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Some definitions:

  • Mutants - Born with X-Gene and is hereditary. AKA Homo Superior.
    Examples: The X-Men, Magneto, Sabertooth, etc.

  • Mutates - Superhumans who acquired their superpowers by exposure to some mutagenic compound or energy (either accidentally or deliberately)
    Examples: Spider-Man, Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Captain America, Deadpool, etc.

  • Regular people - The general public in the Marvel Universe.

For the cases of the Fantastic Four and Captain America, the general public knows how they came to be as that information is more well known. But for the cases of Spider-Man, the Hulk, or even Daredevil, their stories aren't known, yet they aren't labeled as mutants by the general public.

Why aren't Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Daredevil labeled mutants by regular people?

In the Spider-Man films, it's shown that New York City citizens have come to accept Spider-Man, even helping him at times. At worse they may consider him a menace based off the newspaper the Daily Bugle, but they don't fear/hate him as if he were a mutant.

How do regular people in the Marvel universe come to accept one (mutates), and abhor the others (mutants)? How do they distinguish between the two?

Have any Marvel stories addressed this?

Obviously for the case of the Hulk, no one wants to be around him-- he's generally not a welcome sight when he's angry.

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To be fair, there have been no mutants depicted to be in the same cinematic universe as either Spider-Man OR the main cinematic universe (Earth-199999). –  phantom42 Oct 22 '12 at 17:44
    
@phantom42 I only cited the Spiderman films because I don't regularly read that line of comics. But they all these characters still have crossovers and share the same Marvel universe in terms of paper comics. –  spong Oct 22 '12 at 17:46
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Jubilee - What did we ever do to you? Mutant Hater - You were born. –  Jack B Nimble Oct 22 '12 at 19:22
    
In the case of Spiderman, Daredevil and the Hulk, all these guys have secret identities. But I thought that Captain America and the Fantastic Four are all pretty open about their mutate status. Maybe having a secret identity vs. not really having a secret identity has some bearing on public perception, since most mutants also have secret identities? (Even though Daredevil, Spiderman, and the Hulk aren't hunted down or labeled mutants, the public is generally more wary of them, or at least more fickle in their support.) –  cashenhu Oct 22 '12 at 20:54

7 Answers 7

They don't distinguish between the two; without technology or advanced senses, NO ONE can tell the difference. Just like in our universe, most people are unconcerned with things they cannot change and the Marvel Universe resembles ours in that their media is a powerful force in determining what the common man thinks of metahumans in general for good or evil.

  • The common man does not distinguish between mutates and mutants. Generally, mutants are bad, and the term mutate is not used in the common parlance of normal people.

  • Popular metahumans who get good press become superheroes. The origin of their powers is less important than what they do, have done, or have fought for or against in the public's perception. The Fantastic Four are mutates, but no one really cares about that. They care, the Fantastic Four protect New York against threats such as the Mole Man or Galactus. Good press goes a long way. Cooperation with the government is also a powerful tool toward maintaining good will.

  • Superheroes who become embroiled in events where the word mutant is associated (i.e. giant Sentinels invade a section of town shouting about mutants and randomly capturing them) or have major collateral damage because of those battles become mutants to the general public, and because of bad media coverage or general government disinformation, the word becomes a pejorative.

  • If a mutant is well-known, pushes a mutant agenda, or are particularly destructive, such as the early rampages of Magneto did, this often paints mutants in a highly negative light even if they are seen performing good deeds. The public, and rightfully so, avoids anything to do with metahumans as a whole due to the potential for accidental death during their conflicts.

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tl;dr Mutants are compelled to fight crime because of who they are with or without good press. Mutates fight crime because the get good press? –  Pureferret Oct 22 '12 at 18:45
    
No. They fight crime AND get good press, so people are less concerned about where their powers come from. If mutants could figure out how to reverse the bad media coverage they've had so far, and stop evil mutants from broadcasting their villainous exploits, perhaps mutants could enjoy some positive press result too. –  Thaddeus Oct 22 '12 at 19:30
    
But villainous mutates are always in the public.... –  Pureferret Oct 22 '12 at 19:35
    
But there aren't giant terrifying machines shouting "Mutate detected. Exterminate the mutate." –  Thaddeus Oct 22 '12 at 19:49
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I think the key part of this answer is "they don't". Plain and simple, the average human does not know the difference, but only the most die-hard mutant hater would start complaining about The Fantastic Four. Just like any other type of discrimination, it doesn't follow a complex set of logic. –  Zibbobz Mar 24 '14 at 13:44

For the most part, the general public respond to the publicity around a figure.

The Fantastic Four have always been open about their origins. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and most of the rest of the Avengers have been pretty open about sharing their origins (in the general sense) when asked. Henry Pym has always been proud of his Pym Particles, and (in the 616 Universe) he openly admitted to sharing them with Janet to help her become the Wasp.

Anyone with a disturbing appearance (Nightcrawler, the Lizard, Beast, etc) tend to be questioned as to whether they're a mutant or not. The public's apparant feeling is that mutants have physical deformities or distinct physical changes or limits (Nightcrawler, Beast, Angel, Cyclops, etc). Mutants are also generally distrusted, so most mutants shy away from publicity. They also are expected to have very potent powers. The general person on the street's view of mutants is less Jubilee and more Sabertooth & Magneto.

