When the Brotherhood of Mutants starts blowing up memorials, ancient mutants rise out of Egypt, and Sentinels are hovering in the sky, the survival of mutants and humans alike has often been pinned on a squadron of mutant freedom fighters known as the X-Men. Leading such a diverse team of international businessmen, reformed killers, scientists, and former circus acrobats is no easy task. When Xavier’s students aren’t busy teaching school, they’re suiting up, getting their mutant powers ready, putting on visors, and jumping in the Blackbird to save the world again.
Considering that hundreds upon hundreds of mutants have walked through the halls of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, it’s no surprise that quite a few have led the team at one point or another. Some have been field leaders, others have served as headmasters, and some have led the charge for one of the X-Men’s many spinoff teams. But all of them have done their best to protect humanity, and ensure that Charles Xavier’s dream of a better future may one day become a reality.
Here are 15 Mutants Who Have Led The X-Men.
Believe it or not, one of the more surprising X-Men leaders of all time is actually their greatest enemy. Magneto, being Charles Xavier’s oldest friend and philosophical opposite, has often straddled the line between good and evil. Though his justifications are relatable when the picture of his Holocaust background becomes clear, his goal of mutant supremacy combined with his violent methods have usually put him at odds with the X-Men. At one point in the comics, however, Magneto actually repents for his crimes — and even becomes headmaster of the Xavier institute.
After nearly murdering Kitty Pryde, a mere teenager, Magneto’s conscience speaks up, and he begins to question the path he has followed for much of his life. When Charles Xavier is gravely injured and must go on an extended leave of absence, he asks his old friend to take over the school for him. Magneto accepts, donning the role of “Michael Xavier,” claiming to be Charles’s cousin. Unfortunately, Magneto faces enormous challenges in his new role, constant distrust, and eventually returns to his old ways.
Rogue is also a villain-turned-hero, but her redemption has lasted far longer than that of Magneto. In many ways the character that most encapsulates the terrible impact of mutant powers upon a person’s regular life, Rogue has lived a tragic life, and she’s done much to turn it around. She has become a veteran member of the team, and one of the most recognized X-Men in the world.
So, then, it’s not so surprising that she has in the past served as an effective field leader. Appointed by Cyclops to form and lead her own independent strike force, a “rapid response unit,” in order to take on threats that he isn’t able to handle as the X-Men’s home leader, Rogue quickly establishes herself as a clever, unpredictable, and pragmatic team manager. Rogue takes both Mystique and Sabretooth onto her team, believing that she can better watch over them if they’re on the same side, and thus helps to prevent an unexpected attack on the X-Men.
A demonic-looking devoted Catholic, a swashbuckler, and a good man, Kurt Wagner is one of the most unique characters to ever appear in a Marvel comic, and bringing him back is one of the best decisions that X-Men: Apocalypse made. However, though no one ever doubts Kurt’s morals or friendship, one of his unexpected talents is that he’s also a surprisingly good leader, having spent years at the front of the X-Men spinoff team Excalibur.
Excalibur forms when both Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde wake up to find the X-Men seemingly dead, and the two are wracked with grief. Wanting to honor the team’s memory, they join with Captain Britain, Psylocke, Rachel Summers, and others to become a new team, based in the headquarters of Captain Britain’s lighthouse. Nightcrawler leads Excalibur through several parallel realities, times, and dimensions, until eventually returning to the mainstream Marvel Universe and rejoining the surprisingly still-alive X-Men.
12. Emma Frost
Formerly the villainous White Queen of the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost begins to have a change of heart when her students, the Hellions, are killed in a Sentinel attack. When she eventually reopens her Massachusetts Academy, it is under the guidance of Charles Xavier, and she serves as the leader of Generation X, a team of young mutant students.
Later, Frost’s path takes her to Xavier’s original institute, and she becomes an X-Man. It is during this time that she and Cyclops begin to have a psychic affair behind Jean Grey’s back, never a good idea when the betrayed party in question has a history of igniting into a giant flaming bird. After Jean’s death, and despite criticism from their X-Men teammates, Cyclops and Frost become lovers. When Xavier steps down from his position as headmaster of the school, Scott and Emma take over from him, together.
In the film universe, Banshee only got a brief moment to shine in X-Men: First Class before being killed off-screen sometime between that movie and Days of Future Past. But in the comics, Sean Cassidy has served a much bigger role in the team’s history. A former Interpol inspector from Ireland, Banshee is on the same team of “All-New X-Men” that includes Storm, Wolverine, and Colossus, and he is present during many of the major storylines, including the Phoenix Saga.
