X-Men: First Class: which is better, comics or film

How does X-Men: First Class differ in its key story points from the X-Men comics? And which gets it right? James takes a look...

Of all of Marvel’s adaptations, the X-Men movies have strayed the furthest from the comics. It’s understandable why, given the X-Men‘s long and convoluted history, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But changes are changes. We wouldn’t be living up to the name Den Of Geek if we didn’t at least try to analyse them, and, more importantly, try to decide which is better, the comics or the movie.

Warning: Spoilers for X-Men: First Class are in the following comparisons. If you haven’t seen the film, this will reveal certain developments to you…

Item 1: Xavier’s Paralysis

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Movie: During a climatic moment, Magneto deflects a bullet fired at him by Moira MacTaggart, which ricochets into Professor Xavier and severs his spinal column. Paralysed from the waist down, he’s confined to a wheelchair, despite having the most powerful mind on the planet. But it’s also a constant reminder of the adversary he couldn’t stop and the friendship he’s lost.

Comics: Xavier’s legs are crushed prior to the formation of the X-Men when Lucifer, an alien from the planet Quistalium, drops a giant stone block on them as Xavier tries to thwart his invasion of Earth.  

At one point, he regains the ability to walk after being transported into his own clone, but the Shadow King psychically snaps his spine when Xavier drives him out after an extended possession.

The third time, Magneto fuses his spine back together with Nano-Sentinels while posing as ‘Xorn’, but later removes that ability when his deception is revealed.

It’s not all bad news, though! Xavier can currently walk, after the Scarlet Witch re-shaped all reality, but left his spine intact when undoing her changes.

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Verdict: The film version of events makes far more sense, intellectually, narratively, and emotionally. It’s the kind of thing that Stan Lee might have come up with had he not been making stories up as he went, unaware anyone would care fifty years down the line.

And as for everything that happened afterwards, well, trust me when I say it’s slightly less ridiculous than the summary sounds.

Movie wins.

Item 2: Mystique

Movie: After shapeshifter Raven Darkholme breaks into the home of a young Charles Xavier, he takes her in (as the only other mutant he’s met) and she lives with him on his estate.

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Jealous of his ‘normal’ appearance and hurt by his insistence that she should hide her true form, Mystique eventually joins Magneto. She becomes his most trusted deputy, until her powers are forcibly removed and he leaves her to her decidedly human fate.

Comics: Born over one hundred years ago, Mystique’s powers slow her aging, and in a world hostile to mutants, she becomes an expert at deception and survival, taking on numerous identities.

Fathering Nightcrawler (with Azazel), Graydon Creed (with Sabretooth) and becoming the adoptive mother of Rogue, the importance of Mystique’s extended family to the X-Mythos is rivalled only by Cyclops’.

She has little to do with Professor X or Magneto’s dreams, she pursues a philosophy of ends ‘justify the means’ survival for mutants, which has led to her working on both sides of the law.

Verdict: There’s no contest here. The comics version of Mystique is complicated, charismatic, intelligent and strong-willed, and her skills have seen her frequently stand up to Wolverine in single combat. The movie version barely seems like the same character. Let’s not even start on the bizarre continuity insert of her growing up with Xavier.

Comic wins.

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Item 3: Beast’s Transformation

Movie: Consumed with self-loathing over his physical mutation, Henry “Hank” McCoy uses a modified form of Mystique’s X-Gene to try and hide them. The results backfire spectacularly, and instead of having his feet returned to normal, he mutates even further, finding himself covered in blue fur and given a more feline appearance.

Er, can you say “clinical trial”, Henry?

Comics: Attempting to disguise his own appearance so that he can catch a research thief, Beast uses one of his own experiments on himself. The process leaves him covered with grey fur, but after leaving it too long, he discovers he can’t reverse it. The fur later turns blue.

Although he does eventually reverse his appearance, the mutant, Infectia (who causes mutations in other beings), uses her powers on him and once again places him in his blue-furred form.

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A random secondary mutation later causes his ape-like bestial form to take on more feline characteristics.

Verdict: Once again, the comics lose out due to a combination of silver age nuttiness and convoluted back and forth between status quos.

Although, in the comics, Beast is one of the few mutants widely accepted by the public (due to his academic credentials and time spent as an Avenger), that destiny actually has greater poignancy if his self-loathing is what makes him more distinctive in the first place.

Movie wins.

Item 4: Sebastian Shaw

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Movie: He’s the head of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle, with the ability to absorb kinetic energy and then redirect it. He’s also a former Nazi doctor with youth-regenerating powers, who experimented on the young Magneto, killing the child’s mother in front of him.

He’s also unaccountably convinced that a nuclear war will scour humans from the Earth and leave the planet free for mutantkind, so he’s trying to bring one about.

He was killed when Magneto used his powers to shove a coin through his brain.

Comics: Shaw and his conspirators use his vast wealth and the Circle’s collective mutant powers to manipulate society for their own gain. He’s perpetrated many plots against the X-Men, most famously attempting to control the Phoenix, but never with much success.

He’s currently amnesiac, after Emma Frost wiped his mind.

Verdict: This is a toughie. The movie version of Shaw is essentially two different characters grafted together. One half is made up for the film, and the other half is just the comics version of Shaw.

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Ultimately, the comics version has it, simply because his ultimate goal has never been a global nuclear holocaust. After all, the comics version would know that killing billions of humans is bad for business.

Comic wins.

Item 5: The First Class

Movie: At the end of the movie, the ‘first class’ of X-Men stand revealed. Professor X, Banshee, Havok and Beast are the X-Men, heroes who narrowly averted nuclear war, but mainly by providing a distraction, so that the grown-ups could talk it out psychically.

Comics: Assembled by Professor X, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Iceman and Angel are the X-Men, the strangest teens of all!

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In their first outing, they managed to stop Magneto in his tracks, even though Professor X was nowhere near them at the time.

Verdict: Okay, despite the fact that the “First Class” X-Men team is a total sausage fest (Magneto’s brotherhood has a much sexier 50-50 gender split), would you really feel confident if this team of X-Men turned up to rescue you? The one who can’t control his powers, the one whose powers are “screaming really loud”, and the kid from About A Boy whose powers are “big feet”.

Excuse me if I keep the Fantastic Four on speed dial.

When you say “X-Men“, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman and Angel are near the top of the list. Banshee and Havok are way, way down it.

Ultimately, though, the deciding factor has to be how little they actually contributed to the final fight against Shaw. If Professor X and Magneto hadn’t been there, they’d probably all be as dead as Darwin. Those guys simply aren’t the X-Men. It’s less first class and more remedial class, I’m afraid.

Comic wins.

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Overall Score: Movies 2 – Comics 3

A surprise victory for the printed page over the silver screen, in an article written by a comic book critic and dedicated X-Men reader of almost twenty years. I was so shocked, I had the results independently verified, but no, it turns out that the comics are scientifically better than the movie. And that’s the kind of science that even Henry McCoy can’t dispute.

More X-Men news, images and articles are here.