Let's rank every X-Man ever
The X-Men have been around for more than 50 years. They multiply: rapidly, frequently, endlessly. They aren’t really a superteam like the Justice League or the Avengers, those all-star crews built out of solo-series stars (Superman, Captain America) mixed together with B-list glue characters (Martian Manhunter, Wonder Man). With one very obvious exception and a few other arguable exceptions, the X-Men aren’t Solo-Star people. They are a team.
Or rather, teams. Chris Claremont’s iconic decade-and-a-half run on Uncanny X-Men cemented the idea that the X-lineup was eternally fluid: Characters died, left on sabbatical, joined the Avengers, got replaced by their time-traveling alternate universe daughters. And then there were so many X-Men teams (Blue, Gold, Xtreme) and X-Men teams who weren’t technically X-Men, even though they were entirely composed of past and future X-Men (X-Factor, X-Force, Generation X.)
And that’s not to mention the fact that there have been multiple versions of every X-Man: from the future, from the past, from the future past, from alternate universes and alternate timelines and countless death-obsessed issues of What If…? (No, it isn’t canon, but my soul shudders every time I gaze upon the chrome horror on the cover of What If… The Hulk Had Killed Wolverine?)
So the prospect of attempting to rank every X-Man ever is an exercise in cosmic futility: The equivalent of attempting to ride a camel through the eye of the M’Kraan Crystal. But this week sees the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the seventh film in the mutant movie franchise and the first one to truly approach the next-level mega-ensemble chrono-hopping weirdness of the X-Men’s most iconic story arcs. What better time to attempt to look back across a half-century of mutantdom and come up with a qualitative ranking of some of the most famous and least famous characters in comic book history?
In composing the list that follows, I have attempted as much as possible to take a scientific approach while not being afraid of gut feelings. I have factored in a host of (x-)factors: Coolness of superpower, cosplay-ness of costumes, whether the character has any base-level compelling character traits, and how those base-level character traits have evolved over the years/decades of their existence. I tried to consider every comic book iteration — futuristic and Age of Apocalyptic — but ignored the characters’ portrayal in other media, because the movies ruined Storm and because X-Men: The Animated Series was basically just pro-Jubilee propaganda.
I tried to include everyone who left a significant footprint on X-history — “significant footprint” meaning “they actually make some sense in a list that includes some of the most famous characters in comic book history.” I did not include any villains, except for the villains who became X-Men, so actually I included a lot of villains. I didn’t include Alpha Flight because they’d all be at the bottom and I didn’t include X-Statix because they might all be at the top.
I will be upfront about my own biases. Giant-Size X-Men #1 is one of the first comics I ever read — I had a digest-sized reprint of it, in black-and-white, which I colored in haphazard crayon — and that means I still basically think Sunfire is an X-Man, even though everything I’ve learned in the last quarter-century assures me that this was only barely actually true for a second. I grew up reading comic books in the ’90s. I read all of Grant Morrison’s 2000s X-Men run and have only occasionally kept up since then. Your list will be much different if you are slightly older, slightly younger, or slightly less enamored with the idea of a double-bladed sword.
Much like my Top 100 Disney list, what follows is willfully subjective, an attempt at self-expression by way of pop-cultural qualitative analysis. In an effort to be as honest as possible, I tried to list every X-Man I could think of before consulting any outside sources. I got to 60, counting “that guy with the face from X-Men 2099.” After a couple hours of compiling — tip of the hat to the Marvel Universe Wiki — I decided to stop adding in new characters. Completely by coincidence, the number of characters totaled 100, which I will assume was an act of God and/or Dark Phoenix. I apologize if I missed one of your deep-cut favorite characters. I’m only human, unlike everyone that follows:
Hails from that miserable late-’90s period when every new X-Man either A) had the same mutant power as a more famous X-Man except more extreme or B) had a confusing mutant power that seemed to operate purely according to the whims of plot necessity or C) had an absolutely ridiculous mutant power that wouldn’t be useful ever for anyone. Maggott represents the latter in extremis. I quote directly from the Marvel Universe Wiki: “Maggott’s digestive system consisted of two enormous sentient slug-like creatures, nicknamed Eany and Meany.” I rest my case.
