Notes on this revision:
- I've left out the "Ultimate X-Men", "Other Media" and trailing sections, as I think they're not the central bone of contention here.
- The issue of what should or should not be included is a central element of the disagreement, I wanted to highlight elements I've left out and I feel should not be included in the final article:
- Some details on the circumstances at Marvel Comics when the X-Men were created have been omitted. Yes, Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk were created around the same time, but their link to the X-Men is limited to being produced by the same company at the same time. The driving force behind all of Marvel Comics' expansion during the early 1960s is the huge success of Fantastic Four. If readers want to know more about Marvel Comics, they should follow the link and read about the company.
- A comprehensive list of every X-Man. Many such members are exceedingly minor, and my opinion is that such characters should only be mentioned if they are relevant to a storyline which is described. Otherwise, readers should follow the link to List of X-Men for the full list.
- Secret identities of most of the characters, other than Jean Grey who has gone by her real name rather than her code names at times in recent years. This information is not relevant to this article, and users should go to individual character pages for that information.
- Details of character backgrounds or powers for every X-Man. Again, the user should follow links to individual character articles for that information. In some instances it is relevant - for instance, the original X-Men were visually unusual for their era and this distinguishes them from their peers. Wolverine, as arguably the most popular X-Man, is appealing in large part because of his nebulous background. But, for instance, the fact that Storm was thief as a girl, or Colossus can change into steel, is a character detail, and not really relevant to this article unless it's going to be a lot more detailed than even what I've written here.
- I've avoided writing a list of the crossovers in X-Men titled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a mere list seems rather pointless. If the stories are significant and informative, then they should be described. If a list is desired, then something like List of X-Men Crossovers might be the best way to go. (This external page has some information on various X-Men crossovers.)
- I am not an expert on the X-Men of the 1990s (in my opinion, they were pretty lousy comics, and I therefore didn't buy them), so my synopsis of the series in both sections for that era is largely based on the existing text. By contrast, I've fleshed out the earlier eras of the series somewhat.
And now, on to the article text...
Although initially unsuccessful, by the 1980s the X-Men had become one of the most popular franchises in comic books, and many writers and artists have become industry stars as a result of working on the franchise. The X-Men have been adapted into many other media, including animated series, feature films, novels, video games and action figures.
X-Men are mutants, human beings who, due to a quantum leap in evolution, are born with superhuman abilities (as opposed to other human superheroes, who acquire their abilities artificially). Mutants are often hated by regular humans because humans fear that mutants are destined to supplant them. This fact is worsened by a number of mutants who use their powers to try to disrupt and dominate human society. The X-Men were gathered by the benevolent Professor X to help them learn to live with their powers, and to combat the mutants who use their powers against humanity.
This is one of the series' central themes: Mutants are often seen as a metaphor for racial, religious and other minorities that face oppression. Professor X has been compared to African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and the team's arch-nemesis Magneto to the more militant Malcolm X.
The comic books
The original X-Men
Following the success of the Fantastic Four comic launched in 1961, Marvel Comics produced a number of superhero titles which stressed character personalities and personal conflict as much as action. X-Men was one of the last titles of the first wave of this early 1960s renaissance which helped define the Silver Age of comic books. It and The Avengers #1 (launched the same month, September 1963) were the new Marvel's first forays into team comics. However, while The Avengers was immediately successful, X-Men was not.
The characters and concept were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who had also created the Fantastic Four. Lee has claimed that he introduced the concept of benign mutation as a source of superhuman powers so that he wouldn't have to keep inventing origin stories for all his characters. Issue #1 introduced the team and their arch-foe, Magneto, setting up the long-running theme of mutants being feared and hated by many normal humans (a metaphor for racism), and "evil mutants" such as Magneto being a visceral justification for that fear.
