What Should Be Done with the Mutant Menace? Part 5:

The Special Case of Professor X

…continued from yesterday.

In the previous four parts, we’ve seen how a very particular plot line structures the X-Men comics: the losing and regaining of control over one’s powers (and the comics are based on the assumption that powers must be controlled, by oneself or by others). Thus, the X-Men are curious superheroes in that, despite the fact they’ve been born with “ex-tra powers,” they must relentlessly police themselves, in order to function like non-superpowered people. Opening my eyes doesn’t cause anyone any harm (at least as far as I know), but Cyclops, having been born a mutant, requires extensive training, and special prosthetic devices, in order to do the same — and even still, he remains a threat to others in a way I can never be.

Given this scenario, it’s unsurprising that the X-books have been written about extensively by those working in the field of disability studies. (Indeed, I adapted this series of articles from a term paper that I wrote for a disability studies course.) As we’ve seen throughout, Professor X was lying — or at least not telling the whole truth — when he stated that mutants were humans born with “ex-tra powers.”

In this final part, I want to look more closely at the Good Professor. Being a mutant with telepathic powers, he, like the other characters, has occasionally lost control over his telepathic powers and had to work to remaster them. At other times, he’s lost those powers altogether.

However, in addition to that, Professor X has also been subjected to various plot lines in which he has regained and lost the use of his legs. And it is my contention that, in his case, this alternating narrative is presented as an inversion of the standard X-Men narrative of self-mastery through training. On those occasions when Professor X is able to walk, he joins the other characters in training, improving both his psychic and physical prowess. The rest of the time, when he is unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair, he tends to recede to the book’s background, relegated to the role of training others, some of whom then serve as proxy figures.

When Stan Lee first created Professor X, he had in mind a particular archetype [1]:

“I always liked Yul Brynner, so I pictured Professor X looking like him. Again, he would be the leader, and — just to make him interesting — I thought he should be in a wheel-chair so physically he was pretty helpless but mentally he was one of the strongest men on earth.” (Cangialosi 170)

This archetype (and this investment in paraplegia as helplessness) ruled the character for a long time. Professor X remained a background figure, organizing and coordinating the X-Men mentally. His appearance was that of an elderly man.

(It should be noted that Professor X’s inability to walk was unrelated to his mutant telepathic powers. As he relates in X-Men #20, it was during a battle in the Himalayas that the alien known as Lucifer dropped a stone block on Xavier.)

Professor Xavier remained in his wheelchair for many years. Interestingly, although he initially employed the X-Men as extensions of his own body — telepathically coordinating them in the field, and even guiding the plane they flew on their first mission to battle Magneto — this aspect of the book was soon diminished, then largely dropped. As the X-Men achieved self-mastery, Xavier was given less a role to play in their adventures — and we’ve already seen how Cyclops replaced him as the team’s leader. The early comics put much emphasis on Professor X’s (never explained) need to stay out of public view, a sentiment epitomized in issue #7, on the occasion of the X-Men’s graduation.

(I have to wonder whether Prof. X’s reclusiveness was due to some shyness over his being confined to a wheelchair. I’m reminded, for instance, of how President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s own paralysis was largely concealed from the public.)

Later that issue, the other X-Men find Cyclops (the appointed group leader) sitting at the Professor’s desk in his study (7), having effectively assumed the leadership role. [2]

Professor X played a sporadic role in the comic from that point forward. He even fakes his death in issue #42, entirely disappearing from the comic until his return in X-Men #65. Eventually, though, he assembles a new team of young students, “the New Mutants,” members of the first X-Book to be spun off (in 1983). (New Mutants #1 opens similarly to X-Men #1, with Professor X summoning his students to a training session.) [3]

Eventually, Xavier’s body was possessed by an alien being and effectively destroyed. In order to save him, his mind was transferred to a new clone body (Uncanny X-Men #167). Xavier thereby regained the use of his legs:

(Note Xavier’s comment, “For the first time in over fifteen years, I’m a whole man.”)

At this point, Xavier appears to be in his 30s or 40s [4].

However, despite Xavier’s declaration that he is finally, after “over fifteen years […] a whole man,” the very next panel sees him collapse, unable to stand or walk. As he then explains:

“Ever since my legs were crushed, I’ve used my psi-powers to block the pain, else it would have consumed me. Even after they healed, more or less, the nerves were badly traumatized. The slightest pressure — even the attempt to stand — meant unbearable agony. Now, though there is no physical pain, a psychosomatic response evidently exists — as crippling as the original. I can walk, but my mind won’t let me.” (22)

Unsurprisingly, Xavier is eventually able to overcome this pain by means of (what else?) physical training. Uncanny X-Men #180 opens with him now fully recovered and playing basketball — although Storm is quick to caution him against the danger of overexerting himself and losing the peak condition he has now attained. As can easily be seen, his body has become much more muscular.

