It's an understatement to say that America has a race relations problem. While many people would love to imagine that we have moved past such issues, recent events have proven that the wounds are still fresh and that the hurt is very real. Comic books have always been a window into the ideology of the era they were written in, but some of them transcend such classifications and stay relevant through the ages. One such comic is Chris Claremont's classic X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills (1982). This is one of the most powerful stories ever written in the medium and many ideas and concepts are still applicable to our current situation.
The story starts out on a shocking note: Magneto discovers the dead bodies of two mutant children hanging from a swing set in a playground. Draped on their bodies is a sign that says "Mutie". It's not by accident that the children are also black and that the imagery echoes those black-and-white photos of African Americans being lynched in the '40s-'50s. These children have two things against them in this alternate version of America--they are mutants and they are black. Mutants are not welcome because they are different and people are scared of them. Some of the mutants have an easier time because they look "normal" and can pass as a human but eventually they are found out.
Reverend William Stryker is the villain of this particular tale--he is a misguided preacher who thinks that mutants are an abomination of God. This is a bit cliché, but the seething and illogical hatred he represents is as real as it gets. Most the narrative centers around young X-Men member Kitty Pryde, who is trying to come to terms with the loathing and prejudice spewed at her from all directions and her temptation to lash out and hurt those who seek to oppress her. People around her use slurs like "mutie lover" and the like and it is definitely Claremont making a statement about race issues at the time. This was written in the early 1980s and a lot of that was still going on in real life. Claremont believed that addressing these problems through comic writing would maybe make it a bit easier to examine difficult topics.
In the middle of all this turmoil, you have the yin and yang of the mutant struggle--Professor Xavier and Magneto. These two iconic leaders directly parallel two other prominent figures in the civil rights movement. Professor Xavier is analogous to Martin Luther King Jr. because of his propensity to try to solve problems somewhat peacefully and coexist with the humans. Magneto has much in common with Malcolm X (in his early days before his travels in Africa and the Middle East) in that he condemns humanity for their inability to accept mutants as equals. He would rather that the mutants, with their special abilities, rule over the human race. Of course, this is an oversimplification of both of these important historical figures, but the essence is there in the comics and makes for compelling writing. Magneto ends up being more sympathetic than normal in this arc, but as per usual in comics he doesn't ultimately change his ways.
There is a moment later in the book where Reverend Stryker turns and points at Nightcrawler and shouts "You dare call that thing human?!" Nightcrawler is one of the unlucky mutants who looks strange, with his fangs and his fur--he cannot hide from who he is. However, this does not matter because he has a family with the X-Men. This love, this sense of togetherness, is what keeps the individual X-Men sane. The overreaching theme of this story is that if we all collaborate together the sum of us is stronger than the pieces. We can hold each other up and help weather the storm. That's what I think that Claremont was trying to convey with this tale, that all is not lost if we put aside our differences and strive for a common goal. This was true way back in 1982 and it is just as true now.