WHAT SHOULD CHARLES DO?
Professor Xavier’s Role in a Summer Blockbuster
By Jerry W. Vandal
At the core of the Magneto and Charles Xavier debate over the role of the homo superior species was survival. Their story, and the original conflict between them occurred because Magneto felt that homo superior, that is mutants, were the next step in evolution and should not only take their spot at the top of the evolutionary ladder, but should make sure that humans understood their place. Charles Xavier however, believed that man and mutant could not only coexist, but should coexist. While each had their own vision in their own regards to the future of mutants, for both of them, it was about the survival of the mutant population. Magneto, through his time in the Warsaw Ghetto of German occupied Poland and later the concentration camp in Auschwitz, learned at a very early age just how awful and domineering man could be. It’s from his time as a prisoner in Auschwitz that he developed his disdain for the human race and came to understand that what man finds different, he will fear. From that fear he will either cower or try to subdue it . Magneto would not wait for humans to become aware of mutants and lock them up for no other then they feared them. He would not wait for mutants to be looked at as beings to be feared because of their destructive capabilities. He would fire the first shot (or in this case hijack several missiles). He had no qualms about using violence to get his point across because he knew that man was not only capable of destruction, but had committed it on massive scales themselves. He would rule over man by any means necessary before they ruled over him. To Magneto violence was a means by which to survive. Xavier however, did not see the world in the same light. To the contrary, he actually saw light and chose to believe that man was capable of overcoming their fears without resorting to violence or cowering. Charles believed mankind was capable of coexisting with mutantkind. The relationship just needed to be nurtured. Coexistence is, in an evolutionary sense a method by which a species can best interact with one another to ensure survival. That was the basis by which Xavier built his dream. Coexistence was mankind best means of survival. Coexistence was mankind best way to shape the world in a way that didn’t continue the cycle of bigotry and violence that has dominated so much of its history.
The Dream however, is not at the forefront of the X-Men’s mission statement any longer. In Schism, Marvel decided to change the conflict of coexistence versus domination to whether it was better to live preparing for war or to learn how to live. The irony that it ended up being Cyclops taking the more Magneto like path and Wolverine taking the role of Professor X shouldn’t escape longtime X-fans. But it shouldn’t surprise any of them either. Cyclops has been on this path for a while. It’s really a shame that the promos for Fear Itself depicting Cyclops in Magneto garb with the question “…Do you fear what you’ve become?” wasn’t explored. And with Magneto and Charles Xavier no longer serving in the prominent roles they once had in the mutant community, a void needed to be filled. Cyclops became the person other mutants looked to, and after the assault on Genosha in New X-Men that resulted in over half the mutant population being obliterated, House of M, and the disappearance of over 10 million mutant powers, (that is an inaccurate number as Marvel adjusted it a few times), he could no longer concentrate on coexistence, but instead had to consider how best to bring his people back from the brink of extinction. He lost the Boy Scout personality he had been known for and grown into not just a soldier, but a commander.
Charles had been Scott’s teacher and father figure from the time he was a teen until recently. He was often the man Scott turned to for guidance, and he was the one Xavier expected the most from. But Scott evolved into a different man. He’s no longer a boy pushing forward to lay the bricks around the framework of a dream. He’s a man who’s seen that the world isn’t very kind or very fair. He’s a man whose seen humanity turn a blind eye to his people’s problem. He’s become a man who realized that the ends do justify the means.
And that leads into Marvel Comics big summer blockbuster event, Avengers vs X-Men. Cyclops made a decision to ensure that the Phoenix, a cosmic entity known for leaving death and chaos in its wake came to earth. Cyclops believed that the Phoenix’s return could bring about salvation for his people, a race near extinction following three soft spoken words by Magneto’s daughter and Avenger Scarlet Witch, “No More Mutants,” in House of M. This led to the decimation of the mutant population leaving only 198 mutants on earth and no sign of any possible new mutants. Cyclops spearheaded an endeavor to not only save his people, but make them heroes worshiped instead of feared as he remade the world into what he intended when he founded an island off the coast of San Francisco—Utopia. With the power of the Phoenix split between himself, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor (collectively known as the Phoenix Five). What does Charles Xavier do when arguably his most favored student forces his will on the rest of the world?
