Tuesday

Richards / Xavier

In the Original Marvel Universe, Reed Richards and Charles Xavier were never exactly friends, but their paths crossed many times as leaders of their respective superhero teams, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, and they had an interesting relationship. The two men had a great deal in common, besides being gifted with superhuman powers. Both came from wealthy families and were raised in luxurious homes with servants. Both were highly educated scholars and brilliant scientists who were held in high esteem. Both were very secretive and even obsessive about their research projects. Both were war veterans and natural-born leaders with a knack for strategic planning. And both were driven by a sense of duty to use their skills and abilities for the greater good of humanity.

As Mister Fantastic, Richards chose a very public role and became an international celebrity for his heroic exploits. Xavier, however, chose to remain very much in the background, concealing his association with the X-Men and acting as the shadowy Professor X. Though their methods were different, their goals were much the same, and when circumstances warranted, they were eager to further each other’s interests.

Chronological analysis suggests that Charles Xavier was about seven years younger than Reed Richards. Both possessed of genius-level intellects, their academic careers were accelerated beyond the norm. Richards had completed a full course of study at the California Institute of Technology as a teen-ager before enlisting in the Army with the outbreak of World War II. He was recruited into the espionage service and spent most of the war working in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). After the war ended, he returned to his studies and enrolled at the State University of New York in Hegeman, where he focused on rocket science. Following graduation, he pursued further degrees at other universities until receiving his terminal degree from Columbia. After that, he returned to California to work full-time at his father’s research complex, Richards Laboratories.

Charles Xavier was a teen-ager when World War II ended, but was already enrolled in Bard College, near his home in Westchester County, NY, pursuing a degree in biology. Upon graduation, he went to England to attend Oxford University, where he rapidly earned his doctorate in genetics. When the Korean War broke out, Xavier enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve his country, although he decided to keep his telepathic abilities a secret. Badly wounded in combat and suffering from a broken heart, Xavier retreated to the Greek islands for his convalescence, and spent several years wandering the Mediterranean region. After losing the use of his legs, he returned to the United States, secured a position at Columbia University, and built his reputation as a scholar.

For many years, Xavier had envisioned a special taskforce of super-powered mutants like himself, to promote the peaceful co-existence of mutants and baseline humans. When Reed Richards and his three colleagues gained super-powers in a freak accident and became a team of costumed superheroes called the Fantastic Four, Xavier was inspired to follow a similar course with his dream. He decided that his agents would wear matching superhero costumes, have dramatic code-names, and act as a team when battling menaces to society. As the Fantastic Four established a worldwide reputation and enjoyed almost universal acclaim, Xavier recruited the first five members of his own team and dubbed them the X-Men.

Reed Richards and Charles Xavier first met, quite by chance, in March 1963 when Richards was invited to give a special lecture at his alma mater, SUNY Hegeman. Xavier and his personal assistant, Scott Summers (also deputy leader of the X-Men) had come to the school that day to “interview” a number of students Xavier suspected might be mutants. On their way out, Xavier and Summers encountered Richards and his team, who had just arrived. They exchanged pleasantries, and then went their separate ways. However, Richards was determined to get to know the reclusive geneticist better, and so he invited him to his engagement party about a week later. Coincidentally, the X-Men were also invited, but to preserve Xavier’s anonymity, he and his team arrived separately and spent the evening pretending not to know each other. Richards and Xavier chatted throughout the party, but did not have the opportunity for a more substantive discussion. Nevertheless, they began a professional correspondence in the weeks to follow, and Richards was impressed that Xavier could conduct such brilliant research while acting as headmaster at an exclusive upstate boarding school. That June, Xavier attended the wedding ceremony of Richards and his teammate Susan Storm. Again, the X-Men were also present but kept their distance from Xavier. Obliged to appear on a television debate that evening, Xavier could not stay for the wedding reception, but left the happy couple with his warmest regards.

Richards and Xavier would next meet a year and a half later, in November 1964, when Richards proposed that they work together, alongside renowned inventor Tony Stark, on a project to capture and cure the Hulk. The three men worked in close collaboration for a couple of months, and were granted facilities at Hoover Dam to set up the devices they had designed. The entire project was overseen by Air Force General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, who had been charged with bringing the menace of the Hulk to an end. Finally, in January 1965, Richards and Xavier met at Hoover Dam to execute their plan, though Stark was absent. They succeeded in capturing the Hulk by subduing him with massive amounts of electricity. But, before they could begin the second phase of their project, the Hulk suddenly vanished into thin air, leaving the two scientists stumped. General Ross was enraged, and suspended the project indefinitely. Still, Richards and Xavier had developed a great respect for each other in the course of this project, and Xavier came to believe that Reed Richards was a man he could trust.

Thus, in April 1967, Charles Xavier paid a visit to Reed Richards in his Baxter Building headquarters and revealed that he was, in fact, Professor X, leader of the X-Men. Xavier was cagey about the exact nature of his mutant powers, however, fearing how Richards and his teammates might react to a powerful telepath. The purpose of his visit, he explained, was to secure the formula Richards had developed for unstable molecules, as he was planning to recruit several new members to the X-Men whose powers would require more from their costumes than his original team’s had. Honored to be taken into Xavier’s confidence, Richards happily provided the formula and worked with Xavier in fashioning costumes that were more flexible and durable than ordinary garments.

Five months later, Richards and Xavier had cause to meet again when a young mutant named Jamie Madrox wreaked havoc in New York with his power to create multiple duplicates of himself. A special suit Madrox’s father had created to dampen his son’s powers was shorting out, and Xavier helped the Fantastic Four defeat the army of duplicates so the fault in the suit could be corrected before it reached critical mass and exploded. Xavier assured Richards and his team that he would take Madrox to a place where the youth could learn to deal with his powers and receive training in their safe use.

Richards learned soon after that Madrox had taken up residence at the Mutant Research Centre on Muir Isle, off the coast of Scotland, which was run by an old associate of Xavier’s, Dr. Moira MacTaggert. Richards was glad to know that not every mutant Xavier took under his wing was obliged to join the X-Men, and over the next few years, as the Fantastic Four encountered mutants who needed training and guidance, such as Willie Evans Jr. and Xi’an Coy Manh, Richards had no reservations about referring them to Charles Xavier.

In July 1972, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, including Professor X, were kidnapped alongside a host of other super-heroes and super-villains, by a cosmic entity known as the Beyonder. Out of curiosity, this godlike being had decided to set the humans against each other to study them in the course of their conflict. Richards was immediately surprised to find Xavier no longer required the use of his wheelchair, but Xavier would only say that his injuries had been corrected through an advanced surgical technique. A general distrust of the X-Men among the heroic faction caused them to keep largely to themselves during the many long weeks they were all held captive by the Beyonder, but Richards and Xavier still found occasion to renew their acquaintanceship.

After finally returning home, the two men’s paths would continue to cross infrequently, partly as a result of the growing anti-mutant sentiment in society causing the X-Men to become increasingly reclusive. In fact, Charles Xavier would seem to drop off the face of the earth for years at a time. But as Richards’ own son Franklin had already manifested dangerous mutant powers, Reed Richards had a more-than-professional interest in the work of Charles Xavier and his School for Gifted Youngsters. As Franklin grew, events seemed to be drawing these two enigmatic men ever closer together.




1 comment:

  1. When Reed Richards had to drop out of a week-long conference on induced mutations, held at the beginning of January 1969, he arranged for Charles Xavier to attend in his place. Unfortunately, the conference ended in disaster, and Xavier was obliged to erase all knowledge of his presence from the minds of the participants.

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