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Marvel Graphic Novel 5: X-Men – God Loves, Man Kills (1982, December)

September 29, 2013

Today’s a big one. From Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson, “God Loves, Man Kills.”

God Loves, Man Kills

A nice, attention-grabbing cover.

We start with a couple black kids being lynched and killed in Connecticut. They’re killed by a group of people who call themselves Purifiers (making their first appearance), and then strung up on a swing set with signs identifying them as mutants. That’s why they were killed, of course – for being mutants. Magneto finds them, takes them down, and swears to avenge them.

Then we cut to a skyscraper in New York, the Stryker Building, headquarters of the Evangelical Stryker Crusade. William Stryker is reading from his Bible (Deuteronomy 17:2-5), and then reviews a briefing tape on the X-Men. This is all prelude, by the way.

Chapter 1 begins at Stevie Hunter’s dance studio, where Kitty crashes through the door with another student. She wants him to apologize for something. She gets distracted by Peter showing up, and the kid sucker-punches her. Peter, Illyana and Stevie break the fight up, and we find out that the boy’s been talking about the Stryker Crusade, and bad-mouthing “muties,” and Kitty finally got fed up and attacked him. Stevie tells Kitty not to get so upset at words, and Kitty responds with something I can’t say:

God Loves, Man Kills

Yeah, no way I was typing that.

Back at the Mansion, everyone (minus Scott and Ororo, who are at the studio with Xavier) gathers around the TV to watch Xavier debate Stryker. Xavier makes a compelling argument, but Stryker knows television, and plays to the audience better. The team heads to the Danger Room, in a mood to smash things.

As Xavier, Scott and Ororo drive through Central Park, they’re ambushed by the Purifiers. Back at the Mansion, Kurt answers the phone and is told that Xavier, Scott and Ororo are dead.

Chapter 2 starts the next day. Kitty’s sitting by the lake, and Illyana joins her, and they grieve a bit together. They talk a bit about death, and Kitty’s feelings for Peter, and then Illyana mentions seeing something weird. It’s some sort of sensor module. Out in Central Park, Wolverine says it was no accident, and the bodies didn’t belong to their friends. Nightcrawler radios to say their car is being watched. So Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Colossus confront the two people watching them. Then a couple guys in power armour show up. They don’t last long against Magneto, who wants to work with the X-Men.

Back at the Mansion, some people show up to fix the module after Kitty damaged it. Kitty phases into the ground to do some scouting, but Illyana gets caught. Kitty sneaks into the trunk of one of the cars, but is detected and some nerve gas used on her. The X-Men return, and interrogate their prisoners. Magneto tortures information out of them, which bothers Colossus and Nightcrawler.

Chapter 3 starts with Xavier being crucified by the X-Men, and even though he doesn’t believe it’s real, he still suffers. Stryker’s man has been trying to brainwash him for 15 hours, but Xavier still resists. Scott and Ororo are also there, being tortured, with their suffering being transferred to Xavier. Stryker thinks on his past. He started as a military man, a US Army Ranger, stationed at a nuclear test site. During a trip to Phoenix with his pregnant wife, he got in a car crash. She went into labour, and their son was a monster. Stryker killed it, then killed his wife. Then he got into the car and lit a match, hoping to die in the explosion, but he survived. A few months later, he saw an article Xavier had written about mutants, and realized that’s what his son was. Then he prayed for guidance, and decided that the sin that led to his son being a mutant was Marcy’s. Yeah, wonderful man, Stryker. Then he started his ministry. He tells Scott and Ororo he learned about Xavier and the X-Men when an FBI agent passed Fred Duncan’s files on to him. Ororo then overhears Stryker tell one of his agents to kill Kitty. That’s enough for the weather to suddenly go screwy.

Luckily, Kitty’s managed to slip away from the Purifiers, and is on the run. She stumbles across a gang, who offer to protect her if she does something for them. One of the Purifiers – the lead one, Anne – tells them to back away. In the confusion, Kitty slips away, and Anne kills the six gang members, though she takes a knife in the shoulder in the process. Kitty manages to find a phone and call the Mansion, before the Purifiers find her and attack her. She goes back on the run, and slips onto a train. But the Purifiers also make it to the train, and she’s too tired to run any more. Luckily, Magneto knows how to make a dramatic entrance – in this case, lifting the entire damn train off the track.

While this is all going on, Xavier’s finally been broken and brainwashed. Stryker even gets him to use his powers to kill Scott and Ororo, all with a creepy, mindless grin. The guy who did the brainwashing heads down to his car, where Kitty abducts him. For the first time, she manages to phase another person with her. Our little Kitty’s growing up. Inside the building, a couple guys are bringing the dead Scott and Ororo to the basement to be incinerated, and someone else is bringing Illyana to be interrogated. The elevator is drawn out of the building, but Anne jumps out and grabs onto the roof.

Scott and Ororo are revived with some electric prodding from Magneto; Xavier couldn’t actually kill them, no matter how deeply he believed he should. Magneto explains that he wants to create a utopian world, and that he wants the X-Men to carry it on after he dies.

