Patrick Hamilton?
You can find him on Twitter (@profpatham).
And! You can buy his award-winning book, co-written with Allen Austin, All-New, All-Different?: A History of Race and the American Superhero, wherever fine books are sold!
You can also check out Patrick and Allen on the podcast Even More Mashed Up, talking all things comics and pop culture and lots more besides!
Taking a multifaceted approach to attitudes toward race through popular culture and the American superhero, All New, All Different? explores a topic that until now has only received more discrete examination. Considering Marvel, DC, and lesser-known texts and heroes, this illuminating work charts eighty years of evolution in the portrayal of race in comics as well as in film and on television.
Beginning with World War II, the authors trace the vexed depictions in early superhero stories, considering both Asian villains and nonwhite sidekicks. While the emergence of Black Panther, Black Lightning, Luke Cage, Storm, and other heroes in the 1960s and 1970s reflected a cultural revolution, the book reveals how nonwhite superheroes nonetheless remained grounded in outdated assumptions. Multiculturalism encouraged further diversity, with 1980s superteams, the minority-run company Milestone’s new characters in the 1990s, and the arrival of Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani-American heroine, and a new Latinx Spider-Man in the 2000s. Concluding with a discussion of contemporary efforts to make both a profit and a positive impact on society, All New, All Different? enriches our understanding of the complex issues of racial representation in American popular culture.
And as usual:
You can find Andrew on Twitter (@ClaremontRun).