(This is a slightly expanded version of a piece that originally appeared on Newsarama)
Mutants: human beings born with the mysterious “X-gene” (sometimes called the “X-factor”), granting them superhuman powers and/or unusual physical traits that usually manifest around puberty. As far as many people in the world are concerned, mutants are at best, freaks, and at worst, a new race seeking to replace humanity. In the U.S., Charles Francis Xavier was a mutant with telepathic abilities, making him very powerful but also causing the side effect of losing his hair by his 20s. He studied at Oxford, becoming an expert in genetics and mutation. After a brief stint in the military, Xavier traveled the world and met other mutants who sought to use their abilities to gain personal power (such as Amahl Farouk AKA the Shadow King) or to wage war against the human race that hounded them (such as Magneto).
Believing young mutants needed a safe haven where they could be guided in the use of their powers and taught that co-existence with ordinary humans was possible, Charles Xavier turned his family home in Westchester, NY into a school. With his powerful computer Cerebro, Xavier gathered students who would also learn to protect humanity from mutant terrorists that threatened it, becoming a strike force known as the X-Men.
Over the decades, the X-Men have gone through many changes. Their home has been destroyed and rebuilt. They’ve moved to different bases around the world. And their focus and leadership has altered more than once. Most recently, a schism has caused two camps of X-Men to emerge. So to help you keep track of everything, here’s the history of the X-Men divided into 10 basic eras!
THE FIRST CLASS
Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is founded in Westchester, NY. The Xavier family home (affectionately nicknamed the “X-Mansion”) is officially made into a private education facility with help from Fred Duncan of the FBI, who acts as a liaison between the X-Men and the government. Xavier’s first class of students includes Cyclops, Beast, Iceman and Angel (who adopts the name Archangel years later). Jean Grey joins soon afterward, using the name Marvel Girl, just in time for the team’s first official mission against Magneto. At various times, the team is called “the strangest super heroes of all” and “the strangest teens of all.” Xavier also refers to them as “children of the atom,” believing that the reason more mutants are emerging starting in the 20th century is due to the fall out of atomic weapons used and tested by humanity.
During their initial battles, the X-Men combat aliens, cosmic menaces, the terrorist Brotherhood of Mutants led by Magneto, and the Sentinels (robots designed to hunt mutants). The adventurer called Mimic joins the team for a brief time. Spider-Man is offered membership but says no since he doesn’t consider himself a team player (an idea that changes years later). Some time afterward, Xavier is apparently killed, forcing the team to truly come into its own as confident, young adult heroes. Cyclops’ younger brother Havok and the green-haired Polaris (Magneto’s daughter) are later recruited just before the Beast decides to leave to work at a research firm. Beast’s experiments later enhance his mutation, increasing his power while giving him a monstrous appearance and fur all over his body. He later joins the Avengers.
After several defeats at the hands of the X-Men, Magneto creates an artificial “ultimate mutant” named Alpha who then betrays his creator and turns the terrorist into a baby (as often happens in these cases). Oh, and Xavier shows up alive and well eventually, revealing that he’d asked the former villain Changeling to masquerade as him while he was off helping some aliens and that it was really Changeling who had died years earlier.
THE ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT X-MEN
While investigating the island of Krakoa, the X-Men are taken prisoner, with only Cyclops escaping. Xavier soon recruits a new team, one composed of adults from around the world who are already experienced in their powers. Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee and others work under Cyclops’ leadership, rescuing the old group from Krakoa. Seeing that Xavier has new help and deciding they want to try leading their own lives, most of the old X-Men leave. Iceman and Angel can’t keep away from the superhero life though and wind up temporarily joining the Champions and then the Defenders, a group that Beast also worked with for a time.
