The X-men: How I learned to Love Mutants

The X-men: How I learned to Love Mutants

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When many people hear about the X-Men, they think of a silly kid's comic
book, but that is not so. X-Men, actually most comic books in general, are a
unique blend of two classic art forms; drawings, sometimes even paintings, and
storytelling. A comic artist must be able to convey the right mood and feeling
for his or her art. They must also be able to fluidly tell a story and fit it
all in the allotted number of pages. The stories often probe deep into the
human psyche, questioning what is right and what is wrong or showing human
frailty. That is not all. In a series like the X-Men, where there are at least
a few hundred characters, past and present, leading and supporting, even dead
and alive, the writer must keep track of a character's experiences and their
personality. They must also keep track of continuity, making sure they don't
contradict past events. This last rule is only loosely followed sometimes.
     All in all, a long, ongoing story can be like a soap opera. My favorite
example of this is "The Summers Family," Which goes a little something like
this: There are two brothers, Scott and Alex Summers, who were orphaned as
children when they were pushed from a plane being attacked by an advanced alien
race. Their mother died but their father went on to become a space pirate.
     Later, Scott falls in love with Jean Grey, who becomes an omnipotent
primal force, the Phoenix, who commits suicide to save the universe from herself.
Meanwhile, a bad guy has made a clone of Jean named Maddie, who marries Scott.
They have a baby, Nathan. Jean returns from the dead, not actually having been
the Phoenix, but actually a body template. Scott leaves his family and joins a
team of super heroes with Jean and some other old friends.
     Well, Maddie becomes a bad guy and apparently dies. Later, the baby,
Nate, is infected by another bad guy with an incurable virus, so he's sent 2000
years into the future where he grows up then comes back to help fight the good
fight. Nate was brought into the future by a group of people pulled together by
his “older sister.”
     His older sister is Rachel, who was born in an alternate timeline where
almost all the good guys were dead. Her parents were Scott and the real Jean.
She came back to prevent her time from ever happening and ended up about 2000
years in the future because a friend was stuck traveling about in the time

