Written By Cadeem Lalor
One of the first X-Men comics I ever read was “God Loves: Man Kills”, which begins with two mutant children being lynched by a hate group known as The Purifiers. The fact that the two children are also black, and that The Purifiers are a hate group led by a televangelist preacher, William Stryker, were not lost on me. Of course, the historical allegory would be obvious to anyone reading the comics. An Amazon review of the comic even says the comic “oversimplifies the X theme of prejudice“.
The comic’s bonus materials reveal that Marvel published ‘God Loves’ as part of its graphic novel program in the 1980s. As writer Chris Claremont says he felt like the graphic novel had to be a definitive example of X-Men’s themes. Although the execution can be viewed as heavy-handed, God Loves: Man Kills is a frank look at the power of discrimination, examining how it is fueled by hate and fear. God Loves: Man Kills also follows a legacy of other stories that examine how mutants embody minorities. Throughout their existence the X-Men stories have shifted to focus on different forms of discrimination, whether it is racism, anti-Semitism or homophobia.
I was introduced to the X-Men universe through the films and even then it was clear that the film’s central conflict was inspired by the conflict between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Charles Xavier desires peaceful resolution to conflict and co-existence between mutants and humans. Meanwhile, Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto) believes that militant action is necessary to secure peace for mutants, at the expense of humans. In X-Men (2000) Magneto even utters Malcolm X’s “By any means necessary” when referring to his desire to fight the oncoming war between mutants and humans. The dynamic between the two may be simplified but as this piece discusses, the comics may have been affected by the political context that led to their writing. The viewpoint of both characters was being molded during the 1960s, during the Civil War when the news would often present simplified or exaggerated images of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
References to anti-Semitism also cannot be ignored since Magneto is a holocaust survivor. His fear, mistrust and outright hatred of mankind are fueled by his experiences in concentration camps. When speaking to Kitty Pryde, a Jewish member of the X-Men, Magneto remarks that it was once the Jews and that “My nightmare has ever been that tomorrow, it will be mutants.” (Miller, 284). These words are also spoken at a Holocaust Memorial, making the allegory even more clear.
X2 (2003) was heavily inspired by God Loves, and featured a bigoted William Stryker who wishes to eliminate mutants. Openly gay director Brian Singer also included scenes that referenced homophobia. When Bobby “Iceman” Drake tells his parents he is a mutant, his shocked mother can only ask, “Have you ever tried…not being a mutant?” As Singer says, the scene was meant to be a blatant reference and was also incorporated for humor. Singer also notes that LGBT identity and mutant identity share a uniqueness that other subgroups such as race or religion might not. When someone is LGBT, they are born into a family that is not LGBT. Some mutants are also able to stay hidden or in the closet since their mutation does not affect their appearance. Friends and family usually ostracize those who do choose to reveal themselves. There is a unique sense of isolation that makes the homophobia allegory even more appropriate for the X-Men universe.
In 1963’s Uncanny X-Men #294, Charles Xavier makes a speech at a concert celebrating diversity, where he argues that “This concert is about embracing our uniqueness – the colour of a man’s skin, the choice of whom we love…” The most obvious allegory came with the introduction of The Legacy Virus in 1993. The Legacy Virus killed hundreds of mutants and it was initially believed that it only affected mutants (Miller, 285). This also mirrors the old notion that AIDS only affects homosexuals.
When Singer asked Stan Lee if the gay metaphor ever occurred to him, Lee replied “Absolutely”. Singer has also been asked if he wrote scenes such as the Iceman coming out scene with an “agenda” in mind. I find that the word agenda is typically used to label any attempts to discuss discrimination or present positive images of minorities. There are many people that will complain about a homosexual or politically correct agenda in films, but never scrutinize the media around them that is disproportionately dominated by images of straight, white men. If we think of something as undesirable or unnatural, it is easier to see its representation in any medium as being “forced” or part of an “agenda”. Although the allegories may be very blunt at times, I respect the X-Men as a franchise that is not afraid of discussing the issue of discrimination. Although the stories take place in a fictitious world, they still stay rooted in reality by examining how mankind’s historical reactions to other minority groups will have an impact on how they react to a new one. Discrimination is an issue that is increasingly relevant and no amount of denial will change that reality.
To see and hear more from Cadeem, please check out Moviegrapevine.com and follow @CMoviegrapevine on twitter.
Miller, Andrew. “Mutants, Metaphor, and Marginalism: What X-actly Do The X-Men Stand For?” Journal of the Fantastic in The Arts 13.3 (2003): 282-290. Print.