The first original graphic novel to bear the “X-Men” name, and Marvel’s fifth OGN, is uncomfortably prescient in today’s political and social climate. The X-Men, and mutants, have always been used as a somewhat crude metaphor for really existing marginalised groups, and in “God Loves, Man Kills,” Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson place mutant discrimination clearly in a continuum with racism and other discrimination, legitimised through the state, media, and religion.
Written by Chris Claremont
Pencils & Inks by Brent Anderson
Colours by Steve Oliff
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
The Uncanny X-Men. Magneto, master of magnetism. The bitterest of enemies for years. But now they must join forces against a new adversary who threatens them all and the entire world besides… in the name of God. The members of the Stryker Crusade are poised to cleanse the earth, no matter how much blood stains their hands. With Professor X as their enemy and Magneto as their ally, the X-Men undergo an apocalyptic ordeal ordained by a minister gone mad!
“God Loves, Man Kills” stands, to an extent, against the norm of early 1980s superhero comics. Just from taking a quick look at the book, Brent Anderson’s painterly realism and Steve Oliff’s muted colours are a clear contrast from every other book Marvel had on the shelves in 1982. The Marvel Graphic Novel line from the era gave creators a chance to tell contained, singular, and more explicitly mature stories, the art of “God Loves” reflects that. Save for a grotesque, surreal sequence, bathed in a bold, demonic red, Anderson and Oliff give a picture of the X-Men that is immediately, viscerally closer to reality than the monthly superhero bombast.
That more explicit connection to the real world extends beyond the art style. Claremont grounds the marginalization in the context of real world marginalizations, while also giving a unique position and rhetoric to mutant discrimination. The opening scene of the prologue shows a vicious murder of two black, mutant children, drawing an unavoidable parallel to reality. In another early scene of “God Loves” Kitty Pryde gets in fight with a boy at her dance class, as he spouts the violent anti-mutant rhetoric of Reverend William Stryker, a charismatic TV preacher who claims mutants are a satanic abomination. Their fight is broken up Colossus and the dance teacher, Stevie Hunter. When Stevie, a black woman, tries to calm Kitty, saying ‘they’re only words,’ Kitty retorts, with a pointed use of the N-word, asking if she’d be so tolerant to racism.
At first glance this looks a little like a white girl yelling at a black woman about what racism is (which, it sort of is), it is also an attempt to draw an intersection between these different discriminations. Throughout this scene, Kitty’s Star of David necklace is seen quite prominently, again, brining parallels to the real discrimination of anti-Semitism. “God Loves” reminds us of the reality of the marginalisation while building up the specifics of the fictious marginal lives of mutants. Strangely for a story tying the X-Men so explicitly close to racism, Storm, the only person of colour (other than blue) on the team at this point, is barely featured. Her voice feels like such a strange omission here.
It isn’t just racism that “God Loves” positions mutants in relation to. Less overtly, it draws a comparison to discrimination faced by LGBTQ people. The antagonism is coming from influential, bigoted, hypocritical religious leaders, using out of context Bible verses to dehumanise and attack; preaching love while advocating murder; ignoring fact, and empathy, in favour of their own dogma.
This bigotry is bolstered by a media environment that thrives on provocation. Stryker and Professor Xavier have a debate on TV at one point, Stryker ‘wins’ the debate, not because his points are more cogent but because he’s a more emotive speaker, appealing to fears and anxieties, where the Professor is colder and is said to be a little creepy in his diminutive wheelchair. This lays the groundwork for the setting of the climax, a televised anti-mutant rally, with police and senators in somewhat supportive attendance. Ultimately, Stryker goes too far on live TV, and loses the support of the media, the senator, and the police, leading to his downfall. His ascendancy was based on an intersection of these old, powerful institutions; media, state, religion. When they fail him, he is revealed to all as what we knew he was all along, a murderous bigot.Continued below
To get to that point, though, it took a coming together of X-Men and Magneto to fight their common enemy. This is an early story that gives a sympathetic portrayal to Magneto, in “God Loves” most of what he says and does is vindicated. Magneto is right. It takes a solidarity between all the mutant characters to organise to beat the bigot. They disrupt Stryker’s methods of attack; destroying his mutant-attacking sci-fi McGuffin; fighting his zealous militia; and, most importantly, stealing his platform.
The mirrors of the present in “God Loves, Man Kills” seem very clear to me. A reactionary, insurgent fascism using minorities as a scapegoat to be feared, so conservative forces can hold on to power, which is beaten by solidarity within the attacked groups, and breaking the bigots’ control of the narrative. This is one of the realest superhero comics around, at the time it was an attempt to make a more grounded in reality superhero story (it came just before “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns”). But reading it right now, in June 2018, a month that is the first Pride Month I have felt directly a part of the queer community, but also a month where we’ve seen the richest nation in history rip children from their parents at its southern border and put them in concentration camps, “God Loves, Man Kills” makes for a harrowing experience. This is a book explicitly about ascendant, murderous reactionary movements, and resistance in the face of that. It’s both hard to read now, and important to read now.