ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies

ISSN: 1549-6732
Home » Vol. 9 , No. 1 » Articles »

The Allegorical X-Men: Emblems, Comics, and the Allegorical Potential of Text/Image Hybrid Genres

By Sarah Briest

"Mutants in the Marvel Universe have always stood as a metaphor for the underclass, the outsiders; they represent the ultimate minority" (n. pag.), states Chris Claremont, under whose penmanship the newly revived Uncanny X-Men thrived in the 1970s. In the comic book world of the X-Men—constituted by multiple universes of heroes and villains, time travel, space travel, aliens, cyborgs and all things fantastical and bizarre—mutant status has indeed always signified otherness. The X- Men are a band of mutants—humans with extra abilities caused by accidental mutation—assembled under the tutelage of Charles Xavier, also referred to as Professor X, who harbors ideals of peaceful cooperation between mutants and all other human beings and who instructs his students to defend mankind against all manner of threats, particularly against those posed by more 'radical' mutants—like the professor's main challenger and adversary Magneto—who would claim mutant 'racial' superiority to ordinary humans and attempt to subjugate humanity. Adopting the 'mutant metaphor' as a stimulating starting point from which to pursue further queries into the nature of text/image hybrid genres, my aim in the present essay is to explore the allegorical mode in comic book narratives and other hybrid forms that combine text and image. Questions that will be considered in pursuit of this aim are whether or not modern comic books and early modern emblem books are generically related, whether the features they share allow any conclusions about both genres, and, finally, whether a medium which combines text and image is inherently better suited to express metaphor and allegory than other media.

The traditional definition of the emblem, a member in the pictura-poesis family (Daly 12), conceives of it as a tripartite entity consisting of heading, image, and explanatory verse (see fig. 1). Image and text—both heading and verse—interact in such a way that each conditions the meaning of the other.[1] If the textual elements (also referred to as inscriptio and subscriptio) only describe what it is the picture (or pictura) shows, then the picture is turned into a 'mere' illustration (Kemp 36), or a "visual tautology" (Manning 78). In the ideal emblem, however, the picture is never only illustration but shares in the narrative process and it is this circumstance which forms the basis of the emblem's allegorical disposition.[2] Most assumptions concerning the genre were retrospectively drawn from Andrea Alciato's extremely popular Emblematum Liber, a compilation of adapted Greek epigrams, which was first published in 1531 in Augsburg and went through ninety editions until the close of the 16th century (Praz 25, 32; Freeman 42).[3] Although it was of contemporary influence, and remains of scholarly interest today, not all writers adhered to the prototypical formula suggested by the Emblematum Liber.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

Material to be converted into emblem format could be found anywhere: anecdotes were harvested from "Graeco-Roman, Judaeo-Christian, archaelogical, theological, literary, historical" sources (Manning 1). Personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins—Pride, Gluttony, Lust, Wrath, Envy, Avarice, Sloth—and the Seven Virtues—Faith, Hope, Love/Charity, Courage/Fortitude, Prudence/Wisdom, Restraint/Temperance, Justice—also appeared in emblem books, although they underwent some changes from their previous medieval incarnations (Warncke 66). The emblem book combined the functions of entertainment and education, and didactic purposes were not infrequently touted as a justification for the inclusion of images and the gratuitous pleasures their contemplation might evoke. Indeed, the popular appeal of the genre was matched by the scholarly derision it elicited.

Peter M. Daly delineates two broad ways of seeing the emblem: as primarily a literary form which is characterized by the allegorical potential of language, or as essentially a hybrid form in which two forms of equal importance meld (16-17). The two options, however, do not contradict each other and I would suggest that it is precisely the interplay of verbal and visual codes which heightens the allegorical potential of the emblem. The two main functions fulfilled by the constituent elements of the emblem are representation and interpretation.[4] Generally, the image represents a given object or scenario while the textual elements interpret—not merely describe— this object or scenario. At least two distinct levels of meaning, therefore, always interact, support or interrogate each other in a manner that is comparable to the reciprocity of source (vehicle) and target (tenor) in the composition of metaphors.

Like emblem books, the medium of comics has generally been categorized as fundamentally popular and therefore trivial. With the specter of Fredric Wertham's assessment in Seduction of the Innocent (1954)—that comics corrupt youth—still hovering over the medium, the form continues to be encumbered, in some quarters, by its popular origins, its historically young readership, and the negative value judgments of previous critics. Katherine Roeder confirms that "comics suffer from their inevitable association with childhood and adolescence" (Roeder 6), and in 2009 Ditschke and Anhut still refer to comics as an anti-intellectual form ("das wenig intellektualistische Medium Comic" 132).

While there is no universal agreement on exactly what it is that defines comics as a medium, my focus here lies firmly on its characteristic interplay of word and image. Influentially, Scott McCloud has described the deliberate sequencing of images, with or without additional verbal components, as the quintessence of comics (5),[5] though others, like RC Harvey, have considered the integration of images and text to be crucial to the medium (Harvey, Art of the Comic 131). In reading a comic, the eye travels from image to text and back again, constantly adjusting and readjusting the information supplied by the complex interplay of verbal and visual components, pursuing what Susanne Hochreiter and Ursula Klingenböck call the intersecting 'visual' and 'verbal tracks' (7). This reciprocity of codes differs markedly from mere illustration. 'Collaboration' is of the essence and it is this term which Mario Saraceni uses to refer to the mutual creation of meaning by the interaction of two distinct codes of expression (27).[6] The reciprocity of the visual and verbal planes is further complicated by the fact that the latter is comprised of heterodiegetic narration and character speech or thought and the propensity of narrators and characters to contradict each other or to be at variance with visual evidence (which may itself be unreliable). In this way, visual and verbal tracks cooperate in meaning-making but also constantly produce tension.

The comic book has shared the fate of the emblem book in that scholarly attention has been relatively late in alighting on it as a medium worthy of serious study. Doubtlessly the composite nature of both formats has contributed substantially to this situation. Neither art historians nor scholars of literature considered themselves to be quite responsible for these unclassifiable 'stepchildren' within their respective disciplines. Confirming this, Will Eisner recalls of comics: "While each of the major integral elements, such as design, drawing, caricature and writing, have separately found academic consideration, this unique combination took a long time to find a place in the literary, art and comparative literature curriculums" (xi).[7] In addition to the hybridity of the medium, generic flexibility within that medium is attested to by Klaus Schikowski, who argues that it is a special ability of the comic to absorb other forms (26), and Henry Jenkins, who notes, with regard to the transformations undergone by superhero comics, that "the genre's building blocks" do not resist "being attached to a new set of metaphors" (23).

The superhero genre has been significantly intertwined with the history of comics since the 1930s. According to Peter Coogan, superheroes are primarily determined by their "mission, powers, and identity" (39), and while some heroes, like the X-Men, have an ambiguous relationship with the official authorities, the superhero's mission commonly "fit[s] in with the existing, professed mores of society" (Coogan 31).[8] The rise of the caped crusaders in 1930s America can be interpreted as the wish-fulfilling creation of superhuman saviors from the "macro-evils of this world", as they plainly presented themselves in the immediate hardships of the Great Depression (Oropeza 2), and in the distant dawning of a World War. Yet, superheroes did not materialize, fully formed, out of thin air. The building blocks of the genre, both in terms of structure and content, were already in existence in such formats as newspaper comic strips and pulp magazines. "[T]he superhero comic emerged from a range of different genre traditions," confirms Jenkins (41), and suggests further that "its best creators have remained acutely aware of this generic instability" (ibid.). Saige Walton reinforces the perception of generic combination and fusion: "Arguably, the superhero genre is one of the most historically hybrid of all, embracing and redeploying conventions derived from other genres as well as other media throughout its comic book development" (88). The genre has traditionally been subject to a three-stage classification: a Golden Age of "classical do-gooders" (Oropeza 10) chasing depthless villains that lasted roughly from the 1930s to 1950s; a Silver Age of flawed, sometimes brutal heroes and humanized villains, which prepared the way for the ascent of the 'graphic novel' (ibid. 13-14); and, in the 1980s, a 'third age' that proceeded to deconstruct and reconstruct increasingly dysfunctional heroes and villains amid a tangled web of intermediary connections (ibid. 17). Taking into account superhero comics of all types, Jason Tondro maintains, in Superheroes of the Round Table, that the genre itself is essentially allegorical.[9] Renaissance romances and superhero narratives, Tondro notes, share a "reliance on allegory, [...] including protagonists who represent virtues as Justice, Power, or Chastity" (3). All in all, "the superhero romance" may be strange and spectacular but it "lends itself to the metaphors of human life" (ibid. 22), and deals with real societal issues in terms of "visual and thematic allegory" (ibid 20). On the place of the X-Men within the superhero genre, Ramzi Fawaz argues that the "series helped lay the foundation for reimagining the superhero as a figure that, far from drawing readers to a vision of ideal citizenship through patriotic duty, dramatized the politics of inequality, exclusion, and difference in postwar U.S. Culture" (362).

