The Incredible, Sensational, Outrageous X-Men1 of 12
There have been hundreds of X-Men since the team’s inception in 1963. And with mutants being "hated and feared," they tend to congregate together - be it with the core X-Men or with side teams ranging from X-Force and X-Factor, or even lesser-known ones like the Fallen Angels and Daydreamers (Google it!). But amongst all those teams and line-ups, there are some that stand out - helping define the X-Men mythos and what we think about when we consider a perfect X-Men line-up.
This week, a new team came together in Dawn of X’s Hellions, assembling some of the most unsavory mutants on Krakoa. And another new team consisting of X-Men ‘sidekicks’ and protégés, Children of the Atom, is coming up later this year.
Considering all of that, we’re counting down the greatest X-Men rosters of all time!
New Mutants2 of 12
New Mutants returned the X-Men franchise to its roots, focusing on a group of young mutants discovering and first learning how to use their powers. Founded by a Brood-possessed Professor Xavier to be used as hosts for more Brood minions, the New Mutants managed to escape that fate and become mainstays at Xavier’s school. Of course in true X-team fashion, the roster quickly grew, before even bigger changes led to New Mutants being cancelled and relaunched as X-Force with an almost entirely different cast, led by Cable, the enigmatic mutant from the future who would become a major part of X-Men lore.
The team has been defunct for years, though several members of the team continue to pay important roles in X-Men lore. An eponymous film starring the original line-up was due out in theaters in April 2020, though it like many films is currently postponed. A new volume of their series is part of the current "Dawn of X" line.
Key Members: Karma, Cannonball, Mirage, Wolfsbane, Sunspot, Magma, Magick, Warlock, Cypher, and Cable.
Excalibur3 of 12
Formed back in 1987 by X-Men scribe Chris Claremont and artist Alan Davis,Excalibur combined the already established Marvel UK characters Captain Britain and Meggan with American X-Men characters Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Rachel Summers. As a counterpart to the soap opera of Uncanny X-Men, Excalibur focused on more light-hearted adventure with the team hopping dimensions and dealing more with outlandish, magical threats than mutant politics. Excalibur helped breathe new life into Captain Britain, and gave a couple of B- and C-listers the chance to shine to X-fans, even welcoming in stranger characters and other X-vets as the years went by.
A new volume recently launched as part of "Dawn of X" with Betsy Braddock taking the mantle of Captain Britain - and forming one part of the core "Dawn of X" narrative.
Key Members: Captain Britain, Meggan, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Phoenix (Rachel Summers), Pete Wisdom, Colossus, Longshot, Psylocke, Wolfsbane, and Dazzler.
New X-Men4 of 12
Grant Morrison’s New X-Men was the run that proved anything and everything could happen in the X-Universe.
Grant Morrison simplified things by keeping the roster small and close-knit, focusing on developing and even overhauling his chosen characters. Reformed villain Emma Frost became the team’s breakout character, with her romance of Scott Summers driving a wedge between he and his wife Jean Grey. Beast’s appearance evolved, giving rise to his more cat-like form that lasted over a decade. And then there was the matter of Xorn, the helmeted mutant who turned out to be Magneto in disguise, betraying the team and even killing Jean Grey (or at least sending her to the White Hot Room, where former Phoenix hosts go when they’re killed).
Morrison also embraced the aesthetic of the 2000 X-Men film, outfitting everyone in sleek, black leather, and bringing back the idea of Xavier’s School, creating characters like Beak, Angel Salvadore, Glob Herman, Quentin Quire, and more, who still play a role in the X-Men years later.
Key Members: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Xorn, and many students at Xavier’s school
Magneto's X-Men5 of 12
The 80's were an odd time for the X-Men as Professor X decided to stay in space with his main squeeze, Lilandra, and left Magneto in charge of the Xavier School. What seemed like a potentially bizarre idea turned out to be one of Uncanny's best runs. Think about all the cool stuff we got this with this: Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and Colossus essentially became the mutant equivalent of the Fabulous Freebirds, newbies Shadowcat and Rogue getting some great development, and of course punk rock Storm fighting Cyclops for leadership.
While this line up is one of the shorter ones, Claremont evolved and pushed these characters and let them actually grow older and helped make way for the newer heroes that would soon join the X-ranks. This era is also the indirect inspiration for the popular “Pryde of the X-Men” cartoon pilot, and the X-Men arcade game of the late ‘80’s, though Magneto is a villain in both of those.
Eventually, Magneto reverted back to villainy after he left the school as he blamed himself for Cypher's death, and for being unable to hold the school together, but not before great depth was added to his character, including his previously unseen past in the Holocaust.
Key Members: Magneto, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Cyclops, Dazzler, Longshot, and Psylocke
X-Factor Version 2.06 of 12
Government sponsored and approved, the all-new all-different X-Factor, led by Cyclops’s oft-overlooked younger brother Havok, showed us what misfits and rejects were all about. Mainly formed by supporting characters, writer Peter David was allowed to flesh out these characters with a healthy dose of humor and pop-culture that made them seem relevant despite their B-List status.
As the years went by, the team gradually shifted again, bringing Forge into a leadership position when Havok was presumed dead, and adding former villains such as Mystique and Sabretooth, as well as even more obscure characters like Shard and Wild Child.
