Stan Lee, the man behind iconic comic book characters such as Spiderman, Black Panther and Jessica Jones, died earlier this month aged 92.
His lasting legacy is pretty overwhelming when you think about it. There are all the comics, the films made out of the comics and the marvellous stories he told through the worlds he invented. But he will also be remembered fondly for his charity work, for being a family man and for inspiring millions of people to be who they want to be.
Actor Seth Rogan seemed to sum it up best when he tweeted: “Thank you Stan Lee for making people who feel different realise they are special." And student slash cosplay hobbyist, Dania Khalil (aka the Hijabi Holligan) said: “You brought so much love and happiness into my life and the lives of millions round the world."
But away from his obvious contributions to the world and how he made people feel, I wanted to highlight something perhaps not considered as much. I think it’s more of a philosophical lesson and it appears through his work, X-Men.
If you’ve never read the comics, watched the cartoons or seen an X-Men movie, then let me briefly set the scene. The X-Men are ‘mutants’. They have superhuman abilities and live amongst the human population. Their powers range from being able to drastically change the weather (Storm) to being able to shoot fire out of their eyes (Cyclops). PS: My favourite X-Man growing up was Gambit. His power was to be able to charge inanimate objects (usually playing cards) with energy, which allowed them to explode.
Society however has some troubling opinions of the X-Men, and this is where Stan Lee’s philosophical conundrum begins. Anti-mutant bigotry is fierce and widespread in the world he created. Some/many humans fear the power that they possess and see the potential threat they pose to the rest of the world. In this particular Marvel universe there are those that want the X-Men segregated, contained, or even killed. Importantly, it’s also useful to remember that there are humans that don’t want that either.
This however spawns two camps amongst the mutants.
There are those that retaliate to the discrimination with anger. This group reacts to the bigotry with equal doses of violence and extremism. This group believes a war is coming - a war on mutants.
Then there are the X-Men who decide to respond more optimistically. These are the X-Men who respond to the venom, not with violence, but with love. They’re decision is to work with, not against. It’s a fight, but a fight for hope and peace.
The leaders of each camp, Magneto and Professor X, actually started as friends and it could be argued that they each have mutants’ interests at heart. But where they completely diverge from each other is in their world views. Whilst one pessimistically feels human beings cannot be trusted and must be fought against, the other hopefully believes humans and mutants can work together. There are numerous exchanges between the pair that bring this into focus too.
It’s quite startling to think of the many, many different social issues we face today that this difference of opinion and approach could be held up against. LGBT+ rights - yep. Women’s rights - certainly. Race - sure. Islamophobia - definitely!
It is up to those in each camp of whichever issue they’re campaigning for to decide the route they want to go down. Do you want to be the Magneto for your cause or the Professor X?!
We at New Horizons like to follow the road sign which reads ‘Professor X’. Our vision of society is more optimistic and more positive. Yes there is plenty to be angry about, and yes when something is wrong we are right there calling it out and standing against it. But when discussions need to be had we are there also. When a subject needs engagement, we want to engage. Is it more productive to be divisive OR better to work together with others to find solutions? We think the latter. It’s why we passionately want to work with people of other faiths and non, why we champion LGBT+ rights and why we are steadfast in promoting women’s rights also.
“I wanted them to be diverse. The whole underlying principle of the X-Men was to try to be an anti-bigotry story to show there’s good in every person”
- Stan Lee