X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is one of the most poignant and thought-provoking graphic novels in the X-Men’s long history. But does it stand the test of time?
X-MEN: GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS
(MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #5)
Authors: Chris Claremont
Artists: Brent Anderson
Colors: Steve Oliff
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What You Need to Know:
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills was part of a series of stand-alone graphic novels published by Marvel in the last 70s through the early 90s. The story is separate from the main Uncanny X-Men run, but still falls into the 616 cannon of the Marvel universe. The X-Men team at the time of the book includes Kitty (Ariel at the time), Kurt (Nightcrawler), Scott (Cyclops), Logan (Wolverine), Piotr (Colossus), and Ororo (Storm).
What You’ll Find Out:
The Prologue sets the tone of the book. Starting with two school-aged children running through the school playground, they are being pursued after having watched their family die. Upon being shot, the young man falls to his knees and his sister stops to help. Their pursuers catch up and reveal that they are a covert team that calls themselves The Purifiers. The group kills the children and hangs them from the swingset with a sign labeling them “Mutie.”
Shortly after The Purifiers leave the scene, Magneto finds the bodies, lowers them from the swingset, and makes sure the other school children won’t have to see the tragedy. He vows that he will find the group responsible and make them pay.
Elsewhere, an Evangelical pastor named William Stryker gets ready for his Sunday Sermon but is reminded by his assistant they have tapes to review. Someone has sent them information regarding the X-Men team and their power sets. Stryker reviews the tapes and ready’s himself for a debate with the X-Men’s leader, Charles Xavier. He is to debate Xavier live on TV about mutant rights, a task he is very much looking forward to.
At a small dance studio outside of New York, Kitty gets into a fight with a man for his blatant slurs against mutants. Illiana and Piotr break up the fight, fearing Kitty may hurt the man, and Kitty storms off in a rage. They return home to the mansion that night to watch the debate on TV with Kurt and Logan. Observing how the Professor looks more foreboding than he intends, they feel the debate does not end well. They decide to blow off steam in the danger room and go through an exercise to calm themselves.
The Professor leaves the studio with Scott and Ororo in a town car, but Stryker has arranged an attack. The rest of the students at the mansion get a call that informs them of the accident and the death of the three X-Men. Kitty, distraught, takes some time to herself in a field near the mansion. Illiana comes to console her, and the pair finds a surveillance device pointed toward the school. Kitty phases through the camera to destroy it and see who comes to fix the equipment. The Purifiers arrive shortly after, and while Kitty tries to get a closer look by phasing underground, the group finds Illiana and knocks her unconscious. Kitty pursues The Purifiers by sneaking into their trunk but, wise to her plan, they use jets installed in the car to release a gas to paralyze Kitty.
Meanwhile, while investigating the crash, Piotr, Logan, and Kurt find Purifiers watching the scene. Magneto intervenes to help the team capture the observers. Magneto says he wants to help with the common enemy they have found in The Purifiers and Stryker’s crusade. Together, they interrogate The Purifier agents who disclose the plan that Stryker has for Xavier and for all mutants, and the team quickly decides to spring into action.
Stryker, having Xavier, Ororo, and Scott in a machine induced coma-like state, is trying to break Xavier so he can convert him to his cause. Using Scott and Ororo against the professor, he attempts to brainwash Xavier into believing that mutants are evil. He reveals that in his past he was married, and his wife gave birth to a mutant. Believing this was a curse from God, he killed his wife and child and began his new life as a pastor.
Kitty is revealed to have escaped the trunk of The Purifiers car but was weakened by the nerve agent. The head of The Purifiers catches up with Kitty, but she manages to continue her harrowing escape and calls the mansion for help. After another close call, Kitty escapes to a subway car where The Purifiers once again catch up and back Kitty into a corner. Magneto and the rest of the team luckily find Kitty in time and save her from the villains.
Meanwhile, Stryker has finally radicalized Xavier and turned him to the crusades cause. He strikes out with a powerful burst of psionic energy, killing Ororo and Scott. While transporting the bodies to be destroyed, an elevator gone awry turns out to be Magneto attacking the location of the anti-mutant rally organized by Stryker. The team has discovered the rally and the whereabouts of the professor and their teammates. When the team finds the bodies of Scott and Ororo, they uncover that the pair isn’t dead, but put into a deep sleep. They resolve the professor must be helping them on some subconscious level.