The “all-new, all-different” X-Men usher in what many consider to be the “classic” era of the team and the heroes go through tragic and strange times. An early mission leads to a death on the team. Jean Grey becomes host to the cosmic Phoenix force, leading to triumph and then tragedy. Cyclops finds out his dad is alive and living as a space pirate (dude, many of us have been there). At one point, the team is split into two groups for weeks, each believing that the other is dead. And a race of mutants who cannot pass for humans are found to be living in the sewers of New York, calling themselves Morlocks. This era also introduces Dr. Moira MacTaggert (expert in mutant genetics and former love of Xavier) and new teenage X-Man Kitty Pryde, who becomes very popular and inspires later characters such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Some of the biggest events involve the X-Men meeting the alien Shi’ar Empire, fighting the parasitic alien Brood and meeting the villainous Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club. The now-famous “Days of Future Past” story reveals a possible future where Sentinels rule the Earth and the surviving mutants are slaves or in prison camps. In the midst of all this, baby Magneto is aged back into adulthood, but only as far as his physical prime, making him decades younger than he should be. Xavier also goes through a change when his mind is transferred into a clone body, allowing him to walk again. And the X-Men begin a policy of taking on reformed villains when they allow young Rogue, a former member of the Brotherhood, to join them.
It is during this era that the first X-Men spinoff was born, due to Xavier recruiting a new class of teenagers, simply dubbing them the New Mutants. Although they are supposed to be students only and not combatants, the New Mutants wind up having many strange adventures, often involving mystical forces. And it is during this time that Magneto begins to wonder if he’s gone too far, his heart softening after repeated team-ups with the X-Men and a brief romance with the human Lee Forrester (one of Cyclops’ exes).
After much soul searching and an encounter with the Avengers team, Magneto surrenders himself to go on trial for his crimes to face responsibility for his actions. But the trial is halted due to an attack by outside forces that leaves Xavier seriously injured. Learning that only Shi’ar technology can heal him, Xavier leaves Earth and puts Magneto in charge of the school, challenging him to make up for his past by taking up the cause of mutant/human co-existence.
Magneto takes the name “Michael Xavier” and becomes head teacher to the New Mutants. Cyclops leaves the team, unwilling to accept Magneto’s presence and conceding that Storm is now X-Men leader, despite the fact that she recently lost her powers. After a couple of months, Cyclops reunites with the original X-Men to form a new team: X-Factor. X-Factor initially pretends to be a team of human fighters, while secretly offering mutants safe harbor. Very quickly, they encounter the near-immortal mutant Apocalypse. After a vicious attack leaves the Angel without his wings, he is taken by Apocalypse and warped into blue-skinned soldier with cyborg wings called Death. Later the hero gets his mind back, rejoining X-Factor under the new alias of Archangel, but is still left scarred by Apocalypse’s forced changes.
More dark times arrive. The evil geneticist Mr. Sinister and his Marauders attack the Morlocks and engage in a “Mutant Massacre” (depicted in the story arc of the same name), causing much death despite the efforts of the X-Men and X-Factor. The New Mutants are murdered and then resurrected but retain the memories of their trauma. Magneto goes on trial again (having not completed the first one), but reveals his true colors to readers by mentally forcing the judges to clear him of all charges. He then allies himself with the villainous Hellfire Club.
Finally, Storm regains her powers just in time for the X-Men to face The Adversary, a demonic force threatening many innocent lives. Magneto doesn’t aid the team, later saying he didn’t feel the humans in danger were worth protecting, and the conflict only ends when the heroes sacrifice their lives to stop the demon. Meanwhile, the New Mutants are attacked by human racists, and team member Doug Ramsey is killed. All of this takes place during the crossover “Fall of the Mutants.”
THEY’RE DEAD! THE DIVIDED ERA!
Moved by the heroes’ sacrifice, the cosmic being Roma restores the X-Men to life. Deciding it’s advantageous to let the world continue thinking that they’re dead, the X-Men don’t bother telling any friends or family that they’re alive, not even their absent colleagues Magneto, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat, the latter two of whom go off to form the team Excalibur. The X-Men move to Australia and, thanks to a spell cast by Roma, they now cannot be detected or recorded by any kind of surveillance except for direct eyesight and human hearing.
