Thursday, June 12, 2014

Superhero Kink

In “X-Men: First Class”, shape-changing mutant Mystique grows up alongside telepath Charles Xavier and eventually yearns for a sexual relationship with him, even though Xavier considers their relationship sororal. Later, she is visibly aroused by Hank McCoy, the Beast who impresses her with strong, masculine hands in place of feet. When they have a private moment together, she lovingly strokes his syringe that he shows off, a formula to render them “normal” – alpha male Magneto passes by and comments, “Kinky.” When the sexually-frustrated Mystique ends up in Magneto's bed, she shifts into a couple of enticing forms before he requests she embrace her natural blue-scaled epidermis. Because the bulk of the film is dealing with the mutant awakening of these characters, it's also amusingly, relentlessly hormonal.

So where did all that heat go for “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”? Suddenly, Beast is Xavier's asexual manservant, apparently biding his time with shitty tech while Mystique travels the world. Magneto's eroticism has literally been bottled up and banished underground, while we learn we've been robbed of the affair that produced restless youth Quicksilver. And Professor X is a no-hope burn-out infatuated with needles not as a form of sexual foreplay, but because it gives him the fix that allows him to walk when, in fact, he has the ability to alter people's perception so well that they'll think he is walking.

With this newfound asexuality, there's also the loss of agency within the female characters, formerly a hallmark of the X-comics. We've spent four movies already with Xavier and Magneto warring over the proper cause for mutantkind... so why have them team up against Mystique, who apparently wants to embrace a third ideal the duo have not previously entertained? Maybe Wolverine can travel through time (in place of Kitty Pryde, who serves that role in the comics) to persuade her. Wolverine, it must be said, awakens in his old body, just as he's had a tryst with “the boss' daughter.” We never learn her name, and she never says anything. But we do get a completely forced, unerotic moment where Wolverine gets to flash his naked buttcheeks in the air. Somehow this is the one X-Men movie with actual nudity, and yet it may be the most sexless one yet.

There are three separate generations that have grown up with these superhero movies. There's the older crowd, who thrilled to the exploits of Christopher Reeve's “Superman”, a hero that could easily charm the panties off Lois Lane, but wouldn't dare abuse such gentlemanly privilege. There's also the recent generation, thrilling to the excesses of the genre provided by the onslaught of Marvel movies and crossovers. Smack dab in the middle of that, however, is my generation, the one who somehow associated Prince, the hip-swaggering king of naughty R&B, with Batman.

Twenty five years ago, Michael Keaton's Batman roared onto the screen. He was mysterious, more than a little deranged, and unmistakably sexual. It almost feels like most other superheroes took an offscreen oath to not partake in the pleasures of the flesh. But Keaton's Bruce Wayne is almost immediately perving on gorgeous Vicki Vale in the first “Batman”. I was five, and even then I understood Batman's priorities as, “Okay, I have to save the city. But also, you know, I like to score.” When he does score, she wakes up to find him tied to a metal contraption, hanging from his ankles, swaying back and forth. A superhero with his own BDSM playset.

Batman Returns” would double-down on the naughtiness, with Catwoman, clad in illogically-tight leather, running her wet tongue across Batman's lips. Part of arousal comes from intellectual curiosity, and when I was eight I had no idea how to process the power struggle between the obviously-attractive Catwoman and the completely repellant Penguin. As a child, I was taught conflicting lessons. One, that Batman's villains had their own sense of authority, and were, in essence, unfuckwithable, making Catwoman the superior because she was stronger and smarter. And two, the Penguin was a powerful man, and powerful men “attained” pretty girls, no matter how repulsive they were (morally or otherwise). Catwoman had her shit together, but the Penguin gets what he wants. When she lounges seductively on his bed, what exactly is going on here? The power dynamics fascinated me. Also, Catwoman basically kills Christopher Walken with a kiss. It's a good way to scare the crap out of a sex-curious kid, for about, oh, five minutes.

Of course, this Batman was soon neutered due to complaints from outraged parents looking for an excuse not to actually parent. Ironically, it led to Batman becoming more superficially sexual, with Joel Schumacher's fetishization of the male body. Had Schumacher actually embraced the sexual elements of the camp (perhaps Batman making out with his college age “ward”), we'd be cooking with fire: surely it would have forced me to reconcile my feelings about homosexuality in a hurry. I will say this about Schumacher's “Batman Forever” and “Batman And Robin”: they knew there was something up with a guy who couldn't commit to a woman but whom lived with an old man and a hormonal twentysomething.

Was it fear of homosexuality that drove superhero sexuality of any kind into the closet? 2000's “X-Men” presented a virile hero in Wolverine whom proceeded to lust after the nerd's girl, but ultimately the film was absent of sexual themes at all but the most abstract level. It would be “Spider-Man” that set the tone for these films with an entirely virginal hero, one who conceivably had never been kissed. Virginal heroes became the template, to the point where, when a hero actually dealt with the repercussions of sex (“Superman Returns”) it was booed and hissed out of theaters. Soon, continuity begot monogamy, and characters were being matched with a single partner, instead of the wave of girlfriends (always girlfriends) encountered in the source material. Spider-Man's true love was Mary Jane Watson, then Gwen Stacy. When it came time to release “Daredevil” on DVD in a version more palatable to fans who disliked the theatrical cut, the sex scene was actually deleted.

None of this seems to make any sense. These men and women are locked in mortal combat, and they all look phenomenal in costumes and leather. It's not clear why these movies aren't sexual free-for-alls. Particularly the X-Men, derived from maybe the most hormonal comic book of all time. Since the X-Men couldn't get out of their own way to actually fight villains that didn't directly threaten them, they engaged in relationships, some of them inadvisable. Cyclops, alpha male of the team, had a secret fondness for gorgeous telepaths, Jean Grey and the White Queen. Wolverine beds anything that moves. There are heroes like Multiple Man, Skin and Stacy X that seem equipped with powers almost specifically designed for the bedroom.

That third generation is now growing up: it's been fourteen years since “X-Men” started the current boom, and with age comes, hopefully, maturation. It's likely some of them will keep buying tickets to these movies, but maybe not. Perhaps they've grown to be the age where a little bit of hanky panky is completely welcomed. Would the core demographic care if suddenly Magneto got flirty with a flight attendant, or if Bruce Banner played the field? Would it kill any of these characters to touch themselves, touch each other, and at least acknowledge that the power trip can be an aphrodisiac? The horrific body count and wanton violence from some of these movies is deeply upsetting. So why is that ok, but sex remains off-limits for the most popular genre in the world?


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