Thursday, October 20, 2011

Professor X's Evolution

Professor X's Evolution

“Are mutants the next link in the evolutionary chain or simply a new species of humanity fighting for their share of the world? Either way, it is an historical fact: Sharing the world has never been humanity's defining attribute.”
  • X-Men 2: United
      Professor X has always been a role model of mine, as the first disabled superhero I had ever seen. Mainly from the first animated series in the 90s. But, although he embraces his power mutant power as a gift, insisting that they are “not a disease”, he seems to be more ambivalent towards his disability than I remember. Growing up as a disabled person during the 90s, I had a lot of hope that the future would be more accessible to me, and I projected that on to Professor X. After all, in the 90s animated series, he had a hoverchair, (Later, a powerchair, like me.) he was the one who taught the mutants to use their abilities for good, and followed a Civil Rights model of tolerance, with mutants and non-mutants sharing the world.
      I had always believed (and still do.) that Professor X's tolerance of humanity  should be extended also to his disability. Yet, I see time and time again that he refers to himself as “confined to a wheelchair”, often using that as an excuse not to face Magneto. As a Disability Rights advocate, I'm somewhat disappointed. He teaches his students about peaceful co-existence, and that their abilities are only curses if we look at them that way. I think that should extend to his disability; even if it serves to just remind him of his dependence on others.
      Throughout Professor X's history, (in his various incarnations.) his disability is always shown to be an accident, whether in World War II, or in the 1960s, as more recent incarnations show. I know many people who have been in accidents, who talk fondly of their walking days, but I think a stronger stance on his disability would make him a role model to more people, and more in line with his philosophy of peaceful co-existence, and ethical use of power. After all, why doesn't he fly all the time? (as he can, with his mental powers.) Because he teaches self-control, and acceptance.
      However, given his backstory, and the many episodes where he flies or walks through some miracle, it can mean one or two things. 1.) Professor X hasn't come to terms with the trauma of his disability, and is using his hubris and power to shield himself from self-doubt. Or 2.) he is not as altruistic as he lets on. I root for the former, but the latter seems the case.
      Option #1 is completely understandable, as he is dealing with a world that not only doesn't accept mutants, but is even struggling to share the world with people who are not disabled. That he would have self-doubts, and cling to memories of his walking days, and high ethics seems almost heroic. Yet, it undermines his philosophy (That is, acceptance of one's abilities.) if he doesn't come to terms with his disability as a strength.
      And I'd like to see him in more of a command role, in a position of strength, even when he's not miraculously ambulatory, because I see my disability as just part of who I am; and acceptance of identity is a struggle every X-man must go through except him.
      I fear Option #2 seems more likely. In the late 90s, it was revealed that in him was the psychic “seed” of the evil mastermind Onslaught, that when combined with Magneto created the most powerful villain the X-men have faced. In my view, he could not have been created were it not for his self-doubt and dissonance. Even when he faces Phoenix in X-men 3, he expresses self-doubt, and is easily destroyed. The worst scene in the franchise, in my opinion. Furthermore, if he is psychic, than he's deliberately using his disability as an excuse to put the team in danger. Of course, I find this all very upsetting.
               I still look to Professor X as a role model, because he's the first disabled superhero I ever saw. However, I think his attitude towards his disability should change to match his views on mutant-human relations. You might say that's easy for me to say, because I was born disabled. But, Professor X inspired me as a child to help accept who I was. The evolution towards acceptance of power and ability is a constant theme of the X-Men. It can extend to disability. It's part of who I am. Disappointed as I am, I still have hopes that Charles Xavier will take on a more active leadership role as a strong disabled person who learns to share the world with his disabled body. But, that has never been his defining attribute.


  1. I think you bring up an interesting debate with this entry. I will admit, I haven't read very many issues of X-Men, but I do know that Professor X is always a huge advocate of equality and co-existence between "normal" people and mutants. You mention that Professor X follows a Civil Rights mentality of tolerance. This being the case, isn't it kind of hypocritical that Professor X chooses to let his disability define him and limit him from engaging in combat with his pupils?

    I know, practically, combat wouldn't be the best idea for Professor X; but you bring up a good example of the Professor avoiding Magneto because of his disability.

    Also, Chris, I know I've recommended Birds of Prey to you 1,000 times already, but I'm interested to read what you think of Oracle/Barbara Gordon. Like Professor X, Oracle was disabled by an accident. However, unlike the Professor, I would argue that she doesn't let her disability limit her; she modifies her role as a "superheroine" and uses her other skills to become the leader of Birds of Prey.

  2. Interesting. Professor X though also has a leadership role. But, is she more active? I guess I'll have to find out. I promise I will read Birds of Prey and compare the two when I get a chance! Nice comment. Love to talk disability rights.

  3. To be honest, Oracle leads from behind a desk too. Though, in all fairness, she does defend the lab if needed. Maybe the difference is more in attitude?

  4. I'll be the judge of that. :-) Can't wait though.