The X-Men now operate more clandestinely for a while, though eventually X-Factor discovers that they are alive, during a battle that leaves the X-Mansion destroyed. Eventually, the X-Men are forced to leave their base in Australia and escape through the Siege Perilous, a portal left by Roma in case of emergency. The Siege Perilous transports them to different places, leaving some amnesiac and physically altering others (Psylocke went from a British telepath wearing armor to being an Asian ninja telepath wearing not-really-clothing). With the members now scattered across the world, it is some time before there is an X-Men team again (although Moira MacTaggert briefly leads her own ersatz group).
The New Mutants deal with Doug’s death and Magneto’s increasingly domineering attitude. After a few weeks and a cosmic battle that leaves their teammate Magik de-aged into a pre-teen child, the New Mutants return to discover the X-Mansion is wrecked and that Magneto gave up on Xavier’s dream months ago. For some time, he’s been secretly planning to make the Hellfire Club, New Mutants and X-Men into one large army to bring about mutant domination. The New Mutants leave him and go on their own, eventually meeting Cable, a mutant soldier from the future who becomes a new leader to the group.
The island nation of Genosha turns out to be a major threat to mutantkind in “The X-Tinction Agenda.” And for a time, Storm is de-aged into a child. Hey, kinda like what happened to Magik. And Magneto that one time. Weird. And speaking of kids, Cyclops’ son Nathan is infected with the techno-virus. With no cure available, Cyclops is offered a chance to send the boy into the far future where the mysterious Askani Clan can raise him and treat him so that he’ll survive the virus and learn to use his mutant powers to contain it.
After getting out of Genosha alive, Storm is an adult again and joined by enough old friends (and new buddy Gambit) that they form a new team of X-Men. Then they go off to space and get Xavier back to Earth, just in time for “The Muir Island Saga.” The X-Men, several former X-Men, X-Factor, all join forces to fight the Shadow King. At the end of the adventure, they’re victorious but Xavier’s legs are rendered immobile once again.
REFORMATION! THE BLUE AND GOLD TEAMS!
Three months after the dust has settled from the Muir Island Saga, Xavier and the heroes have rebuilt the X-Mansion. X-Factor has disbanded and, with its former members joining Xavier again, this gives us enough mutants to make two strike teams: the X-Men gold team led by Storm and the X-Men blue team led by Cyclops.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government decides to create its own legal mutant strike force to take care of special emergencies and show that they also wish mutant/human co-existence. Alex Summers AKA Havok is recruited to lead this team, which adopts the X-Factor name.
Things got nutty during this era of the X-Men. Magneto is seemingly killed, but inspires a new wave of Acolytes who see him as a messiah and begin killing humans in his name. The team learns about more possible futures and seems to regularly run across folks from parallel universes or alternate timelines. New X-Man Lucas Bishop actually hails from a possible future where the X-Men were all killed and the world went to Hell. Wolverine discovers that several of the memories he though he had regained are actually false ones implanted by the Weapon X scientists that experimented on him. Cable reveals that he is actually Nathan Summer, Cyclops’ son who grew up in the future and then came back to the past as an adult. Cable’s evil clone Stryfe releases a plague on mutants known as the Legacy Virus, killing many, including Colossus’ sister Magik. Magneto then returns and blows up the X-Mansion (again), after which he tears out the metal from Wolverine’s skeleton. In retaliation, Xavier invades Magneto’s mind renders the villain catatonic. Magneto later vanishes.
The rebuilt X-Mansion is renamed the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. It is decided that this will be the home for adult, fully trained X-Men while younger mutants still learning will now be stationed at the Massachusetts Academy, run by former enemy Emma Frost. The academy becomes the new Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, home to a a new class of mutants (nicknamed “Generation X”) trained by Emma and Sean Cassidy AKA Banshee.
At one point, a time travel catastrophe occurs when Xavier is killed years before he was supposed for form the X-Men, causing the world to fall into the “Age of Apocalypse.” Although history is corrected, a few inhabitants of this alternate timeline escape into the true Marvel universe: Dark Beast (a sinister version of Beast); the Sugar Man (a villainous power-hungry monster); and Nate Grey AKA The X-Man (a teenage clone created by the combined DNA of Cyclops and Jean Grey).
