X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

Next up:

1982 (Still one of the all-time great titles.)
Brent Anderson went on to do some fantastic work for Astro City, among other places. According to Neal Adams (scroll down at this site to see his original pages) this was originally plotted by Jim Shooter, but Shooter has no memory of this and Claremont denies it. Regardless, Anderson's artwork for God Loves, Man Kills is pitch-perfect: searing images and cinematic visual storytelling at its finest.

Continuity-wise, it takes place somewhere between X-Men #167 and #168, though the events of the story are not acknowledged or ever referenced again until 2003. The seeds were sown here, though, for Magneto's evolution from arch-villain to redeemed headmaster. As this was more or less my first introduction to the character, I had little difficulty adjusting to this version of the character though there are those that to this day still prefer him as a more traditional villain/ X-foil.

THE PLOT: A demagogue priest (William Stryker) has become the popular face of a growing anti-mutant agenda under guise of religious fundamentalism.

His operatives capture and stage the faked-deaths of Storm, Cyclops, and Professor X.
Can't fool Wolverine, of course. (I love this I've staged more'n a few such 'accidents' line. Details of Logan's past were teased for years. Eventually, he became more loaded with backstory than Kate from Lost, but it was great fun at the time.)
Stryker's endgame is to use Professor X's powers as a weapon to further his agenda, something he very nearly accomplishes by subjecting Xavier to "a truly inspired, utterly horrific unending virtual reality loop (where) demonized versions of the X-Men brutally attack and mutilate him." (description from here as are the quoted sections in the captions below.)

"There is so much going on in these panels."
"From the obvious comparisons to Christ on the cross to the utter depravity of the demonic X-Men."
"Not to mention Anderson's striking art work and the moody coloring job that only uses blood red and pitch black to intensify the horrors on display."

Elsewhere, Anderson utilizes a sepia-drenched style to tell Stryker's origin story. (A combat vet whose military service exposed him to deadly radiation, leading to his wife giving birth to a mutant. He kills both his wife and the baby and attempts to kill himself, but he survives. Recovering, he comes to believe God has chosen him to lead the crusade against the mutant infidel. Just another day at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters on Graymalkin Lane.)

Are you worthy, Charles? 

I can't stress enough how much of an impact the images above had on my young mind. This opening, as well:

Anderson's cinematic style (which was perhaps influenced by the type of visual storytelling Frank Miller had near-perfected on Daredevil) amplifies to great effect the emotional violence and anxiety of the plot and dialogue.

I must have read this graphic novel a hundred times in 1982 alone, to my brother's chagrin, as it belonged to him but was always in my possession. Oh the arguments we'd have about my endlessly appropriating all of his records, tapes, comics, et al. (This led to my mother writing our names on the covers of our comics in ink, to our mutual horror.) Reading it today, what jumps out at me is how Kitty-Pryde-centered it is. A lot of 80s X-Men was, of course; her evolution as a character anchors Claremont's decade of X-storytelling. (Technically, it's more than that, but I'm unofficially dating The Claremont Era as 1981 to 1991.) 

It reminds me a bit of when John Romita, Sr. took over the art on Spider-Man. He rose through the ranks of romance comics, and under his watch, Peter Parker slowly transformed from an awkward teenager into a more handsome adult. This was, according to Stan Lee, unintentional, but it brought a sense of realism and time passing to the character and the comic. The same could be said for Kitty Pryde's growth from scared teen with a crush on Colossus to the woman she'd become as Shadowcat.

Joss Whedon has spoken at length about the influence Claremont had on his own storytelling, and that influence is easily seen throughout God Loves, Man Kills. Whether it's the emphasis on a female protagonist learning to hone her powers and control her emotions, or a family of outsiders battling outside oppression: 

Here the X-Men gather to watch Professor Xavier debate Stryker on Nightline.
This family-building is perhaps made a bit too explicit at novel's end.
but it was certainly effective at the time. Great use of light and shadow, here, as well.

Or something like this:

It's easy to see how Claremont's X-verse became the Whedonverse in subsequent decades. (Fitting that Whedon is now the man in the chair for the Avengers; if only he'd take over the other franchises, too!)

Some other tidbits:

This reminded me of the end of The Dead Zone. I guess both are channeling The Manchurian Candidate, come to think of it.
Methinks the Purifiers have been reading too many comic books:

Probably should've checked the trunk first, fellas.
Additionally, presumably they hung the "Mutie" sign over the license plate to leave a message to those who would find the body. Why make it completely illegible by shooting it all to pieces, then?

Cops play a rather strong role in the proceedings. First with this unintentionally-mildly-humorous sequence:

Oh... Sorry, kid.
and then at the end of the Madison Square Garden sequence:

Amen, brother.
Speaking of Madison Square Garden, Magneto interrupts Stryker's speech by peeling back the ceiling and floating down through the arena, leading to this exchange:

It definitely makes the story better to show some of the authority figures (politicians, cops) are not mindlessly swept along mindlessly by Stryker's Old Testament-twinged invective, but it's a little funny the lengths Claremont goes to demonstrate this. "Don't be a fool, dammit! He's replaced the roof, good as new! Isn't Stryker the real monster?!"

A lot of God Loves, Man Kills was lifted for X2: X-Men United. The part of Stryker is played by Brian Cox:

who in the words of this enthusiastic reviewer "Brian Coxes the shit out of the role."
but many things were lost in translation. (For a list of alterations, check the wiki.)

I knew that a sequel was written as part of X-Treme X-Men about 10 years ago, but what I didn't realize until looking it up just now is that it was written by Claremont himself. This makes me marginally more curious to read it. If I do, I'll put it up here, but I might not. (The covers gallery is everything I hate about what happened to cover art. That's enough to keep me at arm's distance, I'm afraid.) I will cover at least some of Claremont's later X-efforts, though, when I get to X-Men Forever

Great stuff and well worth your time. I leave you with these words from Den of Geek's review of God Loves, Man Kills:

"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."


  1. This one seems like it'd be something I'd really enjoy. I definitely like the art, especially that one panel that's mostly white, but with Xavier putting out a big red mind-blast. Awesome.

    The comparison to Whedon is interesting. I'd like to read his "Astonishing X-Men" one of these days and see what it's like.

    "Wanna go for three?" Why hasn't this brief scene been in one of the movies?!?

    1. Oh yeah, that Whedon/ Claremont thing deserves a class at the college level. Taught by Whedon himself. Or one of his brothers. The parallels are fascinating. Buffy/ Angel is essentially 80s X-Men, (with a liberal dose of Dungeons and Dragons thrown in) but so is Firefly and Dollhouse. (So far, not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) I say this as a big fan of Whedon and not to suggest anyone's ripping anyone off or anything. If anything, Whedon took what Claremont was doing and kept the spirit and the general dynamics and set-up and jettisoned about half the extraneous dialogue. So in a way, he's the evolution of Claremont.

      His Astonishing X-Men is pitch perfect, awesome, and much beloved by yours truly. (And oh yeah we'll be covering it.)

      That Wolvie line is a classic. I assumed it was in one of the movies somewhere - maybe it'll be in the next one. Claremont talked about this in one of his interviews, how he should be pissed when he hears lines he wrote in someone else's script (without any kind of compensation or credit, naturally) but he actually enjoys it.

    2. He was right the first time; he SHOULD be pissed.

  2. I haven't read this in quite a long time so good job with the summary and screenies.

    I wasn't crazy about this GN for one reason only: Prof X is too easily made a slave of Stryker. Look, I get it. This story would not have worked if Claremont had kept Xavier's power level the same as it had always been since the character's first appearance. In fact, throughout much of Claremont's run Prof X was shown to be much weaker than he had been during the character's first decade and a half of life. But then he should have found another way to tell this story. If the only way to make it work was to power down Xavier then I have to call bullshit.

    The depowering of Prof X was pretty commonplace in the 80s comics and we see it in the X-Men movies as well. This is, of course, because if he's conscious and free to act the story is over in 3 seconds. So the writers have to come up with a reason to remove him from the board. I just wish they'd come up with a reason that didn't violate the character. Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, for all their faults, never had Prof X beaten by an obviously inferior foe.

    This was very near the time when Uncanny X-Men jumped the shark. I peg it as the moment Storm showed up at Wolverine's wedding with a mohawk (ish 174 I think). The book started to slide and, in my opinion, never recovered its former glory. This GN might have been the beginning of the end.

    1. I place the book's decline a bit down the road from there - I can hang with it until Fall of the Mutants or so.

      I totally agree about Prof X, though.