Marvel's X-Men square off against allegorical Proposition 8

"In creating a superhero, you have to find a reason why he or she has a superpower. I can only have so many people bitten by a radioactive spider," Marvel godfather Stan Lee has joked. "What if ... they were born that way? They were mutants. We know mutants exist in nature."

The success of the comic proved again that Marvel's human touch offered a deep connection with its readers. The average onlooker could enjoy the book for its characters, the art, the "wow" factor of it all... and anyone persecuted, in any capacity, for being born "different" had a team of champions.

Sales eventually waned: the comic book reader is as fickle as the television watcher. (Incidentally, color television became widespread around the same time, in the late 1960s.) But after death, particularly in the comic world, comes rebirth: In 1975, Marvel launched Giant Size X-Men #1.

[image-1]The new line-up included an Irishman, a Native American, a Russian, a German, a Canadian and a Japanese hero - but perhaps most relevant to American society at the time, a female African-American. Social commentary, in essence, had given birth to the X-Men - and as such, social commentary would sustain it. The X-Men again Stormed the market, eventually even leading to four films.

"The demographic ... contains a high proportion of black, Jewish and gay people, who have all been encouraged by society to think of themselves as oddities or mutants," said Ian McKellen (who plays Magneto in the first three X-Films) in an interview. "I hope that's why X-Men chimes with them - it's certainly why I was attracted to the idea in the first place."

The concept of those born different dedicating their lives to a world that hates and fears them has spawned fans since '63, including McKellen, and continues to do so: and whether intentionally or not, X-Men remains Marvel's ultimate societal allegory.

In May 2008, California became the country's second state to recognize non-heterosexual marriage. In November of the same year, Proposition 8 (ironically rhyming with hate) was passed - sweeping gay marriage under the Bush and limiting further marriages in the state to male and female couples only in an effort to "protect" marriage. (Insert divorce rates here.)

Less than a year later, Uncanny X-Men writer Matt Fraction has found himself placing the now San Francisco-based X-Men against a villain adorned not in spandex or cape. Instead they're battling a villain adorned with hate and prejudice, in suit and tie. They face Proposition X, a bill that's been placed on the ballot to ban the reproduction of mutantkind. If passed in Marvel's pages, mutants would be required to undergo "mandatory chemical birth control procedures" to "ensure everyone gets to survive."

Fraction recognizes it as "a coincidental analogy," but credits X-Men from its inception as "the perfect metaphorical book. If you've ever been discriminated against, picked on, ridiculed, or rejected because of who you were or what you did, you can maybe see a little of yourself here."

Fraction had Northstar, an openly gay X-Man, offer the following in Uncanny X-Men #509: "Who wants to save a bunch of terrified American bigots? I'm going back to Canada where I enjoyed Socialized Health Care, the Metric System, and tolerance."

[image-2]The writer recognizes Proposition X as "a coincidental analogy," and I'm certainly not suggesting that Proposition 8 and X are exactly the same thing. Gays and lesbians aren't protecting the world the way the X-Men are - unless you consider Calvin Klein, Domenico Dolce, Stefano Gabbanna, Christian Dior and a host of other designers whose creations, though possibly trickled down the fashion chain to Target, you're probably wearing right now.

Or Michelangelo, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Hans Christian Anderson, Frida Kahlo, Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci - all of whom are widely believed to have been gay, lesbian or bisexual based on personal history, societal accounts, memoirs or works of theirs.

Not allowing gays and lesbians to marry also isn't the same thing as prohibiting reproduction - but as you know, I'm hoping, two men or two women cannot have children on their own. (Though I think Ellen and Portia have a strong chance. They're unstoppable.)

Many gays and lesbians adopt, but it should be noted that numerous adoption agencies have a marital preference of two years.


"Does this story adequately frame the realities of minority social politics? I think that's impossible, because we're a comic book," Fraction continued in an interview. "Meanwhile, real people with real lives and real love are really being discriminated against and treated like less than citizens - like they are less than human, even.

Any time our brothers or sisters are treated like less than yourself, the founding fathers and the framers of our Constitution turn in their graves."


The allegorical team of mutants have faced worse before and come out on top in the main book's 500+ issues. It's likely they'll do the same here. My eternal and sometimes annoying optimism tells me Proposition 8, and other equality-defecating motions like it, will be overturned.

Art is imitating life in the pages of Uncanny X-Men - and I can only hope that eventually, when good does triumph over evil (as it usually does in fiction), life will imitate art.

Marvel Comics has always been known for its human touch - for its focus on continuity before capes. Spider-Man wasn't born of Krypton, but Queens: your average boy next door. The Fantastic Four were fantastic, yes, but a family first. Before getting his act together, Tony Stark, Iron Man, drank more than my dad on a Monday. They're human.

It's that touch that has drawn readers (and conglomerates) to their pages for 70 years. Man before Super, Woman before Wonder.

In 1963, the X-Men blasted, flew, bounced and ice-slid into the comics world as character first - but also social commentary.

Before this, superheroes were always different - "special" - but with few exceptions, praised for it. Any minority could enjoy them next to the majority, perhaps identifying with their differences: but what about their acceptance? Could they identify with that?

Spider-Man was often looked down upon by the city he protected, but his powers were the result of circumstance. Bruce Wayne was feared for his differences - but he had elected to become Batman. (Not to mention that, by day, he was a millionaire. Tough life.)

But the X-Men - that was it. That was the key. It wasn't choice that made them who they'd become. It wasn't circumstance that had made them different.

It was birth.

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