Well before I was able to figure out all the dimensions to the issue, X-Men spoke to this mysterious sense I had about being queer and elicited an affinity that gave a certain sort of understanding to this weird feeling I was always carrying around in the pit of my stomach. As I grew up in the Culture War nineties and then Bush the Dumber’s aughts, a pretty harsh period for queer rights, the various titles published by Marvel Comics continued to speak to this gnawing, ever-present awareness of having a secret identity, one which I could face serious danger because of.
Written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is a title that seems uncannily relevant today. As the horrors of the Trump administration have rolled out over the past three years, various policies have seemed copied directly from this short novel. Consider this opening sequence, which could easily double as the catastrophic family separations by ICE last year that filled the headlines.
Authored as a stand-alone volume in 1983 (strikingly different from the typical serializing method spread across monthly magazine issues), GLMK was obviously attenuated to dynamics of the nascent Evangelical movement, which had recently capitalized off its successful scuttling of the Equal Rights Amendment with the election of Ronald Reagan. Televangelist Rev. William Stryker has developed a Crusade movement that targets mutants with deadly results. Now it is up to the X-Men to fight an antagonist that is not just threatening their immediate physical safety but would desire to initiate a genocidal campaign of terror on a systemic level. (If this sounds somewhat familiar, yes, this book was the basis of 2003’s X2: X-Men United, arguably the best entry in the cinematic series as well as one of the better comic book superhero pictures produced in the aughts.)
The book is admittedly as bubbly as a soap opera can get, not exactly new for stories featuring mutants. There’s always been a certain type of angst-ridden pathos informing these plots that seemed borrowed from an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, presenting a superhero team that has all the internal dynamics, not to mention drama, of a clique of teenagers. Whereas the Justice League and Avengers were state-certified and respected adults, Charles Xavier seemed to be overseeing a cadre of super-powered adolescents whose major drama that week might be prom dates or making the varsity football team as opposed to defeating the major villain.
But that is exactly why those titles work. The reality is that our lives more often than not actually do feel like an ongoing high school fiasco and not a major stand-off with super-villains in a grand arena on a far-off planet.
Furthermore, as Dr. Todd Steven Burroughs pointed out when I interviewed him about the death of Stan Lee, the politics of the book (as with all Marvel comics) are very clearly integrationist liberalism, brought out by several lines of cringe-inducing dialogue that poo-poo a more radical liberation politics. In days where a compromised and milquetoast Resistance© led by the Democrats has thrown members of its own fold, like Rep. Ilhan Omar, under the bus in the name of this flavor of liberalism, it is important to indicate the real material consequences of those sentiments and why they are so dangerous.
Regardless, the volume remains a triumph that is worth seeking out.