4 Smart Things 'X-Men' Does (That 'Harry Potter' Totally Messed Up)
Since wholly original story ideas are as hard to come by as PS5s made of Bigfoot meat, it's no surprise that we sometimes get pop-culture franchises covering some pretty similar territory. Case in point, we have not one but two long-running series about fantastical boarding schools for superpowered outsiders: X-Men and Harry Potter. But as wildly varied as the X-Men series may be, it seems as though it may endure for future generations to come – whereas the popularity of the Harry Potter universe is seemingly dissipating like a fart in a ceiling fan store. Why is this happening? Well, for starters …
X-Men’s Central Metaphor Continues To Evolve
The original X-Men comics were pretty blatantly an admittedly loose (and mostly white) allegory for the oppression of Black Americans in the 1960s. As Stan Lee later commented, the subjugation of superpowered mutants was "a good metaphor for what was happening with the Civil Rights Movement in the country at that time" – a metaphor that only would have been improved by not making the hero an old creep who fantasizes about his young students.
But X-Men's allegorical premise was broad enough to have evolved over the years; more recently, the series has included the idea that mutants can also work as stand-ins for the LGBTQ+ community. X2, for example, features an extremely pointed scene in which Iceman (not the Top Gun one) comes out to his parents.
And even before that, X-Men comics tackled "society's reaction to the AIDS crisis head-on," and the way an epidemic devastating a specific community can exacerbate bigotry and stigmatization with the "Legacy Virus" storyline.
Harry Potter features a mishmash of narrative symbolism, with dated, overly-simplistic political themes and clumsy racial commentary – it's not even a metaphor, really; villainous characters literally harass others over the purity of their bloodlines. But while X-Men's meaning can grow and change, many of Harry Potter's overt themes quickly lost their effectiveness when fans grew up and clued into both the conspicuous lack of diversity in Hogwarts, and the whole "money-grubbing banking goblins" thing. Plus those apparent themes of inclusiveness just don't play the same these days, for obvious reasons.
X-Men Characters Aren’t So Sexually Confused And Repressed
The mutants of X-Men are plausibly hormonal and have meaningful romantic connections, whereas the relationships of Harry Potter are weirdly stilted and unconvincing. Harry and Ginny, for instance, have all the chemistry of two co-workers at a suburban 3H&R Block. Not to mention that X-Men actually allows its teachers to have desires and couplings, while the staff at Hogwarts are mostly asexual loners, apparently. Hell, it took like 20 whole years for us to find out that Dumbledore A) had an ex-boyfriend, and B) said ex was basically the Hitler of the wizarding world, which seems pretty important.
And presumably, the X-Men characters are far less sexually confused because Xavier's school actually offers sexual education classes, apparently taught by Gambit? At least that's better than the nothing they get at Hogwarts, leaving teens wholly unprepared to process situations like, say, getting creeped on by a horny ghost in a hot tub.
Harry Potter's Prequels Are Just A Weak Imitation Of X-Men's
Harry Potter, not unlike X-Men (or, for that matter, Star Wars or Breaking Bad), extended its series, at least cinematically, by looking backward, giving us a prequel series about … some dude who wrote a 100-page textbook you probably forgot existed? Weirdly, as the series progressed, it focused more on the relationship between Dumbledore and the evil wizard Grindelwald, which became a virtual carbon copy of the dynamic between Magneto and Prof. Xavier – but with more magic wands and fewer skin-tight leather jumpsuits.
Admittedly, the X-Men film series is about as dependable as Quibi stock, but there's arguably good stuff in those early prequels; X-Men: First Class gives us multiple moments of genuine emotion between the two adversaries. Scenes like that provide actual justification for exploring this time period, while the Fantastic Beasts movies feel like a contractually-obligated dramatic reading of a Wikipedia article.
Then there's the fact that the two villains' motivations are weirdly flipped around; in X-Men, Magneto distrusts humanity after experiencing the Holocaust firsthand, whereas Grindelwald's plan literally involves preventing the Holocaust.
Which, in hindsight, is a pretty goddamn terrible motivation for a villain.
X-Men Doesn’t Belong To One Lone Creator
Obviously, the X-Men franchise has existed in many different mediums throughout history. From comic books to movies to colognes (with hints of musk, vanilla, and adamantium), it has been shaped by a multitude of creative voices. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is pretty much solely controlled by J.K. Rowling, and she has maintained a tight grip on her fictional world. Rowling famously made headlines for suing to prevent a fan-made reference book from being published in 2008. She's also been directly involved in most supplementary fictional content; co-writing the story for the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and penning the screenplays for the Fantastic Beasts films – a series which, in all likelihood, is now prematurely dead, based on the performance of the latest entry.
Some have suggested that Rowling should let other writers play in her fictional world, creating an "authorized expanded universe" in the vein of what Star Wars did in the '90s. Ultimately, the choice is up to Rowling, but in refusing to cede any creative control over the Potter-verse, the series rides or dies on Rowling herself – and, in case you've been living under a rock with no wi-fi connection, that's not exactly going so well …
Rowling's recent pivot from celebrated author to transphobic blogger has led to questions of Harry Potter's sustainability, with corporate attempts to distance recent Potter-themed projects from Rowling herself. X-Men, though, may stand the test of time purely due to its incorporation of a wide variety of authorial voices. And there have obviously been some extremely problematic X-Men creatives in the past; legendary Marvel artist John Byrne, not unlike Rowling, published an online transphobic rant in 2015. And, notoriously, Bryan Singer, the director of several acclaimed X-Men films, has been accused of sexual assault on multiple occasions. As was Brett Ratner, the director of the least acclaimed X-Men movie.
Rowling has never been accused of assault (and is, herself, a survivor of abuse), but the point is that X-Men has endured its association with these alleged dirtbags because the franchise belongs to no one person. Disney is already beginning to incorporate X-Men characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whereas the future of Harry Potter, which remains an exclusive Rowling product, seems pretty bleak right now. At the very least, let someone make that Azkaban prison break movie we suggested.
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Top Image: 20th Century Studios/Warner Bros.