When the X-Men originally debuted in 1963, they were noticeably less powerful than the other major Marvel superhero teams. Their strongest member physically -- the Beast -- paled in comparison to someone like the Hulk. Marvel Girl's telekinesis was barely more than a parlor trick and Angel, well, all that guy did was "have wings." Think about it, when they first met Banshee, they were freaking out over how powerful he was. Banshee!! Over the years, as the X-Men's rosters have changed and powers have evolved, the X-Men have become more formidable opponents, but their old reputation continues to haunt them.
A popular debate that went on in the 1990s in the pages of the best-selling periodical about comic books, Wizard Magazine, was about whether Iron Man (if he had a shield against mental attacks in his armor) could defeat the X-Men all by himself. Clearly, many fans disagreed with the premise, but that it was even a debate showed how poor the X-Men's reputation had gotten by the start of the 1990s. With that in mind, let's take a look at 15 times that the X-Men have just gotten destroyed in a fight. We'll rank them from the least embarrassing defeat to the most embarrassing defeat. Enjoy!
In the classic X-Men storyline, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin), the X-Men had to take on their own teammate in X-Men #135-136, as the mental machinations of Mastermind had messed with Jean Grey's mind to the point where she just snapped and turned from the Phoenix into the Dark Phoenix.
As the Dark Phoenix, she traveled to the distant regions of the universe and destroyed an entire planet with billions of beings living on it, so the fact that the X-Men could not take her down was not that surprising. There's no shame in getting destroyed by a being who could take on Galactus by herself. Ultimately, though, Professor X was able to temporarily put a block on her mental powers to save his students (and possibly the Earth itself).
Moira MacTaggert, noted geneticist (and former girlfriend of Professor X), had a mutant son who was so powerful that his own mother had to keep him locked up at her lab on Muir Isle. When Magneto escaped from his containment cell, it also freed Moira's son, who ultimately took the name Proteus.
Proteus could possess people's bodies, but more importantly, he could alter reality itself. When the X-Men first took him on in X-Men #125-126, he not only defeated the, but he beat them so badly that Wolverine was a quivering mess after the fight. The X-Men's toughest member was so rattled by his encounter with Proteus that he was seriously too scared to even move! Luckily, Cyclops gave him a variation of a pep talk (basically, he started beating Wolverine up until he reacted) and he was back to normal.
After Professor X placed the mental block on Jean Grey, it seemed like everything had been resolved. However, while she was off being Dark Phoenix, Jean also caused a lot of destruction in the Shi'ar Empire, including destroying one of their warships. Naturally, the Shi'ar could not let this stand, so Empress Lilandra brought the X-Men before her in X-Men #137 (by John Byrne, Chris Claremont and Terry Austin) and told them that she had no choice but to arrest and kill Jean.
Professor X then challenged her to an honor duel, of sorts, where the X-Men could save Jean's life if they were able to defeat the Shi'ar Imperial Guard (a legion of alien superheroes). Considering the Imperial Guard was led by a guy as strong as Superman, the X-Men slowly but surely got their asses kicked until Jean decided to sacrifice herself to stop the battle.
By far, the character that has defeated the X-Men the most times has got to be Magneto, one of their longest-running foes (and later, one of the X-Men himself). Therefore, we had our work cut out for us, but we ultimately landed on X-Men #112 (by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin). Magneto had previously torn through the X-Men a year earlier after initially escaping from Muir Isle (where he had been ever since being turned into an infant by the mysterious being known as Alpha) but now the X-Men had Phoenix on their team!
Magneto was still able to handle Phoenix and he cut through the X-Men and captured them all and tortured them by having a robotic "Nanny" take care of them while they were captured, as part of his attempt to infantilize them.
The X-Men had long trained for fighting in their famous Danger Room. Over time, the technology in the Danger Room got more and more advanced, especially once Professor X gained access to Shi'ar technology. The problem that was revealed years later was that it turned out that Professor X discovered back then that the technology had resulted in the Danger Room becoming sentient! Professor X being a jerk (as Kitty Pryde would tell you), he decided to keep using it even after learning of its sentience.
Eventually, the Danger Room managed to escape from the X-Mansion in Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men and fought the X-Men, using everything that it learned from training them over the years and the Danger Room (now calling itself "Danger") defeated the X-Men easily (although, still with "safety" restrictions, so it did not kill them, at least).
The X-Men had a hard time with the Hellfire Club as soon as they first encountered them! The team had split into two smaller groups to find two new mutants (Kitty Pryde and Dazzler) and the team sent for Kitty were captured by the Hellfire Club. They were rescued by their teammates, but when the complete team then decided to take on the Hellfire Club as a whole in X-Men #132 (by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin), they were shocked to learn that one of the members of the Hellfire Club, Mastermind, had taken control of Jean Grey! With the Phoenix (their new Black Queen) on their side, the Hellfire Club mopped the floor with the X-Men, capturing all of them but Wolverine, who had been knocked into the sewer system. Luckily, Wolverine survived and fought his way back to help rescue his friends in the next issue.
The Phalanx were an offshoot of the Borg-like alien race known as the Technarchy and were obsessed with world domination. After the X-Men opposed one of their earliest efforts, they decided that the X-Men were their biggest threat (because they could not yet assimilate mutants) and so they took out the entire group of X-Men living in the X-Mansion in the early 1990s in one fell swoop.
The only X-Men who did not get captured were Cyclops and Jean Grey (on their honeymoon), Wolverine (on a leave of absence from the team) and Banshee (who was barely a member of the team at that point). When Banshee returned to the X-Mansion, he discovered the ruse and broke free, along with Emma Frost, Sabretooth and Jubilee (the first two were prisoners of the X-Men so they were not replaced and Jubilee... we have no idea why they didn't replace her).
One of the stronger political messages in the pages of Uncanny X-Men was the small island nation of Genosha, which had a large mutant population that was subjugated by the smaller human population of the island and through the labors of the mutants, Genosha had become a crown jewel of Africa. It was basically a big metaphor for South Africa during the time of Apartheid.
The X-Men had tangled with Genosha in the past, but during the crossover "The X-Tinction Agenda," Genosha's government (who had cut a deal with old X-Factor nemesis, Cameron Hodge) attacked the X-teams full force, capturing the X-Men, X-Factor and the New Mutants all at once. Their ability to cancel mutant powers was a huge key to their initial success. Luckily, eventually the mutants escaped and led to a revolution that overthrew the fascist government.
For years, Professor X kept tabs on his various X-Men and came up with protocols that he could use if any of them ever turned evil. Well, sure enough, it was Xavier who ended up turning evil, sort of, during the Onslaught crossover. After Onslaught (who was a creation of Xavier's psionic energy, tainted by Magneto's mind after Xavier mind-wiped Magneto during "Fatal Attractions") was defeated, Xavier was taken into custody and the government operative known as Bastion managed to learn Xavier's protocols from him. Bastion then convinced the government to implement Operation: Zero Tolerance, which was an attack on mutant threats designed to wipe out all possible mutant threats. Using the information he got from Xavier, Bastion took out the X-Men very quickly (a good chunk of the X-Men were on an outer space adventure at the time).
In the opening arc of the second X-Men ongoing series (by Jim Lee, Chris Claremont and Scott Williams), a group of mutants turned to Magneto and decided that they wanted to serve him as his Acolytes, despite him not actually pursing any sort of followers at that point in time. However, after agreeing to take them in, the X-Men had to get involved, since the Acolytes were wanted terrorists.
They battled against Magneto and his Acolytes and ultimately, the Acolytes took the X-Men out due to the power of one of the members of the group to turn people into, in effect, chrome statues. Magneto then used a process that Moira MacTaggert had used on him to try to get him to become a good guy to brainwash the captured X-Men (the Blue Squad) to fight their fellow X-Men (the Gold Squad).
