Actually 650, but don’t hold that against me.
At the current moment, as far as we’re aware, Chamber is a teacher at the X-Men’s school, whoever it may be named after. The Sean Cassidy School for Advanced Mutant Learning and Phonetics? But the thing about him is that he doesn’t teach something like English Lit, Biology, French, the standard sorts of classes that you might see in a school. Instead, he teaches “Coping With Physical Changes”, which brings up an aspect of the X-Men we don’t get to see explored in much depth: mutation as disability.
Being a mutant means you’re in a thirteen-year lottery where some will receive telepathic powers, some gain the ability to fly – and some will be physically altered in ways which impair their lives. Chamber, perhaps, is the most brutally obvious of those mutants, with his upper torso and mouth literally blown off and replaced with a flaming blur of nuclear fission. He’s unable to talk – but has telepathic powers which replace that ability.
Chamber’s role as a teacher fascinates me, because he’s been through a singular traumatic experience – twice. And now he’s working to help others deal with it. We don’t see disability dealt with often in the X-Men comics. It’s just accepted that Xavier will periodically recover use of his legs, that Anole will regrow his arms, or that Wolverine will heal from whatever happens. With Chamber we had a long-term disability shown on-panel. It may not be one which anybody in the real world can ever experience themselves, but with the X-Men inference is key. They are, after all, a walking metaphor for the minority experience whose membership is primarily made up of straight white people.
Comics are terrible for recovering disability, for shrugging off injury as either a joke (see DC’s decades-long in-joke of lopping off hands, now co-opted by Marvel’s cinematic universe) or as a short-term problem. Even Chamber was ‘fixed’ in a comic for a while, until he was reverted back to his default visual – Chris Bachalo’s design was so iconic that comics can’t get rid of it for long. But what’s remained with the character always is that he has to live a different life because of the way his powers are active. Even when sat down at a table, or walking down the street, he is impaired and impeded by his mutant powers. They are a constant, and something which he has to work with every day.
It’s not a case of eventually overcoming his situation, like for Cyclops or Rogue, but of accepting and making his situation work. It’s the same situation which those with a disability work with, and through, and within. The metaphor is not exact, as is the case with any time the X-Men books attempt to create some kind of real-world connection, but the constant characterisation of Chamber has essentially shown him to be a Paralympian.
And with his position as a teacher for the X-Men, he’s now passing on his experience. There are other several other mutants in a similar position to Jono, including Onyxx, Rockslide, and Dust. Although all four have human form, it’s suggested within the comics that all of them may in fact be functionally dead, that they’re psionic beings, inhabiting bodies but not ever connected with them. If somebody shut off their brain function, they’d essentially evaporate into non-existence. Which, thankfully, hasn’t happened to any of the characters yet. But it’s a scary concept to work into a comic.
All the X-Men have had to overcome something: from supervillains to illness to betrayal and heartbreak. Chamber’s goal, however, isn’t to overcome something – it’s to live with something. And that’s harder and more terrifying a goal than anything, at times. That the character has a sense of humor is miraculous, but that he’s now a teacher at the school, grumpily attempting to teach Glob Herman about life? That’s brilliant.
Chamber was created by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo