Reading comics isn’t easy. If you think it is, you’re ignoring all that you have to know in order to enjoy 99% of modern comics. You can’t just pick up a random issue of Uncanny X-Men and expect to understand it if you don’t know the first thing about the X-Men. Even if you do know a little bit about Xavier and his students, some series’ require tons of background knowledge that even diehard fans find difficult to conjure. If you’re an X-Men fan, the difficulty comes from all the insane powers these mutated characters have. There are tons of X-Men characters, all with different mutations that readers have to keep up with. Thankfully, some of these powers are pretty straightforward. Angel has wings (go figure), Iceman is really cold, etc., etc.
But, with some characters, it’s like the writers want us to have a hard time reading their comics. They create characters with bizarre powers that make little to no sense, which makes them all the harder to remember in future series’. Mutations rarely (if ever) have scientific backing but it’s not like we’re scientists. All we want are characters with mutations that every reader can understand. After all the work people have to put into reading comics, is that really too much to ask? Apparently, it is. X-Men writers rarely give plain explanations for their characters’ powers which is where we come in. CBR is breaking down 20 mutations that always confused us, whether because they’re too complex, too weird, or somewhere in between.
20 STEPPING DISCS (MAGIK)
Just from looking at her name, you’d probably guess that Illyana’s teleporting stepping discs have something to do with magic. She is, after all, a trained sorceress, capable of an array of both black and white magic spells. Her stepping discs, however, aren’t one of those spells. Even though most fans know her for her magical connections, Ilyana's teleporting abilities are connected solely to her X-gene.
Unlike most teleporters, Illyana can travel through both time and space, but she always has to use the hellish dimension of Limbo as a mid-point during her excursions. Although Illyana has vast potential when it comes to teleporting, her powers can easily drain her. Traveling through time is risky and leaves her physically exhausted.
19 OMNI-MORPHING (HUSK)
From an evolutionary perspective, Husk’s ever-changing skin makes sense. Being able to shed your human skin in exchange for something more durable like wood or metal is useful in a fight. However, from a reader’s perspective, Husk’s talent is a tad disgusting and pretty confusing. Are the changes random? Can she turn into any substance? And, perhaps most importantly, why does she have to forcibly tear her skin?
For that last one, you might want to ask her creators. As for the other two, the answers are sort of and maybe. If Husk concentrates, she can, somewhat, control her power. For her to transform into a certain substance, she has to have studied it in the past and it has to be a solid material.
18 PSIONIC ARMOR (ARMOR)
With her codename being “Armor,” Hisako Ichiki’s mutant power seems pretty straightforward: she can make armor. Of course, when it comes to mutant genetics, things are never that simple. Hisako’s “armor” is actually an incredibly durable bright red exoskeleton that completely surrounds her body and takes on the physical appearance of stereotypical metal-based armor.
This exoskeleton’s strength, size, and endurance all depend on Hisako’s emotional state and her connection with her Japanese lineage. If she’s in a very stressful situation, where her emotions are on overdrive, she can force the exoskeleton to grow larger and stronger than normal. Similarly, when a member of Hisako’s family passes away, the exoskeleton will become more powerful, since its primary fuel is Hisako’s connection with her deceased ancestors.
17 NEAR PERFECTION (M)
A lot of superheroes think they’re perfect, but only one actually is: Monet St. Croix, aka M. The young mutant represents the closest thing to a near-perfect being that Earth-616 can offer. Thanks to her X-Gene, Monet is faster, stronger, and physically better than the best human athlete. She has a healing factor, enhanced senses, and heightened intelligence. On top of all that, she can also fly, read minds, and use basic telekinesis. She's perfection personified -- if you don't include her crappy personality.
Monet herself doesn’t fully understand the scope of her powers since she has so many of them. We wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, Monet gained more powers to keep up with her physically perfect motto.
16 SUPERHUMAN EVERYTHING (SHATTERSTAR)
Powers aside, Shatterstar is a confusing character. Marvel writers created him during a time when they were experimenting with alternate realities and seeing how far they could press the boundaries. With Shatterstar, they probably pressed a little too hard, resulting in a character with a perplexing skill set that’s difficult to remember mid-story.
Shatterstar gets some of his powers from his mutant gene and some of his powers from his father Longshot. Similar to Monet, Shatterstar is an impressive physical specimen (super strength, speed, healing factor, etc.), but he also has the mutant ability to create shock waves, using his dueling swords as conductors. The thing is, using his mutant ability exhausts him, so he tends to stick with his superior physical skills in battle.
15 WAX BODY (GLOB)
Why does the X-Men need a mutant with a wax body? They don’t, but the X-Men are a charity case so in 2001, they let Robert Herman, aka Glob, become a student at Xavier’s. His X-Gene gave him a body made completely of bio-paraffin, which is basically living wax. The pink, jelly-like substance is translucent, allowing anyone and everyone to see Glob’s inner workings. For a first time reader, it’s unnerving.
