Note to readers: If you're averse to unconfirmed spoilers, stop reading now.
"I couldn't have everybody bitten by a radioactive spider or exposed to a gamma ray explosion. And I took the cowardly way out. I said to myself, 'Why don't I just say they're mutants. They were born that way."
Far from cowardly, Stan Lee created The X-Men in 1963 at the height of America's Civil Rights Movement. Lee, himself stated that fact influenced the mutant's plight That is, acceptance from the rest of mankind.
This theme strikes a chord in me unlike no other comic book and that's why the Marvel vs. FOX saga scares me. We can't have a literary world without the X-Men. Of all comic book characters, they've unequivocally made the biggest impact.
I began comics with Archie, but those quickly faded to the wayside as the characters didn't challenge me. The day that I was introduced to The Uncanny X-Men, everything clicked.
I immediately identified with them for two reasons. I was black and gay. In America, those two demographics equal persona non grata. Especially, when coinciding. Like the mutants' x-factor gene granting them powers, my features and sexuality were biologically determined traits. Neither a lifestyle choice, both intrinsically informed who I was and am to this day, as well as how the world relates to me. This designation as "other" is also the bailiwick of the X-Men. Always due to "normal" humans' fear that they'll replace them as obsolete. Does that remind you of anything that's said about the "browning" of America? Or the so-called "Gay Agenda?"
Not just living with bigotry from the majority, the books tackle it on a micro level. Take the Morlocks, for instance, who were like a leper colony. They were the forgotten ones. Many of whom had physical mutations that didn't enable them to "pass." I felt that intra-group prejudice many times growing up when other black kids would call me a faggot. And as an adult, I feel it often and profoundly among gays. Specifically, when I'm treated as other by mainstream gays, thanks to the supersession of white male privilege that negates empathy toward fellow marginalized folks. I can never closet my blackness, which brings me to just one of the reasons why the X-Men remain relevant, the Black Lives Matter Campaign.
When it comes to discussion of both peaceful protests and riots against police brutality, I've encountered people (including white gay men) who exhibit a "you people" attitude, complaining about how the protests have inconvenienced them or "make matters worse." It reminds me of the blind eye that many non-mutants turned toward the U.S. government-approved Operation: Zero Tolerance which ran through the X-Men titles back in '97. An overzealous, high-ranking official got the green light to start a program where android/human hybrids sought, detained and killed mutants. Some of these mutants were "outed" if living in secret. Aside from police profiling, that eery foreshadowing is akin to gays, now being outed via technology by cyber-bullies. Kids committing suicide, because they've been figuratively pushed off a ledge by their peers.
I was recently watching an episode of Melissa Harris-Perry where she addressed why protest and riots do spark change. She highlighted that the Stonewall Rebellion was a violent riot where gays attacked police who continually harassed and violated them. And now we have a parade that commemorates that. People have forgotten, including gays, that the Pride celebration wasn't born out of rainbows and glitter, but people fighting back. Literally.
And just look at the recent, suspected gay-bashing at Dallas BBQ right in Chelsea, a Gay Mecca. It's totally crazy to me that a gay couple could be assaulted by two black men (who we're now learning may or may not be gay, and who may've been retaliating for racial slurs) in a public establishment in one of the gayest places on Earth. And all while bystanders share via social media.
This why Marvel must realize the X-Men's value, and not banish them to comic book obscurity if that is indeed their plan. People need reinforcement. My formative years reading X-Men impacted my capacity for empathy. I never saw militants, like Magneto or the Brotherhood of Mutants, as bad people. They were tired people. Tired of their constant dehumanization. Tired of a society that deemed their lives exploitable and then valueless. Separate and unequal, both de facto and de jure. Tired of taking it lying down. Losing stories like this that influence kids (and adults) to empathize would be a huge tragedy not just for fanboys, but pop culture in totality. That is, unless Marvel has some grand design for the X-Men that isn't to blacklist them since they no longer own the movie rights. Or they plan to use this rumored exile as a grandiose story showcasing the worst effects of discrimination by forcing mutants to flee only to return and fight for their place here on Earth.
I've met many other X-Men readers over the last 27 years. X-fans are some of the most pluralistic, diverse people ever. I recall my mom being concerned about my habit as a kid, as she thought it was expensive junk. My dad, however, squashed any notion of ending it. He loved the fact that I was reading something that fostered critical thought and impassioned me concerning real world issues. It's this written legacy that makes X-Men readers the ones who stand against bigotry and injustice.
People need relatable characters who face real adversities in a real world. Characters they know, love and care about. Humanity's worst obstacles are usually those we create. Described as "sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them," the X-Men prove we can rise. If Marvel doesn't see how that perpetually resonates, then shame on them and sad for us.