First thing is first, the X-Men to me are in fact, Marvel’s greatest creation. Someone could argue they’re the greatest creation in comic book history, and I wouldn’t throw a fit. Everyone knows the X-Men were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The duo created other greats such as Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther etc. The X-Men though were created during an extremely turbulent time in American history. I don’t think anyone would argue that the Civil Rights Movement changed the scope of America. Not only did it eradicate segregation, but Jim Crow laws as well. Blacks were being denied the right to vote, the right to go to decent schools, and even the right to eat in decent restaurants. Looking back, most Americans would tell you that wasn’t right. They’ll tell you that it is a shameful section of American history. Some argue, and I’m one of them, that America hasn’t fully reconciled with their actions during those days. Wherever you stand now, most agree that those times were wrong. Here’s the thing about that though. The Civil Rights Leaders were met with a bunch of opposition. It was okay to hunt blacks. If they spoke out against a white, they were lynched. Certain cities didn’t allow blacks outside at night. If you were caught outside by residents of the neighborhood, you were beaten or killed. America didn’t want to change. They didn’t want blacks going to school with whites. They damn sure didn’t want interracial relationships. The murder of Emmett Till in 1955 was one of the incidents that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.
The “facts” of his murder get mixed up sometimes. To sum it up, he talked to a married white woman named Carol Bryant. Bryant claimed that Till approached her and tried to talk sweet to her. Phrases such as “I’ve been with white women before,” and “You needn’t be afraid of me.” Bryant claimed that Till grabbed her hand as well. She ran outside, and this is where Till’s famous gesture was said to be done. People claimed he whistled at Bryant. That was never confirmed though. Also, Till’s cousin he was with refuted Bryant’s claims, saying Emmett didn’t say anything close to what she said. A 2006 FBI case reported that a second source backed his cousin’s story. So there you go, two sides of a story, and the truth somewhere in between. Sound familiar? Except a dead man can’t defend himself. Now if Emmett was saying all that to Mrs. Bryant, yeah he needs a talking to. Discipline from the parent no doubt, because talking to a woman like that is definitely rude, but not a crime. Bryant told her husband after the incident. His reaction? He ended up kidnapping Till and beating him so bad that his face wasn’t recognizable. His mother wanted it to be an open casket funeral, so everyone could see the violence that her 14 year old son went through. Nothing happened to the husband, he was found not guilty and lived a long life until 1994. His partner, who helped him kidnap Till died in 1981. Both men died of cancer. If something like this happened today, I believe a bulk of white people on Twitter, Facebook , Tumblr, etc. would be enthralled by retrieving the “facts” of this case before giving judgement. That’s fine, but we are quick to give a judgement of innocence or empathy when a white child or teenager is accused of a crime. I only ask people to be consistent. Some things in life aren’t that complicated. If you think Emmett Till deserved that death, stop reading this post now, I don’t want you reading my stuff anyways. You are the problem, as they say. People would claim the liberal media is trying to push their agenda. You see all of the nonsense, so I don’t have to go deep into that. My point is, people thought this disgusting act was acceptable. Not everyone, but enough that these two men lived a free life until they were 60 years old. Enough of the country said, “Not my problem. Sucks to be black.” This is exactly what’s going on now. Tamir Rice was twelve. Kid playing with a toy gun is killed by police. That’s not media bias, that’s their so called “facts.”
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby grew up during this crazy time. They were observing everything going on around them. The country erupted soon after. The Civil Rights Movement was in full effect by 1960. Comics were popular as well. DC Comics had been doing their thing with Batman and Superman. Marvel Comics was still finding their footing. They had success with characters like Namor and the Fantastic Four during the 40’s, but their main line of heroes arrived in the 60’s. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to create a group of characters that spoke to more than your average comic book reader. The X-Men did just that. America was a bigoted, hateful country when the X-Men were created. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wanted to show everyone that bigotry could be defeated. They wanted to show everyone that hate couldn’t win. That no matter who you were, your sexuality, your race, or whatever made you different from everyone else, you were special. This message doesn’t shine bright with any superhero team like it does with the X-Men. It all started with 1963.
Everyone who knows any American history knows Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech. If you don’t or haven’t actually read it, please do so. I’ve posted a section of it below. This famous speech was a part of the march on Washington in 1963. Martin Luther King was an educated man. His family raised him to be a god-fearing man as well. He was the complete package. Not only did he fully understand and care about the black struggle in America, he appealed to whites too. They liked how he dressed, his preacher voice, and how he carried himself. When King spoke, you listened. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just preach. He was on the front lines for some of the most important events during the Civil Rights Movement. A true leader through and through.