Billed as "The strangest heroes of all", Kirby's designs did much to make good that boast visually. The group's mentor and leader, Professor X, was a bald paraplegic who communicated via telepathy and thus rarely talked. Cyclops wore a special red visor over his eyes since if he ever removed or opened it, his powerful, uncontrollable energy beams erupted from his eyes. Angel sported a pair of wings which were part of his body, not devices such as those of Hawkman. Beast was larger than almost any normal human, with oversized hands and feet, the latter of which he could use as hands. And Iceman was covered in a sheath of snow (later ice), and had difficulty controlling his powers. A strange-looking group, by the standards of the day. Only the team's final recruit, Marvel Girl, was not unusual in her appearance. Moreover, the team other than Professor X were teenagers, a rarity among superheroes at the time (Spider-Man and the Human Torch being exceptions).
The X-Men may have been influenced by the 1953 science fiction novel Children of the Atom by Wilmar Shiras, which also featured a school for young superhumans. The DC Comics series Doom Patrol debuted a few months before X-Men #1, and considering the inter-company communication at the time, it's possible that Doom Patrol slightly influenced the X-Men (they both feature leaders in wheelchairs, and heroes which unusual physical appearances, for instance).
The early X-Men stories are not well-remembered, often featuring a variety of second-string and flat-out silly villains. Despite introducing a few memorable characters (Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Professor X's brother Juggernaut, and the mutant-hunting robotic Sentinels), the series did not achieve popularity, unable to graduate from bi-monthly to monthly publication until #14. Issue #17 (February 1966) was the last by Lee and Kirby.
Lee's protege, Roy Thomas, assumed the bulk of the writing chores after Lee left, and Werner Roth was the main artist. The book continued to founder, however. Thomas wrote an extended storyline involving the clandestine organization Factor Three, seemingly killed one of the major characters, and wrote a crossover with The Avengers. Roth gave way to Don Heck on art. But nothing seemed to work.
By 1968 the book was teetering on the brink of cancellation, and Marvel assigned a pair of top-tier artists to try to save it. Jim Steranko illustrated a few issues, followed by Neal Adams. The Thomas/Adams stories are remembered as the best the 1960s X-Men had to offer. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late, and as of #67 (December 1970), the X-Men were converted to a reprint title, with a few guest appearances in other titles, such as The Avengers.
The All-New, All-Different X-Men
By 1975, Marvel management had substantially turned over, and Thomas helped to motivate a revival of the X-Men. Giant-Size X-Men #1 (Summer 1975) was written by Len Wein and drawn by Dave Cockrum, and introduced a new group of X-Men. Unlike their predecessors, these X-Men were adults, with independent lives and personalities. This led to more interpersonal conflict as members often didn't fully trust - or even like - one another. Cockrum's dynamic designs also proved eye-catching.
The special was successful enough to launch the X-Men's series anew, and X-Men #94 (August 1975) continued the adventures of the new team. Wein yielded as writer to Chris Claremont, who would become more closely associated with the X-Men than any other creator in its history.
Claremont and Cockrum put some novel spins on superheroes: Claremont liked to write strong female characters, and oversaw the development of Marvel Girl into the far more powerful Phoenix, setting up one of the series' best-remembered stories. Cockrum had a penchant for inhuman-looking characters, such as Nightcrawler. And the team leader, Cyclops, constantly struggled to mold his group of strong-willed individuals into a cohesive team.
Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne with #108 (December 1977). Claremont and Byrne, together with inker Terry Austin, cemented their place as industry superstars for the next two decades with their 3-year run on the book. Although the book's adventures were inventive and exciting, many consider the interplay among the characters and their differing viewpoints and morals the key to the series' success. Wolverine, in particular, became immensely popular, his vicious behavior combined with his personal sense of honor being a source of personal and team conflict. One scene, ground-breaking at the time, implied that Wolverine killed a guard off-panel in order to break into an enemy stronghold (X-Men #116, December 1978), an act which marked Wolverine's nearly unique role as an anti-hero in mainstream comics.
