The XAVIERS: Marvel’s Most Rotten Family Tree?

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Charles Xavier is considered to be a shining light in the struggle for mutants’ rights and, more broadly, mutant survival in Marvel lore. Sure, his sister Cassandra Nova and his son Legion might be considered bad apples; but no, not Charles. Xavier’s father, Brian Xavier too had a dark side, working with Mr. Sinister with mutant babies as test subjects; but no, not Charles. Charles’ namesake from the 1800s, Charles Graymalkin, buried his son Jonas alive when he discovered he was gay; but no, not Charles. With all these bad apples in the Xavier family tree, maybe it’s time to rethink Charles Xavier’s own deeds and see if his apple didn’t fall too far from the admittedly bad apple tree.

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Some more ardent fans of comics might consider it wrong to speak ill of the dead, even though Professor X is a fictional character, but dead or not, the X-Men founder’s presence is palpable in comics to this day – take for instance the upcoming two part arc of Uncanny X-Men, “The Last Will & Testament of Charles Xavier,” or the Red Skull’s possession of Xavier’s brain in Uncanny Avengers and the forthcoming event series Axis. So let’s look at the bloodline of the Xaviers of Westchester County to see how that blood coursed through Professor X and the possible dark side that his entire family shared.

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The oldest known ancestor of Professor Charles Xavier is his namesake, Charles Graymalkin. It was the elder Charles whom bought the land during the early 1700s in the New York countryside which, centuries later, became the foundation of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Graymalkin settled there with his wife, Marcia, and sired several children. Not much is known about Graymalkin given he only appeared in one comic story – X-Men: Manifest Destiny #3 – but the story told was wrenching: in it, writer Marc Guggenheim and artist Yanick Paquette showed as Graymalkin severely beat and then buried alive his son, Jonas, after discovering he was a homosexual.

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The next Xavier family member we’ve learned about is Brian Xavier, Professor X’s father. His and his wife Sharon’s life was first detailed in 1986’s Marvel Saga #4. In that and subsequent stories it was revealed that the elder Xavier was a nuclear scientist who worked in an offshoot of the Weapon Plus program titled Project: Black Womb. There, working alongside the likes of the future Mr. Sinister, Professor X’s father studied the newly-discovered mutant race by obtaining – through undisclosed means – newly born mutants and holding them in special stasis tanks. It’s revealed that Sinister and the elder Xavier experimented on Charles and other mutant children, but kept it secret for decades.

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It was during Brian Xavier’s time at Project: Black Womb that his famous son, Charles was conceived. But in a startling revelation revealed decades after his comics debut, we learned that Professor X had a twin sister – a sister whom Chuck killed in utero. In New X-Men issue where this was revealed, writer Grant Morrison explained that the future mutant leader did it because his nascent psychic powers informed him that his sister was evil. But that brings about two questions: As an adult Xavier never showed himself to pursue deadly means to stop a threat, even in his rivalry with Magneto; so why did he do it to a baby, his sister no less, before she had committed any malicious deeds? The second matter is that of Xavier’s psychic powers: in most all cases of mutant powers, especially non-physical abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis, these abilities do not emerge until adolescence; how did Professor X have them as a baby, and to a degree he could determine a person’s adult intentions?

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That being said, Xavier’s twin sister did have an evil bent. After thirty years, the stillborn fetus of Cassandra Nova Xavier struggled to live and ultimately formed an adult body. Like her brother, Cassandra possesses immense psychic abilities, as well as the power to phase (a la Shadowcat or Vision) and also the ability to manipulate the DNA of others. She used these abilities with malicious intent, commandeering a fleet of Sentinels and single-handedly created the deadliest mutant genocide ever – striking Genosha and killing over 16 million of her kind.

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As an adult, Charles Xavier traveled the world – and in those travels he sired a son, David, with a Holocaust survivor named Gabrielle he brought back from a catatonic state. Xavier’s relationship with Gabrielle was brief, and his son’s existence was kept from him. But with the Xavier blood coursing through his veins, David Haller was destined to be a mutant like his father – a mutant with omega-level abilities. A childhood trauma splintered Haller’s psyche, leaving him with multiple personalities – each with their own unique ability. Operating as both the culprit and a victim, Haller – calling himself Legion – killed a number of people in his early years including the precog Destiny, as well as acted as the catalyst for Age of Apocalypse. Legion has had moments of lucidity and even walked on a positive path in the recent X-Men: Legacy series, but his past is a hard thing to live down.

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Recently, thanks to the time travel shenanigans of X-Men’s “Battle of the Atom,” we met a second son of Professor X – known simply as Xavier – sired by Xavier and Mystique (who masqueraded as Moira McTaggert). This new son, nicknamed Charlie, came back in time as part of the “X-Men” but later split with his mutant comrades for a more nuanced and sinister plan as part of a newly reformed Brotherhood. The younger Xavier’s story is far from over, and has barely just begun, but right now it’s not looking like he is a hero like his namesake.

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But is the iconic Professor Charles Xavier truly the hero he’s made out to be? Yes, he founded Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngers as well as the X-Men. Yes, he has been a leader for mutantkind and espoused the idea of peaceful cohabitation among humans and mutants. But he’s done unsavory deeds as well; doing one doesn’t negate the other, no matter which side of the coin you’re referring to. Out of the many transgressions Xavier has been a part of, many of them lay rooted in what’s been called “the dark” side of the man; a side he attempts to suppress. But Xavier hasn’t merely thought about these dark urges, but acted out on them – on numerous occasions.

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Perhaps the most flagrant depiction of Xavier’s demonic side is his part in the creation of Onslaught, a melding of the dark side of his mind with that of Magneto’s. Onslaught stood toe-to-toe with the combined forces of Marvel’s heroes and survived, and at one point set out to destroy both the human and mutant races on Earth. Onslaught became its own entity, but it was made with part of Xavier’s mind – a part Xavier, and Marvel, have hidden away before and since.

The creation of Onslaught was the result of another seemingly non-heroic decision; performing a telepathic lobotomy on someone. This tactic, colloquially referred to as ‘mind-wiping,’ became an inciting moment of DC’s Identity Crisis when used on both villains and heroes, and the mind-wiping of Captain America by the Illuminati was an equally dark catalyst in Jonathan Hickman’s recent Avengers and New Avengers stories.

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Onslaught isn’t the first time a villain has sprung forth from Xavier – back in 1984, The X-Men and the Micronauts fought an evil being known as the Entity which was revealed to be Xavier’s mind at work. That was Xavier, whether he or his fellow X-Men could admit it at the time.

Besides those larger acts, Xavier has also shown some poor judgment. From things like using his abilities to make his one-time lover Amelia Voght not break up with him, faking his own death to his teenage students, mind-wiping Cyclops about his brother Vulcan (and Xavier’s culpability in his apparent death), or imprisoning the sentient entity Danger and keeping her in servitude of him and his X-Men, which caused his X-Men to eject him from the team.

With all that – is Professor X the lone good apple in a tree full of bad apples, or is he in some ways – some ways many can’t take – rotten like the rest of them? After all, as Kitty Pryde once said, Professor Xavier is a jerk.

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