Used sparingly, Professor Xavier still sits in the background of Avengers vs X-Men weighing his options. While the X-Men and Avengers pair off and fight and argue about what to do with Hope, the first new mutant following House of M and believed to be the key to pulling mutants out of extinction and then what to do about the Phoenix Five, Charles seems to understand that this will come down to him and Cyclops. And from Magneto’s worried facade at the end of issue 10, and the thought, “We need your help old friend”, all indications are that there will be a face to face between Cyclops and Xavier. But there has been little done in regard to his struggle with this decision. He has been disappointed and worried and he’s repeatedly stated he will do what must be done, but can he believably simply shut off Cyclops mind. It wouldn’t be the first time Xavier reached into someone’s mind and shut them off because they had become too dangerous—just ask Magneto after he ripped the adamantium from Wolverine’s bones in the Fatal Attractions X-Over. Scott Summers though was not only part of his first class, but also the field leader in the fight to make Xavier’s dream a reality. He has made it known that he does not agree with Scott’s course but he had yet to show any real tribulation about what he might have to do. As a matter of fact, nothing had really been shown in the first 9 issues worth of the main series or corresponding tie-ins about how Charles had been affected by what he may have to do in light of Scott’s decisions.
New Avengers #29 finally got to that as the Illuminati, Marvel’s secret group of heroes who gather to determine the best course of action in the direst circumstances. The original group was composed of Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Namor, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange and Professor Xavier. Following the Infinity gems fiasco (see Avengers issues 7-12 from 2011) Captain America joined the group and sits with Tony Stark waiting for the others, though mainly Namor. While there are some interesting reactions (Reed Richards agreeing with Cyclops’ course of action on a scientific level), Professor X finally let out a lot of what we had not seen in the series—his anger at what he knows he’s going to have to do. And Professor X wastes little time in pointing out that Tony Stark believes that Cyclops’ decisions are in part his fault and after some pleading from he and Captain America that that’s not what they were thinking, he mouths off;
“I’m prepared to end this, you know. I’m prepared to stop Scott no matter what the cost. But he’s my son. I-I-I- keep waiting for him to snap out of it. To remember what I’ve taught him! Instead I get a room full of you—you all with all your demons blaming me.”
I have to say finally. I’m an X-fan. When the entire A vs X thing was announced, I didn’t care why they were fighting, I had to stand with the X-Men. Like many X-Men I stood with them out of blind loyalty. And being an X-fan I had to wonder where Professor X was in all of this. An entire story based around one of his students forcing his will on the world (for better or for worse) and the Phoenix and he was relegated to a few pages with little emotional. Perhaps it’s depression. But up until this scene in New Avengers, I’m not sure I really felt that struggle of him fearing what he has to do. However, there’s a problem.
In Avengers #29, Captain America’s team of Avengers, after advice from Wolverine on how to take out one of the X-Men’s best weapons the telepath Rachael Gray, lure her out into the open under the coercion of Wolverine. She enters battle with the Avenges, but then finds that it was Professor X manipulating her mind long enough for him to take her out of the fight. The two enter into a heated debate as they mentally slug one another.
Rachael questions his loyalty to which Xavier replies, “I’m on the side I have always been on. I’m on humanity’s side. I’m on the side of what’s best for the mutant race.” She retorts, casting his statement aside and calling him a traitor. Professor X then overwhelms her and then shuts down the mind of everyone present including Captain America and Wolverine. “I can’t raise my hands to my students. I can’t fight this fight. I can’t be part of this. I was wrong to come here. They are grown men and women. They have made their choices. I don’t have the taste for madness and blood the rest of you do. Captain America wake up. I want you to hear this. Please do not call me again. I had a dream and it’s all but dead.”