Without arguing that the more recent format descends from the older one, emblem books and comic books share a number of relevant features: an inherently hybrid nature,[10] not only—but most significantly—with respect to the interaction of text and image, immense popularity at the cost of academic disdain, as well as more recent scholarly neglect resulting partly from classificatory problems. With Will Eisner attesting to the entertaining and instructive functions of sequential art (147), both formats share yet another aspect, since a certain bias toward the didactic also traditionally characterizes the emblem. Additionally, in a book-length study on emblems and French bande dessinée, Lawrence Grove argues that both forms emerged during periods that saw major changes in the dissemination of information (7). Just as the twentieth century witnessed considerable innovations in printing processes, "[t]he 1530s bore witness to the overlap between manuscript and print cultures that came with the period of adaptation to the technical newness of both moveable type, and [...] 'moveable woodcuts'" (Grove 88). In Grove's estimation, the parallel circumstances of their emergence during transitional periods which favored hybrid forms make emblem books and bande dessinée "representative forms that in many ways encapsulate the essence of text/image interaction in their respective times" (13).[11]

To further explore the allegorical potential of text/image hybrid genres, below I will examine some of the notably allegorical content of the X-Men comics. The volumes and issues referred to can only serve as a paradigmatic sample of different periods and 'universes' and is by no means meant to comprehensively represent the entirety of the 50-year history of the X-Men—a task that may border on the impossible. Storytelling in the X-Men comics is certainly not completely and exclusively allegorical but allegory is an integral part of the narrative.

Mutant Metaphor

Though incorporating playful and fantastic elements, the 'mutant metaphor' is very much overt and has long been plain to readers of X-Men comics. "[M]utants are not a monolithic group, possessing one set of attitudes or goals. They are individuals—as are we all—and should be judged as such" (n. pag.), so argues Professor Xavier in God Loves, Man Kills[12] against the dangers of stereotyping in general and the stigmatization of mutants in particular. Mutants in the X-Men comics have been variously interpreted as representative of African Americans, of Jews, of feminists, of LGBT[13] or disability communities.[14] More recently the minority allegory has been fueled by the climate of deep suspicion vis-à-vis political dissidents and the peaceable majority of Muslims in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.[15] As diverse as the above identities are—and the ascription of 'mutant status' to yet other groups is certainly possible—they hold in common histories of marginalization and victimization. This shared experience is taken up and explored by the comics, with their focus on minority identity—forged in the face of a majority's fear and violence, or mere disinterest—and on the associated questions of integration vs. separatism. Mutants are indeed "the ultimate minority," repeating the words of Chris Claremont, in as far as they are a generic minority. Various particular identities may be simultaneously projected onto the mutant template and, thus, the weakness of generalization is also a strength: because mutants do not represent one marginalized group specifically, they can potentially speak to them all.

The metaphor holds true despite the fact that the very first team of X-Men created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—Beast, Iceman, Angel, Cyclops, and Marvel Girl—were all, at least on the surface, white heterosexual Americans of unspecified religious affiliation. Chris Claremont's and Dave Cockrum's 1970s run created more diversity by introducing a Russian national, a German national, a Native American, and a woman of African heritage to the core team, and, in doing so, also notably increased the popularity of the series (Fawaz 363). Yet, even the members of the original team of X-Men already stood for—a still largely invisible—minority. While the plot of these early issues tended to center on the confrontation and defeat of a villain of the week, the X-Men also struggled from the beginning with their mutant identity and encountered the hostility and suspicion of non-mutants. In the very first issue, published in September 1963, Professor X recalls for the benefit of new recruit Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, "when I was young, normal people feared me, distrusted me" (10), hence inspiring him to found a school as a "haven" for mutants (ibid.). Similarly, in issue four Magneto exclaims: "They [non-mutants] hate us—fear us because of our superior power!" (81). For Magneto, from the onset, the situation necessitates a preemptive strike by mutants against non-mutants, whereas Xavier's stance has ever been in favor of de-escalation. "We must use our powers to bring about a golden age on earth—side by side with ordinary humans" (82), he tells Magneto in one of their first confrontations. Already in these early issues, Xavier and Magneto unsuccessfully attempt to convert each other to their respective sides of the argument—one believing in nonviolence and integration, the other in attack as self-defense and separatism—just as they would in countless later narrative arcs and across multiple alternative universes.

Black Mutants

Both Chris Claremont and screen writer and director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X 2 etc.)—in his analogizing of Professor X and Magneto with MLK and Malcolm X (cit. in Perry 176)—have spelled out the influence of the African American Civil Rights Movement on the minority allegory which sustains the X-Men comics and has proved translatable to screen. In the X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills (1983) by Chris Claremont and artist Brent Anderson, X-Man Cyclops tells his mentor Xavier: "You brought us together to fulfill a dream, Charles—one born out of hope and the noblest of human aspirations. [...] The means are as important as the end" (n. pag.). The emphasis on Xavier's "dream," here and elsewhere in the comics, inevitably recalls Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered during the 1963 March on Washington—the year in which the X-Men started their first run under Stan Lee. Xavier's wish for mutants and non- mutants to acknowledge their common humanity and live together harmoniously echoes King's vision of a future in which blacks and whites would live peacefully together as equals. In turn, Malcolm X's racist and separatist ideas, only abandoned by the campaigner shortly before his murder, are reflected in Magneto's position of mutant superiority.[16] In God Loves, Man Kills, he explains: "I am not your enemy, X-Men, nor do I consider you mine. True, my goal has ever been the conquest of earth—but solely to create a world where our race, Homo Superior, can live in peace." At the same time, Cyclops' comment about the importance of means used to accomplish ends is symptomatic of the ongoing debate between Professor X and Magneto about the right way to champion the mutant cause, which evokes King's espousal of nonviolent protest and Malcolm X's 'any means necessary' mentality respectively.

At times the analogy between mutants and African Americans is unmistakably overt, as in God Loves, Man Kills, which opens with the desperate plight of two black children, a brother and sister, who are chased and finally murdered by a mob, not for the color of their skin but their mutant status. They are then left hanging from a swing set. The scenario of socially-sanctioned, senseless violence directed against innocent victims, chosen at random, deliberately recalls the gruesome history of lynching in the American South. One panel shows only the affective motif of a wide-eyed little girl and a speech balloon containing her question "Why?" (n. pag.). Further dialog confirms that it is the fact that the siblings are mutants which causes the murderers to feel justified in their cause of action, yet, the image of a black child under attack leads to the visual conclusion that it is the color of her skin, after all, which makes her a victim in the situation.[17] Both levels of meaning remain side by side, one suggested mainly by the textual elements, the other by the power of the images.

Jewish Mutants

The genocide perpetrated on European Jews by Nazi Germany in the 1940s is embedded in the cultural consciousness of the West as one of the defining tragedies of the 20th century. Consequently, scenarios of persecution inevitably bring to mind medially transmitted images of the Holocaust. It is unsurprising, therefore, that mutants, as a discriminated-against minority, should frequently be interpreted as an allegorical exploration of Jewish identity. Cheryl Alexander Malcolm has followed this reading in an essay on Holocaust representation in the X-Men comics, in which she equates 'anti-mutantism' with anti-semitism (144), and pays particular attention to Magneto as a character who "has been synonymous with witness, trauma, and remembrance" (ibid.). She reads the X-Men comics as "an extended Holocaust narrative and meditation on the viability of assimilation in the wake of the near total destruction of European Jewry" (Malcolm 145). With the revelation that Magneto had been interned in Auschwitz in Uncanny X-Men 150, his extremism takes on new contours and is explained, if not justified, as the result of his traumatic experiences. Initially a fairly one-dimensional villain, he becomes a psychologically-scarred survivor of the camps, hell-bent on never being victimized again.[18] In point of fact, Nicholaus Pumphrey sees in Magneto, under the penmanship of Claremont, "the embodiment of the political and social message of the new Zionist movement created after the Six Day War in response to the Shoah" (92), i.e. an identification of survivors with the state of Israel and its new-found military strength. To Kathrin M. Bower the practice of appropriating the Holocaust "as a device to legitimize or complicate the quest for vengeance" expresses "a shift away from the moral clarity that had been the hallmark of the Golden Age superheroes to a condition of moral ambiguity" (182).

Thus, Magneto graduates from villain proper to antihero and sometimes even to hero outright—depending on story arc, universe, and readers' personal outlooks. Malcolm notes how artwork plays a role in the transformation of the character, "helping Claremont to redeem Magneto and construct a positive image of Jewish masculinity" (150). While some basic features of the character and his costume remain unchanged throughout the decades, under Claremont Magneto does take on more 'handsome' physical traits and is often depicted from angles which suggest his imposing figure and even imply a certain majesty. Magneto also prefers to be known by his mutant name only, "suggesting that he is more mutant by choice than are the X-Men" (Malcolm 146). This chimes with Peter Coogan's attestation that comic book supervillains, unlike superheroes, "often give up their normal lives, deciding to live purely within the super world" and "abandon[ing] the things that tie them to mundane existence" (96). According to Coogan's system of classification Magneto is an "inverted-superhero supervillain" (72).[19] True to type, he has special powers, wears the typical tights-and-cape costume, and goes by a pseudonym (ibid.). Moreover, he inhabits the borderlands of heroism and villainy: if not for the joined effects of trauma and a certain frailty of character, the arrival of powers could have transformed him into a superhero instead of a supervillain (77).

Magneto's mutant ability—to influence magnetic fields and manipulate metal objects—is not only associated with the destructive potential of physical force, it is also tied to Magneto's emotional states, particularly his anger. He easily lifts an entire streetcar into the air in God Loves, Man Kills, then tells his adversaries: "Fools, you can no more harm the Master of Magnetism than you [...] can escape his wrath!" Here, Magneto himself establishes a link between his tremendous power and his existential wrath, one the driving force behind the other, which may be further substantiated by Malcolm's observation that his power "compounds Magneto's survivor guilt because it came too late to save his parents or himself from the camps" (ibid. 146).[20] Hinting at the Jewish diaspora, Malcolm analyzes a panel that shows Magneto positioned in space—"between planets, not on one" (157)—saying "This is my home" (ibid.). Magneto is a displaced person. On the one hand, he is at home anywhere since "[m]utants, like Jews, are [...] everywhere" but just as Jews are "marginalized or hunted down" wherever they live (ibid. 158), Magneto's position between the worlds is precarious. Ultimately, the character is bound by his past; he "is spiritually damaged and perpetuates damage" (ibid. 146). While he "clearly sees and accurately names ideological oppression as evil," he has adopted the means of his erstwhile tormentors and "in his struggle against it, he succumbs to the same temptation—ultimate power" (Perry 180). Certainly, there had been superheroes with past traumas, haunted by "[f]ears that verge on madness," concedes Malcolm. But Magneto, she argues, is "the first comic book character with personal experience of the Shoah" (149), and would, thus, have drawn scholarly attention if his story had been presented in any other medium (145). This is not only due to the stigma of irrelevance attached to a popular medium (comic book) and a popular genre (superheroes), comics also "pose particular challenges" of a narrative nature (ibid.), such as the fragmented nature of serial publishing, the fact that authors and artists change, as well as the circumstance that alternate universes may be created and once established histories altered retrospectively.

Next to X-Men team member Kitty Pryde (short for Prydeman), who is explicitly identified as Jewish in the comics, Malcolm also argues that there may be other, unflattering representations of Jewishness in the comics, for example in Magneto's acolyte Toad, who "evokes images of the hunchbacked or physically 'deviant' Jew" (146). A second henchman known as Mastermind, a mutant with the power to create illusions, "is a swarthy figure with a dark mustache and cape; he resembles a lecher or a vampire and is a trickster" (Malcolm 146). This, too, is indicative of stereotypical renderings of Jewishness to Malcolm. To Lawrence Baron, on the other hand, Professor X himself, who depends on a wheelchair for mobility, fulfills certain criteria of stereotypical Jewishness: "Whether Kirby or Lee intended it, they devised a Gentile hero who fit the traditional stereotype of Jewish males as intellectuals with weak bodies" (47). Mutants in general are analogous to Jews in that their identity as mutants is determined by their coincidental genetic makeup: "[...] biology determines their identity. They do not choose to become mutants but are genetically chosen" (Malcolm 156). This corresponds to the conception that Judaism is passed on maternally at birth and, more ominously, to the interpretation of Jewishness as race under the Nazis, independent of choice or personal belief. Identifying badges and mutant "Registration Acts," too, recall Nazi legislation and correlate mutant status and Jewishness.[21] On shakier ground, Malcolm finds it "significant that mutation comes at the onset of puberty; this is the time of religious coming of age for Jews" (156).

Malcolm further argues that writers Stan Lee—the son of Romanian Jewish immigrants to the United States—and Chris Claremont—a British-born Jew who migrated to the U.S. as a young child with his parents—are by their personal biographies inclined to incorporate aspects of Jewishness into their work (145). The same argument could be made for Lee's collaborator on the early X-Men, Jack Kirby, who was born Jacob Kurtzberg to Austrian Jewish immigrants in New York City. Claremont also demonstrated interest in Judaism and the Shoah by setting out to meet with Holocaust survivors in an Israeli kibbutz in 1970 and describing the encounter as deeply affecting and transformative (Pumphrey 79). While biographical speculation always needs to come with a caveat, Malcolm's reasoning deserves consideration. To her, with Uncanny X-Men #161 comes a turning point not only because Magneto's background is explored but also because it signals "an increased identification of other X-Men characters than Magneto with Jews" (151). This trend is initiated by Professor X's choice to accept the traumatic memories of Holocaust survivor Gabrielle Haller into his own mind in order to give her relief from her trauma. To Malcolm this signifies his symbolic assumption of a Jewish identity, including the collective sufferings of the Shoah. At the same time, however, the deed—requiring mental aptitude and compassion in equal measure—points toward two different allegorical planes of meaning which will be considered in the following.

Savior Xavier

"Whereas history and fact form Magneto's distrust of humans," argues Malcolm, "blind faith seems the only basis for Professor X's pacifist and assimilationist stance" (149). Whether it is deemed "blind faith" or merely "faith," Xavier's outlook is certainly one that underlines hope for—and belief in—a better future, against the evidence of an unaccommodating presence. It is this faith in the eventual achievement of a better world for all as well as his dedication to showing his students the peaceful path toward such a world which allows for readings of Professor X as a Christ figure. The allegory is even taken up in the title of Uncanny X-Men #389 which refers to Xavier as The Good Shepherd. Obviously—though surprisingly little remarked upon—Xavier's actual name also contributes to the extensive metaphor as it clearly echoes "savior," a fact which is ironically referenced in Ultimate X-Men Vol. 6 by a pro-mutant protester holding an "Xavier Saves" sign. Furthermore, the cruciform shape of the initial letter "x" recalls that most recognizable of Christian symbols. Throughout five decades of extravagant X-Men story lines, Professor X steadfastly, and despite unceasing accusations of naiveté, refuses to be an aggressor. Rather, his ethos echoes the Christian doctrines of 'turning the other cheek' (e.g. Mt 5:39) and forgiving one's enemies even if these refuse to do the same, also espoused by Martin Luther King Jr. Magneto voices incredulity at Xavier's stance, for instance, in Ultimate X-Men Vol. 5: "Homo sapien [sic] wants to obliterate us, we wish to reciprocate, and here you are, just a funny little man in the middle, who wishes we could all be friends" (n.pag.). Admittedly, biblical narratives and Christ figures are not rare in 20th- century popular culture.[22] Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out Xavier's function as a Christ stand-in, firstly, because it seems to have received relatively little attention so far, and, secondly, because it will be a step in the process of establishing whether the medium of comics is particularly suited to allegorical expression.

