When it comes to the leadership of the X-Men, it’s hard to look beyond the huge influence of Professor X (the team’s founder) and Cyclops (the boy he trained to be his successor). In their different ways, both men have devoted their life to the X-Men and the safeguarding of mutantkind, influencing the direction of the team by sheer force of personality and conviction.
Yet, while Charles Xavier and Scott Summers are undoubtedly significant figures, there are many other individuals that have also played their part in directing mutant affairs, through leadership of the X-Men or other mutant teams. Some have enjoyed lengthy tenures, while others have discovered that it’s far easier to be a follower than a leader. With Kitty Pryde assuming leadership of the X-Men in the upcoming series, “X-Men Gold,” CBR looks at some of the other members to have donned the mantle of leadership over the years.
For someone that’s a self-confessed loner, Wolverine has been involved with a large number of teams, including Alpha Flight, the X-Men and the Avengers. During his early years on the X-Men, Wolverine did not appear to be leadership material: he was the loose cannon, an effective team member but not appearing ready to take on the responsibility of leadership. His eventual move into leadership, acting as the headmaster for the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning, was the culmination of a multi-year journey for Logan.
Ever since Kitty Pryde joined the X-Men and grew close to Wolverine, it had become a recognized trait of the character that he becomes close to and mentors young women, including Kitty, Jubilee and Armor. By reopening the school and taking responsibility for the education of the next generation of mutants, Wolverine finally assumed a leadership role, highlighting his eventual recognition that leadership is about more than just taking charge on the battlefield.
Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, appeared to be an unlikely candidate for a leader. With the ability to create countless duplicates, all of them embodying different aspects of his personality or skill set, it was often difficult for Jamie to assert authority over himself, never-mind anyone else. It’s perhaps for this reason that Jamie’s initial exposure in Peter David’s “X-Factor” run saw him putting on a humorous facade in order to avoid contemplation of more serious issues.
When “X-Factor” was relaunched, following the success of the 5-issue “Madrox” miniseries, Jamie assumed the leadership of X-Factor investigations. The role was not a natural fit for him and it showed. His actions were openly questioned by teammates and himself, and he often struggled to respond to fast-changing events. But Jamie grew into the role, helped by the support of Layla and the growing bonds between the team. Sadly, Madrox died in “Death of X” #1, but it’s clear that he was a better leader than many of his compatriots gave him credit for.
David Alleyne (Prodigy), had the mutant ability to absorb the abilities and skills of anyone within a limited distance. This was a great asset and, combined with his strong work ethic, meant that he was a strong candidate for leader. Despite this, he originally turned down the chance to lead the New Mutants due to uncertainty over whether he wanted to embark on the journey to becoming an X-Man. The situation was resolved when he and Wind Dancer decided to share leadership duties of the team.
What makes David an impressive leader is not only his concern for his friends, but his formidable self belief. He was one of the many mutants to lose their powers on M Day. Despite this, he proved his worth to the team and was again invited to be co-leader. In recent years, David has taken a step back from the mutant world, spending some time as part of the “Young Avengers.” This helped restore his natural optimism and led him to significant personal revelations. Whether powered or not, as part of the X-Men or with other other heroes, it seems only a matter of time before David will once again get the chance to lead.
Forge is an interesting example of a character who spent years running away from all forms of responsibility, yet still found himself placed in a leadership role. He was trained as a medicine man for his tribe, but was always more comfortable with technology than mystic forces. As a result, he left his tribe behind, joining the military and then working for the government.
Forge’s time as leader of X-Factor was largely due to circumstance rather than design. Originally replacing Val Cooper as the team’s government liaison, personal problems within the team (including the death of Madrox, the hospitalization of Strong Guy and the departure of Havok) led to him assuming the mantle of leadership. This was no easy task, coinciding with dangerous individuals such as Sabretooth and Mystique being placed on the team. However, Forge’s confrontation with the Adversary allowed him to reconcile his mystical and technological gifts and move on from his past. In recent years Forge has most often appeared as a group member or member of the X-Men’s support staff. And in truth, this is probably just the way he’d like it, contributing to the team effort, but still able to focus on his individual endeavors.
