Friday, January 9, 2009

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

As a kid I really liked Superman and started reading a bunch of his comics when I was about eight or so. That maintained for many years, and I slowly added on other titles that I was intrigued with, usually after some sort of crossover event (I was a sucker for that marketing ploy). But in those days one almost never mixed comic companies: you were either a DC guy or a Marvel guy. So aside from a brief fling with the Marvel collector cards in sixth grade and the very occasional comic, I knew practically nothing about the greater Marvel universe.

But in high school I watched the X-Men cartoon with regularity and was thus introduced to much of the team’s mythos. For example, I know all about the Days
of Future Past and Dark Phoenix sagas even though I’ve never read the books (being remedied in the near future). And even though I dabbled with the Marvel universe from time to time as an adult, I never have gone back and read the classic story arcs from my childhood I missed the first time around.

Anyway, God Loves, Man Kills is a storyline with which I also had a bit of familiarity for it was the inspiration for a sizable chunk of Bryan Singer’s X2. The novel concerns Minister William Stryker who stirs up religious anti-mutant fervor among the populace while kidnapping Professor X and using him in a diabolical attempt to eradicate all mutants. Stryker believes that Professor X is the antichrist, and writer Chris Claremont did a good job emulating the oratory of fundamentalist rhetoric in Stryker’s sermons.

Though it has been a recurring theme for well over two decades, this novel was apparently the first time that the direct comparison between mutants and persecuted minorities is played out. The opening concerns minions of Stryker chasing down two mutant children, killing them and stringing them up on a swingset. The fact that these two children are depicted as African American only further grinds home Claremont’s point.

Meanwhile, Magneto is out for a violent revolution against the mutant hating sentiments embodied in Stryker, placing the X-Men in a tough position. Do they stay true to Professor X’s vision of a peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants or join Magneto in his quest?

I’m not much of a fan of Chris Claremont’s work, and this novel didn’t really change my mind. In an included interview, he says that he thinks a sense of subtlety was achieved. Well, not so much. But he does do a good job at talking about something most in comics overlook: the appearance of mutants would terrify just about any normal person. Can you imagine seeing a guy across the street turn into the Incredible Hulk? This is presented quite well in an early debate on ABC’s Nightline between Stryker and Professor X when the minister asks Charles how the normal man is supposed to defend himself against the powers that mutants possess. There is no ready answer for the question, and while the general populace might not favor extermination, their sentiments would likely lie more with Stryker.

The whole plot to use Professor X in conjunction with a Cerebro-esque machine to amplify his powers to turn them on mutantkind is too clich├ęd to be really effective. But the true failure here is the inability to explore the real differences between mutants and humans. Are they the next stage in evolution? Are they in fact mutations that will die off given enough time? Even though Nightcrawler is blue, has a tail, and can teleport, he is more human than anything else because that justifies the whole thesis Claremont is asserting and the general thesis taken by the creators of today.

Perhaps that is a more general complaint about the X-Men rather than specific to this particular book. Regardless, God Loves, Man Kills is a decent story and worthy of your time. Claremont manages to write a story with all sorts of comic conventions, yet portray such conventions as shocking to the populace, making the steps the team takes to protect humanity cause them to be feared all the more. I’ll be reading more X-Men and other Marvel comics on the future and discussing them here. Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

wytchcroft said...

Interesting - I just read X-Men 'God Loves, Man Kills', today, and was thinking of maybe writing about it, I liked it a lot.

No criticism of you, it was good to read an opposite (ish) opinion. I wouldn't say GLMK is perfect, just that I probably enjoyed it more than you seem to have done. Anyhow, Thanks for blogging about it - I enjoyed the read.