In God Loves, Man Kills a televangelist named Reverend William Stryker promotes his worldwide "Stryker Crusade" intent on vilifying and even annihilating all mutants, who are deemed godless by him and his acolytes ("stone them with stones [...] till they die" [Deut 17:5]/"Thou shall make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them" [Deut 7:2] [n.pag.]).[23] This not only reinforces the marginalization and demonization of mutants—reminiscent of, for example, the real- world rhetorical treatment of the LGBT community by religious fundamentalists—but also sets up the thematic frame for the later explicit representation of Xavier as Christ on the cross. Following a TV debate between demagogic Stryker and rationally calm Xavier—even their telling names collaborate in this contraposition—Xavier is abducted, along with his associates, and placed inside a sensory deprivation tank. In the attempt to brainwash his victim into compliance, Stryker causes Xavier to envision his own crucifixion as well as to feel the physical pain of his co-prisoners.[24] In his vision, his own X-Men nail Xavier to the cross and continue to violate him even once the crucifixion is complete, arguing that Xavier created them in his own image. The page displaying the crucifixion scenario opens with two panels showing the Manhattan skyline with an especial focus on the twin towers of the former World Trade Center—inside which the captive X-Men are being held. The sky scrapers here themselves take on the ominous aspect of stakes or crosses and, thus, form a fitting background for the crucifixion of Xavier, who—in the very next panel—is being dragged across the floor toward a cross, semi-dressed, in shredded pants. Two different sorts of caption accompany the sequence of events: one set presumably presents the New Testament citations planted by Stryker in Xavier's mind ("And they bring him unto the place Golgotha..."/"...and they crucify him." [Mk. 15:22-24]). The other set is attributable to an extradiegetic narrative agency ("Charles Xavier does not believe this to be real."/"That does not save him."). The images, the entire, composite page, as well as each separate frame, show the crucifixion actually, physically taking place (fig. 2). Meanwhile, the brief snippets of extradiegetic narration interact with the images in such a way as to render them dubious, to question their 'reality' ("...does not believe this to be real"), only to reaffirm their authority on another level ("That does not save him"). The process is reminiscent of metaphor in general in as far as one 'thing' (target/tenor of metaphor) has the appearance of another (source/vehicle of metaphor) and rather than this resulting in mere contradiction or confusion, the realities of both source and target of the metaphor cohere.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

The entire crucifixion sequence is presented in a sinister and threatening orange-red color scheme which highlights its nightmarish character and the plight of Xavier. This, in turn, resonates with the Man of Sorrow motif which emphasizes the mental and, particularly, the physical sufferings of Christ. A fascination with sacrificial violence as well as a certain amount of voyeurism describe both the Man of Sorrow tradition and the representation of Xavier as Christ in God Loves, Man Kills. The second panel of the sequence shows hands pushing him against the cross while his facial expression is one of agony. A small panel follows which zooms in on one hand piercing another with a large nail. Another, complimentary panel shows a close-up of hands nailing naked feet to the vertical pole of the cross, blood flowing freely from the punctured tissue. On the next page, the violence continues with a montage of Xavier's trials on the cross: Nightcrawler bites a chunk out of his neck, Ariel phases through him, tears his heart out of his body, then proceeds to kiss him against his will (fig. 3), while Wolverine slashes his torso, and Storm and Cyclops also direct their mutant talents against their leader. As the X-Men silently beleaguer Xavier, the extradiegetic narrator ironically comments: "In turn.../Each X-Man comes... /To pay his respects.../And bid him fond farewell."[25]

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

Certainly, this explicit analogizing of Xavier as Christ is ambiguous since, intradiegetically, it is actively used against him by Stryker, who actually sees the professor as the Antichrist: "The more I learned of your mentor," he tells X-Man Cyclops, "the more convinced I became that he is the Antichrist—the supposed friend of mankind, who will lead us instead to our destruction." Later, the reverend casts Magneto in the role of the apocalyptic beast. Although in terms of plot the equation of Christ and Xavier may be contradictory, it nevertheless reinforces the analogy because Xavier re-emerges, in spite of it all, stronger after his moment of doubt, as the spearhead of a movement that embraces non-violent protest and the peaceful cooperation of all human- and mutantkind. Furthermore, the explicit panels themselves drive home the parallel irrespective of the precise function of the crucifixion within the larger narrative.

Mind Over Matter

In addition to any messianic overtones, the victory of mind over matter is allegorized in the character of Charles Xavier. It is not for nothing that the name of "Cerebro," the machine which Xavier uses to extend his telepathic powers, derives—as the professor himself explains to a student in X-Men #7—"from the Latin 'cerebrum' meaning 'the brain'!" (5) The paraplegic professor is not only the most powerful telepath in the world (not only in the Marvel mainstream universe '616' but also in most alternative universes), he is also extremely intelligent, highly educated and, moreover, a man motivated by insight and compassion. All these qualities share equally in his construction as the embodiment of the powers of the mind. "My legs are of no use to me! I have only the power of my brain" (18), Xavier himself states in issue #3 of Lee's original X-Men run. Yet, while his body is subject to disability and his wheelchair a constant signifier of physical limitations, his mind more than makes up for this. Panels which feature close-ups of Xavier's disembodied head in the sky, appearing to his team of X-Men as a projection, convey the power of his mind and can even be linked—by association with heavenly spheres and divine apparitions—to the realm of the spiritual.

Petra Kuppers, while acknowledging "positive responses from the disability community" for the movie adaptations of the X-Men franchise (85), has noted that "Xavier's 'immobility' in the wheelchair is part of his rational, mind-focused universe where bodies are troublesome" (ibid.). And further: "In his wheelchair, Xavier is deeply reserved and contained, with a complete economy of movement." (ibid.) While she makes her points with reference to Patrick Stewart's filmic incarnation of the character, they can equally be applied to the realm of the comic books.[26] Here, bodies are not necessarily troublesome but Xavier's "mind-focused universe" and his "economy of movement" are nonetheless inherent traits of the character because, read figuratively, Xavier's telepathy and his paraplegia function as the two constituent parts of the mind-over-matter allegory realized in the character. This reading is supported by the fact that Xavier cannot succeed in finding a cure for his physical predicament despite his efforts and even though he inhabits a universe (or multiple universes) in which the most bizarre things are possible, continuity seldom holds much sway and once established rules may easily be rendered void.[27] Moreover, when Claremont depicts an alternative-universe version of Magneto as leader of the X-Men in Days of Future Past, he, too, appears in a wheelchair, allegorizing "the reversal of Magneto's fundamental ideology" (Smith 71).

Although "reserved and contained" as Kuppers describes his motion picture alter ego, Professor X is neither purely rational nor unemotional. The fact that Xavier frequently telepathically shares the pain of others is not only proof of his mental abilities but also functions, on the allegorical level, as a metaphor for empathy. The overwhelming nature of this extreme form of fellow-feeling is often reflected in panels which present a close-up of the character's eyes, sometimes disembodied, generally opened wide in shared pain or horror. One example of this, in X-Men #95, is Xavier's shared experience of the death of X-Man John Proudstar/Thunderbird in a plane crash (fig. 4). The simultaneous occurrences of the crash and Xavier's mental experience is indicated by a panel stretching over one third of a page which only presents Xavier's stunned eyes and the shapes and colors of an explosion inset between his brows (73). Another panel showing the exploding plane follows on the next page, while four smaller panels are inset into this bigger one. These present Xavier's head engulfed in flames and wearing a pained expression. A caption is overlaid over all five of these small panels, connecting them to each other, and explaining: "[...] in the end, he could not desert his pupil—and all John Proudstar felt, Charles Xavier felt as well" (74). Similarly, in the above-discussed God Loves, Man Kills, Reverend Stryker causes Xavier to experience pain which Stryker himself inflicts on two of his former students. The reverend sums up his plan in the words: "We torture them... and Xavier suffers" (n. pag). This acceptance of alien suffering into himself, voluntarily for the most part, relates the triumph of 'mind over matter' realized in Xavier to his assumption of Christ-like characteristics by invoking Christ's sacrificial death out of compassion for mankind. Themes of personal sacrifice and an extension of protection to the persecuted resonate across the most disparate of X-Men universes: In Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602, Xavier, here known as Spaniard Carlos Javier, saves his students from the Spanish Inquisition, while in Marvel Fairy Tales #2, Professor X appears as a self-sacrificial turtle who, against all odds, perseveres in reaching out to Magneto—here in the guise of an eagle with inner demons.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