99. X-Man/Nate Grey
Created out of the genetic material of Cyclops and Jean Grey in an alternate universe, the boy known as Nate Grey grew into a moody teenager who had incredible power matched only by his incredible angst. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. Speaking as someone who collected two solid years of X-Man, I can also confirm that absolute power makes for zero drama.
98. Rachel Summers/Phoenix
The daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey from an alternate future. General rule of thumb: Anyone with the surname “Grey” or “Summers” who isn’t Jean Grey or Scott Summers is probably a character with abstract powers and an incoherent backstory.
97. Pete Wisdom
A member of the British offshoot team Excalibur. This character was created by the great Warren Ellis, so I have to assume that he did a lot of really cool things in comic books I never read. In the comics I did read, he had the incredible ability to shoot blades of energy out of his fingertips, which means he’s like Gambit without playing cards, which means he is nothing. Also, money left on the table by just calling him “Pete Wisdom” and not giving him a codename like “Mr. Wisdom.” Or maybe “Wizdym” because ’90s.
96. Joseph, the Magneto Clone
Clones, ugh. Clear attempt to create a “nice” version of a totally badass character, ugh.
95. Dr. Cecilia Reyes
Hails from the same period as Maggott. Had an energy field over her body that protected her or whatever, and also she could use it to attack people or whatever. Barely even wanted to be an X-Man, barely was.
94. Strong Guy
Was strong and was a guy, so he wins the prize for Most Accurate Name and wins no other prizes ever.
93. Wild Child
Everyone loves Wolverine. Nobody loves Wolverine rip-offs, which hasn’t stopped Marvel from chugging them out. I almost put Wild Child higher because later on he got renamed Weapon Omega, which is a pretty cool name. But then I remembered that, when he was on X-Factor, he was romantically linked to a dead hologram from the future. (See #75.)
92. Stacy X
One of those characters who seemed to be designed simultaneously by four different people with ten different mission statements. Mutant prostitute who had snake skin and could read people’s emotions with pheromones. I have a soft spot for X-Men weirdness, but adding “X” to her name is just lazy.
There are some words that pop up a lot with X-people after the ’90s. “Psionic” is one of them, and so is “protoplasmic.” They’re all thesaurus words for “does lots of energy stuff that reacts to things that happen.” Random was one of those protoplasmic guys, but I have a soft spot for gun arms.
Excalibur tended to attract a lot of outré mutant-adjacent characters who had bizarre magical affectations and origin stories that seemed drawn from Anglo-Saxon mysticism. Meggan is one of those people. Interesting in theory — co-created by Alan Moore! — and boring in practice. Though I bet there’s, like, a really big Meggan fan who uses this cover as their desktop wallpaper.
Ohhh, that’s from Shakespeare!
The best possible name for a character whose powers (shapeshifting) and general look (blue skin) were copied from Mystique. But Copycat could also imitate people’s powers. Also, in Deadpool: The Circle Chase, she had fun chemistry with pre-lysergic Deadpool.
To be clear, I am not against self-consciously “cool” young characters with self-consciously “radical” light-based powers who tend to model self-consciously “hip” glasswear. (See: #25.) But I am against those characters when they can’t even settle on a self-consciously “dangerous” codename. Boom-Boom!
No, not that Sway. This girl was introduced very briefly. She had really cool time manipulation powers, and then she died immediately. If Boom-Boom had died immediately, she might rank higher.
83. The Guy With The Face From X-Men: 2099
82. Dani Moonstar
Had lots of “psionic” powers. Like, could create illusions. I feel like there are hardcore New Mutants fans who love Dani Moonstar. Nope.
A semi-decent X-Men villain who got goodified into a pretty inessential X-Men hero. Since only his “goodness” record is counted, he doesn’t rank very high. But even if you count the “badness,” he’s most famous as an Internet meme.
Also from Excalibur. Size manipulator. Cooler than he sounds, though not by much.
Could do stuff with lava.
The first new addition to the X-Men. Had the pretty cool ability to imitate other mutants, but specifically was often represented as imitating the powers of the original X-Men. Cyclops’ red glasses, Angel’s wings, Marvel Girl’s telekinesis. A vision of rip-offs to come.