Stryker reveals his plan to use the Professor’s psi-blasts in tandem with a machine he has created which operates similarly to Cerebro. He plans to have Xavier kill all mutants during his rally. Once the sermon has begun, and the anti-mutant sentiment is high, Magneto leads the X-men into the arena. They try their best to reason with Stryker, knowing that asserting violence will only illustrate his point to his followers. The psyblasts continue to assault mutants, and it becomes clear that the head of Stryker’s Purifiers is also a latent mutant. As she begs for his mercy, he condemns her and pushes her from his stage where she falls to her death. The murder causes a riot to begin and the X-Men use the distraction to free Xavier from the Cerebro-like machine.
Once again, the X-Men try their best to reason with Stryker and reason with him what he is doing is immoral. He refuses to see them as anything else but monsters and says they are an affront to god and his plan. Pulling a gun on Kitty when she tries to confront him head-on, an officer in the crowd stops Stryker by shooting him through the heart. He falls, and the rally ends.
Back at the mansion, Magneto tries to use the incident to convert Charles and the X-Men to his philosophy of human-mutant relations. Charles briefly considers this after his ordeal but is reminded that his future is possible with a little help from Scott. Xavier vows to work harder to achieve his dream of equality for humans and mutants. The X-Men make a promise to help the world whenever and wherever it is needed.
What Just Happened?
X-Men has always had undertones to take on bigotry, racism, and intolerance in every form. But in this special issue, the X-Men take on all these things under the guise of religious freedom and preaching. William Stryker uses his Evangelical beliefs as a mask for his hatred, a concept not at all different in today’s times. Pretending to enact the word of god, Stryker denounces, kills, and prays on mutants. He is even ready to commit genocide in God’s name.
Evangelicalism has, in the past, and in current day, always been one of the most conservative movements within Christianity. Using the Bible as the true word of god, Stryker often times conveys verses he uses to justify his actions including his extermination of mutants and the torture of Charles Xavier. The hypocrisy of using the word of god to kill and harm is not lost in the story. It’s made clear that Stryker is in the wrong throughout. The lengths he’s willing to go because of his beliefs are never once examined or fleshed out as anything more than hatred and vitriol.
Stryker’s origin even exists outside of his faith. Going through a “baptism by fire,” Stryker is reborn with his hatred for mutants when his wife gives birth to their son. Implying through his appearance he is a mutant, Stryker decides right then and there to start his new life free of his old one. His turn to faith is a mask for his bigotry, and it fans the flames of his hatred.
Although his message is filled with hate, he is quite adept at turning people over to his cause. It’s made clear early on that he is charismatic and charming. In his TV debate with Xavier, there is a contrast illustrated between his well-spoken charismatic arguments with Xavier’s stark, overly logical and theoretically dense reasoning. Stryker’s attempts at propaganda are what bring people to his crusade, and even when he has pulled a gun on a young girl, his followers are quick to defend his actions and blindly question others intentions.
But what is clear from the outside is that Claremont does not condone what Stryker does as Christian and that the character does not speak the word of god. The unfortunate reality of the world is that too often religious conservative movements use hate as a tool to recruit and pray on people’s insecurities to do so. Even known white supremacists groups, such as the KKK, have been born out of such religious movements. The more conservative churches are quick to turn their backs on LGBT+ communities and individuals and use misunderstanding and mistrust as a tool to bring lost youth and underserved people to their causes. It’s no mistake a latent mutant ends up the head of Stryker’s Purifiers.
One of the more prominent scenes in the book doesn’t even deal with Stryker. While at a dance studio, and young man uses a derogatory term for mutants (Mutie), and Kitty is quick to defend herself. In this scene, we are also blatantly reminded that Kitty is a Jewish woman with Star of David around her neck. As she ferociously defends herself, we see the layers of anger that can persist through persecution. When told to calm down, Kitty even relates the term mutie to the n-word to her African American friend, who is quickly hurt that she did not take the term more seriously. As a minority, it’s easy to forget that not all bigotry is overt, and that just because a transgression appears minor does not mean it does not do harm. And nobody gets to tell you what you take offense to as the attacked individual.
The book never shies away from an incredibly difficult subject. The mood is set early with a very upsetting, but necessary, scene in which young, assumably African American, children are hung from a swing set in a lynching. Recalling our own history in the United States, it is unpleasant. But in order to undo these learned behaviors, sometimes unpleasant and uncomfortable conversations around these things need to happen. This book is a great catalyst for those conversations and is an absolute must-read for any X-Men fan.
Final Thoughts: Still shockingly relevant after 35 years, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills gives you the premise through its poignant title. A commentary on religious hypocrisy and bigotry, the X-Men allegory as a marginalized group has never been stronger or more obvious. Painted as a clear and obvious threat to minority people, it is clear that Claremont had no intention of taking down religion itself, but the problem of people using religion as a front for their hatred.
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