The Gifted’s solid debut means the X-Men finally have a strong foothold on broadcast television. And while its premise emphatically states that it takes place in a world without the X-Men, there are more than enough nods, winks, and outright lifts from the comic book series’ past that it is worthy to explore their origins back in the pages of Uncanny X-Men and its numerous spin-offs.
Early in the pilot, Andy (Percy Hynes White) refers to mutants as “muties.” Based on Lauren’s (Natalie Alyn Lind) reaction, we know that word is not a term of affection. In use by November 1965’s X-Men #14 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee – though Robert Heinlein was using the term in stories as early as the 1940s — “Mutie” quickly became the slur of choice for bigots when confronted by a mutant. It was never more popular amongst anti-mutant groups than in 1982’s X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson. In the story, William Stryker uses it to foment anti-mutant leanings at his church revivals and to bait Professor Xavier into debating him on television; leaving him open to a kidnapping. Curiously, The Gifted is the first X-Men live action project to make a very pointed connection to the term and other bigoted slurs. Expect it to recur whenever the Mutant Underground ventures into the wide world.
In getting ready for the dance, Lauren asks her date which outfit looks better: blue or gold. The color schemes of her options are a quick visual reference to the standard X-Men uniform. Though some might argue the blue was intended to read as black due to printing issues in most comics of the time, the blue-and-gold uniforms debuted in 1963’s X-Men #1. The team eventually switched to more individualized costumes in issue #39 – designed by Jean Grey no less! – but the blue-and-gold motif would return whenever the changing creative teams wanted to recall those early days. During Grant Morrison’s New X-Men series, he and artist Frank Quitely redesigned the uniforms with a more stylish, fashion-forward feel. Sadly, Marvel never made New X-Men wear available, and the color scheme continued to be the butt of jokes in X-Men films. The blue-and-gold uniforms finally made their debut in X-Men: First Class, proving they can look good in live action. Will the mutants of The Gifted ever adopt costumes or uniforms? They’d have to become a team first.
Once Andy’s powers cause an incident, a federal agency called Sentinel Services knocks on the Struckers’ door. The name immediately recalls the robotic Sentinels first seen in Uncanny X-Men #14. Despite their visual similarity to Magneto, they were primarily the weapon of non-mutant antagonists like Bolivar Trask and Project Wideawake. A few Mutants, like Cassandra Nova, would also adapt some of the technology to their own ends. But beyond the Sentinel connection, Sentinel Services also resembles any number of Marvel governmental agencies and mutant research groups like Department H and the Mutant Response Division. It will be interesting to see how much time The Gifted will devote to developing the agency and filling its ranks with recognizable anti-mutant foes.
If Lorna Dane’s (Emma Dumont) powers and plastic-cell imprisonment remind you of Magneto, that’s no accident. First introduced in X-Men #49, Lorna was eventually revealed to be the daughter of Mutant Brotherhood founder Erik Magnus Leshner (Magento) 35 years later – although the issue was brought up many times in the intervening years. In fact, in her first adventure with the X-Men, an android of Magneto claimed to be her father. At the time, the whole thing was dismissed as a ruse by the villain Mastermind to control her powers, but it seems the android knew better.
Magneto, for his part, got around, also fathering Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, better known as Avengers’ Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver (the latter of which also appears in X-Men: Days of Future Past played by a different actor than the Avengers films). It is currently unclear if The Gifted will make use of Lorna’s parentage. Just like the paternity issue on Legion, Marvel and Fox’s ability to reference the X-Men film characters must go through many approvals at a number of corporate entities. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that Marco says she founded the Atlanta chapter of the Mutant Underground, as her comic book counterpart would eventually go on to be the uncomfortable leader of X-Factor.
While the X-Men and the Brotherhood are the best known mutant groups, there are other organizations. For some mutants, the struggle between Xavier and Magneto’s goals is too much to take and others just want to hide away from the world. On The Gifted, these other groups may emerge as members of the Mutant Underground or as rival factions rising up as the central leadership the X-Men and Brotherhood offered disappears.
One such group is the Morlocks, introduced in Uncanny X-Men #169. As most are too deformed by their mutations to live in mainstream society, they literally dwell underground in tunnels around the New York area. Led by Callisto, the group consciously chose their name from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine to reflect their exile status. Under the leadership of Storm, the group waxed and waned over the years, but eventually re-established their underground society and welcomed humans into their ranks following a number of upheavals above ground. The mostly benevolent group closely resembles The Gifted’s Mutant Underground, but may yet appear as a faction of their own at some point. In fact, it would be interesting to see stranger looking mutants appear on the show; even if the makeup effects mean those appearances would have to be brief.
No matter how you slice it, “Reed Strucker” (Stephen Moyer) is an interesting name. It is composed of two very important names from elsewhere in the Marvel Universe: Reed Richards and Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker. Reed, of course, was there at the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics in issue #1 of Fantastic Four. And like the Reed of The Gifted, he’s dedicated to his causes and often forgetful about his family until menace lands on their doorstep.
Strucker, meanwhile, was a leading HYDRA figure who debuted in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5 (another work of Kirby and Lee). But he also has a surprising tie to the X-Men line of titles via his genetically altered children Andrea and Andreas Von Strucker. Introduced in Uncanny X-Men #194 by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Romita Jr., the twins were in charge of a white supremacist organization known as Fenris; challenging Storm and Magneto at different times. The pair eventually became involved in a number of villainous organizations like The Upstarts. Sometime later, Andrea died when she discovered Baron Zemo lurking in the body of Citizen V. Andreas would become The Swordsman, eventually dying himself at the hands of Spider-Man foe Norman Osborn. As this is Marvel Comics, both siblings eventually returned to the land of the living and opened Club Fenris, a hotspot for supervillains. Oh, they also love each other very much – in the Targaryen sense.
Of course, it is hard to tell what this means for The Gifted. But it is notable that Reed’s children are named Andrea and Andrew. The show also makes an early wink to their comic-book counterparts as Andy draws a wolf in the opening moments. But is it just a wink? Perhaps someone in the Strucker line altered their genetic makeup. The possibilities are almost as thrilling as the pilot episode’s climatic chase scene.
While not a comic book connection, Marco’s ringtone is clearly the theme song from the 1990s X-Men cartoon: the only truly memorable X-Men musical theme ever composed.
Vague references to the Incident, the missing X-Men, the anti-mutants laws and “the Wall” all suggest that The Gifted may be taking place some years before the events of Logan. It is a good X-Men timeline to work from as it closely resembles our own world, yet takes for granted knowledge of things like mutation and the X-Men. It also quickly sweeps away established characters unavailable to the show while giving characters like Polaris and Blink an opportunity to take the spotlight. Though the connection to Logan is unconfirmed, tying The Gifted to that film’s history also makes the various metaphors of mutation that much stronger. If Logan is part of The Gifted’s future, we know the mutants will lose.
At the same time, that definite outcome may be the strongest reason for The Gifted to stand on its own while finding great characters and ideas in the source material. Despite 10 X-Men feature films, a cable network drama and countless episodes of animated X-Men shows, The Gifted still has enough unexplored comic book lore to mine that it could very well start its own television universe.
The Gifted airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.