Charles Xavier is the founder of the X-Men, but is he really a hero at all? That's one of the most ominous questions asked ahead of Dark Phoenix, which suggests that Jean's descent into madness is ultimately a consequence of Xavier's own meddling with her mind.
According to the trailer for Dark Phoenix, an early manifestation of Jean Grey's powers caused the car crash that killed her parents. When Jean came to Xavier, she was scarred and broken. Sensing her nascent power, Xavier decided that he had to keep her stable. The trailer is unclear as to just what lengths Xavier went to in order to achieve that goal. At the least, he used his own telepathy to repress her pain and grief. At the worst, he adjusted Jean's memories... denying her the knowledge that she was responsible for the accident.
Magneto is clearly unimpressed when he learns what Xavier has done, declaring in the trailer's final moments that "you're always sorry, Charles. And there's always a speech. And nobody cares." This seems an opportune time to ask: in light of his mistakes and excesses, should Charles Xavier be viewed as a hero? Or will Dark Phoenix's portrayal of Xavier finally make him as complicated as his comic book counterpart.
- This Page: Xavier's Dream Is Noble - But Is Xavier?
- Page 2: Charles Xavier's Ego & Power Trips
- Page 3: Xavier's Darkest Mutant Secret
Xavier's Dream Is Noble - But That Doesn't Mean Xavier Himself Is
There's a certain resistance among comic book readers to the idea that Xavier is flawed, largely because of the purity of Xavier's Dream, the cause around which the X-Men have gathered. Charles Xavier is a prophet who points the way to a Promised Land of tolerance and equality, where man and mutant live side-by-side in peace. That dream is a powerful one, in large part because it's a symbol of the real-world battle for equality.
While that's often been a very clear subtext - most notably in Chris Claremont's classic X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel - at times Marvel has made it explicit. In Uncanny X-Men #294, Xavier held a sort of peace concert, and delivered a powerful speech to an unreceptive crowd.
"This concert is about embracing our uniqueness -- the color of a man's skin, the choice of whom we love, the right for your neighbor to pursue his individual religious observance... No amount of words -- of derision, distrust, or disinformation -- can change the truth that each one of us - man, woman, black, Hispanic, Jew, Native American, homosexual, mutant, everyone - underneath all the "words" we are related. We are family."
That statement is probably the most explicit declaration of Xavier's Dream that the comics have ever presented. It explains just why Charles Xavier is so important; because he stands for something greater than himself. The greatest superheroes are symbols of concepts and ideologies; Spider-Man stands for power and responsibility, Captain America for the nobility of the nation America can be, the Fantastic Four for family. Xavier is often compared to Martin Luther King, a dreamer who cast a vision of equality.
Oddly enough, the comics themselves seem to have forgotten this. Writer Grant Morrison abandoned the idea that mutants and humans were the same race, instead having even the heroes treat them as evolutionary competitors, and the comics have never really managed to get back on their feet since. That pattern has bled through into the movies too. In X-Men: First Class, it's the young Charles Xavier who first suggests that humans and mutants will go to war. "To Homo Neanderthalensis," he wrote in his dissertation, "his mutant cousin, Homo Sapiens, was an aberration. Peaceful cohabitation, if it ever existed, was short-lived. Records show, without exception, that the arrival of the mutated human species in any region was followed by the immediate extinction of their less-evolved kin."
It's a far cry from Xavier's Dream, and Xavier's thesis even became part of Trask's case for his Sentinel program in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The films have never quite understood whether or not the X-Men are fighting for equality, or simply trying to avert mutual extinction. It's probably because Charles Xavier the Dreamer feels too simple and pure a character. But that's a mistake; it's true that the Xavier of the original X-Men comics had dedicated himself to a noble cause, but he is not the personification of that cause.
The best comic book writers have always carefully shone a critical lens upon him, suggesting that he is a flawed and fallible human being. And it looks as though Dark Phoenix will seek to do the same.
Page 2 of 3: Charles Xavier's Famous Ego & Power Trips
- X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) release date: Jun 07, 2019