- This is an essay I originally wrote for a rhetoric and writing class in 2015 and cleaned up in 2017. As a result, the tone of the paper is skewed towards the perspective of someone who is unfamiliar with the X-Men, because of this it may come across as over explanatory to fans familiar with the issues and plotlines discussed.
In the first issue of X-Men: Schism, mutant leader of the X-Men, Scott Summers, codename Cyclops, delivers a speech to the International Arms Control Conference in Switzerland. This speech fails quite spectacularly for multiple reasons, many being out of the rhetor’s control. The speech concerns decommissioning the Sentinel weapons that have been created by humans for the purpose of hunting and tracking down mutants, because many humans fear and hate mutants. Scott explains in the speech that he wants to protect the remaining mutants since their numbers have been decimated, going from millions of mutants to just a few hundred, and he states that he believes that there are now more Sentinels than mutants themselves (Aaron #1-8/2). This decimation event, called M-Day within the comics, occurred when the Scarlet Witch depowered 90% of the world’s mutant population (David #1-9/1).
The speech takes place in issue one of the six issues that makes up Schism and it falls in the exposition of the overall storyline of Schism, but during the rising action of the first issue. There is some short exposition leading up to the speech itself, in which Scott and Logan Howlett, codename Wolverine, leave Utopia to come to the arms control conference and as well as their arrival. Then you have the speech, including interruptions from an unreceptive audience, which is where the exposition turns into rising action. This moves right into the conflict of Scott’s speech being interrupted by the mutant anarchist Quentin Quire, codename Kid Omega, which in turn leads to security setting the Sentinels that had been brought to the arms control conference to be set on Scott and Logan.
Logan had come with Scott to act as Scott’s security and be there as a “token Avenger” (Aaron #1-7/1), since the Avengers are considered a more respected superhero team than the X-Men are. There is a bias between the kind of superheroes that people like the Avengers are versus the kind of superheroes that the X-Men are. The X-Men, are mutants, their mutations are naturally occurring and built into their genetics from birth. People like Captain America or Black Widow, who gained their powers through external sources are considered mutates, and are nowhere near as discriminated against as mutants are. Though there are issues brought up about their powers as well, it is not even close to the same level that mutants have to deal with.
Scott starts his speech by talking about the history behind the Sentinels, how they were created out of fear and were designed to exterminate mutants. The full effects of the Sentinels’ actions are seen in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Both the 1981 comic and the 2014 movie show a future devastated by sentinels perpetually hunting mutants to the brink of extinction (Claremont 110/3-6). The overall argument is that it is not necessary for the Sentinels to exist anymore—not that they should ever have existed—because there are so few mutants left, and he wants to ensure that there is a future for the mutants who remain. He asks that the Sentinels be decommissioned and he even offers the aid of the X-Men to do so. It is after this, that the first interruption of the speech occurs. An audience member stands up, likely Prime Minister of his country or some high ranking official, to deny knowledge that Sentinels even exist and demands Scott produce evidence. To this Scott replies that he has been dealing with Sentinels trying to kill him since he was a teenager (Aaron #1-10).
To us as readers, the knowledge that Scott had been dealing with these killing machines since he was young is meant to invoke pathos, more depth is added the more familiar a reader has with Scott’s history in other storylines. One such event was a mass Sentinel attack on the Xavier Institute and Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, codenames Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, that occurred in issues six and seven of X-Men: First Class. This is meant to make us sympathise with Scott and what he is asking the United Nations to do. It also invokes a sense of ethos since his intimate familiarity with the Sentinels gives him credibility as a person to talk about them. He’s not just any person saying, ‘I don’t like Sentinels’, he’s saying, ‘these things have been trying to kill me since I was sixteen, I have a right to talk about them.’
At this point in his speech, since Scott has been forced to go off script, it becomes unclear whether or not there was a deeper intent to invoke pathos behind his words. In being forced to give an immediate response there was no time really for him to think deeply about the meaning behind his words as he would have done when he was writing the speech. Regardless of whether pathos was the intent or not, it does not have that effect on the audience, and the man who interrupted him continues to deny the existence of the “so called Sentinels,” (Aaron #1-10/2) and Scott attempts to finish his speech.
The audience of Scott’s speech is made up primarily of the members of the United Nations. The comic makes it unclear just how widely the speech was broadcast, however, the United Nations does livestream certain speeches online as well as post videos of conferences (UN Live), so it is quite likely that Scott’s speech reached a larger audience than just the world leaders. At the very least the press and some members of the public are aware of the speech (Aaron #1-19-21).
