Marvel's merry mutants have been "protecting a world that fears and hates them" for over half a century now, and with several popular cartoon series' and a multi-billion dollar film franchise behind them, they're on course to stick around for at least another 50 years. Part of their success is their function as a civil rights metaphor. The idea of dedicating your life to helping and serving others, despite not always been liked or even tolerated by them, sends a powerful, aspirational message that clearly resonates with a big audience. "The main objective was to show that bigotry is a terrible thing," Rolling Stone quotes co-creator, Stan Lee. "If you needed an objective for a superhero story!"
X-Men has also remained relevant by boasting a sprawling cast of eclectic characters of different shapes, sizes, colors, genders, ages and, of course, their shared defining trait: mutant powers. "They were separate people that weren't connected to each other [...]" Lee says. "I figured, hey, the easiest thing in the world: They were born that way. They were mutants!" Though the X-Men struggled to complete with Marvel's A-listers initially, they hit their stride in the mid-'70s -- about a decade after their inception -- when the introduction of new characters like Storm, and later, Wolverine (and some much-needed wardrobe changes) reinvigorated the series. One way to measure the strength of a fanbase is by its output, and X-Men devotees have been creating volumes of content to show their mutant adoration for years; from fiction, to cosplay to artwork. In regards to the latter, we've scoured the Internet and collected the very best pieces that fans have to offer.
19 WOLVERINE VS. DEADPOOL
Thanks to their shared history with the Weapon X program, Wolverine and Deadpool's lives are inextricably connected, whether they like it or not. Despite moments of animosity, the pair have actually worked together a lot, and Logan has even recommended the Merc' With The Mouth for X-Men membership.
But, there's clearly no love lost between the two in this dramatic action shot created by concept artist, InHyuk Lee. In this piece, Wolverine and Deadpool are locked in what looks like a furious fight to the death. (Given the whole healing factor thing, they could be at it for some time...)
18 APOCALYPSE RISING
This piece of fan art from professional illustrator, Livio Ramondelli couldn't be more epic in terms of scale and composition. "The idea here is that the X-Men villain, Apocalypse, has been hibernating beneath the desert for some time," the artist writes, "and is now awakening in an unfortunate settlement of nomads."
For those who were disappointed with Oscar Isaacs' live-action portrayal of the ancient mutant baddie, this titan-sized version crawling his way out of the sand offers an exciting glimpse at what could have been. Livio also says the '90s X-Men animated series was a big influence on him.
17 STORM: GODDESS OF THUNDER
Storm is the X-Men's master weather manipulator, so seeing her wielding the power of Thor looks like it was always meant to be. The hammer Storm holds in this artwork is Stormcaster -- created by Loki to turn her into the Goddess of Thunder. It first showed up in an X-Men/Thor crossover in 1985, and recently reappeared in X-Men: Gold.
This piece was painted by Christopher Stevens in oil on panel, who says his favorite part is the color combination he chose. "I think the colors really work. [...] My favorite thing right now is using warm and cool colors. It's a really simple way to get contrast and make things pop."
16 QUICKSILVER AND SCARLET WITCH
This incredible piece from French artist, Panzer, entitled "Ultron Twins" is based on the Maximoff twins' redesign for their appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the MCU, of course, Wanda and Pietro's mutant identities have been swapped out for Hydra experimentation instead.
But, we're far more used to them being the troubled, mutant offspring of Magneto, and Panzer's work is too good to leave off a list dedicated to X-Men fan art. Styled with an anime-feel to the characters' faces, this digital illustration really brings out a sense of danger and mystery around the siblings.
Nopeys is a digital artist from the Philippines who specializes in recreating comic book and animated characters in fleshed-out, three dimensional glory, which is exactly what he's done for Gambit in this great piece, posing the Ragin' Cajun in a dynamic action shot.
It wouldn't be Gambit either without his bo-staff and kinetic energy-charged playing cards, flipping out of his dexterous fingers at us like throwing stars. Remy has worn a few other outfits in the past, but Nopeys chose his most recognizable costume here. And, why wouldn't you?
Despite his alarming appearance, Nightcrawler is often seen as one of the most soulful members of the X-Men. His visible mutation -- inherited from his shapeshifting mother, Mystique, and his demonic baby daddy, Azazel -- has plagued him his entire life.
This makes Kurt an empathetic favorite for many fans, including the commissioner that artist, Kes Neller drew this piece for. "I was heavily influenced by comic books and superheroes growing up," Kes says. "As I grew older, I discovered fantasy greats, Boris Vallejo and Frank Franzetta. All of these things mashed together and helped to influence my artistic vision."
Though he wasn't always this way, blue and furry has been the Beast's most recognizable guise for some time now. The erudite doctor inadvertently triggered the transformation after exposing himself to an experimental hormonal extract while working for the Brand Corporation.
Since then, his inner mutant ability of enhanced strength, speed and durability became exaggerated by a animalistic outer shell, which itself has gone through even more evolutions. This impressively realistic portrait by German concept artist, Oscar Romer, shows a younger, leaner Hank, perhaps not long after his initial transformation.
The Master of Magnetism has long been described as the "Malcolm X" to Professor X's Martin Luther King Jr. in the X-Men world. This political analogy paints Max Einsenhardt (formerly Erik Lensherr) as a well-intentioned extremist in stark contrast to his old comrade's championing of mutant/human harmony.
A big part of Magneto's enduring appeal is his complexity as a villain, and these shades of grey (and purple) are captured perfectly in this work by British video game artist, Joshua Summana, whose shadowy rendering of the Mutant Brotherhood's leader is intimidating yet somber.
