Civil Rights and the Metaphor of X-Men

This picture is from the Black Comic Book Festival 2013
This picture is from the Black Comic Book Festival 2013- Malcolm as Magneto- or Magneto X

People overlook the power of fiction to comment on real issues and real life. While, we all know that this usage of our imaginary works is a distinct possibility, we generally forget the impact until its time to issue the Pulitzers and Oscars. Fiction—and in my opinion—science fiction especially has an unequalled power in all of literature to drive home a point about very real and corporeal issues by tugging on the heartstrings and capturing the imagination through seemingly simple and innocent escapism. Of all the overlooked forms of fiction that exist, perhaps none is more overlooked and relegated to the public opinion realm of kid stuff than comic books. Often, when people direct their minds to the medium of comics and graphic novels they are somehow automatically reminded of the 1960s Batman television show; drowned with camp and tongue in cheek dialogue versus outlandish and ludicrous villains and nonsensical plots. Alas, the 1960s held some amazing comix (underground comic books with counter-culture and political messages) as well as seemingly mainstream comics.

Perhaps no mainstream character today have as strong a background in cultural social issues as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s merry mutants, The Uncanny X-Men. When they first debuted in the 1960s, the X-Men were a group of five teenagers and their teacher, Professor X—a motley crew of oddballs and misfits. Many have claimed, with great accuracy, that the X-Men serve as well developed metaphors for the plight of racial and cultural minorities in modern America—and this parallel still exists today in man ways, while in some others it has been somewhat dispelled or eschewed. The comparisons between Charles Xavier’s message of integration and Magneto’s message of separation and supremacy to those of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X (before his falling out with Elijah Muhammad) are ubiquitous, few people take the time to note some of the legacies of the franchise’s core philosophical debate and how it has evolved, as well as the context of this debate and its root found in reconstruction and turn-of-the-20th Century politics. In the spirit of Black History Month, I’ve decided to take a little walk through these well tangled metaphors, and attempt to discern whether or not the metaphors remain, or ever were, truly successful and unravel them in a slight look at the history of the debates that provided the franchises’ genesis.


  1. Loved the analogy and parallels this article makes between American, world amp; Comic book origins in history. The character Magneto is Jewish; Jews in history are portrayed to be villainous, such as in the writings of “William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and in Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist. Magneto being somewhat of an antihero paralleled to Malcolm X is a step up for Jews in literature, at least in the comic book form.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.