The climax of the Claremont/Byrne/Austin years was The Dark Phoenix Saga in X-Men #129-137 (January-September 1980), in which Phoenix found her powers overwhelming her, and in her madness committing heinous acts of cosmic scale. Rarely had superheroes truly "gone bad" before this, and certainly not with such devastating results. Cyclops' deep love for Phoenix helped ground the tale as one of personal tragedy. Claremont and Byrne had intended her to be stripped of her powers and returned to her former life as a normal human, but at the last minute Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter decided that Phoenix's acts were too great for her to get off with anything less than the ultimate penalty, and so the saga ended with the death of Phoenix in order to save the universe from the mad godling. Though details of the story have been retconned into different forms since then, the Dark Phoenix Saga is widely regarded as one of the best and most important stories in the history of comic books.
Byrne and Austin departed after #143 (March 1981), and Cockrum returned for a time. The X-Men's popularity had begun an ascent which would last years. DC Comics had begun publishing what was considered their X-Men equivalent in The New Teen Titans. And the X-Men evolved into a franchise with the publication of The New Mutants #1 (March 1983), created by Claremont and Bob McLeod.
By this time, Marvel became careful to put rising stars as artists on the main X-Men book (now titled Uncanny X-Men). Cockrum gave way to Paul Smith, John Romita, Jr. and then Marc Silvestri. Claremont penned a "happy ending" for Cyclops, as he met and married Madelyne Prior in X-Men #175 (November 1983). Following this milestone which resolved events for the character who had long been the emotional center of the series, the X-Men evolved into a marketing vehicle as much as a storytelling venue.
Of note during this era is the X-Men graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills, illustrated by Brent Anderson. It focused in the efforts of a reverend to singlehandedly eliminate mutantkind, and was one of the most significant entries in the series' theme of anti-mutant fervor. Elements of the story were used years later in the second X-Men feature film.
The third X-Men title was launched in February 1986 in X-Factor, created by Bob Layton and Butch Guice. It reunited the original X-Men under a somewhat flimsy premise, underscoring that the primary goal of the franchise was now primarily to publish product for X-Men fans to buy. This was soon followed by the first of a long line of crossovers, 1986's "Mutant Massacre", which featured storylines weaving among all X-Men-related titles over the span of a few months. For the next decade, Marvel and other comics companies would frequently publish crossovers among their major titles to encourage readers to buy books they didn't normally read, for without doing so they would miss part of the story. While such crossovers were typically billed as "major events", often they were simply brash and violent but had only a cosmetic lasting impact on the series. Nonetheless, it took readers years before they started treating crossovers as good points to stop buying titles they already bought, rather than start buying titles they didn't.
By the early 1990s, X-Men titles were many, varied, and - many fans felt - hard to follow. The main title underwent what some felt was a renaissance with artist Jim Lee, though Marvel promptly "cashed in" by launching yet another X-Men title by Lee, titled simply X-Men (a move which indirectly led to Claremont's departure from the franchise he'd helped build). Wolverine had graduated to his own solo series some years previously. And artist Rob Liefeld transformed The New Mutants into the paramilitary X-Force. X-Men continuity also became rife with time travelling and parallel worlds, characters returning from the dead or changing in radical ways (the title Excalibur often embodied all of these traits at once, along with wit and dynamic art by Alan Davis).
During the 1990s, Marvel Comics entered bankruptcy, eventually emerging with new owners. Under editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, the X-Men line was pared back and refocused. Fan-favorite writer Grant Morrison took over X-Men - it was retitled New X-Men - while a few other titles continued on their own ways. In 2004, following Morrison's departure, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday launched Astonishing X-Men, the latest title in the franchise. Meanwhile, many individual X-Men characters gained their own standalone series, and the franchise appeared poised for radical growth again.
Origins and the original X-Men
The X-Men were founded by Professor Charles Xavier, one of the first mutants born in the Marvel Universe in the 20th century. As a teenager, he developed telepathic powers, and learned that mutants such as himself were despised and feared by many normal humans for their superhuman powers. While travelling the world as a young man, he also encountered Erik Magnus Lensherr, a mutant and Holocaust survivor, who felt that mutants and humans had to learn to live together to prevent a war which would destroy them all. Xavier was also rendered paraplegic during an adventure while travelling.