Alias Gabriel Summers (warning sign!), the long-lost brother of Cyclops who had a million different superpowers and was raised in space and did lots of space stuff. I tend to be incredibly skeptical of any X-Men story that involves the words “in space.”
Had pretty awesome geo-morphing powers, which allowed her to mold different types of earth. Basically had the power to do From Dust, which I realize is a reference no one will understand. Died the same day as Sway.
The aforementioned dead future hologram, Shard was Bishop’s sister from the future who romanced a knockoff Wolverine after she was already dead. Ranking her relatively high mainly because she looked cool.
74. Lady Mastermind
Like Mastermind, but a lady this time.
73. Hope Summers
A relatively recent addition to the time-hopping Summers family. Sort of vibes like yet another attempt to bring back Jean Grey without bringing back Jean Grey.
[Deep Breath] So there was a character named Monet St. Croix who was an original member of ’90s youth-group Generation X. Monet was sort of a rich-bitch mean girl from Algiers with a grab-bag of elaborate powers. Generation X also featured a different character, Penance, a red lady with razor-sharp skin who didn’t talk much. (She looked awesome: Vintage Chris Bachalo.) Then at some point it turned out that Penance was the real Monet St. Croix and “Monet St. Croix” was actually Monet’s twin sisters merged into one. So, like, that’s something.
Cool powers: The ability to radically evolve to match whatever situation he finds himself in. Feels like a character with untapped potential.
Female (yay!) clone (oof) of Wolverine (aaghhh.) Was briefly my go-to character in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
A wacky robot that turned out to be the alternate-universe future version of Kitty Pryde. Twist!
Kitty Pryde’s pet dragon. Arguably not an actual X-Man, partially because he’s a pet and partially because he doesn’t even have an alternate-universe future clone.
Controlled metal, like her father Magneto. Was a woman, unlike Magneto. Had really cool green hair. We’re in the sixties here, people, “cool green hair” still counts for something.
Like Juggernaut, a halfway decent villain who became a pretty boring hero, although he never really went Full Hero. I’m tempted to bump up Sabretooth considerably because his Age of Apocalypse iteration was kind of lovable. But the important thing to remember here is that Sabretooth is Wolverine with fingernail-claws and terrible hair.
65. Daytripper/Magik/Amanda Sefton
Another Excalibur person with a confusing array of powers, some of them magical. Am I severely underrating Excalibur here? Is this like Robbie Williams or Steve Coogan, something that only British people understand?
Had insect wings, carried something called a “souldagger,” could teleport people places, threw hallucinogenic pixie dust at enemies. None of these powers have anything to do with the others.
There are ’90s X-Men who have aged well, and there are ’90s X-Men who have aged poorly, and then there’s Bishop. Some people love him, and he has a nifty backstory: Sent back in time from a Really Bad Future to save the X-Men from a Really Bad Thing. But crucially, his powers are beyond boring: “Energy absorption,” carries a big gun, has a dead-hologram sister. A badass haircut only goes so far.
62. Thunderbird and Warpath
Two Apache brothers with basically identical powers who wear basically identical kinda-cool Apache uniforms. Their powers are Being Powerful. Eh.
61. Moira MacTaggert
Not actually a mutant, but rather, the longtime go-to scientist for basically every X-Man team. Is Scottish. Mere fact that a character named “Moira MacTaggert” has a longer Wikipedia page than the current First Minister of Scotland feels like some kind of win. To be a teenage boy for a second: For a certain kind of deep-reading X-Men fan, Moira was the first maternal-hot nerd-crush.
Villain-turned-hero, mysterious backstory, one of those minor characters who became a major character and then a minor character again. So it goes.
One thing Generation X had going for it was weird-power eccentricity. Take Mondo, who could assume the properties of any matter he came in contact with. Tough a rock, become a rock. Touch a tree, become a tree. Demerits because “Mondo” turned out to be a clone (drink!) of another character named Mondo.
A recent addition, Japanese teenager who can make an energy exoskeleton around herself. Hence, “armor.” Looks cooler than it sounds.
An original member of the Starjammers, which means “space,” which means skeptical. But points added to this occasional X-person’s record for a cool array of powers (claws, mood-altering pheromones, night vision) and also for the name “Hepzibah,” which comes from Pogo.