Xavier’s reservations about facing his student is not a problem. His guilt and unwillingness is understandable even if we do not agree with him. That’s not the problem. That he makes this quick turn is. In one issue he says vehemently he will do what it takes, and then in the other, with absolutely no build in that story he decides he won’t go through with it. Perhaps since I read New Avengers and Avengers in succession I was simply a bit jarred by Xavier stating emphatically he would do what needed to be done to telling Captain America not to contact him again all in the span of twenty minutes reading time. Perhaps, because Xavier had no role in New Avengers at all until Rachael figured out she was set-up; his words didn’t sit well with me. However, maybe being called a traitor after everything Xavier has done for mutantkind and the world in the middle of a war could send Charles into that unwilling nature we all struggle to avoid. But as a reader, it was such a sharp turn. I remember reading Civil War and there’s a scene during the climax of the war when Captain America surrenders. I remember reading on a few forums how out of character that was for Steve Rodgers. But there’s a panel drawn so horrifically beautiful by Steve McNiven, and it was such a great call on the ever so tardy Mark Millar’s part to include. It’s a shot of New York City in flames following Captain America putting a very big beating on Ironman. It’s this scene that said to me that he didn’t surrender because he didn’t feel they could win. He did it because he realized that even if his side won, they had lost. And that’s what Xavier needed here. He needed that 1 panel that pulls back from the fight so that we see what’s in front of Xavier. I think the right shot in that moment would have made everything leading up to that scene in the rest of the series click.
When the X-Men cartoon played on Fox in the 90’s it introduced schools of kids to Professor Charles Xavier and his X-Men. That Professor Xavier was very black and white which worked because the cartoon was meant to be black and white. There were good guys and bad guys. There was patience and tolerance versus violence and superiority. That was how I saw him for a very long time. This however is not a black and white issue. There are consequences. And for the sake of what is turning out to be a very great summer crossover, a decision has to be made. And it can’t be made through some editorial edict, or by some writer behind a keyboard or even going old school with a pad and pen. It has to be made by Professor Charles Xavier. Someone has to stop thinking about pushing the plot forward, read some old X-Men stories and find his voice in all of this. He can’t be both for stopping Scott and doing nothing, not in the way it’s presented. He can struggle with that decision, but that’s not what I’ve felt from him. Throughout the core book Xavier has made it clear he does not agree with Cyclops and that he would do what he had too to stop him. But in a single issue, perhaps in an effort to show that he is struggling with this decision, he became a different character then what is presented in the rest of the crossover. Charles Xavier for a very long time was regarded as the most powerful mutant mind on the planet. So of course he should be struggling with his decisions. Power corrupts. Fighting against that corruption takes its toll. But, if his character is to be served in this story it needed to be played up throughout, not in a few pages as we head into the last few issues of Avengers versus X-Men. A handful of characters truly understand how devastating the Phoenix can be. For many like Captain America and Ironman, the Phoenix is a nuclear bomb—they know it can cause destruction, but they’ve never been at the center of that blast and had to look at the devastation that followed. Charles Xavier has.
And perhaps that’s why this is one of my few disappointments of the series. Professor Xavier has had a few scenes throughout (more than Alex Summers…you’d think he’d have an opinion on what his brother is doing). And while the problem with crossovers like this is the sheer number of characters to utilize, he’s an important piece who has been underutilized. I imagine he has to play a big role in the ending, especially considering Magneto’s thought to Xavier. But how much better would not just these 2 issues of Avengers be, but the series be if we saw more of Xavier’s struggle with what Cyclops, his first student become. What if this wasn’t just about two groups of people fighting over how to handle a major source of power like the Phoenix, but also a father who has watched his son lose his way. Because, while this story was marketed as the return of Phoenix and Hope was played up to be the biggest piece on the board—in the universe it takes place in, this story is about Cyclops, once the mutant who stood at the forefront on the battlefield to make Xavier’s dream a reality. Now a man determined to take his people off of the endangered species list and give them a world where they can not only be free but without hunger, thirst or want. But he’s doing so by gambling that a cosmic entity known for destruction can prove to also be what it symbolizes—rebirth. And now Charles has to decide what course of action to take against the man he hoped could carry on his dream of coexistence. Does he allow Scott to have his way and maybe even make his dream a reality as so many people are willing to except the world as Scott makes it? Or does he confront him and risk having to do harm to the student he raised as a son?