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stream.
Meanwhile Alex feels that he cannot live up to Scott's standards so he
constantly tries to escape his shadow. He gets brainwashed into being a bad guy,
recovers to lead a group of good guys, and gets brainwashed again.
     Great family history, no? Oh yes, there may be another brother around
somewhere.
     The X-Men are all mutants, Homo Sapien Superior, the next evolutionary
step for human beings, a minority group of people with a genetic quirk, an “X-
Factor” that grants them extraordinary powers. Some are blessings, like the
ability to control the weather or to fly. Some are curses, such as the ability
to blast uncontrollably strong beams of force from the eyes. Blessed or cursed,
mutants are a group of people who are feared for their differences. Some
mutants strike back against humanity in a harmful manner. One group who attacks
regular humans is the Acolytes, formerly lead by the X-Men's oldest enemy,
Magneto. They have attacked hospitals and orphanages just to “cleanse the
genepool.” Some strive to bridge the gap between mutant and human. These are
the X-Men, a group of mutants, formed by Professor Charles Xavier, the world's
strongest telepath, “sworn to protect a world that fears and hates them.” The
X-Men comics are not just about prejudice either. They tackle many social
issues, such as abortion and AIDS.
     The original team of X-Men consisted of five teen-agers and Xavier
(Professor X). These were not as popular as other titles of the times such as
Superman, Batman, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and The Avengers. The early
stories were basically about a supergroup that went around facing super bad guys
and some prejudice now and then. After sixty-odd issues, X-Men started just
reprinting old stories. This went on for about thirty issues when the book was
going to be canceled. The X-Men were saved by the creative team of Dave Cockrum,
John Byrne, and Terry Austin with Giant Sized X-Men #1.
     Giant Sized X-Men #1 introduced an “all-new, all-different X-Men.” This
boasted in a new team of mutants. The new team of X-Men was multi-racial and
multi-national, whereas the original team was a bunch of white American kids.
It was also a very radical team, considering the time period (the late
seventies). Since the book was scheduled to be canceled, the creators decided
to be a little bit radical in their approach to this dying comic book.
     The person who took over field command was Storm, an African native.
Think of that, a black woman leading a superhero comic book team, a role she
usurped from a young white male (Cyclops). It was quite a change from the norm.
There was also a young Russian, Colossus, during a time when Russians were taboo
in America.
     The others in the team were Wolverine, a Canadian, whose violent nature
was very different from the “boy scout types” like Superman. There were also
Sunfire from Japan, Banshee from Ireland, Nightcrawler (no, he is not a worm)
from Germany, and Thunderbird, an Apache Indian. One thing that made this group
of X-Men stand out was that on the first mission for the new team, issue #95,
they killed off Thunderbird, an extremely new and radical thing. About 40
issues later they killed off one of the large mainstay characters, Jean Grey,
who was a founding member. Of course, as I explained earlier, she came back a
few years later, but it was a really big thing at the time.
     That X-Men team went on many adventures, saved galaxies and all reality,
and built up a huge supporting cast, paving the way for spin-off books. A
current list of X-Men books includes the following titles; Uncanny X-Men, X-Men,
X-Factor, X-Force (originally New Mutants), Excalibur, Generation X, X-Man,
Wolverine, Cable, and Deadpool, not to mention a lot of four issue limited
series titles.
     So, you may be asking, where does all the social stuff come in? Well,
it started coming into play early on, with the first group of X-Men. People
began to realize what it could mean to have people being born with great super
powers. They began to feel afraid and obsolete. One man, Dr. Bolivar Trask,
played on these fears and built giant robots to capture and control mutants. I
believe this was around issue #15. They were called Sentinels and have been a
recurring problem for they X-Men. This parallels to the United States
government taking action against other groups of people they did not understand,
such as the Indians forced onto reservations, or the blacks that were oppressed
with laws until very recently.
     Another government action was the Mutant Registration Act, which
required mutants to check in with the government to the government could keep
tabs on them.
     One storyline dealing with racism is called “Days of Future Past” (which
I recently bought for a total of $21, one issue is even autographed by the
artist). This story illustrates a consequence of racism out of control. In it,
the Sentinels are programmed to protect humans from all mutants. The Sentinels
figure that the best way to do that is by taking over the humans. In the end,
all the heroes are dead and the Sentinels prepare to launch an attack on the
rest of the world to save it from the mutant menace just as Europe is about to
launch nuclear missiles at the conquered North America to keep the Sentinels
away. The world is a nightmare where people are killed or shipped to
concentration camps for being born a little differently from most others, when
racism wins out over reason.
     Another template of a society gone mad with racism is shown in the
island country of Genosha. At one time Genosha was a thriving country, one of
the most popular tourist attractions in the world. It seemed perfect, everyone
seemed happy. But things are not always as they seem. Genosha was secretly
taken care of by mutates, mutants who were made to be subordinate through
mindwiping techniques. The whole country, even the transportation systems like
the railroads, were run off mutate energy. All the low jobs were given to the
mutates, who didn't even have mind enough to speak in protest. Eventually the
X-Men helped to free the mutates, but, after failing to live peacefully together,
a civil war broke out, leaving the once prosperous nation in ruins.
          The normal humans are not the only people guilty of racism in X-
Men. The first villain ever fought by the X-Men was Magneto, a mutant who
sought to rule over the mutants and crush humanity for being inferior. After
being defeated time and again and even switching sides once, Magneto decided to
gather up mutants and live off of Earth and away from humans on an orbital space
station called Avalon. It was eventually blown up and Magneto lost his memory
then joined the X-Men again.
     Magneto mirrors many things tried by minorities in America. His
attempts to fight back are like the Black Panthers and some Indian tribes. His
separationist views are like some of what Malcolm X thought. Then there is the
inevitable attempt to fit in, which seems to work as a temporary, surface fix.
     Another group who struck back out of fear was the Brotherhood of Evil
Mutants, lead by Magneto, then Mystique, and now Havok. Mystique's Brotherhood
was even more militant in some ways than Magneto was. They attempted an
assassination of a presidential candidate which, if successful, would have set
the Days of Future Past storyline into actuality. They were as much, if not
even more like the Indians and Black Panthers than Magneto (until they became a
government sanctioned group in return for full pardons). Havok's group is too
new to assess right now.
     Social organizations have also been involved in the racial issues, as
they often were long ago. There have been two prime examples of this. One was
a story called God Loves, Man Kills, where the preacher tells his clergy that
mutants, having strange powers, are all hellspawn and condones hunting them down
and killing them to keep the threat away and to put a little chlorine in the
gene pool. This is like the Ku Klux Klan or a racist church one may hear about
in movies or television shows. The other example is also a church but it shows
a school of more open thought. In this church, the preacher recognizes that
some of these mutants use their powers to help others and they should not be
prejudged. The X-Men are even compared to angels in this story. This shows the
organizations, such as churches, that are open to people, no matter who they are.

