I annoyingly tagged along on my mother’s weekly grocery trips, using them to routinely see if the magazine spinner rack contained a new super-hero adventure. As a youth, I connected with every aspect of the superhero genre: the ordinary persona was a cover for the true fascinating life away from restrictions. The grocery store’s spinner rack held many A-list superheroes, such as Batman, Superman, and Captain America, but was overwhelmingly mostly C-list, Ex-Mutants or SleepWalker; others were B-list or cult heroes like the growing Dark Horse line, Ghost or X. I flipped through each title, sitting on the ground, sampling their plots and characters, but their struggles felt too distant from my own. It took months for me to find the title that was my life, that reflected everything that I was feeling – the X-Men. These were heroes that instinctually understood me and I them. Their world was my world. I was a mutant and that’s why I didn’t fit in!
The X-Men family of titles when I discovered them were polybagged because they were amid the “X-Cutioner’s Song” storyline, and each issue contained a trading card. The X-Men’s founder and mentor Professor X had been shot. Searching for the would-be assassin the X-Men discover the attacker was a clone of Cable, time travelling son from the future of founding member Cyclops. Before being defeated Cable’s clone, Stryfe, gave a mysterious canister of mutant DNA to the X-Men’s enemy Mr. Sinister, who opened the container to discover it open. Rather than receiving the genetic code to Cyclops and Jean Grey, another founding X-Men member, Mr. Sinister released the Legacy Virus, a disease created by Stryfe that targeted mutants and disrupted their necessary RNA replication, making the body incapable of creating healthy cells, which resulted in the mutant’s death. In the final moments of life, the Legacy Virus caused a mutant’s power to flare violently, in effect turning the mutant’s ability – what made them unique amongst other mutants – into the cause of their own destruction.
Underneath the garish early 1990s costumes the X-Men had pathos. The Avengers and Fantastic Four were friendly clubs occupied by those who found being a super-hero an adventure. The characters were chums and friends who spent their down time around a pool or squabbling over used condiments. The X-Men were a found family because there were no other heroes that understood their position in society. The X-Men didn’t want to save the world, they wanted to live and be left alone. The villains of other teams wanted their opponents subdued so that victory could be achieved. Down time for the X-Men was spent training to control their powers, running through numerous survival scenarios because their antagonists were actively attempting to kill and commit genocide. Still the X-Men believed in showing compassion and empathy to their opponents, believing in finding a common ground to move forward. The X-Men taught me that exposure to similar experiences has the potential to bring about understanding.