Friday, 9 October 2015

X-Factor #77-#78: Life is Lead Weights

X-Factor #77-#78 does that thing that X-Factor is doing a lot in this run, of not being as good as it ought to be, as it could be.  It brings in two new important ideas, but it fumbles at making a worthwhile story out of them.

Specifically, a scientist makes a deeply important discovery: locating the X-Gene.  It turns from a notional thing thing that theoretically exists because we can observe that mutanthood is hereditary, and we know heredity happens through genes (although, in the real world in the 2010s, it looks like epigenetics plays a much larger part in development than we expected back then).  Instead, we know where and what it is.  And because you can see it, you can test for it.  It then immediately raises the possibility on using this on foetuses.  It doesn't mention the a-word exactly, but it does mention the rather less medically feasible but more palatable to its audience prospect of in-utero alteration to remove the X-Gene.

This isn't coming out of a vacuum, and it's not even being particularly anticipatory.  This was published about the same time that the idea of a "gay gene" was first in the news, and the X-Gene in this story is barely even a metaphor.  23 years later, it has become apparent there is not a "gay gene" in that sense.   There is no particular allele which causes homosexuality: the strongest factor in sexual orientation in men seems to be birth order.  But there are plenty of other spheres where a minority community is facing an externally imposed "cure", i.e. what is basically eugenics.  Your basic applicability remains.

Unfortunately, having all that potential resonance, the actual story that it hangs off this just isn't very good.  It's a straightforward runaround where X-Factor have to defend the objectionable but perfectly law-abiding scientist, Doctor Tucker, from the Mutant Liberation Front.  They fail, which is unusual, and presents a little grey, but it's all too convenient an escape route.  Rahne makes sure the computer is destroyed, in the fight, leading to the only satisfying character moment in the entire story, but even that is underexplored.  While we're supposed to imagine this will set back the research significantly, I'm not buying that.  Even if Tucker hasn't published, someone else will do soon.  The 1990s is Gene Finding time, and people will be finding genes.