Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In Marvel comic books, particular those of the X-Men franchise, a mutant is a human being who is born with physiological modifications that allow for abilities not possessed by normal humans. Although mutant powers vary greatly, telepathy, flight, the ability to project energy and enhanced strength, agility or senses are common mutant powers. Most typically, mutant powers manifest during puberty and for some mutants several years of self-discipline are needed before they can control their powers. Mutants are the next stage in human evolution and are often called “homo superior” as opposed to “homo sapiens.”
The idea of genetic mutants was concocted by Marvel editor/writer Stan Lee in the early 1960s as a means to create a large number of superheroes and villains without having to think of a separate origin for each one. The most prominent vehicle for the mutant concept is the superhero series X-Men, which debuted in 1963, although a little known story in Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 (1962) was the first Marvel story to feature a mutant.
The X-Men, founded by the Martin Luther King-like Professor X, are mutant superheroes, who defend a world that hates and fears them and work for peace and equality between the two races. Their archenemy Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants seek to fight back against human oppression, arguing that mutants must conquer or be conquered. Other enemies, such as Apocalypse, believe that mutants have a right to rule over ordinary humans by virtue of being a more genetically advanced species.
The extensive popularity of the X-Men has lead Marvel to create several additional mutant superhero teams, including The New Mutants, X-Factor, Excalibur, X-Force and Generation X. However, all but the X-Men and X-Force are now defunct as Marvel editors have recently taken a different approach to the X-Men franchise, replacing superhero series with more dubious groups like X-Statix and Weapon X.
In the Marvel universe, the collective setting of most Marvel comic books, ordinary people often hate and fear mutants because they are afraid they may make normal humans extinct. However, typical bigotry and xenophobia are also given as reasons for hatred of mutants. In the Marvel universe, anti-mutant sentiment has lead to the alienation of mutants from society, mob violence, and a few government sponsored attempts to fight mutants, such as the robotic mutant-hunting Sentinels and the anti-mutant military group Operation Zero Tolerance .
Throughout the history of the X-Men franchise, X-Teams have often been written as typical superhero comic books, featuring epic adventures and battles with super villains. Yet, the theme of mutants as a metaphor for real world minorities who face oppression has been a constant throughout the series. Some examples:
- Magneto, a Holocaust survivor who once lived in Israel has attempted to create a “mutant home state” similar to Israel. His first attempt was the fictional South American nation of San Marco. Later he became ruler of Genosha, a fictional island off the coast of Madagascar, recognized by the United Nations as a mutant state.
- The 1981 dystopian future storyline Days of Futures' Past portrays a mutant Holocaust, where mutants are herded into concentration camps and masacred.
- Senator Robert Kelly has proposed a “Mutant Registration Act,” that would force mutants to reveal their powers and identities to the federal government, similar to Red Scare-era acts of Congress that effective outlawed the American Communist Party.
- The anti-mutant hate group The Friends of Humanity was inspired by the Aryan Nations.
- The X-Man Iceman has had a difficult relationship with his father, who is often portrayed as a bigot. This storyline has paralleled the lives of gay people who often find difficulty being accepted by their families.
- The Legacy Virus storyline of the 1990s was often seen as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic. The Legacy Virus was a mysterious and deadly pathogen that affected mutant genes, however the larger world was not concerned about it until the first human victim was made public. Also, Genosha, the aforementioned island nation, was particularly affected, mirroring the spread of AIDS in Africa.
Writer Grant Morrison made significant changes to the nature and status of mutants in the Marvel Universe, during his stint on New X-Men, from 2001 until 2004. Morrison introduced a mutant “baby boom” that could potentially make mutants the dominant species on Earth within five generations. Meanwhile, the growing mutant youth population have developed a subculture with mutant bands and fashions.
Outside the X-Men group of series, mutants play a smaller role in the Marvel universe. Most non-mutant superheroes are not affected by anti-mutant bigotry and mutants have been important parts of such traditionally non-mutant teams as The Avengers and The Defenders. Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four have a son, Franklin Richards, who is a mutant. Franklin's mutation may have come about due to his parents’ powers, granted by exposure to “cosmic rays.” It is known that many of the genes which cause the particular types of mutation in the Marvel Universe are passed through the parents' genes.
Mutants play a smaller, but still substantial role, in the DC Comics universe, where they are known as metahumans . Mutants also are a frequent topic in other comic books, and in many science fiction stories.
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