A few years ago I first started to notice this notion that “the X-Men and the rest of the Marvel universe shouldn’t exist in the same world.” Since that time, I see it repeated often enough to see that the notion has gotten some traction. Not everyone is on board with this idea, obviously, but it gets repeated as if it is a great truism that will eventually sink in to most people that care about such things.
The logic goes something like this: everybody loves the Avengers, and everybody hates the X-Men, but why would people be okay with super heroes that get their powers from alien artifacts or science experiments or accidents but not with people that are born with their powers. In other words, if people love any super heroes, they must love all super heroes, and if they hate any super heroes, they must hate any super heroes.
There is a certain tempting simplicity in that logic, but once you get past a surface analysis of how the Marvel universe works, it actually falls apart pretty quickly.
Everybody Loves the Avengers (and Non-Mutant Heroes)
Most of the public does love Captain America. He’s a World War II veteran that volunteered for a dangerous experiment and helped defeat the Nazis. Everybody knows who he is. He has no secret identity, and almost every other hero respects him.
Most of the public loves Tony Stark. He’s a handsome rich guy that designed a suit of power armor to make himself into a super hero. He’s outspoken, gives to charity, and is brilliant.
Most of the public agrees that Hawkeye is definitely an Avenger and hangs out with guys like Captain America and Iron Man, so he must be an okay guy.
But Hulk? Does everybody love Hulk? No, not really. Most of the world is terrified of Hulk. Hulk is a walking weapon of mass destruction. When he’s on the Avengers people tolerate him because they assume that people like Captain America and Iron Man are keeping in close in case he goes off the deep end and attempting to harness him for the greater good.
Spider-Man? Does everybody love Spider-Man? Spidey is probably one of the most polarizing heroes in 616 New York. Some people love him, some people hate him. He’s on the Avengers and he’s hung out with the Fantastic Four, but he’s a masked vigilante, and clearly J. Jonah Jamison has had issues with him in the past, and surely that sways a few New Yorkers, right?
What about the Fantastic Four? Reed’s a genius, he’s an okay guy. Johnny’s a gorgeous hunk of man and the picture of what a super hero should be, on top of living the life of a celebrity. Sue is beautiful and powerful and the heart of the team. But Ben? Sure, people aren’t as afraid of Ben as they are of the Hulk. He’s never destroyed Las Vegas or led an alien invasion. But there have been several times when it’s been clear that he’s not as widely accepted as the rest of the team. He’s scary looking and big and strong enough to accidentally do a lot of harm if you don’t trust that he wouldn’t hurt a soul that didn’t provoke him first.
Everybody Hates the X-Men (and Mutant Super Heroes)
Part of the problem with the X-Men has been that they intentionally had a lower profile than other super hero groups. For the longest time, people heard “of” them, but they didn’t do press conferences like the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. Part of that was intentional, to protect the younger members that really were just students being trained to use their powers.
But there is also a lot of evidence to show that, much like in the real world, while there is bigotry, there are also a lot of open minded people. Professor X has been portrayed as a respected scholar for a long time, even after he was “outed” as a mutant. Dazzler is a mutant that had a career as a singer and a celebrity. While they had trouble at first, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch actually gained a lot of acceptance as Avengers even though they were mutants.
While it was clear that there were many who succumbed to anti-mutant prejudice in the USA and other countries, it was also clear that the outright mutant slavery that was being practiced in Genosha when the country was first introduced to the Marvel universe was very widely condemned by other nations.
Long Odds and Reality
The final piece to this puzzle lies in actually getting into the mindset of someone that lives in the Marvel universe. Remember that a lot of mutants have powers that are more nuisance that boon. Remember that a lot of mutants are scary looking. Remember that mutants have been described as being the next step in human development.
Odds are, if you are a nice, normal person in the Marvel universe, you are never going to volunteer for a super soldier program. You are never going to stand at ground zero of a gamma bomb going off. You aren’t going to be bitten by a radioactive spider while touring a lab. The odds are in your favor that you won’t have some kind of accident or experiment grant you super powers.
But how do you know that your child won’t grow scales or wings or fur or claws or fangs? How do you know they won’t suddenly be able to read your thoughts? How do you know that they won’t set things on fire when they get upset? They don’t have to have had some kind of accident. It’s hidden in their DNA. You might do everything right, and never put yourself in the path of toxic sludge or cosmic radiation, and still have a mutant child.
So if someone tells you that they can detect the X gene, you would want to know, right? If they tell you that they could “cure” the X gene by shutting it off, that would be a good thing, right? I mean, it sounds bad, but maybe if the government could identify who was a carrier for the X gene, you could make sure they wouldn’t accidentally marry a “normal” person, and suddenly you don’t have to worry about having a child that might sneeze and destroy your car, right?
Super heroes that got their powers by accident or experimentation are fine. You know you never have to worry about it, and they clearly have a handle on their powers, so it’s okay to trust Captain America or Captain Marvel, because they are who they are, and you will never be in their position. But if there is anything you could do to make sure your kid didn’t end up like one of those Morlocks, wouldn’t it be tempting?
I actually think that an X-Men universe that doesn’t have non-mutant super heroes is missing a lot of the texture of what makes the X-Men compelling. At least part of the frustration of the X-Men is going to be realizing that people will give someone like Reed or Johnny or Sue the benefit of the doubt, but as soon as someone knows you are a mutant, there is automatic suspicion.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Marvel universe was built to work more like the real world, and in the real world, people don’t have simple reactions to similar phenomenon. The texture and context of their experiences will color how they react, and in the end, it’s how I like my Marvel universe.