Professor X and Magneto: The two reactions to Mutant Discrimination in X-Men comics and the MCU
Marvel's X-Men and mutants have often been put in the spotlight for highlighting the issue of discrimination in the superhero world. As the years have gone by, a question has been raised regarding mutants versus the superhero community of the Marvel universe. That question is "Why are mutants discriminated against, yet other heroes seem exempt?"
The answer is complicated, involving years of Marvel comics history, adaptations, and the primary duo at the heart of the debate: Professor X and Magneto. While some of the points making it clear are common knowledge, like how the Avengers work with the US government and S.H.I.E.L.D., other answers are challenging and require detailed understanding.
Disclaimer: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel comics, cartoons, MCU films, and other material relating to the X-Men and broader Marvel universe. All opinions are strictly tied to the author.
Disclaimer: Content warnings apply to discrimination, fascism mentions, racism, and other topics.
The question of Mutants vs. Superheroes in Marvel's X-Men franchise: explored and explained
Marvel's X-Men franchise has shown that discrimination is alive and well, even when people have superhuman abilities. This isn't unique to the X-Men series. Luke Cage's series dealt with racism, while Jessica Jones' deals with s*xism and homophobia, and other Marvel series have dealt with other bigotries likewise.
This specific debate centers around the pervasiveness of the bigotry against mutants specifically. Why are mutants specifically targeted when other superheroes get a pass? In X-Men, two primary figures are at the heart of the debate: Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, and Charles Xavier, aka Professor X.
While these two powerful mutants are on the side of mutant-kind, their approaches and philosophies differ greatly. Professor X wishes for mutants and humans to cooperate while targeting systemic discrimination.
As a Holocaust survivor, Magneto aims to prevent state-sponsored genocide. Therefore, he opts for more violent and destructive methods to get his point across. His point is that there's no reasoning behind bigotry, but he has taken it to extremes for a long time by judging all of humanity as irredeemable.
Answer 1: Paranoia
The paranoia that springs up from simply not knowing who or what people are is a Cold War fear based around McCarthyism. The idea that a neighbor, best friend, or spouse isn't who they say they are and maybe plotting against another has been a common scare tactic since the days of the Red Scare. At the time, the fear of communist infiltration reached a horrifying fever pitch.
This type of fearmongering usually contains Anti-Semitic undertones. The idea that "shadowy cabals" control the world is common among conspiracy theorists and altogether garbage. This type of fearmongering was spouted in X-Men comics when they originated in 1963, feeding into the idea of eroding civil liberties via the Mutant Registration Act and others.
Superheroes in the Marvel universe don't typically have that paranoia targeted at them because they're bright, colorful, and easy to recognize. Professor X and the X-Men find themselves working alongside the Avengers, SHIELD, and others to dissuade this paranoia by showing the mutants aren't a threat or otherworldly menace to society.
This doesn't mean that the X-Men were pacifists. There's a world of difference, however, between freeing people from the Mutant Response Division and fighting against HYDRA and others like William Stryker or turncoats like the "Freedom Force" versus trying to eradicate humanity like Magneto and his Brotherhood have attempted multiple times.
Answer 2: Eugenics
The ideas supporting eugenics have their roots in pseudo-scientific concepts from the early 20th century and even earlier periods. Outdated science like the study of skull size and shape to measure intellect, the ideas of forced sterilization, and "the great replacement theory" are all examples in American history.
The idea that "the majority" is going to be "replaced" by "the minority" has been in X-Men comics and cartoons before. Scientists will state that they have a "cure" for mutation while kidnapping and illegally experimenting on people, as seen in Logan or Days of Future Past. They then go on to weaponize it like in X-Men United or try to eliminate mutations any way they can with reckless abandon.
It's a chilling reminder of Nazism, but likewise, American authoritarianism, like forced sterilizations and experimentation on disabled people and others in history. Magneto stands fully against the very idea of organizations like HYDRA or the neo-Nazi Church of Humanity. Professor X and the X-Men have often clashed with these organizations, sometimes with Magneto's help.
