Countdown to Avengers #7: The Uncanny X-Men*

It is doubtful that a bunch of misunderstood teenagers would ever willingly band together to “fight and defend those that feared and hated them.” However, the students of a unique and prestigious school called “Xavier’s School for the Gifted” are trained to do just that. Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Beast, Rouge, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Gambit, Iceman, Angel and a whole host of other misfits have passed through the gates of this school since the early 1960s and have been trained with this philosophy by their beloved mentor and founder Professor Charles Xavier better known as Professor X.

X-Men: First Class Comic Book Cover

The Uncanny X-Men

The X-Men came about at a time of inequality. First published in 1962 many saw their struggle as an allegory for the racial tension in the US. Today many social groups see similarities between their struggles and the X-Men. Part of it is simply the fact that they are a bunch of teenaged mutants that just want to live in peace and be accepted for who and what they are. Teenagers tend to respond to this message the most. Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men movies, said “what teenager doesn’t feel like a mutant?”

At the center of the X-Men universe are two opposing viewpoints on how Mutants (also known as Homo Sapiens Superior) and normal humans should relate to each other. On one side of this argument (which usually does develop into an all out physical fight) there is Professor X, who believes that Mutants and humans can and should coexist in peace.  However, even he admits that, “By the way, sharing the earth has never been one of humanity’s strong points.” By his side are his students, called “The X-Men”.

On the other side of the debate is an equally powerful mutant named Eric Lensherr, better known by his alias, Magneto, and his Brotherhood of Mutants. They tend to be disenfranchised from society and are distrustful of the intentions of the rest of humanity. Magneto and his team believe a war is coming and that they must be prepared for that day. 

In order to achieve his goals, Xavier establishes his school for gifted youngsters. Part of his objective is to teach young mutants how to not only control their powers, but to use them as a force for good in the world. This is best illustrated in the graphic novel X-Men:  Season 1 that retold the early days of the original X-Men. In one particular moment, after a training session, Xavier is talking to Scott Summers better known as Cyclops. Scott is afraid of his powers, his optic blasts, namely because he cannot look at anybody without some type of filter to shield his eyes. His blast is so strong that unharnessed it could punch a hole in a mountain, or as Wolverine points out in an argument in the first X-Men film, “Hey, I wasn’t the one who gave Grand Central a new sun roof.”

As Scott speaks with him, Xavier tells him that he has to learn to overcome his fear of his powers if he is to control them. Only then can he become a leader among mutants. He says, “One day, the heroism of the X-men will show the world that mutants aren’t to be feared. You and your teammates will prove that we can coexist with normal humans because that is exactly what we are.”

 He doesn’t think that just because someone can shoot lasers from their eyes, teleport, control storms, or have shiny metal claws popping out of their hands, that they are any different from anyone else. He sees their powers simply as their special gifts and abilities: gifts that can serve the rest of humanity.  Like any teacher, it is Xavier’s hope to shape the X-Men into becoming the future leaders of tomorrow. This means they have to learn how to use their powers for good, which entails sometimes using them to defend normal humans from the evil mutants.

Despite Xavier’s intentions, they do little to quell the fears of the masses. Like any important leader, i.e. Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr., he is a target of assassination attempts and even a kidnapping plot. The latter is seen in the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. This incident proves to be one that tests the X-Men, their beliefs and even Xavier. Already at this point they had lost Jean Grey to the alien entity known as the Dark Phoenix, and now they were coming under fire from a radical and insane televangelist named William Stryker who believed that mutants were evil and should be eliminated.

Xavier is manipulated into using his mind powers by Stryker, using his telepathy to target the minds of mutants and cause a cerebral hemorrhage.  After rescuing Storm and Cyclops, the rest of the X-Men try to intervene during a large rally Stryker is holding. Cyclops makes an impassioned plea, stating that mutants are not monsters but that they are just as human as anyone else. Cyclops even points out that their abilities may be given to them by God.

Stryker is furious and, pointing at one mutant by the name of Kurt Wagner, alias Nightcrawler, says, “Human, you call that thing human?”

Kurt looks like the stereotype of a demon. He has elf-like ears, a forked tail, three fingers one each hand, three toes on each foot, and yellow eyes. Naturally, his appearance is one that makes many afraid; those in his village would often hunt him down and try to kill him. However, once people get to know him they see that his is a kind, generous and fun-loving soul. He is also a deeply devoted Christian often praying in times of stress for his teammates and even his enemies. He is even an ordained Catholic priest.

Fellow team-member Kitty Pryde, who has served beside him for years, says:

“He had every excuse to become as much of a demon on the inside and out. But he decided he’d rather learn to laugh instead! I hope I can be half the person he is. And if I have to choose between caring for my friend and believing in YOUR God, then I choose my friends.”

