The X-Men turned 53 in 2016, having provided readers with some of the greatest adventures ever inked in a comic book. The brainchild of (who else) Marvel scion Stan Lee, the X-Men titles have always provided subtle commentary on American prejudices, as well as countless colorful battles, unforgettable characters, and exciting plots, enough to amass legions of fans and spawn a multi-million dollar film series which has spanned sixteen years and is about to release its eighth entry…ninth if you count Deadpool!
On the other hand, for every “Phoenix Saga” or “Days of Future Past” storyline, the X-Men have had their fair share of misfires. After 50 years, that’s bound to happen, either out of necessity—like retconning to allow the series to move forward—or, out of the disorganized nature of comic book publishing. Either way, the result inflicts pain on the longtime reader.
Take this list not as a litany of shame, but rather as a warning to future artists and writers of what not to do in an X-Men comic, or, for that matter, in any other comic which could result in a style clash or lots of readers rolling their eyes. Here are The 10 Most WTF X-Men Plot Twists, along with a few words as to why these story mutations lost their powers.
Lucky #11: Changes to Canon Due to Film Rights Issues
OK, first, consider this an aside: inspiring a movie universe has plenty of perils, especially when rights issues over characters can result in confusing stories or groan-inducing retcons. In the case of the X-Men, Hollywood megalith Disney owns parent publisher Marvel, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while the X-Men characters were long ago licensed to Fox. The results have only begun to manifest in both films and comics. For example, no mutants can ever appear in the MCU since the term “mutant” is a licensed trademark of the X-Men. For the same reasons, none of the MCU characters like the Hulk or Spider-Man who occasionally team up with or join the X-Men can ever show up in an X-Men film. In the long run, the separation of the X-Men from the other Marvel characters actually helps both series: the X-films can take on a more mature tone, and the MCU doesn’t have any shortage of characters to complicate its storytelling.
Exceptions to the rules get even more confusing: the characters Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are considered both X-Men and Avengers characters, so they can appear in both movie universes, but in different incarnations (Evan Peters in Days of Future Past, Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Age of Ultron). The proverbial axe also cuts both ways: a recent comic storyline revealed that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are not Magneto’s children, breaking with years of continuity. Could that have anything to do with the split rights which caused two separate versions of Quicksilver on screen, including one that was conspicuously killed off? Also, should Quicksilver get dropped from the X-Men films, do you suppose he’d suddenly become Magneto’s son in the comics again?
10. Magneto is really Xorn
Grant Morrison has done some fine writing in the comic book genre, most notably on his 2000s retooling of Justice League. His X-Men outings, however, leave something to be desired… like a refund for the price of the comic. His launch of New X-Men in 2001 introduced the character Xorn, a mutant with a star for a brain (whatever sense that makes). Xorn suffered from Mary Sue syndrome (Google it)—a character that seemed to have powers for every occasion, and limited, if any, conflict with established roles like Professor X and Wolverine. Of course, Morrison probably intended as much.
In 2004, Morrison finally had Xorn remove his mask, revealing his true identity as a drug-addicted Magneto, who promptly killed Jean Grey and conquered New York. In a fit of rage over his fascist, murderous ways, Wolverine decapitated Magneto, bringing an end to the Xorn storyline. Magneto had his share of ruthless behavior in the past, but the character always played at his most interesting as a grey villain—relatable, if reprehensible. That portrayal helped make Magneto into a popular screen villain, courtesy of the casting of Ian McKellen and later, Michael Fassbender: something which Morrison openly reviled. Morrison’s story and the character Xorn make a perfect example of what happens when an X-Men story gets too ridiculous.
9. Xorn is actually posing as Magneto posing as Xorn
But wait, there’s more Xorn!
Marvel, unhappy with the result of the Xorn storyline, perhaps wisely attempted a retcon. Their result: Xorn was a real character after all, who was just impersonating Magneto… who then impersonated himself (?!). After Magneto’s death, Professor X returns his body to the mutant country of Genoshia…where he runs into Magneto alive and well. So then, just who’s body did Xavier have in the first place? Why, Xorn’s of course!
Yes, the story made even less sense after Magneto returned, and Xorn soon followed. Even worse, two Xorns now appeared in the comics: Kuan-Yin Xorn, who had impersonated Magneto, and his twin brother, Shen Xorn, who had a black hole for a brain. Apart from the WTF questions raised by mutants who have stars or black holes for brains (and there are many), the explanation of just how Xorn impersonated Magneto only to impersonate himself has never quite had a definitive or clear answer. Subsequent stories have claimed that Magneto actually did impersonate Xorn and that Xorn was also a separate character, suggesting that even Marvel has no clue how to plug the plot hole.