Xavier’s dark side, partially infected by Magneto’s mental echo, gives birth to the powerful monster called Onslaught (which is why you don’t just make people catatonic, kids!). Onslaught destroys the X-Mansion (AGAIN?!?) and is later destroyed himself, but in the process many of Earth’s major superheroes are seemingly killed (but they showed up alive later, so it’s all good).
A young version of Magneto named “Joseph” shows up, but turns out to be a clone. The real Magneto returns, nearly destroying the Earth before he is appeased by the U.N., given the island nation of Genosha to rule as he pleases. Magneto begins building a mutant army there.
Meanwhile, the School for Gifted Youngsters shuts down, with the Generation X members going separate ways. X-Force disbands, reforms, then disbands again. X-Statix forms as a group of mutants hoping to become reality TV celebrities, but they later separate. The government stops funding X-Factor, causing that team to split up soon afterward. In England, the Excalibur team disbands, with Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde returning to the main X-Men fold.
A zero tolerance Sentinel program is started then defeated. The shape-shifting aliens known as Skrulls infiltrate the team (not very effectively). Wolverine gets his skeleton and claws laced with adamantium again. Archangel’s metallic wings shed, revealing that his natural wings have completely regenerated. Senator Robert Kelly, an enemy to mutantkind for years, decided to help mutants gain equal rights and standing and is murdered for his new beliefs. Around the same time, Moira MacTaggert is killed. Soon afterward, Colossus sacrifices himself to enable the creation of a cure to the Legacy virus. And Cyclops, having acted pretty lame since rejoining the X-Men in the early 1990s, is seemingly destroyed alongside the evil Apocalypse. But months later, it turns out he and Apocalypse had actually been merged. After the two are separated, Cyclops reveals that the trauma of this and the experience of seeing the villain’s word view has left him with a darker, more bad-ass attitude (closer to how he was back in the 1970s and early 80s).
Some time later, Magneto declares war on humanity, but a covert X-Men strike force stop him and Wolverine cripples the villain by severing his spine.
THE NEW X-MEN MORRISON ERA
After the discovery of prophetic journals written by the psychic Destiny, and following an attempt by Magneto to wage war against mankind, the X-Men reorganize again. Rogue and Storm leave with a splinter team (“X-Treme X-Men”) to find Destiny’s other journals and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
The X-Men title is renamed “New X-Men” and embarks on a new, ground-shaking era under the direction of writer Grant Morrison. The X-Men who remain with Xavier ditch the colorful costumes and take on black leather outfits, displaying themselves as a volunteer rescue and counter-terrorism force rather than attempting to seem like superheroes akin to the Avengers. Soon afterward, Genosha is reduced to rubble by a Sentinel attack, leaving millions of mutants (and apparently Magneto) dead, shocking the world. The X-Men then go public with their identities and turn the mansion into a fully functioning school rather than a safe house for a couple dozen mutants at most, now welcoming hundreds of students. Xavier forms the X-Corporation, setting embassies around the world to further the team’s influence and offer aid to mutants in other countries. Many human teens and radical activists now embrace the X-Men as heroes and counter-culture symbols.
The X-Men now divide their time between being heroes and being teachers, Xavier regains the ability to walk, Cyclops and Jean drift apart as they are unable to connect with each other, Wolverine discovers the full nature of the Weapon X program that laced his skeleton with metal, and we leaned of the U-Men, humans who harvest mutants for organs in the hopes of gaining their powers. Then Magneto, having also regained the ability to walk, shows up to ruin everything. With his new Brotherhood of Mutants, the villain winds up destroying much of New York, killing many as he is unknowingly influenced by a sentient bacterial life form that wishes mutants to be wiped out by a fearful human race.
