The Word Sex Is Hidden On Every Page Of One Of Marvel’s X-Men Comics
Grant Morrison's New X-Men #118 contains an elaborate prank from the entire creative team, with "sex" appearing in the background of every page in an issue about subliminal influence.
When Fortress Of Solitude shared some interesting facts about Marvel comics, they saved the best for last. No one cares about Sauron, but an artist hiding the word “sex” in every panel of an X-Men comic? Now that’s the sort of strange nerd news we love to hear, and it deserves a much deeper dive into just how Ethan Van Sciver pulled off this prank, which would have violated the Comics Code Authority if it was still in effect, in New X-Men #118.
Technically, it wasn’t the work of Ethan Van Sciver, as when asked about it, the artist said it was just a coincidence and fans were looking too closely at something that wasn’t there. An article in Wizard magazine touched off the scavenger hunt for fans to find “sex” on every page, and despite the denial, they found 18 incidents in the background. Feeling a little cheeky, Van Sciver later pointed out a 19th image that fans had overlooked, but the word being inserted as a subliminal message makes sense given the plot of the issue.
Written by Grant Morrison, it’s no wonder that the subversive artwork was a group effort, as the acclaimed author is well-known for their countercultural style and willingness to bend the rules of writing until the narrative is straining under the weight. Their time writing New X-Men is widely praised as pulling the mutant superhero team out of the dark ages of the ’90s and redefining Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters as an actual school populated with a hundred young students. New X-Men #118 didn’t focus on Glob Herman or Beak; instead, it was all about the adults, and sex was the issue’s theme.
The X-Men live in a world that hates and fears them, and in this issue, that anger was starting to boil over until Emma Frost decided to “push the bliss buttons” on a group of humans using her telepathy. Anger was replaced with a very different emotion, and she managed to diffuse the dangerous situation with no bloodshed, but still, that’s not what Professor Xavier would have done. Sex came up again in a telepathic exchange between Wolverine and Jean Grey when the Canadian berserker told her to “get the hell out of my personal fantasies.”
Given where Wolverine and Jean Grey stand now in the current run of X-Men, or those that watched the Fox cartoon growing up, it’s an ironic statement. So while the actual writing of the issue was focused on sex, and the artwork featured sex all over the place, how blatant did the creative team get with their prank? There’s a character named John Sublime. Get it?
Sublime is a colony of bacteria from the dawn of life on Earth that took over a human host and manipulated the X-Men from behind the scenes for years. Yes, Grant Morrison comics do get strange, and bacteria capable of subtly manipulating people is perhaps the least of it. New X-Men #118 being filled with subliminal messages is a great prank, one that took years for fans to even fully notice, and it was done in such a way that the run isn’t diminished for it.
If you haven’t read any of Morrison’s New X-Men, every single issue is available now on Marvel Unlimited, and maybe you can try and spot the other 16 instances of “sex” we didn’t highlight here.