This leads to cases where heroes like Spider-man (maligned by the press, generally secretive) are theorized by some to be a mutant. heroes like Daredevil and Punisher tend not to be labelled mutants - DD is far too low-powered to fit the general consensus of 'mutant' (also not as well known - he limits his activities in general to one suburb of New York).

The final key that keeps the label of 'mutant' around the X-men is their political stances. The X-men don't lie about being mutants. They advertise it. They publicly advocate for improved human/mutant relations. They wear the label proudly. This keeps it in common view that they are mutants. Other heroes, who are not mutants, don't. They may support mutant rights and improved relations and everything else the X-men stand for, but they don't carry that as their main crusade.

TL;DR: They can't, really. But most heroes are open about being mutants (or not) and most villains are discovered to be mutants (or not) after their first major capture.

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The x-men-wiki states on the prejudice of mutants:

By comparison, most non-mutant superheroes, including mutates, are not affected by such bigotry, example: Fantasic Four, Ms.Marvel, Spider-Man, etc. Occasionally such people, such as Howard the Duck, are mistaken for mutants and treated accordingly.

The people know the back story of Captain America and the Fantastic Four.

I don't have an answer for Daredevil, but Spider-man has participated as a member of the Avengers. Either this makes him exempt from the mutant persecution (ie, he's one of the "good" mutants) or at some point he explained he wasn't a mutant, but a result of a mutate. The same could be said of the Hulk.

Probably the more good you do in the world, the less persecution you are going to suffer.

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possibly the first mention of Howard the Duck on scifi.se? –  zipquincy Oct 22 '12 at 18:32

Because people fear mutants specifically due to genetics

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It isn't so much that people assume Spider-Man might be a mutant versus Wolverine ... it's that "mutate" isn't the negative label that "mutant" is. Mutates aren't branded as a potential threat to the human race by large groups of people (although some alien species certainly object). Mutants, on the other hand, are seen as a potential replacement for the "common" person.

So once you are "outed" as a mutant, either by being discovered personally, or by the several organizations which have tried to track mutants, or by being associated with a known mutant group like X-Men or Brotherhood of Evil Mutants - you are a potential target for persecution.

The popularity of other superheroes varies due to public reaction (Spider-Man is a good example of someone who has seen both sides), but being branded a mutant publicly opens them to a whole new level of persecution.

So it's not distinguish as in visually, but rather by assumption or confirmation. And once enough people assume the person is a mutant, they will be treated differently by some (if not many).

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Actually, Spider-Man and Daredevil have been called mutants by normal civillians on many occasions.

And Spider-Man has often been hated regardless of being a mutant or not.

The scary thing about mutants for most civillians is that there are a large amount of them, more than other superhumans, and that they DIDN'T get their powers through technology or magic, but are simply the next stage of human evolution.

Anyways, you may as well ask why the jews were discriminated against despite being human beings just the same as any others.

Answer: the media lies and extrapolates the tiniest details of who people are into big deals.

You should remember that Civil War showed public opinion turn against all superhuman vigilantes.

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To expand on a point @JackBNimble made in his comment:

Mutants, or more to the point homo sapiens superior are born, and therefore have the potential to eventually replace homo sapiens sapiens. For the regular people it is a simple fear of becoming obsolete and extinct, which lowers their sense of self-worth, which leads to them lashing out against what they think is going to replace them, similar to what happened with the sabotaging of machines during the industrial revolution.

Mutates are homo sapiens sapiens, so what happened to them could potentially make any normal guy into what they are, so they are not a - percieved or real - threat to the very existence of the normal human race.

And finally, there is of course a lot of bigotry and hypocracy mixed in; they are humans after all.

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Keep in mind that mutant powers usually reveals on teen age, and usually on a traumatic way.

That adds a lot of bad "mouth to mouth" press about "muties": "Did you remember Smith's boy? I've heard he set ablaze their house. He was a damn mutie!"

During the Mutant Mayhem, a lot of aggression, damage and havoc was caused by different mutant factions. Some intentionally and some unintentionally, even "good" mutant teams fighting this type of events (as X-men) were several times considered as responsibles of the events.

These events put the mutants on the mass media, before them, mutants were more or less "hidden" from society, although some sagas (like Days of Future Past) put them on the blacklist of some high level government agents.

The fact is. Mutants are not perceived by ordinary people as "heroes", they are nature spawns that shouldn't exist and that menace their lives when they appear.

People associate mutants to mischief and destruction due to the early uncontrolled apparition of mutant powers, for the actions of evil mutant groups and for the facts in Mutant Mayhem and Days of Future Past.

When a superhero appears, people don't think in his origin. Maybe Spidey is a border cass, as he's received a lot of "bad press", however he's continuously fighting evil in New York.

Usually, mutant groups had to hide or act within the shadows to avoid public opinion to condemn them just for being labeled as "mutants" and this... this is something that gives a lot of reason to Magneto's arguments.

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