Banshee’s role as a leader, though, begins when he and Emma Frost reopen her old Massachusetts Academy as a new wing of Xavier’s school, with its own team of mutants known as Generation X. Unfortunately, when the students abandon him and Emma, they are forced to close the new school down. Banshee goes on to form a more militant squad called X-Corps, whose goal of policing the mutant population brings him into direct conflict with the X-Men.
The future is uncertain, but according to the time-traveling mutant known as Bishop, one possible version of events will result in Sentinels enslaving the world. In this war-torn reality, where mutants are branded with an M on their face and basic human rights are deprived from people by their robotic oppressors, there is a team of mutants named the XSE — Xavier’s Security Enforcers — inspired by Charles Xavier’s dream, and carrying on the legacy of the X-Men as best they can. The founder of this movement is a man named Forge, who in the future will be better known as Genesis.
In the present day, however, Forge is actually a common ally and sometimes member of the X-Men. Though trained as a medicine man during his early years in the Cheyenne nation, Forge’s mutant power — an innate understanding of technology aided by the ability to visually perceive mechanical energy in motion — makes him a natural inventor, more inclined to embrace science than mysticism. Forge has not yet turned into the rebel leader that he may yet become, but time is like water, and the future is fluid.
Psylocke is a fan-favorite X-Man who finally made her big film debut in X-Men: Apocalypse, albeit as one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, and she’ll likely return in future movies. In the comics, Psylocke has a complex history involving dual personalities, body-swapping, brainwashing, and more, but she has consistently strove to be a loyal member of the X-Men, using her telepathy, telekinesis, and “psychic blades” against the many threats that the X-Men have faced.
Powerful, experienced, and skilled in martial arts, it’s no huge surprise that Psylocke has led the team on several occasions. These outings have shown her to be a talented and brutal leader, though her aggressive tendencies combined with her flippancy in regard to telepathically probing other people’s minds does lead to distrust from her team members. Psylock’s most significant foray as leader occurs when she is appointed as the one in charge of Cyclops’s incarnation of X-Force, charged with assassinating Apocalypse — who at this point had been reincarnated as a child.
The next big thing in the X-Men franchise is probably going to be Josh Boone’s young adult blockbuster The New Mutants, which has reportedly already cast such actors as Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) and Anya Taylor-Joy. Inspired by the 1980s comic of the same name, the New Mutants are a team of younger, more inexperienced students at Xavier’s school; still too young to become X-Men, but ready to begin training on the next level.
Charles Xavier supervises this diverse team of young mutants, which includes such characters as the empathic illusionist Dani Moonstar, the good-natured Kentucky boy Cannonball, the Scottish werewolf-type mutant Wolfsbane, and the techno-organic Warlock. But the first recruit is a 19 year old Vietnamese girl named Xi’an Coy Manh, who has been working long hours to support herself and her siblings. Possessing the mutant power to possess other people’s bodies, Karma swiftly assumes the role of team leader during a Sentinel attack, and is followed by the others until her apparent death. After this loss, Cannonball and Moonstar go on to share dual leadership of the team.
While we’re discussing the New Mutants, we can’t forget the incident that finally turns them away from Xavier’s school: when Charles retires and Magneto assumes control as headmaster of the Xavier institute, the New Mutants immediately distrust him, their worries coming to a head when Magneto returns to his old ways. This culminates when the team encounters Cable, a time-traveling mutant from the future, whose harsh, aggressive, militant approach to mutant/human threats is the exact opposite of the calm, compassionate ways of Charles Xavier.
Cable enlists the adolescent mutants as his soldiers, and they become a team that attempts to take a “more proactive” stance against threats to mutantkind, while hopefully preventing Cable’s apocalyptic future from ever occurring. Joined by mutants like Domino, Deadpool, and Caliban, the team takes on such threats as the Mutant Liberation Front (a terrorist organization) without pulling any punches.
6. Ultimate Kitty Pryde
In both the comics and the movies, the wall-phasing mutant Kitty Pryde has demonstrated herself as one of the X-Men’s moral centers — and a major favorite of many writers. Kitty is often underestimated by her enemies and teammates, but she’s never afraid to put her foot down when necessary. Intelligent, stubborn, and with a keen sense of right and wrong, she is a natural fit for leadership, though her status as one of the youngest members of the team has often led to her stepping aside for veterans like Storm and Cyclops.
