Thought I was gone, didn’t you? I didn’t quite make it to the end of August, but I’ll keep blogging from time to time.
My epic look back at Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men comic book series continues! For the backstory on what this is, and what has come before, check this out.
This here covers the original graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, as well as issues 168 of Uncanny X-Men. Last time, I decided not to read the spin-off series New Mutants, and mostly I’m going to resist reading peripheral titles unless the story being told in Uncanny X-Men directly crosses over to some other book.
God Loves, Man Kills isn’t a direct crossover, so right away I’m a hypocrite and I’m breaking my own rules. In fact, this graphic novel won’t even be referenced in the main X-Men series for years to come. It doesn’t even exactly fit in anywhere. Kitty Pryde’s code name and costume here contradict how she’s depicted in Uncanny X-Men at the time, but there’s no other time where this cast of characters is living in Xavier’s mansion.
However, it was such a seminal chapter in the development of the franchise, I felt it was too important to skip. It also has a fantastic title.
The Marvel Graphic Novel series were meant to be stand-alone stories aimed at a slightly older reader than the monthly comics. In a sense, it was ahead of its time, as the graphic novel format today is generally aimed at the book store market, instead of the weekly visitors of comic book stores. In the early 1980s, this was still several decades away from being a reality and the infrastructure just didn’t exist to support it. But it was a valiant effort.
Like the main Uncanny X-Men series, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills was written by Chris Clarement (credited here as the more formal Christopher Claremont), with art by Brent Anderson (who also gets a more formal credit, Brent Eric Anderson). Anderson’s name might have been familiar to X-Men readers; he was the artist for the first issue right after John Byrne’s departure in 1981, right before the start of Dave Cockrum’s second stint. He was also the artist for that year’s Uncanny X-Men Annual. But he wasn’t Marvel’s first choice.
Neal Adams was an innovative super-star from the ’60s and ’70s who had saved the X-Men from cancellation in the late ’60s (at least, temporarily; they were cancelled soon after, but they were brought back). By the early ’80s, he’d mostly moved on from the two major publishers Marvel and DC Comics, where he made his name. Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter wooed him back for a special project. It was a great idea to see Neal Adams return to these characters. Several pages were created before Adams left the project because Marvel didn’t produce the type of contract they had verbally agreed to. So with Adams out, Brent Anderson was brought in. Considering Anderson follows the Adams school of cartooning and illustrating, it was a good choice.
After almost 20 years of X-Men, religion was rarely referenced. Only in the last several years was it even referenced at all. Nightcrawler’s belief in God was explicitly established in the Brood Saga stories (as was Wolverine’s agnosticism), and Kitty Pryde’s Jewish heritage, while rarely mentioned by the character, can be seen in the Star of David necklace she always wears. I think Cyclops may have mentioned God in a generic sense in some of his self-pitying monologues. Storm was worshipped as a goddess in a small African village because of her weather-manipulating abilities, and there were a couple other generic tribal religions depicted in the ’60s (South American and Egyptian, I believe). Beyond that, there’s never been a real look at how the mythology of mutants in this world interacts with religion. How does the existence of mutants affect churches and religious institutions in the Marvel Universe. This graphic novel does that.
Of course, this is still superhero comics, so yes there is a para-military group of anti-mutant soldiers being run by what appears to be an evangelical megachurch called the Stryker Crusade. This church is run by Reverand Willaim Stryker, who appears to be somewhat of a reference to the televangelist Jerry Falwell. Stryker spends much of the story excessively quoting the Bible. Not a line or two here or there, but huge blocks of text are quoted. At times, he holds conversations with people where his half of the conversation is just Bible quotes. He is clearly the villain here, a truly despicable man willing to murder his own wife and son. He twists the Bible to support his obsessive bigotry toward mutants. His soldiers are called Purifiers, who kill two mutant children.
This catches the attention of Magneto, who ends up teaming up with the X-Men. Magneto’s involvement is another significant step toward Magneto’s transformation from his clear cut super-villain status from the ’60s to a sympathetic figure conflicted by his past and his ideals.
Professor X is kidnapped along with Cyclops and Storm, which happens a little too easily. Kitty Pryde is almost captured too, and there’s quite the harrowing chase scene. She also phases with another person for the first time.
Through brainwashing and some scifi doohickey modeled after Cerebro, Professor X is going to be used to kill anyone who is a mutant during a highly attended sermon. Of course the X-Men and Magneto bust in, which leads to a pretty chaotic climax.
While Stryker is played heavy-handed, he serves to highlight other characters. In a general sense, we get to see shifting public opinion of mutants and how some religious people see mutants in the context of their belief in God. Not everyone sees it the way Stryker does. Kitty ends up giving a fantastic defense of Nightcrawler and a gripping stand-off ends with a really good unexpected hero. The layout of these pages is particularly good, never once dropping the suspense.
At the very end, Professor X is so shaken by this incident and how he was brainwashed that he considers leaving with Magneto. But at the last moment, he declines the invitation.
Back to the main series, with issue 168. This opens with the famous “Professor Xavier is a jerk!” line from Kitty Pryde. I’ve seen this image before but never read the issue before. I always imagined that all of the X-Men were there, including Professor X. But she’s just venting to Illyana, who ends up shutting down her tantrum pretty nicely.
Last issue, Professor X made the decision that Kitty would be demoted from the X-Men and moved to his New Mutants class of students. Of course Kitty doesn’t like this because what 14-year-old wants to be taken off the cool adult team and put on the lame kiddie team? Plus, and probably most of all, she doesn’t want to be taken off the team with her crush Peter, who just recently admitted to her that he likes her too. Of course, Kitty eventually proves herself (again) and the Professor agrees to keep her as a full-fledged X-Man.
That cute dragon from the Brood Saga becomes Kitty’s pet or sidekick or something here. It’s clear there’s some intelligence to Lockheed (Kitty names him this, presumably based off the dragon based off the Blackbird jet in her fairy tale she told back in issue 153).
Following the Brood Saga (and the above events of God Loves, Man Kills, if we assume they did occur), everyone is shaken up and needs a little break.
After her weird time in space getting reborn inside that space whale, Storm is having problems reconnecting to Earth’s ecosystem. Her powers kind of turn back on her. This seems to be hinting at big changes ahead for her.
Nightcrawler reunites with his girlfriend/adopted sister (why is everyone OK with this?) and we see a Bamf doll, a cute stuffed animal of Nightcrawler also based off Kitty’s fairy tale. I think it’s the first depiction of one of these.
Wolverine takes off for some alone time in the Canadian Rockies, which leads into an adventure told in the first Wolverine limited series, which I will resist reading now. But that makes spin-off #2 for the X-Men spin-off. It ends up being a big hit and results in a long-running Wolverine on-going series.
Professor X is trying to get used to the clone body he know lives in. Some kind of psychosomatic response is causing his legs to not work as though he’s still paralyzed.
Cyclops goes on a trip to Alaska with his father and brother to meet his grandparents. While on this trip, Cyclops meets Madelyne Pryor, who ends up being a Jean Grey lookalike. This is the start of a can of worms that really sours Cyclops specifically and X-Men in general for a lot of people. I’m trying to stay open-minded, as these two stories were quite good, but I can’t help but think that her arrival is the signal that the peak years for the X-Men are over. I hope I’m wrong. But I suffered through that stupid Locust issue from 1967, so how bad could it get…?