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The Seven Elements of an X-Man

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X-Men: First Class opens this week. The scope of the franchise is infinitely vast. In the build-up to the film’s release, GORDON LAWS asks what defines an X-man? And what sets them apart from the rest of the infinite comic-book pantheon?

The X-Men, as we’re sure many will agree, are totally awesome. Since the animated TV series (circa 1992 ‚ 1997) used to enrich our Saturday mornings back in the good ol’ primary school days, our imaginations have been consumed by the awesome science-fiction, technology, magical spandex outfits and destructive abilities of what is the most prolific and vast comic-book universe anywhere. But insane gadgetry, sexy bodies and ridiculous powers are not unique to the X-Men. In fact, those are probably the common criteria to all good superhero fiction. So what sets the X-Men apart? Why is their appeal so wide? And their scope for movie spin-offs so seemingly infinite?

The Marvel versus DC paradox The first thing to consider is the fact that the X-Men, and their myriad related spin-offs and alternate realities, fall into the greater Marvel Universe. What differentiates Marvel from their bitter arch-rivals DC (The Green Lantern, Superman, The Flash etc) is the human element that Marvel ‚heroes‚ embody.

Unlike DC heroes, who tend to embody the very spirit of altruism, courage and the ideals of justice ‚ willing to rise to any challenge for the cause of good, Marvel’s characters are invariably human. And usually, they have their abilities thrust upon them. Often, to their dismay. Marvel’s characters tend to be ordinary people, with extraordinary powers. And they often make mistakes, have bad days, turn to evil or give into temptation. Which is usually easier to relate to than someone who upholds the ideals of justice and valour 100 percent of the time, whilst wielding a very big stick.

But what makes an X-Man an X-Man? We’ve narrowed it down to seven core characteristics. Some of them obvious (like having a name and an age) and some of them less so, like the inner-conflicts that drive ‚ and often thwart ‚ their characters.

The Seven Elements of an X-Man A Name Seems obvious. And, essentially, it is. But, the majority of the X-Men have ordinary, regular names. Like you or me. Much like a groundbreaking new technology usually starts with a less-than-sexy codename before the marketing department coin something tastier, X-Men have to earn, and then wear, their handles. Gambit’s real name, for example, is Remy Etienne LeBeau. Not exactly the stuff of fanboy T-shirts, let’s face it…

An Alias This is where the game starts to get interesting. Depending on their powers and their intentions, X-Men give themselves ‚ or are given ‚ an alias. And usually it reflects their personality and their powers. Mr Sinister is not going to be mistaken for a humanitarian when you first hear that he’s coming to town. Magneto has control of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Morph… well, he morphs pretty much. It’s gotta be catchy, succinct and, ideally, sound bad-ass. Branding begins at home.

A SuperpowerUnlike many comic-book characters who develop their powers by, say, being bitten by radioactive arachnids, or ‚ in a worrying number of cases ‚ government experimentation (less and less farfetched as technology progresses, we think), the X-Men tend to ‚evolve‚ their powers due to the Mutant Gene. Said gene emerged early in the Twentieth Century, becoming more prolific towards the end of the millennium, and established Homo-sapien Superior: the next evolutionary step to follow we boring old Homo Sapiens. A bit like a new generation of iPhone making the previous redundant. Only with more war. And much cooler leaders than Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. For more on the best powers from the X-Men comics, check out our friends at www.mojodojo.co.za’s recent posts…

A Weakness Very nearly all the X-Men are as much defined by a major flaw as they are by their powers. Usually, the flaw is one of character. Sometimes, it’s related to their abilities. Wolverine is short tempered. Gambit is a kleptomaniac. Jean Grey is so infinitely mighty, she fought to restrain her power before it overwhelmed her and turned her into the omnipotent (and worryingly ruthless) Phoenix. Ultimately, she chose to die as a person rather than live as a God.

Sometimes, it’s not as cut-and-dry as simple right and wrong. Magneto and Professor Xavier are diametrically opposed in what they see as the best future for humanity and mutantkind. Their split is core to the premise of the forthcoming X-Men: First Class movie opening this Friday. And the basis of the entire X-Men franchise.

Their Appearance Again, it seems obvious. But how an X-Man (or X-Woman) looks is key to the way they function in society. Often, the hideously malformed ones become angry, ostricised, and vilified. Sometimes they rise above their afflictions, like Nightcrawler ‚ a devout Catholic and philosophical good guy, despite being, essentially, a strange, Blaupunkt-blue elf. Others, like man-beast Sabretooth, get fed up with being called names and become homicidal maniacs.

Thankfully, the general majority of characters are either ripped, athletic musclemen in spandex, or g-string clad, flawless figures that, bereft of their powers, would probably do well as Vegas showgirls. Hey, sex sells. We’re sure Mark Zuckerberg is very well aware of the photo-stalker element that keeps Facebook relevant in the emerging age of Twitter.

Their Apparent Age X-Men vary in age and, subsequently, their wisdom, brashness and emotional stability. Professor X and Magneto are the sage elders of both the X-Men and their rivals, The Brotherhood of Mutants. Younger, more carefree X-Men like Jubilee tend to be more whimsical and foolhardy, despite often being courageous and idealistic as a result. X-Men mature. They grow up, and often change their stances on core issues… Another reason we’re interested to see the origins of the fallout between more youthful versions of Xavier and Magneto (portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) back in The Sixties, when X-Men: First Class releases.

Their Actual Age X-Men are seldom what they appear. And this is often the case where their age is concerned. Wolverine, despite being unaware of his specific origins, is well over 100 years old. Mystique (played by the lovely Jennifer Lawrence in the new X-Men movie, and previously by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in the original X-Men Movie Trilogy) is also more than a hundred years old. And, she’s Nightcrawler’s mum. You wouldn’t think so to look at her, though. Whether in her natural, creepy, blue form, or when she shapeshifts into a more appealing guise, you’d seldom guess she was there when the ball dropped just after 11:59 on December 31, 1899…

* X-Men: First Class opens in South Africa ‚ and worldwide ‚ this Friday, June 3rd. To win tickets to a special Johannesburg screening on Thursday night, visit http://www.mojodojo.co.za/2011/05/26/win-x-men-tickets/

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