Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 14
X Marks the Spot
Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.
When they were first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men were intended to do one thing: sell comic books. Lee had something of a knack for uncovering trends in teenage interest and he and Kirby set to work creating a book that might appeal. They threw together four teenage outsiders, each feeling that they were alone in the world, each possessed of a power they could not control or understand and put them under the tutelage of wheelchair bound Professor Xavier, a mutant himself – just like his students.
The key was, these people had powers that were inborn, powers they may or may not have wanted, powers that made them different though they looked like everyone else.
While this was relatively ground-breaking stuff, what really set X-Men apart, almost right away, was the meta-textual resonance the series had.
X-Men premiered in 1963 to a country that was gripped by the civil rights struggle. In this issue, Professor Xavier preached that mutant kind – himself, his students and others like them – must peacefully co-exist with the rest of the world and that by showing the rest of the world that there was nothing to fear from them – from those who were different, they would win the world to their side. Introduced in that issue as well was Magneto, another mutant. His philosophies were more combative than those of Xavier. He believed that the only way mutants would be accepted is if they forced their acceptance on a world that feared and hated them.
In the time of Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcom X, these philosophies sounded very familiar, indeed.
In later years (and, famously, in the movie X-Men 2), the plight of mutants, who looked just like everyone else but were different in some fundamental fashion and in a manner not of their choosing or control, was sometimes employed as a symbol for homosexuality. In X-Men 2, Ice Man Bobby Drake decides to tell his parents he is a mutant and the believe he is coming out to them. It is a poignant moment.
X-Men was not an immediate hit but has ever had cultural resonance and relevance.
Comics aren’t just for kids. Pass it on…