Glob is a surprisingly popular character, appearing in numerous X-Men series. Somehow, he isn’t as helpless as he looks. His wax body gives him super strength, speed, and durability. He can also light his body on fire, creating, as he put it, the “Inhuman Torch.”
14 OPTIC BLASTS (CYCLOPS)
Cyclops has been around since 1963. Readers know a ton about this character since he’s been around for so long, but most fans don’t completely understand the powers that hide behind Scott’s rose-tinted glasses. His vast powers derive from ambient energies, including radiation and cosmic rays. In order to protect himself from his own ability, Scott’s body has a psionic field that keeps his signature red beams contained at all times. Because of this psionic field, the delicate skin of his eyelids is enough to keep his powers in check.
The width of Cyclops’ optic beams is controlled by the muscles in Scott’s eye that allows him to focus his sight. The height of the beams depends on the size of his visor’s opening.
13 COMPUTER BRAIN (SAGE)
Back when Chris Claremont introduced Sage (or Tessa, as they called her back then) to comics in 1980, the term “computer” held a different definition than it does today. By giving Sage the mutant gift of a “computer mind,” Claremont created a human filing cabinet. A fast filing cabinet, but a filing cabinet nevertheless. In 1980, the computer had serious limitations. In 2019, there are few things computers can’t do, which means there are few things Sage can’t do.
From analyzing the DNA of others using trace contact to creating psionic “firewalls” against invading telepaths, Sage is a walking computer. Were X-Men writers to make her a more active character in the comics, we wouldn’t be surprised to see her powers evolve to fit modern standards.
12 DUPLICATION (MULTIPLE MAN)
If you the recent series, Multiple Man, left you feeling puzzled, uncomfortable, and maybe a little depressed, you're not’ the only one. Jamie Madrox, aka Multiple Man, tends to do that to readers. His ability to create “dupes” of himself using physical impact as a stimulus is surprisingly complicated and has only become more complicated as his character’s aged.
Jamie’s “dupes” are identical copies of him that usually take on one particular facet of the original’s Jamie’s personality. At all times, Jamie’s telepathically and empathically linked to his dupes, which makes their deaths particularly traumatic for the original Jamie. In recent times, Jamie’s become much stronger, with the ability to create a seemingly endless stream of dupes without the need for kinetic impact.
11 SPONTANEOUS MUTATIONS (LEGION)
We all know Legion, Charles Xavier’s “forgotten” son, is really, really powerful. That’s pretty much the premise of every comic he’s ever appeared in, but what is it that makes him so powerful? In short, Legion has the ability to spontaneously create mutations, both within himself and within others.
For years, the mentally unstable mutant has been generating a steady stream of mutant personas for himself, all with different powers and different personalities. As with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Legion can instantly swap personalities and powers, which means there’s very little he (or one of his many personalities) can’t do. If he wants a power that he doesn’t have, he can just spontaneously will it into existence.
10 GENIUS INVENTOR (FORGE)
Much of the X-Men’s amazing, futuristic tech can be traced back to one man: Forge. His mutant gift is intuitive genius which shouldn’t be confused with just ordinary genius. The added “intuitive” means that Forge instinctively understands the potential for kinetic energy in mechanical parts. Much of his work is done on a subconscious level -- he himself doesn’t always understand the things he builds. Forge skips all the processes geniuses like Tony Stark and Reed Richards go through to create something. His conscious mind doesn’t have much to do with his inventions.
Over the years, Forge has learned a lot about the world of technology and science through his experiences. Still, without his handy mutation, the X-Men would be down a few hundred futuristic gadgets.
9 SHAPE-SHIFTER (MYSTIQUE)
Mystique is a shape-shifter. That seems pretty self-explanatory until you start asking the real questions like what are her clothes made of? And how does she spontaneously create mass larger than her natural state?
Mystique’s solo series’ give readers an up-close look at Raven’s unique talents. Using her X-Gene, Mystique can create clothes that mimic any fabric on the planet with startling accuracy. Her shape-shifting has gotten so good in recent times that she can duplicate retinal patterns and thumbprints. Even X-Men with superhuman senses find it difficult to track Mystique. Although she is a force to be reckoned with, Mystique can’t, at this time, spontaneously create mass. She’s always the same weight (around 180) but she can change her density.
8 HEAD STAR (XORN)
How beneficial is having a star in your brain when it comes to superhero-ing? From what we’ve seen of Kuan-Yin Xorn, it sounds worse than it actually is. When Xorn’s X-Gene manifested, a tiny star grew in his brain.
The star burned away Xorn’s head, but instead of dying (as one might expect) he survived and found ways to use his tiny star. During his lifetime, Xorn’s star operated as any normal star would. It’s most notable gift was its knack for gravitational electromagnetism which gave Xorn the ability to manipulate energy in a multitude of ways. He could use gravitational energies to move particles in the air, allowing him to speak different languages. Using a similar method, he could also heal (orendl) others.
