X-Men: Deadly Genesis, penned by Ed Brubaker of Winter Soldier fame, focuses on “Charles Xavier‘s darkest secret.” Now, many people in the X-Men fandom — especially on the comics side of things — see Professor X as the secret, unintended villain of the X-Men Universe.
I will argue that stories like Deadly Genesis only put the icing on a very tall, very villainous cake. But that belongs to another article, so, moving on.
I have a very special relationship with this comic book: I consider this trade my very first superhero comic, and my portal into being a comics X-fan. I own every issue singly, including the variant cover of #1 and two copies of the the ‘What If?’ issue, and a full-size poster of the issue #4 cover art. The team featured in it are my favorite X-Team, even if they’re only a team for one issue and — well, let’s just talk about the book, right?
Deadly Genesis opens in the aftermath of M-Day. Many mutants have lost their powers, and the Xavier School sits much emptier than it used to. But a new threat, unknown to all, looms on the horizon. This mysterious person causes people to ‘see ghosts,’ among other things, and kidnaps Scott Summers and his alternate-universe daughter, the second Marvel Girl, Rachel.
Eventually, we discover that this person, called Vulcan, wants Charles Xavier dead. He blames Xavier for the deaths of his friends, and wants to kill him in retribution. Fighting Vulcan does little — his power levels read at ‘past Omega level.’ He kills Banshee, even, a status quo change with lasting ramifications for a lot of characters.
But the problem gets worse when Charles Xavier, previously missing, reappears, just as Vulcan wanted him to.
Vulcan hadn’t lied about his friends’ deaths being Xavier’s fault. Vulcan was one of four young mutants fostered by Dr. Moira MacTaggert. After the original X-Men were captured by Krakoa, the story says, Vulcan’s team tried to save them, preceding the other, more famous team’s attempt.
Mind you, Vulcan and his team were all teenagers, maybe 20 years old at the absolute oldest. They idolized the original X-Men. When Xavier came to them and Moira and begged for their help, of course they would say yes!
Secretly using his psychic powers to force ‘months’ of training into a few days, Xavier sends these kids to Krakoa. It ends about as well as you would expect. Sway and Petra die brutally on-page, and Darwin only survives by bonding to Vulcan’s nervous system, keeping them both alive. When the island gets thrown into space at the end of the original arc in the comics, Vulcan and Darwin are trapped on it, stuck underground.
The worst part? Scott knew about it. In fact, Scott Summers also knew that Vulcan was in fact his brother Gabriel. Gabriel had been in utero when their parents were kidnapped by aliens.
Xavier knew that the death of his brother would break Scott. So he wiped the existence of Vulcan and his team from Scott’s mind completely. Win-win scenario, right? Xavier’s folly never comes to light, Scott never has to grieve his brother, and Scott can also keep right on doing Charles’s bidding.
Scott does not take kindly to finding out what Xavier did to both his brother and his brain. After Gabriel and Darwin get split apart, Gabriel flies off to get vengeance on the aliens who enslaved him a child. Everyone has to then decide how they’ll deal with the aftermath of these revelations.
After a funeral for Banshee, Petra, and Sway, Scott throws Charles out of the mansion. He claims that since Charles lost his powers during M-Day, he doesn’t belong at the school anymore. However, it’s very clear that that is something of an excuse for the real reason: the loss of trust that Scott used to feel for Charles.
As I’ve made clear before, I really love this trade. Deadly Genesis shows us a side of Xavier that people sometimes forget about: the man who puts appearances first. Appearance and image mean so much to Xavier that he will often lie to maintain his public image.
Contextually, this means a lot. By defining Xavier as someone who does these things, we have recognize the unreliability of everyone else as narrators. We can’t trust the ‘authenticity’ of anyone’s memories anymore. After all, Charles might have tampered with their memories! He would do something like that! He already has!
Somehow, people still see Xavier as the good guy. Maybe that shouldn’t surprise me — the man has incredible PR, even in death. However, explicitly blurring the lines between reality and image when dealing with Xavier allows us to engage with an important question: What happens when we outgrow our idols?
Scott Summers has grappled with this question since the late nineties at the very least. His position as Xavier’s trusted general has caused Scott incredible amounts of trauma and required huge sacrifices. When Scott has to reckon with Xavier’s choices, we get to see what Xavier made him. More than that, we see what Scott can become beyond that shaping.
I won’t hesitate to say that I mark Deadly Genesis as the start of the arc that culminates in Avengers v. X-Men and Xavier’s death at Scott and the Phoenix Force’s hands. Scott learns over that arc that he can lead, but he doesn’t have to lead the way that Xavier necessarily wants him to. He becomes disillusioned with the ‘dream.’
Rightly so, when even the dreamer was purely a fantasy.