X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills Writer: Chris Claremont Pencils: Brent Anderson Colors: Steve Oliff Letters: Louise Simonson Publisher: Marvel
Undoubtedly, the most common question people ask when they first start reading comic books is “where do I start?”. This is a question that can only be answered with numerous follow ups such as, “do you want to read DC, Marvel, indie, or all of them?” and “are you interested in superhero or non-superhero comics?” or “what genres are you interested in?”. The truth is though that there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone has their own opinion and suggestions on where to start and begin the amazing journey of becoming a comic book reader. However if you were to ask me where to start reading my personal favorite comic book franchise, the X-Men, I’d respond with the story that most X-Fans will answer with, “X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills” in a blink of an eye. It’s in the opinion of many, the definitive story that exemplifies everything the X-Men stand for. From being an allegory for civil rights, prejudice against the LGBTQ community, bigotry from religious fundamentalist, etc.
One of the strengths of this story is if you were to have a fundamental understanding of the X-Men lure and the characters, you’d have no problem in picking up this book and giving it a read. There really isn’t much prior context one would need when diving into this book, as all the characters at play are given a scene within the story to display their powers and personality. One character who the casual fan may only have a brief familiarity with is William Stryker, who happens to make his debut in “God Loves, Man Kills”. However, many non-comic book readers may recognize him thanks to the 2003 film, X2: X-Men United, who is played by Brian Cox.
As a matter of fact, the story of the 2003 sequel’s story is essentially the story of “God Loves, Man Kills”. It’s just a different execution and script. Where Stryker and his followers capture Professor Xavier, along with Cyclops and Storm, use a mind manipulating trick to subdue him, and create a cerebra to use his telepathic powers to rid the Earth of the mutant menace. Meanwhile Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde team up with Magneto and are on a mission to rescue him.
The first difference from the movie that you’ll realize while reading this book, is that Stryker is not a military officer. He is in fact a televangelist and religious fundamentalist, who has his own propaganda show on ABC. He has a similar background with his family, in that his son is a mutant and he can’t except it. However it’s much darker in this story from the 80’s. He gets into a car accident along with his pregnant wife. And due to the trauma and impact of the crash, his wife goes into labor. When the baby is born though, it comes out deformed and Stryker is distraught. He then proceeds to kill his own son and when his wife asks him if she can see her child, he grasps her in his arms and snaps her neck. It’s in this moment that there is no turning back for the reverend, as he dedicates the remainder of his life of extinguishing the world of what he believes is an abomination.
I find this to be the most powerful scene as it really showcases the dark side of humanity that’s unfortunately still existent. One needs no more than to look at this years GOP primaries. It also makes it feel all the more threatening as his followers, called the Purifiers, are unabashedly 100% on Stryker’s side. They truly believe that he is in direct communication with God and that mutants are an abomination placed upon this Earth by Satin. It’s unmistakably reminiscent of a cult and no punches are pulled when Claremont wants to exhibit their prejudice. As the book opens with them chasing down a young brother and sister who have been outed to be mutants. Their powers haven’t manifested yet which allows the Purifiers to overpower them, kill them, and leave their dead corpses hanging on a public park swing-set.
An additional scene that really depicts the dangers of religious redirect is with Stryker’s right hand women, Anne. Who happens to be a closeted mutant. Things don’t end well for her unfortunately, when she’s outed, Stryker proceeds to push her off the stage, killing her in the process. Showcasing how religious idealism can be used to make you ashamed of who you are. A mirror image to numerous cases involving homosexuality today, where those who prefer the company of the same-sex are frightened to come out and taught that what they are is wrong as well as being an abomination against God’s will.
It’s moments like these that really illustrate how strong X-Men villains are. Not that these are the most powerful in terms of strength, but in terms of ideology. If you’d ask me, the truly horrifying villains are the ones who believe they’re right. Just like their quintessential villain, Magneto, Stryker and his followers feel that the heinous actions they’re taking are justifiably virtuous. Not just morally for humanity but divinely as well, and that makes for the most dangerous and terrifying villains of all.
This book is full of truly dark, unpleasant, and troublesome scenes. Another being while Professor Xavier is unconscious and is tricked into seeing himself crucified and killed by his students. Then is forced into using his telepathic abilities to kill Storm and his first student, Cyclops.
In the story’s climax, you’d probably can guess that the X-Men win. However what’s satisfying in their triumph is that the X-Men confront Stryker, it’s with words and logical reasoning. They use physical operations to get to the evangelical but restrain themselves from using force. A strong reason being that it’s when Stryker’s television show is live and they know it’ll be more impactful if they’d use objective arguments. Stryker becomes furious and can’t be reasoned with however as they disprove his arguments and get him to admit to all the horrific actions he’s taken as of late.
He then proceeds to use Nightcrawler in this famous image, when the X-Men argue that mutants are as human as him. “You dare call that thing…human?!?”, says Stryker. “He’s more human than you are”, Kitty Pryde says in response. It’s this moment that Kitty, who has previously been afraid and always hesitant to interact with Kurt, to stand up and really grow as a character. As clichéd as it is, it’s a moment exemplifying the interior holding beauty as opposed to the exterior.
If there were one scene that X-Fans have a problem with, it’ll be the ending. After they defeat Stryker, the X-Men return to the school and Xavier betrays his character. He says that he’s wrong, Magneto is right, and that they should join up with his cause. Giving up on his dream of a peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants. Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men are shocked and say no to the request. The professor then sees that he’s acting on his current state of emotion and decides to continue the work he’d started.
I’d be lying if I didn’t agree with the complaints as it’s a complete betrayal of Xavier’s identity but I believe I know what Claremont was going for. The scene is meant to display how far his students have come and exemplify their growth and development. That no matter how dire the situation is, no matter how distant their dream seems to be, they’re determined to accomplish it. So I’m a little more forgiving of the moment but if you find the occasion to be too distracting, I can 100% understand.
Does it hold up?
Despite some flaws, this book still hold up IMO. Sure there are a couple of leaps in logic one has to take, and there are moments that you just need to accept—such as Xavier being so easily dispatched of. However, this book has a message and a point, it sets disbelief aside at times but there’s no filler and gets to the meat of the story. There’s no wasted scene and it can be used as an allegory for an abundance of people suffering from prejudice. Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, the list goes on. The dialogue can be crude and dated at times, the writing can be a bit lazy in places, but the message is strong and delivers a powerful punch.