To fulfill his dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, Xavier founded his School for Gifted Youngsters in New York state to help young mutants learn to live with their powers and understand the responsibilities their abilities brought. His first four students were a quartet of teenaged men whose mutant powers had recently emerged, and they became the founding members of the X-Men. Xavier - known to his students as Professor X - dressed them in blue-and-yellow uniforms for their training, and issued them code-names: Cyclops, Angel, Beast and Iceman. Soon thereafter they were joined by their first female recruit, Marvel Girl.
Part of Xavier's goal for his school was for his students to defend the world against so-called "evil mutants", and their first adventure as a team involved defending a missile base from Xavier's former comrade Magnus, who now styled himself the supervillain Magneto. The X-Men were successful in this goal, but Magneto remained their most deadly foe, despite his many setbacks.
The X-Men's early years involved many battles against evil mutants, such as The Vanisher, The Blob, and Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, as well as villains such as Xavier's half-brother Cain Marko who, long jealous of Xavier's talents, gained mystic powers and attacked the team as the nigh-unstoppable Juggernaut. Along the way, the X-Men grew up: Cyclops, a withdrawn youth, emerged from his shell to become the X-Men's field leader. He and Angel vyed for the attentions of Marvel Girl, with Marvel Girl and Cyclops forming an enduring relationship while the more flamboyant Angel turned his attentions elsewhere. Beast proved an adept scientist, and eventually earned an advanced degree of his own.
Though Xavier had the covert aid of an FBI operative in the early years, and the X-Men won the approval of many other super-heroes, they and other mutants remained feared by most humans. This fear and mistrust came to a head when a scientist named Bolivar Trask created the Sentinels, robots who were programmed to seek and neutralize mutants. Trask's plans ended tragically when the Sentinels decided that the best way to defeat the "mutant menace" was to take over the Earth; Trask gave his life to defeat them.
The X-Men's early years involved fights against an endless array of villains, including a protracted battle against the underground organization Factor Three, at the conclusion of which Professor X and Marvel Girl unveiled new, distinct costumes for the team members to commemorate their passing into adulthood. Tragically, not long afterwards Professor X was killed by the subterranean monster Grotesk, leaving the X-Men truly on their own.
In their next encounter with Magneto, the villain was aided by the hypnotic Mesmero and by Polaris, a young woman with magnetic powers who believed herself to be Magneto's daughter. This proved to be a lie, and Polaris joined the X-Men, and had a brief romance with Iceman.
Cyclops had believed himself the sole survivor of his family, but the X-Men learned that his brother Alex was in fact alive, and also a mutant. The team travelled to Egypt where they battled The Living Pharaoh, another mutant who, like Alex, absorbed cosmic energy and could project it as energy blasts. The Pharoah manipulated Alex to allow himself to transform into The Living Monolith, but was defeated by the X-Men. However, Alex was soon captured by a new generation of Sentinels, also bent on destroying all mutants. The X-Men eventually defeated these Sentinels, with the help of their creator, Larry Trask (son of Bolivar). Along the way, Alex adopted the code-name Havok, and he and Polaris formed an enduring romance.
Returning from these adventures, the X-Men were confronted with Professor X, alive. He explained that a mutant named Changeling had posed as the Professor and given his life so that Xavier could prepare in secret to repel an alien invasion by the Z'nox.
The All-New, All-Different X-Men
Some months later, the X-Men were captured by a mutant island named Krakatoa. Only Cyclops escaped, and Professor X assembled a new group of X-Men to rescue them, with Cyclops as their leader. This new team consisted of adults who were already in control of their powers and had lives of their own: Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee, Sunfire and Thunderbird. Also unlike the original X-Men, this group hailed from many different regions of the world. Despite their differences - many members of the team disliked each other almost immediately - Cyclops held the team together and the rescued the original X-Men.
The original team decided to depart and pursue their own lives, leaving behind only Cyclops. Dejected at this break-up, Cyclops threw himself into pulling the new team together - no easy task. Sunfire promptly returned to his native Japan, and both Wolverine and Thunderbird objected to Cyclops' leadership. In their first mission, against Count Nefaria, Thunderbird's hubris led to his death, which weighed heavily on Cyclops' conscience.