And yet there is room for still greater potential. The next wrinkle in the plot occurs while Xavier is serving as a visiting professor at Columbia University: he is beaten by mutant-hating students, suffering severe injuries (Uncanny X-Men #192). Despite that, he awakens in the following issue even more muscular than before.

… and this is despite the fact that, over the following eight issues, it’s revealed that he’s slowly dying as a result of the beating. Ultimately, at the end of Uncanny X-Men #200, he’s taken into space to be cured by the same technologically advanced aliens who earlier provided his clone body.

Professor X then disappears from the comic for some time. (Uncanny X-Men #201 reveals that the aliens’ spaceship is stranded far from Earth.) His next appearance is not until Uncanny X-Men #275, when the X-Men go into space themselves and reunite with the man. By this point, his body has grown even more tremendously muscular — as generically Herculean as most of the other characters.

Professor X wastes no time in adopting stock superhero poses, similar to those often struck by more violent characters like Wolverine.

He also leads the other X-Men into battle, this time against his old foe the Shadow King (Uncanny X-Men #277–280). At the end of that battle, in the final pages of issue #280, the Shadow King shatters Xavier’s spine, leaving him once again unable to walk (although he was temporarily granted the power to walk again, in Uncanny X-Men #297, after being cured of a virus he’d been infected with) [5].

Xavier next regained the ability to walk in New X-Men #126 (July 2002). While possessed by his evil twin, Cassandra Nova, Xavier is healed by the mutant Xorn, who restores the use of his legs.

However, Xorn later undoes this (New X-Men #146, November 2003); it turns out that Xorn was secretly the villain Magneto, who used nanites to fuse Xavier’s spine together. Xorn later reveals his true self and removes those nanites.

Later, the Scarlet Witch removes Xavier’s powers when she casts a magic spell that eliminates 98% of all mutant powers on Earth [6]. Those mutants eventually regain those powers, rendering Professor Xavier able to walk once again (X-Men: Deadly Genesis #5, May 2006). This fact is presented rather quickly, almost to the point of self-parody:

Cyclops: “Professor…? You’re — you’re walking again?”

Prof. X: “Yes. When the world was remade, it appears that my body was —”

Vulcan: “Hey! Enough of the tear-filled reunion!”

A few pages later, Xavier reveals that he still lacks his telepathic powers.

Still Xavier’s ordeal is not yet over. He later regains his mutant telepathy in Uncanny X-Men #486 (July 2007), as a result of being briefly imprisoned in the magical M’Kraan Crystal. This remains the status quo until his death earlier this year, in Avengers vs. X-Men #11 (November 2012). [7]

To summarize, then:

  1. Professor Xavier is born able to walk;
  2. Then he can’t walk, after his battle with Lucifer (X-Men #20);
  3. Then he can walk, after his mind is transferred to a clone body — (Uncanny X-Men #167);
  4. — but he can do so only with great pain (through Uncanny X-Men #179);
  5. Then he no longer feels any pain (following Uncanny X-Men #180);
  6. Then he can’t walk after his spine is shattered (Uncanny X-Men #280);
  7. Then he can walk for one issue, after being cured of a techno-organic virus (Uncanny X-Men #297);
  8. Then he can walk, due to a mutant healer (New X-Men #126);
  9. Then he can’t walk, when that healer reveals himself as a villain (New X-Men #146);
  10. Then he can walk again, but loses his telepathic powers (X-Men: Deadly Genesis #5);
  11. Then he regains his telepathy thanks to the M’Kraan Crystal (Uncanny X-Men #486);
  12. Then he dies (Avengers vs. X-Men #11).

Presumably, however, Professor X will eventually come back, either able or unable to walk — and, regardless of which it is, doubtlessly the alternate state won’t be far behind.

What’s fascinating about this ongoing narrative is how it mirrors Iceman’s, but in a negative state. Professor X’s paraplegia is always pure disability, preventing him from achieving his highest potential. Only when he is (temporarily) cured of that condition is he able to join his students on the path of self-mastery / military training.

Of course, given the endless nature of the comic, there is still plenty of time for the book’s creators to explore different aspects of Prof. X’s character. It’s reasonable to assume that, given the book’s ongoing serial nature, each character will eventually be subjected to every one of the various narrative devices outlined here. Perhaps future installments will challenge the book’s historically rather limited view of paraplegia — as incompleteness, and as incompatible with physical mastery. Perhaps Xavier will realize, the next time he finds himself in a wheelchair (as he surely will), that he can still play basketball.

Thank you for reading this examination of some of the basic narrative forms operating at the heart of the X-Men comics. I look forward to hearing any comments that you have.


[1] Several of the initial X-Men are, similarly, walking contradictions: Cyclops is a blind leader, Iceman is a hothead, and Beast is a hyper-intelligent and -articulate brute.

