“What the heck are the Welsh?”
“A quaint, little people just west of England, Iceman. Picture the Scots without the sex appeal or the Irish without the laughs and you’ve pretty much got them nailed.”
Reading these words in Ultimate X-Men (written by a Scot, naturally) around 15 years ago, a few things struck me. At age 11 or thereabouts, this was one of the first times I realised how my home country was perceived by the outside world.
The idea that American characters wouldn’t even know Wales existed shocked me, although it was a revelation I’d see more and more as I travelled to the States and had to explain where I came from (“It’s sort of like Canada if England is the US, except that’s really Scotland”).
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But beyond all that, I had to confess I felt a little thrill to see Wales crop up in a proper comic-book, even if it was as a punchline. These were the X-Men – Iceman, Storm, Cyclops, Wolverine and the whole team – and they were bumping up against the place I called home.
My favourite superheroes knew where I lived! In hindsight, it’s a little pathetic, like gasping that the popular kids knew your name after they’d dunked your head in the toilet.
Still, at the time I felt like part of the pop culture discussion, and realised this must be how people from America and London felt all the time – something I wouldn’t really experience again until a few years later, when Doctor Who started filming in Cardiff and I started spotting places I recognised.
So I can completely relate to everyone who recently became excited by a surprise cameo for Wales in Marvel’s latest movie Black Panther, which includes our red dragon flag in a scene where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) addresses the UN, suggesting that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Wales is a powerful independent nation. In real life, the country would be included as part of the UK at these sort of events.
This was probably an oversight (or a joke) from a props master, but it’s tempting to imagine the parallel MCU history of a Wakanda-like, mighty alternate Wales with its own supernatural element deposits. Because to be honest, after that first experience of Welshness in Ultimate X-Men, Welsh people have been thin on the ground when it comes to comics.
Sure, Wales has an official national superhero in the Marvel Comics Universe – a man or woman called The Red Dragon – but he/she has only popped up for a panel or two in the odd comic with no backstory provided or real relevance to the plot, so it hardly counts. Neither do characters called Captain Wales or Captain Cymru, who have popped over from parallel universes where they replace the UK’s usual Captain Britain (yes, we have a Captain Britain in the Marvel universe).
Sadly, for the most part the best Wales can offer the world of Marvel are various Merlin-associated characters called things like Dafydd ap Iorweth, grouchy Scotland Yard detective Dai Thomas (who was basically the J Jonah Jameson of the Captain Britain comics) and a C-list X-Man called Pixie, whose mining village of Abergylid (not a real place) had to be liberated from alien control by her teammates. Meanwhile, in rival DC comics there doesn’t seem to be any real Welsh representation at all.
Of course, it’s not all bad in the world of Welsh pop culture. In the last few years Wales has begun to be more and more involved in popular TV and film projects, from the popularity of ‘Celtic noir’ dramas like Hinterland (filmed separately in Welsh and English) to the success of actors like Michael Sheen, Matthew Rhys (who helped create an entire Welsh-themed episode for popular US animation/spy series Archer) and Ioan Gruffudd – who in fairness almost counts as a Welsh superhero (he played Mr Fantastic in the slightly less awful of the two Fantastic Four film franchises).
Thanks to Doctor Who and Torchwood we’ve also made some inroads into the world of sci-fi, meaning that at least some Americans might know where Cardiff is now (it’s sitting on that rift in time and space, remember?).
And yet, as superhero movies conquer more and more of the world, I can’t help but wish Wales could get more of a look-in. Sure, it’s a small country without too much influence on the world stage, and it’s not like we get loads of Scottish or Irish superheroes either – though Ireland did at least get Banshee, an X-Man who strays towards the upper end of the B-List and Scotland had (among many others) Wolfsbane, soon to be played by Maisie Williams in the upcoming New Mutants film.
Maybe going forward, comic creators and Marvel filmmakers can follow Black Panther’s UN scene lead and finally give Wales the mainstream superhero we deserve. No more jokes, no more grumpy policemen or unloved X-Men alternates – we want to see a hero who truly represents us up on the screen.
Which is why, on this St David’s Day, I’m calling for SuperTed to finally get the gritty live-action film franchise the world has been crying out for.
Think about it: loved by young and old, he’s the perfect new hero to bring us out of these dark political times, and he’s a must-include for the follow-up to Avengers: Infinity War. I know he’s not part of the MC, but exceptions can be made. I mean, how many superheroes can boast an outfit this cool? Surely anyone can see this is a win-win.
If my proposal is not accepted, well, we’ll just have to hope The Red Dragon turns up in Black Panther 2. Maybe he’ll need some advice on how to deal with Wales’ vibranium deposits.
Black Panther is in UK cinemas now