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rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks FAQ: 1/8
Section - WHAT ARE THE X-BOOKS?

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--- Philosophical Meanderings and Inspirations

The basic concept of the X-Men titles is the mutant. From the first 
issue of X-Men, in 1963, the creators of the X-Titles have used the idea 
of the mutant as an analogy to the civil rights movement. The thing that 
made the idea so compelling in the comic book field, however, was that 
the Marvel world's concept of the mutant had no single real-life 
counterpart, and no limit of real-life analogs. Thus, while there are no 
superhuman mutants being persecuted in our society, any reader can 
identify with the feelings of persecution and alienation (no matter how 
well-deserved :-). The plight of the Marvel Universe mutants can 
therefore be compared to the black civil rights movement, the womens' 
movement, religious persecution, gay rights, and so on.

There's a book that may have inspired the X-men: "Children of the Atom" 
by Wilmar Shiras.  Wilmar H. Shiras was born in Boston (1908) and raised 
there, but she did not start writing until she moved to California. 
"CotA" originally was a series of stories published in 1948-1950, 
starting with the November 1948 issue of "Astounding Science Fiction." 
In the installments, a teacher gathers a group of intellectually 
advanced kids who otherwise would be outcasts. Here we see the roots of 
a teacher or mentor dealing with kids who are, essentially, mutants. The 
chapters were collected in a paperback under the title "Children of the 
Atom" (Avon Publications, New York, NY, 1953). Tilman Stieve provided 
a ton of background information on the text, which I've summarized:

The children's mutation was caused by an accident in a nuclear plant in 
1958 (the Helium City facility was there to make "a new type of bomb") 
in which all workers were fatally irradiated, dying within 2 years. The 
main part of the story is apparently set in 1972. In the first chapter, 
"In Hiding," we meet Peter Welles, a psychiatrist/psychologist for the 
city schools of Oakley, California. Peter meets the first of these 
super-intelligent mutants, 13-year-old Timothy Paul, after he is 
consulted by Timothy's teacher, Miss Emily Page, who a long time earlier 
was Peter Welles's teacher. 

In the second chapter, "Opening Doors", Peter and Timothy begin to look 
for other mutants (orphans of other workers at the plant). Among the 
first to reply to their cryptic ad "Orphans, b c 59, i q three star 
plus" is one Jay Worthington(!!!). Elsie Lambeth is found in an asylum 
run by Dr. Mark Foxwell. Peter Welles begins to organize a school for 
these super-intelligent "Wonder Children." Miss Page becomes their 
teacher, and Dr. Foxwell helps. The third chapter, "New Foundations," 
continues the organization and recruitment. Students Jay Worthington and 
Stella Oates appear for the first time. In the fourth chapter, 
"Problems," more and more children are gathered at the school and the 
teaching begins in earnest. 

In the fifth chapter, "Children of the Atom", the school stuff 
continues, but then Tommy Mundy, a TV preacher, begins to rant against 
the "inhuman monsters" and the mortal danger the Children of the Atom 
supposedly pose to mankind "hidden under the disguise of a school for 
gifted children." (This is pretty close to Xavier's "gifted youngsters," 
and Mundy is a character not unlike the villain in "God Loves, Man 
Kills.") An angry mob shows up at the gates, but it can be pacified, 
partly because some of the kids, such as Timothy Paul, are known by the 
locals and regarded as non-threatening. Tim Paul then says he wants to 
return to grade school and has this rather interesting bit (considering 
some of the problems the X-teams would go on to have) to say about the 
sudden fears of ordinary citizens: 

     None of this would have happened if we had not cut ourselves off 
     from the world and from almost everybody in it. As long as we lived 
     like other kids, nobody hated us, nobody feared us, nobody was 
     against us. Some of you said, and the magazines and things said, 
     that I saved us from real trouble by talking to the crowd. But it 
     wasn't what I said or what I did, it was that somebody knew me. 
     Some of them knew Miss Page and some knew Dr. Welles. But if you 
     strangers to town, and the other strangers who will come, shut 
     yourselves up here and live inside this fence, nobody will know 
     you.

