By Ethan Harmon
Growing up, I only cared about two superhero teams: the X-men and the Avengers (sorry, Justice League!). The Avengers and the X-men both had awesome team members, they both fought world ending threats, and they both did it with style. I think I used to gravitate towards the X-men more, initially, due to the fact that they not only fought for others, but they fought for themselves. There was more at stake for the X-men than just their mansion or the bad guys winning. They had to fight for justice and equality for their race.
This distinction made the X-men way more interesting, and it’s the reason why the books were so popular. You can attribute Professor X to MLK and Magneto to Malcom X, both striving for the same goal (equality), but using very different means to accomplish it. Professor X wanted his team to fight for the world and prove that his fellow mutants were just as caring, and ultimately, just like everyone else (but with powers). Magneto felt as if the message fell on deaf ears, and it was his responsibility to force his cause into the eyes of the world.
The theme of equality and struggle for rights continued throughout the decades, and it shifted to a different group. While, at first, the X-men could represent civil rights, they could now represent the LBGTQ. And, honestly, the X-men were the perfect and most endearing example of the struggle for equality and acceptance. These mutants fought for the world and their right to be in it. Regardless of the opposition, whether it took form in the Sentinels or Apocalypse, they battled the symbolic and metaphoric representations of oppression.
What made the X-men stand out even more was the cast of mutants. Each one had his or her own unique story of hate and segregation, and the motivations, character, and power (literally) to make a change for the better.
In recent years, this theme has become somewhat lost. It’s still in there, somewhere, but not as apparent. Now, the X-men are fighting amongst themselves. Stories such as Schism and Avengers vs. X-men have utterly divided the team, with one using the revamped school to continue teaching the students, and another using more militaristic actions to combat opposing forces… and kind of teach students, I guess.
For me, this is a big problem. Having the X-men fight each other, or battle other mutants, or really just fight against the Avengers, really downplays the theme and message the books have been carrying all these years. Anyone and everyone can see themselves as an X-man. If you were a nerd, an outcast, picked on, pushed around, beaten up, yelled at, or in worse cases, oppressed, called vile names, or singled out based on race, religion, sexual orientation, you could see yourself as an X-man. The X-men need to continue carrying the same message. Losing it will be unfortunate and shameful.