Thursday, July 18, 2024

“Sisters Before Misters”: Quentin Quire, Phoebe Cuckoo, And The Complexities Of Abuse

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CW: Mental abuse, gaslighting

The greater Marvel Universe has no shortage of telepathic characters. From those who communicate strictly non-verbally to those powerful enough to touch the minds of the collective human population; telepathic characters open up a discussion about ethics, consent, and legality. They also, for better or for worse, can be used to depict a mentally abusive relationship. 

Quentin Quire is one such telepath and probably one of the most polarizing X-Men characters. However, since his introduction in 2003 one thing has been a constant in his story. Quentin’s deepest regret is inadvertently causing the death of Sophie Cuckoo. Since then the Cuckoos have been dismissive, if not openly disgusted with Quentin Quire for most of their shared canon. 

Quentin Quire talking to the Cuckoos

So when in X-Force 11 when Quentin stumbles out of the bushes after an obvious tryst with Phoebe Cuckoo, I was more than a bit surprised. At the time I chalked it up to Krakoan free love and kept reading. But my surprise grew into discomfort when I remembered an earlier encounter between Quire and the Cuckoos. 

In the third issue of the ongoing Wolverine series, Logan asks the Cuckoos to flirt with Quentin as means of persuasion to join a risky mission. Fairly innocuous on surface level, but less so down the line. 

The Cuckoos flirt with Quentin while wanting Cable

When it was seemingly confirmed via the X-Force 17 solicit cover art that Quentin and Phoebe were not just a one-time thing, I frankly started spiraling. Perhaps it is obvious, but Quentin Quire is a character who means a lot to me. Also maybe obvious by this point, I have been in several toxic and mentally abusive relationships. 

Mental abuse is subtle. It’s over the top PDA and compliments in public. It’s gaslighting and victim blaming. It’s grand romantic gestures with strings attached. I was seeing signs of my own abuse being played out with a character I connect with.

My final straw was X-Force 17, when we see Phoebe being the one to restore Quentin’s memories after his most recent resurrection. Every other resurrected mutant that we have seen has had their memories restored by Xavier himself. Phoebe was the one to restore Quentin’s memories, paired with the clear implication that she omitted details. 

This continues in the next issue where Quentin trusts Phoebe in a very vulnerable moment. He goes into the astral plane to find the “corrupted” version of himself that has been terrorizing other mutants, putting his body at risk while he is not on the same plane. Before this massive show of trust, they say the following words.

Quentin talks to Sophie

One of the first signs of abusive relationships is isolation from friends and other people you are close to. Required co-dependency. Making the victim feel trapped in the relationship. “We don’t need anyone else besides us” is textbook rhetoric in an abusive relationship. The next issue we see a monstrous form of the Cuckoos in Quentin’s mindscape; still telling him he’s pathetic.

It’s Jean Grey who pulls Quire out of his nightmare and remarks that he seems different than usual. Phoebe stresses that “he’s trying something new” and Quentin repeats that they’re stronger together. That he wasn’t as powerful before he was with her. When they are hanging from a doorway to nowhere in the dreamscape Jean creates, he yells how he needs her. 

Now let’s take a step back for a moment. Prior to Krakoa, Quentin had last been seen on the rebooted team of West Coast Avengers. I fully acknowledge my bias, as this is one of my all-time favorite comic series, but Quentin was written perfectly. He had found a place in the world and had a team and girlfriend who valued him. The flawed, nearly-depowered, somewhat abrasive and sarcastic version of him. The Quentin Quire I read in X-Force feels like one that came from a poor reading of his introduction and nothing else. The edgelord Quentin that Ben Percy presents has none of the charm and growth that he experienced from writers who actually knew or cared about the character. 

Quentin Quire and the West Coast Avengers
I can and will take every opportunity to talk about West Coast Avengers

This arc ends with Phoebe dumping Quentin, causing him to go off the rails. We also see the other Cuckoos point blank calling Quire a “project” and a “toy”. Jean discusses co-dependence with him as well. Quentin tells Jean he has nobody who cares about him, other than his relationship with Phoebe. He tries to get her attention several times and tries to warn the Cuckoos about the threat of Cerebrax. He sacrifices himself to the Cerebrax-Krakoa monster and is seemingly dead for good, wiped from the Cerebro cradles. 

Abusive relationship plot lines,in my opinion, are overdone and frankly rarely done well. If it was clear that this story arc was going to culminate with the fallout and the emotional weight of a mentally abusive relationship, I would maybe be less bothered. There are easy ways that this could be addressed going forward. There are also ways to just completely retcon this away, which I could also see benefit to.

It should be no surprise that I am not a fan of this storyline and if when Quire resurrects himself somehow (because this is comics, nobody stays dead), he has no memory of the relationship, that would be my ideal situation. I truly think that there is no characterization worth saving from this story. Reset him to pre-Krakoa.

I debated whether I should share my reaction for a long time. I thought maybe I was seeing things that weren’t there. I thought maybe I was being extreme about my feelings towards a fictional character. I didn’t want to seem dumb or overreactive.  

There could be an important story to be told here. Men can be victims of abuse. Teenagers and young adults can be victims of abuse. One of the most powerful telepaths on the planet can be a victim of abuse. I personally do not see this story happening and I don’t care to stick around to see if it does.

Images via Marvel Comics

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