The mutant squad known as the X-Men are one of the most beloved and enduring staples of Marvel comics, despite them not participating in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Created in 1963 by comic gods Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the team was comprised of a handful of teens with special powers (manifested because of a ‘X-Gene’ that shows up in select people) being led by Professor Charles Xavier. The idea was that the teens were admitted to a private school in New York for ‘gifted’ children, and were subsequently taught academics and how to be a fighting force for good-- with the belief that man and mutant were one and the same and ought to live in peace.
Their popularity was overwhelming, and in the 50+ years there have been nearly a dozen different X-teams to come along (and sometimes go). All the while the core X-Men roster has fluctuated greatly. While membership has been restricted to mutants (with very few exceptions), it has not stopped some familiar faces from joining the ranks. We will highlight some of the bigger characters you may not remember having been on an X-team, as well as some mutants you’ve probably never heard of.
Namor, the first super-hero in all of Marvel (he debuted in the pages of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly in 1939), has a sketchy history with his mutant background. As far back as the early days of The X-Men in the ‘60s, both Professor X and Magneto postulated that Namor was one of their kind. At other times the idea of him being a mutant was downplayed, and his powers were attributed to being the child of an Atlantean and a human. This failed, however, to explain away the tiny little wings on his ankles and his ability to fly (Atlanteans, like Namor, can breathe underwater… but they can’t fly).
Following the events of Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn (formerly the villainous Green Goblin) is given immense governmental power. He creates “Dark” versions of several super-hero teams to act as his enforcers, besmirch the names of the regular members of the teams, and to act as heroes that he is able to control. Among the Dark X-Men is Namor, who in comics again had his mutant genetics played up. Namor eventually betrays Osborn and sides with Cyclops as a legitimate member of the X-Men, just as Cyclops is creating an island refuge for mutants off the coast of San Francisco called Utopia. Following the lead-up to and events of the most recent Secret Wars, Namor no longer appears to be an X-Man.
In 1975 the creative team of Len Wein and Dave Cockrum re-invented the X-Men with the release of Giant-Size X-Men. The idea was that most of the original X-Men disappeared on the island of Krakoa during a mission and Professor X assembled an international team of mutants (including Wolverine and Storm) to rescue them-- under the leadership of an escaped Cyclops.
Among the new mutants was an Apache with superhuman strength, speed, and senses by the name of John Proudstar. Taking on the name Thunderbird, Proudstar appeared in all of 3 issues before dying, serving as shock value for readers of this new X-era. A bullish and foolhardy hero, Thunderbird killed himself by leaping onto the jet of X-villain Count Nefaria and beating it with his hands until it blew up (with Thunderbird still on it).
If his name or his costume seem familiar to you, though, you might be thinking of his kid brother. That’s right, James Proudstar, who has basically the same power set as his older brother, got involved with the X-crowd rather young. Mostly under the name Warpath, James also for a while adopted his older brother’s Thunderbird costume. He has been a fixture of several incarnations of X-Force, among other teams.
Vanisher began his comic book life as an early X-Men villain. In fact, he was featured in just the 2nd issue of the series. While a number of iconic heroes and villains were either created or sustained through the ‘60s, it is no secret that it was an especially goofy and cheesy time in the history of comics. As such, Vanisher is saddled with the hilariously fitting birth name of Telford Porter (get it? Telford Porter? Teleporter?) Porter has the mutant ability to teleport himself and others pretty much wherever he wants, whether he’s been there before or not. As you might imagine, much of his criminal activity revolved around teleporting somewhere, stealing something, and teleporting back.
As early as the late ‘60s Vanisher had to team up with the X-Men in order to defeat his one-time teammate (and would-be alien conqueror), the Mutant Master. It was not until the existence of the X-Force, though, that Vanisher became a member of the X-teams. Vanisher was essentially coerced into joining the X-Force as their resident transportation when the superhero Elixir created a fatal brain tumor (in the shape of an ‘X’) in Porter. During his time on the team, Porter managed to lose an ear, an arm, and be shot several times… all in separate incidents. To date, Vanisher is also the only X-hero to have ever owned a brothel in Portugal (that we know of).
Spiral is another former villain who switched over to side with an X-team, and the first non-mutant on the list. Spiral’s story is bizarre-- even by comic standards, so we’ll try to sort it out in the most concise way possible. Spiral was a human stuntwoman who fell in love with the adventurer Longshot after she was attacked by a future her, and followed him to the Mojoverse. She was kidnapped by a despotic reality show-producing alien named Mojo and experimented on (which gave her four more arms [two robotic] and silver hair). Now insane, she was trained in sorcery and alien body modification and sword-fighting, and sent back in time to attack past her. Phew!
