In much the way that Peter David’s writing elevated an already Incredible Hulk or Frank Miller’s gritty vision of The Man Without Fear propelled Daredevil to towering new heights, Chris Claremont took the X-Men IP that Stan Lee created in the ‘60s and embodied its socially conscious messaging throughout the latter ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. His stewardship over such multi-issue story arcs as The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past have lead to monumentous watershed moments within the pantheon of X-Men fandom. Of these arcs, perhaps the most hard-hitting and socially relevant tale told by Claremont remains God Loves, Man Kills.
More casual X-Man fans may note that God Loves, Man Kills served as the loose inspiration for the film X2: X-Men United, the best X-Men feature film in my rather arrogant opinion (rivaled only by X-Men: Days of Future Past and Logan). William Stryker, the ruthless military colonel that gave Wolverine his adamantium in the films, was first introduced in the aforementioned Man Kills comic.
As with many comic book film adaptations produced in the early aughts (rather, comic book adaptations produced in any period), a fair amount of liberties were taken. Stryker, for instance, was less an active military colonel in that early ‘80s run of X-Men but rather a suit-and-tie televangelist with wide spread influence (comic book readers of the time might think Jim Bakker or Jerry Falwell while contemporary readers may draw corollaries to Joel Osteen or various Fox News pundits). The filmmakers behind X2 perhaps felt they had enough on their plate with regard to the LGBTQ subtext of the film. Delving into religious criticism may have seemed a bridge too far for a major motion picture of that time.
However, like his cinematic counterpart, comic book Stryker seeks the eradication of all mutant kind, namely the X-Men, and with the aid of his network influence, as well as a group of fundamentalist mercenaries dubbed The Purifiers, Stryker is able to sway public opinion toward meeting his fanatical ends.
In Marvel’s latest release of God Loves, Man Kills, we open with a framing story (new to this most recent publication) wherein an older Kitty Pryde introduces herself to a teen of today, intent to convey said story. A younger Pryde, living up to her name as she engages in fistfights with people taken in by Stryker’s anti-mutant rhetoric, returns to Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to watch the eponymous professor take on Stryker’s propaganda in a televised debate. Regrettably, Xavier is given limited screen time to speak and, expressing his concerns to Storm backstage, Cyclops states, “Charles was speaking to people’s ideals, Stryker to their fears.”
As Xavier, Storm and Cyclops leave the New York City studio, their car is ambushed (made to look like an accident) and they are kidnapped. Meanwhile, back on the grounds of the mansion, Kitty Pryde and Colossus’s sister Illyana have a rough run-in with the Purifiers. Can Colossus, Nightcrawler and the ever-enraged Wolverine team up with an unlikely ally, their arch-nemesis Magneto, to find their friends and stop the greater threat of mutant genocide?
In terms of social relevance, God Loves, Man Kills has as much to say now as back when it was written almost 40 years ago. Writer Claremont and original illustrator Brent Anderson (Astro City) both return for this latest publication. While pessimists may see the book’s re-release as a cash-in on the heels of the modern BLM movement, it’s worth noting that the reworking of this perennial classic was in the pipeline since last year, with news of its announcement dating back to mid-January.
Whilst X2 takes much from the comic book page (such as the team’s uneasy alliance with Magneto), much of the story and characters hit harder within the context of Claremont’s prose, such as Stryker, who’s characterized far more akin to Robert Mitchum’s homicidal preacher in Night of the Hunter Robert than any screen version of the character (all due respect to Stryker actor and original Hannibal, Brian Cox).
Hiding his hate behind a Bible, it’s no wonder IGN ranked Stryker in at number 70 in their list of greatest comic book villains of all time. God Love, Man Kills similarly stands as one of the greatest comic book chapters within the long history of X-Men publication.