Stryfe, the X-Men villain, would like you to know a few things. The first is that Cable SUCKS. The second is that he spent much of the last few decades compiling ‘strike files’ on all the X-Men, so he’d know their weakest points and how to hit at them.
Now, while I don’t think Stryfe has ever used his knowledge of Wolfsbane to any particular effect, I did quite like that idea. So every week I’m going to be compiling my own ‘Stryfe Files’ on the various members of the X-Men. What they’re meant to be about, if they’re any good, and just general chat and blather about each and every one of them.
Here’s a file on Professor Xavier.
Professor Xavier first appeared in X-Men #1 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
The thing to note about Xavier – and the thing which everybody forgets to focus on while they’re focused on his constant deaths, slow shift into a monster, or ridiculous martyr routine in Avengers Vs X-Men – are his eyebrows. He has AMAZING eyebrows. They glide off the side of his face like wiry serpents. John Cassaday, in particular, drew them with the relish most artists save for Wolverine’s claws. Nobody defines Xavier by his eyebrows, but they ruddy well should.
But that aside, Xavier is an interesting character. He started off as this slightly electrified figure of authority, having a ball as he trained a group of young mutants to become his X-Men. He smoked a pipe, wore tweed, lusted after the only girl member of the group, and was a bizarre, aloof, involved figure. Yeah – he was simultaneously attentive to his students and disconnected from them all.
Which is one of the only parts of his character which really stuck over the years, as he went through all the expected character morphing that affects all long-term comic book characters apart from Iceman. Whilst at times he was a revolutionary, or a super-pacifist, or whatever else happened to him, one thing which stayed the same was the way he used people, and didn’t realise the extent to which he was abusive.
Most of his relationships – with characters like Lilandra, Amelia Voght, or Moira MacTaggert – came about because of reliance. He repeatedly makes himself appear to be totally vulnerable, but all the while is plotting and scheming his way through the charades. As time went on, this almost subtextual reading of the character started to make its way to text, especially as more cynical writers took hold of the character.
Deadly Genesis, for example, establishes him as a ruthless visionary, certain that he’s right to the extent that he emotionally forces Moira to send her students on a suicide mission. Despite having the power to read and manipulate minds, what’s been noticeable about the character over the decades is that he went from using his powers for his own dubious ends – such as erasing the minds of Beast’s parents – to skipping his powers entirely. He’s become more about manipulation than mind-control.
I don’t like him, essentially. I came to comics during the time when writers were dumping all kinds of sludge onto his personality, and the problem is that it all stuck far more than Marvel wanted it to. Having Joss Whedon and Ed Brubaker saddle the character with cruelty was one thing – but when it came time to wipe his slate clean, as has happened with countless other characters like Iron Man… it couldn’t be done.
Marvel put Mike Carey on the task, but Carey doesn’t write reversals. He builds on past continuity. During his run on X-Men Legacy, Carey was tasked with the idea of fixing the moral cruelty in the character – but Carey didn’t offer fixes. Instead we saw all the worst parts of Xavier, compacted into a short space of time. The things he did wrong with amended, and characters like Rogue and Danger were given satisfaction for the years of wrong Xavier did them.
At the same time, Carey didn’t change Xavier’s personality. He continued to use everybody around him, only now the rest of the X-Men had grown up enough to see through all his mind games. Cyclops repeatedly dismantles all Xavier’s manipulations during the time period of Messiah Complex onwards, meaning the character lost meaning and purpose. Nobody wanted to follow him anymore, because at least six stronger leaders had shown up in the meantime.
Which left Marvel with a botch-job required. Avengers Vs X-Men attempted to quickly position the character back into his most classic position – of the enlightened pacifist. But Xavier hasn’t been enlightened or a particular pacifist in years and years. The only moments he’d had of pacifism tended to come for the two issues following a horrifically monstrous act he caused. So when he died in AvX, at the hands of a possessed Cyclops… fans supported Cyclops.
Xavier was meant to be this figure of hope and spirit, but instead he faded out into nothing as Cyclops and Wolverine strode into his shoes. The characters he had most profoundly affected for the best – Nightcrawler, Storm, Kitty and so on – were killed off, thrown into obscurity, largely ignored. Magneto, his rival, joined the X-Men and found his tendencies managed to fit rather well into the more contemporary ethos of the team.
Which means Xavier is basically done. There’s no need for him to come back. Grant Morrison’s run was all about the continued importance of Xavier’s dream, but when Morrison’s vision of the X-Men was thrown into a fire, the new format left no place for Xavier.
But Xavier’s death has had one lasting impact, it seems – Legion has stepped into his place, in Si Spurrier’s X-Men Legacy, and proven to be a far more interesting take on the same character approach. Xavier will be back, although there’s no reason FOR him to come back. In the meantime, we’ve got Legion now, and he’s a far more entertaining prospect for the future.