X-Men: Gods Loves, Man Kills

Started by The Laughing Fish, Sun, 17 May 2020, 07:42

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I read this classic story by Chris Claremont not so long ago, the one that had inspired Bryan Singer's second X-Men film.

There are few things in comics that disturb me. I've seen artwork that came across as provocative and gory. I'd often dismiss them as going for shock value. But I'd say William Stryker's backstory was one of the most haunting moments I've read in comics. It's unsettling to read a man who helps his wife give birth to their first child after surviving a serious car crash, looks on in horror and disgust as he kills the infant for turning out as a Mutant. We don't see what the Mutant looks like, and we certainly don't see Stryker killing the baby, but the look on Stryker's face and the bloodied knife he holds says it all. Sometimes, leave it to the imagination makes such a moment even more terrifying. Stryker snapping his semi-conscious wife's neck as he grieves before moving on as a Born Again Christian is just as harrowing. Same thing can be said when the Purifiers murdered innocent Mutant children with the slur "Mutie" written on their bodies.

Which in turn, brings me to the overall story - a cautionary tale how religious fundamentalists can twist their own beliefs to persecute others. In X2, William Stryker abducted Xavier to use him and his own Mutant son to telepathically link together and kill all the Mutants. In this comic, the conflict is a lot more philosophical. According to Clarement, he modeled Stryker after televangelists who express their interpretation of their faith to a wide audience. Stryker uses his religious rhetoric to sway public opinion about the supposed Mutant threat and are an insult to God; broadcasting his paranoia over how humanity is at stake, while being responsible for a conspiracy to have all Mutants eradicated. Xavier himself suffers illusions of himself as a Christ-like martyr, as he is tortured and brainwashed for Stryker's diabolical agenda.

As Claremont describes the conflict in a foreword from one of the book's reprints:

William Stryker acted his own perception of his faith. Yet at the same time, the people he was acting against were also - and remain - people of faith themselves. Is Nightcrawler's faith in the divine any less valid because Stryker believes him a creature of the Devil? And if Nightcrawler's faith is valid and true, then then of Stryker's condemnation?

Are we all, in some manner or shape of form, children of God? Or are some of us perhaps more beloved than others? Therein, for me, lay the crux of the conflict in the graphic novel, one that lasts to this day. Faith lies at the most fundamental core of our being as sentient creatures, this need to believe in something greater than ourselves, this almost inherent acknowledgement of the miracle of creation. But as faith is personal and unique to us as individuals, so then must also be our acceptance of responsibility for those actions that derive from it. Because in the end, while we remain individuals, we reside in a community. For the community to thrive, we need to find ways to get along, to place nice with one another. We need to cherish that which binds us, and accept with a measure of tolerance some of the things that makes us different.

This is why Stryker is a horrifying villain, as he will stop at nothing to maintain his distorted beliefs in the name of God. Shortly after covering up his family's murders, he is wrestled with some guilt before coming to the conclusion nothing happened to him because had punished him for his corrupt ways, but his wife had been the sinner. From there, he never hesitates from his goal, whether it is murdering children, killing one of his henchwomen who discovers she had Mutant genetics on a live TV broadcast, and especially not for the likes of Nightcrawler. To Stryker, he couldn't care less if Nightcrawler believed in God as well. All he could see was this Mutant abomination that was an affront to mankind and God. For all we know, Stryker's infant child may looked similar to Nightcrawler.

A part of me feels it would've been more a lot satisfactory if the comic ended with a plot twist of Stryker discovering he was a Mutant all along after a programmed Xavier sent his telepathic signals to target his own kind. It would've reminded me a bit of Graydon Creed getting ousted and humiliated for being related to Sabretooth in the X-Men animated series. And it definitely would've shown he had been the sinner all along. Depending on one's point of view though, it might be too cliche.

For somebody who isn't even that big of an X-Men fan, I have no doubt in saying it's a very good book.

One more thing: God Loves, Man Kills definitely appeared to be cutting edge for Marvel back in the day. According to Claremont, this story worked out of continuity and as a standalone tale.