8. Joseph is a clone
The antagonistic friendship of Professor X and Magneto has always played the heart of the X-Men stories, symbolizing the two differing viewpoints of a minority struggling for social and legal acceptance. Their decades-old relationship and the appearance of other mutants, or humans, bent on destroying both the X-Men and the Brotherhood have landed the two on the same side more than once. One such instance: in 1995, Rogue encountered Magneto living in South America and suffering from amnesia. The X-Men convinced him to join the team.
Alas, it couldn’t last long: this X-Man Magneto was actually just a clone, who later adopted the name Joseph. A confrontation with the real Magneto soon followed, and Joseph sacrificed himself to save the X-Men.
Cloning has long been a plot device for writers to find a way to get out from a painted corner, and it’s a sin the X-Men have often committed. In this case, the writers knew Magneto needed to return to his villainous ways at some point, so making him into a separate character seemed the best, if a silly, option.
7. Madelyne Pryor is actually a clone of Jean Grey
And while we’re attacking the clones…
“The Phoenix Saga” is one of the best comic book stories ever inked, and perhaps the most defining title for the X-Men characters. Jean Grey had been an original member of the team, and her death sent shockwaves through the nerd-o-sphere. How would the X-Men live without her? What would become of her widower, Cyclops?
Well, he moved on… sort of. Following Jean’s death, Scott met Madelyne Pryor, who bore more than a striking resemblance to Jean. The two fell in love, married, and Cyclops left the X-Men.
Writer Chris Claremont intended the marriage of Scott and Madelyne as a final curtain for both characters. His marriage, and later, her pregnancy, would force him to hang up his identity as Cyclops once and for all. Then things got even more complicated.
Jean Grey came back to life, so naturally, Cyclops rejoined the team, rather unceremoniously dumping his wife and child. Madelyne was revealed to be a clone of Jean; a trap set by villain Mr. Sinister to lure Scott into conceiving a child with the potential to be the most powerful mutant in history. The clone plot twist was intended to somewhat justify Cyclops leaving Madelyne, but it only made the story even weirder. Much like her clone host, Madelyne has died and returned several times, though as the villain Goblin Queen. Her story, however, never got any less ridiculous.
6. Vulcan is the lost Summers brother
In 1993, writer Fabian Nicieza inserted a line of dialogue into a conversation between Cyclops and Mr. Sinister that had radical effects on the future of X-Men stories, though he probably didn’t intend as much at the time. In it, Sinister alludes to Cyclops having more than one brother, though because his mother was dead, how could that be possible?
It took more than a decade of X-stories and some pretty wild fan theories to get to the answer, which proved even more complicated and bizarre. The Shi’ar Empire had abducted Cyclops’s parents and killed his mother, though not before harvesting an undeveloped fetus from her womb. The aliens used their advanced technology to incubate and age the unborn child, who emerged as the mutant Vulcan. He eventually escaped to Earth, where he joined the X-Men, only to get promptly killed off. Years later, he’d return as a villain, having survived his close-call with death and becoming Emperor of the Shi’ar.
Still with us? OK…
X-Men stories have always had soapy tones and twists, and adding another Summers brother to the mix of Cyclops, his brother Havok, and their renegade space pirate dad Corsair continued the trend. Having his fetal body torn from their dead mother’s womb and incubated by aliens, however, hit a new level of absurdity.
5. Jean Grey finds out Iceman is gay
Diversifying the X-Men fits with the long history and themes of the comics. Adding LGBT characters like Northstar, Anole or Mystique comes as a natural step. Said diversification feels a bit hollow, though, when done in a ham-fisted way.
Iceman was one of the original X-Men characters created by Stan Lee way back in 1963, and he’s remained popular ever since, even making the successful transition to film in the form of actor Shawn Ashmore. The sudden revelation that the character was gay all this time thus rings somewhat hollow.
To be fair, the writers added the retcon in an interesting way. Jean Grey reads Iceman’s mind and reveals his sexuality; a young version of the character from the past confronts his older self in the future, who admits he’d always tried to hide his sexual orientation (why Jean or Professor X or Emma Frost or any other psychic never noticed this before remains anybody’s guess). While the conflict and fear Iceman feels confronting his homosexuality is, without question, what many gay people feel when they come out, and while plenty of middle aged men and women come out after years of heterosexual relationships, after 50 years of stories, the twist felt forced rather than organic. That said, making a founding and core member of the X-Men gay, and allowing him romantic pursuits does refresh the character a great deal, and allow for another 50 years of new stories. Like many of the other plot turns on this list it seems a bit ridiculous, but in the long run it only makes the character more interesting.
