When I was an X-Man ...
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 16 — 1991: The Origin Story
Standard Six was a really difficult year. There were the UPSR examinations to worry about and then there was that speech I was supposed to be giving to the whole school at the next assembly (some stuff about being the Head Prefect).
The most troubling thing, of course, was discovering a new vice and not having extra pocket money to indulge in them. It wasn’t sweets (one cavity too many put a stop to my sugar binge) or videogames (no computer at home and my Mom would have skinned me alive had I stepped into an arcade). No, the reality was far worse. My latest addiction was comic books.
And not just any old comic books, mind you. These were X-Men comics. Mutants – feared by normal humans and always in hiding, always on the run. More importantly (for this 12-year-old anyway), they were superheroes with powers. How cool was that?
But comics cost money and my pocket money was barely enough to pay for extra treats during Recess. What was a boy to do?
A week later I had enough money for the latest escapades of Storm, Wolverine and gang, plus a very sore right wrist. Who knew drawing X-Men characters in various stages of undress and non-family-friendly activity for my fellow classmates on pages from my exercise books could be so profitable?
Perhaps my mutant ability was entrepreneurship.
1995: The Brotherhood of Evil Comic Rivals
High school and the season of speculation: every comic-book-reading teenager was buying and selling comic books like there was no tomorrow. X-Men comics, in particular, had become very popular, with some issues having multiple covers and limited edition trading cards attached.
We could not breathe, the more hard-core traders amongst us, till we got hold of the latest Wizard Comic Book Price Guide early every month and checked whether the value of our stock had gone up or down.
It was like the movie “Wall Street”, but with lots more pimples.
Like the Molloys trying to outwit their erstwhile rival Chimp Twist in P.G. Wodehouse’s excellent novels (and, some would argue, stellar guides to negotiation strategies and the art of double-crossing), we would try our best to get ahead of each other. Competition was healthy, we were constantly told by our teachers, after all. Forget about the School Sports Day; this was where the real action was.
Every Friday a new shipment would arrive at the EBE (Estee’s Book Exchange, the only shop where we could buy comics in Malacca town back then). There was always a rush from the school gates to Estee’s bookstore for the first one through the door would get first dibs on the comics.
I was always the first to receive my X-Men books, naturally. Not because, as some of my own rivals imagined, I had rather long legs (possibly a latent mutation) and knew how to use them, but because I had discovered a hidden shortcut which cut travel time by at least five minutes. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone about my secret route.
All’s fair in comics and war.
2000: The New Mutants
Ah, the university years. (Even mutants had college degrees; look at Dr Henry McCoy a.k.a. Beast.)
I moved into a private house with some friends, electing to skip the offer of dorm rooms. Outside of campus, we could get up to all manner of shenanigans. For me, it meant additional security from other kids stealing my X-Men comics. Packed and moved the whole lot up to the capital from my hometown. (Never leave your comic books at home unattended where your helpful parents may decide to clean up your room and handily throw out your nest egg together with the trash.)
For the first time ever, there was a movie out about the X-Men; I gave my housemates a crash course in mutant mythology as I was the resident comic geek. They were suitably impressed, but mostly by the idea of Ms Berry and Ms Janssen in tight body suits. (Indeed, Storm and Jean Grey never looked hotter.)
Me, I was wondering what was behind that red ruby-quartz visor Cyclops was wearing. He’s probably pondering on what it’s like to be different, to always be in fear of being treated differently if others knew the truth about him.
I knew, I told myself, what it was like to be a mutant too.
In my mind, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Wolverine were destined to be in a love triangle, but perhaps not the most obvious one.
2005: The Fall of the Mutants
I wish I had a Blackbird jet like the X-Men. Given how much I was flying around for work, visiting Indonesia every single month, I would have killed for a private plane and not have to go through the long lines at Immigration all the time.
This may well have been the first time I have thought of the X-Men in a while. I’ve been too busy with work, and I’ve grown up a little, I think. Sometimes you have to outgrow your childhood fantasies, your dreams.
Work hard, keep busy. Keep your head down. Happiness is a steady job and full schedule. It’s not a secret mutant identity.
(Then why, I wonder, do I still keep all my old issues of The X-Men, now that the comic book stock market has crashed and most aren’t worth much anymore? Some dreams, like Professor X’s, die hard, it seems.)
2011: Back to Class
We walk out of the matinee showing of “X-Men: First Class” beaming. I’m exhilarated that the mutants are back on screen and fiercer than ever. I ask you if you enjoyed the movie. You nod, and tell me you prefer the X-Men films to the Batman ones.
“Why?” I ask, “Is it because the actors are better looking?”
“Don’t be silly,” you say, “Christian Bale’s better looking than Michael Fassbender any day. I like the X-Men because they have powers. Mutant powers so these powers can be any sort of power. So much fun!”
I smile and tell you we’re mutants too. Not because we’re a minority. Not because we’re ostracised. We’re like mutants because we’re special, both you and me. Like snowflakes, there is only one of every item. And to borrow an old comic book phrase, we’re the limited edition, oh yes, we are.
And like the X-Men, we’re a family.
The X-Men, created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (Marvel Comics, September 1963 – present)
*Kenny’s favourite mutant power would be to eat all he wants and not put on any weight. Read more of his delusional superhero stratagems at http://lifeforbeginners