On Malcolm, Martin and that X-Men Analogy Thing

88 thoughts on “On Malcolm, Martin and that X-Men Analogy Thing”

  1. The Comics Journal interview with Jack Kirby:

    “[Gary] GROTH: How did you come up with the Black Panther?

    KIRBY: I came up with the Black Panther because I realized I had no blacks in my strip. I’d never drawn a black. I needed a black. I suddenly discovered that I had a lot of black readers. My first friend was a black! And here I was ignoring them because I was associating with everybody else. It suddenly dawned on me — believe me, it was for human reasons — I suddenly discovered nobody was doing blacks. And here I am a leading cartoonist and I wasn’t doing a black. I was the first one to do an Asian. Then I began to realize that there was a whole range of human differences. Remember, in my day, drawing an Asian was drawing Fu Manchu — that’s the only Asian they knew. The Asians were wily…” From The Comics Journal #134 (February 1990) [http://www.tcj.com/jack-kirby-interview/6/]

    1. Good find. And I’ve heard this from Kirby before. Kind of goes to my point tho… my curiosity about *what else* might have been an influence? Kirby arrives at the novel idea that he needs “a black” in the middle of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, not to mention the anti-colonial movements sweeping Africa. Too much convergence there to rule out external influences!

  2. Right on my man! It’s inspiring to see such passion and intelligent pieces of literature being written with such rectitude!

    I love X-man, and being a young Blackman this really does tickle some thought process and invokes a hint of curiosity. Yet the way you write, i don’t even want to look into it, i just feel like you must be right in what you write.

    This was was an excellent piece! Something i think every literary spelunker should trek upon just once.

    Keep it up!

  3. Reblogged this on Exploits of my mind and commented:
    Most of my blogs will cover my fantasy and Sci-fi writing. Yet it’s very important for a writer to also read. They need to scout out competition, healthy of course, and they need to keep themselves educated and creative. Reminding themselves of other talent out there. I once used that excuse on video games, claiming that video games inspired me, so much more so than reading. Was i ever wrong there. If you want to write and you use this video game excuse, give it up. You need to read. I’m not saying shun gaming, i still play video games, but i now put more time aside for reading. If i get the urge to game, i read no less than 10 pages of a novel, if i still want to game i will pick it up for an hour and then read again. Most of the time i don’t put it down after 10 pages though.

    So while i make sure to pick up a good book 2/3 times a month, depending on the books thickness. (My next book is ‘Dreamcatcher’- Stephen King.) I find it’s also important to see what others are doing in the literary community. A place where we can all share our opinions in a more, philosophical and liberal environment.

    I find myself coming across many good blogs, blogs i think many of us should see. So every so often i find it important, for myself, to reblog some powerful post. If i have any fans out there, maybe this will be a reflection of what i like to read. For those just stumbling through, maybe it will encourage you to read some of these other adroit writers next.

    ‘Time travel on facebook,’- Michelle at the green study. I didn’t reblog this, but it is a great piece. I enjoyed seeing how she reflected herself with facebook and what she gained from it’s unique ability to connect all over the world. I thought she did a very great job in constructing the piece and it kept my attention the whole way down.

    This piece here, caught my eye as well. ‘On Malcolm, Martin and that X-men Analogy Thing.”- The Disgruntled Haradrim. A longer piece of inspiring work that is articulated with such passion and driven with such sagacity that you can’t help but empathize.

    I hope you enjoy it as much as i have. Also, if any of you like Hozier- Take me to church. Check out Hozier- Jackie and Wilson. One of those catchy tunes i listened to last night while i was writing, and woke up this morning singing.


  4. 60s, 70s and 80s person here. I was in grade school when JFK and RFK were killed and probably the same for MLK. I remember the teacher telling us of the death of JFK in Dallas and we were in Texas at the time.

  5. Thanks everyone who has left a comment. When you’re freshly pressed the response is kind of overwhelming, so I probably won’t be able to reply to everyone–but thank you ALL for reading and liking the post! Lots of X-Men fans out there!

