Normally with these Retro Reviews, spoiler warnings are necessary for those of you who care to read the comics I dissect. Although, I’d argue that my take doesn’t diminish the purity of later reading it for the first time. However, this time, you’re totally safe. To be fair, I should probably call these “Retro Breakdowns” as that’s really what I do. I look behind the scenes as well as on the beautiful four-color surface. Over the last few weeks, I read X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills several times and came to the conclusion that I wanted to do something different to honor the significance of this book. Before that, if you’d like the version with the spoilers check out my YouTube Breakdown.
Now, we take a look at what was originally published in Marvel Graphic Novel number 5, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills.
In the 1980s, comic books were growing up. Much of that credit rightly goes to the work of Alan Moore, first in Swamp Thing and then most famously with the expectation shattering, game-changing 12 issues of Watchmen. Watchmen itself is perhaps the most famous graphic novel ever, but in reality, it was just a comic book series. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is a more pure graphic novel. I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Frank Miller here as well, first with his work on Daredevil and then his work on Batman (specifically referring to the Year One story here) and of course The Dark Knight Returns.
As I already said, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills was among the first “true” graphic novels. Marvel saw where things were going and attempted to make a series of more prestigious “adult” comic books. It didn’t totally work. I mean, other than the first issue, The Death of Captain Marvel, most of these books don’t have the staying power, they’re really just longer comic stories. I mean, come on, one of them was Dazzler: The Movie.
Those two masterpieces, both from DC, may not exist without X-Men: God Love, Man Kills, and while they certainly surpass it, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be recognized and even revered. So go, revere it. First, keep reading of course.
Originally, God Loves (I realize writing out the entire title has become a bit redundant, so enjoy the shorthand of God Loves) was to be drawn by Neil Adams. Adams went as far as to complete some pages, however, he only agreed to do it NOT as work for hire (still the norm in comics). Of course, that didn’t work, so he backed out.
It would have been awesome based on the early pages, but dramatically different than the more grounded, less illustrated more gritty and therefore more real art of Brent Anderson. Anderson was first offered a chance to regularly draw Uncanny X-Men, however, he didn’t feel he could handle it. A graphic novel, without the crunch of a monthly deadline was perfect. His art is essential to the power of the book. It gives it a reality Adams (the better artist) would not have.
Chris Claremont, then firmly established as the best in the business and only a few years into his epic 17-year run scripting Uncanny X-Men wanted to use the book to do a more powerful story. With the freedom of the graphic novel and lack of the Comic Code Authority seal on the front, meant he could go down some darker roads.
The plot of God Loves (you’re still spoiler free, but we do need some context) is about William Stryker. Unlike X-Men 2 (and therefore other X-Men movies), Stryker isn’t a military dude, but a televangelist. The 1980s were a boom period for televangelists and many good intentioned people who only love God were taken for a ride by some dubious men. Stryker is one such man, however, this being a story in the Marvel Universe (but not really, as it wasn’t at the time canon, though it has been retconned as such) Stryker hates Mutants or Muties as the book calls them.
This is where the book has its power and its controversy. When some random dude named Daniel tells Kitty Pryde and her African-American friend that “Muties are evil”, Kitty throws a punch, no phasing in that fist. Stevie tells her to calm down, however. Kitty equates the use of the word Mutie to the use of the N-word.
As an adult, I’m not sure if this is offensive, as a kid I was blown away. It hit me. It hit me hard. The N-word was (and is) among the most unsayable of words. It might have crossed a line, but it profoundly impacted me. What Deadpool recently called an outdated 1960s analogy for racism crossed over from just an analogy to a reality. Hate is hate, and hate is wrong. Deadpool is also wrong.
We live in a world full of hate, and we are perhaps more divided than ever. As a kid, my world was as white as the background to the page on which I type this, however, it is no longer so. I thank God that Stryker used to sell hate, that my wife is Vietnamese, my daughter is her own even more spectacular creation, and my extended family has representatives from Africa and China and plenty of white people that are better people for the lessons diversity taught up. Well, diversity taught us, as did the X-Men.
Josiah Golojuh is a writer, who insists you go read this, but first click the links here (find his collection of short stories here), he’s also a YouTube commentator (where, among other things, he does things similar to these Retro Reviews).