Superhero movies have driven box office sales for most of the last two decades. But, you may not know that the X-Men have been around since the 1960s. Marvel’s own superhero team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby imaged these comic book heroes.

The comic book series debuted in 1963 and is one of the most popular Marvel superhero teams to date. Featuring a team of mutants born with superpowers, the X-Men are led by Professor X. Charles Xavier is a mutant himself with telepathic powers. Although despised by human society, the mutants battle the anti-human mutant, Magneto. The series launched with five main characters: Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl.

Professor X recruits mutants all across the world to enter his School for Gifted Youngsters located at his headquarters in New York. The series included many of these mutants and gifted youngsters. Modern fans may be more familiar with the current lineup from the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movies. While, even non-fans know Wolverine and Storm, played by popular action-movie actors Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry.

X-Men Core Characters

Curious about the names and stories behind the superhero nicknames? Here’s a roundup that will familiarize you with some of the core characters.

Original characters have changed since the beginning.

  • Angel (later known as Archangel) is Warren Kenneth Worthington III, whose superpower is flight. The 1980s brought a darker tone, and the artists re-engineered his wings as organic metal.
  • Beast is also known as Hank McCoy, and is an expert in genetics and human biology. In superhero form, he has amazing strength, speed, and agility with enhanced senses and superior night vision.
  • Piotr Rasputin is Colossus, whose power is the ability to transform himself into an organic steel that makes him extremely strong and indestructible.
  • Jean Grey started out as Marvel Girl and was later reborn as Phoenix after her untimely (first) death. She possesses telepathic powers to read minds and stuns opponents with psionic forces. She also has telekinetic powers
  • Iceman Robert Drake is a certified accountant able to radiate cold temperatures up to -105 Fahrenheit. He can instantly freeze water around him to solid ice.

New characters have kept fans engaged.

  • Wolverine is James Howlett. He is a former soldier and CIA operative with an adamantium skeleton and the ability to regenerate damaged tissue. Fluent in many languages, Wolverine is a skilled intelligence operative.
  • The descendant of a line of African priestesses from Kenya, Storm, or Ororo Monroe, controls the weather and creates tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes. She affects solar winds, ocean currents, directs electromagnetism, and generates acid rain.
  • Rogue (real name unknown) was introduced to the series in the 1980s, appearing first in The Avengers. Rouge is from the American South, and absorbs the abilities of others psychically through skin contact, including their memories, talents, knowledge, and abilities. Her victims remain stripped of them for as long as she possesses them, usually leaving them unconscious.
  • Introduced in 1990, Gambit, also known as Remy LeBeau, can manipulate kinetic energy for hand-to-hand combat, including the ability to turn everyday objects as explosives. Gambit was raised by the LeBeau Thieves Guild after being stolen as a baby from a New Orleans hospital.

The X-Men Comic Books

From the beginning of publication, X-Men comic books touched on social issues, resulting in action-packed sequences in battles of good vs. evil. Prejudice and racism are common themes. The X-Men are disparaged by humans and isolated from society.

The comics began to lag in sales in the late 1960s and went out of production. In 1975, the comic book series saw a revival. Bringing in older characters with more diverse and interesting backgrounds made the series more appealing to older comic book fans. Added were current favorites Storm from Kenya and Wolverine from Canada.

The X-Men comics saw ts rise to popularity in the 1980s with the “Dark Phoenix Saga,” and it became Marvel’s top seller. In fact, comic sellers used the X-Men comics to compare sales with all other comic books. Wolverine was a breakout favorite among fans and has remained a favorite since. A now-benign Magneto replaced Professor X as team lead, resulting in “The New Mutants” storyline.

Marvel returned the series to the simple title “The X-Men, resulting in a new feel for the series in the 1990s. Professor X was returned to pride of place, and the first issues of the new series broke the Guinness World Record for best selling comic book of all time. New characters added during the 1990s were Gambit and Deadpool.

