Written by—who else?—Chris “I’m Responsible For All Your Good X-Men Memories” Claremont and brought to life by Brent Eric Anderson, God Loves, Man Kills is an unflinching look at prejudice, religious fanaticism, and loyalty. This was the comic—more than any other—that really nailed the theme of how dangerous it could be to be born a mutant in the Marvel universe. Sure, the X-Men always had aspects like The Morlocks being forced to live underground, and the mutant heroes not receiving the glory other Marvel heroes did… but they still lived in a mansion and had colorful costumes and dealt mostly with super villains who wanted to conquer the Earth. There never seemed to be all that much that actually differentiated the X-Men from The Avengers or the Fantastic Four, even though they kept hammering away on the “human hate us because we are different!” theme in a “tell, don’t show” kind of way.
Well God Loves, Man Kills erases that disconnect within its first three pages when two defenseless mutant children (who are also black through what I’m sure is no coincidence) are hunted down, mercilessly executed, and strung up to a swingset with “MUTIE” written across their bodies. The reason given by their killers? “Because you have no right to live”. This story wants to tell you right the hell away that it isn’t going to pull any punches. Whew. It’s getting depressing in here; let’s talk about something cheerier. I actually got my copy of GLMK for free when I was a kid! We had a large blizzard hit our area in mid-spring, and as soon as it even started to get safe enough to go out, I was bound and determined to go to my comic shop. When I got there, the guys that ran the place had been snowed in; they were so happy anyone bothered to come out to their store that day that they just gave it to me with the rest of my purchase. Good memories. Where was I?
Oh. Shit. Yeah.
The villain of this story (besides, you know, hate) is evil reverend Pat Robertson William Stryker, whose name you might recognize as that of the just-barely-similar villain of X2: X-Men United. Stryker is a former Army Ranger who murdered his wife and newborn child because the child was born “a monster”. He took this as a sign from God that he was put on Earth to cleanse it of the mutant population, and to that end he started his ministry, The William Stryker Crusade. Leader of a heavily-armored platoon of Purifier soldiers, Stryker kidnaps Charles Xavier, Storm, and Cyclops and fakes their deaths. His plan is to brainwash Professor Xavier with religious imagery and use his powers to murder all mutants on the planet. Up against him are not only the remaining X-Men (Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Kitty Pryde), but Magneto, as well, who puts aside his war against the X-Men to tackle this common foe.
In an absolutely great climax, after several battles with the Purifiers and Xavier himself, the X-Men confront Stryker in front of a huge congregation packing Madison Square Garden. Stryker at this point had just survived a confrontation by Magneto and murdered his own top lieutenant on live television when it was revealed she, too, was a mutant. The heroes don’t throw down with the reverend, but instead simply challenge him to a battle of ideals. The reactions from those in attendance are great: some are fervently in support of Stryker’s crusade; others start to see it all for the madness it is. After Kitty declares she would choose her friends over Stryker’s version of God, the reverend pulls out a gun, but is shot down by a guard in attendance. Oh, it’s such a well done sequence where the X-Men win by doing nothing more than presenting as a united front and explaining what it is like to be a mutant.
A final scene sees the X-Men and Magneto part ways after they refuse to take up his offer to join him. In a moment of weakness, ashamed because of what he did under Stryker’s influence, Xavier actually recommends that the X-Men join Magneto until Cyclops talks him out of it by reminding his teacher that mutants are ultimately human, too. The end is celebratory, but only barely because the team knows that there will always be another William Stryker out there.
+This story clearly not being Comics Code Authority approved, Claremont is able to go wild on it, but he never goes overboard. The execution killings of the children at the beginning and the direct correlation of hating mutants to hating black people that Kitty throws at Stevie Hunter have great impact that a story in the actual run of Uncanny X-Men would not have been allowed to have, and Claremont is smart enough to leave it to those moments rather than bog the story down with blood and vulgarity just because he could.
+The story really finds the perfect blend of superhero action and more human stakes. The fact that the man the X-Men are after doesn’t have any powers makes him all the more dangerous because people believe in him. He may be as much of a megalomaniac as Mr. Sinister or Sebastian Shaw, but he’s more relatable because he does his damage with words by convincing droves of people that those who are different from them are the real threat. Obviously, feel free to draw your own extrapolation to real life current events there. It’s a nice touch, that scene where the X-Men stand fast against Stryker, willing to take a bullet for their cause (even though, yeah, a bullet isn’t really a huge threat to them, it is still a message that they are the men of peace while Stryker ultimately resorts to public violence).
-Heh. So, okay. This is kind of awkward. I’ve gone on about how this story really drives home the theme of the dark consequences of prejudice and racism and hatred, right? And it does. But in the middle of all that, there is one particular scene where Kitty, on the run from the Purifier soldiers, gets lost in a ghetto in New York and runs into a group of Hispanic men. In the course of the four panels of their introduction, these guys show off dialect like a Latino version of Gambit (“You wan’ help, chica, we be glad to ‘blige”), and then try to rape her. In a story about how stereotypes and bigotry are the REAL supervillains, these horribly clichéd gang members stick out like a sore thumb.
-I feel like I point out art I don’t like more often than I point out when I do enjoy the art in a story, and I really don’t want to be a cynic in that regard, but I guess I just notice problems with art more than I acknowledge the things I appreciate it. The art in this story is… dirty, if that make sense? It actually fits the tone of the story perfectly, but at times, it is extremely unpolished, almost to the point of looking lazy. It’s just inconsistent from the first page to the last. I actually think the art is good for the story; I’m just picking nits in a nigh-perfect book.
Yeah, this is a pretty great yarn. Maybe I’d like the art to be cleaned up, but by-and-large, this is a great X-Men story (of which Claremont created so many). There are moments in this book that grab you and force you to look at some uncomfortable truths, and isn’t that what good fiction is supposed to do? Some people might not care for the fact that you can interpret religion to be the antagonist here, but I don’t feel that is the case. The story does a good job weighing believers against zealots. Hell, it’s right in the name of the story; it isn’t God who does these evils, but us. Regardless, I think it’s fantastic, and it is highly recommended.