The Slow Death of Xavier’s Dream

Extraordinary X-Men #2 included what was no doubt intended as a shocking moment, as Storm reflected:

Professor Xavier dreamed of a world where mutants and humans could live in harmony… Where we no longer needed to be afraid.

“I have tried for so long to keep that dream alive.  We all have.  That is what the X-Men were.

“But now, finally, I am starting to see that we failed.  The dream is dead.

Is it?  And when did it die?

What is Xavier’s Dream?

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Charles Xavier, quite simply, believed that there was no difference between man and mutant.  His dream was best exemplified on the X-Men Animated Series, where the Beast stood up in court and quoted Shakespeare: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

In response to Extraordinary X-Men #1, The Mary Sue published a fantastic article in which they argued that the X-Men work best when their plots echo real social issues.

From the team’s initial creation during the racial tensions of 1960s America to storylines such as the Legacy Virus (AIDS crisis), the independence of Genosha led by Magneto (post-apartheid South Africa), and a controversial mutant cure (LGBT conversion therapy), the X-Men franchise has rarely shied away from exploring the realities of being a cultural minority.

Source: The Mary Sue

Far from shy away from this, the X-Men have always dived straight in, standing on the side of the minority culture.  In the 1990s, the mutant community was the one afflicted with the Legacy Virus, and we were treated to issues like Uncanny X-Men #303 – in which we saw the death of Illyana Rasputin, a teenage girl who symbolised innocence.  In this AIDS-analogue, we were shown the superheroes who strove to find a cure, and issues explored the difficult ethical decisions faced by Beast and Moira MacTaggert.  When Moira became the first human to contract the Legacy Virus, the parallels were deliberate and precise.  But always we were on the side of those who suffered.

Tragedy of Illyana

This has always been the case.  The X-Men have stood for culture in transition, opposing bigotry and prejudice.  It’s fitting that Brian Bendis chose to subtly rewrite Iceman’s history, revealing his well-foreshadowed homosexuality.  The scenes in Uncanny X-Men #600, where the older Iceman explained how he had kept his sexuality quiet for all these years, were excellent.  And there’s a touch of irony when you remember that Iceman’s parents were used to draw a homosexuality-mutant parallel in X-Men II.

So the X-Men fight for equality between man and mutant, their cause carefully aligning with the struggles of cultural minorities of their day.  A modern-day analogue would be deeply political, perhaps finding a way to link mutants into the fear of Syrian refugees – instead, though, Marvel have chosen to discuss such political tales in Captain America: Sam Wilson.

So how did Xavier’s Dream die?

Xavier Dead

There were really two things that killed Xavier’s Dream, in my view – and both were decisions made by writers and editors.  The first was a change in the way Charles Xavier was treated.  In many respects, the Onslaught epic was the turning-point – suddenly Xavier’s every decision was cast under a microscope, and he was the cause of increased tension between man and mutant.  Controversially, writers even tied his transformation into Onslaught all the way back to suppressed desire for Jean Grey, first hinted at during the Stan Lee years but forgotten about over the decades.  Sure, there had been disturbances before – the moment of weakness when Amelia Voght left him, for example – but never had Xavier seen treatment like this.

Jean Eavesdrops on Xavier

From there, writers began to wonder just how a man would really deal with Xavier’s telepathic power.  The ethics of telepathy began to be considered, and Xavier was found to be flawed, never more so than in Ed Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis, which conducted a pretty comprehensive piece of character assassination on the poor Professor.  We learned that he had erased all memory of an entire team of X-Men, right down to making Cyclops forget his brother!

It was Mike Carey who brought matters to a head in X-Men: Legacy #215-216, working through his brilliant Xavier-centric run.  He brought about a confrontation between Cyclops and Xavier, in which Cyclops argued that Xavier was no different to the likes of Magneto or even Apocalypse – a man with a vision of the future who was prepared to do anything to bring that future about.

Cyclops Accuses Xavier

Meanwhile, the Dream itself came under attack.  Grant Morrison had a very different opinion on what the X-Men books were about:

The X-MEN is not a story about super heroes but a story about the ongoing evolutionary struggle between good/new and bad/old.  The X-MEN are every rebel teenager wanting to change the world and make it better.  Humanity is every adult, clinging to the past, trying to destroy the future even as he places all his hopes there.

Source: The Morrison Manifesto

From there, though, Morrison went too far.  He established that humanity and mutantkind were in fact competing; in E is for Extinction he had the character of Cassandra Nova predict that, within four generations, the human race would be extinct.  In Morrison’s era, the mutants began to view themselves as a separate species – homo superior, a term that had originally only been used by Magneto and his Acolytes.  Gone was the idea that there was no difference between mutants and humans, just as there is no difference between black and white, Muslim and Jew, homosexual and heterosexual.  It was only a subtle change, but it was one that began the slow process of bleeding Xavier’s Dream to death.

Charles Xavier Dream

Matters only worsened when Joe Quesada pushed for the Decimation.  The Scarlet Witch’s curse – “No more mutants” – essentially stopped evolution, but Marvel didn’t realise that was what they’d done.  Instead, they presented matters as though a single race were struggling to survive, to stave off their own extinction.  If mutants are the evolutionary future of humanity, then the Scarlet Witch had just destroyed humanity’s ability to survive, to evolve, and to change; but that wasn’t thought about.  Even when the mutant race was reignited in the wake of AvX, it was treated as a separate race of beings brought back from the brink of extinction.

Xavier’s Dream didn’t die with Charles Xavier.  It didn’t die when Cyclops was killed, sometime in the eight-month time-gap that we’re still only seeing hints of.  It died when Joe Quesada dropped the ball, and failed to realise that his solution for ‘too many mutants’ would inevitably wind up destroying the concept underpinning the franchise.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Russell says:

    Yeah even Stan Lee seemed to abandon the notion of Xavier loving Jean after that one mention. So silly that of all the things to keep as canon from the early issues, that was returned to.

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    1. Agreed. 🙂 Apparently the X-offices were deeply divided about how the Onslaught thing worked out, and that was Lobdell’s personal ‘hate’ part of it lol.

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  2. Jim says:

    It’s interesting how divisive Morrison’s run remains to this day. Some people who have done in-depth analysis on the comics believe that the concept of mutants replacing humans is a natural evolution of the X-Men story, one which has been seeded since the Claremont era. I just find it fascinating how widely different people seem to interpret the mutant metaphor, which I think is partly the reason why even writers have trouble knowing what exactly to do with the team save for repeated extinction crises.

    I think it’s worth mentioning though that the darkening of Xavier’s character can be distinct from the dream. The man can be flawed (the writers go overboard with it true) but his dream can remain intact.

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    1. True, but I think the dream was so fundamentally associated with the man that the darkening of his character also affected his dream. Good point about Morrison – I do admit to not being a fan :p

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