The immense power of Xavier's brain, and the desirability of such power, is morbidly expressed by the Red Skull's theft of Xavier's brain, after the latter's death, in Rick Remender's Uncanny Avengers. The villain—aptly named for his skeletal, red visage—intends to use the potential of the deceased's brain for his own evil purposes. This not only calls attention to the power of Xavier's brain but simultaneously implies that, whereas in Xavier empathy and intellect work in tandem with his telepathy, the capacity for empathy—or at least the virtuous willingness to extend it to others—is absent in the Red Skull.[28]

Returning to the allegorical privileging of mind over matter, Xavier can travel and meet others on the "astral plane" without moving his physical body—in this 'realm of the mind' his mobility is not restricted and his disability of no consequence. In one panel in X-Men #4 ("The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants") the 'astral' form of Xavier meets that of his challenger Magneto (fig. 5). As luminous, transparent shapes, they face each other across the curving surface of planet earth. The black space behind them is broken up by an assortment of colorfully psychedelic orbital spheres. Mind triumphs over matter in this panel for Xavier, who instead of being earthbound by his paralysis takes a visit to outer space by the power of his brain. In this setting, Magneto asks his opponent: "Why do you fight us?? For you too are a mutant!!" Xavier's reply has a salvific echo: "But I seek to save mankind not destroy it!" (10). In this mission, Xavier is led both by his intellect and by the equally nonmaterial quality of empathy.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

One panel in X-Men #40 shows how a pair of gigantic hands—rendered so by the powers of perspective and artistic freedom—reach for Xavier's head in the lower right corner of the frame (fig. 6). The attacker confronts his prey with the words: "It is you I want... helpless one" (14). To his dismay, however, the assailant is soon forced to recognize that a telepathic shield—represented by circles emanating from Xavier's head—protects his intended victim from attack. Similarly, in a bonus feature attached to X-Men #38, a government official attempts to remove Xavier forcibly from his room, while arrogantly drawling: "Surely, we've nothing to fear from an invalid!" (5) Yet, as it turns out, he is unable to move Xavier's wheelchair. "You merely think you are pushing with all your might! In reality, it is you who are immobilized by me!" (ibid.), Professor X clarifies the situation for his irritated opponent (fig. 7). Both panels are symptomatic of the presentation of Xavier. While his opponents constantly fail to appreciate this, in a confrontation between physical strength and the powers of the mind, the former has to yield. The theme echoes in the comics beyond the character of Professor X. Communication between adversaries is stressed—although this often does not resolve conflicts—and even once physical altercations are ongoing, these may be accompanied by the attempt to return them to a verbal plane. As Cheryl Alexander Malcolm puts it: "Verbal contests distinguish X-Men Comics from the vast number of comic books that contain only scenes of physical combat" (158). There is, however, more than enough of the latter, too.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

A panel in X-Men #3 ("Beware of the Blob"), shows Xavier pushing his wheelchair through a wall of fire which takes up the rest of the frame and partly swallows up Xavier himself (fig. 8). The following panel shows him emerging from the fire and into the company of his X-Men, caught on the other side of the fire wall. Xavier recognizes the fire to be an illusion and makes his way toward his panicking students, letting them know: "Do not fear, my X-Men: There is a way out!" Xavier, thus, saves his able-bodied students, who declare themselves, "Fools—deceived by a hypnotic trick of some sort!" (20-21). In the construction of the panel, the visual track closes off every exit—viewers do not see a way out. Yet, hinging on whether or not we trust Xavier's words, the verbal track offers an escape route.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

Villains and Vices, Virtues and Heroes

Beyond the overarching allegories exploring minority identities, the precedence of mind over matter, and the Christ-like attributes of Professor X, the X-Men comic universes are peopled with a multitude of characters—heroes, villains, and those in between on the moral spectrum—who are themselves at least as much allegorical constructions as they are psychologized individuals. In superhero fashion, costumes may reflect abilities or attitudes (e.g. Magneto), code names reference attributes (e.g. climate-controlling Storm, the Blob,[29] or speedy but volatile Quicksilver), and animal allusions imply personal qualities (e.g. feral Wolverine).[30] These characters are not wholly allegorical personifications since their roles in the narrative generally demand at least a modicum of individuality. However, their allegorical facets are important and the comic book environment allows them to thrive in unison with non-allegorical strands of character and narrative. A notable resident of Marvel universe '616' in this regard is Honest John, "the living propaganda,"[31] an assistant to the villainous Red Skull, who has the ability to morph into anyone's ideal leader and to influence them according to the Red Skull's evil designs. As a minor figure Honest John is devoid of individual traits and his sole function in the narrative is to embody the modern vice of propaganda. The degree to which the character is exclusively personification is unusual, though far from unheard of, in the context of X-Men comics. In this way, Honest John is reminiscent of personified Deceit, as he appeared in Henry Peacham's emblem collection (fig. 9) and, prior to that, in Cesare Ripa's Iconologia. In Peacham's Minerva Britanna, Deceit presents an impeccable upper body to the world, complete with hands folded in prayer, while instead of legs, serpent-like tentacles emerge from his robe (Peacham 47). The contrast between what is deliberately presented to the world and concealed intent—also metaphorically rendered visible in the case of Deceit—is tantamount in both cases.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

Magneto not only features as an element in the sweeping allegories discussed above, he also displays some metaphorical facets that are distinctly his own. Malcolm points out that Magneto's customary helmet not only hides his face but also recalls the shape of "a darkened keyhole" (145). This suggests the existence of an inner person withdrawn from easy access and provokes curiosity (ibid.). Literally, Magneto can influence metal and magnetic fields, "figuratively, he is a magnetic or mesmerizing character" (ibid.). It is not only the character's helmet but his extravagant costume as well which warrants allegorical interpretation. In Uncanny X-Men #274 Magneto explains that he wears red, "the color of blood," in tribute to those murdered in Auschwitz (cit. in Malcolm 150). The color of his costume also carries another meaning, argues Malcolm, namely "his passion that mutants should not cower to humans" (150). His purple cape, "a color traditionally worn by royalty, symbolizes his feeling about mutant superiority" (ibid.). On the other hand, Xavier's muted sartorial choices "make him blend and even 'pass' for human" (ibid.). Magneto's self-explanation is a tactic familiar from renderings of personifications in emblem books, who frequently clarify the meanings of their attributes and accessories in direct speech in the verse below the picture (e.g. fig. 1). Magneto is not only a personification of any one abstract concept—he, too, has to harbor some measure of unpredictability and individuality in order to serve the narrative—but a number of significant allegories are centered on the character, on his appearance and personality. The process is facilitated by the constant interaction of word and image on the page as a whole and within the panel: His costume is constantly visible while its significance is being verbally elucidated. His helmet serves to visually evoke an atmosphere of isolation as he pushes his separatist agenda. In Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1 Magneto is depicted standing over the cowering, naked body of the US president, visually reinforcing his physical might and the overwhelming threat he poses to those who defy him. The composition echoes woodcut 16 in Jan van der Noot's emblem book A Theatre for Worldlings (fig. 10), in which the mythological monster Echidna, presented in armor and wearing a plumed helmet, presides over the trophies and spoils of victory, while naked kings cower in the background (23).[32] Both scenarios reflect on the inconstancy and vulnerability of worldly power.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

Conclusion

The initial question of whether or not a hybrid medium like the comic is a particularly suitable conduit for allegorical expression can now be answered in the affirmative. The 'show and tell' interplay between text and image, which is a defining characteristic of the comic and also constitutive of the emblem, is in fact conducive to allegory since it not only allows for but demands two planes of expression to exist in unison—the same basic principle on which rests metaphor in general. Frank L. Cioffi, too, sees the interplay of word and image—he defines it as "disjunction"—as the basis of allegory in Art Spiegelman's Maus, with its dissonant presentation of a "horrifying story" via "homey cartoon animals" (120).[33] Cioffi is right in suggesting that the reciprocity of word and image, though not unique to Maus, facilitates allegorical effects. Yet, it must certainly be acknowledged that other media, be they solely verbal or solely visual, can also communicate allegorical content effectively.

