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It's a good year to be an X-Men fan! Marvel and Fox are working together more closely than ever before, leading to not one but two ongoing #XMen-inspired shows. The first, Noah Hawley's #Legion, was a dramatic series loosely based on the comic-book character of David Haller, Professor Xavier's son. The second, The Gifted, looks very different indeed...
Do You Know What Your Children Are?
Back in the late 1980s, #Marvel Comics ran possibly their most famous promotion for the X-Men comics. They ran fake ads in their books to promote the fictional Mutant Registration Act, asking readers, "Do You Know What Your Children Are?" The ads featured characters Marvel lovers would know well, including Franklin Richards (son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman) and one of the child members of Power Pack.
Back when Stan Lee first came up with the idea of mutants, they were really something of an excuse to avoid coming up with more origin stories. How did this random character get their powers? Eh, they were born with them! Roy Thomas had began to switch things up a little, though, hinting at mutants becoming a symbol for the battle against bigotry and prejudice. Legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont would dial the idea up to 11 over his decades-long run, and by 1987, it had essentially become a core part of the franchise.
That ad was a work of genius, a politically-aware advertisement that resonated with parents and children alike. In a time of real prejudice and fear towards homosexuality, these ads addressed a real worry that parents faced; were their children gay?
"It's 1987. Do you know what your children are?"
A Dark Timeline
The Gifted is exploring this idea in a way the comics never did, though. It seems that, in the reality of The Gifted, the Mutant Registration Act has become law. The X-Men and the Brotherhood have become the stuff of legend, with nobody quite sure whether or not they're real. But we're quickly introduced to a mysterious mutant underground railroad of mutants and mutant-sympathizers, who work to get the mutants to safety.
The idea of this kind of "railroad" is lifted straight from history. Over in the US, the most famous example is undoubtedly the one back in the days of the slave trade, which helped African-Americans escape to free states and Canada. In Europe, the Kindertransport program brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to Great Britain, while the US's One Thousand Children program spanned three continents and brought 1,000 unaccompanied children to the shores of the US.
In the 1990s, the comics made infrequent references to the idea that Charles Xavier had established his own 'mutant underground' — but this was was never developed. Interestingly enough, director James Mangold toyed with adding a similar concept to Logan, but ultimately decided it wasn't central to his plot, and ditched the idea.
A Father / Children Twist
In the world of The Gifted, the US Government employ Sentinels: guards who watch out for potential mutants, who round them up and arrest them. Stephen Moyer's character Reed is one such Sentinel, but in a dramatic twist he learns that his children are mutants. It's actually a plot that's rarely been developed by the X-Men comics; we've only ever had a few minor subplots dealing with parent-child dynamics, and few have ever explored the idea as thoroughly.
But the core idea will ring true for another reason; fans of the cult TV show Heroes will recognize it from the much-loved first season. In Heroes, Jack Coleman's Noah Bennet wrestled with the same kind of dilemma; that said, the character arcs look set to diverge wildly, with Reed's children discovered pretty much straight away, and the family forced to go on the run. The arc may be different, but — as Heroes proved —that kind of dynamic is a powerful one.
Fans will be watching The Gifted with fascination. It looks set to only take thematic cues from the comics, rather than trying to reproduce any particular story; but, frankly, so much the better. Legion proved that this approach can give us some of the most creative superhero stories — and who knows, maybe Fox and Marvel are on a roll...