Mutant Registration: The Politics of X-Men
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Mutant Registration: The Politics of X-Men

The X-Men comics have always been rooted in politics, standing in for minorities and always adaptable to the times.

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Mutant Registration: The Politics of X-Men
Marvel Comics/Brent Anderson

With the release of Logan, there is a lot of discussion about the political undertones of the film. The concept of Wolverine having to help bring a girl to safety, all while set against the backdrop of the Mexican border, may be seen as a heavy handed message, while others, including co-star Patrick Stewart, see it as a simple coincidence. Even if it was planned from the start, one cannot say that politics should stay out of X-Men. From their earliest incarnation in 1963 up until today, the comic and media empire has always been against a political backdrop. From origins as a commentary on social change to being adapted for a new generation, the stories of the X-Men are deeply rooted in social political undertones, though the social movements have changed over time.

The original group was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early 1960s. Lee did not want to have to explain why all these new characters had superpowers, so he decided that they would be born with them. It just so happened that in the American South during this time, segregation and Jim Crow was in full effect, wherein a group of people born of one race were being hated and discriminated against by another that was born a different race. It was only fitting that this upcoming title, X-Men, would have to address this rising news story. Instead of simply having the team fight racists, Lee and Kirby wrote in that the team would experience discrimination firsthand because of their abilities. For those who do not know, the X-Men are a team of “mutants” - considered the next step in human evolution, they are born with powers or different features, which usually appear around puberty. The leader of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier, was written as a pacifist who believed in a movement to help humans and mutants coexist in peace – not unlike Martin Luther King, Jr. Meanwhile, the archenemy of the X-Men was Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (not the most accepting name but hey, it was the 60s), who believed in mutant superiority and “any means necessary,” an obvious analogue of Malcolm X. However, due to strict rules from the Comics Code, this message could not be explicitly stated.

In 1975, the X-Men roster was changed from a bunch of white American teenagers to a more international group, with members from Japan, Africa, Germany, Russia, and Canada. The idea of having a heroic Russian on the team, being the metal-skinned Colossus (made famous due to his appearance in Deadpool), was a stark contrast to other stories of the time, with Russia being portrayed as a villainous nation. Over the next decade, writers Chris Claremont and John Byrne introduced many new characters and stories, often with a subtle political message. LGBT characters such as Mystique, Northstar, and Destiny. Northstar would be the first openly gay character in comics, officially being outed in 1992, but hints were given throughout the 1980s. Little by little, the origin story of Magneto was established, wherein he was a Holocaust survivor who was experimented on due to his powers. The 1980 storyline Days of Future Past had many similarities to the Holocaust, with mutants being either killed or imprisoned, forbidden to be in public or reproduce. The 80s also were where the concept of mutant discrimination was finally a major focus, instead of being minor stories and brief mentions in previous years. The slur “mutie” was introduced as a way of directly bringing in themes of racism. When the AIDS crisis became major news, the Legacy Virus was created as a disease that effects mutants in the same way as AIDS does a human. Characters died from the virus, and one could argue the effects of the Legacy Virus story are still being felt in the current X-Men titles.

In 2000, the first X-Men film was released. The film was written and directed by gay director Bryan Singer, and starred Ian McKellen, an openly gay actor, as Magneto. The film opens with a young Magneto being led into Auschwitz, then cuts to modern day Congress where a senator arguing for mutant registration, saying “we need to know who they are and what they can do” - a phrase that is often used by people to justify registries of certain groups. The parallel is obvious, and the themes of discrimination and fear continue throughout the films. The sequel, X2, involves a scene where Wolverine, Rogue, Pyro, and Iceman return to Iceman's childhood home. There, he “comes out” to his parents as a mutant, to which his mother asks, in all seriousness, “have you tried not being a mutant?” This line was put in by returning director Singer to refer to similar questions LGBT people may be asked when they come out. Once again, themes were returned to in X-Men: The Last Stand, with the plot centering around the creation of a mutant “cure” that would remove the X-gene (again, it's based on comics) from a mutant, effectively making them human. The character of Rogue goes through the cure, so that she may be able to touch someone – as her powers prevent human touch. X-Men: First Class, set against the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, has a repeated line, “mutant and proud,” used by characters to show that mutants cannot be afraid of what the world may think, because in order to live in harmony, humanity must accept mutants as they are.

Comics have been political since their earliest days – the modern comic book comes from political cartoons. Even the superhero titles have featured political agendas and beliefs, from the World War II era heroes punching Hitler to the current Ms. Marvel series. But oftentimes the story is rooted in a specific political movement, and becomes dated in years. X-Men, however, has a timeless theme of diversity and acceptance. While the X-Men have fought bigotry from senators and televangelists and even giant robots over the last fifty years, groups in America (and worldwide for that matter) have fought for equality - African-Americans, LGBT, women, Muslims, immigrants. The X-Men is not a team of a bunch of white guys with powers and everybody loves them. They are born with an evolution that many hate because it is different, without giving them a chance to prove themselves. They are a minority group who constantly battles bigotry as well as villains. They find themselves at odds with supremacists on both sides. Right now, it looks like X-Men comics are just as important as they ever have been.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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