Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Professor X-savior?

Everyone knows the head, and we do mean head, honcho of the X-Men. Professor X is the ultimate teacher/mentor. We know he's a benevolent tyrant at the head of all X related projects, when he isn't presumed dead or on sabbatical. He has to be a goodie, Patrick Stewart played him for gosh sake. A lot of people, Stan Lee among them, make a natural leap and paint the Professor as a Martin Luther King Jr. stand in. It's a bit problematic, especially when you take into account who his opposite number is supposedly meant to stand in for. It may be more useful to think of Xavier and that other guy (More on him at a later date.) along religious lines, rather than as a stand ins for real historical figures. Xavier representing a gospel of accord, mutual benefit, and belief in the invisible world that links all be they mutant, human, or alien, as for Magneto, well, we'll get to him when we get to him. It's right there in his title, he professes.

Heck Xavier, mutant not saint, already sports a halo of sorts in quite a bit of the promotional art.

In Kurt Busiek's Astro City he introduced a group of characters called the Crossbreed, whose name brings to mind both biology via 'breed' and religion. They are a group who believe their powers are gifts from god and hand out pamphlets. With the X logos everywhere, the high minded, non-government backed missions, and contact with celestial beings, it's easy to see how giving the X-Men a secular religious feel fits in. (Think in terms of Carl Sagen's role i.e. science and I don't think you're too far off.) If the X-men are an argument for the progress and worth of all the children of tomorrow, then it makes a certain sense that part of their mission is preaching the gospel of tomorrow. As their teacher and leader, Professor X is the head preacher of tomorrow. He's even got a few scandals in his past. In his 1602 series, Neil Gaiman made Professor X into Carlos Javier, a teacher of "witchbreed" who also has a priestly air about him. Couple that with St. Francis Xavier's co founding of the Jesuits, and the general cultural association between the Jesuits and education, and we just might have some thing here.

So he's not perfect. (Notice that Cyclops's "grim look" is focused right on Xavier? Scott knows the score.) It's not that Professor X should be a directly analogous Christ-like figure. Instead, I'm saying that, like a priest, Professor X tries to hold himself to a higher moral standard, not that he always succeeds.

Xavier's formation and guiding philosophy has a lot to do with his childhood. He spent the years after his father's death, in an atomic blast by the way, being bullied by his step brother Cain. Peter Parker learned that with great power comes great responsibility, Xavier learned that power without responsibility or discipline produces bullies, and can end up producing monsters. So it makes total sense that the guy would start a school designed to teach the young and powerful how not to become monsters and bullies.

Maybe you've wondered how Xavier lost the use of his legs. In the 90's Animated series it was due to a car accident caused by his step brother. That's not quite how it happened in the comics, instead he was attacked while foiling a plot by an alien spy. Since the beginning Xavier's chair has been as much an extension of the character as Cyclops' visor or Magneto's helmet.

The X logo is even incorporated into the design of the chair in the above picture. In the early days he had a pimped out chair designed, so that he could have occasional solo adventures.

Frickin' tank treads and shit. Notice the gun? Another place comparisons with Martin Luther King fall down, Professor X really isn't a pacifist. Viewers of the animated series will remember the hover chair incarnation. The thematic reason for Professor X's paraplegia is to contrast his supremely powerful mind with his comparatively frail body, but over time the chair has more or less become his Batmobile. Like the Batmobile it serves as an almost living extension of the character's personality in a given era. 

That stuff about Professor X's mind contrasted with his body. How about this, and this harks back to that unfortunate Silver Age sequence up around the second paragraph, the real conflict for Professor X is between his public role as the savior of mutant and humankind, and the fact that he is, at heart, a sneaky manipulative bastard. Here's a snippet of his school days.

In the same origin story, he goes on to use his powers to become a football star in college, so he's not really averse to using his powers to give himself an advantage. This is precisely what give the humans anxiety regarding mutants in the early days of the series. That the powers result in an advantage that will soon render normal humans useless as anything more than some mutant's pet or slave. It was definitely what Bolivar Trask was worried about when he created the Sentinels. Professor X's powers alone can have a disconcerting Big Brother feel to them. Even at his most benevolent, in the X-Men movies, Xavier is perfectly willing to mentally freeze an entire building of people. The guy tries to be so above it all, and at peace with his earthier needs, and you just know that underneath it somewhere is the repressed desire to jerk around with people's minds just because he can. in fact, in the 90's marvel featured his id unleashed in the form of Onslaught. Professor X tries to bring out the potential in everyone, but what's the potential in him?

What do I want to see in a Professor X? I want to see the conflict between being an icon and being a mortal. I want to see the saintly tempted by the unholy. I really want to see more thwarted alien invasions. I definitely want a combat rated chair somewhere in the equation. I want to see a mostly good man who occasionally thinks or does (Really the same thing for someone like ol' Chuck.) the wrong thing, like lusting after someone he shouldn't or enjoying using his powers in ways he has forbidden himself to. Most of all, I want someone other than a mutant whitewash of a figure who receives enough of such treatment already.

P.S. Really, if someone has to be Malcolm X to the Professor's MLK, I'd argue it makes more sense for it to be Wolverine, just saying.

Next: Something (Probably 60's Batman, or something like that.)


  1. So, Professor X is really more of a Pope, or cult leader than a Human Rights leader allegory? That does work, but as the person you pointed to was a minister, I could argue more of the Dr. MLK Jr. point.

    As always, a thought provoking read.

  2. Oh, and thanks for linking to my movie blog. We should discuss my upcoming reviews of the X-men movie trilogy.

  3. Yeah, I thought about that aspect of it while I was writing, but I think American culture, at least the parts of it I've consumed, tends to view MLK in a fairly secular light.

    Did you check out the link under the word "problematic?"

  4. I didn't originally, but I am now.