But over in the Ultimate Universe, Kitty Pryde demonstrates her abilities when she commands her own team of X-Men to take down William Stryker and his army of Nimrod Sentinels. After this success, the mutant population is given a reservation to freely use their powers without any threats from the outside. This reservation is dubbed Utopia, and Kitty is elected the leader there as well.
Alex Summers, the energy blasting mutant known as Havok, is obviously not the same de facto leader as his brother Scott, but he’s had his moments. He’s been the man in charge of the cosmic team of space pirates known as the Starjammers, for one — certainly one of the weirder jobs for a character to have on his resume — and also served for some time as the boss of the government-funded strike team X-Factor, where he successfully handled the many disparate personalities on the team and even prevented a civil war.
Havok’s strangest tenure as leader occurs in the comic book series Mutant X, when he is thrust into a bizarre parallel world where he is married to Madelyne Pryor, a clone of Jean Grey, and has a son named Scotty. Alex soon learns that on this world he is the leader of a team called The Six, which includes bizarre versions of such X-Men as Storm, Beast, and Archangel, and he leads the team on several adventures before returning to the regular Marvel Universe.
Considering his short temper, severe psychological hang ups, and the amount of kills that Logan has racked up over the years, he’s pretty far from the most natural leader — and that’s what makes his role as a school headmaster, of all things, so interesting. Despite his gruff exterior, Logan has always had a soft spot for protecting innocent children from being corrupted, which is why he’s always been close to characters like Jubilee, Kitty Pryde, and in the movies, Rogue. It’s this same side of him that eventually drove Logan to become the leader of the next generation of mutants, and it all began when he and Cyclops finally fell out for good.
After a long period wherein they had buried the hatchet, the rift between Wolverine and Cyclops is torn open again when Cyclops begins sending out child mutant soldiers. Horrified by this, Logan splits, taking half of the X-Men with him — and opening up a new mutant school on the same grounds where Xavier’s school was previously destroyed. Naming it the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning, Logan is forced to take the spotlight as the school’s new headmaster, a role that he feel deeply uncomfortable with, but does a surprisingly good job at.
When it comes to X-Men leaders, there are few as worthy and dignified as the weather goddess Ororo Munroe, one of the X-Men’s most powerful members, both physically and emotionally. Storm has been the team’s leader on many occasions, a role which naturally suits her temperament. At one point, she and Cyclops even dueled for the leadership role in the Danger Room. Storm emerged victorious and took over — a victory made even more impressive by the fact that, at this time, Storm had lost her powers.
Afterward, when the X-Men splits up into a “Blue” team and a “Gold” team, Storm becomes the leader of the Gold team, while Cyclops takes over for the Blue team. She has also led the X-Treme X-Men team that went across the world in search of Destiny’s diaries, and eventually takes the role of headmistress at the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning.
A person can be defined by many things, and when it comes to Scott Summers, his defining quality has always been his skills as a leader. Though Cyclops has proven throughout the years to be outstandingly terrible at having a personal life — between leaving one wife for his old girlfriend, psychically cheating on that girlfriend/wife years later, and generally being pretty far from a sociable, likable person — Scott Summers has nonetheless stood out as one of the all-time iconic X-Men. He’s a driven, stubborn, dedicated force of nature, and from the beginning, his actions have had a defining influence on who and what the X-Men are.
Cyclops was their field leader all the way back in the X-Men’s early days, so it came as no surprise when he took over as headmaster after Xavier’s retirement. As human and mutant relations degrade to unforeseen lows, Cyclops is thrust to the forefront as, for all intents and purposes, the leader of the entire mutant population. While Cyclops has made some hard and unpopular decisions, his leadership skills are definitely not to be doubted.
Of course, the X-Men and all of their spinoff teams would not even exist without the efforts of a powerful psychic named Charles Xavier, who founded his School for Gifted Youngsters to teach young mutants to properly harness their abilities, shield them from the dangers of the outside world, and one day push for a future where mutants and humans can coexist in harmony.
While that dream has still not yet come to fruition, and Xavier is no longer around to see it through, there is no being in the Marvel Universe who has had a bigger impact on the entirety of mutantkind. While the X-Men have had many leaders over their long and tangled history, every one of them is only building on the foundation that Charles Xavier set down long ago.
Who else has led the X-Men at one point or another? Who was your favorite mutant leader? Let us know in the comments.