In 1963, Marvel Comics created some of its most iconic characters resembling civil rights leaders.
By Stephon Smith
During the height of the Civil Rights movement, Stan Lee, writer, editor and publisher, had the idea to create a new superhero team along with Jack Kirby, writer and artist. But the duo responsible for iconic Marvel comic book characters including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk, ran into a bit of a problem. They were running out of ways heroes and villains developed their powers. So Lee decided characters for a new comic would be born with their abilities, instead of receiving them by some extraordinary circumstance. Thus, mutants were born.
“I wanted them to be diverse,” Lee said, according to comicbookmovie.com. “The whole underlying principal of the X-Men was to try to be an anti-bigotry story to show there’s good in every person.”
Initially, the X-Men were not well received. The team was revamped under the writings of Chris Claremont with a more diverse lineup as well as more realistic stories the everyday reader could relate to.
Throughout the comics, the mutants are treated with hatred and disrespect, bearing a striking resemblance to the treatment of minority populations in the U.S. Mutants are cast out by humans because they were different. Conspiracies to turn the public against the mutants put them in compromising situations.
The comic and animated series focused on two specific groups. One under the tutelage of Professor Charles Xavier, or Professor X, who opens a school to serve as a safe haven for mutants. There, Professor X teaches them to safely use their abilities.
The other group, known as the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, was headed by Magneto.
The mutants fight against oppression, but in two different ways. This struggle is reflected in two of the most prominent civil rights leaders in history. Professor X believed all mutants could peacefully coexist with humans and fought for peace between the two. Although he bears no physical resemblance, he directly correlates to Martin Luther King Jr., who believed in human equality and fought for a peaceful coexistence between different races.
On the other hand, Magneto’s mindset is similar to Malcom X’s. Both took a more forceful and aggressive approach in the fight against oppression.
Magneto is the primary antagonist of the X-Men universe. However, he is not truly a villain. The same could be said about Malcom X, whose message pegged him as the bad guy in the eyes of some people in America. Both of their militant and uncompromising approaches put them in opposition to the philosophies of King and Professor X.
Prior to Malcolm X’s death in 1965, a trip to Mecca spawned a friendship with King, and Malcom X began to adopt a less confrontational philosophy as the two talked about coming together to fight the good fight. Over the years, Magneto’s character started to go in the same direction as Malcolm X. However, for the betterment of the comic, his character was revised and rewritten to be more like the Magneto of old.
“Today, there are so many groups of people that hate other groups and there’s so much relevancy in the X-Men because of that,” Lee said, according to comicbookmovie.com.