Haunted by Mythology
I wrote an obscure article in the 1990s which became an influence on the X-Men. The comic book author Grant Morrison later discussed the topic in his book, Supergods. He said a fictional gang in the X-Men is based on my ideas in the past. Here I’ll look at the gang and follow their evolution to the cinematic series.
Back in the late 1990s, I wrote an article for a journal in the UK which applied IDP (Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality) to pop cultural trends.¹ The article took the four main atavistic moods of friendly weakness, hostile weakness, friendly strength and, hostile strength, and corresponded them to atavistic pop trends. Later I replaced the terms of ‘friendly’ and ‘hostile’ with ‘optimism’ and ‘pessimism’:
So, to give a couple of examples, we can take rave culture and correlate it to the mood of optimistic strength. Likewise, we can find an easy comparison between gabber culture and pessimistic strength. Elsewhere, genres of music such as hip hop and rap, play out the entire four moods of our atavistic nature.
The four outlooks become personally integrated throughout infancy in a sequence starting with Optimistic Weakness when we’re born. Later the same moods are recapitulated collectively as a form of celebration in our teens and twenties. This gives rise to some colorful tribes:
The original study always had a playful title to reflect the fun side of pop culture. I eventually settled on, The Hare Hypothesis, as an allusion to the wild side of youth celebration. Meanwhile, Grant Morrison had other plans for the study. In Supergods, he suggests that he took the idea of hostile strength symbolism to create a ‘dark side’ for the X-Men, creating in the process, The Omega Gang. To quote Morrison, his fictional teenage gang were, ‘fascist thugs’.² Fascist thuggery, however, is not pop culture, as in popular. So what was he up to?
I tracked down a copy of the graphic novel to which he was referring. It’s called Riot at Xavier’s. I also bought several other titles in the New X-Men series to put the Riot collection into a broader perspective. The last time I’d immersed myself in the world of superheroes had been as a child. It reminded me of being a young boy in the early 1970s.
Working-class kids like ourselves had no access to color television, so comics were the only medium, along with the cinema, where we could enjoy colorful storytelling. There was something quite special about the superhero comics with their otherworldly charm of being American. Even the adverts for sea monkeys were exotic.
The Kid Omega
Has the comic book genre ever completely escaped its link to the little child within? Did it ever outgrow its Golden Age? Sometimes when I read through modern comics, I feel as if I am dragged back to my early childhood. The writer often seems to be weaving childish superhero themes into mature content more worthy of an adult audience.
There are certainly some adult themes to Morrison’s, Riot at Xavier’s. His teenage gang use inhalers packed with a drug, kick, which enhances their mutant powers. One scene shows his gang leader, Quentin Quire (Kid Omega), on a drug binge knocking back the mutant’s version of amphetamine or cocaine. The story culminates with the Omega Gang causing a riot at the School of Xavier’s. Well, this looks rather strange, I thought, leafing through the pages.
X-Men — The Last Stand
Some years later, I was watching the third X-men movie, X-Men: The Last Stand. I noticed that the damned Omega Gang were back again. This time they had the nerve to give Magneto some grief concerning his capabilities as a badass mutant. Things turn interesting: in the comic book series, the Omega Gang is described by Morrison as being fascist. Juxtaposition this with the opening scene of the first X-men film in which Magneto is portrayed as a boy walking up to the gates of Auschwitz with his mother. It is one of the most harrowing scenes in the series of films and one which sets the foundation for the character’s rage and thirst for revenge.
By the third X-men movie, old Magneto, played by Ian McKellen, is confronted by the teenage Omega Gang. One young woman, Callisto, taunts him with the question, ‘Where’s your mark?’ The wee cheeky bisem sticks her partially exposed breasts out at a bemused Ian, as she bristles with attitude. She presents him with her omega tattoo, a whopping big mark right in the middle of her chest. Every gang member sports an omega tattoo, their sign of mutant pride. The tattoos have been taken straight out of Morrison’s Riot at Xavier’s. Magneto turns Callisto’s arrogant posing into one of the film’s most memorable scenes. He rolls up his sleeve to reveal his Auschwitz tattoo and says to the moll:
‘I have been marked once my dear, and let me assure you…no needle will ever touch my skin again’
Mature experience trumps unfocused teenage rebellion. Not surprisingly Magneto soon has the mutant supremacy gang under his command. Callisto is quickly employed to locate the blue mutant, Mystique.
The ethics of using the holocaust in fiction
Some people have reservations about something so horrific as the holocaust used for fiction. The writer Ruth Franklin sums up the problem of holocaust fiction with her comment, ‘In some ways, I think the event itself resists exploitation.’³ But at what point does the use of the subject move from necessary plot to exploitation?
