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X-Men: The Best Rosters, Ranked

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X-Men: The Best Rosters, Ranked

An interesting aspect of the X-Men’s history is that for decades, they had pretty stable lineups. The original X-Men team lasted for basically a decade, only adding a new member here and there. The team that replaced them was also relatively stable, up until the “Mutant Massacre.” After that, there were so many characters involved that when the original X-Men merged with their successors in 1991, they had to split the team into separate squads, a Blue team and a Gold team.

RELATED: The 15 Best X-Men Costumes

From that point forward, each “X-Men” title has spotlighted a particular “squad” of X-Men. Here, we will rank the best of these lineups. We’ll count entire X-Men teams as lineups before the merger (back when there was just a single “X-Men” title), but after that, we’re not counting those eras where the X-Men dropped the squad approach. With that in mind, here are the best of the X.


Before Chris Claremont returned to the “X-Men” titles for a second stint as the regular writer on the series, he first secretly helped out his old friend and collaborator, Alan Davis, on Davis’ run as the plotter for the series. David had introduced a subplot involving the diaries of Destiny, the precognitive mutant who was part of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and then, when that group became part of the United States Government, Freedom Force. She was also Mystique’s longtime lover. She wrote a detailed take on the future in her diaries, making the books very powerful items to have.

Thus, when Claremont was removed from his second “X-Men” run, he was given the opportunity to launch a third X-Men title, this time featuring a group of X-Men devoted to finding those diaries. Annoyingly, while Claremont was initially given Beast for his team, Marvel then changed their minds, so Claremont had to write Beast out after just one story. Salvador Larroca was the original artist on the series, with Igor Kordey following him.


We wish there was a better way to describe this particular team. We would have used “re-united X-Men,” but that also describes at least one other team on this list. Instead, we’ll note that for the 35th anniversary of the X-Men, there was a major shift on the “X-Men,” where then-new writers Joe Kelly and Stephen Seagle were forced to drop their initial approaches on the series (where Kelly wrote about a new group of X-Men like Cecilia Reyes, Marrow and Maggott, while Seagle followed the original five X-Men) and instead follow a stripped-down, eight-person team, under the theory that the cast of the “X-Men” had grown too large over the years.

The eight person squad that was chosen was notable in that it signified the return of Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler and Colossus to the X-Men after they had each joined Excalibur (Kitty and Nightcrawler had been gone for over a decade). Kelly and Seagle’s stint was cut short due to editorial conflicts, but this team was notable for bringing back some of the best X-Men of all-time to the title, where they belonged.


Rogue was initially on Claremont’s “X-treme X-Men” squad, but after Grant Morrison left “New X-Men,” there was a shuffling of the three X-Men” titles, with Claremont continuing “X-Treme X-Men” with a third stint on “Uncanny,” Chuck Austen moving to “New X-Men” (which went back to its original title, “X-Men”) and Joss Whedon launching “Astonishing X-Men” to replace “X-Treme X-Men” on the schedule. Rogue then ended up in “X-Men,” but then Austen left that series early into his run and Peter Milligan took over for a couple of years.

When Mike Carey took over the series, he revamped the approach by having Cyclops give Rogue full control over her own team of X-Men that would work as a rapid response team. She took two veteran X-Men, Iceman and Cannonball, but then she went outside the box by adding her foster mother, Mystique, to the team. In the end, it was a mistake, as Mystique slowly worked to take the team down from within as part of a Marauders attack on the X-Men. Until that point, though, it was a fascinating mix of personalities.


In 2011, the mutant community on Utopia split over the issue of what to do with the younger mutants in the community. Wolverine argued that these kids deserved to be taught in a safe school environment, while Cyclops argued that the danger to mutants were so great (after the mutant population was decimated by the Scarlet Witch’s powers in “House of M,” where she tried to make there be “No More Mutants”) that they couldn’t afford to set up a system like that. In the end, Wolverine took a large number of mutants and left Utopia to start the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.

Realizing that he no longer had strength in numbers, Cyclops decided that they had to win the public relations battle against how humans perceived mutants. So he formed the “Extinction Team,” a group of the most powerful mutants who stayed behind on Utopia that would be able to fight off “extinction level” threats to Earth and thus make the X-Men seem like a necessary group for humans to have around. Instead, soon after, five of the members of the team were possessed by the Phoenix Force and went on a rampage.


After the events of the “Mutant Massacre,” the X-Men saw drastic membership changes as some of their members were seriously injured in an attempt to protect the Morlocks from the Marauders’ vicious attack. In addition, due to the Marauders’ attack, which made it clear that they knew where the X-Men lived, the team went on the run. They ended up in Dallas, in a battle against Freedom Force. Things changed dramatically when the evil magical being known as the Adversary attacked. Ultimately, the X-Men sacrificed themselves to create the magical energy needed to defeat him.

The powerful being known as Roma, though, decided to reward the X-Men by resurrecting them and making it so that no one on Earth could prove (through electronic means) that they were alive again. The X-Men then settled in the Outback of Australia and used a local teleporting mutant, Gateway, to fight missions across the globe. The original 8-member team (counting Madelyne Pryor) slowly broke apart until there were only a few members left (and then they went through the Siege Perilous to escape an attack by the evil Reavers that would have killed them due to their reduced roster size).


Following the Outback X-Men falling apart, the next year or so in the pages of “Uncanny X-Men” just showed the adventures of the various team members as they were spread around the globe. Once he learned that the X-Men had survived the Dallas battle, Forge decided to put the team back together again, working with former X-Man, Banshee (who had recently regained his mutant powers). Forge and Banshee set up shop at the X-Mansion, while Storm was on the run from the Shadow King, being aided by a mysterious new hero known as Gambit; meanwhile, Wolverine, Psylocke and Jubilee were in Asia together.