Despite his well-intentioned stance, Magneto has done things like attempt to forcibly mutate humanity in the original X-Men movie, sacrificing Rogue in his attempt, and not caring if it kills millions. For all the good rhetorical points Magneto had, he was convinced of mutant-kind's genetic superiority over humanity for well over 30 years and stopped at nothing for mutant domination.
Answer 3: Institutional power, and aspirations
Humanity in X-Men, and Marvel in general, have plenty of double standards regarding superheroes. A big one, however, that some don't seem to think of is the idea of institutions, power, aspirations, and exceptionalism that apply to the Avengers and other superhero teams like The Fantastic Four.
Superheroes are seen as role models that humanity can aspire to. The likes of Captain America, Iron Man, and others are meant to show the best of humanity. While there are instances of humanity turning on heroes, it never lasts forever, and there are usually many people who push back against that backlash.
As far as power and institutions go, a lot of the superhero teams like the Avengers or Fantastic Four all work with various governments. The Fantastic Four are based out of the Baxter Building, The Avengers out of Avengers Tower, and so on. They can be found easily. They work with institutions of law and order and are generally given a lot of trust.
Mutants have none of that, as the government has turned on them much faster than average superheroes. There have been efforts to prevent mutants from holding office or even being in positions of power. For example, a neo-Nazi group named The Church of Humanity once conspired to make Nightcrawler into the Pope in order to start a mass genocide.
X-Men stories involve plenty of dark futures, most of them involving either mutant-kind being wiped out due to humanity's bigotry run amok, tyrants like Onslaught and Apocalypse ruling the Earth, or total annihilation of all life via Dark Phoenix. Others included the Decimation, where over 900,000 mutants lost their powers and many of their lives thanks to the Scarlet Witch.
The comic Days of Futures Past and its film adaption, the Logan film, and animated series like Wolverine and the X-men show what happens when bigotry goes apocalyptic. Giant robots, deadly diseases, and more are all highlighted in these stories and usually stem from the worst bigots wanting to end mutants at any cost they see fit.
Days of Futures Past showcased the inevitable end result of bigotry: the death of most of humanity and most of the superhuman populace, giant robots taking over and subjugating the rest of humanity. Logan showed when eugenics was allowed, with people being kidnapped, forced to give birth, and discarded just as fast.
These apocalyptic suggestions led to Asteroid M, Genosha, and later Krakoa as alternatives, entire separate nations where mutants could live freely. There were even truces and deals sought from various senators like Robert Kelly that either fell through due to them being assassinated or were exploited for one side to eliminate the other outright, as Magneto tried in Wolverine and the X-Men.
The exceptions to the rule
There are a few characters that have gotten the public's ire in Marvel: Bruce Banner's Hulk, the Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff, and Peter Parker's Spider-Man. In the MCU and comic timelines, all three had scorn and hate directed at them to varying degrees.
Peter Parker had the FBI after him and was accused of murder multiple times. J. Jonah Jameson didn't help matters with his long-running crusade against Spider-Man. Scarlet Witch has been at the center of a lot of public outcry, including House of M, where mutants were eradicated, and Captain America: Civil War, when she was labeled a threat due to failing to contain Crossbones' suicide bomb.
Bruce Banner, as the Hulk, has a massive record of destruction. Various militaries and governments have tried to create deadly weapons, such as The Abomination, to destroy him. However, when Hulk is with the Avengers, the pressure is dialed back, given they can help rein him in, but that fear never goes away.
While these characters, especially the Hulk, have all had the public's rage for some reason, they're the exceptions to the overall rule. While The Hulk is always considered suspect at best, Spider-Man and Scarlet Witch have people in the Avengers or X-Men to turn to in times of need.
Mutant discrimination in the Marvel Universe and X-Men is based on the fear of the Other, shown off in multiple areas across Marvel's vast array of media. Like all forms of bigotry, it is based on nothing more than irrational fears, entitlement, and other baseless premises that take root despite people knowing better.
As the world continues to move into the 2020s, the X-Men continue to be relevant in showing the depths to which bigots will sink. As Magneto and Professor X are on the same side, after years of fighting, the lesson one can take from that is this: banding together as a united front to combat bigotry is far better than infighting.