Cyclops and Marvel Girl continued to date, despite her departure from the team, and on one such date the team became tangled in the plans of a third generation of Sentinels, created by a scientist named Steven Lang. Taken into orbit, the team defeated the Sentinels and wrecked the satellite, but were forced to return to Earth on a Space Shuttle during a storm of cosmic rays. Marvel Girl seemingly sacrificed herself by piloting the shuttle while the other X-Men stayed in a shielded compartment, but in fact she was transformed by the event into the immensely powerful Phoenix.
Following this, Professor X began to dream of a beautiful alien woman, who soon materialized in the person of Lilandra, exiled queen of the Shi'ar empire. With the help of the X-Men, Lilandra overthrew her mad brother, the emperor D'ken. However, D'ken had managed to use an alien crystal to destabilize the fabric of reality. Phoenix, with psychic aid from her teammates, managed to knit the fabric back together - a feat of such tremendous power that many observers wondered if she were even human anymore.
Following the team's next encounter with Magneto, the team was separated when Magneto's base in an active volcano in Antarctica imploded. Phoenix and the Beast returned to civilization, believing the others dead. Xavier, in his grief, accepted Lilandra's offer to join her in outer space.
In fact, Cyclops' team survived, and spent the next year getting back to the United States by way of the Savage Land, Japan, and Canada. This baptism of fire allowed the team to become accustomed to one another: Wolverine, despite his rough nature, became friends with Nightcrawler, though the rest of the team was shocked at his rough nature and willingness to kill in the line of duty. Cyclops and Storm became confidantes. Unfortunately, Banshee lost his power fighting Moses Magnum, and Wolverine was almost recaptured by the Canadian government - who had bankrolled his creation and training - via their own superhero team, Alpha Flight.
The X-Men returned to find Xavier's mansion abandoned. They were reunited with Phoenix while fighting the mutant Proteus, but were promptly captured by the Hellfire Club, who, allied with Mastermind, attempted to recruit Phoenix to their ranks and destroy the X-Men. The plan backfired and the team defeated the Hellfire Club, but Mastermind's tampering with Phoenix's mind unleashed her full power, and she metamorphosed into the insane young godling Dark Phoenix, which wreaked cosmic havoc until the X-Men stopped her and Xavier locked down her powers. However, Lilanda and the Shi'ar felt she had to pay for her crimes - which included destroying a star - and put her on trial. Xavier's psychic locks failed, and the human side pf Phoenix committed suicide rather than give in to her dark side.
Cyclops was crushed at the death of his love, and left the X-Men for a time. Storm assumed leadership of the team, including working with Professor X to educate the newest team member, the teenaged Sprite, and to lead the team against the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Doctor Doom, and - again - Magneto. Cyclops returned to the team following this last adventure, but he and Storm experienced some tension in who should lead the team.
The X-Men then embarked on a series of adventures against the alien Brood, who reproduced by implanting eggs in sentient hosts, which absorbed their memories and abilities. During this adventure, Cyclops was reunited with his father, Corsair, who had been thought deceased but now led the swashbuckling Starjammers as gadflys in the Shi'ar empire. In the team's absence, Professor X recruited a new group to his school, multicultural teenagers who became The New Mutants.
Returning to Earth, Cyclops met Madelyne Pryor, who was a dead ringer for Phoenix, and whom Cyclops suspected might be her reincarnation. Meanwhile, the supervillain Rogue, whose ability to absorb the memory and powers of others was out of control, joined the X-Men with Professor X overruling the desires of Storm and the field team. Rogue had difficulty being accepted by the team, but won over Wolverine during an adventure in Japan. Also, the Angel was captured by the underground mutant community the Morlocks, and Professor X sent the X-Men to rescue him. Storm fought their leader, Callisto, to win his freedom, stabbing her grievously, and assumed leadership of the Morlocks. This sent Storm on a personal odyssey of self-discovery and loss of innocence.