Even in comics, allegories may be situated exclusively on the visual plane or on the verbal plane. For example, in the X-Men comics the textual reference to T. H. White's The Once and Future King—a mid-20th century rewriting of Malory's Morte D'Arthur and itself partly an allegory of 20th century politics—works independent of text/image interplay but also supports the well-established allegories which do employ both channels of communication. The novel, which focuses on the struggle between 'might' and 'right' in society, is presented as a favorite of Xavier's, whose own intradiegetic concerns for mutant/non-mutant coexistence are mirrored in it. With extratextual knowledge of the novel, readers can coordinate the stance of peaceful cooperation embraced in it with Xavier's own efforts to establish 'right over might' in a world in which extremists on both sides of the mutant/non-mutant divide use force in order to implement their agendas. Alternately, a panel from Ultimate X-Men Vol. 2 exemplifies the transportation of allegory entirely through visual channels (fig. 11). The frame shows Xavier lying on his bed, telepathically communicating with Wolverine, a process which is indicated by a halo-like bright shimmer around the professor's head. On the wall behind the bed a mural shows Michelangelo's famous Sistine Chapel fresco known as The Creation of Adam. With both God and Adam reaching out toward each other, the scene on the wall mirrors Xavier's telepathic outreach toward Wolverine. The comic 'quotes' Michelangelo's fresco as an artwork within the story world—a circumstance of note to Linda-Rabea Heyden, who distinguishes between pictorial quotations on the intra- and extradiegetic levels in her study of the forms of pictorial quotation in comics (283). References of this type are generally meaningful, states Heyden, not only because they create atmosphere but also since they may serve to describe characters and to reflect on their motives (284).[34] In this case, Xavier is cast in the role of God, almost omniscient due to his telepathy. Again, the reference chimes with the established allegories explored above but also has the potential to function on its own and only through visual codes.

Alternative content

If you are reading this text please install Adobe Flash Player. Once installed, Flash will allow you to play the ImageTexT Comics Viewer here in your browser.

As this makes clear, allegory is not the exclusive forte of the comic book but some important restrictions do not invalidate the general notion that text/image hybrid genres facilitate figurative expression. In the single emblem, as in the panel, text and image interact and elucidate each other. The format assists allegory because, unlike text-only media, the simultaneous existence of two separate communicative systems is integral to it. One of these systems is capable of showing a 'reality' which is then conditioned by the other. The verbal system may not only affirm but equally deny the authority of images, as was the case in the crucifixion panels discussed above. In a single panel, the interplay of text and image is concentrated in a manner that recalls the emblematic unit of picture, motto, and verse.[34] Unlike the emblem, however, comics is a sequential art form in which panel ceaselessly succeeds panel. Stories not only stretch over multiple panels but across hundreds of pages and this certainly affects the way word and image interact in the narrative process. Nonetheless, most comics—however lengthy—depend on the reciprocity of verbal and visual tracks and this inclines the medium toward allegory.

Notes

[1]1 The verse is often assumed to actively combine the other two elements and to elucidate their meaning. However, Schöne criticizes the common notion that title and picture together form a kind puzzle to be solved by the verse since even in Alciato's Liber this is not always the case (20).

[2]Lawrence Grove points out the "closeness of the emblem to the metaphorical commonplace" (94).

[3] Notably, it might have been published without pictures if not for the initiative of Augsburg printer Heinrich Steiner (Grove 51).

[4]Schöne calls these functions "abbildende[...] Leistung" (representation) and "auslegende[...] Leistung" (interpretation) (21). However, verbal elements can share in the representative function and pictures can potentially contribute to the interpretation (ibid.)

[5]While acknowledging the "virtually unlimited possibilities" of image/text combinations (152), McCloud lists seven more or less distinct categories: In "word specific" combinations the verbal elements dominate, in "picture specific" combinations visuals dominate, and in "duo specific" combinations "both word and pictures send essentially the same message" (ibid. 153). There are additive and parallel combinations as well as montages. Finally, in the frequently encountered "interdependent" combinations "word and pictures go hand in hand to convey an idea that neither could convey alone" (ibid. 155).

[6]Saraceni notes the iconicity of pictures, i.e. their reliance on resemblance for the conveyance of meaning, as opposed to the symbolic character of words, while simultaneously emphasizing overlaps of the iconic and the symbolic in both codes (15-18).

[7]Eisner refers to the medium as a "crossbreeding of illustration and prose" (2), and believes that, ideally, writer and artist should be the same person (132). Cf. Also Klaus Schikowski on the hybridity of comics: "Der Comic ist also in seinem Herzen eine erzählende Gattung. Er ist aber aufgrund seiner visuellen Komponente ebenso mit der Kunst verwandt, denn schließlich eignet er sich grafische Ausdrucksweisen an. Allerdings hat er auch Ähnlichkeiten mit einem Theaterstück, dort wird schließlich der Text auch in dialogischer Form vorgetragen. Oder ähnelt er doch eher dem Film? Sind nicht viele Mittel zur Beschreibung der Bildsprache aus der Filmtheorie entlehnt, Kamerafahrt, Zoom, Blickwinkel oder Totale?" (25) And also: "Entsprechend fand die Kulturgeschichte des Comics losgelöst von der Kunst-oder Literaturgeschichte statt, ein gegenseitiger Austausch kam nicht zustande." (ibid. 17)

[8]As with any genre, a range of characteristics are indicative of superhero narratives and not all characteristics must necessarily be present in any one story. According to Coogan, "[i]f a character basically fits the mission-powers-identity definition, even with significant qualifications, and cannot be easily placed into another genre because of the preponderance of superhero-genre conventions, the character is a superhero" (40).

[9]Tondro makes the overall point that knowledge of superhero comics may improve one's understanding of medieval and Renaissance literary genres, such as the romance and the masque, based on some notable points of congruence between the formats. In his second chapter, "Kirby's Masque," Tondro likens the collaborative process in comics production to the cooperation between writer and artisan on the Jacobean courtly masque.

[10]In his discussion of the diverse and composite contents of many emblem books and the arrangement of such contents, Manning makes an etymological point: "The very term emblema, after all, implied a mosaic that brought together many single, individual pieces" (133). Further, he cites "the necessity of collaboration at various levels between author, printer, artist, editor and publisher" (ibid. 82). A production process that necessarily involved multiple contributors reflected and contributed to the hybrid nature of the form.

[11]Cf. Grove: "The basic premise of this study is that due to technological developments the early age of print, like our present visual age, was astride the cultures of text and image and as a result the mindset that such a period of transition engendered was one that favoured hybrid creations." (27)

[12]The 'canonical' status and placement of God Loves, Man Kills within X-Men comic book chronology was in flux until its retrospective 'insertion' between Uncanny X-Men #167 and #168.

[13]Ramzi Fawaz points out that "the visual appropriation of gay and feminist public cultures was a recurrent motif throughout the X-Men series in the 1970s" (382). In that decade, "[b]y expanding the racial, geographic, and gender makeup of the mutant species to include characters and identities previously ignored by the series, the new X-Men articulated mutation to the radical critiques of identity promulgated by the cultures of women's and gay liberation" (Fawaz 363).

[14]In an essay which explores the figurative uses of disability in cultural texts, Michael Bérubé cites Bryan Singer's X-Men movies of 2000 and 2003 as texts "in which exceptionality of all things is rendered as disability" (569). He argues further: "the visual link is established by Professor Xavier's wheelchair, for Xavier is both a telepath and a paraplegic; but the X-Men films render mutant exceptionality as disability even when mutants discover their power to change their shape or to heal their wounds in seconds. Paradoxically, Xavier's school for 'gifted' children serves as a safe haven for the disabled, sheltering teenagers who will be misunderstood and stigmatized by the world outside its walls" (ibid. 569). Ramzi Fawaz notes: "The X-Men revalued physical disability and visible difference from ordinary humanity as the ground upon which new forms of social and political community could be articulated" (362).

