The psychic, wheelchair-bound progenitor of the X-Men has been around for sixty-odd years, but all most people know about him is that he’s that bald guy who gets really proud while superheroes go out and fight for his belief in human-mutant equality. He’s something of a saint (which is fitting if you know where his name comes from)… but, well, not entirely.
Every saint has a temptation or two. And the character we see in X-Men: Apocalypse will be somewhere between his callow, somewhat arrogant young man (portrayed in the last few films by James McAvoy) and the benign Everybody’s Mutant Granddad that Patrick Stewart was born to play. Now’s as good a time as any to catch up.
Here are 11 Things You Need to Know About Professor X.
11. Nobody knows how to pronounce his name
In the first X-Men movie, he introduces himself as “Professor Charles Eks-avier,” but that’s rarely how real people with the name “Xavier” pronounce it. His middle name is Francis, like the Catholic Saint Frances Xavier, who pronounced it zāvēər. Rhymes with “wavier,” like the hair he doesn’t have.
Stan Lee rarely picked exotic names like this, preferring alliterative names like the early X-Men “Scott Summers” and “Warren Worthington.” But he was a bit of a punster and may have meant Xavier to sound like “savior,” since, after all, Professor X was hoping to be one. After all, Jean Grey’s name is a soundalike for gene and gray (matter). And speaking of Jean…
10. He may be Earth’s most powerful mind… at least when Jean Grey is still dead
Charles’ design is a sort of Faustian trade-off between disability and ability: he can’t wiggle his toes, but he can control your mind and wiggle yours. In that same first movie, a conservative senator rails against the mutant threat to “our God-given free will” while Charles just sits there, and the only reason the senator doesn’t end his speech with “…SO SAYS PRINCESS NITWIT! I’M A PRETTY PRINCESS! ARGH MUTANTS ARE IN MY HEAD I’M NOT CRAZY VOTE FOR ME IN NOVEMBER” is Charles’ restraint.
Well, his and Jean Grey’s. Of all Marvel’s many telepathic characters, Jean’s the only one whose brain might regularly completely outmuscle his, but only when the alien Phoenix Force is somehow in play, which feels like cheating.
9. He’s the “mutant Martin Luther King”
Lucky for us that Charles is usually a model of restraint. He was also physically modeled after actor Yul Brynner and, retroactively, philosophically modeled after Martin Luther King, Jr. The comparison is far from perfect: MLK advocated nonviolence, and CFX willingly supervises a training room where people learn to solve problems with razor-sharp claws and force-beam eyes.
But by the standard of superheroes, who will throw cars around just to test each other’s reflexes (“I had to make sure you were the real Spider-Man!”), Xavier’s self-restraint is a bit MLK-like. The X-Men could do much more to fight battles against prejudice, but Xavier knows that too great a show of force will lead to a backlash. And despite his wisdom, he admits he has no grand plan, or as King would put it, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
8. He’s best-known as a benevolent father figure…
One of the things that set the X-Men apart in its early days was a different age dynamic: Professor X was a much older man than the teenaged X-Men, his students. As time went on, that age gap became less meaningful, but the Professor would always be the kindly old man who took most of the X-Men in and gave them purpose when their powers had filled them full of fear and confusion.
The long view that Xavier applies to social progress also applies to helping young mutants. Even older ones like Wolverine, who was certainly no spring chicken when he joined, respond to Xavier’s moral authority.
7. …but he’s always had a bit of an ego…
On the other hand, Xavier did basically name the X-Men after himself. Oh, he spouted a little nonsense about naming it after the “extra” gene that makes you a mutant, but The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe basically admits he just looked at Mr. Fantastic and the Fantastic Four and said “If him, why not me?”
The movie X-Men: First Class does a pretty good job of showing how the youthful Charles could get ahead of himself. As a young man, and even sometimes as an older man, he has tried to promote himself into a combat leadership role that – with or without the use of his legs – he really wasn’t suited for.