Spiral remained in the past and was an X-villain for decades (notably as part of the Freedom Force). She joined up with the Uncanny X-Force (it is important to differentiate because for a short time there were two simultaneous X-Force teams running around) for a short stint because of another crazy, even for a comic, story. Here we go: She became a drug dealer in L.A., except the drug was psychic in nature, and came out of a little mutant girl named Ginny who Spiral watched over. Ginny became possessed by the psychic manifestation of a female and evil version of Professor X named Cassandra Nova (whose story is super messed up and weird and worth reading). Spiral joined the Uncanny X-Force in order to help take down Nova and rescue Ginny.
Often the butt of jokes made by comic fans, Puck is a hero most famous for his time spent as a member of Canada’s premier super team, Alpha Flight. Puck was created by comics legend John Byrne specifically to be a member of Alpha Flight. Since Alpha Flight had to be all things Canadian the inspiration behind the character was, of all things, a hockey puck (and not the Shakespearean character). So Eugene Judd was made to be a round and wide little person in a black uniform that would cartwheel at people. Byrne had intended Judd to be just a very athletic little person, but Puck’s backstory was retconned pretty heavily by Bill Mantlo when he took over the book. Judd’s backstory is now almost as ridiculous as Spiral’s. In the early 1900’s, Eugene Judd was an explorer the height of a pro basketball player. He acquired something called the Black Blade of Baghdad, which housed the spirit of a sorcerer named Black Raazar.
The spirit cursed him and shrunk him, but also made him immortal and gave him super strength and agility (and made him dense and rubbery like a puck). After palling around with Ernest Hemingway of all people, he wound up hero-ing for the Canadian government. Not much reason is given for his joining the X-family. He actually was the person who formed the Uncanny X-Force by contacting Psylocke and Storm ahead of their tussle with Spiral over the new mutant Ginny.
The general rule for making a new mutant seems to be “throw a bunch of junk at a wall and see what sticks”. Oftentimes writers will understand how silly mutants can be and knowingly allow their creations to be part of the joke-- which is how we wind up with some classic muties like Eye Boy and Goldballs. But depending on the writer and the era, they wind up taking their creations (which are usually really bad) far too seriously.
With that in mind, we are left with Scott Lobdell’s “didn’t stick to the wall” creation, Omerta. Named for the vow of silence that the Mafia takes in reference to turning one another in, Paulie Provenzano is a bland and unmemorable lump of every milquetoast cliche ever used in a mob movie. We meet him on returning to Brooklyn from a stint in the Marines, where he is trying to use his newfound mutant invulnerability and super strength to shake down his local mob bosses. He is recruited right after by Jean Grey to rescue Professor X from Magneto on the island of Genosha. The team is a short-lived one, but Omerta had the opportunity to stay on as an X-Man after the mission. He turned down the invitation and, we suspect, it had more to do with his lack of a warm reception with fans than anything else.
The Morlocks (named for a race of subterranean people in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine) were a group of mutants, most very ugly by human standards, that lived in the subway tunnels of New York in order to avoid being seen and persecuted by normal people. Among their number was a little orphaned boy that’d come to be called Leech. Leech has green skin, deformed features, yellow pupil-less eyes, and resembles an alien. His mutant power is the ability to nullify any super power (mutant and non-) he comes close to. As time goes on, he develops the ability to adjust the radius of the power to the point of limiting it only to those he touches.
X-Villain Mr. Sinister employed a team of ruthless henchmen mutants called The Marauders. Led by Sabretooth, The Marauders went into the subway tunnels and massacred nearly all of the Morlocks. Leech is among the survivors, and after being saved by X-Factor (at the time they were a team that consisted of the original X-Men). Leech became a member of a short-lived team of mutant wards under the protection of X-Factor called the X-Terminators (are you sick of the letter ’X’ being stuck to the front of every other word yet?). Leech would later go on to be under the care of Generation X. Later still, because of his friendship with Franklin Richards (the mutant son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman), he would become a part of Reed Richards’ Future Foundation.
