Mavel’s mighty mutants have had quite a number of members under the banner of ‘the X-Men’. Not all have been called X-Men, specifically, but they are all allied under Charles Xavier’s dream, or at least some derivative of it. Generation X, Excalibur, X-Force, X-Factor, the New Mutants or the X-Men themselves, they’re all pretty much one huge family. One huge, huge, super dysfunctional family. Each team has had many iterations over the years, and everyone has their favorites, but today we are going to take a look at our votes for our 10 favorite rosters!
Honorable mentions to the government sponsored X-Factor, X-Statix, the original New Mutants, the New X-Men (both the Grant Morrison penned main X-Men and the teenagers around the time of House of M), Wolverine & The X-Men and the post-Dark Phoenix Saga rosters.
Note: for the purposes of this list we are only counting teams from the 616 universe, or the ‘main’ Marvel Universe. So, no Age of Apocalypse teams or Age of X teams or Days of Future Past in this one!
Members: Captain Britain, Meggan, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Phoenix (Rachel Summers)
Formed after the Mutant Massacre, Excalibur was a much different book than anything X that had come before. Led by our reality’s Captain Britain, the initial team of the Captain, his girlfriend Meggan, Shadowcat (and her awesome dragon pal, Lockheed), Nightcrawler, and the time-displaced Rachel Summers aka Phoenix, Excalibur spent less time fighting prejudice, Sentinels and evil mutants and much more time dealing with the absolute reality-hopping madness of being associated with a member of the multiversal Captain Britain Corps. While the title often skewed towards humor and wackiness, the writing of Chris Claremont and the brilliant pencils of the likes of Alan Davis (the most underrated artist ever?) were able to keep the book captivating with great characterization, plots, and a sense of family and adventure.
9. Original X-Force
Members: Cable, Cannonball, Boom-Boom, Domino, Warpath, Feral, Shatterstar, Rictor, Sunspot, Siryn
Narrowly edging out the original New Mutants roster for this list, the sheer popularity of the original X-Force squad is nearly unmatched. This book hit the stands like a bomb, setting sales records (that were quickly beaten by the Claremont/Jim Lee X-Men #1, but still) and introducing a lot of readers to great long-time characters like Boom-Boom, Cannonball, Warpath, and later Siryn, Rictor and Sunspot, as well as new (or new-ish) characters Domino, Cable, Shatterstar, and Feral. A much more militant group than anything we had seen from the X books, Cable’s team were more soldiers than students or superheroes, and were engaged in a war with Stryfe and his Mutant Liberation Front. They also tangled with the likes of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Gideon and the Externals, and the team of Black Tom and the Juggernaut! Initially drawn by Rob Liefeld (later the uber talented Greg Capullo in an early career job) and written by Fabian “I’m Writing 10 Books a Month Please Send Help” Nicieza, this team will always hold a special place in the hearts of those that were reading when it launched.
8. Outback Era
Members: Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Rogue, Dazzler, Psylocke, Havok, Longshot
One of the stranger eras in X-Men history, the Outback Era, as it’s come to be known, is actually great. Gone were the days of living in Charles Xavier’s posh mansion in upstate New York, the X-Men now spent their time in the Australian outback, and used the teleportation powers of the Aborigine mutant Gateway to go where they were needed. They fought the Reavers, the Brood, Nimrod, the Master Mold… not exactly pushovers. This was the pre-ninja Psylocke, Dazzler, Longshot, and Havok, not exactly the most popular characters in the world (but all completely awesome), but enough of the ‘big guns’ to still make it feel like “THE X-MEN”: Colossus, Rogue, Wolverine, and team leader Storm carried the torch for Charles Xavier’s dream through some of the crazier shenanigans any team has ever experienced!
7. X-Factor Investigations
Members: Multiple Man, Layla Miller, M, Strong Guy, Siryn, Wolfsbane, Rictor, Shatterstar, Longshot, Darwin
Writer Peter David originally wrote the X-Factor title in a classic run (and a team that almost made the list!) that featured a government backed team of mutant superheroes led by Havok, but featuring many of the characters here. Years later when he returned to the title he kept some old favorites like Siryn, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane and the Multiple Man, but added characters that were a little aimless at the time, such as M, Rictor, Shatterstar, Longshot, Darwin, and Layla Miller, and was once again able to work his particular brand of magic to create one of the most interesting, enjoyable, INSANE titles on the stands for years. Because most of the characters in the book were considered (at least by editorial) as “B List” at best, David could really put them through the paces. Each character had a complete arc throughout the run, even characters that editorial kept moving around on him, such as Havok and Polaris, who joined his team later in the run for a brief period. All of the characters were fantastic, but the real star of the show was Jamie Madrox, aka the Multiple Man. The boss of X-Factor Investigations, he and his team were always up to their eyeballs in trouble, often due to his actions or the actions of duplicates of his.
6. Original Students
Members: Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Angel, Marvel Girl
The best ever (in my opinion, at least- CZ), Professor Xavier’s first students did the impossible on a regular basis. A group of 15-17 year olds with very little experience beat the likes of Magneto, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Juggernaut, the Blob, Sentinels, Sauron, the Living Monolith.. guys (and robots) that are some of the absolute deadliest foes around. Xavier chose his first class well. He recruited Jean Grey, aka Marvel Girl, who he had been mentoring for years and whose powers were always growing. There was also Hank McCoy, aka the Beast, whose unnatural appearance is in stark contrast to his near superhuman intelligence, Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, the youngest member of the team and ‘class clown’ who was ignorant to the staggering extents of his abilities, Warren Worthington III, aka Angel, whose wings and striking good looks led many to believe he was an actual angel of heaven, and the team leader Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, the first X-Man. Under Xavier’s mentorship and Cyclops’ field leadership this group of teenage misfits even held their own against heroes like the Avengers. They held their own against impossible odds and set the stage for everything to come.
