This is Graphically Awesome, where I take a look at standalone graphic novels and trade paperbacks and tell you if they are awesome or not.
As a lot of you are aware I am not a huge Marvel fan. I used to be, but as the years went on and I looked into other things I found that Marvel just wasn’t as good as it used to be. However, a lot of older Marvel titles are fantastic. There is also going to be another personal contradiction in this review.
I am not a fan of the X-Men.
Don’t get me wrong, I like what they stand for, but it just has so much continuity that drags it down and is over complicated and you need to read several issues prior to understand everything, and that is expensive! However, there is a larger concern I have with the franchise: Why are people so afraid of the X-Men, but are not afraid of other superheroes? Out of all the Marvel comic books I have read, I keep seeing characters like Cyclops and Storm being demonized by the general public, and yet characters like Captain America and Thor and Spider-Man get praised. What is the difference? They all have extraordinary powers that are dangerous to normal human beings. It made even less sense to me that these people are crucified for their abilities when they were born with them, unlike some of the heroes who volunteered for the powers like Cap, or put themselves in a situation to accidentally get powers like Spider-Man. I had always thought that the X-Men would have worked better if they had their own universe separate from the Marvel Universe. That is why I think the Marvel movies don’t need the X-Men rights back, because in the context of its own universe it works. However, my mind was changed about the X-Men in general when I read the brilliant graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson.
God Loves, Man Kills was one of the first Marvel graphic novels. These were stand alone graphic novels that were somewhat in continuity without being single issues first. Along with Professor X, the story follows six X-Men: Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Ariel (which for some reason is Kitty Pryde’s codename in this book). The main bad guy is Reverend William Stryker. He thinks that all mutants are abominations of God and that they must be wiped out. On the surface he is just a man who rallys people who hate mutants together and preaches his hate towards them, however behind the scenes he has his own anti-mutant task force known as “Purifiers.” It is their job to go out find mutants and kill them, normally leaving a note behind that says “Mutie”. The X-Men investigate him and he kidnaps Storm, Professor X and Cyclops. His intention is to brainwash Professor X and use his own version of Cerebro to wipe out every mutant on the planet. However, his plan fails when the remaining X-Men come to the professor’s rescue and a cop takes down Stryker.
I love this graphic novel so much. It is absolutely genius and dark. We essentially see a commentary on how, in the wrong hands, religion can be used for evil. This is in no way an indictment of organized religion, it is an indictment of those who abuse it. The title God Loves, Man Kills is very accurate. It is essentially saying that God would not hate these mutants, he would love them, it is man who twists God’s word to fit their own agenda, whether it be good or evil. Stryker is not necessarily evil, he thinks what he is doing is for the good of mankind. He has allowed his love of humanity and his love for religion to cloud his judgement. When he was younger, his wife had a noticeably mutant child, he decided it had to be killed because it was of the devil. Realizing his wife carried the child to term, she must be a vessel of Satan and also had to be killed. I think that this book finally made me understand why mutants are singled out as the monsters in the Marvel Universe and none of the other heroes are. In their minds, these heroes got their powers through accident or experimentation. It is something, in these people’s minds, that is, that humans have done or created. But they can not wrap their mind around the fact that people with these powers were actually born that way. Why would God create a person with laser beams that shoot from their eyes, or a person that has the power to read minds or teleport? God would not want man to have these kind of powers from birth. It has to be Satan who has put these terrors on earth. It also makes sense that the fundamentalists would hate that the X-Men are considered the next step in human evolution. This would prove that evolution does exist, and that terrifies some people. It also calls into question the humanity of mutants. If they are the next step in evolution, Homo Superior, that means they are no longer human, and therefore, have no rights. This includes the right to live.
This is probably the darkest and most grounded X-Men story I have ever read and it was beautiful. The themes are very adult and the dialogue is incredibly realistic and surprisingly serious, especially for being written in the early 1980’s when comics were still transitioning from stale unrealistic dialogue to the more adult and believable kind. The art in this book is fantastic, it feels very mature and realistic. Anderson creates these characters as if they actually lived. This makes reading the book almost like watching a film. It is not photo-realism like much of Alex Ross’ stuff, it just has a very grounded feeling to it. I think whats brilliant is the ending of the book, in which there is no “final showdown.” The X-Men have a debate with Stryker in front of his own audience, trying to expose how crazy he really is. He ends up being taken down by a cop who remarks how scary the guy was and that no one deserves what he is proposing. The X-Men could not kill or fight Stryker; he was invincible, in a metaphorical sense. If they laid one hand on Stryker or even tried to kill him, they would be proving him right, proving that mutants should be feared. It was a lose/lose situation. If they did nothing all the mutants would die. If they did do something the public would turn on them even more. Only a third party could settle things. There are bits of religious imagery spread throughout the book, most prominently is a hallucination that Professor X has when he is being kidnapped by Stryker. He sees himself getting crucified amongst the other X-Men. I believe this shows that Xavier is similar to a Christ figure in the X-Books. He is being persecuted for who he is and he always puts himself out there. All the other X-Men go out and fight of course, but Professor X is in the public eye. He is the voice of the mutants, and he gets verbally crucified daily.
This book is terrifying. The villain of this book is terrifying, not because he looks like a monster, or because he does these unspeakable acts, but because this could actually happen. If mutants did exist, you know this would be a big topic in America, there would be people who would agree with Reverend Stryker. Why? Look at the news today, you have the Westboro Baptist Church, they go around preaching hatred towards everything, from the military to homosexuals. You have preachers on television that make outrageous statements towards minorities and how it is their fault our world is a mess nowadays. Don’t forget the KKK, while not as prominent as it used to be, still exists and could still be considered a threat. This book is timeless and it is both effective when it was written and even today. Although the civil rights movement had been over for a while when the book came out there were still anti-minority sentiments. It was even more prominent and still somewhat is in the United Kingdom, where writer Chris Claremont was born, raised and lived in during the time this was published. Even today, while the racism might not be as prominent as it used to be, its still there. There is also a very strong anti-gay movement in America. There are homosexuals who are beaten and killed for being born differently than others. The themes explored in this book will, sadly, never be irrelevant. As long as their are people who are “different,” there will always be people who hate them, and out of the people who hate them, there will always be extremists who want to kill them.
The book was also adapted into the film X2: X-Men United. Well, adapted isn’t the right word. Elements from the story were used in the film, but over all it was a completely different story. Stryker was turned into a military leader and is never mentioned to be a Reverend or have any religious motivations behind his hatred of mutants. I really feel that was done because it would have been such a controversial topic to tackle in a big budgeted Hollywood blockbuster.
God Loves, Man Kills is probably the greatest X-Men story ever told. If I might be bolder, even say the greatest comic book story ever told. If not the greatest, it is definitely neck and neck with The Dark Knight Returns. The themes are dark the art is brilliant and the writing is superb. Claremont and Anderson bring the X-Men world to a scary new place one, not over run by sentinels or alien creatures bent on conquering earth. Instead we see a dark reflection of our society and what it is coming to, or where it has already been. This graphic novel not only made me respect the X-Men, it also made me a fan of the books. I officially deem this book GRAPHICALLY AWESOME! I give X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills 10 mutants out of 10.