This X-men Graphic Novel (GN) is from 1982, way back in the glory days of Marvel. The Graphic Novel was a new format that Marvel was trying out, and like everything else Marvel touched with X-men mutant pixie dust, it turned to gold.
Chris Claremont’s complicated story lines and complex characters drew attention to the X-men, industry-wide. It wasn’t just fans that were interested; fanzines were replete with people begging for more. Claremont’s stories were heralded as innovative, ground-breaking. The comics produced by him and John Byrne, together, were and still are considered some of the best work produced by Marvel. The Dark Phoenix Saga is still viewed as a landmark in the industry and throughout various platforms branded such a staple of the X-men mythos to be labeled CANON.
By 1982, Byrne was no longer drawing X-men. He had moved on to write and draw Alpha Flight, among other things, while Claremont was firmly entrenched in creating such a vast mutant roster that other books had to be created to capitalize on the demand: such as the New Mutants, X-factor, Excalibur, and X-force.
This story is drawn by Brent Eric Anderson and builds on the premise that bigotry is alive and well in the United States of America. The bigotry that Claremont explores in this narrative is not one based on color, language, or religion, but on race: homo sapiens (humans) versus homo superior (mutants).
Reverend William Stryker is a religious zealot who believes that mutants are spawns of the devil. He publicly seeks sanctions against the mutant menace, while privately he hires assassins to hasten the eradication of the unclean. The Purifiers (Reverend William Stryker’s henchpeople) hunt down and kill 2 mutant children in the prologue, prompting Magneto’s outrage. After a televised debate with Professor Charles Xavier, the Reverend learns that Professor X is a mutant and has him kidnapped. This prompts the X-men to team-up with an irate Magneto to find Charles.
Over the course of the story, the Purifiers continue to hunt down mutants while the X-men try to find their headmaster. Some of the X-men are apparently killed in an attempted rescue of Professor X and the X-men choose to make a last grab of their mentor during Reverend Stryker’s event where he will make an announcement destined to change the propagation of mutant kind.
At a religious revival meeting, many political figures gather to hear the reverend underscore the dangers inherent in the mutant menace. As he quotes biblical scriptures to emphasize the religiously mandated cleansing, Charles Xavier has been connected to a machine that channels his psychic power to cause cerebral hemorrhaging in every mutant hearing the message. While Reverend Stryker damages the reputation of mutants with his words, Professor Xavier physically damages them with the power of his mind.
I will not spoil the ending but in the epilogue, Magneto is invited to remain with the X-men and to renounce his war against humanity. Magneto refuses and continues on his way. He leaves determined to redouble his efforts at recruiting mutants to his cause and securing a future where homo superior rules over homo sapiens.
The story is clearly allegorical. In particular, religious iconography and imagery, scriptural references, and overt proselytizing resonate thematically throughout. However, it is clear that the story is not a moral condemnation of religion, but religious zealotry. It underscores the idea that religious faith in a deity is not in itself an evil. It is human beings that corrupt the ideals of equality, goodness, and human value with the evils of judgment, corruption, and prejudice.
I highly recommend this story.