X-Men: The Animated Series

The 1990s saw a big rise in adult appreciation of cartoons. After the success of The Simpsons, clever, animated shows like Ren & Stimpy, Animaniacs, and Rugrats (just to name a few) were popular with both children and grownups. The TV animated X-Men series launched in 1992 was one of them. Action packed enough for kids and dark enough for adults, X-Men: The Animated Series was a Saturday morning staple. The show featured complex storylines that continued the X-Men tradition of tackling delicate social issues. And the animated series attracted enough credibility to launch the first movie in 2000.

The Honest Trailers YouTube Channel produced this short “trailer” that praises the show’s cheesiness as much as its thematic brilliance in this nostalgia-filled assessment of the series.

The X-Men Movies

The franchise has ten movies so far, with four new ones on the books.  And with $4.9 billion in earnings worldwide, the X-Men movie series is one of the highest grossing and most popular film franchises to date. Marvel recruited top RADA talents like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, showing how seriously the film industry takes the franchise.

Completed X-Men Movies

Three of the current films focus on the story of Wolverine in particular, and the list includes:

  1. 2000 – X-Men
  2. 2003 – X2
  3. 2006 – X-Men: The Last Stand 
  4. 2009 – X-Men Origins: Wolverine 
  5. 2011 – X-Men: First Class
  6. 2013 – The Wolverine 
  7. 2014 – X-Men: Days of Future Past
  8. 2016 – Deadpool 
  9. 2016 – X-Men: Apocalypse 
  10. 2017 – Logan

X-Men Movies in Production

Marvel scheduled the following films for release in the next two years:

  1. The New Mutants: Slated for an April 2018 release, this horror-toned movie features mutants escaping from imprisonment against their will.
  2. Deadpool 2: Expected out in June 2018, this currently unnamed film features everyone’s favorite sardonic anti-hero, Deadpool.
  3. X-Men: Dark Phoenix: With filming complete in October 2017, this installment is in post-production. It has a November 2, 2018, release date.
  4. Gambit: Actor Channing Tatum is currently pegged for the eponymous role. Filmed in New Orleans, this character-focused movie releases February 2019.

Collecting X-Men Comic Books

The X-Men universe can be pretty confusing for collectors new to the series, so it’s best to start with the classics. Over the last 50+ years, there have been a number of crossovers, reinventions, and special series and issues. Just trying to figure out where to start can be time-consuming. Here are the core X-Men flagship comics that any fan can start with featuring the main team of mutants. Fans can then branch out to follow favorite characters or storylines.

X-Men, Volume 1, Issues 1-93, 1963-1974

If you’re just starting out and want to build a serious collection, start with the original series of X-Men comics. Marvel launched these comics in 1963 with Issue #1 through 1975 with Issue #93. Marvel markets a variety of collections, with a handful of issues in one bundled volume. These are published under the Marvel Essentials, Epic Collections, Marvel Masterworks, and Omnibus Editions designation. They range in price from inexpensive black and white reprints on thin paper to full-color reproductions of the original issues.

Uncanny X-Men, Issues 94-280, 1975-1991

Also available in the four “collected” formats for new fans and collectors, this time frame is also known as the X-Men’s “classic period.” These are the most highly collectible in the series history. They’re generally considered to be one of the best comic runs of all time, so collectors might have to search a bit harder for these.

Marvel has bundled X-Men comics issued after 1991 in annual hardbound collector’s editions, containing a handful of each per volume. Note that not all issues are currently available in this format.

If you’re looking to expand into further collecting after feeding your X-Men obsession, check out The Avengers, the other star superhero team from Marvel.

The X-Men comics, movies, and animated series features unusual characters with strange names. Some critics may shrug them off as childish or simplistic. But, the dark tones of the series, as well as its exploration of important issues, makes it more than just a comic book series. The writers’ are willing to confront serious issues of racism and division, while the personal histories and behavior of some of its most prominent characters are morally ambiguous. Also, they have sought, and hopefully found, redemption. These factors have elevated the simple mid-century American comic book to the status of an epic saga.


Featured image: X-Men: Apocalypse movie poster via IMDb