“Psionic” abilities (drink!) defined this founding member of the New Mutants. One of the first lesbian characters in a mainstream comic book. Also speaks French. Seems like a really well-rounded person.
Introduced during Morrison’s great, bizarre run on New X-Men. Established as a Chinese man with “a star for a brain,” took over a “special class” of misfitty misfits. A really fascinating character…WHO TURNED OUT TO BE MAGNETO! Except then it turned out he wasn’t Magneto, he was a totally different guy who thought he was Magneto, and there was another guy named Xorn. Comics!
Another Morrison-era new character, Beak gets props for being probably the craziest-looking X-person ever and even more props for triumphing over the adversity of having a beak and locking down a really swell gal for himself (see #37.)
Could imitate the powers of any superhuman in his vicinity, which is actually a great power to have as an X-Man since you’re usually surrounded by at least two dozen X-Men. Founding member of Generation X. Generation X is so cool, it makes X-Factor look like Excalibur.
Not so much a character as a failed exercise in cross-promotion, Dazzler was a totally hip disco singer who had really fab light powers, the end result being that Dazzler’s original appearance now is the comic book equivalent of watching Xanadu while slapping yourself in the face with the album cover of Staying Alive. Still, you have to admit: She was the ’70s, even if she finally appeared in the ’80s.
Member of Alpha Flight, first gay superhero in mainstream comic books, boring powers, kind of a prick but rather endearing all the same.
Wolf-lady. Scottish. Like Feral except boring.
Very cool wing-cape, very good at using his “sonic scream” in interesting ways, very Irish. Slightly older than the other X-Men, and thus has a natural parent-mode default.
48. Cypher/Doug Ramsay/Douglock/Warlock
[Deep Breath] Doug Ramsay was a milquetoast blond kid with one of those powers that would actually be awesome in the real world but don’t really contribute much to Comic Book Land. He could understand all languages, decode all ciphers (hence his original codename.) Then he died. Warlock was a completely different character, a techno-organic alien from whatever corner of the universe decided to spend the ’80s creating “techno-organic” aliens. Then he died. Then Doug Ramsay and Warlock were double-resurrected into a single lifeform, known as “Douglock.” Now they’re separate again. If Shane Carruth ever makes a comic book movie, it will probably be a lot like that.
47. Captain Britain
I debated even including Captain Britain, since his status as an Excalibur member is a sort of minor part of his career. Has a great backstory, has a great costume, never really added much to the X-mythology.
Daughter of an alternate-reality Nightcrawler and Scarlet Witch. Basically a mash-up of two completely different characters, which turns out isn’t the worst idea. For reasons maybe my psychologist understands, I’m naturally inclined to give extra credit to blue characters with tails.
Has a sort of abstract power which allows him to cast a “bio-EM” field, which basically means he can use energy to do a lot of things. Knows karate. Was on X-Force. X-Force was the New Hope to Generation X’s Empire Strikes Back.
Another escapee from the program that created Wolverine. Like a lot of characters introduced in the Morrison era, Fantomex has powers that are uniquely precise (auto-hypnosis) and totally gross (he has three brains.) Models a retro-cool white-on-white trenchcoat-mask combo. If this were the ’70s, Fantomex would already have his own TV show.
A key member of X-Force right when I was getting into X-Force. Creates earthquakes. Later became a detective.
X-Force’s sometime leader had a ridiculous but kind of cool power that basically turned him into a human rocket. Or a “human cannonball” I guess, if you want to be prosaic. There was a point in the mid-’90s when he “graduated” to the X-Men, which is the first metaphor I ever experienced for being the top dog in school and then suddenly becoming the bottom of the barrel in real life. Often written with an annoying accent.
Was only really an X-Man for a hot second, but was a key figure in the reboot that transformed the X-Men from Cute White Kid Academy to United Nations Diversity Club. Has fire powers, which look really cool in comic books. His costume sort of makes him look like a version of Aquaman from a world where all water is fire. Separate confession: I like Aquaman, too.
Angel is a totally boring character with the real name “Warren Worthington III.” He was blond, he was handsome, he had pretty wings. Then Apocalypse gave him horrific robo-wings and made him the Angel of Death and also turned his skin blue (drink!) A key moment in the ’80s era wave of turning heretofore boring-nice characters into bleak and moody characters. Points removed because lots of people can fly and most people don’t need wings.
39. Maverick/Agent Zero
I barely remember what Maverick’s power was, and he was more of an occasional X-freelancer than an actual confirmed X-person. Here’s what I do remember about Maverick. In the ’90s, pouches were cool and neon-metallic surfaces were cool and elaborate guns were cool. DING DING DING.
Built stuff, which was pretty cool if you were the kind of kid who thought Donatello was cool. Solid facial hair, great headband, robo-limb.
37. Angel Salvadore
Warren Worthington the Third, Shmorren Shmorthington the Shmird. Angel 2.0 was a teen girl with insect wings and a legitimately unsettling tendency to do insectile things like go into a cocoon and lay insect eggs. Currently has totally different powers: Her left hand is Iceman and her right hand is Sunfire, basically. In a long-term loving relationship with baby daddy Beak, which proves that she’s a perceptive gal capable of seeing a beautiful soul hiding behind a beak.
The definitive Rob Liefeld heroine, a tough chick with a big gun and skintight leather. Has “luck” powers, which is ridiculous, but also has a long-running romance/friendship/only-person-who-really-understands-me-but-also-we-can’t-ever-be-together situation with Cable. Black circle over her left eye makes her arguably the easiest character to cosplay well.
Has “psionic” powers. But unlike other people with “psionic” powers, Chamber’s energy emerged one day and blew his mouth off. And most of his chest. He has no mouth. Just energy. Generation X!
Daughter of Banshee, which basically means she’s a younger female-y Banshee. Raised by a bad guy, had a legit unsettling kinda-romance with Deadpool. Recently developed a lot of magical powers. Has red hair, always a huge plus on the page. Should be played by Saoirse Ronan if there is ever an X-Force movie.
33. Illyana Rasputin/Darkchylde
Colossus’ sister, raised in a corner of Limbo where little girls learn how to use swords and turn into horned monstrosities. Died of the Legacy Virus — basically the AIDS of the early-’90s X-verse — then came back to life from hell. Basically lived a life that was somewhere between Michael Moorcock and Labyrinth and God of War. But the key thing here is: Sword!
Basically Sunfire, except I had him as an action figure.
There’s a special kind of comic book character who has an incredible amount of potential that never gets tapped, but the mere promise of that potential makes them fascinating. Cue Longshot, a revolutionary from a dystopian nether-world that’s basically Running Man Beyond Thunderdome. Engineered to be a slave, became a revolutionary, has “good luck” powers that actually kind of make sense. Then he became an X-Man and mostly stopped being interesting for decades thereafter.
30. Marvel Girl/Jean Grey/Phoenix/Madelyne Pryor
There are lots of people who are ride-or-die Jean Grey fans. Yes, she’s one of the first female superheroes; yes, the Dark Phoenix Saga is a Hall-of-Fame X-Men moment. Problem: Jean didn’t stay dead, and her resurrection created one of the first truly incoherent central characters in comic book history. So Phoenix was a Jean Grey clone, and then Madelyne Pryor was another Jean Grey clone, and the real Jean Grey was in suspended hibernation the whole time, and none of this really matters because Real Jean Grey spent two decades being boring before dying again, until Jean Grey from the past came to the present to save our future…
For decades, the X-Men trained inside of the Danger Room, a proto-holodeck mutant gym. But what if the Danger Room was a living artificial being? And what if it assumed evil robo-female form? And what if then it joined the X-Men? Created by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday during their run on Astonishing X-Men, feels like a character who’ll get more important in years to come.
28. The Stepford Cuckoos
Cruel mean-girl quintuplets with Philadelphia Story-worth names (Celeste, Esme, Irma, Phoebe, Sophie.) Share a hive mind, which allows them to perform all manner of freaky brain-related actions. Retroactively revealed as clone daughter-sisters of Emma Frost. Basically seem like evil Hitlerette style fascists, which makes their general heroism surprisingly endearing.
I prefer earlier-funnier Bobby Drake. But a good demonstration that simple powers are often better.
I have a weird soft spot for Feral, who is like Wolfsbane except American and also frequently prone to unleashing the beast within. You could argue that she’s another Wolverine variation, but she gets at the core of what makes Wolverine interesting in a way that the other variations don’t — the idea that “being a mutant” can be a tantalizing, addictive expression of pure id. Was on X-Force. I never realized how much I loved X-Force until today.
