X-Men First Class: from the Classical Heroes come the Superheroes

I grew up watching the X-Men cartoons.  I remember sneaking down stairs early Saturday morning to get in as many X-Men, Batman and Spiderman shows I could before I would have to turn the TV off and do my chores.  Unfortunately, my TV watching was very erratic and the TV stations kept moving their show times to later and later in the day.  I enjoyed the shows so much when I could see them, though, that I would pretend to part of the X-Men universe.

On Monday I watched X-Men First Class.  It was as one of my friends pointed out the best X-Men movie since the first one.  It was spectacular.

For the number of characters and the amount of action that needed to take place, the writers and directors gave enough time to the characters’ development to make their responses to the situations believable.  We know that Erik is going to grow up to be Magneto, the villain, but he was a friend of Xavier first.  I enjoyed the way the friendship grew and even in their moments of disagreement there was pain on both sides because they knew the consequences.

Xavier is at once presented as a complete genius and a charmer, caring yet distant.  Though he can read others thoughts and share in their emotions, he has difficulty identifying with those closest to him.  This is most notably revealed in his relationship with Raven and Erik.   Xavier could never see Raven as her true self.  He taught her to blend in but he never taught her how to accept herself.  Not that this was necessarily his responsibility but for all of his understanding of mutations and the human mind, he did not understand her or care about the pain she was suffering because of his indifference.

Oddly, I would have to say that Erik had the closest relationship with Xavier.  I say oddly, because the two are completely different.  Xavier likes the challenge and companionship of the Erik’s sharp mind.  Erik is the only person that Xavier sees as his equal.  Xavier works with Hank and respects Hank but Hank is only a child.  This should come off as being pretentious; however, Xavier never sounds pretentious when working with him.  Maybe this is because we know who Xavier turns into.  In a few years he’ll be Professor X: mentor, leader, and genius behind not only a school but an entire political movement.  We look up to him, he is the ideal.

This is the superhero syndrome.  What would be pretentious and unacceptable in normal people’s behavior is somehow acceptable and expected in the nature of the superhero.  In a world were science is the new religion, those who can wield and understand it become the arbiters and, dare I say it, the god-like.  Xavier is like Achilleus or Hector, Perseus or Aeneas, or even Nietzsche’s ubermensch*.  These men are the blessed, who by the will of the gods, fates’s design or human will stand above and apart from their fellow men so that they can do great things.  We like superheroes because they are like these great men of old.  They remind us of a greater generation and the potentiality of man.  Xavier is one of the few characters who would and could understand this aspect of the X-Men’s mission and world.  This is why he fights so hard for Erik.  Seeing and knowing the destructive past that Erik led, Xavier wants to save him from himself so that Erik can be the better, greater man.

It is interesting to note that both Xavier and Erik have the potential and the ability to become ubermenschen, but their reasons and approach to this “noble” aspiration  are completely different.   Xavier choses to utilize and encourage those around him so that they too can achieve their highest, whereas Erik uses the people around him to meet his ends and desires.  Xavier builds his army on loyalty through trust, integrity, tolerance, and knowledge.  Erik builds his army on loyalty through mutual distrust, superiority, hatred, and ignorance.   Those of us who are raised to understand peace, justice and mercy will undoubtedly be able to tell which is the greater man. However, I always find it interesting that Xavier knows that he must stop Magneto but he does not want to stop Erik.  Perhaps this is Xavier’s Achilleus’s Heel, he seeks to find the good in everyone.

*Umbermensche was a word Nietzsche coined to describe one of his philosophical concepts. Literally it translates to mean the “super man”.  This is the man who is above everyone else.  He does not need other men’s opinions or influence to achieve greatness or significance. Nietzsche would have seen Machiavelli’s Prince as a manifestation of  his ubermensche. If you want to know more about this concept I suggest you read Nietzsche’s Basic Writings, Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, and Kafka’s The Trial.  (On a personal note I do not hold to any of Nietzsche’s teachings; however, his writings are important to understanding the modern mindset and the philosophy that man is the highest being.)