Her words almost echo the decision of Mark Twain’s Huck Finn to choose to go to Hell and help the runaway slave, Jim; rather then return him to his owner. It is a bold, noble and selfless act, one that demonstrates everything Xavier believes. Stryker is not impressed and aims a gun at her. A nearby police officer shoots and incapacities Stryker.

 A bystander asks why, and the officer says, “(Stryker) was about to shoot an unarmed little girl. If that’s what the word of God says, then it has changed since I was in Sunday School.”

Because of this whole situation Xavier almost considered giving up his dream. Cyclops and the others encourage him to hold on. Xavier knows he gave them their reason for being and that they believe in his dream.  Xavier says,” If ever there was a moment which justified my creation of the X-Men, this is it.”  He knows that in times like this, the “good” mutants need to stand and speak for others and seek peace with frightened humans. He knows that acting like monsters will only make their problems worse. The incident with Stryker proves that his dream is getting closer to fulfillment.

Many years later, this prized pupil tells his fellow X-Men:

“We’re a superhero team. And it’s time we started acting like one…It’s about… truth, perception. We’ve saved the world- – Worlds, even, time and time again. That’s the truth. But the perception is that we’re freaks. Or worse, Magnetos waiting to happen. We’ve been taking it on the chin so long, just trying to keep from being wiped out, I think we’ve forgotten that we have a purpose.”

Their purpose, given to them by Xavier is to save the world, and show that the “freaks” are not out to harm anyone.  However, Magneto thinks their efforts are not enough, and that the peaceful message of Xavier will only fall on deaf ears. Magneto distrusts and fears normal humans, feeling that one day some government may outlaw mutants. Then they will come in the night for all the Mutants and lock them away. 

His views are easy to understand. Eric was a Holocaust survivor and he watched as his parents were ripped away from him, and then his mother was murdered right before his eyes. It had been at that time that his power to control all magnetic forms of metal first developed. A Nazi even experimented on him and tried to use him as a weapon. Xavier describes him as a good man with good intentions who is consumed by rage.

These two men have the same goals: mutant freedom, but both have different opinions on how to pursue this goal. This is largely because of their past experiences .Xavier was born into a wealthy family and had every privilege he could dream of. Girls adored him, and he was able to get a world class education at the finest universities. Magneto on the other hand, through no fault of his own, endured what many would call a literal “Hell on Earth” as a child, loosing many people he loves. He knew what it was like to be feared, hated, and tested on. Everyone within the Marvel universe looks to these two as the figureheads of the Mutant community, and fans recognize that they are two sides to the same coin.

This was not always the case. Xavier and Eric first worked side by side trying to fight for the same cause the same way. Xavier could sense that deep with in Eric lay great power and potential, but also deep anger and rage. His anger and rage while giving Eric an edge, also made him less powerful. In the movie X-Men: First Class we see that during their time together Charles went deep into Eric’s mind and helped him find a place in his memories that was between rage and tranquility.

That moment was on the Eighth Night of Hanukkah when Eric was just a child and presumably the last one he ever spent with his mother. It was a beautiful, serene moment, one that Eric did not know he had.  Tapping into that part of his mind, Eric was able to unleash his full power. However there was soon a falling out between the two of them. Eric could not believe or accept that humanity and mutants could live together and they went their separate ways.  In many ways the two are not unlike Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X where they have the same goal but two different ways of pursuing it, one in favor of peace and the other believing in a violent approach.

 Despite his deep anger and rage against normal humans, Magneto is more then capable of showing kindness. In the film X-Men: First Class, he tells Mystique to accept who she is and tells her she is beautiful, like a tiger. In the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills when he comes upon two mutant children who had been brutally murdered by a group of anti-mutant bigots and hung from a swing-set , tears fall form his eyes as he takes the children down and gives them a proper burial.

It is because of the fact he knows that deep down Magneto is a good person with good intentions that allows Xavier to continue to see him as a friend .The two often meet to play chess together, even when Magneto is in prison. Magneto views Xavier as the only man who is his equal, and sees him as his best if not only true friend in the world. He is even willing to help him and protect him if need be, and has often led the X-Men in Xavier’s stead.

 In the final episode of the 1994 X-Men cartoon series, Xavier is incapacitated by an assassination attempt. Wolverine, Cyclops and Jean Grey go to his mutant island of Genosha and try to plead for his help.  After a small skirmish, and hearing the facts he concedes knowing full well that Xavier would do anything to help him. In an episode of the cartoon Wolverine and the X-Men, when a comatose Xavier washes up on the shores of Genosha he takes him in and cares for him as a guest and offers to let him and the other X-Men stay. They decline his offer and he lets them leave, with his blessing.  In the movie X:Men: The Last Stand, Magneto appears just as upset over Xavier’s death as Wolverine and Storm. Then when a mutant punk named Pyro tells him he would have killed Xavier had Magneto given the order, Magneto shuts him down, saying, in all sincerity “Charles Xavier did more for mutant kind then you’ll ever know.”