Martin Luther King Jr., whether they intended it or not, is Professor X in almost every way. Look beyond the pacifist side of MLK you usually hear about. Professor X is a perfect representation of what every educator in America should like. Caring, understanding, and empathetic. Professor X, in the movies and comics, sees the good in every person. Whether it’s Wolverine, or Jean Grey, Charles Xavier is always trying to do his part to help his fellow mutant. Mutants go through an identity crisis in America. They have trouble understanding who they are and their place in society. Their history is small. The history they do know, is painful. Segregation, Witch hunts, and hiding. This was the black experience in America in 1963. It still goes on today, but systematic racism is a bitch. Segregation and Jim Crow gone, so some white people look at blacks and say, “Now what do you want?” Professor X has dedicated his life to showing humans that his kind is perfectly capable of assimilating into their culture. Don’t confuse that though for giving in to human pressures. Professor X is dedicated to his people first. Their understanding of themselves comes before their understanding of humans, but the understanding of humans is very important. That’s what separates him from most educators. Is he perfect? The Professor has his demons believe it or not. He has had times of weakness. He’s used his influence to get his own way. Does that take away from the legacy of the man? You better rethink your life if you think so. It only adds to the beauty of his human flaws. You can insert Martin Luther King everywhere I wrote Professor X. A well-educated man, who understands his people. A man who values life over everything else. Focused on his people first, and the world second.
All of those similarities to Professor X aren’t really a coincidence. Writers and creators draw from real life more often than not. World building is an element every creator must have, so certain aspects of a creator’s world will be completely different than real life. At the end of the day though, they can’t help but interject real life into their stories. Whether consciously or subconsciously. One of the best X-Men stories is called God Loves, Man Kills. It is written by Chris Claremont. He is considered to be the best X-Men writer of all time. In this story, Stryker makes his debut, but as a Reverend. The persecution of mutants resembles the persecution of blacks during that time. The story came out in 1982. Stryker had a band of religious zealots called Purifiers. These are almost a direct manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan in America. A band of religious nut jobs that are out to cleanse the world. Their only method of cleansing is to eradicate the world of a minority group the deem weak. Hitler did it with the Jews. Purifiers did it with mutants. KKK did it with blacks. This story has been touched on lightly in the films, but Stryker was turned into a military man. The military have been used as scapegoats in the media when it comes to portrayals of zealotry in comic book movies. Keeping the religious undertones in the film might’ve been too risky for Hollywood. The X-Men already cover more serious issues than most superheroes. I stated earlier, that the killing of blacks was acceptable back then. I would argue that it still is today. The white robes and pointy hats though have been traded for blue police uniforms. We cannot hold black citizens, whether man or boy, to the same accountability we hold our officers. The KKK had no regard for their actions back then. Some officers have no regards for their actions now.
On the opposite side of Martin Luther King Jr., the media and high schools alike will tell you a man by the name of Malcolm X opposes him. For those of you who know little about Malcolm X, I implore you to read his Autobiography. It is a tale of redemption that any person, not just black ones should read. Malcolm X is much more than the radical they claim he is. Erik Lehnsherr is the same way. Magneto is what they call him. He was raised to fear humans. The only interaction with humans he had were rough. He learned quickly the value of being a survivor. That word doesn’t go well with saint. Magneto is a rough man. His need to survive forced him to do things a more fortunate, privileged person only sees on television. All he wants is the bleeding to stop. He wants his people to realize how special they are. As far as Magneto can see, mutants have no history. There is no record of the mutant in human literature or film. Mutants make up an enormous part of the world, yet receive no recognition for their achievements. Rather than hide in shame, Magneto wants mutants to shout their pride to the world. Show off their blue skin, telekinesis, or acid spit. Humans have told them they aren’t worth anything. Magneto knows that isn’t true. He was once broken. He was once on the verge of failure, hell some would say he took failure on a couple of dates. But he didn’t commit. Magneto found the power in himself to become the man he is today. He wants to help others do the same. Once again, insert Malcolm X into the spots where I typed Magneto and it works. Malcolm X wasn’t always the scholar people admire. He was a criminal, a stereotype. He knew how to talk his way out of every situation. He thought that was the only path a black man could take. Ignorance was his power. Then Malcolm X was sent to jail. He began to educate himself on his people’s history. Once Malcolm X realized the lies that were being told to him, he wanted to tell the word. Would you be offended or scared if Malcolm X and Magneto were giving a rousing speech in your neighborhood? Probably. They both will fight for what they believe in. Neither men organized or preached violence. Both believed in