Remy LeBeau, the mutant thief known as Gambit, is far from the typical image of a leader; irresponsible, reckless and dishonest are words more commonly used to describe him. Raised as part of the Thieves’ Guild, stealing became second nature for Remy, his skills in this area being assisted by his charming nature and his bio-kinetic mutant ability. When he joined the X-Men, after first encountering Storm in “Uncanny X-Men” #266, he was still very much an outsider. He was not trusted by many of his teammates and wondered whether he really believed in the team’s cause.
What’s impressive is that Remy truly did find a home with the X-Men. While his attraction to Rogue may have been his initial motivation for staying, he became a dedicated member of the team. His time as field leader may have been brief (in Chris Claremont’s first return to the team, beginning with “Uncanny X-Men” #381), but it showed how much he had grown during his time with the team. Gambit’s most recent solo series concluded with him assuming the leadership of the Thieves’ Guild, suggesting that the Ragin’ Cajun’s days of being a loner are long behind him.
11. HOPE SUMMERS
In the words of The Bard, some people are born to greatness while others have it thrust upon them. Hope Summers was one of the people who never had a choice. As the first mutant born after M-Day, she was viewed both as both a savior and a threat, before being raised by Cable in the future. Upon her return to the present day, she was again viewed as both potential savior and destroyer, with her potential link to the Phoenix Force causing much unease.
Hope’s tenure as leader arose after new mutants (The Five Lights) began to appear around the globe. Hope was able to locate them and help the new mutants control their abilities. This gave each of the Lights a bond with Hope, which continued when they became her teammates. Hope’s time as leader was marred by tensions within the team over her attitude and control over them. Some members believed that she was manipulating their actions, while others believed that she was putting her needs above those of theirs. When Hope accepted Oya’s decision to leave her team and join Wolverine at the reopened school, it was a pivotal moment that showed how much she had grown.
10. BANSHEE AND EMMA FROST
When Sean Cassidy (Banshee) and Emma Frost were appointed co-Headteachers of the Massachusetts Academy, it was not a match made in mutant heaven. Banshee was a former Interpol agent and X-Man, while Emma had been the White Queen of the Hellfire Club and had trained the Hellions: rivals of the New Mutants. Trust between the two was in short supply and their methods were often in contrast, with the “Generation X” kids having to watch their authority figures constantly bicker. Despite all these factors, Sean and Emma made a very effective leadership team.
Part of this was that their different approaches often complemented the other. Left to his own devices, Sean would have been overprotective of the kids, but the death of her Hellions had convinced Emma that the kids had to be prepared for what the world had to offer. If this meant she was viewed as an authority figure rather than a friend, then that was a cross she was willing to bear. Their partnership may have been brought to an untimely end by Sean’s alcoholism and Emma’s promotion to the X-Men, but at their best they were the ideal teachers for the mutants of tomorrow.
Betsy Braddock, the British mutant known as Psylocke, has one of the most confusing backstories of any mutant. She has spent time as Captain Britain, had to adapt to gaining the body of an Asian ninja, and has had to cope as her powers — telepathy and telekinesis — routinely change and evolve. With her life in constant flux, it would be understandable if Betsy was indecisive, continually questioning her actions. Instead, she’s repeatedly proven that she can make the hard choices, regardless of what her actions might cost her.
It was Betsy that was responsible for sending her fellow X-Men (courtesy of a telepathic nudge) through the Siege Perilous, in an attempt to prevent their deaths. Years later, she willingly sacrificed her telepathy to ensure the defeat of the Shadow King. And during her time on X Force, it was Betsy who took on the responsibility of killing Angel, sacrificing her love so that millions more would live. There’s a reason why Cyclops asked Betsy to lead the X-Men’s security team and be his spy/spy hunter. Betsy is a lady who won’t stop until her mission is complete, and woe betide anyone who gets in her way.