Dazzler for the ’90s, which is to say, a much cooler version of Dazzler. I think she’s a vampire now? Baz Luhrmann would make a great Jubilee movie.
DOUBLE BLADED SWORD. I give in, Liefeld, I give in!
23. Artie and Leech
An essential weirdo-pair with ties to Generation X and the Future Foundation, which is basically Generation X mixed with Jack Kirby and Roy Lichtenstein. Great small-scale powers: Leech takes other people’s abilities away from them, while Artie communicates by projecting telepathic holograms. One is green and one is pink.
Sister of Captain Britain who got her head embedded inside of a Japanese ninja mutant. Lots of people are telepathic, but not everyone can make a pink-hued blade of telepathic energy. I realize that Psylocke is the very definition of a twelve-year-old male fantasy, and I don’t care.
The rare cosmic-powered character whose story arc actually feels cosmic, Legion was the son of Professor X who basically had the power to destroy and recreate the universe. Naturally, he went crazy, with various multiple-personality disorders all circling a god complex. Went back in time and tried to kill Magneto — and then accidentally killed his own father, creating best-alternate-reality-ever Age of Apocalypse. Somehow managed to reappear, had lots of freaky adventures, and ultimately erased himself from reality. Again. There’s a perspective on X-Men history that argues that X-Men are best when they’re small-scale — characters hanging around the mansion, flirting and fighting. Legion is a powerful counterargument in the other direction.
20. Magneto, Age of Apocalypse edition
I’m not counting the times when Magneto has short-term joined the X-Men, due to an enemy-of-my-enemy situation or because the market dictated a necessity for Nice Magneto. No, I’m only considering the four months in the ’90s when Age of Apocalypse was happening, and alternate-reality Magneto led the X-Men. Alternate-reality Magneto was a noble revolutionary, a family man (married to Rogue!), a basically not-great guy devoted to a good cause because a much better man than him died for his sins. And unlike other characters on this list, AoA Magneto had a complete story arc.
Pulls bones out of her body, turns them into weapons. Superhero body horror at its finest. H.R. Giger would’ve loved her.
18. Kitty Pryde
If you’re from Generation X — the demographic, not the superteam — you probably rank Kitty Pryde way higher. (She’s referenced in a Weezer song.) Has great powers, is the go-to everygal.
17. Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man
Never a really important character, Madrox has one of the most obvious yet also strangest powers. The ability to self-multiply has led to all kinds of weird popcorn-existential moments — Are his duplicates “people”? What happens if they die?
16. Emma Frost/The White Queen
A cruel beauty who became an occasionally-heroic cruel beauty, Emma Frost deserves a high spot on this list just for being the most interesting corner of the most realistic romantic triangle in X-history. Demerits because, like several other characters, she has a completely explicable superpower (telepathy) and then also a completely different superpower that has nothing to do with her other superpower (turns into…diamonds?)
There are shapeshifters. There are people who can assume different “forms,” like metal or stone. And then there is Husk, who can do all of that — but in order to do it, she has to pull off her own freaking skin. Probably can’t ever be in the movies, because any scene involving her “husking” would be the most disgusting scene in a superhero movie ever. So cool.
Is she an X-Man? The movies argue “yes,” the comic books argue “occasionally,” the grand sweep of comics history would argue “no, she’s a villain.” I’m adding her because the very paradox of Mystique is that she’s impossible to pin down. She’s an ageless immortal and rebel, she’s a maternal influence on multiple Top-Tier characters but also gets cast as a seductress. Mostly I’m adding her because of X-Men Unlimited #4, when you find out that A) she’s Nightcrawler’s mom, and B) to protect herself, she threw him in the river. And because “Get Mystique” is one of the best Wolverine stories ever.
13. Professor X
The best thing about Charles Xavier is that he’s not Patrick Stewart. On the page, Professor X has a serious god complex and gets his X-Men into trouble as often as not: He’s more Kirk than Picard, an authority figure who can make rash decisions. Also, he married a space empress.
Probably the least explicable character in my top 20. Except that I’m a younger brother, and so is Alex Summers, always in the shadow of big brother Cyclops. His ridiculous costume only makes him more endearing.