And so, in the end, they decide to rejoin the human race.

The "nobody hated us, nobody feared us" line above sounds a lot like 
the X-Men concept of defending "a world that hates and fears them." Even 
if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby weren't inspired by the book, the "Children 
of the Atom" tagline has been used by multiple X-Men writers to refer to 
mutants.


--- What is a mutant? (+)

The main focus of the X-titles is a specific type of character called a 
mutant. Forget most of your basic biology when hearing the term "mutant" 
applied to a Marvel comic, because the writers usually do. For Marvel 
purposes, a mutant is a being who possesses a genetic structure not 
present in his parents. While it's useless as a scientific definition 
(otherwise, any "non-mutant" child would exactly resemble her parents, 
like clones), it's mainly used as a tag for a specific group of 
superhumans.

Really, the definition is a bit looser than that, since accurate biology 
is usually not the top priority for the writers. For instance, Siryn, is 
called a mutant, despite the fact that her powers are the same as those 
of her father, Banshee. Some say that Siryn *is* a mutant, in that she 
can talk and scream at the same time (it makes perfect sense if you know 
the characters), but the main difficulty is bad writing, not bad genes. 
The easier way to categorize mutants is to see whether have an active 
"X-Factor", and that's really the main point of the whole definition. 
You will see references stating that "a mutant has to have a different 
power than his parents" in mutant comics, though, so it's mentioned here 
just to get you acquainted with it.

So, what are mutants, exactly? They are superhuman because they were 
born that way. They didn't need any gamma bomb blowing up, or spider 
biting them, or magical formula recited. They're superhuman because 
that's what they were born to be. They are mutants because of their X-
Factor. And what is an X-Factor? Read below, true believer!

The reason there are mutants on Earth comes from Marvel cosmology. 
Large, alien gods, called Celestials (who some say are but the 
incarnations of the dreams of Eternity), visit all planets that will 
bear life, early in each planet's existance. They perform genetic 
tinkering with the early lifeforms that will, if everything works out 
right, leave the species with three distinct superhuman bloodlines: 
Eternals (who never suffer random mutations), Deviants (who always 
suffer mutations in each generation), and normal folks. In the "normal" 
lifeforms, the Celestials left a genetic trigger. Some normals would 
gain powers after exposure to odd "triggering" events (like the 
Fantastic Four, the Hulk, or Spider-Man). Others could self-trigger when 
exposed in the womb to sufficient background radiation. When it's self-
triggered, that genetic trigger is called the X-Factor.

Now the X-Factor only makes a mutant when it's self-triggered. Something
happens to it when it does so that it becomes different than the same 
gene that allowed the Fantastic Four to gain their powers; mutants show 
up on mutant detectors (which look for the unique signature of the X-
Factor), while Spider-Man doesn't. Mutants also give off unique brain 
patterns due to the X-Factor that enable telepaths who know what to look 
for (like Professor X) to detect mutants far more easily than normal 
humans or non-mutant superheroes. Devices that nullify mutant powers by 
negating the X-Factor are useless against non-mutants as well. On the 
other hand, Ship (an old base of Apocalypse) had a force field around it 
that would only open if it detected the X-Factor inside a visitor. So, 
yes, mutants are different than the "normal" superhumans in a Marvel 
comic. Aside from that, there's no real appreciable difference or 
superiority for mutant superpowers over non-mutant ones.  Prejudices, 
however, still count most mutants as menaces and most non-mutant 
superheroes as friendly (J. Jonah Jameson's views on Spider-Man 
notwithstanding).

So, to sum up: A mutant in the X-Universe is anyone whose powers derive 
from the mutant genetic X-Factor introduced into the human race by the 
First Celestial Host during prehistory. Got it? Good!


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