Even during the promotional build to Jonathan Hickman’s takeover as the “Head of X,” there was theorizing that Charles Xavier – if that even was our once and future Professor X, adorned in his Maker-esque Cerebro helmet at all times – and the X-Men would be taking on a more sinister, antagonistic role in the Marvel Universe.
I see this thinking and question pop up with virtually every new episode of Krakin’ Krakoa and given the persistence – and the degree to which this progression clearly bothers some readers – I think it’s worth laying out the case for why readers would think this, and why I ultimately wholeheartedly disagree with the assertion.
Spoilers for comics in the Dawn of X may follow!
The X-Men Are Behaving Differently – This Doesn’t Reflect Charles Xavier’s Dream!
One of the core tenets of X-Men since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created the franchise in Marvel’s 60’s Silver Age is Professor Charles Xavier’s dream that mutants and humans can co-exist peacefully together. Over the years, and coalesced across media like the X-Men Animated Series and the early 2000’s Patrick Stewart helmed film franchise, the message has become the ultimate amalgamation of “Turn the other cheek,” “Love thy neighbor,” and “I have a dream.”
In Uncanny X-Men #1 (then just “X-Men,” although according to Kirby, he originally wanted to call the team “The Mutants” which is a book title I’m still waiting for in the Dawn of X), Professor X states his mission as follows:
“When I was young, normal people feared me, distrusted me! I realized the human race is not yet ready to accept those with Extra powers! So I decided to build a haven… a school for X-Men!”
“…We learn to use our powers for the benefit of mankind… to help those who would distrust us if they knew of our existence.”
“Not all [mutants] want to help mankind! Some hate the human race, and wish to destroy it! Some feel that the mutants should be the real rulers of Earth! It is our job to protect mankind from those… from the Evil Mutants!”
By the time Jonathan Hickman took over the franchise in 2019, this dream had evolved heavily. Krakoa is a nation exclusively for mutantkind – all of mutantkind regardless of their past actions, some of which are particularly heinous.
In regards to the new drugs that Krakoa produces, and make life for all on the planet significantly better, Professor X says in a speech to all humans in House of X #6:
“In the past they would have been a gift. Something freely given by me to you because I believed it would create harmony between our two peoples. That was my dream–harmony–but you have taught me a harsh lesson: That dream was a lie.”
He goes on: “We wanted to save you–and we did, many times–but in return all you did was stand by while evil men killed our children. Over 16 million of them. So there will be no gift for you have not earned it.”
I can see how this progression might seem like a jump to some, and clearly it spawned plenty of theories that this isn’t really Professor X. That this feels at odds with the X-Men of the past is no doubt intentional, and meant to represent the earnest assertion that this is something new (probably the thing I personally crave most in superhero storytelling today).
Keep in mind, though, It’s not like we jumped from the Silver Age idealism of Professor X to the Krakoa era and Professor X admitting his dream was the wrong dream.
Throughout the 2000’s in particular, the X-Men franchise have seen the following developments (among many, many others):
- 16 million mutants were murdered by Casandra Nova in “E is for Extinction”
- 1 million mutants were suddenly depowered in the aftermath of House of M, nearly finalizing mutant extinction and ensuring no new mutants until the appearance of Hope Summers in Messiah CompleX
- The X-Men – led by Cyclops – formed the island nation of Utopia in an effort to create a new safe haven for all mutants
- Cyclops and his Phoenix Five straight up took over the world imbued with the powers of the Phoenix in Avengers vs. X-Men
- Many mutants were driven to literal Limbo in an effort to escape a worldwide Inhumans virus that would decimate their numbers once again
So again, when we get to House of X / Powers of X, and the revelations of Moira X convincing Professor X – over time, mind you – that his beautiful dream means mutants always lose, it’s also within the context of everything that’s come before, much of it tragic, traumatic, and terrible.
Even through this modern legacy of near extinction, the inability to quote-on-quote solve mutant prejudice isn’t for lack of trying. From 2012 through 2017, Marvel’s Uncanny Avengers squad sought to improve human and mutant relations by combining an Avengers unit full of superpowered humans and mutants. Mutants have been saving an ungrateful world every week, even in their darkest moments.
This is why House of X #4 breaks the mold so intentionally, calling attention to most of the known violent acts against mutants throughout Marvel history, and with Professor X so emotionally and resolutely resolving “No More.” When the context of your existence is prejudice, massacres, and zero progress, how do you keep playing out the same cycles expecting a different result? What good is a dream if you can’t have a better one?
The Two Sides of Professor X
Specifically in regards to Charles Xavier, there’s been a retroactive sainthood applied to the character that is deeply, deeply misguided. Modern stories have certainly painted the Professor as more and more ethically compromised, but frankly this behavior runs a course through his entire history.
At this point, I definitely tend to associate the more generous interpretations of Professor X to cultural osmosis of his onscreen presence instead of his actual appearances in comics. The 2000’s for Professor X are a sequence of revisionist history revealing he enslaved a sentient artificial intelligence (now known as Danger) and sent 3rd Summers brother Gabriel and a team of mutants to their deaths on a Krakoa rescue mission, followed by the Professor getting shot and nearly killed in Messiah CompleX then actually killed by a Dark Phoenix possessed Scott Summers in Avengers vs. X-Men.