4. Bishop goes nuts trying to kill Hope Summers
The mutant Bishop became a fan favorite in the 1990s. A time traveler from a dystopian future, he’d grown up in a mutant concentration camp and escaped to the present, where he joined the X-Men. As a man of color, he also helped diversify the team, which had originally consisted of all white men and one woman.
Given his long tenure with the X-Men, and his popularity, that Bishop would go out of his mind and become a would-be child murderer took fans by surprise to say the least. Following the events of “M-Day,” which left most of the mutants on Earth depowered, the birth of a mutant infant with full powers sparked a mad race by the remaining mutants to get to it first. Bishop, believing the child would cause the events of his dystopian future, resolved to kill it. After several failed attempts to kill the baby—who would become the mutant Hope Summers—Bishop goes full-on villain, joining forces with the mutant Stryfe to destroy the X-Men. After years of time traveling to capture Hope and her guardian Cable, Bishop eventually gets trapped in the future. He returns to the present having lost his memories of Hope, and rejoins the X-team.
Bishop having a crisis of faith when confronting the birth of the possible harbinger of the Age of Apocalypse is one thing, but making him go bath salts crazy? Having him join Stryfe? Then, having him just sort of give up and rejoin the X-Men? It’s an insult to fans of the character, and the desecration of a trailblazing popular character of color. On the other hand, it did make for some good reads!
3. Storm was once bitten by Dracula
Though the X-Men stories are, and have always been, science fiction, they’ve made the occasional detour into the realm of fantasy. One such occasion: when the team encountered the vampire count of old, Dracula.
Now, the granddaddy of all bloodsuckers is no stranger to Marvel Comics: he’s battled the Avengers, Spider-Man and even met Howard the Duck! In his encounter with the X-Men, Dracula bites Storm, converting her to vampirism. He intends to use her mutant powers to help him conquer the world. Of course, the X-Men fight back, and the evil count meets his defeat at the hands of Nightcrawler, who’s devout faith becomes a weapon against the Satanic vampire.
The story of the X-Men meeting Dracula remains a popular outing to this day, and has seen various reprints over the years. While it does play like a very good horror film, and though the X-Men do get an exciting battle with the count, even the fun of the story can’t make it any less goofy.
2. Nightcrawler’s Dad is a Demon
Like their encounter with Dracula, the X-Men have had their share of other adventures involving magic and myth. While the mythic adventures can allow for some great stories, in the greater context of X-Men continuity, they over-complicate and hinder the cohesion of their canon, in particular when said additions become major story elements.
Nightcrawler had become a major and popular X-Men character since his introduction in the 1970s. Though his familial origins were only ever hinted at, writers always intimated that the shapeshifter Mystique was his mother. The story evolved in 2003 with the introduction of the teleporting demon Azazel, who was later revealed as Nightcrawler’s father. He and Mystique had had an affair that produced Nightcrawler, and both parents had abandoned him to pursue their own objectives.
Introducing a demon to the X-Men stories is laughable enough, but having him father a child?! Making him the daddy of one of the most popular characters? It plays like a bad joke, especially considering Nightcralwer’s original intended origin: writer Chris Clarmont had intended to reveal Mystique as Nightcrawler’s father, having impregnated the mutant Destiny while shape shifting as a man! Not only would that have adhered more to the sci-fi roots of the X-Men stories, it could have broken new ground with a lesbian relationship, and made for one hell of a good story!
1. Mutants were created by…somebody!
Metaphors for social acceptance have always rested beneath the X-Men stories, even from the very beginning. A multi-national team of diverse ethnicities, sexualities and genders, their struggle for acceptance in a mostly-human society continues to resonate as one of the most profound and bold stories ever told in comics. Something of that metaphor got undermined by the reveal that mutants didn’t emerge as a step in natural evolution, but as the result of…well, it depends who you ask…
One story posits that while mutants do occur in nature, an alien race called Celestials began human experiments in ancient times which led to the explosion of a mutant population centuries later. Even worse, the Ultimate Marvel universe concluded that the US government created mutants as a result of genetic experimentation!
Making the mutants of the Marvel universe, in particular the X-Men, a result of genetic meddling by governments or aliens totally undermines the mutant-as-minorities thesis. Instead of happening naturally as part of evolution, or being created by God, mutants-as-science gone awry makes the X-characters into freaks of nature and scarred victims. That’s the very image they rail against, and the notion that the X-Men as symbols try to discredit!
Can you think of any other plot twists that came out of left field? Let us know in the comments!