Occasionally in the store I will overhear people talking about comic books like they are still just for children and that always makes me raise an eyebrow. There are particular titles aimed for the younger market but for the most part comic books are created for a more mature audience, one that already has an established love of reading. And while there are also quite a number of books with the sole purpose to show some skin and kill its characters in truly horrific ways, the best books can be read by a 12 year old and a 60 year old. Good stories stand up despite age and time which is exactly why underneath all the crossovers and time-travel and alternate universes X-Men books are still my favorite.
The origin of the X-Men is pretty familiar to most but in case you were a DC kid or maybe you have been living in a Hugh Jackman-less parallel dimension I’ll give you a quick rundown. Charles Xavier, a very powerful mutant with psychic abilities, realizes his dream of a world where humans and mutants can live peacefully together is achievable so he turns his family home into a boarding school for a handful of young mutants. Soon they start protecting other mutants that are being persecuted and saving the lives of civilians who hate and fear the X-Men.
Here’s the thing, it’s pretty obvious that “mutantdom” is symbolic of any and/or all minorities. But it’s more than that. You can apply the scrutiny and oppression to very prominent events in history. From McCarthy’s Red Scare to today’s disgusting intolerance of same-sex couples, X-Men have always been an example of persevering against the odds. Most of the men I know who love Spider-Man all do so because they felt nerdy and inadequate in their adolescence and saw Peter Parker as a shining role model. The same goes for X-Men, it really affected me that they became a surrogate family to each other and risked their lives daily to save people that would just as quickly spit on them at the local shopping mall. Luckily I never felt that kind of alienation or hatred but as a child I couldn’t help feeling like this made mutants so much stronger as heroes.
Teaching kids from an early age about the horrors of history can be amazing for them if done right, maybe don’t take your 7-year old to the Museum of Tolerance and stand then in that gas chamber with all the footage from Auschwitz playing on the walls? I can only imagine that would instill a horrible fascination and possibly plant the seed of serial killer-ism. However, teaching your kids not to make fun of other kids for being different is a lesson easily picked up from episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series (X:TAS). If the kids are a little older giving them a copy of Magneto: Testament is ideal. Without the overt violence or nightmare-inducing real footage, it tells the story of a Holocaust survivor with shocking accuracy. Later on in comic continuity there are dozens of hate groups that strive to kill off or at least abolish the name of mutants, plenty of these stories are easy to read but hard to forget.
I’m not a social justice blogger, usually I block them from popping up on my Tumblr dashboard because trying to build acceptance by spewing more anger and hate doesn’t make sense to me. Teaching future generations seems like the best option and what better way than with comic books? Brightly colored pages with lots of action and superheroes, not preaching, but showing what kind of harm bullying and ignorance can do. As annoyed as most adult readers are with the over-saturation of Wolverine, kids don’t see that (they also don’t see a giant murder machine, which is hilarious) they see this small, tough dude that is strong and cool. They don’t see Beast as a terrifying monster, they see a smart man who uses his brains as much as he uses his muscles. The original X-Men team was able to readily hide their mutations but over the years the visibility of mutations became much more noticeable. Nightcrawler, Leech, Santo, and Marrow. All mutants who felt like they had to hide their appearance otherwise they didn’t feel safe going out in public during times of mass hysteria. But that doesn’t make them any less heroes (if anything, Marrow’s penchant for being a total bitch-face makes her unlikeable not the actual bones erupting from her face.) Kids who grow up thinking being different is okay won’t shy away from it when they get older and peer pressure becomes almost palpable.
And who wouldn’t want to read about people overcoming hatred and still saving the world? In Bobby Drake’s origins before he became Iceman he was made into the town pariah for developing “ice powers” while on a date. But now he’s a freaking omega level mutant. OMEGA LEVEL. His powers have manifested so far that he is practically invincible. Or what about Magneto, a man who is always walking the line between villain and hero, survived the Holocaust and watched his whole family die at the hand of Nazis is now, according to movie lore, so powerful he could rip iron from your blood. LIKE, WHAT?! Just like those boys who looked up to Spider-Man when he was getting bullied by Flash Thompson, I and many others looked up to the X-Men every time they stopped a Sentinel or put the Hellfire Club in its place. Maybe people don’t understand who you are now but eventually you’ll believe in yourself enough that it won’t hurt as badly.
However, these books are hauntingly grim examples of what kind of hatred lives in our world. It’s not all bank robbers and jewel thieves. It is groups of people who see others that don’t look or act like they do and believe it’s wrong. Lex Luthor is an awesome villain to me because he has so much depth .He doesn’t want to steal money or the Hope Diamond, he wants power and unbridled adoration and that is what makes him such an interesting baddie. But Friends of Humanity or Purifiers are a whole new level of scary because they are just people who hate other people. That’s awful but it actually exists. How many times has NBC Breaking News covered a bank explosion in the last 10 years? I can’t remember any. But how many stories of hate crimes do we hear about? Constantly, right? Gotham has its psychopaths but the X-Men have bigots and hate mobs.
Luckily, X-Men books wouldn’t be going strong after 60 years if there wasn’t hope. These heroes continue to save lives and stop the world from ending because it’s the right thing to do. For every racial slur thrown at them they grow stronger as a community because they know it gets better. They continue to teach lessons in acceptance and courage. So, yeah, maybe the storylines are a little convoluted and there are so many teams it’s impossible to keep track of who is Uncanny and who isn’t but that’s the fun part, learning life lessons from a short Canadian with anger issues and knives popping out of his hands.
For more of Denise’s crazed rantings about X-Men remember to check back next month for another helping of Let’s Talk About X, Baby!