[15]Comics scripter Grant Morrison, who took over the New X-Men in 2001, recollects experiencing a "growing distrust of post-9/11 conformity culture that appeared to be in the process of greedily consuming the unusual and different" (qtd. in Garneau and Foley 182). It may therefore be unsurprising that "he opt[ed] to turn to the Middle East for expanding the X-Men's global membership" (Garneau and Foley 182).

[16]Cf. Clancy Smith: "Although I maintain it is easier to draw parallels between Xavier and King than it is between Magneto and Malcolm X, certainly in their distinct attitudes towards the use of violence in the fight for equality, some productive comparisons may be drawn." (70)

[17]Following a clash between mutant Kitty Pryde and a Christian zealot voicing his 'anti-mutant' feelings later in the story, Pryde confronts her African American dance instructor, who had intervened in the conflict, with the words: "Suppose he'd called me a nigger-lover, Stevie?! Would you be so damn tolerant then?!!" (n. pag.) The intersection of mutant and African American identity is presented in the character of Storm.

[18]Tim Perry asserts: "As he [Magneto] develops over the decades, however, a more nuanced picture emerges." (177) Malcolm sees it as inherent in the nature of comic book story telling that any "character [not only Magneto] can be a villain in one series and a hero in another" (Malcolm 145)—a situation that depends to a significant extent on conditions of production and marketing.

[19]Coogan distinguishes between five types of supervillain: "the monster, the enemy commander, the mad scientist, the criminal mastermind, and the inverted-superhero supervillain." (61) He further lists "four additional sub-types of supervillain—the alien, the evil god, the femme fatale, and the super-henchman" (ibid. 74); he describes Magneto and Professor X as arch-enemies: "Once they were friends who shared a vision—a or at least a fear—of what mutants could become in the world and of how humanity would respond." (ibid. 98)

[20]On Magneto's demeanor in X-Men #274, Bower, too, notes that the character "seems troubled less by the desire for vengeance than by survivor guilt" (191).

[21]Clancy Smith points out that in Claremont's dystopian Days of Future Past storyline (1981), "shades of Auschwitz and the memory of Japanese internment on American soil are visible on every page" (69).

[22]The Puritan sense of historical providence directed toward the first and second comings of Christ, announced in the Old and New Testaments respectively, has ever been and remains a significant influence on U.S. Culture in general (Goering 19-21). B. J. Oropeza argues that many comic book story lines borrow their apocalyptic scenarios from the Books of Revelation and Daniel (8).

[23]During a sermon held in Madison Square Garden, Stryker intones: "Are we now to let those who put forward the proposition that we are descended from apes tell us that our descendants—our children—will be born monsters?! And that this is natural?!? I say, no! I say, never!" His outburst links his anti-mutant position within the story to fundamentalist Christian groups, within and without it, who deny evolution in favor of scriptural accounts of creation.

[24]Although Reverend Stryker attempts to force Xavier to telepathically kill Cyclops and Storm and believes to have succeeded in this endeavor, it is later revealed that Xavier's disciples are alive. Magneto sums up the character-saving plot twist: "Charles must have been resisting Stryker's programming on some deep subconscious level" (n. pag.). Xavier's unwillingness to kill his opponents even in extreme situations comes up in other story arcs and alternate universe settings—as in the Ultimate X-Men series when Xavier pretends to kill Magneto in public but secretly keeps him alive in order to try and reform his character. This accords with Coogan's assessment that "killing is generally regarded as a line that superheroes will not cross because it makes them too much like the criminals they fight" (112).

[25]The way Kitty Pryde/Ariel (later known as Shadowcat) draws Xavier's heart from a bloody cavity in his chest is reminiscent of the traditional rendering of personified Envy—represented in emblem books and other artefacts of early modern culture –, who pulls her own heart out of her chest and proceeds to eat it, signaling self-destruction.

[26]Cheryl Alexander Malcolm has argued, with reference to the comics, that "[e]xcessive emotion and gesticulating [...] align with Magneto [...] whereas Professor X seems to epitomize WASP calm and control." (146) She goes on to argue that because Xavier is "paralyzed from an accident and confined to a wheelchair," he "actually represents the diminishing power of WASPs in America" (ibid. 146). This allegorical reading, however, does no justice to the character's role as peaceful patron saint of the mutant minority.

[27]Tvtropes.org describes this as either a "status quo is god" scenario—which frequently applies to cartoons—according to which "each installment of the series will open under virtually identical circumstances", or a "one power set" situation. This latter trope describes the phenomenon that "beings will stay with the same powers and abilities they've had." However, "[u]nlike most examples of this trope, Professor Xavier has tried many times to restore the use of his legs, but when he does succeed, he becomes crippled again before long."

[28]In Coogan's categorization, the Red Skull is an example of the "enemy commander" type of supervillain: "As developed in the Silver Age by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Red Skull is second only to Hitler in power in Nazi German [sic], and even Hitler fears him. He commands the scientific and military resources of the Third Reich and is actively involved in the attempt to defeat and subjugate America and its allies" (66).

[29]The Blob, antagonist of the X-Men since the 1960s, is an exceedingly large mutant whose body has the ability to withstand and absorb any amount of force. Depictions of his fleshy body, stuck in the ground or consuming enormous quantities of food and drink recall personified Sloth or Gluttony.

[30]Cf. Scott Bukatman: "many of the X-Men have names commemorating their physical aberrations: the visored Cyclops, the winged Angel, the increasingly bestial Beast" (122). It is a convention of the superhero genre, notes Coogan, that costumes reflect heroes' identities or the circumstances of their heroic transformations (30). Jason Tondro, for instance, writes of patriotic American superheroes, and personifications of the state (Captain America, Uncle Sam, Stargirl), "who wear their allegorical nature proudly on their spangled chests" (Tondro 18). The costumes of pulp heroes may differ from typical superhero array but "[t]he connection of name to inner character or biography came with pulp mystery men like the Shadow and Doc Savage" (Coogan 32).

[31]A similar personification is "the Astro City supervillain the Living Nightmare, an externalized distillation of fear", who exploits the fears of his victims (Coogan 77).

[32]A Theatre for Worldlings was originally published in 1569 in Flemish by Jan van der Noot, a Protestant refugee from Antwerp who had settled in London (Daly, Introduction, 5). The book consists of three sections: emblems based on Petrarch's Rime 323, emblems based on the eleven visions of the fall of Rome from Joachim Du Bellay's Songe, and four final verses by Van der Noot himself based on St John's visions in the Book of Revelation (ibid. 6) The emblems themselves only consist of image and verse (ibid.). The theme of emblem 16 is taken up again in emblem 19, which declares that the creatures of the Apocalypse will eventually "warre upon the kings, and eate their flesh" (ibid. 26).

[33]Cioffi argues that different kinds of disjunction between word and image in comics have the effects of "politicization (Mleczko), pseudo-elaboration (Katchor), deconstruction (Crumb), and allegorization (Spiegelman)" (99).

[34]Cf. Heyden: "Einzelreferenzen auf reale Kunstwerke tragen gegenüber den fiktiven Kunstwerken immer einen größeren Sinngehalt mit sich, weil sie den Kontext, die kanonische Deutung, sowie die weiterführende Rezeption des Kunstwerks implizit mitführen" (284).

[35]Robert C. Harvey argues that the interdependence of visual and verbal components is especially notable in "the relatively simple gag cartoon" (82), because of its emblem-like concentration of all relevant elements within one frame.

Works Cited

"Baron, Lawrence. "X-Men as J Men: The Jewish Subtext of a Comic Book Movie." Shofar 22.1 (2003): 44-52. Print.

Bérubé, Michael. "Disability and Narrative." PMLA 120.2 (2005): 568-76. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Bower, Kathrin M. "Holocaust Avengers: From 'The Master Race' to Magneto." International Journal of Comic Art 6.2 (2004): 182-94. Print.

