In Theodore Sturgeon’s celebrated science fiction novel More Than Human, six unique individuals with uncanny abilities use their powers in combination and create a new organism. Their unified whole becomes much stronger than they were separately. This combination of many parts into a new whole is known as a gestalt and led to the furthering of the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In psychology, this idea is applied to the mind and its behavior as a whole. Gestalt psychologists operate under “the theory or doctrine that physiological or psychological phenomena do not occur through the summation of individual elements, as reflexes or sensations, but through gestalts functioning separately or interrelatedly.” Sound familiar?
In regards to the X-Men, this kind of thinking makes a lot of sense to me. How many classic X-Men comics open with the Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, et al, honing their powers in the Danger Room? Besides helping out new readers by identifying characters by their powers (which used to be pretty easy to do by codenames alone, but we seem to have run out that kind of simplicity these days. Vulcan, anyone?), this tried and true staple of X-lore shows how potentially dangerous each mutant can be and how important it is that they practice using their powers. More importantly, as Professor X and Cyclops repeatedly remind them, the X-Men stand and fall as a group. Teamwork is the goal. And since mutants are social outcasts, they have to learn to work together if they are ever to help turn the tide of prejudice against them in the world at large. A large goal to be sure, but when one is working for peace between two seemingly disparate forces as homo sapiens and so-called homo superior, survival is paramount. In Sturgeon’s More Than Human, the Homo Gestalt has a moral responsibility to protect Homo Sapiens as they are his precursors. Sound familiar?
Marvel Comics dynamically reinvented the team archetype when they created the All-New, All-Different international team of X-Men. Chris Claremont and John Byrne took the team concept further during the Phoenix Saga by introducing elements of the Kabbalah to the narrative. Certain team members were delineated to particular spheres on the Tree of Life/Sephiroth (I remember the 90s X-Men cartoon showing this as well). Claremont uses this device again in the X-Men The End mini-series. Jason Powell has some notes on this that I found interesting and UncannyXmen.Net has a summary/definition of the X-Men Tree of Life that is used in X-Men The End including which characters are on which sphere (you’ll have to scroll down their page). Storm is Nezah, representing eternity, endurance and victory through God’s active grace in the material world.
So, if today’s post has taught you anything, you must go read More Than Human (or track down the Heavy Metal illustrated version), study the Kabbalah (or at least read all the volumes of Promethea by Alan Moore and J.H. Wiliams III), and reread the Dark Phoenix Saga. Then play the X-Men Gestalt game and place the characters in the spheres that you think they belong. Is Xavier the Crown or Jean? Is Rachel Majesty or Storm? Or you can simplify things and think of each X-Man as parts of the human operating system. If Xavier is the brains and Colossus is the heart, then who is the conscience? Or if you think Cyclops is the eyes and Storm is the heart, then what role do Nightcrawler and Emma Frost play? Whose role is indispensable and whose can be filled by others? This exercise is fun if you are writing about your own team of characters, superheroes or otherwise.
A great review of More Than Human.
Images in today’s post are by John Byrne, Ed Benes and Alex Ross, respectively.