question of the day: Are Marvel’s X-Men human?

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

In a lawsuit that sounds more like a raucous fanboy debate than a legal proceeding, Marvel’s own lawyers are insisting that the mutant superpowered characters from X-Men are not, in fact, human… which would appear to be contrary to the overarching theme of the series. From /Film:

[T]his isn’t an ideological or a moral stance. Instead, it is a financial one. Toys manufactured in other countries and imported into the US are subject to taxes, but those taxes are lower if the toys represent non-human characters. That has led to Marvel lawyers arguing that an action figure representing, say, Wolverine, is actually “representing animals or other non-human creatures (for example, robots and monsters).” This argument leads to a good conversation on the questions of humanity and acceptance that have long been part of the X-Men storyline.

The great Radiolab podcast has a show that begins with two international trade lawyers who noticed an interesting distinction in taxation for categories of products being imported into the US. ‘Dolls,’ which are toys that represent humans, are taxed at 12%. ‘Toys,’ meanwhile, are, well, toys, but ones that don’t represent humans. Those are taxed at 6.8%. You can probably see where this is headed.

These two trade lawyers, as it turns out, had a big client when they noticed these tax rates: Marvel. So the pair went to customs and argued that Marvel’s licensed products are toys, not dolls. To do that, they argued that the figures do not represent human beings.

This seemingly minor trade argument led to quite a few legal cases, and a big part of these cases involved Marvel’s lawyers arguing that the X-Men are not humans, and therefore licensed products representing the characters should be taxed at half the rate of dolls that represent human characters.

The idiocies of tax law aside, how does this impact — if at all — thinking about X-Men and its philosophies? Does it make you think differently about the mutants’ status?

Are Marvel’s X-Men human? Is this a question that, even within the fictional universe of the X-Men, could or should be decided in a court of law, or is it a larger moral issue beyond matters of law?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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