There was some magic happening in the early ’80’s with Marvel and their Original Graphic Novel line. They let their creators hit it out of the park with these oversized stories with no interference from the Comics Code Authority. God Loves, Man Kills (1982), in particular, focuses on the Uncanny X-Men, comprised at the time of Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Kitty Pryde, with Professor Xavier mentoring them of course.
Written by Chris Claremont (from whom most of the seminal X-Men stories come from) and illustrated by Brent Eric Anderson, who provides realistic and gritty pencils that ground the story in this four color world. The story opens up with a shocking double murder of mutant children on a playground and Magneto vowing to avenge them. We are introduced to the villain of the story, Reverend William Stryker (his story is loosely adapted to X-Men 2) and this is a villain the X-Men can not punch or kick to victory. His villainy is more insidious. He is a preacher who claims that mutants are an abomination and their powers are not derived from God (or evolution) but from the devil. He preaches his hatred and anger around the world prompting and promoting violence against mutants.
One thing that I found particularly interesting is that while this was written in the ’80’s, much of the theme is relevant today. You can substitute mutant with African Americans, Muslims, the LGBTQA spectrum, any sizable immigrant population and the ideals are still present. That is what makes Reverend Stryker such a nasty villain. He traffics in fear and hatred and those aren’t battles easily won. Couching his hatred in biblical quotes gives a gravitas that is both prescient and scary. When Xavier and Reverend Stryker face-off in a televised debate, it is fascinating that you can see that Xavier’s argument for peaceful coexistence is solid, but it is Stryker that is a more persuasive speaker, and his fire and brimstone approach spreads quickly.
The Original Graphic Novels allowed the creators to explore more adult themes and this is on display here as the Reverend claims in their public battle that Nightcrawler, a mutant who has blue fur, elven ears and a tail is a demon. This drives Kitty Pryde to his defense saying that “he’s more human than you” prompting the Reverend to hold a gun against her. The art highlights the struggle each character has to the perceived hatred and prejudice they encounter. Nightcrawler is a devout Catholic, Colossus is agnostic, Kitty Pryde is Jewish, Cyclops is ever the Boy Scout, Wolverine is pragmatic, and Storm was worshipped as a goddess in Africa.
Revered Stryker and his group, called the Purifiers (a mix between the KKK and Westboro Church), are quite frightening seeing how fear can cloud judgment. Stryker’s plan hinging on manipulating Xavier’s powers to turn him against the X-Men in a bid to kill all the mutants. Xavier sees himself as god and his creations (mutants) are turning against him. In the end it not super powers, but humanity saving the day. The climax of the novel is well deserved and the thought-provoking ideas presented here are interesting enough to carry weight today. We must stand for tolerance and push for inclusion. What sets the X-Men apart from other heroes in the Marvel Universe, is that while the Avengers are celebrated for saving the world, the X-Men protect a world in spite of the fact that they are feared and hated.
I had the chance to reread this when I visited my comic stash and while this story is over 30 years old, it is still so relevant today. In our country’s current polarized political climate, prejudice towards minorities, conservative outrage and using religion to justify bigotry perhaps this story is more impactful now.