Pullbox Bookshelf – X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

This books likely older than many of our readers…

The Uncanny X-Men. Magneto, master of magnetism. The bitterest of enemies for years. But now they must join forces against a new adversary who threatens them all and the entire world besides in the name of God.

We’re taking another dive into the bookshelf this week, and I’m pulling out one of Marvel’s original graphic novels… their fifth as they were numbering them at the time. Not just bonus issues in an ongoing series, the graphic novel was a new concept at the time. Presented in a larger, high quality format, often featuring more mature themes, these were super popular at the time and had readers buzzing.

In the middle of some rearranging (you can’t see it, but right now my office is a mess!), I opened up some old long boxes and ran across this gem. In all honesty, I’d thought it was lost over the course of several moves, but there it was in all its glory. The cover’s got some dings, the corners are a little bent up, and all of that is okay seeing as the book had been read multiple times before I lost track of it. Like all things loved and appreciated, wear and tear is inevitable.

More than being a little bigger than normal comicbooks in publication, God Loves, Man Kills was ahead of its time in terms of subject matter. Originally meant to exist outside of the X-Men’s continuity, sort of an early Elseworlds concept for Marvel, it was a story that goes pretty dark by the standards of the early 1980’s. The themes that are explored are definitely on the mature side, delving into racism, torture, and the cold-blooded murder of children.

In my most recent reading, I wasn’t sure how the story was going to hold up. Many years have past, and as much as we may love the nostalgia of the old classics, we have to admit objectively that time doesn’t always treat them well. No worries on that point. God Loves, Man Kills is still a damn fine story, maybe a little heavy-handed in some areas, but still an unflinching look into the heart of bigotry.

The Reverend William Stryker believes himself to be on the side of the angels. By his understanding, man is created in God’s image and any deviation from that grand design is nothing less than Satan’s work. It’s with that self-righteous goal (because anyone believing themselves to be that in on the will and motivations of the Powers That Be is dangerously deluded) that he forms the Purifiers, a militant branch of his church that’s well funded through his connections, and completely off the books. We’re introduced to the Purifiers in the book’s opening pages as they’re going about Stryker’s work… hunting and killing a pair of dangerous mutants.

Two children, a brother and sister whose parents have already been murdered for their sins, and whose final moments are going to be spent in fear as they run for their lives. There’s your introduction to the kind of evil that’s involved in this story, and it’s every bit as brutal as it needs to be to get the reader involved. The X-Men aren’t going to show up at the last minute to save the day… that only happened in the run of the mill comics of the time, but not in this one. Instead, another figure shows up, albeit too late.

At the time, Magneto had absolutely no real gray area around him. He was the Bad Guy, plain and simple. His motivations may have had the touch of nobility about them, but his means and methods were unquestionably on the wrong side of the scale. Readers weren’t supposed to commiserate with him, as we hadn’t really gotten to where the lines of “good and evil” could be blurred in that way. I think that’s why the choice to portray Magneto without the ever-present helmet and looking… well, old… was a fantastic choice here, humanizing Erik Lehnsherr in a way that he’d rarely been before.

Of course, this is an X-Men book and we do get to meet up with our heroes in short order as they prepare for a round of training in the Danger Room. Everyone’s a little thrown, as the young Kitty Pryde has just experienced a touch of the kind of hatred we’re going to be dealing with, and they’ve just seen the reports of the two murdered children. In another step away from the norm, Kitty features a little more prominently in this story in what I think is another great twist as her normally optimistic outlook is shaken by the dark turn of events in progress.

Heavy thought provoking plotlines aside, it wouldn’t be an X-Men story without some prerequisite action and wanton property destruction. That’s all covered very well through the middle third or so of the book. Having been put on the trail of Rev. Stryker and his Purifiers, the team goes to work. Originally, Neal Adams was signed on to handle the artwork for God Loves, Man Kills, but he was replaced by Brent Anderson before the production was too far along. While I’m a big fan of Adams, there’s no doubt in my mind that Anderson was a great choice for this book. His characters are rough around the edges where they need to be, lines of age and experience plain for all to see, and the action has a fantastic dynamic edge to it.

It’s at this point that the X-Men come to realize that they aren’t the only ones on Stryker’s trail, and everyone’s suitably shocked at the coming turn of events. Teaming up with Magneto wasn’t something that happened very often, and Claremont handles the drama perfectly. No one’s particularly happy about the prospect, but at this point the greater evil has been identified and it’s going to be all hands on deck.

Also at this point, some of the younger Pullbox readers might be catching on to some familiar plot points. Yes, there are many aspects of God Loves, Man Kills that were tapped for the 2003 movie X2: X-Men United. Stryker was turned into the former head of the Weapon X Project, but still held the elimination of mutants as his ultimate goal. And of course there’s the twist of our heroes teaming up with their most dangerous enemy in the Master of Magnetism. Thankfully in the book, Nightcrawler (one of my personal favorites) was given a little more to do…

For my money, this remains the penultimate X-Men lineup. It’s when I was heavily involved in the series as a teenager (don’t bother trying to do the math… yes, I’m that old), and this grouping of X-Men is the one that stands out in my mind the most. For that matter, this story is a standout as well. It pushed the boundaries of what could be done in a comicbook at the time, and its themes have been deeply entrenched into the X-Men mythos ever since.

So there it is. The book has been put back into its poly-sheath and tucked safely away again until future readings. I kinda hope that this article has turned some of you on to a story you might not have been previously privy to, and that the dive into my personal collection was in some way informative.

I’m not going to presume to give this one a Final Score… at this point, my opinions should be fairly obvious. God Loves, Man Kills stands in my mind as one of the most important comics written, not only as an X-Men story but also as a commentary of what happens when the silent majority remains silent for too long.

Stay strong, True Believers…

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