Daddy Issues #2: Charles Xavier and His Special Institute For Training A Child Death Squad
To “celebrate” father’s day I’ve written a selection of essays on some of comics worst ever dads. From adoptive fathers to absent ones, from rich and fascist to poor and useless, I’ve got ’em all! So strap in, grab your daddy issues, a stiff drink, and get ready to realise that pretty much all of your beloved men in tights are not only terrible people but also terrible parents. Welcome to DADDY ISSUES – COMICS’ WORST FATHER FIGURES.
Good ol’ Charles Xavier. For many years, the absolute paragon of goodness and morality in the world of Marvel Comics and the 616 universe. But after the mid 90s and the Onslaught miniseries where he creepily stole all of Magneto’s memories and traumatised him even more, he has officially been Charles “I’m a complex man with a dark side” Xavier. Many creators have looked into Xavier’s complex and powerful mind, trying to work out what makes him tick. Yet few have looked at what is clearly Charles’ most fatal flaw: the need to train adolescents and turn them into child soldiers for a war that he almost single-handedly created by having a fight with his BFF, Erik Lehnsherr.
Now, sure, I’m being reductive. But let’s recap: X-Men was originally written as an (admittedly very basic) civil rights analogue, in one of comics’ many well meaning but badly executed ideas, with the series as one of the longest running and most beloved sagas in comics. Like many of you, the tales of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters were my inroad to comic book fandom. Many of the greatest creators and most important stories have come from these five-plus decades of legend. Yet what no one ever really talks about is how Xavier is a TERRIBLE person who can’t see mutants as anything but expendable tools in his never ending fight for assimilation!
Most of my life has been spent at the intersection of comics fan and daughter with a no-good dad, which has often given me a special kind of insight into all the terrible mistakes that comic book father figures continue to make. Now Xavier is a truly special kind of terrible comics dad, in that not only is he awful to his own child (David Haller a.k.a. Legion—you might know him from the hit FX show—is probably the most powerful mutant of all-time and son of a man whose power literally enables him to find any mutant on Earth, yet “didn’t know” about this son for most of his adult life) but also consistently brings new young people into his home, becoming their father figure and then almost certainly ruining everything for them, sometimes even falling in love with his charges. That’s both gross and illegal.
Let’s take a look at some of the X-Men roster we know and love, with an eye to how Xavier has destroyed their entire lives after taking them under his wing. Arguably, the person that’s been fucked over the most by trusting in Charles would be Jean Grey. She’s potentially the most powerful telepath on the planet (seemingly rivaled only by her surrogate father), the woman doomed to fall in love with the most boring mutant of all-time (*cough*Scott Summers*cough*) and a hero who’s died (more than once) under the guardianship of everyone’s favourite TERRIBLE (comic book) head teacher Professor Charles “Cueball” Xavier. In the seminal Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean kills herself after accidentally consuming a planet as the cosmic entity “The Phoenix” (comics are so wild), devastating funnybook fans and the X-Men alike. Sadly for Jean, she had tried to leave the X-Men before all of this Phoenix stuff began, only returning when Charles begged her to come back. Well done, Chuck.
Then there’s Colossus, a kind-hearted, gentle eighteen year old recruited from life on a docile Russian farm to join the American X-Men. Beloved by all and the generally lovely surrogate big brother of the X-Mansion, Piotr Rasputin is killed when, after his younger sister Illyana dies from the Legacy Virus, he decides to selflessly take the cure—which would kill him, but end the epidemic—to save all the other X-Men because, as is so often the case with people in Xavier’s care, someone has to die so that all the others can live.
We’ve also got Jubilation Lee, the super radical, ultra cool teenage mallrat mutant. After her parents are accidentally murdered by hitmen, she joins up with Xavier’s team of roving child soldiers only to be depowered on M-Day by the incomparably powerful Scarlet Witch (who I swear Xavier never reaches out to… what is it with his selective mutant choices?). Jubilee leaves the mansion cos, ya know, she isn’t a mutant anymore and Xavier’s Institute seemingly has fuck all structure around duty of care, and then she’s turned into a vampire by a biological terrorists’ vampire blood bomb. And if all of that wasn’t bad enough, there was the time when students Jubilee, Skin, Magma and Jesse Bedlam were all found crucified on the lawn of the X-Mansion. The insurance premiums at this school must be wild.
Then of course there is Scott, arguably more of a son to Xavier than, you know, his actual son David Haller. Scott Summers, “The First X-Man,” was Xavier’s prototype, the model student for all his future fuckeries. Perhaps that’s why Scott turned out almost equally as awful as the old baldy himself. Taking in Scott as a young orphan—after his real parents fake died and went to space—Xavier offered him a home, the beginnings of a fledgling family, and the promise of a better life. Instead he begins to use Scott—at the time still a teen—to hone his future school of Stockholm Syndrome. Setting himself up as a strange and unethical amalgamation of friend, colleague, father and teacher, Xavier establishes Scott as his number one enabler in chief. Constantly making him choose Charles over the other X-Men, Xavier never once stops for a moment to help Scott unpack the deep seated repression and insecurities around his powers which would harm many of his team mates over the years. Xavier’s ultimate betrayal of his surrogate son comes at the end of his own life, when, decades after Jean has been killed by the entity known as the Phoenix, Scott becomes possessed by it too. Like WTF Chuck? Didn’t bother to hunt it down and kill it during all your interim years jaunting around in space? Scott kills Xavier whilst in the Phoenix’ thrall… Adding numerous layers to Scott’s already expansive trauma. I guess psychological problems are easy for a telepath to miss.
It’s actually hard to cover all of Xavier’s terrible decisions in this one meagre article, but I am trying my best. So let’s return to poor old Jean Grey.
Obviously (because this is comics) Jean wasn’t dead after those Phoenix shenanigans. She was actually chilling in a cocoon. When she wakes up, she is totally cool running her own little team with Cyclops and all their oldest friends. But, oh no—Charles just has to reform the X-Men to fight his on-again off-again BFF, Magneto (it’s always been about Magneto for Chuck… always). This seems to be going okay for Jean for a few years (about ten, in real-time) until she was eventually doomed by one of Xavier’s biggest flaws: Charles is a shitty telepath. For someone who’s meant to be the most powerful mutant on Earth, he’s always, as with Cyclops, missing pretty important shit. For example, that time when Magneto manages to move into Xavier’s mansion by pretending to be a mutant named Xorn and threatens the lives of all of the students and teachers, which means that world’s (actual) greatest telepath—Jean—has to step up and take Magneto down, dying in the process. I mean come on, man; if you can’t even tell the difference between a fledgling high school teacher and your super old best frenemy, you’re doing something wrong.
So, yes: everyone’s favourite head teacher is just as awful as most of the people that he’s spent decades training children to punch. When you really get into it, that’s the dark heart of Xavier—a man who consistently recruits young children into his own personal army and creates a cult-like loyalty and willingness to die rarely seen outside of compounds from the 70s. A man who creates a seemingly safe space for children to grow and thrive in before he puts them into his war room, dresses them in uniforms, weaponizes their powers, and sends them out to fight those with whom he disagrees. How often the men we look up to reveal themselves as flawed! Sometimes catastrophically so. And I suppose in that way it’s right that Xavier, a man I spent many years wishing was my own father, turned out to be on closer inspection a complete and utter fucking wasteman. Art imitating life and all that.
Anyway—come back soon for more of me exposing my deep seated emotional trauma, and showcasing my comics continuity brain here at Daddy Issues!