At first glance, Magneto’s leadership skills don’t look very impressive. His Brotherhood of Evil Mutants achieved little success and were primarily held together due to members’ fear of Magneto and his destructive temper. Similarly, his Acolytes straddled the line between followers and worshipers, diluting their effectiveness in both areas. Strangely, despite his long history as a foe of the team, Magneto’s most successful tenure as leader was when he was in charge of the X-Men and New Mutants.
The term “success” is relative, and it’s true that Magneto did little during his tenure to excite future historians. Still, the very fact that he tried — that he took on an uncomfortable role to fulfill a promise to Charles Xavier — is a minor victory in itself. He may have butted heads with Wolverine and his teammates, and he may have struggled to relate to the youthful impetuousness of the New Mutants, but he undoubtedly tried his best to keep Xavier’s dream alive while remaining true to his own beliefs. After a long spell as a follower of Cyclops, Magneto now leads his own team in “Uncanny X-Men,” fighting to ensure the survival of mutant kind by any means necessary.
Nathan Summers, the time travelling mutant known as Cable, has long believed that actions speak louder than words. If some leaders are content to act as the best friend or supportive teacher, Cable is more inclined to act as the uncompromising drill sergeant. After all, he would argue, it’s a dangerous world out there and his teams have to be prepared. This was certainly his philosophy when he became leader of the New Mutants. Suddenly gone were the old days of practical jokes and trips into Salem Center, replaced by dangerous new teammates and a leader that had a gun for every occasion.
Cable would later step back from this abrasive form of leadership, once he saw that his team (now in the form of X-Force) were adults capable of making their own decisions. Despite this, his tendency to be a leader that keeps his cards close to his chest has long been his Achilles heel. During his time as leader of Providence, even his closest advisers were not privy to his plans, while his actions in “X-Sanction,” where he took on the Avengers by himself, showed that he’s most comfortable as a team of one, relying on no one but himself.
Sometimes it’s tough being the younger sibling, especially when your older brother (Cyclops) is generally acclaimed as a master tactician and the X-Men’s greatest leader. This was the problem that faced Alex Summers (Havok). It’s easy to see why Alex initially chose to stay away from the superhero life, preferring to focus on his graduate studies and relationship with Lorna Dane (Polaris). When he was drawn back to the X-Men, in “Uncanny X-Men” #219, he was still a reluctant hero, scared of his powers and second guessing his every move. Ironically, it was only when he became someone else that his true potential became apparent.
After Psylocke had sent the X-Men through the Siege Perilous, Havok was reborn as a Magistrate on the island of Genosha. He proved to be a natural at this role, adept at issuing orders and acting upon them. When he returned to normality, he was able to put this experience to good use in his new role as the leader of X-Factor — again following in his brother’s footsteps. Since this time, Havok has also led X-Men field teams, and even the Avengers Unity Squad, but he still sees himself as the little Summers brother.
Danielle Moonstar is a character that’s no stranger to adversity and loss. She lost both her parents and her grandfather before coming to Xavier’s school as part of the “New Mutants.” Once there, she had to face numerous challenges, including the monstrous Demon Bear. There were many times where she could have crumbled — times where she considered ending it all or running away — but each time she proved what a strong-willed individual she was. It was this inner strength that encouraged Professor Xavier to make her, along with Cannonball, co-leader of the New Mutants.
In many ways, Dani’s leadership of the team was all the more impressive because the other members were her friends as well as teammates. This only encouraged her to take her task more seriously, unwilling to let anyone else down. In the years since the New Mutants, Dani has played a variety of roles: an undercover spy, a friend, a teacher, a teammate. She replaced Cannonball as leader of the reformed New Mutants when he chose to join Wolverine at the reopened school, and despite having lost her mutant powers, did a fine job. Over the years, Dani has faced all her fears, and has emerged as a much stronger leader as a result.
Sam Guthrie, the blast-propelled mutant known as Cannonball, was seen as prime mutant leadership material ever since his introduction as part of the New Mutants. He became co-leader of the squad alongside Danielle Moonstar, and his early time as part of X-Force was shaped by Cable’s belief that he was training Sam to be the mutant leader of tomorrow. Cable was correct, although perhaps not in the way that he expected. When X-Force members were imprisoned by the other X-teams during the events of the X-Cutioner’s Song, Sam launched into an impassioned defense of his team and, in doing so, defined a vision that was midway between the opposing viewpoints of Professor Xavier and Magneto.
The period after this, where Sam functioned as the acknowledged leader of X-Force, despite the return of Cable, really showed how much he had grown since his introduction. He was not afraid to take the hard decisions, and commanded the loyalty of his team. Unfortunately, when Sam subsequently joined the X-Men, he was regressed back to the starstruck rookie, often played for comic effect; a persona that he has only begun to successfully discard in recent years.
How things change. Few readers who saw Rogue’s introduction as a recurring foe to Ms. Marvel could have foreseen her heroic turn and subsequent membership of the X-Men. Fewer would have predicted that she would have become a leader, of both Avenger and X-Men teams. The self-proclaimed Mississippi river rat has certainly been on a journey, one that has often seen her move along due to sheer will power and stubbornness as much as talent. For years, Rogue shied away from a leadership role before finally taking on the responsibility in Mike Carey’s X-Men run, beginning in #188.
Rogue’s chosen team fitted her to a tee. It was composed of veterans (Iceman and Cannonball), mavericks (Cable), wild cards (Omega Sentinel) and downright threats (Sabretooth, Mystique and Lady Mastermind). That Rogue was able to keep this motley crew in line showed that, despite her protests, she was a born reader. Since this time, Rogue has led further X-squads but in recent years has spent more time with the Avengers, replacing Havok as leader of the Unity Squad at the personal request of Steve Rogers. Who would have thought that the self-described Rogue would end up as part of the establishment?
Kurt Wagner had no great desire to be a leader. He was the swashbuckler, the “fuzzy elf,” the best friend who could always be relied upon to lighten any situation. This was a part that he played to perfection during his early years with the X-Men, but a role that became harder to maintain after he joined “Excalibur.” His team mates consisted of a teenager (Shadowcat), an unstable cosmic entity (Phoenix), a bad-tempered recovering alcoholic (Captain Britain) and a naive elemental (Meggan). By default, Nightcrawler became the acknowledged leader, and it was a role in which he excelled.
Part of the reason for this was that Kurt has always been a people-person, and was well placed to manage the delicate bunch of egos on the team. Another was that, with the strangeness that often pervaded Excalibur’s adventures, it required a leader who was happy to go with the flow and embrace the absurdity, something that Kurt’s curiosity and enthusiasm allowed him to do. As with Cannonball, Nightcrawler was another character that regressed when he rejoined the X-Men, awkwardly slotting into a role he had long outgrown.
Along with Professor Xavier and Cyclops, Storm makes up the trinity of X-Men leaders — for comic fans if not for moviegoers. Storm’s evolution under Chris Claremont saw her progress from an uncertain newcomer to America, to a strong, powerful woman that was able to deal with the many threats that came the X-Men’s way. In many ways, Storm’s whole life has involved leadership of some kind or another. When she was a child she was worshiped as a weather goddess, and after she joined the X-Men she won leadership of the Morlocks (the underground tribe of mutants) after defeating their leader, Callisto,
If Storm’s leadership of the X-Men began after Cyclops left the team, following his marriage to Madelyne Pryor, it was cemented when she defeated him in battle in the classic “Uncanny X-Men” #201. Since this time, Storm has led several factions of the X-Men and is currently leading the “Extraordinary X-Men,” still doing her utmost to protect mutants everywhere.
Have we missed any X-leaders of note? Who are your picks for the greatest X-leaders? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook!