Ever since my earliest days as a comic book nerd and comic book culture enthusiast, I have loved the X-Men. Even more than the Justice League, the Avengers, and the Teen Titans, the X-Men have always resonated with me. Marvel’s merry mutants are a metaphor for everyone that has felt disenfranchised from society for whatever reason. They were all different. They were all a little weird. And yet, somehow, they could come together to save a world that hated and feared them. For a kid that never quite fit in, I always found solace in the pages of X-Men comics.
For today’s Top 10 list, I’m looking at my favorite mutants from Marvel’s pantheon, which includes literally hundreds of amazing characters since the X-Men were introduced in the 1960s.
Broo is the newest character on the list, having just been introduced in the last few years by Jason Aaron in his awesome Wolverine and the X-Men comic. As an “exchange student,” Broo isn’t actually a mutant—he is a human-esque member of the viscious Brood alien race, though he has very little in common with his bloodthirsty and savage species, which have long-plagued the X-Men. Instead, he is highly intelligent, eager to learn, and a little naïve. Perhaps more than any other member of the respective X-schools, Broo reminds me the most of himself. He has trouble fitting in with his fellow outsiders, though he knows that he is meant to belong with them. Plus he is a total freakin’ nerd.
09. JEAN GREY
One of the original X-Men, Jean Grey has had a rockier history than any other the other X-Men. She has housed one of the most destructive forces in the Marvel Universe and caused unbelievable atrocities under its influence, despite being one of the kindest characters ever to be part of the X-Men. Outside of her run-ins with the Phoenix force, she is treated as near-perfect. She is a humble genius with unlimited empathy and compassion that just so happens to be gorgeous and seemingly well-adjusted. Her existence is comprised of extremes, which makes her infinitely interesting to me, especially when seen through the lens of the two men the idolize her the most, Cyclops and Wolverine.
X-23 could easily have been one of the most insipid and uncreative characters ever introduced into the Marvel Universe. She is a sexy teenage female clone of Wolverine. It sounds like the type of garbage you’d throw at a book in a desperate attempt to steal away sales for sinking ship. And yet, she is one of the most complex and compelling characters introduced in the last 20 years. She was made for the sole purpose of killing and must keep that instinct in check at all times as she tries to piece together a life that she was never meant to have. It’s incredibly tragic, but that is what makes X-23’s story so interesting. Everything that she appears to have meant to be—both in the comics and in a more metatextual sense—is what she tries to avoid becoming. Thankfully X-23’s comics have been handled by some of the most talented writers in the business that are able to capture that struggle, which has transformed what could have been a simply horrible idea into an astounding one.
07. MOLLY HAYES
While Molly Hayes, a.k.a. Princess Powerful, was never officially a member o f the X-Men, the youngest member of the Runaways did have some really great interaction with them on numerous occasions. The super strong Molly, created by Brian K. Vaughan, is probably the best-written young teen in the history of comics. Most teen characters act like small adults, but Molly was always written well to her age, which meant she could be as infuriating as she was charming, but ultimately her energy, wit, and loyalty to her friends always made her a great read, as well as one of the biggest scene stealers in a comic comprised entirely of scene stealing personalities. If you’ve never read any of the Runaways comics, I demand that you start from the beginning right this instant! Oh yeah, and Molly has the coolest collection of floppy animal hats ever.
I have always been fascinated by the strict division in comic book supervillains. There are those who are merely motivated by chaos and violence. They are pure evil and relish in the fact that they have the means to create massive amounts of destruction wherever they go. These are your Red Skulls, your Jokers, and the vast majority of the easily forgettable supervillains. Then there are those who truly believe that what they are doing is justified and that even in their acts of villainy, they will ultimate serve the greater good in their actions. These are the hardest villains for writers to craft well, but they are also far more interesting to me. The two most memorable villains in this vein are Lex Luthor and Magneto. Magneto is solely focused on the prosperity of the mutant subspecies and all that he does, he does out of an undying love for his mutant brethren. At no point in time does he ever consider himself a villain and that makes him infinitely more interesting than nearly every other villain in comics. The concept of being “evil” simply does not cross his mind, even as he is slaughtering the humans that hate him so much.
I grew up reading comics books in the early 1990s and therefore, I love Gambit. He is perhaps the “coolest” of all the X-Men. He is like a Cajun version of Han Solo that can blow up anything that he touches. That is so cool. Oh yeah, but he chooses to blow-up playing cards. He could carry anything else around that would be more effective, but it wouldn’t have style. How freakin’ cool is that?
So freakin' cool.
I really dislike the cliché of the big dumb strong guy. We’ve seen it over and over and over again in all literary mediums and yet still it persists. That is one of the reasons that Beast has always resonated with me. He is huge and strong, but he is also a genius. Throughout his various incarnations and appearances, Beast has remained a scientific genius and refined intellectual, no matter how bizarre or savage his appearance may be. That always struck a chord with me, as does the fact that Beast is never afraid to stand up for what he believes it—even if that means standing against his closest friends and allies. He is a man with conviction. You have to appreciate that.
03. KITTY PRYDE
The X-Men are so filled with oddities that even the weirdest of the weird reader will need someone grounded to latch onto for perspective. I feel that this was at the heart of Kitty Pryde’s creation—she was younger than the other X-Men and, by all appearances, far more “normal.” Even though she was a mutant herself, she was the perfect point-of-view character for readers and for that reason, she has some of the most passionate fans in all of comics. People relate to Kitty and see the X-Men through her eyes. As she grew up on the team, the readers grew up as well and the bond between character and consumer grew. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that we love about Kitty Pryde, but I would say that she would land on the Top 5 list of almost every X-Fan.
I really don’t care that Wolverine is either a star or supporting character in 75% of all of Marvel’s books (and makes guest appearances in the other 25%). I can honestly say that I will never have “too much” Wolverine. Wolverine works on two levels. Due to his complicated back story and extraordinarily large network of associates, it is perfectly believable for Wolverine to fill nearly every role there is in a comic. He can be the leading man action hero, the anti-social loner, the compassionate big brother, the loyal friend out for vengeance, etc without ever being “out of character.” He’s a complex dude. On the other hand, he is also a well designed awesome looking badass that drinks heavily, loves hockey, and has freakin’ unbreakable claws. See, two levels—one complex and the other pretty damn simple.
Much like my love of Gambit, my favorite X-Man being Rogue shows that I was a child of early 90s comics. Rogue received a lot of attention in the 90s (often in her pairings with Gambit, oddly enough), so I have fond memories of reading Rogue-centric stories growing up. Her inability to form close relationships was relatable for a lot of readers, including me as I had trouble socially as a kid (though I couldn’t potentially kill perspective friends just by touching them). As time progressed, Rogue’s arc became about redemption as she began as an “evil mutant” and went on to be successful team leader and mentor to other characters. Plus, her changing designs have always been really awesome—even if they scream of whatever era they came from.
What are your favorites?