If you’re of the mindset that certainly things were better in the halcyon days of Chris Clarmeont and collaborators, I’d point you to any variety of actions such as wiping Spider-Man’s memory during Secret Wars, threatening to wipe Storm’s memory during Secret Wars, bailing on the team and especially the New Mutants to gallivant in space with Lilandra time after time, possibly coercing Gabriel Haller to fall in love with him, being the literal worst Dad, and finishing second in the Silver Age power rankings for the “Faked Your Own Death” awards to only Doctor Doom.
So, yes, I do think the Professor’s history supports him ending up in this position, especially when you factor in the radical truth of Moira MacTaggert. The Moira factor is ultimately the only thing that matters, and given that her lifelines tell the Professor she tried it his way multiple times, and they all ended in extermination for mutantkind, of course he’d eventually break and need to try something else. The only real question there is why he waited as long as he did.
What Are the X-Men’s Crimes?
If we’re going to consider the assertion that the mutants of the Marvel Universe are behaving like supervillains, all this background is essential. It’s a bit of a strawman argument because it’s not an opinion I share, but I believe the thinking is effectively that mutants have not only turned their backs on humanity but have declared themselves superior to humankind, and at least implicitly deemed humankind – and their Sentinel / Nimrod manufacturing ways – the enemy. More than once I’ve seen readers label the new look franchise “Mutant Supremacists,” which certainly is an ideology most commonly associated with Marvel’s villains, however nuanced, such as Magneto or Apocalypse.
There are a couple key details that keep the Krakoa era X-Men from falling into this simple trap, and it’s in the nuance that the aggregate collective of all of mutantkind -or much of it as it stands – is deliberately not set up as an enemy to humankind.
First, I think of Scott Summers speaking to Marvel’s first family – the absolute center and embodiment of non-mutant power in the Marvel Universe – in House of X #1. Reed and Susan Richards have a chance to question the mutant’s move to Krakoa, and the appearances of it all, and Scott replies:
“My family has spent our entire lives being hunted and hated. The world has told me that I was less when I knew I was more. Did you honestly think that we were going to sit around forever and just take it?”
Mutants should not have to subjugated and harassed due to the fears of small-minded people in order to play by the imagined rules of decency that have never extended to mutants themselves. The idea that mutants should be locked in this endless cycle of persecution and unaccountable violence in order to retain their “goodness” is increasingly flawed.
I get the ideal. I quite love the hope of Professor X’s early dream. It’s a very nice dream. But it wasn’t working. So, no, storytellers don’t have to repeat the same old song and hope for a different outcome. The actual extension of the mutant metaphor as it extends to real life oppressed minorities – and please keep in mind this is a fictional metaphor and it’s not my intention to equate the two – is served more poignantly right now through a group that says enough is enough. No More! It’s not supremacy to want a better, fairer life. It’s not supremacy to demand change.
Crucially, too, Krakoa is not actually mutantkind fighting back via direct and obvious violence. Magneto details the philosophy most eloquently in X-Men #4 (paraphrased significantly here for brevity since Mags gets real into his soliloquy):
“…We will take the outrageous sums of money you will gives us because it also means more wealth for you… and we will buy your banks. We will buy your schools. We will buy your media. We will buy your politicians. And then.. we will buy you because you have taught us that everything has a price. [We will use this influence] to make sure the wrong sort of people – and you know who – no longer have any economic power. And that is how it will end. Like a fire with no oxygen… There will be no war.”
When you think about the state of Marvel’s comparable nation-states – the Inhumans of Attilan, Namor’s Atlanteans, even T’Challa’s Wakandans – they too keep a distinct geopolitical status that in many ways separates them from the rest of the world. The Inhumans in particular are rarely integrated into actual international politics (there are, of course, exceptions), have not attempted to integrate through selfless acts of heroism nearly as often as the X-Men, yet are rarely questioned as outright villains.
Naturally, a huge part of this is the X-Men’s popularity and status. If House of X taught us anything, it’s that literally nothing in Marvel comic books can capture fandom’s attention like good, interesting X-Men. Still, mutants of the Krakoa era are simply putting themselves on the same playing field as several other in-universe civilizations. That they’re good at the game does not make them villains.
The Crime of Troubling Ethics
More specifically, the X-Men’s new status as a global superpower has led to a number of decisions ranging from ethically dubious to outright criminal. The first handful that jump to mind include:
- Emma Frost psychically manipulating members of the international voting community to get Krakoa sovereign status
- Creation of a Mutant CIA in X-Force that both easily throws away Krakoa’s “Kill No Man” law, and, under the unregulated direction of Beast, has covertly interfered in a variety of international spy games, in the case of Terra Verde leading to what may well be a genocide
- Sentencing Sabretooth to an endless waking imprisonment inside an as yet unexplained pit of Krakoa – I don’t even think Sabretooth should have escaped justice but hot damn
- The increasing number of times the “Kill No Man” law has been violated by X-Force, Wolverine, or even twisted by Gorgon in the pages of X-Men #4.
