X-Men ’97’s Take on Morph Is Already Making Bigots Mad

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X-Men ‘97‘s love-letter continuation of the original X-Men animated series is not just a chance to revisit the world left behind by this particular take on Marvel mutantdom, but incorporate more ideas and interpretations of the metaphor mutantkind has provided across decades of comics. This is, of course, already getting the series flung into the meat grinder of the culture war.

After yesterday brought with it the first look at X-Men ‘97 in action we also got to learn a bit more about one of its more fascination inclusions on the X-Team: the full-time return to the animated fold for shapeshifting mutant Morph. He was introduced as a minor character in the comics as Kevin Syndey, aka Changeling—with that codename tweaked to Morph for TV due to an alleged copyright concern with DC Comics, which used the Changeling codename for Teen Titan’s Beast Boy—and was brought into the world of animated X-Men, where he skyrocketed to popularity by, well, immediately dying.

Just as Thunderbird had been shockingly killed off shortly after his induction into the “Giant Sized” X-Men team in the comics decades prior, Morph was the surprise sacrifice of X-Men: The Animated Series’ pilot episode, “Night of the Sentinels,” killed off to amplify the stakes for the… well, let’s say more popular mutants on the roster. Death has rarely stopped an X-Man before, however, and over the course of the show’s four seasons Morph was resurrected as a brainwashed agent of Mr. Sinister, fighting back against his trauma and control before eventually slowly but surely returning to fight by the X-Men’s side—a legacy that now will be picked up on in X-Men ‘97.

Screenshot: Marvel

Morph has undergone some pretty radical changes in the decades between The Animated Series and ‘97, adopting the pale, hairless, and blankly-featured visage that the character was given when an alternate version of the character inspired by the cartoon series was integrated into comics continuity with the Age of Apocalypse storyline, and then through another alternate riff in the multiversal teambook Exiles. But, in a new preview from Empire Magazine, it was also confirmed that Kevin will now identify as non-binary in the new show.

This has, inevitably—as the discussion of any inclusion of a perspective that isn’t white, masculine, cisgender, or heteronormative in popular culture often does these days—sparked a wave of blowback from certain vocal groups that Marvel has made the X-Men “woke.” It’s more often than not a facile, bad-faith argument, but one that feels particularly so in the face of a franchise like X-Men. The mutant allegory has been a stand-in for a large variety of minority causes since the inception of the X-Men, from political thought, to racial discrimination to, yes, issues of gender identity and queerness. Some of these allegories work better than others—race has always been a fraught lens for the mutant metaphor in particular, especially as more and more non-white mutants have stepped into the spotlight, perhaps best emphasized in the infamous moment in the 1982 storyline “God Loves, Man Kills,” where Kitty Pryde uses a racial slur to draw equivalence to being called a “mutie.” But the connection between mutantkind and queerness has always been particularly potent, and a topic the franchise has engaged with for generations and generations of storytelling in ways big and small. Telling stories about minority identities, including queer ones, sits at the heart of the X-Men, and it should be no surprise to anyone beyond culture war grifters that X-Men ‘97 will be inclusive of that thought as well.

There are indeed potential criticisms to be made of making Morph a non-binary character—largely in the decision to make the most explicitly “othered” character on the team with a visible mutation (aside from Beast, although Hank’s mutation is often presented as amplifying a masc-presenting form) adopt a non-binary identity rather than simply including more human, or otherwise mutant, non-binary characters. Star Wars faced a similar dilemma in introducing the first trans-identifying Jedi in the alien bond-pair Terec and Ceret in its High Republic comics. But just as that move inspired the introduction of more queer characters beyond this first step into their fiction, hopefully Morph is just the first step in reflecting the larger queer world that is such a vibrant part of the mutant community in the comics and beyond.

We’ll find out when X-Men ‘97 hits Disney+ March 20.


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