  6. Malcolm X is Magneto and Professor X is Dr. King! And mutants are black folk!”

    If you were black and grew up in the 80s and 90s reading or watching the X-Men, this line (in some variation) was your mantra. And for good reason. It made your love for the popular Marvel comic book something personal. Yeah most of the characters were white, but you got the symbolism–like African Orisas hiding behind Catholic Saints in those candles in the “ethnic” part of your grocery store. What’s more, it was the best selling point to family and friends on why you were so geeked about the X-Men. And it worked! You converted whole legions of black folk to your love of admantium claws and what-not because the black history tie-in was so obvious. So effortless. So seamless
    Great post! Very informative!

  7. This is a pretty cool analysis.

    Awhile back, a wordpress blogger did an issue by issue synopsis and review of the Silver age X-Men, and until then I never knew that the X-Men really hadn’t been big on social commentary and mutants weren’t part of some racial/cultural metaphor until much later. For the first era of their run, it was just your typical silver age superhero team, beloved by the by the public and with a slew of dull 1-dimensional villains (Magneto included). Sure, things changed a bit when it was relaunched with giant #1, but that was long after the darkest days of the 1960s civil rights struggle. Positioning X-Men as a Civil Rights metaphor was some clever revisionism on the part of Marvel’s creative team, and there are some great stories, great characters and worthwhile lessons in the subsequent eras of X-Men, but damn if the trope of Magneto as Malcolm X and Prof X hasn’t colored our view on race and the civil rights struggle strange ways.

    To me, though, the place where the X-Men race metaphor falls apart is that sure enough there aren’t black folks blowing stuff up with super powers; like, man, it’s not that your skin color is different, it’s that you’re 10 feet tall and shoot radio-active beams out of your face and that actually IS an existential threat to society.

    1. Thanks for the comments! And you bring up a *great* point about the probelmatics of using mutants as a metaphor for race–or any other marginalized group. Black people don’t have the ability to shoot destructive beams from our eyes or the ability to create iron skin. The notion that “normal” human might fear the powers of mutants is at least reasonable. Black people however have no such power; we’re just “normal” humans too. There have been similar questions about this approach in other speculative fiction works–namely how well the use of vampires work (or don’t work) as stand-ins for LGBTQ communities and issues in the book/television series True Blood. Thanks again for making that point.

  8. Great comparison and interesting read. By showing us this particular case study of X-Men, we could experience a journey which transformed one of the most popular comic series to be more human. I believe that the struggle between mutants and mine is actually the best thing about the whole thing. The last X-Men movie was a blast.

  9. Well written… Good read. Unfortunately perception is reality… Whether that reality is another man’s delusion or not… Ironically enough I never envisioned the two leaders as being compared to Malcolm and Martin… Perhaps that was do to my naïveté but the thought never crossed my mind…

  10. The comparison is interesting but the validity is rather superficial.

    But there are other comparisons that can be made in science fiction.

    What about the Narn and Centauri in Babylon 5? Could G’Kar be compared to Malcolm X with his “conversion” by going to Mecca.

    How about The Uplift War by David Brin being like The White Man’s burden? LOL

    Sorry, I’m to old for comic books.

    1. on you being “too old for comic books,” i can tell. LOL. the comparison on the X-Men is kind of already old hat. If you read the piece, you’ll see i point to filmmakers and figures associated with Marvel who attest to this. so fans aren’t suffering some mass delusion. only question is *when* the comparison began; that it’s long existed is about as common knowledge as water being wet.

      ironically, i remember G’Kar and Londo often being compared by fans to Prof X & Magneto. of course both B5 characters are set in a far flung future, not in our very contemporary society where issues of difference/othering are being so explicitly explored as with the X-Men. and (you’re about to get a “well actually”), most analysts of Brin’s Uplift trilogy readily point out he’s using the “white man’s burden” in his allegory of interactions between patron and less developed species. colonization in fact remains a key metaphor explored often in sci-fi–from Wells rather blatant critique of the New Imperialism of the late 19th c. with War of the Worlds (redone repeatedly in genre to play on our colonialist fears) to Silverberg’s Downward to Earth, which seems to draw a great deal on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. all of this is kind of the point of my post—that we often explore our own world through the lens of speculative fiction. what that lens tells us about ourselves (our perspectives, bias, assumptions) is what i find interesting.

      thanks for the comments!

