Revisiting The X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

Jamie revisits a comic book that has not only stood the test of time, but one that has shaped stories for more than two decades since...

A classic: God Loves, Man Kills

Believe it or not, once upon a time Marvel had only one X-title, which was helmed by the legend which is Chris Claremont.

The year was 1982 and Marvel was also beginning to experiment with the graphic novel format, so it asked its X-scribe if he could come up with something. The end result was God Loves, Man Kills – a tale which not only had shaped the next 25 years of mutant stories, but it also had a major influence on the second X-Men movie – X2.

Comics by their very nature do not age well. Like most pop culture, they reflect the age in which they are written, but God Loves, Man Kills has genuinely stood the test of time.

Mutants are the perfect metaphor for intolerance, prejudice and injustice and sadly, those issues are still as relevant today as they were 25 years ago. The Cold War may have gone, and instead has been replaced by the ‘War On Terror’.

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While helming Uncanny X-Men, Chris Claremont would sometimes leave plotlines dangling for months on end. While other writers concentrated on the villains or big fights, the X-Men was more about the personal lives of the main characters. At times, it was like a super-powered soap opera. With the graphic novel format, Claremont delivered a perfect story in a single edition.

The villain – the Reverend William Stryker – was that rarest of creatures – a fully developed, three-dimensional human being. Even within the tight confines of the graphic novel, Chris Claremont managed to give him a full back story and an explanation for the character. His hatred of mutant kind stemmed from an evangelical fervour that he was doing God’s work.

It was also a full ensemble piece, with all of the X-Men sharing the limelight. Wolverine had yet to develop into the oxygen-consuming star he is today, and all the team play key roles. Even Professor X has a vital part to play and the character of Magneto is given more room to breathe.

The real masterstroke, in terms of story telling is in the tale’s resolution. I won’t spoil it for you here, but it is a victory for common sense. While most comic books finish with the spandex-clad hero getting one over on some ranting madman, there is a proper, thought-provoking, bittersweet conclusion here. Remember this was 1982, comics were not cool and adults did not read them. Alan Moore had not written Watchmen yet. Comic shops were still run by that guy from the Simpsons and if you told a girl you liked Doctor Who, she would laugh at you. But the ending of God Loves, Man Kills is a grown up ending – the sort you would talk about to your mates if you saw it in a film.

And talking about movies, it is hard to read God Loves, Man Kills without going back to Bryan Singer’s X2 movie. Admittedly, the William Stryker of the film – although brilliantly played by Brian Cox – is not quite the same person, he does share a lot of the same characteristics. There are also other similarities, which I won’t spoil for you.

In Marvel’s all-singing, all-dancing hardback reprint of God Loves, Man Kills – Chris Claremont gives the film the thumbs up and talks about how he wishes Bryan Singer had stayed with the franchise for the third film. There is also some interesting material on how this book developed, including the revelation that Neal Adams was originally going to draw it.

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God Loves, Man Kills is a tight piece of story telling, with some great art by Brent Anderson. It’s proof that comics can tell a good yarn and do it intelligently. It may be 25 years old, but it’s looking damn well on it, and if it’s good enough for Bryan Singer, then it’s good enough for the rest of us!