Note : Although this article discusses nothing more than what can be found in the pages of New X-Men #118, it is rated PG, and visitors under 18 should ask their parents before reading on.
When the issue in question was released several months ago, it went by almost unnoticed, but there is a subliminal message inside. Sure, some readers noticed the word SEX being hidden in the background art here or there, but only after an article in Wizard the general audience took a closer look and in fact the secret message has been discovered 18 times – so far. (Granted two of them are incomplete, partially covered by a word balloon and the page end) Additionally there is a general sexual undertone to the issue, with both dialogue as well as visual symbolism.
The plot, for example, has Jean telepathically contacting Logan with him telling her to “get the hell out of my personal fantasies“, Emma Frost pushing the bliss buttons of a crowd of protesters and reporters and Jean asking Scott if he slept with Emma while they were in Hong Kong.
Beside the eightteen counts of the word SEX, the visual hints include a woman milking a cow (symbolism), red roses (=love), a woman being touched at her nipple and a man at his testicle (among the crowd that had their bliss buttons pushed) and a painting of a naked woman in Xavier’s mansion.
Who did it ?
When asked about it on X-Fan’s message board, artist Ethan Van Sciver claimed that he had nothing to do with it and the appearance of the word SEX are just coincidence and people are looking too closely for something that isn’t even there.
When asked if it was the inkers, and them possibly getting fired for it (as they no longer work on the book) Ethan quickly put that rumor to an end, stating that neither they nor writer Grant Morrison did it. So nobody did ? Sure.
Actually it seems to be a combined effort of the entire creative team, the writer being responsible for the sexual undertone of the story and some of the hidden Sex messages clearly being by the artist (the smoke on page 2, or the lamps of the Cerebra machine on page 8), several others by the inkers (between the bars on page 9, or over Beast’s chest on page 7) and even the coloring team being involved, as the slightly lighter toned letters S and E in Jean’s hair on page 10 demonstrate.
Actually Ethan later pointed to one more SEX sighting, that up till then had been entirely missed by fandom.
Why did they do it ?
There are several theories for the reasoning behind the secret SEX message :
1) Like the title of this article says it – SEX sells
2) Including the Annual, #118 is the sixth issue of Grant Morrison as regular writer of New X-Men
3) The creative team are just having fun since Marvel no longer lets their issues get approved by the Comic Code.
4) Emma Frost is breaching the fourth wall and pushing the bliss buttons of the creative team. The “fourth wall“ is a term from movie and theatre and describes the imaginary wall between characters and audience. If a character talks or interacts with the audience, he or she “breaks“ through this wall. John Byrne’s issues of the Sensational She-Hulk are the most popular example.
5) Is it a mere coincidence that a character named John Sublime appears in the same issue where the subliminal message is found ? Replacing the name “Sublime“ with the word “Sex“ in the issue, we have Scott Summers saying to Jean :
“ If you want Emma and me to check out Sex, we can go downtown after lunch. “
Is he actually asking his wife for permission to do the nasty with Emma Frost ? On top of it, John Sublime made his first appearance in the Annual where Scott and Emma were in Hong Kong and according to Scott, Emma “kept me awake all night“. Is the subliminal message the creative team’s way of confirming what went on in that fateful night ?
Make of it what you want, possibly it’s neither of these reasons or a combination of all of them. Hope you enjoyed,