Kitty Pryde saying a racial slur to prove her point about Mutant discrimination must've been pretty a ballsy move back then. I can only imagine modern day Marvel wouldn't dare going that far, even if the story had a good message.
QuoteJonathan Nolan: He [Batman] has this one rule, as the Joker says in The Dark Knight. But he does wind up breaking it. Does he break it in the third film?

Christopher Nolan: He breaks it in...

Jonathan Nolan: ...the first two.

Source: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=uwV8rddtKRgC&pg=PR8&dq=But+he+does+wind+up+breaking+it.&hl=en&sa=X&ei

I'll give this a reread at some point.

It's a damn shame that Disney would never have the balls to produce something of this quality. X2 barely scratched the surface of this tale.

Yeah, I can't see Disney going anywhere near a story like God Loves, Man Kills either. Unless they try to dumb it down to appeal to mass audiences, as they did to Avengers: Infinity if you compare it to The Infinity Gauntlet.

I prefer God Loves, Man kills over X2 too. But let's face it, these Hollywood studios have one agenda, which is to make conventional action blockbuster that guarantee big bucks. Like it or not, Fox thought it was going to be more commercially viable if they made X2 the way it did, particularly if they wanted to take advantage of the popularity surrounding Hugh Jackman's Wolverine.

In these executives' minds, it wouldn't surprise me if they thought it would've been too risky to make a sequel as a truly faithful adaptation of a comic book that explored the dangers of religious fundamentalism. Who knows, these executives might be afraid that a God Loves, Man Kills movie adaptation could've sparked a backlash from Christian groups for portraying them as extremists. Stranger things have happened, after all.

As far as God Loves, Man Kills getting made in today's comics...I suppose it's possible. But judging from what I've seen and heard from Marvel Comics nowadays, it wouldn't have the tact that Claremont had.
QuoteJonathan Nolan: He [Batman] has this one rule, as the Joker says in The Dark Knight. But he does wind up breaking it. Does he break it in the third film?

Christopher Nolan: He breaks it in...

Jonathan Nolan: ...the first two.

Source: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=uwV8rddtKRgC&pg=PR8&dq=But+he+does+wind+up+breaking+it.&hl=en&sa=X&ei

I can somewhat defend not adapting God Loves, Man Kills into a film from the standpoint that the televangelist angle was less relevant in the early 2000's than it had been in the late 80s. The movie's prime age demographic of 18-24 in 2003 had little or no familiarity with that subject matter.

Plus, a direct adaptation of GLMK in 2003 isn't exactly an organic follow up to the first X-Men film. But the X2 that we have now is a pretty satisfying blending together of GLMK with elements of the Phoenix Saga while continuing the story set up in the first film in a more engaging way.

People tend to forget that X2 was the only sequel that came out in the summer of 2003 that wasn't a disappointment for a lot of people. And the thing was, most people had no real expectations for X2. It could've been more in line with the first movie and nobody would've been surprised. The Wrath Of Khan angle the film followed made it the surprise hit of the summer and audiences adored the film. And still do.

Chris Claremont Q&A with Wizard Magazine in 1998 about the X-Men comics.

"Imagination is a quality given a man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humour was provided to console him for what he is."

There has been a lot of dispute online over whether or not X-Men has always been woke ever since the new X-Men '97 show came out. Some people even go so far to say X-Men - as a concept - was never woke to begin with. I don't know how anyone could say that with a straight face to begin with, because God Loves, Man Kills begins with black mutant children shot to death and hung up from the playground swings; a blatantly not-very-subtle metaphor for lynching. Kitty Pryde says the N-word to make a point about how "Mutie" is just as offensive as an ethnic slur; the stuff I've already mentioned is highly political. The comic is so on-the-nose that you'd have poor media literacy skills to not pick them up.

And that's just God Loves, Man Kills. The X-Men '90s animated show had plenty of real-life allegories to racism, civil rights, AIDs even. I remember the one episode where Graydon Creed, the prominent member of the Friends of Humanity movement, was freaking out when he was exposed as Sabretooth's son. This moment could easily be an allegory to racist Klansmen for self-hatred and ashamed of their non-white ethnic heritage, or even a metaphor for homophobia. In fact, the reason why I don't often get into X-Men too much is because the allegories are too obvious and hit too close to home for my liking. So when some commentators say X-Men aren't as progressive as people as people make them out to be, I don't know what the hell they're talking about.

