One of the magnificent things about comics is that they’re free to explore and challenge our preconceptions in unexpected ways. Often we don’t even know we’re being challenged.
Since their creation in 1963, the mutant super group “the X-Men,” have represented nearly every marginalized group in society. Racial discrimination, religious discrimination, and discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation are all seen in the gutters of X-Men books.
The last X-Men movie, “X-Men First Class,” did an exceptional job of drawing parallels between the growing mutant community and the victims of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. In this context, we learn a lot about Magneto’s past and his motivation for becoming the “villain” we know in the other X-films.
Several of his memorable lines point toward the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews.
As Charles Xavier is thinking of using the Cerebro device to find other mutants, Erik (the future Magneto) asks,
Can we [help them]? Identification, that’s how it starts. And ends with being rounded up, experimented on and eliminated.
As Erik suspends a barrage of missiles pointed at the the ships that had fired them at the mutants on shore, it’s Charles who speaks up:
Charles: Erik, you said yourself we’re the better men. This is the time to prove it. There are thousands of men on those ships. Good, honest, innocent men! They’re just following orders.
Erik: I’ve been at the mercy of men just following orders. Never again.
This is one of the most explicit allegories to real life prejudice that we find in X-stories. It’s worth noting that Katherine “Kitty” Pryde (aka Shadowcat), “The most Jewish superhero that has ever lived …” (according to a current writer of the X-Men) is the de facto leader of the primary X-Men team. For a bit more about Kitty’s Jewish identity, check this out.
Just about every marginalized group can sympathize with the X-folk and their struggles, but recently the adventures of the X-Men have been most akin to those in the modern LGBT community.
LGBT youth (and adults) are subjected to a gamut of social challenges that hetero-normative youth are not. They are much more likely to face bullying, physical and emotional violence, and suicide attempts than are their straight peers.
They are forced to the margins of a society that doesn’t understand them, hates them, or fears them.
The mutants of the X-Men face physical violence quite often. “Sentinel” (giant, mutant-hunting robots) attacks are a commonplace reality for mutantkind, and there are often efforts to “cure” mutants to normalize and integrate them into human society.
They exist on the margins of a society that doesn’t understand them, hates them, or fears them.
On a fairly regular basis, the X-Folk fight against a suspicious government that fears their difference, but one story in particular highlights another source of prejudicial fear: Religion.
A 1982 Marvel Graphic Novel, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, tells the story of the mutants’ encounter with Rev. William Stryker and his “Stryker Crusade” against mutants. Stryker himself primarily uses rhetoric and sermons to literally demonize mutants. He insists that they are spawns of the devil.
The Stryker Crusade, on the other hand, has much more direct methods. The comic actually opens with two crusaders murdering two mutant children and leaving their bodies hanging from a playground swing-set, adorned with a plaque that reads “MUTIES” (a slur for mutants). Much of the comic centers on the X-Men team trying to outmaneuver the crusaders who are hunting them while Charles Xavier tries to change the public opinion of mutants.
It’s grim enough to see this kind of violence in the fictional realms of comic books, but let’s not forget that there are real people that suffer violence just as horrific as that in God Loves, Man Kills. Russia’s recent anti-gay law has effectively sanctioned violence against LGBT people in Russia, but let’s not believe that America is exactly immune to homophobic violence. On the religious front, some of the rhetoric that Stryker uses is literally identical to some that is used in some real churches today to stir up hate for LGBT people.
For me, as 21st century justice-minded Christian, I’m deeply offended when religious texts and rhetoric are used to diminish the humanity of others. For this reason, and others, I believe we need the X-Men. It may not look like much, but what the X-Men do is offer an entertaining way to invest in justice.
When we see the clearly good people of Xavier’s team hunted down because of some basic part of their identity over which they had no control, we need only turn our heads before we see clearly good people in real life harassed and battered over an aspect of themselves over which they had no control and with which there is nothing wrong.
Even if you’re not particularly religious, some part of this should ring true to you. All of us who participate in the primary Western culture have seen it. Whether motivated by religious duty or some other pull toward justice, we all must do what we can to ensure that people whether alike us or not, are not marginalized based on an “accident of birth.”
I’ll leave you with this impassioned speech by Kitty Pryde: