The X-Men and the Civil Rights Movement

Today, one of the most well-known comic book franchises is the X-Men.  Their popularity seemed to peak in the 90s with the Saturday morning cartoon series, and then later in the 2000s with the movies based upon the comics.  However, the beginning of the franchise was much more humble and was full of social commentary.

The franchise began in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement.  Rather than having specific origin stories for each individual character, Stan Lee, their creator, decided that it might be easier and better if they were all just born with their powers.  He decided to make them mutants, which would be the next step in human evolution.  Along with this, there are many themes in the comics about prejudice.  Regular humans do not understand mutants, and so they are afraid of them.  Out of this fear, the government has taken steps to oppress the mutants, and this oppression is very reminiscent of what Civil Rights activists were fighting against during the sixties.

The story of the X-Men goes even further, having two distinct factions of mutants who are fighting for equality but using different tactics.  The X-Men are led by Professor X, while the Brotherhood is led by Magneto.  Professor X and the X-men seek a peaceful coexistence with other humans, while Magneto and the Brotherhood seek superiority and domination over other humans.  Although the allegory is far from exact, Lee has expressed that he did this as a loose allegory for activists like Martin Luther King Jr. (Professor X) and Malcolm X (Magneto).  Obviously, neither character is the same as their real-life counterparts, and it would be a huge stretch to claim that Malcolm X sought the sort of domination that Magneto seeks, but it does successfully express differences between moderate activism and radical activism.