Some people look down on comics as a low form of literature. There are plenty of titles that are purely entertainment (not that that makes them bad), but there are just as many, if not more, that carry a message or tackle topical and/or social issues. Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr Day. His struggle for equal rights for the people of his race made me think of the X-Men graphic novel “God Loves, Man Kills”, which is one of the most meaningful and gut-wrenching stories that the comic industry has ever produced.
The X-Men have always been a didactic tale of the fight for equality, but never has it been presented in such a graphic and powerful manner. After finding 2 child mutants murdered and left hanging from a schoolyard swing with a sign reading “MUTIE” around their necks, Magneto begins tracking down their killers, a group calling themselves The Purifiers. The Purifiers are a group of religious extremists who believe that mutants are abominations and an affront to God. They are secretly led by Reverend William Stryker, a man so blinded by his hate for mutants that he killed his wife and newborn son when he was born with obvious mutant abnormalities. He uses his forum as a televangelist to spread his message that mutants are not human and therefore should not be treated as such. Ultimately, his goal is to eradicate all mutants from the face of the earth. To achieve his goal, he plans to kidnap Professor X, the world’s most powerful telepath, and strap him into a machine similar to Cerebro (the device that Professor X uses to amplify his powers so as to locate any and all mutants around the globe). The difference being that with this version, instead of merely locating mutants, it would find them and kill them. This forces the X-Men to temporarily join forces with Magneto, their longtime arch-enemy. But while Magneto does care about rescuing his old friend, he is also driven by the desire to hunt down and kill Reverend Stryker and the rest of the Purifiers for retribution and as protection for the rest of the mutant race.
It’s such a sad commentary on the world we live in that the actions of Stryker aren’t that different than what some real world men have tried to accomplish. Stryker’s goals are an analog for the Nazi’s “Final Solution”, the ethnic cleansing in Serbia, and the multiple civil wars in Africa over the last 20 years. His hate and actions are no different than those perpetrated by groups like Westboro Baptist Church, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Creativity Movement.
On the flip side you have Magneto, who believes that mutants are superior to humans and should therefore rule over them. His beliefs that the minority should be in power over the majority are no different than those of minority groups like the Black Panthers or the Nation of Islam. They are fueled by hate just as much as their oppressors. They prove right those who hate and fear them.
Then you have the X-Men. Persecuted and ridiculed by many, but they refuse to become what other’s fear they are. They set a better example. They show that love and patience are the only things that can breakdown the barriers of hate and bigotry. They are comic books’ version of men like Martin Luther King, Jr, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Cesar Chavez.
Seeing such real world drama played out in the pages of “God Loves, Man Kills” is just one example of how powerful the medium of comic books can be. I’ve read it 4 or 5 times now, and it still manages to give me a literary punch to the gut. Even if you aren’t normally into comics, I would recommend you to go out of your way to find and read this one.