The re-emergence of the Omega Gang on film reminded me of a book I’d read in the past called, A Call to Compassion, by Aura Glaser. The book is mostly about applying both compassion and equanimity to depth psychology. What stood out for me, however, were the anecdotes told by the author about her parents’ background. They were tattooed and imprisoned at Auschwitz. As a result of their abuse, they’d sometimes wake up in the night screaming. In one memorable scene, the author returns home from school raging, having had an awful day, slagging off one of her teachers. Her mother calmly gives her some advice on how to cope with anger and hatred. Ms Glaser’s anger quickly diffuses as a result — after all, how can you argue with an Auschwitz survivor over petty issues at school?⁴
With the re-emergence of the Omega Gang in the X-Men film, we can see a comparison of opposites. Morrison’s original ‘fascist thugs’ from Xavier’s school finally come face to face with a survivor of the Nazi’s atrocities. Likewise, the gang’s addiction to boosting their powers to a new high through using kick meets its direct opposite in the film. In The Last Stand, they end up fighting against a ‘cure’ to their mutant powers. Their opponents envision a future free of powerful human mutation. The ‘cure’ would render the mutants impotent.
These opposite motifs from the original comics are too distant and hidden to become reconciled in the film. As a result of this, the Omega Gang is killed off. Magneto however survives, ensuring that he’ll be back soon enough, up to his old devilry.
The Omega Gang reborn
The Omega Gang still lives on in the comics themselves. Their fascist tendencies of Might is Right has been tempered over time. At least, that’s to say, their original leader, Quentin Quire, lives on. I don’t know about the gang themselves as I must confess not to have read them.
The Kid Omega also lives on in the fan base of comic book mythology. When I first ran a search for the character, I came across a Youtube user called Danika Massey. She was quickly becoming an internet celebrity with guides to both comic book stories and other mythology such as Game of Thrones.
Massey sports an Omega Gang tattoo on her arm and at one point looked remarkably similar to Quentin Quire with a pink Mohican. She later implied that she was imbuing herself with his qualities and expanded on the topic in a talk at TEDx Claremont Colleges.⁵ I’ve seen people carry out similar behavior as part of their neo-pagan practices — almost like playful ritual spilling over into their everyday life. It was the first time I’d ever seen anyone use comic book mythology in the same manner.
The woman herself now has over a million followers on Youtube. She could be viewed as a priestess of sorts to the X-Men and recently to Dune. I’d suggest however that Ms Massey’s analysis of the Kid Omega is flawed. Rather than being a force for ‘chaotic good’ as she states in her lecture, the riot story presents him as a confused character whose antics lead to a fatality at his school. And what would she make of Morrison’s description of the Omega Gang as, ‘fascist thugs’? Massey herself comes over as anything but fascistic. In direct contrast, I’d say she has a liberal outlook on life. Perhaps she had her Ω gang tattoo done before Morrison’s analysis of the gang appeared in Supergods.
So what does this strange adventure into Morrison’s comics teach us? Well, we’re not going to understand pop cultural trends by confusing them with superheroes. Also, let’s make a clear distinction between hierarchic gangs of an imbalanced violent nature and holistic atavistic youth trends. They’re not the same study. To use a simple analogy, thuggery has no place in the mosh pit.
I think Morrison’s play on the ‘dark side’ of pessimistic strength (within pop-culture) is superficial. He’s taken the subject of IDP applied to pop culture, to play out his fears of tyrannical behavior. But his conflation of a fascistic gang with pop culture trivializes the problem with surreal humor and then places it into a medium where the subject isn’t addressed with any depth.
We don’t need a Darkside of atavistic pop trends. They are, in themselves, a form of cultural shadow work. They give vent to our animal nature. When Morrison tried to split this shadow off into an even darker place, I think he was pushing it away. Yes, fascistic elements leach off the likes of punk and gabber culture, but it’s a minuscule process; a footnote to pop culture. Pop, after all, means popular, not unpopular. Likewise, violent gang activity is sometimes celebrated within hip hop and rap and then sold on as entertainment to immature adolescents. But the actual imbalanced violence itself is, for obvious reasons, unpopular.
At the end of Morrison’s story, the Omega Gang are given an angry lecture by Wolverine and told they’ll be going abroad to do community service. Quentin Quire has been injured in his riot and finds himself suspended like a baby inside an amniotic tank. He then becomes mysteriously born, ‘into a higher world’.
By comparison, the 3rd X-Men movie uses Morrison’s original fascist gang with deeper effect relating to Magneto’s past in Nazi-occupied Poland. It then kills off the entire Omega Gang, including its leader. No redemption, mystery, or dithering about. I prefer the movie’s ending, but neither version has anything to teach us about IDP applied to atavistic pop trends.
1 — A concise and rather dated version of the study can be found on Wikipedia. A later revised version can be found here.
2 — Grant Morrison, Supergods, p. 357, Jonathon Cape, 2011.
3 — Ruth Franklin, quoted in the Irish Times, Can a Work of Fiction About the Holocaust be Inaccurate, Patrick Freyne, 2020.
4 — Aura Glaser, A Call to Compassion, p. 143, Nicolas-Hays, 2005.
5 — Danika Massey, Using Comic Book Characters to Identify Your True Self, TEDx Claremont Colleges, 2014.