7 SENTIENT DIGESTIVE SYSTEM (MAGGOTT)
Maggott is the kind of character that makes all comic readers wonder why they read comics. Likable as he became later on, Japheth disgusted more than delighted back in 1997 when he first came on the X-Men scene, toting his two techno-organic slugs. Maggott’s mutant “ability” (if you can call it that) is a sentient digestive system which grants him enhanced strength and durability.
Instead of having all of his digestive organs safely inside his body, Maggott has two slugs that eat, digest, and give the resulting energy back to him. He has a pretty tight bond with these slugs, hence their creative names, “Eany” and “Meany.” The trio is in constant telepathic communication since Maggott relies heavily on his slug friends.
6 DARKNESS EMPOWERMENT (GRAYMALKIN)
Some people are afraid of the dark. Other people (well, mutants) use it to give themselves super strength, immortality, and near invulnerability. The mutant Jonas Graymalkin is a member of the second group. Although fairly unknown, Graymalkin was one of the more powerful members on the Young X-Men team... at night. When the sun comes out, his powerful abilities lessen. He weakens physically and his body begins to age at a normal rate.
Before joining the X-Men, Graymalkin survived being buried alive for more than 200 years. In complete darkness, he doesn’t age and he doesn’t require food or water. Since few X-Men missions take place in remote, underground caves, Graymalkin’s powers rarely come into play. Still, he’s there for the occasional Halloween issue.
5 MUTANT DNA ENHANCEMENTS (MR. SINISTER)
Nathaniel Essex wasn’t born a mutant but, over the years, he’s used stolen mutant DNA to give himself a host of X-Gene related gifts. He’s the kind of villain with a list of powers as long as his overdramatic, flowing cape, so we aren’t going to go through all of them. Let’s just say from telepathy and telekinesis to immortality and a healing factor, Sinister has it all.
The fact that Sinister has the intellect of an evil genius might explain how he managed to successfully complete his psycho self-experiments. Injecting yourself with a stranger’s DNA is never a good idea... unless your name is a synonym for “menacing.” Then it’s probably okay.
4 TELEPATHIC DISEMBODIED BRAIN (NO-GIRL)
We learned from Glob that mutant bodies come in all different shapes and materials, but what if a mutant doesn’t have a body at all? No-Girl is a floating brain-in-a-jar, capable of communicating only through telepathic means. Is this actually possible in the realm of science? No. But, on Earth-616, a brain-in-a-jar is borderline routine.
A lot of readers just assume No-Girl’s mutation caused her body to disintegrate, like Xorn or Chamber, resulting in her body-less state. However, her telepathic powers are hardly capable of doing that kind of destruction. Martha Johansson was the victim of one of Sublime’s cruel experiments, where he separated her brain from her body. Through some special science, he kept her alive and she’s been hovering around Xavier’s ever since.
3 BEYOND OMEGA (FRANKLIN RICHARDS)
Franklin Richards is the character so many fans love to hate. It isn’t that Franklin isn’t a likable character, because he is. It’s his immense, all-encompassing powers that aggravate both readers and writers. After all, how do you write a character who has the ability to destroy reality with half a thought?
Unlike his parents, Franklin is a “Beyond Omega Level” mutant, capable of doing pretty much anything. Seriously, name a power and this kid probably has it. Most famously, he can create “pocket universes,” which are actually real universes that he can shape using his thoughts. If Franklin imagines it, he can make it a reality. If that isn’t scary for the people of Earth-616, we’re not sure what is.
2 REANIMATION (LAYLA MILLER)
Layla Miller isn’t your typical mutant healer. While she can heal, most readers know her for her ability to reanimate the deceased. Don’t get that confused with “resurrects” because she can’t do that. See, when Layla uses her powers, she can bring a dead creature back to life but she can’t return its soul to its body. They may be breathing, but they aren’t really “alive” in the way we are.
Layla’s ability cannot be used on corpses that have been dead for a long period of time. She has less than a few minutes to reanimate someone before they’re gone for good.
1 MUTANT LUCK (DOMINO)
Is good luck real? We place silly restraints on ourselves in order to maintain “good luck” -- even though most of us don’t even believe “luck” exists. For homo sapiens like ourselves, luck doesn’t exist, but for homo superiors like Domino it certainly does.
Neena Thurman knows all about luck thanks to her mutant power which uses subliminal psionics to “roll the dice” her way, as she once put it. Without her knowing, Neena’s brain spurs certain kinetic events to occur in her line of sight. These subconscious actions always prove advantageous for Domino. It’s really less luck and more of a combination between telekinesis and psionics. Still, in theaters and on the page, it looks a lot like insanely good luck.