11 JEAN GREY
This wonderful rendering of Jean Grey is part of a series of X-Men characters, redrawn by Carlos Fabian Villa, as the were in X-Men: The Animated Series. Though Jean's green and gold catsuit is probably the most famous of her costumes, her classic yellow and blue one holds a lot of nostalgia.
It's not a particularly big or dramatic illustration, but this simple piece of fan art is still beautifully crafted. It also stands out for really capturing the essence of the powerful, psychic mutant in the middle of what we can assume is a typical X-Men battle.
Deadpool 2 introduced the wider world to Cable's covert X-Men team, formed in the comics back in New Mutants #100 in 1991. The original team consisted of Cable, Domino, Boom-Boom, Cannonball, Warpath, Shatterstar and Feral. Of these, only Shatterstar, Domino and Cable made the cut in the film -- and Shatterstar's debut was cut violently short.
This black and white sketch by Ryan Pasibe in marker and pencil shows the surviving members of the team looking like they mean serious business. The artist says the work is an homage to artist Jim Lee, who had a very successful run on the X-Men comics during the '90s.
9 KITTY PRYDE
This dramatic work from comic book artist, Kelsey Shannon is named "Shadow of the Colossus" after the video game of the same name, in which you control a young man on a mission to confront and destroy colossal creatures in a strange, pre-technological world.
Using that theme, Kelsey puts Kitty Pryde and her pet dragon, Lockheed, in place of the warrior, and the looming face of a Sentinel in place of the colossus. "I wanted to play with depth of field in as simple a way as possible," the artist captions the illustration with.
Illyana Rasputina is the younger sister of Piotr Rasputin, aka Colossus, who became trapped in the hellish pocket dimension known as Limbo at the age of six. After a botched rescue mission by Kitty Pryde, Illyana spent a further seven years there becoming a Sorceress Supreme.
On Earth as Magik, she's still incredibly powerful, helped by her Soulsword and her ability to manifest teleporting stepping discs, as illustrated in this excellent piece of fan art by Lynne Yoshii. The work was hand-drawn in pen and ink for one lucky fan at New York Comic Con 2013.
Piotr Rasputin just wanted a normal, peaceful life helping maintain his Soviet family farm. But, when his mutant powers kicked in as he reached adolescence, he was offered a position in Professor X's new X-Men, and his life has been far from peaceful ever since.
Colossus' organic steel form makes him one of the team's toughest members, but he's really a softie at heart. He also happens to be a skilled artist himself, and he'd probably approve of this beautiful digital painting by Yvan Quinet; a snapshot of the metal mutant lost in quiet contemplation on a train.
6 SAVAGE WOLVERINE
This atmospheric piece is the work of fantasy artist, Andrew Hau, featuring the diminutive Canadian mutant looking even shorter than usual; leaping impossibly high into the air to take on a T-Rex emerging from the yellowed mist of what we can assume is the Savage Land.
This image is actually the first of a two-part set, with Logan squaring up against his foe in the first and then sitting atop the slaughtered beast "chillaxing" -- as the artist's describes -- after his victory in the next. How does Wolverine defeat a giant dino? "I have no idea," Andrew confesses.
5 SABRETOOTH VS. WOLVERINE
As we witnessed -- over and over again -- in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Sabretooth and Wolverine have a rivalry that is rarely off the boil. The pair rarely see eye to eye. No, their reunions are normally more claw to claw, as demonstrated here by Ryan Pasibe.
With line-work by Ryan and colors provided by Juan Fernandez, this piece is both violent and beautiful, with the falling cherry blossom petals evocative of classic anime battles, which, whether intentional or not, is befitting of Wolverine's strong ties to Japan.
4 X-MEN '92
You can practically hear the classic theme music just by looking at this pastel-tinted group shot by Stefan Tosheff. The muted neon palette is the perfect choice for this homage to the beloved X-Men cartoon that ran through most of the '90s.
In fact, this could easily have been the freeze-frame group shot at the end of an episode. Stefan is a comic book artist and illustrator based in Canada. When he's not drawing his own comics, he enjoys redesigning his favorite superheroes, a lot of whom happen to be members of the X-Men.
3 WOLVERINE VS THE DEADPOOL CORPS
This ridiculously cool piece looks like it's been ripped out of a movie that you're now probably wishing existed: Wolverine vs. the Deadpool Corps. What's particularly impressive is the feeling of motion that Danish illustrator, Stanton Feng has managed to create the illusion of in the work.
You can really feel the speed that Logan is swerving at to try and shake the multiversal mercenaries, Wade Wilson and Headpool, off his bike. Behind them, Lady Deadpool and Dogpool -- and possibly Kid Deadpool acting as paparazzi -- are in hot pursuit.
Cyclops' retro blue and yellow, underwear-over-tights look may be pretty goofy to look at by today's standards, but somehow German artist, Fabian Schlaga makes it work in Scott Summers' favor in this gorgeously painted piece.
Fabian used a Sideshow Collectibles model of the X-Man for the body and pose reference, sculpted by Tony Cipriano. "He rules," the artist adds in the caption. Fabian was also lucky enough to tour around the Sideshow headquarters when visiting the US in 2013 for artistic inspiration.
1 TO ME, MY X-MEN!
You want X-Men fan art? Well, for hungry fans, this tapestry of X-history is an all you can eat buffet. Drawn by illustrator and graphic designer, Bill Walko, the artist describes this labor of love as a "Mega Mutants Celebration," and challenges viewers to "name them all."
The X-Men chronology is tangled enough to give even the most ardent readers a headache trying to unpick it all, and seeing a family portrait of this size is evident of that. But, rather than try and connect the dots, it's fun just to see everyone from Doop to Quentin Quire sharing a picture.