Cyclops accepted Rogue more readily than did the others, and used her help in exposing the plot surrounding Madelyne Pryor - she was being manipulated by Mastermind, taking revenge on the X-Men. Cyclops exposed him, the X-Men defeated him, and Cyclops and Madelyne were wed, and he left the X-Men.
A world of mutants
Months later, Professor X was badly wounded in battle, and left Earth to heal with Lilandra's people. He asked Magneto, who had faced his own shortcomings since his last battle with the X-Men, to take over the school. Magneto accepted, and headed up the New Mutants, but he was never fully accepted by the adult team.
Cyclops was brought out of retirement when he learned that Marvel Girl had not in fact died, nor had she been Phoenix at all. She had been replaced by the cosmic Phoenix entity and had been in a coma in a healing cocoon at the bottom of the ocean for several years. Revived by The Avengers and the Fantastic Four, Marvel Girl resumed her career, and the original X-Men came together as the new team X-Factor. This team posed as mutant hunters while actually rescuing mutants and helping them learn to use their powers, but generally operated separately from the X-Men.
The X-Men seeming faced bigger and bigger threats in the ensuing years. The Marauders, a group a murderous mutants, slaughtered the Morlocks and severely injured many of the X-Men who intervened. The Marauders were led by Mister Sinister, a mutant geneticist with a mysterious long-term involvement with Cyclops of which even Cyclops was ignorant. Wolverine also encountered a piece of his own shadowy past in Sabretooth, a vicious mutant who seemed to be Wolverine's opposite number.
Not long after, the X-Men died and were reborn fighting a demon called the Adversary in Dallas. The team briefly relocated to an abandoned outpost in Australia, during which they encountered the Reavers, a band of cyborg mercenaries. Worse, the X-Men teams learned that Madelyne Pryor was actually a clone of Marvel Girl created by Mister Sinister. The X-Men and X-Factor battled Pryor, who was now the insane Goblin Queen, and the demons she had allied herself with. During this period, the team acquired several new members, including Dazzler, the alien Longshot, and Psylocke, Captain Britain's sister.
Professor X returned to Earth some months later, and many X-Men past and present (including new members Jubilee, Gambit and Bishop) returned to the fold and formed two X-Men teams, the "blue team" and the "gold team", while Havok and Polaris assumed leadership of a new, government-affiliated X-Factor. Around this time, the New Mutants disbanded and were replaced by the paramilitary outfit X-Force, led by a mysterious mutant named Cable.
The following years saw the X-Men captured by the government of the island of Genosha, where mutants are used as prison labor, captured the X-Teams (Magneto turned the island into a haven for mutants afterwards); Professor X was killed in the past by his time-travelling son, leading to the Age of Apocalypse, in which X-Factor's nemesis ruled the world until the alternate X-Men of that world set the timeline straight; and Professor X's dark side resulted in the villain Onslaught", who battled the X-Men, The Avengers and the Fantastic Four, resulting in the disappearance of several major groups of heroes from the Marvel Universe for several months. X-Factor was disbanded after an explosion cast Havok into a parallel world for over a year. Cyclops and Marvel Girl - now going by her real name Jean Grey, and then taking on the name Phoenix - were married.
The X-Men's membership continued to evolve, with some members leaving, and several new ones joining (often only briefly). Most significantly, the Legacy Virus infected mutants worldwide, killing Psylocke among others. The Beast finally found a cure, but Colossus sacrificed himself in triggering it.
The X-Men faced a significant challenge when Professor X's hitherto-unknown twin sister, Cassandra Nova, attacked the team, switching her mind with Xavier's, devastating the island of Genosha, and launching another attack by taking over part of the Shi'ar empire. The White Queen, formerly an opponent of the X-Men, joined the team and while Cyclops and Jean were having relationship problems, initiated a relationship with Cyclops. Following a final, devastating attack by Magneto, Jean came into possession of the full Phoenix force and apparently died as a result, although in a possible future she survived and used her influence to prompt Cyclops and the Queen to form a new school for mutants.
Presently, Xavier and Magneto have formed a new version of Excalibur, while Cyclops' new school is getting off the ground.