It’s fair to say that every X-Men fan has noticed that Charles Xavier–Professor X as he’s sometimes known–is a little creepy. Maybe it’s his bald and reflective pate, or it’s his arched and immaculately coiffed eyebrows, or maybe it’s something else. But what is this “something else,” this odd and hard to define quality that makes Charles such a difficult character to understand?
It could be that he seems to constantly shift in his allegiances. One minute he’s good, the next he’s bad, but unlike Marvel Comics‘ other shifty characters like Gambit, Deadpool and Mystique, it’s always his goodness that makes him bad. For Professor X, the moral highroad takes him to dire places. Take, for example, one of the biggest crossover events from the 90s: Onslaught. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s basically about how Charles believed the world would be a better place if he and Erik Lensherr–otherwise known as Magneto–psychically purged themselves of all their bad juju towards the human race. Unfortunately, energy never disappears, not even psychic energy in this case, and all the deep seated enmities within the two rivals became more than bad vibes: they coalesced into an armored monster that took the whole superhero cast at Marvel to eventually destroy. Since the Onslaught event, readers have been wary of what may lurk behind Charles’ humanist views.
When Stan Lee began the X-Men series back in 1963, Professor X was a more wholesome character. Just about every superhero group of the time had a father figure: for the Bat-Family (Batwoman, Robin, Batgirl) it was Batman, for the Fantastic Four it was Mr. Fantastic, and for the X-Men it was Charles Xavier. They even shared his name, or the first letter as his surname, as their team name (it’s also punning on the X chromosome–Stan was a master of wordgames). So what turned this caring father into the deadbeat dad he is today?
For one thing, Cyclops has daddy issues, or a case of the oedipal complex as Freud would call it. For decades’ worth of comics he butted heads with Charles about how the team should be run, until he symbolically killed his father to run the team himself. Now the X-Men family has a different father and mother: Cyclops and Emma Frost. It’s weird to think of Emma as the team’s matriarch, but keep in mind she’s the one who teaches every young recruit, and is frequently the one the students turn to when they have relationship problems.
I realized recently that Charles’ role as surrogate father as well as the Onslaught debacle are not the things that creep me out the most about him. What bothers me about him now is that the man is a propagandist.
While researching the art of propaganda for my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories, I came across a phrase I was unfamiliar with. Love bombing. I read on. Apparently, love bombing is a technique used by cults to indoctrinate new members. What they do is, they keep their eyes peeled for anyone who has recently been ejected from a group and is vulnerable. This includes people reeling from breakups, college dropouts, and people who have been kicked out of their own familes. Sound familiar? It should. Just about every member of the X-Men joined the group after being forced out of another. What the love bomber then does is showers that person with attention, and make them feel welcome in the new group, without giving them the chance to transition at their own speed. The formula is just about always the same: a teenager manifests their mutant power, freaks out their parents and the community, and right when they start to get ostracized, Professor X comes swooping in, and before they know it, they’re dorming at the Xavier Academy. I’m pretty sure Lady Gaga uses the same technique to bring misfits into her own cult of celebrity.
The irony behind the X-Men is that Charles’ biggest rival Magneto uses the exact same techniques! There’s a twist though. While Charles drafts mutants into the X-Men as soon as they are pushed away by their loved ones, Magneto simply picks up mutants when they are pushed away by Charles. I guess the only difference in their methods is that Charles uses Cerebro, a device for detecting mutants anywhere on Earth, while Magneto uses Charles.
I guess this whole relationship between Charles and his students would be less creepy if the mutants joined of their own volition, but that almost never happens, and when it does, it’s usually a ruse (see: Bizarre Love Triangle). Now I can’t help but feel bad for the mutant population, even the ones who eventually side with Magneto. Sooner or later, it seems, everyone who switches sides comes crawling back, as what happened in recent X-Men books when Magneto joined the team. You have to wonder now, if Magneto is an X-Man, where will the runaways go? Bad as he was, Magneto it turns out played a pretty significant role in the Marvel Universe. As most parents’ know: there’s nothing worse than an unsupervised teen.
–Speaking of Professor X being creepy, this picture doesn’t help.
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What is your opinion of Professor X?