As said earlier, the X-Men don't revolve only around prejudice, but they
battle other social injustices as well. One is the fear inspired by the Legacy
Virus. This is a disease that attacks a mutant's genetic structure and eats it
away, much like the AIDS virus attacks and destroys a person's immune system.
The X-Men have already lost some close friends to this disease. At first it was
thought that only mutants could get the virus, like it was once thought that
only homosexuals or drug users could get AIDS. Then a friend of the X-Men,
genetic researcher Moira MacTaggert, a normal human, contracted the disease and
panic spread like wild fire. Now all of the sudden every Tom, Dick, and Harry
is afraid of catching “that Mutie disease.” For a while, as I remember, people
thought one could catch AIDS by being near an infected person. That is how
people see the Legacy Virus: get near a mutant and you'll catch that non-curable
disease they all have.
     Another issue the mighty mutants have confronted is abortion. Is it
right to prevent a life if it is known that the baby will have what is
essentially a birth defect? In one storyline in X-Factor a doctor discovers a
way to tell if a fetus will be a mutant or not. This information can be passed
along to the parents who can decide if they want a mutant baby or not. In the
end, Wolfsbane, a conservative Scottish Catholic lass, destroys all the research
information the doctor has, preventing mutant abortions.
     Currently, anti-mutant hysteria is at an all time high. An ultra-
powerful combination of Professor X and Magneto took control of an army of
Sentinels and programmed them to round up super-powered people and destroy New
York City. This amalgamated being, called Onslaught, decided he would get rid
of all normal people and then decided to just kill everybody. To destroy him,
Earth's popular heroes, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, sacrificed
themselves. Most people view it in this way: a mutant killed all of their
favorite heroes so mutants are all evil.
     It also did not help the mutant cause that a popular anti-mutant
presidential candidate was killed on live television by an as-of-now unknown
mutant. No, mutants are not riding high on America's popularity list.
     The X-Men are popular outside comic books also. There is a cartoon and
a comic spin off of the cartoon, since it is geared towards younger people. As
Philip always points out, there is an X-Men ravioli out there. Clothing, shoes,
video games, toys, dolls, Pez dispensers, shoestrings, you name it, the X-Men
are likely to have it.
     So why do I like the X-Men so much? It is a combination of a lot of
things. Great stories, characters you can get attached to, beautiful art, a
different perspective (everybody loves Superman, but nobody loves mutants), and
social relevance. What else could make a better escapist's world? Not only all
that, but they are everywhere you turn.

And now, a few of the X-Men:

Professor Xavier, founder of the X-Men, telepath

Magneto, first enemy of the X-Men, one-time leader, now a team mate, ability to
manipulate magnetic fields

Cyclops, first and leader of the X-Man, Phoenix's husband, fires uncontrollable
optic beams

Phoenix, Cyclops' wife, founding X-Man, telekinesis (can move objects with
thoughts) and telepathy

Beast, founding X-Man, super strong and intelligent, hand-like feet

Archangel, founding X-Man, originally had feathered wings, but they were ripped
off and later replaced

Iceman, founding X-Man, can turn into ice and manipulate nearby temperature

Storm, leader of second team of X-Men, manipulates weather

Wolverine, most well-known X-Man, has bone claws and the ability to heal
extremely fast,
had indestructible metal laced bones and claws until Magneto sucked them
out of him

Nightcrawler, now leads Excalibur, ability to teleport

Colossus, now with Excalibur, body transforms into an organic steel, also super strong

Jubilee, now with Generation X, formerly Wolverine's sidekick, ability to
produce "fireworks"

Cable, son of Cyclops and a clone of Phoenix, leads X-Force, telepathy and
telekinesis

There are many, many other mutants, but these are a few pretty important ones.

Freak. Flatscan. Deadend. Genejoke. Mutie. Words. Powerful words
meant to distance... to demean... to destroy the havens of self respect we each
carry and nurture within us. Seeing past their differences, humans and mutants
share a common, unbreakable bond. Underneath all the “words”... we are related.
We are all family.
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