Although it didn't sell as nearly as the other X-books of the time, it still found a fanbase through David’s unique voice and keen character development skills.
A new X-Factor is scheduled to launch later this year as part of "Dawn of X."
Key Members: Havok, Polaris, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, Quicksilver, Multiple Man, Forge, Mystique, Sabretooth, Shard, and Wild Child.
The 'Outback Team'7 of 12
Probably the shortest tenure of any team on this list, lasting a little over a year before giving way to the Blue/Gold teams, the X-Men’s “Outback” squad had a major impact nonetheless. After the team crossed the Siege Perilous, many of its core members were presumed dead, but in fact took up residence in Australia, using their anonymity to save the world. The tail end of these years also added X-Men mainstays like Jubilee and Gambit to the team, along with the enigmatic teleporter Gateway.
This era spun out of the first “x-over,” a line wide story called “Fall of the Mutants,” that lead to many more X-events, starting with "Inferno." It also introduced the Reavers, brought Madelyne Pryor back as a villain, and gave us other key elements of X-Men lore.
Members: Storm, Wolverine, Havok, Colossus, Rogue, Psylocke, Dazzler, Longshot, Jubilee, Gambit, and Gateway.
The First Class8 of 12
While most of these adventures have been retconned or ignored by modern day canon, the “First Class” line-up set the stage for what was the come. It introduced Hank McCoy as a brilliant jock and a bit of a prankster, Scott Summers as the shy and almost hesitant leader, Bobby Drake as the class clown, Jean Grey as the new girl on campus and prize pupil, and Warren Worthington III as the brash playboy who wasn't shy to say what was on his mind. This line-up was also the longest running without any major shake-ups, changing only when Havok and Polaris joined in the late ‘60’s.
The team fractured after everyone but Cyclops was captured by the mutant island Krakoa, leading to a whole new team taking the X-Men name for the first time. After years apart, they reformed in the ‘80’s as X-Factor before folding back into the main X-Men team in the early ‘90’s.
Bizarrely enough, the 1963-version of the team jumped to modern day a few years ago, remaining in the present day until finally returning to their home era under complex circumstances.
Key Members: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, and Iceman.
Astonishing X-Men9 of 12
After Grant Morrison's groundbreaking run on New X-Men, Joss Whedon took the reins, launching Astonishing X-Men and bringing back the team’s superhero roots while simplifying Morrison’s trimmed down roster even more. Keeping the X-Men involvement in larger company crossovers to a minimum, Whedon focused on huge character moments, building on the already tense rivalry between Cyclops and Wolverine, and resurrecting Colossus – which also reunited him with Kitty Pryde, reforging a relationship that was once central to the X-Men.
Whedon’s run has been called a “love letter to Kitty Pryde,” and that may be true, but Astonishing X-Men was notable for giving no character short shrift, taking well-known relationships on the team in new directions and leading directly to everything that came after, both for better and for worse.
Key Members: Cyclops, Beast, Wolverine, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, and Armor.
Blue and Gold10 of 12
How do you solve a problem like having too many mutants on one team? You split them up, of course.
That’s exactly what writer Chris Claremont and superstar artist Jim Lee did when they launched X-Men #1 in 1990, creating a second core title for Marvel’s mutants for the first time in their history and spreading the ever growing roster of mutant heroes over the “Blue” and “Gold” teams, featured separately in X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. With multiple covers and more hype than you can even imagine, X-Men #1 became the biggest selling comic book for modern times.
Though the launch of X-Men also marked the end of Claremont’s legendary tenure, it also began the era in which the X-Men were something of Marvel’s flagship franchise. This roster was immortalized in the 1992 animated series and for many fans is still the vision conjured when someone says “X-Men.”
Key Members (Blue): Cyclops, Beast, Wolverine, Rogue, Psylocke, Gambit, and Jubliee.
Key Members (Gold): Storm, Iceman, Archangel, Jean Grey, Colossus, Bishop and Forge.
All-New, All-Different11 of 12
When one talks about defining moments in X-Men history, the events that took place in Giant-Sized X-Men #1 will more than likely be at the top of the list.
Why? This was the first major shake-up to the X-Men roster ever, and introduced numerous characters that have been beloved mainstays of the team ever since. On top of that, it also propelled the X-Men into the center of the Marvel universe, making them popular in a way the original team had never been. Instigated by Lein Wein and Dave Cockcrum, Chris Claremont took over almost immediately for Wein and went on to be the X-Men’s shepherd until the early ‘90’s, the Giant-Sized team redefined the X-Men as a concept, and created almost everything we think of as the core aspects of the franchise.
Claremont wasn’t alone in this; many of the characters introduced with Giant-Sized X-Men #1 were brought over by Cockrum, who scrapped together unused ideas from his Legion of Super-Heroes days to create Nightcrawler, and Storm – the first black super-heroine to play a major role at Marvel or DC – and who, along with Colossus and massive breakout star Wolverine, became the core of the X-Men roster for decades.
Along with these characters, Claremont also brought back Phoenix, who, alongside her paramour Cyclops, became a central character in his saga. Even Banshee became an X-Men mainstay. And while some, like Thunderbird, who died in his first mission, and Sunfire, who left not long after, weren’t major players at the time, their legacy also resonates to this day.
Key Members: Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Sunfire, Thunderbird, Banshee, and Phoenix (Jean Grey).
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