  11. i was in search of an article to buttress my belive that emergence of malcolm x and the numerous members of nation of islam with X substitute for their unknow ancestral names inspired stan lee and jack kirby to create the superhero group with almost the same problems and opinions as malcolm x team members. X MEN was created at the zenith of MALCOLM X world wide popularity

  12. I’m in a History of the Civil Rights Movement class and I stumbled across this a while ago but never read it. I just finished it and e-mailed it to my professor. Thank you for the detailed and fascinating read. I know much more about comic books than Malcolm X (although I’m working on it), and I didn’t grow up black or in the 90’s, so I was only peripherally aware of the analogy. This was great.

  13. First, this was a great read.
    Secondly, I find it strange that someone get offended by the comparison. Really, Magneto himself was NOT an out and out villain. He was a man with power suffering from the tragedy of surviving the holocaust. You also have to keep in mind that even IF PX and Magneto were based on these two civil rights leaders, it doesn’t mean that they would remain stagnant in thoughts and personalities. X-Men is fiction and they aren’t out to create exact replicas of anyone.

    However, it was the basic philosophy alone that warrants comparison. That PX believed we could all live together while Magneto bought into the idea that his kind was the superior race. Equality vs a struggle for power. That’s where it begins and ends.

    But isn’t that enough. The idea that X-Men can spark conversation about prejudice and bigotry is a good thing. It also does it in a way that relates ANY and ALL who are treated poorly for being different.

  14. I came here because I’m was assigned to talk about the I have a dream speech and and it’s effectiveness, I had heard about the theory of what inspired x-men and went looking. I’m very grateful that you chose to write so well on the topic, this is what I was looking for. It appears you did what I’m hoping to do with my paper, look past the way MLK is portrayed and talk about how he is viewed at the time.

    I really love this quote:

    So in the end, of course Martin and Malcolm aren’t Professor X and Magneto. But heck, Martin and Malcolm in the popular memory of America aren’t themselves either. Nor are the Civil Rights or Black Power Movements that shaped so much of America.

    Somehow I will work at least part of that into my paper, citation already made and ready to go.

    Thank you so much for your insite, off i go to do some more research, because even though you seemed to look at it from all sides, i want to see if there is one you are missing.

  15. Great piece, as a young black kid growing up watching the X-men ive always had this connection with it on a deeper level then just any other morning carton. it was clear as day who the mutants represented in reality no matter what color the individual mutant had. conscious or subconscious by the creators the mesesge is clear. i mean if you think about it look at all the hate and crimes along with slavery and genocide that was committed against african americans ONLY because the color of our skin. i mean damn we may as well of had super powers that would possibly be a threat, for how we are treated by the public and especially the police. the color of our skin is enough to be labeled a threat and criminal. so yea with that said i feel you on this article my brotha aha no the X-men nor proffesor X or Magnetto are complete depictions of the civil rights movement or Malcolm and Martin but as you said may be a perfect depiction of how we may have been perceived by the public.. Mutants

  16. Thanks for a very informative article. I was wondering whether the X-Men were based somehow on classical archetypes (like the elements, as with the Fantastic Four) or on mythology, but I see how they can actually be political vehicles. Makes sense!

    1. Thanks for reading! Let me say this, don’t think I’ve gotten any definitive answers on the creation of the X-Men or the X-Universe! I think the Civil Rights Movement played some role (at least definitively with Claremont), but lots of other things like the classical archetypes you mention, as well as mythology, could have went into it as well. It can be more than one thing!

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