Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mourning Larry Bodine

Part of Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat’s speech for deceased teen mutant Larry Bodine:

“Who was he, then, that we gather to mourn him? Who am I? A four-eyed, flat-chested, brat, chick, brain, hebe, stuck-up snob Xavier’s School freak!

“Don’t like the words? I could use nicer, I’ve heard worse. Who here hasn’t? So often, so casually, that maybe we’ve forgotten the power they have to hurt.

“Nigger, spic, wop, slope, faggot, mutie--the list is so long, and so cruel. They’re labels. Put-downs. And they hurt.

I was a young teen when New Mutants # 45 came out in 1986. I remember the issue with fondness and sadness, because it struck a chord. Maybe it was because the comic book wasn’t the usual slam-bang, action extravaganza that made monthly comics-reading such a wonderful escapist hobby when I was growing up. It was the sad tale that introduced Larry Bodine, a young man who hid his mutant gift of hologram-casting from the world.

Larry killed himself because some bullying schoolmates threatened to out him. They didn’t know that he really was a mutant, but he panicked and didn’t know where to turn to. Those most affected by his suicide were Rahne Sinclair and Kitty, secretly mutants themselves. Kitty soon talked about the senselessness of the tragedy, the loss of a person she never really knew, but understood very clearly.

It’s one of the better-written self-contained stories by Chris Claremont, back in his heyday. Stories that resonate with the reader, especially ones that poignantly explored mutant-minority-outsider metaphors, always made some X-Men and New Mutants issues special. I connect with them now, more so than I ever did before, because I’d like to think that I’ve gotten a somewhat better understanding of the real world. And even if it’s one of the comic books I lost some time back, I still remember New Mutants # 45 dearly.

It was among a few eye-openers for me, a good example that superhero comic books can’t, and shouldn’t be restricted to never-ending fisticuffs. The timeless drama and commentary made Larry Bodine such a tragic--and real--figure to me.

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