Heroes Never Rust #27 by Sean Ironman
God Loves, Man Kills
In the 1980s, Marvel Comics began to push for graphic novels, a longer, book-length comic for the serious fan. The fifth book was X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (one of my favorite titles for a comic book). The X-Men was becoming Marvel’s biggest hit, and a graphic novel was a way to put a spotlight on the team. With the big focus, the comic needs to feel different, needs to feel important. The comic could go big, especially the X-Men—bring in the Shi’ar Empire or some other large concept. Or, and this is what God Loves, Man Kills does, bring it down to Earth and do something personal. God Loves, Man Kills is an X-Men comic that was unlike anything that came before, or anything that came after.
The opening sets up the seriousness of the story. The first panel is a long, thin shot of an elementary school in a quiet night. There are no characters, nothing to set it apart from any elementary school anywhere. The first words in a caption are “They run, without knowing why, save that they are in peril of their lives.” We meet the two characters—Mark, age eleven, and Jill, age nine as of last week. Two African American children, running in pajamas. Neither seems like a mutant. “They run, without knowing why.” They are being hunted by three “purifiers,” a new organization we find out later is run by Reverend Stryker, who believes mutants have no right to live, that they are the creation of Satan. The children run to the elementary school, but there’s no reason for them to be there that’s stated in the book. But in my opinion, they are there looking for help—they are kids, school is what they know. Mark is shot and killed. There’s no big panel. It’s played small. It is what it is. Jill gets to ask why before being killed the same way. The main purifier responds, “Because you have no right to live.”
The X-Men never come. No one comes to save them. Two children are killed by human beings, not monsters from space, not robots, not a supervillain. They are killed for who they are. In two pages, the comic is set apart from other X-Men stories and given weight. The children are hung from the swing set in the playground. “Mutie” is written on a sign hung around their neck. The X-Men’s problem is not fighting a big supervillain, but fighting the belief that mutants are lesser than humans.
Before sunrise, Magneto, the X-Men’s nemesis, finds the bodies and removes them from the swing set. “Not the first. Far from the last,” he says. Magneto is a Holocaust survivor. He fights against humanity because he believes mutants will never be accepted. In the 1980s, Magneto was becoming more understandable and was even, at one point, headmaster of Xavier’s school. After the opening scene, it’s easy to believe Magneto is right. He seeks revenge for the death of the children, and for a moment, I’m with him, but then the scene switches to the introduction of the main villain, Reverend William Stryker.
Stryker reads from the Bible, a passage that states if someone “wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord” that that person be stoned to death. It’s an interesting passage to choose, and a perfect one. At once, we get to know Stryker and his methods, but it also shows how he is a hypocrite. And that Magneto is a hypocrite. Both men want to destroy the other race. Both men have committed wicked deeds. Both men, based on this passage, should be stoned to death. While, we get to understand each character, we are also shown that the two are wrong, even if they believe they are doing good.
I don’t have the space to analyze everything about this comic, but another strong choice that was made deals with Stryker’s origin. Many stories, in an attempt to make the villain sympathetic, would give Stryker a backstory where a mutant has wronged him in some way. A mutant killed his wife, his mother, something like that. In one page, we see what a monster this man is, what a monster all those people who follow him believe in. There was a car accident. He had a pregnant wife who gave birth on the side of the road. Gave birth to a mutant. “He—it—was a monster,” Stryker says. “Face with that abomination, I did what had to be done.” He stabs the newborn with his knife, and then when his wife asks for the child, he breaks her neck.
The mutant didn’t harm him. Nothing harmed him but himself. He truly believes that mutants are Satan’s creations. Even after he’s defeated, there’s not much happiness. “That’s what it’s about, really,” says Cyclops, the X-Men’s field leader. “Needing and helping. Caring for one another. And from that caring comes love. Which makes the world go round.”
Then someone else says, “If only that were so,” and the comic ends.
No matter how many villains the X-Men defeat, there are people who hate them for who they are. Just look at the racism and bigotry that still exists in the United States today. The X-Men aren’t going to win, not really, not completely. Beliefs are much harder to fight than robots and monsters. They’re much deadlier too.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.