Even Stan Lee takes credit for constructing the X-Men mythos by basing it on bigotry.

QuoteJonathan Nolan: He [Batman] has this one rule, as the Joker says in The Dark Knight. But he does wind up breaking it. Does he break it in the third film?

Christopher Nolan: He breaks it in...

Jonathan Nolan: ...the first two.

Source: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=uwV8rddtKRgC&pg=PR8&dq=But+he+does+wind+up+breaking+it.&hl=en&sa=X&ei

Stan Lee was a comic book visionary. But he was also frequently absolutely full of it. As much as I respect the man, there's simply no denying that he was part writer, part huckster, part professional self-promoter.

I, for one, have always been skeptical about X-Men as an allegory of anything, frankly. Or if Lee was telling the truth, if X-Men truly was allegory, then it's racist as hell.

But to the degree that I have to treat that seriously in order to argue the premise, the defining feature of X-Men is that they truly are superior to homo sapiens. They have powers and abilities that regular humans do not.

By any sane and objective standard, that makes them more than/better than humans, at least as far as their ability to survive and adapt to their environment is concerned.

So, if we apply that back to POC (or any other alphabet acronym you care to mention), the comparison falls apart. Most POC (or other alphabets) don't believe they're better than anyone else. Which is a good thing because they're not measurably better than or in any way superior to anyone else.

But, for example, Wolverine IS. He can survive virtually anything, not least of which being as much as two entire centuries of brutal combat and/or warfare, without a mark to show for it.

When people object to modern X-Men's woke tendencies, particularly what I know of the Krakoa era, I can totally see their point of view. I can also see where previous X-Men creators preferred understating the metaphor. Because there's SOME applicability (however imperfect) to civil rights issues. Some. But less than the progressive bunch want to say.

Thing is, previous creators also allowed others the interpretive flexibility to develop their own interpretations. Up to a certain point, I see the human/mutant struggle in X-Men as having very little metaphor going on at all. Rather, mankind realizes they're on the verge of being replaced. And so, they've decided (whether consciously or unconsciously) to persecute the genetically superior mutants out of existence while the numbers still favor humans. Because four or five generations of mutants will be virtually impossible to eliminate. But the first generation or two MIGHT be defeatable... if they're defeated early enough.

For me, what I always enjoyed about X-Men was the complicated morality (if that's even the word to use) at play in the comic books. In most other comic books, the morality is usually very clearly and very simplistically defined. Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. But the X-Men (eventually) didn't necessarily regard the Mutant Brotherhood as evil.

Rather, the differences between the two groups (Professor X and Magneto) were more philosophical and/or ideological in nature. Separation vs. integration. Because I've never found the comic book where Professor X disagrees with Magneto's thesis that mutants will eventually become the dominant lifeform on Planet Earth. Homo superior is the next step in human evolution. Afaik, Professor X and Magneto agree on that.

Their disagreement lies in how to respond to that reality. Should mutants attempt peaceful coexistence? Or should they build their own communities and/or overthrow the human race?

There are X-Men who utterly despise Mutant Brothers. But those are usually more personal rivalries. There's no love lost between Wolverine and Sabretooth. But their mutual enmity has nothing to do with which side of the debate they came down on and everything to do with their personal histories with each other.

Emma Frost was introduced as an X-Men villain but has been a member of the team since at least the Nineties. Characters can change sides. They can change their minds. Conflict in X-Men comic books isn't always Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. I mean, sometimes it is. But probably more often, conflict comes from differences of opinion or differences of methods rather than differences in morality.

For that reason, X-Men offers a level of literary sophistication that very few mainstream superhero comic books seem capable of matching.

If I seem rather animated about this subject, that would be because I've spent most of the past week reading bunches of X-Men comics. Claremont/Byrne, House Of M (and related tie-ins), the first several issues of Generation X, the first several issues of The New Mutants, etc.