Marvel Graphic Novel #5: God Loves, Man Kills
We open with a pair of children running. They are summarily gunned down by a band of armed soldiers calling themselves the Purifiers.
The Purifiers are revealed to be the militaristic arm of The Stryker Crusade, a religion-based organization founded and headed by William Stryker who has taken it upon himself to rid the world of the evil that is mutantkind.
The Purifiers, while human, appear to be plenty dangerous as Xavier, Cyclops, and Storm are all under fire. Through technology, Stryker turns Xavier against the X-Men and everything comes to a head at a televised event where Stryker calls for arms against mutants. He uses Xavier’s powers against all mutants until the X-Men are able to shut down their mentor.
The final battle is more philosophical than physical as the X-Men have to combat hatred and fear. No giant robots, no gunshots (except one), no evil mutants. Just racism.
The term “iconic” gets thrown around a lot these days.
But there really is no better way to describe this book.
From the opening panels of two scared children to the closing scene of the X-Men cherishing their founder and a touching moment between Scott and Ororo, this book is simply amazing to read. Claremont is on point here (although we do get a little convenient and seemingly verbose narration such as when Magneto explains how Cyclops and Storm are still alive). Brent Anderson’s realism and use of the panels to provide the perfect focus is some of the best I’ve ever read in a comic. The colors from Steve Oliff are haunting, from the nighttime hues at the start to the lack of clear defined borders of the blood and bruising.
Everything about this book came together in a perfect storm (pardon the pun) to create one of the greatest single issues you will ever read.
If you’re not an X-Men fan, you should still read this.
It’s pretty clear from the outset that Claremont is going for the mutant-is-analogy-for-racism. The children killed at the start are black and strung up with a sign around them, like some bit of horror most have only read about from the south. Kitty gets into a fight with one of Stryker’s flock later, equating the term “mutie-lover” with…um… well, I’m obviously not going to type such a charged word, but you can imagine. This is also one of the larger critiques of Claremont’s in that he didn’t shy away from such language and imagery which some feel cheapened the struggle that black men and women have been through. But Claremont never shied away from difficult subject matter.
Magneto shows up and for the second time ever (the first being fairly recent in Uncanny X-Men #150) we see Magneto as a sympathetic character, a direction that would carry through most of the 80’s until his return to “bad guy” status at the start of the 90’s. Magneto clearly sees this as a repeat of the atrocities visited on his own people during WWII (for those unaware, Magneto lost his family in the Holocaust).
I couldn’t get through a look-back of this book without bringing up religion. But it’s important to recognize that Claremont’s goal is not to demonize religion. Instead, it’s to remind people of the dangers of religious extremism. Morality isn’t obtained from holy books, rather the religions are used to justify whatever morality the person already has. Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler are good people and just as strong in their faith as William Stryker is in his. Even Cyclops demonstrates faith in their final confrontation. And yet Stryker uses the same religion to attack them, citing multiple passages to both rile up his flock and as self-gratification every time he acts.
Throughout this book we see unbelievable hatred from Stryker and his ilk, and it really is enough to give you chills. They have no qualms about murdering children (considering the opening scene, this is obvious but it continues on) if those children are mutants. Stryker is chilling as a reverend speaking to his people.
But there’s good in here too. Claremont goes out of his way to remind us that normal people, non-mutant people, look at the mutants as their brothers and sisters, as people just trying to live their lives. From the men working the television booth to the senator watching the final speech to the cop who ultimately shoots Stryker in defense of Kitty Pryde… there are good people who do not subscribe to Stryker’s brand of hatred.
And that’s what makes this book so good. They all feel like very real individuals, hurting when loved ones die, angry at being feared for just how they were born, fearful for the way the country is heading. Even the minor characters feel real. You cheer for the police officers in the way, you want to scream at those in the crowd chanting for mutant deaths, you feel sorry (only for a moment because she really was an evil individual) for Anne, leader of the Purifiers who is revealed to be a mutant and pushed to her death by the good Reverend.
Everything about this book draws you in, gives you chills. Its message is no less prevalent today than it was back then. Sure, modern times may draw more of an analogy with the LGBT+ community, but the theme is the same. Which is why, 40 years later, this book is still one of the most definitive single stories you’ll ever read.
It's hard to believe it's been almost 40 years since this book debuted, and it's still as amazing as ever! From the characterization to the art and colors, this issue combines it all into a story that truly has stood the test of time. At its heart is a story about combating bigotry and what happens when extremism gets involved, something that has persisted as a theme for thousands of years.
SUNDAY CLASSICS: X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills
Writing - 10/10
Storyline - 10/10
Art - 10/10
Color - 10/10
Cover Art - 10/10
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