When the dust settles, Jean Grey and Magneto are dead, Xavier (a paraplegic again) leaves the X-Mansion, and fear of mutants is at an all-time high. Though he considers leaving the Xavier Institute, Cyclops is influenced by Jean’s spirit to take over the school instead, with new love Emma Frost at his side.
During this era, Xavier’s step-brother Juggernaut attempts to reform for a short time, Polaris becomes mentally unstable and rather insensitive to the concept that human beings should be protected, and Archangel winds up regaining his original Caucasian skin tone, restoring him to his old Angel appearance.
THE ASTONISHING X-MEN!
Following the attack on New York and seeing the new wave of mistrust that has risen, Cyclops has the X-Men once again displaying themselves as superheroes, hoping he can show that they are heroes meant to inspire hope rather than yet something else to fear and hate. He changes the focus of their missions to general threats to humanity rather than prioritizing on fighting mutant terrorists. He also opens up dialogues and relations with various governments and legal agencies.
Meanwhile, Xavier goes to the ruins of Genosha where it turns out Magneto is still alive and was NOT the villain who caused all that bad stuff to happen with New York and Jean’s death, that was someone else who was pretending to be him and who apparently wished to confuse readers. How Magneto can walk again is still not really addressed and we’re not given the full story of who the “pretender” was, we’re just told to deal with it.
Eventually, the X-Treme X-Men return to the fold, now becoming a legally recognized mutant police force known as the X-Treme Sanctions Executive or XSE (yes, they actually spelled it “X-Treme” and took it seriously).
Although much of humanity has regained fear of mutants thanks to attacks on New York made by the not-Magneto villain, the X-Men are gaining much more political influence and authority. They also gain new allies when they aid S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) in taking down several threats. Wolverine starts dividing his time between working with the X-Men and being a member of the newly formed Avengers, gaining more positive attention for mutants. And in the midst of it all, Colossus is resurrected.
Meanwhile, several former members of the now defunct X-Factor government team wind up regrouping as X-Factor Investigations, a detective agency led by Jamie Madrox AKA Multiple Man. And Lucas Bishop leaves the X-Mansion to operate as a cop in New York City, policing the area now known as “Mutant Town” (due to its large X-gene population).
M-DAY AND BEYOND!
Wanda Maximoff AKA the Scarlet Witch, long-time Avenger and daughter of Magneto, has always been able to influence reality in small ways, causing “hexes” to cause misfortune for her enemies. But a psychological break from reality had caused her to tap into this power like never before, unleashing several attacks against the Avengers that leaves their base in rubble and a few members dead (though they got better later). Months later, the X-Men meet with the newly-reformed Avengers (of which Wolverine is a member) to discuss what to do about the lady. But then she goes nuts again and reforms the Earth and its history to her whim, putting mutants in charge.
When the heroes remember how the world is supposed to be and fight against her, she set things right but, in the process, decides to eliminate the X-gene from millions of mutants around the world. And so, “M-Day,” when the active mutant population woke up and found that their numbers went from several million to just under 200. There are a few other strange side effects of M-Day. Magneto is without power for a while, Xavier can walk (yet again), and Wolverine now has all of his memories back, which it turns out is not necessarily a great thing as he is now faced with terrible actions of his past and grows a little darker as a result.
With so few mutants left retaining their powers, the XSE and X-Corporation are both disbanded and the X-Men now have a whole new ball game. Now new mutants are showing up, meaning their race is facing extinction and new strategies are called for. At the same time, Xavier is no longer trusted, as several deceptions by him are discovered both before and after M-Day.
After months of no new mutants registering on Earth scans, a new mutant baby girl is finally detected. The X-Men and others race against each other to get to the child, believing she is either the key to hope or the damnation of the mutant race. The girl, named Hope, is finally sent to Cable, who raises her while protecting her from others, such as Lucas Bishop who believes the child will bring about the destruction of mutants. Following Hope and Cable’s departure, Cyclops moves the X-Men out of the X-Mansion and to San Francisco, where mutants are generally accepted. He also sanctions the creation of a new X-Force team, a black ops unit that will quietly kill enemies that can’t be handled any other way. Around this time, Angel becomes a split personality. Normally, he is his normal, human looking Angel self. But he can now change into Archangel, with his blue skin and cyborg wings returning, along with a darker, more violent personality.