- Professor X threatening Reed Richards and wiping his memory without permission in X-Men/Fantastic Four #4
I’m sure there are more. Virtually all of the crimes – Sabretooth perhaps notwithstanding – can be boiled down to the long term goal of survival, and the messy business of truly running a nation. Point to a global superpower that does everything right and a historian will point you to example after example of compromise, mistakes, and lasting shame.
While I don’t know that this outright forgives the action, it certainly makes it understandable to me. It’s a lot of compromise to be sure. I’ve been saying for a while now in X-Force that Hank McCoy’s actions in particular are truly too far gone – to the point that meeting a Sabretooth like punishment eventually does not seem preposterous. But on the whole, the actions are those of a group playing for the long term survival of their species. Nothing they’ve done so far is particularly surprising or so egregious that it doesn’t fall within what I’d expect.
The Allusion of Impropriety
Perhaps moreso than what we’ve actually seen in the Hickman era of X-Men so far, the possibility of sinister – of the Mister variety and otherwise – action is a tempting rabbit hole. Because we’re completely in the dark on Moira and the Professor’s plans since the conclusion of Powers of X, the possibility – and outright teases – of a darker truth at the center of Krakoa is unquestionably a credible argument to suspect foulplay.
Moira MacTaggert, in her 10th life, and scheming for mutant survival based on everything she has learned, is hiding things. She is hiding things from mutants at large (her existence, her powers, and the fact that “mutants always lose”), she is hiding things from Professor X (as we’ve seen in her “redacted” journal entries), and she is hiding things from mutants who don’t even know she exists (for example, Mystique and Moira’s demands that Destiny never be resurrected to avoid precognitive mutants).
Given the secrecy, there’s a strong possibility that her longterm plan features elements mutantkind would resist. And if this is the case, and there’s a darker truth to all of Krakoa, then the actions of the mutant nation are unknowingly complicit in everything they do.
This is also where we start to get into the allegations that many of the Krakoan mutants are not here of their own free will. There are definitely instances of converts to Krakoa that give me pause. I’ve talked before about the jump from Jean Grey’s call for understanding between mutants and humans in X-Men Red to Jean’s place on the Quiet Council in the Dawn of X.
Yes, peeling the curtain back, there’s the practical matter that writer Tom Taylor was crafting X-Men Red prior to the vision of Hickman’s House of X, but on a purely fictional level, the two Jeans are incongruous. Here’s Jean’s beautiful philosophy in X-Men Red:
“The X-Men will fight for you anyway”
“You’re always so quick to confuse empathy with weakness. Empathy isn’t weakness. It just means we have something bigger than ourselves to fight for. And that makes us dangerous.”
Now factor in the fact that we know Jean has been resurrected at least once via Krakoan resurrection protocols (and the fact that she’s suddenly very into her Marvel Girl costume), and it’s not unreasonable to wonder if alterations could have been made.
The very likely possibility that revelations of this nature is where the Dawn of X is heading is the closest I come to thinking the X-Men could tilt full villain. Imagine, for example, that Moira’s plan involves sacrificing Earth to the Phalanx in order for mutantkind to ascend and live forever as part of a cosmic hivemind. Or even the revelation that Professor X tampered with resurrected mutant’s minds to make them more compliant. A massive bomb-drop like this certainly makes the argument more complicated!
Even, then, though we have to consider two things 1) This hasn’t actually happened yet so it’s all hypothetical misdeeds and 2) I don’t have much expectation that any of this will last, given the very deliberate set-up for the Moira switch that can be flipped to reset the whole narrative.
Moira’s lifelines is arguably the trickiest part of this entire argument because it leaves open a real possibility that everything we’re reading about right now in the Dawn of X is deliberately “not the real X-Men,” which potentially supports the “they’re villains, not our real heroes” argument! Think about it: the Dawn of X could be the story of how a previous life of Moira’s played out (who’s to say this isn’t the set up for Life 6?), or it could all be building to that eventual hypothetical life 11 in which Moira and mutants finally get it right. Either way, it leaves defenses of this particular era on uncertain ground.
There’s plenty of story left to be told before we get there (probably!), but I do think it would be a mistake to build all this with a “twist” confirming this is mutantkind at an unacceptable level of villainy. I just think that would too egregiously undo so many of the very valid points the Krakoan nation state is making.
To Me.. My X-Men?
I get reader’s feelings that the X-Men of this era have changed. For me, that’s hugely appealing. No, the team can’t really run around caught up in the cycle of superheroics we’ve seen since 1963, but… we’ve seen that since 1963! Again, shifts in ideas and perspectives are the best thing about modern superheroes, and that’s what has me so hooked on Hickman and company’s X-Men.
So, no, I don’t think the Krakoa era X-Men are villains, but I’d love to hear your arguments for or against in the comments!