6. …and often he’s been a real dick, or even evil
The comics eventually ran a story that suggested Charles was, let’s say, not perfect. That he’d done a very bad thing on the path to creating the X-Men. Then the comics ran, like, nine more stories like that, and you can only tarnish silver so much before it loses its shine completely.
Among Xavier’s dodgy choices: enslaving a sentient AI as the VR training environment for his students, very briefly mind-forcing his girlfriend to halt in her tracks as she was leaving him, wiping an early, failed batch of X-Men from memory and hobbling a dangerous psychic mutant. Also, repressing his own dark urges led him to create the psychic villain Onslaught, so really, the X-Men should be grateful when he’s being merely questionable.
5. He’s bounced in and out of that wheelchair a lot
Despite being the highest-profile handicapped hero ever (sorry, Daredevil and Oracle) and perhaps an inspiration to others in wheelchairs, Professor X has gained and lost the use of his legs several times in his long history, thanks to cloned bodies or magical MacGuffins… the reasons don’t really matter.
Even the film X-Men: Days of Future Past let him walk due to some inexplicable pills that blocked his powers, too, which makes more metaphorical sense than medical sense (how do you even test medicine like that?). At one point, Xavier was using a high-tech “hoverchair” that looked so comfortable and convenient, even fully ambulatory people might be a little envious.
4. His greatest enemies are his best friend, his stepbrother and a literal evil twin
Most people know that Xavier has a long-standing frenemyship (franimosity?) with Magneto, but from the X-Men’s earliest days, he’s been sometimes bedeviled by the indestructible Juggernaut, a.k.a. his stepbrother, Cain Marko (yep, that name was Stan Lee’s idea, too).
Both villains have helmets that block Charles from switching off their brains whenever they get within fifty feet, but Cassandra Nova, a twin sister thought stillborn, had powers much like his and needed no such protections. Cassandra only took a few stabs at Xavier before she was seemingly put down for good, but by using her powers to switch bodies with him, she did hella damage to his life and reputation.
3. He was married… twice
The X-Men’s adventures aren’t confined to policing fellow mutants and dealing with human-on-mutant violence: they’ve also sent a surprising amount of action in space. The Shi’ar Empress Lilandra allied with Xavier for political purposes, and the two of them got closer from there until he was taking long trips as her “consort.” Unfortunately, nothing ruins an interstellar marriage faster than getting possessed by your evil twin sister, who then mind-controls your spouse and drives her mad.
More recently, the X-Men discovered a secret marriage between Xavier and sometimes-villain mutant shapeshifter Mystique (a.k.a. Raven Darkholme). The good news and bad news for the Prof is that he didn’t have to explain that one, because they learned about it in his last will and testament. Wait, what?
2. He’s dead
In the movies, it’s not clear how Xavier bounced back from being disintegrated in X-Men: The Last Stand, but thanks to time travel, he and others who seemed to die onscreen are back in the pink. In the comics, though, under the Phoenix Force’s influence and channeling its full power, Cyclops, the oldest serving X-Man, killed his mentor.
Of course, the stars of superhero comic books rarely stay dead, and Xavier’s been “dead” before, but Marvel doesn’t seem in a huge hurry to bring him back. Even before he died, X-Men like Cyclops and Wolverine had been trying to take over his mentoring role for new generations of mutants, leaving Xavier largely superfluous.
1. The Red Skull stole his brain
Another obstacle to any of the usual comic book resurrections is the weird twist that Xavier’s body isn’t in one piece these days. The Red Skull, the absolute last person you would want to do this (and that includes any and all political candidates, real and fictional), harvested Xavier’s brain and, er, somehow gained his mental powers.
He then founded a team of super-villains called the S-Men to eliminate all mutants, promote anti-mutant hysteria, and just generally become the Bizarro version of Professor X and the X-Men, only not the funny kind of Bizarros. (Okay, the Red Skull holding up Professor X’s brain and going “Hahaha, got your lobes!” is a little funny.)
There are plenty more details we could get into, but these eleven facts cover what we feel are the basics. If you have anything to add, of course, feel free to do it below.