[2] This of course provides Cyclops with a new angst-inducing task to master. When the other X-Men invite him to join him on their outing to a Greenwich Village coffee shop, he replies: “I’d like nothing better than to be with you — but I must remain here, to look after things! The Professor would want it this way! I — hope you all have — a good time!” After they leave he thinks, “They’re gone! And here I sit — alone! Now, for the first time, I can realize how it must have been for the Professor, all those long months — always alone…” (7).

[3] This training takes place in the Xavier’s mansion’s “Danger Room,” a holodeck-like facility that appears regularly in the pages of both New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men.

[4] Curiously, even when cloned, he remained bald.

[5] He was infected in Uncanny X-Men #294 (November 1992) and cured in X-Factor #86 (January 1993), a rather brief life-threatening illness. Incidentally, the virus threatening Professor X was the same “techno-organic” one that infected Doug Ramsey and transformed him into a menace, although Xavier did not suffer the same debilitating effects as that character. This, if nothing else, should indicate the inherent arbitrariness of the comic’s devices.

[6] This event recalls Stan Lee’s initial plot device, in that it sees the previously individual-focused “loses his / her superpower” subplot expanded to the majority of the X-Books’ characters.

[7] As might be gleaned from this title, as Marvel’s films have become more popular and financially successful, the comics have shifted to reflect that.

Works Cited

Avengers vs. X-Men #11. Brian Michael Bendis (w), Olivier Coipel (p), and Mark Morales (i). “Avengers Vs. X-Men (Part Eleven).” (Nov. 2012), Marvel Comics.

Cangialosi, James. “Writing for Himself: Stan Lee Speaks.” Stan Lee: Conversations. Ed. Jeff McLaughlin. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. 166–173.  Print.

New Mutants #1. Chris Claremont (w), Bob McLeod (p), and Mike Gustovich (i). “Initiations!”  (Mar. 1983), Marvel Comics.

New X-Men #126. Grant Morrison (w), Frank Quitely (p), and Tim Townsend (i). “All Hell.”  (Jul. 2002), Marvel Comics.

New X-Men #146. Grant Morrison (w), Phil Jimenez (p), and Andy Lanning (i). “Planet X (Part 1).”  (Nov. 2003), Marvel Comics.

Uncanny X-Men #167. Chris Claremont (w), Paul Smith (p), and Bob Wiacek (i). “The Goldilocks Syndrome!” (Mar. 1983), Marvel Comics.

Uncanny X-Men #180. Chris Claremont (w), John Romita, Jr. (p), and Dan Green, and Bob Wiacek (i). “The Goldilocks Syndrome!” (Apr. 1984), Marvel Comics.

Uncanny X-Men #193. Chris Claremont (w), John Romita, Jr. (p), and Dan Green (i). “Warhunt 2.” (May 1985), Marvel Comics.

Uncanny X-Men #277. Chris Claremont (w), Jim Lee (p), and Scott Williams (i). “Free Charley.” (Jun. 1991), Marvel Comics.

Uncanny X-Men #279. Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, and Fabian Nicieza (w), Andy Kubert (p), and Scott Williams (i). “Bad to the Bone (Muir Island Saga, Pt. 2).” (Aug. 1991), Marvel Comics.

Uncanny X-Men #280. Fabian Nicieza (w), Steven Butler and Andy Kubert (p), and Scott Williams, Michael Bair, and Josef Rubinstein (i). “One Step Back–Two Steps Forward (Muir Island Saga, Pt. 4).” (Sep. 1991), Marvel Comics.

X-Men #1. Stan Lee (w), Jack Kirby (p), and Paul Reinman (i). “X-Men.” (Sep. 1963), Marvel Comics.

X-Men #7. Stan Lee (w), Jack Kirby (p), and Chic Stone (i). “The Return of the Blob.” (Sep. 1964), Marvel Comics.

X-Men #20. Roy Thomas (w), Werner Roth (p), and Dick Ayers (i). “I, Lucifer…”  (May 1966), Marvel Comics.

X-Men: Deadly Genesis #5. Ed Brubaker (w), Trevor Hairsine (p), and Scott Hanna (i). “Deadly Genesis (Part 5).” (May 2006), Marvel Comics.

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A D Jameson is the author of three books: the story collection Amazing Adult Fantasy (Mutable Sound, 2011), the fantasy novel Giant Slugs (Lawrence and Gibson, 2011), and the inspirational volume 99 Things to Do When You Have the Time (Compendium, Inc., 2013). His fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Unstuck, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, PANK, and dozens of other journals. Since August 2011, he has been a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In his spare time, he contributes to the group lit blog HTMLGiant and the film blog PressPlay, where he frequently writes about geek culture. He's also written a series of articles on Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

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1 Comment

  1. Nick Ford says:

    Well I don’t know what others thought but I really enjoyed this series! Really well written and said, thanks for doing it! :)

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