living lives that helped an individual live up to their potential. But if violence was a needed component, then you best believe they weren’t going to apologize. But to me, to categorize the split between MLK and Malcolm with that one word, violence does a disservice to both of their works. Same with Professor X and Magneto. To classify one as a hero and the other as a villain does a disservice to their work for mutants. All four of these men truly, deeply understand the problems their community are facing. That’s what makes the relationship between Xavier and Magneto beautiful to watch. Both men have a deep, undying love for their people. No matter what their people do, no matter what obstacles lie in their way, that love will never flicker. But as I stated earlier, their paths and relations with humans differed. One was essentially a slave, the other, grew up a scholar. Martin Luther King experienced the same racial segregation and horrors that most black people suffered during his childhood. But he was surrounded by a loving family. He was heavily involved in the church. His father was around for the “real” parts of his life. Malcolm X grew up without a father. He saw his father’s body nearly severed in half after he had been murdered. He didn’t attend college. King went to Morehouse University. These two different paths created different, but similar men. Just like our two comic icons have respect for each other, these two black heroes did as well. They understood what the other was trying to accomplish, but didn’t necessarily agree with their methods. We always see Professor X or Magneto trying to sway the other into joining the other’s cause. No doubt MLK and Malcolm X would’ve liked the other on their side as well. A relationship that will always be turbulent, but one that will always be present. They respect each other too much.
My title asks the question, “Are the X-Men Marvel’s greatest creation?” Simply put, yes. They represent diversity in the face of bigotry. Today, Marvel comics has pioneered diversity in their movies and comics. I believe that movement started here. The X-Men resonate with the black community, but they resonate with almost every minority community that’s ever existed. The fact mutants have to “hide” who they are is a constant struggle of the LGBT community. Blacks can’t hide who they are. It’s accepted that there are black people in this world. Has been that way for a while. Gays and transgenders fight a different battle though. The rhetoric against them is one of them not being “human.” Some people truly believe that a gay person is somehow incomplete. That they are messed up in the head. That’s still true today in 2016. It’s a sad reality, but something the X-Men have been bringing attention to for over 50 years now. There are a plethora of people on the team. Men, women, blacks, whites, gays, bisexuals, Catholics, Christians, Hindus, Chinese, Irish, Africans, the list is endless. Do you ever see the X-Men bicker over those differences? Almost never. They’re hated enough for one piece of them they can’t control. They know hating each other for their differences will only tear them apart. They are the true definition of a family. They’re all one race, the mutant race. Where I think the black community today struggles is the family part. With the ongoing police shootings of black men, we are coming together, but work still needs to be done. We’re killing our own at the drop of a hat. Over something so trivial like a pair of shoes, women, and small amounts of money. Does that detract from the atrocious acts of violence by law enforcement? Some people seem to think so. The mutants as a community have issues. Some mutants are more radical than Magneto. Some think Professor X is a nut. There are squabbles and fights amongst their own. It happens within every group, but minority groups must go through a growing process. I believe blacks in America are just beginning to learn who we are. That’s why we see so many different views from so many different black leaders. Being black can’t be summed up with a paragraph. Every day, every year, it’s becoming something different. It’s different now for teenagers than it was for middle-aged adults. Differences are going to continue to come up. The X-Men represent the good in the community though. That piece of black people that truly wants to help everyone, but love themselves first. They represent the balance within the black community. The X-Men are the black lawyers, teachers, police officers, doctors, nurses, etc. that would save a racist white person because it’s right. The kid who is profiled every time the cops every time they roll down his street. The single mother who suffers from depression due to systematic racism, and the young man who can leave school because his teachers consider it a nice surprise when he shows up, are the Brotherhood of mutants. On the surface, these two groups look different. The X-Men wants equal rights for the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood can respect what the X-Men are doing. Conflict arises because that’s life. But in the end, their differences help them prosper as one. One race, while beaten and bruised, not yet dead. So please rethink your reaction the next time you hear “Black Pride,” because when Magneto says “Mutant Pride,” we don’t seem to struggle with that concept one bit. Empathy is felt. Empathy is needed now. Because no matter how much pride blacks have, we are still the minority. We seem to control popular culture, but we are the minority. The only way these injustices stop, is if our fellow white man takes the time to learn our situation. If only the humans would learn about mutants. Death would become an aberration of our experience together, not the expected outcome when police are called on the scene.