Sunder was another of the Morlock survivors of The Mutant Massacre perpetrated by Sinister’s Marauders. Following the attack on his home and people Sunder relocated to Muir Island, home to Dr. Moira MacTaggert’s base of research on mutants (and something of a refuge for them as well). Sunder was a giant of a man, and had the superhuman strength and resistance to injury that seems to come with the territory; to the point of being mildly bullet-proof. Having been the enforcer and protector of the Morlock leader Callisto, he transitioned to being the caretaker of several young children called Warpies (long story) on Muir Island.
Muir Island came under attack by the Reavers, a group of Australian cyborg stooges of the Hellfire Club (who will be making an appearance in the upcoming movie Logan). With the core X-Men team presumed dead following the events of “The Fall of the Mutants”, a new team of X-Men was formed from mutants residing on Muir Island in order to repel the attack. Sunder was among those to take the call to arms, but quickly came under fire from the Reavers. Sunder was protected by a force field created by fellow mutant Legion (who has his own show coming shortly). Legion dropped the shield due to his mental instability, and allowed Sunder to come under fire. Sunder was eventually felled by a gun fired by the Reaver known as Pretty Boy.
In case you hadn’t noticed by now, superhero comics can get quite silly. While X-books have been written well and even the most ridiculous of characters and situations can be given some emotional heft, it’s safe to still say that the characters and situations are ridiculous (we are, after all, talking about some of the most tenured members being a guy that shoots energy beams out of his eyes and a super genius who is blue and furry). That in mind, we still roll our eyes at the X-Men books of the ‘90s and early ‘00s. One particularly comic book-y story to come out of it all was the story of Joseph.
Joseph was discovered in the muck by a band of South American orphans. Taken in by the nun watching them, Joseph displays a mutant mastery over metal and confirms he’s an amnesiac (who prattles on about feeling like he had done evil in the past and mentions Nazis). When Joseph leaves the orphanage, he comes across Rogue and she believes that Joseph is really an amnesiac Magneto (who has also mysteriously gotten younger). He subsequently joins the X-Men. It is later revealed that he is just a clone of Magneto created by the mutant Astra. Astra later gives Joseph Magneto’s old memories, and Joseph goes over to the darkside… only to finally be caught and put in Utopia’s X-Brig. He is later freed by the character Danger following the AvX storyline, and his whereabouts are currently unknown.
For our money, Bird-Brain is the X-teamer who’d win the award for “Most Terrifying If You Found Them Standing Over Your Bed At Night”. Created by Louise Simonson and June Brigman in the mid-’80s, Bird-Brain is not a mutant (despite having joined the New Mutants). He is a hybrid creature, half-bird and half-man, created by the mad scientist, Ani-Mator. Having escaped the Ani-Mator’s clutches, he is taken in by the New Mutants and granted membership.
Bird-Brain, while having the intelligence of a human, is unable to communicate with any of his teammates except Cypher (whose mutant ability is to communicate with anyone and anything). Despite this, and the fact that he eats everything in his path, the mutant Wolfsbane is especially tender and affectionate to him. Bird-Brain eventually goes back to the island laboratory of the Ani-Mator to free the rest of the imprisoned Ani-Mates (the whole thing smacks of The Island of Doctor Moreau). In the ensuing battle, Ani-Mator shoots Cypher dead, but is eventually defeated. Bird-Brain opts to stay with his fellow Ani-Mates and teach them what he’d learned of mankind in his short time among people.
Hepzibah is a sexy alien cat pirate lady (previously a sexy alien skunk pirate lady) that was created by Dave Cockrum and Chris Claremont as part of the space pirates known as the Starjammers. Hepzibah (whose real name apparently is pronounced with smells instead of sounds) becomes romantically involved with Corsair (who it turns out is the father of Cyclops and Havok), and is an able fighter with superhuman agility, the ability to see at night, and the ability to emit pheromones for the purpose of seduction.
Corsair dies (don’t worry, like so many other comic characters he winds up coming back to life), and Hepzibah winds up joining the X-Men-- who have had many run-ins and team-ups with the Starjammers over the years. She winds up trying to mate with Warpath because, of all things, being down in the sewers brought back her primal instinct to nest. She later joins the newly re-formed X-Force (Cyclops got Wolverine to lead a covert team because of the events of the “Messiah Complex”. Just prior to the events of the Secret Wars, Hepzibah was back with the Starjammers and her recently resurrected partner, Corsair. Currently she is uninvolved in any major storylines, and hasn’t really been heard from since the Marvel Universe was put back together.