Professor X's evil psychic twin, Cassandra Nova, almost destroyed the X-Men herself when she took over Professor X's body and then conquered the Shi'ar Empire and had them attack Earth. The X-Men defeated her by tricking her into possessing a body without a functioning brain, so she was trapped. A piece of her, though, took hold of Emma Frost.
During the Astonishing X-Men story arc, "Torn," Nova turned Emma against the X-Men, making her think that she had reformed the Hellfire Club and attacked the rest of the team, while actually it was all due to Emma's powers. There were no other members of this new Hellfire Club. Emma used her mental powers to tear through her teammates, and even when it seemed like Kitty Pryde was fighting back, it was all part of a plan to free Cassandra Nova! In the end, Emma fought back and beat Nova.
Desiring the United States government having their own mutant operatives, Val Cooper recruited the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to work for the United States, with the members all receiving pardons in exchange for their service. They re-named themselves Freedom Force. Besides the classic Brotherhood members (Mystique, Destiny, Pyro, Avalanche and Blob), they added the reluctant superhero, Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter) and the mysterious Mojo agent, Spiral.
In Uncanny X-Men #206 (by Chris Claremont, John Romita Jr. and Dan Green), Freedom Force defeated the X-Men, but not only that, but it was pretty much Spiral single-handedly taking down the X-Men, including taking control of Rogue when Rogue tried to absorb Spiral's powers (normally, when she absorbs someone's powers, Rogue's personality remains the dominant one -- not so with Spiral). That's why it was so embarrassing -- Spiral alone took them out!
Losing to the Hulk is nothing to be ashamed of, but the events of World War Hulk: X-Men #1-3 (by Christos Gage and Andrea DiVito) are a little more embarrassing, considering the scope of the loss. You see, the Illuminati (a mysterious team of major heroes, like Iron Man, Mister Fantastic and Professor X) had banished the Hulk from Earth. The Hulk was now back to get revenge on the Illuminati, which meant getting revenge on Professor X.
In order to protect Xavier, pretty much every mutant hero on Earth stood together against the Hulk, and he defeated them all easily! This included breaking Colossus' arms and pummeling Wolverine so hard that he had multiple concussions! When the Hulk discovered that the X-Men had just gone through the Decimation (where the mutant population fell from millions to roughly 1,000), he figured Xavier had suffered enough, so he left him alone.
During Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (by Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck and John Beatty), a group of superheroes and supervillains were brought to a mysterious Battleworld and told to fight by a powerful being known as the Beyonder. The winner would get their greatest desire. While the Beyonder had split the beings into "heroes" and "villains," the X-Men debated whether it should actually be "heroes," "villains" and "mutants." They decided in #3 to go team-up with Magneto, ostensibly a villain. Spider-Man overheard them and wanted to tell the other heroes, so the X-Men tried to stop him and he just trounced them. He made it look like it was just a walk in the park as he tore through the X-Men. Luckily, after he escaped, Professor X used his powers to wipe Spider-Man's memory of the encounter.
During one of the early battles in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, Wasp was separated from the rest of her fellow heroes and ended up in the company of Magneto, who had set up shop in his own area of Battleworld. Wasp and Magneto had a brief affair, but when the X-Men showed up at Magneto's, Wasp took that opportunity to say that she was just stringing Magneto along to learn his plans and if the X-Men were here to be with Magneto, then they were her enemy, as well.
So she quickly tore through them in issue #4 (by Jim Shooter and Bob Layton), with the most embarrassing part of this most embarrassing defeat being the fact that Wasp told them that they were lucky she didn't decide to just kill them right there! Damn, Wasp, that's harsh!
What do you think was the X-Men's most embarrassing defeat of all-time? Let us know in the commenst section!