Despite all the good that Xavier and his team do, it is very difficult for them as mutants; sometimes even fellow super-humans fear them and are often times at odds with them. However, Xavier’s X-Men continue on, in many ways because it is like Nightcrawler tells Storm in X-Men 2, “When I was in the circus, people were scared of me. But I didn’t hate them. I pitied them, because sometimes people may not be able to see past what they can see with their own two eyes.”

“I gave up on pity along time ago,” Storm responds.

“Someone so beautiful should not be so angry,” Nightcrawler retorts.

“Sometimes anger can make you strong.”

“So can faith,” he calmly responds.

X-Men: First Class Teaser Poster

teaser poster for the movie X-Men: First Class

In the case of Nightcrawler it is faith in God. However, in the case of the X-Men as a whole, it is faith in the dream and teachings of Xavier. They have faith that perhaps, by their examples of bravery, heroism, courage, and teamwork, people may see past their strange abilities and accept them as human beings. It is a dream that everyone has. A dream of a better world. A dream of acceptance. A dream of belonging. It’s the dream of Gandhi. It’s the dream of Dr. King. It’s the dream of Mother Theresa, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Martin Nielbaur and anyone else who has ever dreamed and fought for a better world.

 

 

*

*Note, The X-Men do not appear in the “Marvel Cinimatic Universe” of films ( Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers). The film rights to these characters are owned by 20th Century Fox, while the heroes comprising the Avengers belong to Disney/Marvel Studios.  However due to their prominence in the Marvel Universe, the fact that the X-Men movies helped reignite the superhero film genre ( along with the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie),  and the current Avengers vs. X-Men story-arc in the comic books, I felt that they deserved their time in the sun.

 

References:

Austen, Chuck and Karl Kerschl. X-Men 2: Nightcrawler Prequel. 2003. Marvel Comics.

Austen, Chuck and Patrick Zircher. X-Men 2: Official Comics book Adaptation. 2003. Marvel Comics.

Claremont, Chris, John Byrne and Terry Austin. X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga. 1980 Marvel Comics.

Claremont, Chris and Brent Anderson. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. 1983. Marvel Comics.

Fillippi, Nick ( Dir.) “Hindsight, Part 3.” Wolverine and the X-Men. ( TV Show). January 30, 2009.

Fillippi, Nick. ( Dir.) “X-Calibre.” Wolverine and the X-Men. ( TV Show). February 20, 2009.

Hopeless, Dennis and Jamie McKelvie X-Men : Season One. 2012 Marvel Comics

Krieg, James “Graduation Day” X-Men. ( TV Show)September 20, 1997 ( Original Airdate).
Rattner, Brett ( Dir.)  X-Men: The Last Stand Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Famke Jansen, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Ellen Page and Kelsey Gramer. 2006. 20th Century Fox

Singer, Bryan ( Dir.) X-Men. Starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Famke Jansen, and Anna Paquin . 2000. 20th Century Fox.

Singer, Bryan ( Dir.) X- 2: X-Men United. Starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Famke Jansen, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, and Brian Cox. 2002. 20th Century Fox.

Uhley, Len. Nightcrawler” X-men. ( TV Show Episode). May 13, 1995.

Film. Vaugn, Matthew (Dir.) X-Men: First Class.  Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawerence, and Rose Byrne. 2011. 20th Century Fox.

Whedon, Joss and John Cassaday. Astonishing X-Men Issue 1. 2004.

X-Men created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Wolverine created Len Wein,               John Romita, Sr., and Herb Trimpe. Storm created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. Nightcrawler created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. Kitty Pryde created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

*

Disclaimer:

This blog is not endorsed, authorized, approved or prepared by anyone involved in the creation or ownership of the X-Men family of characters. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the views, ownership or opinions of Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, or their subsidiaries.

Photo Credits:

2004 Marvel Comics. 2011 Marvel Studios/20th Century Fox.

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About jonathondsvendsen

Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Somehow you stumbled upon it. Whatever brought you around, I'm glad you're here. I am a free-lance writer and independent scholar of pop-cultural mythology, living and working in Minnesota. An aspiring mythmaker, I dream of voyages through space, fantastic worlds, and even my own superhero or two. I am also an established public speaker and have guest-lectured for college classes on the topic of comic book superheroes. I graduated from Bethel University in 2007 with a degree in Literature and Creative writing. I also write for the website NarniaFans.com. Head on over and you can check out my book reviews , a few fun interviews and even my April Fools Day jokes.
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