UTOPIA: NATION X
Norman Osborn, the villain known as the Green Goblin, is put in charge of the U.S. government’s agency that deals with superhuman threats and emergencies. Osborn deliberately baits the X-Men into several conflicts, hoping to either legally imprison them or force them into serving him. After dealing with Osborn and his own “Dark X-Men” team, Cyclops decides “screw it” and moves the X-Men to an island base off the coast of California formerly used by Cable. Offering the remaining mutants of the world safe haven, the island quickly becomes a small nation: Utopia.
Rather than be thankful that the majority of mutants on Earth are now isolated, the governments of the world grow more fearful that the X-Men is no longer a team or two but an entire army now, organized under one leader. Their fear increases when Magneto and Namor the Sub-Mariner, King of Atlantis, join the X-Men on Utopia.
Leading a small nation and dealing with global politics causes Cyclops to grow colder and more pragmatic, causing old friends and allies to grow concerned or simply distrust him outright. The revelation of X-Force’s existence is disturbing to many, as are his command decisions when he tries to protect Hope from assassination. Though Cyclops publicly disbands X-Force, Wolverine continues to secretly lead it, believing it still serves a purpose. After Hope returns from her missions with Cable, new mutants begin to appear again, but there are still so few that Cyclops considers the race to be on the edge of extinction. In the past, they followed a dream of co-existence but now the name of the game is survival at any cost.
When a group of X-Men is defeated by the new incarnation of the Hellfire Club’s inner circle, a group of ingenious and sociopathic adolescents, Cyclops authorizes one of his teenage students to use lethal force to protect hundreds of innocent hostages. Disgusted by this, Wolverine decides to leave, taking with him those who believe that the teen students should be protected from active combat for as long as possible and that Cyclops’ methods are too militaristic.
Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Beast and others rebuild and re-open the X-Mansion, welcoming dozens of mutant students. Renaming it the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, the mansion is now run by Kitty and Wolverine, who are adjusting to their new positions of not merely leading people into combat but organizing classes, dealing with politics, and doing their best to guide the entire student body. Their adventures are featured in Wolverine and the X-Men. Rogue, Gambit and some of the other school faculty are the focus of a related series, X-Men Legacy. Wolverine also secretly keeps X-Force active, now tasking them with proactively stopping enemies who may be plotting to target the school.
During the weeks of the new school’s construction, Archangel’s old programming by Apocalypse kicked in and he attempted to usher in a new age of conquest as the villain’s new host body. He was defeated and all remnants of Apocalypse’s influence were removed, leaving him completely his old Angel self again but also rendering him an amnesiac. Meanwhile, Apocalypse is reborn as a child named Genesis, who is given a loving upbringing in a virtual reality environment in the hopes that he will become a hero rather than a monster. Now a teenager, Genesis has enrolled at Wolverine’s school.
Cyclops continues to operate on Utopia, leading those who remained. His street level team is led by Dazzler, while he commands a primary team of heavy hitters (including Magneto, Storm, Namor and others) that is nicknamed the “extinction team,” acting to stop world-wide threats, not just evil mutants. Their adventures are depicted in the pages of the new series Uncanny X-Men. His security recon force is featured in the adjectiveless series X-Men, led by Psylocke (who has not revealed that X-Force is still active or that she is a part of it). Cyclops’s science team, led by World War II adventurer Dr. Nemesis, is featured in X-Club. And Cyclops has tasked Dani Moonstar to lead the “clean-up” team, featured in New Mutants.
Cyclops sends Hope and a small team on a mission to look for newly emerging mutants, as depicted in the pages of Generation Hope. X-Factor Investigations has recently been reunited with Havok and Polaris, who’ve been sent by Cyclops. You can read about that in X-Factor.
And that brings you up to speed! Now go out and enjoy the Post-Schism X-Men era (for as long at it lasts)!