The X-Men sat out Marvel’s first Civil War – but, surprisingly, they’re not sitting out the current Outlawed event. Mark Millar’s Civil War event was probably one of the biggest, and most important, in comic book history. After an accident in which superhero vigilantism resulted in the destruction of a school in Stamford, Connecticut, the US Government passed a Superhuman Registration Act. The superhero community schismed, with Iron Man leading a group who were willing to enforce the act, and Captain America taking charge of a rival band who went underground.
On the face of it, fans would have expected the X-Men to side with Captain America without a second thought. Marvel’s merry mutants have been on the receiving end of various Mutant Registration Acts, and they’ve always opposed them as discriminatory. Surprisingly, though, the X-Men were almost irrelevant. Sure, there was an X-Men: Civil War miniseries, but that’s just a side-story to the main arc, one in which the X-Men get briefly dragged into a spat with Tony Stark. So just why did the X-Men decide not to choose a side?
The Civil War actually took place at one of the darkest moments in mutant history. The Scarlet Witch had recently unleashed a curse that depowered the bulk of the world’s mutants, and consequently the mutant race was on the brink of extinction. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters had essentially become a reservation, with almost all the surviving mutants taken there. Cyclops and the X-Men were reeling, fearful for the future, and they were in no position to cause trouble – not least because the school was being policed by Sentinels. Although the majority of mutants were naturally inclined to oppose the Superhuman Registration Act, they were in absolutely no position to do so. In fact, the X-Men soon found themselves forced to bring in potential troublemakers, lest they cause the future of the mutant race to be even further imperiled.
In the present day, the mutant race is no longer on the brink of extinction; in fact, now it’s flourishing, with the entire mutant race living together on the sovereign nation of Krakoa. Not only do the X-Men have no need to fear the extinction of the mutant race, their leaders have discovered how to conquer death, and past attempted acts of genocide are being reversed at breathtaking speed. As a result, in Champions #3 Cyclops takes to the field when he hears of a new Registration Act in the US, one forcing teenage superheroes to be registered, that is being opposed by Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel and her Champions. Under Cyclops’ lead, the X-Men pick a side, intervening to offer the teenage runaways sanctuary. Cyclops confronts the government’s enforcers, an organization called CRADLE, and threatens them with war with the mutants if they don’t back off.
There are striking similarities between Outlawed and Civil War, but the contrast between the X-Men’s positions is fascinating. Cyclops stands at the center of both plots; in the former he is hesitant and reluctant, weighed down by the burden of responsibility for leading the last of the mutants, but in the second he is bold and confident, energized by the existence of Krakoa. The X-Men‘s decision to participate in this particular superhero Civil War is the perfect illustration of how much the world has changed for the mutants.