‘X-amining the X-Men’ at WonderCon 2024

Author: Travis Hayward

At WonderCon 2024, comic book aficionados and fans of all ages gathered for a captivating discussion that dived into the world of mutants and the parallels they share with various minority and marginalized communities. Moderated by Brian Ward, co-host of The Arkham Sessions podcast, the “X-amining the X-Men” panel brought together a diverse group of experts and creatives, each with their own unique perspective on the enduring legacy of Marvel’s X-Men franchise.

The panelists included Dr. Drea Letamendi (clinical psychologist and co-host of The Arkham Sessions), Eric Lewald (showrunner for X-Men: The Animated Series and consulting producer of X-Men ’97), Julia Lewald (writer for X-Men: The Animated Series and consulting producer of X-Men ’97), JB Ballard (writer for X-Men ’97), and David Nett (co-owner of Hero’s Journey Fitness).

Dr. Letamendi lent her expertise to the panel, providing invaluable insights into the psychological aspects of the X-Men characters and their experiences. With her background in mental health, Dr. Letamendi offered a nuanced understanding of how the struggles faced by mutants in the comics mirror real-world issues such as prejudice, discrimination, and the quest for acceptance.

“I was this kind of misfit kid in the 90s watching Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series.” Dr. Letamendi began, “As a mixed-race Latina girl growing up in the Valley I wasn’t sure I fit in and these characters really spoke to me. The directness and the text of X-Men, especially, is about brining that adversity to the foreground. For a lot of us kids around that era, it really helped us believe that just being you is enough and that you can belong in this world.”

She also noted that there are various types of mutants throughout the series, some that have different colored skin, some viewed as “abominations” (noting the religious undertones), some that can “pass” in society by having “invisible” abilities or being shapeshifters. She explained that this lifts up liberation psychology, which is the notion that sometimes our well-being is a functioning or outcome of our social environment. “X-Men showcases this in its storytelling. If you look into Storm’s history, she doesn’t necessarily have clinical claustrophobia or PTSD, but there are events and experiences that may naturally lead her to feel phobic, fearful, and suspicious.”

Lewald brought his wealth of experience in storytelling to the discussion. He explained that Fox gave them enough creative control to write the show how they wanted. It was imperative for them to maintain integrity and not condescend to the audience. The writing team felt that if the younger kids watching didn’t get the allegories, maybe their older siblings or parents would. Alongside him was his wife and talented writer, Julia Lewald. J. Lewald noted that every person goes through puberty, which connects to why mutants discover their powers in their teens. “It’s relatable to anyone that’s lived,” she shared. 

Ballard added his perspective to the panel, highlighting the importance of representation and diversity in storytelling. Through his work on the current series, Ballard aimed to explore new facets of the X-Men universe while staying true to its core themes of equality and social justice. He was an avid fan of the original series growing up. He noted an episode in particular in which Storm travel’s back in time to the 60s in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, uttering the famous line “A skin-based prejudice? How quaint.”

Ballard explained that they wanted to take these real life-instances and incorporate them as much as they could within the new series. He noted the second episode in particular, in which the Friends of Humanity riot outside of the United Nations during Magento’s trial; an event not unlike the January 6th Insurrection of 2021. Ballard shared, “One of our executives referred to our show not as a ‘reboot’, but as a ‘rejuvenation’.”

Nett, a proud Cyclops cosplayer, shared his personal connection to the character of Cyclops and how cosplay has allowed him to embody the qualities of leadership and resilience that the X-Men represent. Throughout the discussion, each panelist examined the parallels between the struggles of mutants in the Marvel Universe and the experiences of marginalized communities in the real world. From themes of discrimination and persecution to the importance of found family and solidarity, the X-Men resonate with audiences because their stories reflect universal truths about the human experience.

Feeling inspired by the resilience and diversity of the X-Men? Share your thoughts and join the conversation below! Don’t forget to support our continued coverage of events like WonderCon by donating or subscribing today!

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