Superstrong Russian who is variously lovable, brooding, or lovably brooding. The sound of my youth is the sound of Colossus going “oooooooOOOAAAAAAAAA” in the X-Men arcade game.
A great visual creation by Joe Madureira, Blink died the first time she appeared and yet lives on. Deserves a high spot on this list just for her time in Age of Apocalypse, where she sort of looked like a badass fairy warrior-empress from the forest. Has one of the best power-riffs: She can teleport, but only by opening up portals, and those portals are pink.
Serious question: Is Deadpool really an X-Man? Serious answer: Boom! Maybe the greatest comic book character who is absolutely inexplicable to anyone who has never read comics. He’s like an artisanal comic book character. Who breaks the fourth wall. And is actually funny.
There is Gambit hate in the world. He is the ’90s vision of “cool”; he wears a trenchcoat over a purple outfit; he speaks in Cajun slang. I’m guessing there’s a certain age of X-fan for whom Gambit as the jump-the-shark moment for the whole X-series. (He has the power of “hypnotic charm,” which vibes all kinds of wrong nowadays.) Fair enough, but DISAGREE. He throws playing cards that explode, which is a goofy power, but unlike so many other self-consciously “cool” characters, Gambit’s not a dark-and-gritty guy. His fundamental tone is Sly Wink. The ideal Gambit movie would be Rounders with explosions.
Brilliant scientist, tortured by his own brilliance, prone to experimenting on himself. A voice of reason who is frequently unreasonable. He’s like Spock and McCoy combined together, except with blue fur.
I’ve made some mirth on this list about far-future alternate-reality dystopia-clones and the all-powerful surprise-twist children-of-other-X-Men who love them. And Cable is all that and more. Raised in a far-far future where the apocalypse was caused by Apocalypse, sent back in time, originally a Terminator ripoff and then a John Connor ripoff. All this and more, and yet brilliance. Tougher than the other iconic X-team leaders but also sadder, a lonely future man who seems to have lived even more lifetimes than his timeline-hopping would allow. Cyborg arm that is actually a virus that always threatens to kill him. Also, nothing wrong with a big gun.
The single coolest-looking X-Man ever. There is no comparison. There is no close second, only distant thirds. Also, “Kurt Wagner” might be the best Real Name in comic books.
She’s been a young villain-ingenue and a flowing-hair babe with a Gambit fixation, but there’s always something fundamentally sad and fascinating about Rogue. Her superpower is tragic at the level of great science-fiction: If she touches anyone, she absorbs their powers, their memories, their whole life. (Touch them too long and they die.) Rogue is how you teach kids about melancholy.
And Storm is how you teach kids about awesome.
There is Cyclops hate in the world, because we are all children. Cyclops had to play the straight man for decades, but even Chris Claremont let you see how the X-Men’s longtime leader was only barely keeping it together. The ruby quartz that covers his eyes was a symbol, man: There was that great moment in nearly every X-story when the bad guy would pull off his visor, and then Pure Red Destruction would unleash from his eyes. In 2000, Marsden played Cyclops onscreen as a sixth wheel. But just one year later, Grant Morrison started his run, which ever-so-carefully let Cyclops’ repressed id play out on the page. (Key revelation: Scott wants to be a good guy, but he likes the bad girl.) More recently, Cyclops went Full Antihero, killing his mentor. The best is yet to come.
Confession: I spent the last 99 entries trying to figure out how to not make Wolverine #1. It is too obvious; I want to be different. But the man called Logan reflects everything I love about the X-Men, and about comic books as a whole. Built on a grab-bag of personality traits and powers that feel assembled by accident — claws, healing factor, amnesia, Canadian-ness — Wolverine has been variously presented as a scuzzy uncle and a heartless romantic, a man without a past and an immortal icon existing throughout time. He’s a barfight samurai, hilarious comic relief and/or a bruised leader dripping with gravitas. He can be self-consciously “cool” — a fifth grader’s idea of a grown-up — but he can also be a tragic figure, his own worst enemy. He is every X-Man: Every cool and stupid power, every goofy backstory and time-tossed retcon, every death and every dark future. Wolverine is all things. Even Maggott.