None of the audiences shown were particularly receptive to Scott’s speech. In fact, knowing that Scott would be speaking, the delegates from the United States,where the Sentinels were originally created, don’t even bother to show up to the conference (Aaron #1-7/1). The people that have come already have the mindset that they don’t want to hear Scott’s speech. Which leads into a lot of presuppositions that the audience has about mutants. The audience likely would not have reacted to Scott’s speech with such instant disdain had it been a human giving the speech. They still might not have been very receptive of the speech, but because Scott is a mutant they cared even less.
The presuppositions that people have about mutants are part of the reason that the Sentinels that Scott is trying to get decommissioned exist in the first place. As Scott is giving his speech, a security guard watching the speech on a television outside the conference room comments that he thinks mutants should just be rounded up and put somewhere (Aaron #1-9/1). Scott wants humans to stop trying to kill mutants for existing, humans want to not have to deal with mutants at all. All of these presuppositions about mutants leads to Scott’s audience not taking his speech seriously or twisting his words to make it seem like they are something else.
Humans have never liked mutants; their prejudice against mutants is a theme throughout the X books. Depending on a particular mutant’s mutation, they could be attacked just for being seen. Kurt Wagner, codename Nightcrawler, for example, has a very obvious physical mutation. He’s blue and he’s got a tail, among other things. There is a scene in Uncanny: First Class, where Kurt rescues two little girls from getting hurt by falling bricks. Instead of people being grateful to him for saving the girls he is attacked, because people assumed he was trying to hurt them just based on how he looked (Grey 3). There is also the instance in New X-Men where mutant fashion designer Jumbo Carnation is jumped on the street by a group of humans, ultimately leading to his death (Morrison 2). Lastly, in X-Men: Deadly Genesis, you see that the government has placed Sentinel watchdogs to perpetually monitor the Xavier Institute, so that they will always know the mutants comings and goings. When Scott Summers and his daughter Rachel leave the mansion, they have to shoot off a bogey missile so they won’t be followed by the Sentinel to their destination (Brubaker #1). It’s these prejudiced and fear fueled presuppositions that create one of the larger reasons that speech fails. The human audience does not want to listen to what Scott has to say. On page six of Schism, Logan says that they have “… been fightin’ to change the world and [they] ain’t managed it yet,” (Aaron #1), and at the end of everything, they didn’t manage it with the speech either.
The largest reason that the speech ended in failure is due to the fact that Scott never even gets the chance to finish his speech properly, because the conference is crashed by Quentin Quire, who wants to start a new mutant revolution. Quentin is an omega level—the most powerful class—telepath and he takes control of the minds of the world leaders present to make them reveal their dark secrets. Of course this event makes the audience a dozen times more fearful of mutants and everything that Scott had been trying to speak for gets overlooked and ignored, because the council was just attacked by a rogue mutant. The reader later learns that the Hellfire Club, a nefarious group that owns a weapons company, is behind Quentin’s interrupting the meeting.They knew that if a mutant panic was created there would be more opportunity to sell more Sentinel weapons (Aaron #5-20/1-2).
Scott and Logan do attempt to go after Quentin, trying to let the council know that they were not the ones responsible for the attack and to allow them to attempt to subdue Quentin. However, they are unable to do this, as security ends up setting Sentinels on them (Aaron #1-13-18), because Sentinels have one setting, attack mutants, they don’t differentiate between different mutants. So while the original intent was the use the Sentinels to subdue Quentin, they targeted Scott and Logan as well. The fact that Sentinels were brought to the conference in the first place shows the amount of distrust and fear that humans look on mutants with. As Scott and Logan prepare to fight the Sentinels, Scott calls attention to the irony that weapons have been brought to an arms control conference, because bringing arms to a conference that is supposed to be about controlling and moderating arms is the epitome of bad form.
The last reason that this speech didn’t go as well as it could have, was one that falls on Scott’s shoulders and not the audience or other external interruption, and while a much smaller reason, is still worth mentioning. Scott Summers is not the greatest of rhetors and he acknowledges this. On Schism page six, Scott says that he is “better at shooting things with his eyes,” a reference to his mutation, than he is at “being a diplomat” (Aaron #1). However, being the leader of the X-Men, it falls to him to make the speech. The speech is very bare bones, it’s a lot of stating facts and while Scott does so quite eloquently, it isn’t until the end of the speech that more stylistic rhetorical elements emerge. Now this is not the say that the speech is bad because of it, but if there had been more stylistic elements in the speech it might have softened it in a way that made the audience a little more receptive to what was being said.
Scott’s chances of success with this speech were slim from the beginning, from the presuppositions that humans already held about mutants, the audience’s unwillingness to hear and believe what Scott had to say, and Scott’s own failings as a rhetor. Quentin’s crashing of the conference was the final nail in the coffin. The failings of Scott’s speech cannot be entirely chalked up just one thing, there were many things working against Scott. The removal of a single problem could certainly have changed the end result of the speech even if it wasn’t completely successful. However, with everything combined any successful aspects of the speech were completely overwhelmed.
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