Juggernaut is best known as a major nemesis to the X-Men and, more importantly, to Professor X. The Juggernaut, Cain Marko, is the stepbrother of Charles Xavier. Marko found the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak in a forgotten temple in Korea and it made him the living avatar of Cyttorak. With that, he is granted super strength and invulnerability. He no longer needed air, water, or food to live. His mystic armor (that he can summon at will) includes a helmet that makes him invulnerable to psychic attack and probing. There have since been some adjustments to his power set and his weaknesses, but that is the jist of it.
Having lost much of his power following a battle with the deity that was the source of his power, Juggernaut winds up joining the X-Men (having made peace with his hated half-brother). As with many things X-Men, things got complicated and Marko found himself joining the Brotherhood of Mutants as a mole. Later still, following the depowering of most of Earth’s mutants during “M Day”, Juggernaut joined Excalibur. Since that time he’s acted as a hero, villain, and anti-hero.
Crime-fighting duo (and couple) Cloak and Dagger were created in the early ‘80s by Bill Mantlo. Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson were teen runaways who had an experimental synthetic heroin forced on them that wound up giving them superpowers (to our knowledge the only superpower heroin has ever given anyone is the power to fall asleep anywhere). Tandy becomes Dagger whose ‘light daggers’ can drain peoples’ life force, blind them, or cure their addictions. The short version of Cloak’s power (because it involves demons for some reason and gets needlessly complicated) is that he can teleport himself and others or become intangible.
Different creative teams have taken ping-ponged back and forth whether or not Tandy and Ty are mutants. When Norman Osborn attempts to recruit the duo for his Dark X-Men they deny that they are mutants. They wind up joining anyhow and, after the exit of Emma Frost and Namor from the team, they follow them to the actual X-Men on Utopia. They leave the team a short while later after scientific studies performed by resident X-doctor, Dr. Nemesis, confirms they are not actually mutants (they are considered mutates since their powers all came from the synthetic heroin). Cloak & Dagger will be the stars of an upcoming television show geared towards the YA crowd.
Yes your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, Spider-Man himself, became a part of the X-family. Surprisingly, it happened not all that long ago… though you would be forgiven for not having noticed it, since it was part of a short 6-issue miniseries. In order to understand how things fell into place, you must first know about the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning. In the pages of the X-Men event “Schism”, the gradually drifting philosophies of Cyclops and Wolverine come to a head. Despite their personalities in the beginning of their relationship together, Cyclops has become militant and is unopposed to using young and inexperienced mutants in the fight for what he believes is right-- and Wolverine has adopted a more protective stance, more akin to the original peaceful slant of Charles Xavier’s philosophies. This led to the titular “Schism” in which Cyclops stayed with some mutants (including Magneto) on Utopia to become what has oft been labeled a terrorist organization, and Wolverine taking several mutants back to New York to found a new school for educating and training young mutants.
Before Wolverine (now headmaster of the Jean Grey school) dies, he tasks Spider-Man with locating a traitor within the school. To those ends, Spider-Man joins the faculty of the Jean Grey School as a ‘special guidance counselor’ and teacher of ethics. Spider-Man eventually gets to the bottom of things, and teaches some of the X-kids a thing or two about loyalty and teamwork in the process.
We just learned about the Jean Grey School thanks to the Spider-Man entry. What you may not know, though, is Peter Parker is far from the only person to have tried to join the staff. We’re unsure why a spot as a teacher is such a coveted position in the Marvel Universe; we suspect it might have something to do with the health care and retirement packages. Deadpool, who despite having been on several X-teams himself tried becoming a teacher himself, claimed it was the “little bit of tenure”.
Following the departure of one of their professors, the shape-shifting Husk (former Generation X-er, sister of Cannonball), Kitty Pryde begins to interview for a new opening. Writer Jason Aaron uses this premise to have some fun and runs through some of the Marvel heroes most ill-suited to be near children. In a sequence of humorous panels we are shown the failed interviews of Blade, Hellstorm, Puck, Sasquatch, Longshot, Dr. Nemesis, Gorilla-Man, Ghost Rider, Deadpool, Werewolf By Night, Firestar, a regular human named Jennifer Sloan, Chamber, and Fat Cobra. Spider-Man also shows up, but only to poke fun at the fact that Wolverine is working at a school. Eventually Kitty Pryde hires Storm back as a professor and all is right with the world.
Many writers have tried making their mark on the rosters of the X-teams. There have been many big names to come and go, and many obscure mutants who quickly faded from sight. Who are some of your favorite forgotten X-heroes? Did we forget anyone major?