Chapter 4. At Madison Square Garden, people are preparing for Stryker’s speech. A reporter comments that a growing number of people are becoming uncomfortable with Stryker’s rhetoric, which is similar to Nazi Germany’s talk about Jews. Stryker starts speaking, and we see some normal humans – including a Senator and a cop – who don’t like what he’s saying. Backstage, a variation on Cerebro is started up, and the X-Men outside get hit with mindblasts. A boy on the street collapses, bleeding from the ears and nose. Magneto makes his entrance – in typically grand fashion – but gets hit by Xavier’s mindblast, which leaves him weak. The Senator from earlier starts bleeding, and the cops protect Magneto from being killed by the crowd. The X-Men break into the back, trying to fight to the Cerebro, but dying on their feet from Xavier’s mindblasts. Which also start affecting Anne. Stryker pushes her off his podium, and she snaps her neck when she lands. That’s the end of Anne. Kind of a shame, actually. I found her kinda interesting.

Backstage, Nightcrawler teleports Wolverine behind Xavier while Cyclops fires an optic blast. Xavier blasts away Wolverine, while the optic blast ricochets off two walls to hit him and knock him out. Then he blasts the machine. The direct threat is ended. Now the real action starts.

The X-Men walk out on the stage to confront Stryker. They have a debate. It’s some pretty powerful stuff. Stryker asks how they can call Nightcrawler human, and Kitty makes an impassioned defence of him. Considering how uncomfortable she was with him early on, it’s very touching seeing her stand up for him the way she does. Stryker pulls out a gun and gets ready to shoot the X-Men, who stand their ground. But a cop shoots him first. It’s a fantastic sequence, tense and emotional, with Claremont making the wise choice of letting the images speak for themselves.

Epilogue at the Mansion. Magneto says that their victory is a Phyrric one, and that the X-Men can’t win. Xavier agrees. He thinks maybe it is time to join Magneto. Scott argues with him, defending Xavier’s dream, and that the means are as important as the end. It ends with a nice scene between Scott and Ororo, who really did make a great pair back then.

Anyway. I would rank this as one of the all-time great graphic novels. I think it fully deserves to be listed beside the likes of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and the like. It’s an incredible piece of work. It explores, better than almost any other story in the history of the X-Men, the issue of prejudice and discrimination. It puts the theme of “a world that hates and fears them” right at the forefront, and explores that hate. It explores the consequences of hate, and the irrationality of it. And it’s a story full of powerful moments. The fact that the climax of the story – the big fight – is a battle of words, and not fists, worked really well. It made the scene far more tense, and far more effective. You don’t win people over with violence. You don’t defeat an idea by punching it in the face. You defeat it by presenting a better idea, and making a better case for it. That’s what the X-Men did. They challenged Stryker’s idea, made a compelling argument, and Stryker couldn’t deal with it, so he pulled a gun. Even then, the X-Men could’ve used violence to defend themselves, but they didn’t. They were willing to stand by their principles, whatever the cost. By doing so, they won the argument. Stryker showed that he was willing to kill, and the X-Men showed that they weren’t.

Of course, Anderson’s artwork deserves to be praised, too. It’s fantastic. There’s some hints of Sienkewicz in there, which is never a bad thing. It’s somewhat stylized artwork, but with a lot of realism, as well. The faces are done really well. Even without words, you’d be able to tell exactly how each customer was feeling, what was going through their minds. In fact, there are times where there are no words and you can tell what they’re thinking and feelings. He makes excellent use of perspective, of lighting, of everything. The book just looks gorgeous, and that helps to improve the story. He was the perfect choice to do the book. I can’t think of any other artist of the time who could’ve done a better job. It’s damned near perfect.

This is one of the all-time great X-Men stories. It was #4 on CBR’s recent poll of the 50 Greatest X-Men Stories (and was #5 on my own Top 10). It was adapted for the second X-Men movie, which was nowhere near as amazing as this graphic novel. 30 years later, and it’s a story that still resonates. With Evangelical preachers constantly harping on homosexuality, this story might actually be more relevant now than when it was first written. This story also introduced the Purifiers, who became a pretty major presence in the X-Men over the past decade. They actually didn’t show up again until 2003, in Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men, and then they became a major threat with Decimation.

As far as continuity goes, it seems to fall into the same place as the X-Men Annual #6, probably right after the Brood Saga. They’re living at the Mansion, and Scott’s a part of the team. Truthfully, I don’t think Claremont was worried about where it fits in. He was just telling a great story.

  1. Hamburger Time permalink

    Speaking as someone who’s read this but hasn’t seen X-2, what do you prefer about this to X-2? Just asking ’cause X-2’s supposed to be the best one and all.

    • Well, for one thing, this isn’t all about Wolverine, the way X-2 was. The Graphic Novel does a better job handling the theme. This is about a guy with millions of people who follow him. X-2 was about some crazy guy working in secret. The climax in X-2 was punching, while the climax here was a debate of ideas.

      This is just better in every way than X-2.

  2. Yet another of Chris Claremont’s greats. Great story with strong themes behind it, the introduction to a new villain that, while he doesn’t show up very often, he’s always intense. Inspiration for a movie that, while decent, doesn’t hold a candle to God Loves, Man Kills. Magneto really shines here.

  3. comic book titles just aren’t as epic anymore. How can Chris Claremont look at a story containing a teleporting elf and a Russian goon made of steel and decide to call it “God Loves, Man Kills”? Because Claremont takes this stuff super serious and that’s awesome.

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