Members: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Shadowcat, Colossus, Beast, Wolverine
After the madness of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men title, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly creator Joss Whedon came on to take over the next chapter in the X saga. Joined by artist John Cassady, they blew the doors off the place. Keeping focus on a small roster, the honed in on the incredible relationships between these characters and never shied away from the history, but embraced it, in what is definitely a love letter to the X-Men, but still written in a way that is accessible to new readers. Jean Grey had recently died (again), and Cyclops had taken up with Emma Frost. Joined by the Beast, Wolverine, and Shadowcat, their first mission pitted them against the alien Ord from the planet Breakworld, and they discovered that longtime X-Man Colossus was actually alive! Reunited with their comrade, they then were forced to protect the school from the Danger Room, which had gained sentience and had a real grudge to pick. They also fought against what appeared to be a new Hellfire Club Inner Circle (read Astonishing X-Men: Torn, it’s great!) before being stolen away to the Breakworld halfway across the galaxy! Their book was absolutely action packed, but the real appeal is the interpersonal relationships on display, the elevation of Armor as a character, and the introduction of Abigail Brand and S.W.O.R.D.!
4. Uncanny X-Force
Members: Wolverine, Deadpool, Archangel, Psylocke, Fantomex
Man, this team had it rough. Formed by Wolverine and Archangel, they operated out of sight and under the radar; even Cyclops (then in a general type role) didn’t know they existed! Meant to strike their opponents before they could do something terrible, things get off to a really, really bad start on their first mission and never let up from there. As a result characters like Deadpool, Fantomex and Psylocke get some really significant character work, and feel like the best versions of each of those characters. Wolverine is as Wolverine as ever, and Archangel… well, you just have to read their adventures to see that utter shit he goes through. A team formed to kill their enemies, they quickly begin to learn that while this is a good idea on paper, in reality it just causes more problems. And more problems. And so many more problems. They face off with the Horsemen of Apocalypse, the Shadow King, Wolverine’s son Daken, the Reavers, and even have to make a visit to the Age of Apocalypse!
3. Extinction Team
Members: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Danger, Namor, Magik, Magneto, Colossus, Storm, Hope Summers
Life for the X-Men post-House of M was rough. Eventually they found themselves living off of the coast of California on the formerly sunken asteroid base Magneto had previously used: Asteroid M! Cyclops at the time was not just the leader of the X-Men, but the leader of all of mutantkind; facing extinction after being flat-lined by the Scarlet Witch, never before had mutants so had their backs against the wall. As a result, Cyclops had his pick of the litter, so to speak, when it came to selecting his X-Men. Dubbed the Extinction team, this is the most powerful line-up the X-Men have ever had (discounting the Phoenix, cause that’s not fair). Featuring utter powerhouses like Storm, Magneto, Hope Summers, Danger, Namor, and a Colossus possessing the powers of the Juggernaut, in addition to one of the most powerful telepaths in the world in Emma Frost, the queen of limbo in Magik, and the coolest X-Man there ever was in Cyclops, there was just no stopping these guys. While they served their purpose in the overall narrative of the X titles at the time, it’s a shame they weren’t able to stick around longer.
Members: Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee, Thunderbird, Sunfire
While the original X-Men are a cornerstone of the origins of the Marvel U, they were far from Marvel’s most popular title. Things started to change when Len Wein and Dave Cockrum dropped Giant-Sized X-Men on us, which lead to Chris Claremont taking the reins over on a revamped ongoing X-Men title thereafter. The original X-Men, other than Cyclops, are trapped on the living island, Krakoa, and Professor X recruits a new team to assist Cyclops in rescuing them. Joined by Banshee, who had previously been an X-Men villain (!), Sunfire, the super powerful Japanese mutant that seemed to hate literally everyone, Wolverine, the short guy with the claws on his hands that fought the Hulk that one time, and all-new characters Thunderbird, Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler, they were able to rescue the original X-Men. Afterwards, most of the original team elected to move on to better things, and Cyclops remained behind to mentor the new team. Thunderbird tragically died in their second mission, and Sunfire didn’t stick around long, but Banshee, Wolverine, Colossus, Storm and Nightcrawler, led by Cyclops and the returning Marvel Girl (soon turned Phoenix), soon proved themselves not only X-Men mainstays, but among the greatest (and soon most popular) heroes in all of Marvel!
Members: Jean Grey, Colossus, Storm, Iceman, Archangel, Bishop (gold), Cyclops, Beast, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Psylocke, Jubilee (blue)
For anyone that was growing up in the early 1990’s, this is probably what you think of when you think X-Men, even if you’re like me and have been reading them for decades now. Comics were hitting new heights in sales and popularity, and Marvel had so many damn mutants they decided to shake things up and create a second book titled ‘X-Men’ to go along with the long-running ‘Uncanny X-Men’. Splitting the large group of characters they had at the mansion down the middle, we were introduced to the concept of two squads that all lived under the same roof. Cyclops’ blue squad could be found in X-Men, while Storm’s gold squad could be found in Uncanny X-Men. Cyclops’ team had to deal with Magneto and his new Acolytes, the Hand, Omega Red, the Brood, and Mojo, while the gold team had their hands full with Sentinels, the Upstarts, the Hellions, and the introduction of Bishop! Unapologetically 90’s, their titles read that way at times, but there is no denying their popularity and all-around awesomeness. The blue squad was the basis for the awesome X-Men animated series (soon to be getting a revival on Disney + with ‘X-Men ’97’!).
After a while the gold/blue concept was abandoned, and it’s too bad. It was able to keep things relatively straight in an era where it was not uncommon to be introduced to 10-20 characters, if not more, every year! However, while they were a thing it was really something else.