Bukatman, Scott. "Secret Identity Politics." The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero. Ed. Angela Ndalianis. New York: Routledge, 2009. 109-25. Print.

Cioffi, Frank L. "Disturbing Comics: The Disjunction of Word and Image in the Comics of Andrzej Mleczko, Ben Katchor, R. Crumb, and Art Spiegelman." The Language of Comics: Word and Image. Ed. Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2001. 97-122. Print.

Claremont, Chris. "Introduction." God Loves, Man Kills. 1983. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2011. N. pag. Print.

Claremont, Chris, and Brent Anderson. God Loves, Man Kills. 1983. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2011. Print.

Claremont, Chris, and Dave Cockrum. "The X-Men No. 95: Warhunt!" Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1. Ed. Cory Sedlmeier. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2011. 56-74. Print.

Coogan, Peter. Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre. Intro. Dennis O'Neil. Austin, TX: MonkeyBrain Books, 2006. Print.

Daly, Peter M. Emblem Theory: Recent German Contributions to the Characterization of the Emblem Genre. Nendeln, Liechtenstein: KTO Press, 1979. Print. Wolfenbütteler Forschungen Vol. 9.

---. Introduction. A Theatre for Worldlings. 1569. Trans. Theodore Roest and Edmund Spenser (?). Ed. Peter M. Daly. The English Emblem Tradition: Index Emblematicus Vol. 1. Eds. Peter M. Daly, Leslie T. Duer and Anthony Raspa. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1988. 5-7. Print.

Ditschke, Stephan, and Anjin Anhut. "Menschliches, Übermenschliches: Zur Narrativen Struktur von Superheldencomics." Comics: Zur Geschichte und Theorie eines Populärkulturellen Mediums. Ed. Stephan Ditschke, Katerina Kroucheva and Daniel Stein. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009. 131-78. Print.

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. 1985. New York: Norton, 2008. Print.

Fawaz, Ramzi. "'Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!': Mutant Superheroes and the Cultural Politics of Popular Fantasy in Postwar America." American Literature 83.2 (2011): 355-88. Print.

Freeman, Rosemary. English Emblem Books. London: Chatto and Windus, 1948. Print.

Garneau, Eric, and Maura Foley. "Grant Morrison's Mutants and the Post-9/11 Culture of Fear." The Ages of the X-Men: Essays on the Children of the Atom in Changing Times. Ed. Joseph J. Darowski. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. 178-88. Print.

Goering, Daniel Timothy. "The Old World, the New World, and the End of It." Apocalypse Soon? Religion and Popular Culture in the United States. Ed. Kornelia Freitag. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2011. 17-24. Print.

Grove, Laurence. Text/Image Mosaics in French Culture: Emblems and Comic Strips. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2005. Print.

Harvey, Robert C. The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1996. Print.

---. "Comedy at the Juncture of Word and Image: The Emergence of the Modern Magazine Gag Cartoon Reveals the Vital Blend." The Language of Comics: Word and Image. Ed. Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2001. 75-96. Print.

Heyden, Linda-Rabea. "Interpiktorialität im Comic: Versuch einer Systematik zu bildlichen Bezugnahmen in Comics." Interpiktorialität: Theorie und Geschichte der Bild-Bild-Bezüge. Ed. Guido Isekenmeier. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013. 281-98. Print.

Hochreiter, Susanne, and Ursula Klingenböck. "Introduction." Bild ist Text ist Bild: Narration and Ästhetik in der Graphic Novel. Ed. Hochreiter and Klingenböck. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014. 7-14. Print.

Jenkins, Henry. "'Just Men in Tights': Rewriting Silver Age Comics in an Era of Multiplicity." The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero. Ed. Angela Ndalianis. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009. 16-43. Print.

Kemp, Cornelia. Angewandte Emblematik. München: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1981. Print.

Kuppers, Petra. "The Wheelchair's Rhetoric: The Performance of Disability." The Drama Review 51.4 (2007): 80-88. Print.

Lee, Stan, and Jack Kirby. Marvel Masterworks: The X-Men Vol. 1. New York: Marvel, 2009. Print.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: William Morrow, 1993. Print.

Malcolm, Cheryl Alexander. "Witness, Trauma, and Remembrance: Holocaust Representation and X-Men Comics." The Jewish Graphic Novel: Critical Approaches. Ed. Samatha Baskind and Ranen Omer-Sherman. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2008. 144-60. Print.

Manning, John. The Emblem. London: Reaktion Books, 2004. Print.

Millar, Mark, Adam Kubert, and Andy Kubert. Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People. New York: Marvel Comics, 2002. Print.

Millar, Mark, and Adam Kubert. Ultimate X-Men Vol. 2: Return to Weapon X. New York: Marvel Comics, 2005. Print.

Oropeza, B. J. "Introduction." The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Popular Culture. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. 1-24. Print.

Peacham, Henry. Minerva Britanna: Or a Garden of Heroical Devises, Furnished, and Adorned with Emblemes and Impresas of Sundry Natures, Newly Devised, Moralized, and Published. London, 1612. Harvard College Library. EEBO. Web. 1 May 2013.

Perry, Tim. "Mutants that Are All Too Human: The X-Men, Magneto, and Original Sin." The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Popular Culture. Ed. B. J. Oropeza. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. 171-87. Print.

Praz, Mario. Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery. 1939. 2nd Ed. Rome: Edizioni Di Storia E Litteratura, 1964. Print.

Pumphrey, Nicholaus. "From Terrorist to Tzadik: Reading Comic Books as Post-Shoah Literature in Light of Magneto's Jewish Backstory." The Ages of the X-Men: Essays on the Children of the Atom in Changing Times. Ed. Joseph J. Darowski. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. 91-104. Print.

Remender, Rick. Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1: The Red Shadow. Art. John Cassaday. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2013. Print.

Roeder, Katherine. "Looking High and Low at Comic Art." American Art 22.1 (2008): 2-9. U of Chicago P. JSTOR. 20 Feb. 2015.

Saraceni, Mario. The Language of Comics. Abingdon: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Schikowski, Klaus. Der Comic: Geschichte, Stile, Künstler. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2014. Print.

Schöne, Albrecht. Emblematik und Drama im Zeitalter des Barock. München: C.H. Beck, 1964. Print.

Smith, Clancy. "Days of Future Past: Segregation, Oppression and Technology in X-Men and America." The Ages of the X-Men: Essays on the Children of the Atom in Changing Times. Ed. Joseph J. Darowski. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. 63-76. Print.

"Status Quo Is God." TV Tropes. TV Tropes, 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Thomas, Roy, and Don Heck. "X-Men No. 38 Bonus: A Man Called... X." Ed. Stan Lee. Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2. Ed. John Denning. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2010. N. pag. Print.

---. "X-Men No. 40: The Mark of the Monster." Ed. Stan Lee. Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2. Ed. John Denning. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2010. N. pag. Print.

Tondro, Jason. Superheroes of the Round Table: Comics Connections to Medieval Literature. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Print.

Van der Noot, Jan. A Theatre for Worldlings. 1569. Trans. Theodore Roest. Ed. Peter M. Daly. The English Emblem Tradition: Index Emblematicus Vol. 1. Eds. Peter M. Daly, Leslie T. Duer and Anthony Raspa. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1988. 1-27. Print.

Walton, Saige. "Baroque Mutants in the 21st Century? Rethinking Genre Through the Superhero." The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero. Ed. Angela Ndalianis. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009. 86-106. Print.

Warncke, Carsten-Peter. Symbol, Emblem, Allegorie: Die zweite Sprache der Bilder. Köln: Deubner Verlag für Kunst, Theorie und Praxis, 2005. Print.

 © 2017 Sarah Briest (all rights reserved). This essay is the intellectual property of the author and cannot be printed or distributed without the author's express written permission other than excerpts for purposes consistent with Fair Use. The layout and design of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons License to ImageTexT; note that this applies only to the design of this page and not to the content itself.

All content is (c) ImageTexT 2004 - 2017 unless otherwise noted. All authors and artists retain copyright unless otherwise noted.
All images are used with permission or are permissible under fair use. Please see our legal notice.

ImageTexT is published by the Department of English at the University of Florida.