Our ongoing ranking of the definitive inarguable Top 100 X-Men of All Time brought up a lot of different arguments from our panel of judges. Some people liked Cyclops, some people liked Jean Grey, and nobody could agree on Gambit at all. But the one thing I still get messages about was my comment when ranking for Hank McCoy, aka Beast.

I said “HE BELONGS IN JAIL” and left it there. But why? What did Hank ever do to deserve such condemnation? He’s a bouncing blue ball of furry sarcasm, right, Steve, you Yorkshire Monster? How can you even make these sorts of ridiculous claims and keep a straight face?

Okay, fair enough, I should've explained myself properly Here’s the case for the prosecution.

 

 

Beast has always tried to fix things, despite the fact that his intervention almost always leading him and his friends into worse and more dangerous situations than before. Obviously he’s tried to ‘amend’ or remove his mutation at various points, feeling that his mutant nature hinders his ability to work within his chosen field of science. Those attempts at scientific experimentation, however, have only seen him devolve, in a sense, with his physical form shifting from that of a human, to an ape, to a cat, to… whatever he is right now. Some kind of lemur perhaps. His every attempt forces him further away from his goal, as if nature is actively resisting him.

He represents the fear that you aren’t actually going to become who you always wanted to be; that your personality, mind, physique and reality have unflinchingly headed in a different direction to your aspiration for what you want to bring to your own life. Beast fights back against that feeling, as a hero should, but it's always to his continuing detriment --- and to the detriment of many, many others.

Over recent years, since the "Decimation" storyline kicked in and mutants were depowered worldwide --- with Beast one of only 198 exceptions --- we’ve seen him go to further extremes with each successive creative team. His own battle to cure himself is now largely forgotten. His new goal is to try and rescue the rest of mutantkind. There’s cruel irony in that arrangement, as his lifelong work as a scientist has been predicated on getting himself out of the situation that he now wants to bring back for millions of others. It is, again, heroic.

It is, again, an ongoing failure.

 

 

Beast’s desperation saw him form his own short-lived team of X-Men called the "X-Club," as he pushed further and further into science to find answers. It was this continuing push to control everything, to master and fix the wrongs that had been handed first to him and then to everyone else, which further moved him into extreme acts. It probably also didn't help that he was now rubbing shoulders with Dr Nemesis on a regular basis.

In Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews’ "Ghost Box" storyline, Beast uses a laser to destroy an entire alternate reality. In Secret Avengers he destroyed an underground city. The X-Men escaped Secret Invasion because Beast used a pathogen to poison every single Skrull who invaded the West Coast. The idea was to force them to surrender, and request the cure, but instead they blew themselves up as an act of protest. The on-panel implication is that Beast committed an act of genocide, which he was unable to walk back from once it was put in motion.

 

 

Each time, his scientific interest is presented in the comics as an initially peaceful endeavour that inevitably leads to violence and death. That’s the heart of the character. Time after time his attempts to recover the status quo (represented by the time he had a human form, as well as the 'golden days' he tried to recover in All-New X-Men) has instead made him into an accessory to chaos --- from allowing Dark Beast to experiment on the Guthrie family in Endangered Species, right through to his current exploits thrusting the young original X-Men into the present day, which has itself led to no shortage of trauma (emotional as well as physical --- the young Cyclops died at one point).

Even Uatu The Watcher, who is banned from participating, but blatantly loves participating at every chance he gets, has condemned Hank McCoy:

 

 

But it’s only because the character has a recurring need to prove that his passion is worthwhile. If he can show that he can use his scientific know-how to save the day, then it’ll show that he is more than a mutation, and that he has ‘conquered’ the X-Gene that knocked him down to four fingers on each hand.

The crucial point is that the character of Hank McCoy simply can’t reach his ambition: he’ll never save the day, because the X-Men live in a serialized tragedy rather than a complete story. He’ll fail time and time again, losing more of himself (sometimes literally) with every misstep.

That’s what makes him such an important part of the X-Men. He keeps trying, despite the odds being stacked against him. It’s admirable, but it's left him with a rap-sheet longer than any other character except Xavier himself. By rights, he should be in jail! But instead his experiments continue, unabated, because the misery of an X-Man must never end.

The prosecution rests.