“The X-Men are hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants. So what we have here, intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry and prejudice.”
—Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont, 1981
Call me Quentin Quire. Magneto was right.
A widely-held defense of Marvel Comics’ X-Men states that their stories chronicle the trials of an emergent minority who are hated and feared by the rest of humanity. Race presents the easiest and most popular application of this comic allegory, and casts Magneto’s mutant uplift through global terrorism perspective against the global harmony across cultural boundaries philosophy of Professor Charles Xavier. The parallel beckons: we are to understand Magneto as Malcolm X and respect Prof. Xavier as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Separation or integration, with superpowers. The African American political divide, replacing melanin with the mutant gene.
But when we examine this metaphor in the context of major X-Men storylines in comics, animation, and television, we observe an alternate reality where a human being can gain extra-normal abilities like flight and super speed through the caprice of the genetic lottery, a new world where those not blessed with pyrokinesis or healing factors vote for dogmatic politicians who shuttle public money into robotics programs designed to meet the clear and present danger posed by this modern American minority with lethal force. In the X-Men, Prof. Xavier promotes mutual cooperation and understanding between humans and mutants, while Magneto argues for violent uprising against human oppressors, and the creation of an independent mutant state. Of course, this is offensively sloppy thinking, a political reduction so dramatic it approaches bad comedy.