Eventually, after Storm and a number of New Mutants were captured, all of the various mutant teams came together in Genosha to free the mutants there once and for all. Reunited, the X-Men decided to signal their return to team unity by briefly wearing team uniforms for the first time since the days of the original five X-Men.


After being brutally injured, Professor X had to leave Earth to be treated by his alien girlfriend in “Uncanny X-Men” #200. Before he left, he decided to entrust his school and the X-Men themselves to his old friend-turned-foe, Magneto. Naturally, as you might expect, the rest of the X-Men had a hard time with the idea that they were now being led by their old enemy. Cyclops was quickly written out of the series for good (he had pretty much been gone for a while already), as was Rachel Summers (the time-traveling daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey from the future).

This left a veteran team of X-Men working with a man that they did not trust as their overall leader. Things became a lot darker for the team, signified by the featured image, where the team was basically saying, “Go ahead, make our day.” The darkness of the team came to a head during the “Mutant Massacre,” when they had to watch the Morlocks be slaughtered and Colossus had to resort to snapping the neck of one of the Marauders to protect his teammates.


After the X-Men started working with Magneto, the original members of the team grew wary of their newer counterparts, so when Jean Grey turned up alive and wanted to get back into being a superhero, her friends cautioned her against returning to the X-Men. Instead, they formed their own superhero team, X-Factor. Soon after, the X-Men were thought to be killed in action in Dallas, so there was never an opportunity for X-Factor to get back together with their old friends.

After the events of “X-Tinction Agenda,” there really was no longer any reason for the teams to stay separate, but that was resolved by having the X-Men abducted into an outer space adventure. When they returned, after helping to save Muir Isle from the Shadow King, the X-Men and X-Factor decided to finally merge together. Since there were so many members, they split into two teams. The Gold team consisted of Jean Grey, Storm, Archangel, Iceman and Colossus.


While Cyclops had taken a break from the X-Men after the death of the Phoenix at the end of the “Dark Phoenix Saga,” thereby allowing Storm to become the new leader of the team, that always seemed temporary; sure enough, he returned in “Uncanny X-Men” #150. However, in the late 160s, he took another leave of absence that ended up being more of a permanent thing when he then got married (he would keep popping up sporadically after that, as Claremont liked the idea of having characters show up when needed), so Storm was now definitively the leader of the X-Men (and she proved her badass skills when she took on the Morlock leader, Callisto, in a famous knife fight), but at the same time, she began to go through some personality changes.

The biggest change to the team was the addition of their former enemy, Rogue, due to her inability to control her powers without the help of Professor Xavier. Rogue really worked well with the team and added an interesting new dynamic that would become a multimedia staple of the X-Men’s identity. So too did Charles Xavier’s increasing desire to get involved in field missions due to his legs being healed after getting a new body.


As noted earlier, when the X-Men and X-Factor merged together in 1991, they formed two different teams. How they split the teams, though, was an interesting situation. In the comics themselves, they never really explain how they split the group up, but outside the comic book, it seemed pretty clear what the motivation was. Jim Lee was the main creative force on the series (as he was likely the most popular artist in all of comics at the time) and thus, the book he wrote, starring the Blue squad, would have the “coolest” characters.

Thus, Lee had Wolverine on his team, as well as two character introduced during his initial run on “Uncanny X-Men,” Gambit and the new Asian ninja version of Psylocke. Paired with Cyclops and Beast, they weren’t the most powerful team of X-Men, but they were by far the most popular group of mutants. Jubilee also was an informal member of this group.


In a lot of ways, the driving force behind the creation of the X-Men was that making them all “mutants” would mean that Stan Lee would not have to come up with individual origins for any of the characters, it could simply be “Oh, him? Mutant.” In the first issue of “X-Men,” way back in 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the final member of the original five X-Men, with Marvel Girl meeting her teammates, who all pined after her (including, in a disturbing moment quickly forgotten about, Professor X). They then quickly got into their first battle with an evil mutant, taking on Magneto.

When Roy Thomas took over writing duties on the series, he soon had them move on past school and had them “graduate,” which involved them getting new costumes. He also temporarily killed off Professor X so that they would no longer have the deus ex machina of Xavier to bail them out of jams. Neal Adams also came on board for some memorable issues, including the introduction of Havok (Cyclops’ brother) to the team.


After Chris Claremont’s second stint did not work out, Grant Morrison was allowed to do pretty much anything he wanted with the X-Men, and his approach was spotlighted by “New X-Men,” which opened with 16 million mutants being murdered on Genosha by a new villain, Cassandra Nova, who turned out to be a psychic twin of Charles Xavier taken corporeal form. The X-Men also ditched the uniforms, as Xavier opened up mutants to the mainstream in a big way.

The main team in “New X-Men” were highlighted by the Cyclops/Jean Grey/Emma Frost love triangle (as Emma Frost joined the X-Men for the first time and promptly began a psychic affair with Cyclops), Wolverine, Professor X, Beast (who was dealing with transforming into a being far more beast-like than human) and a mystery new member known as Xorn (who turned out to be Magneto in disguise). With this team, Morrison helped to revitalize the X-Men for a new generation.


You might question placing Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s X-Men team ahead of Morrison’s, when Whedon was basically following in Morrison’s footsteps with his squad, but we think that the addition of Kitty Pryde and Colossus to the team were major enough changes that it merited this lineup taking the higher position. Kitty Pryde makes everything a little better.

The concept behind this team was that, following some bad publicity, Cyclops decided that the X-Men had to re-embrace wearing costumes, as they needed the world to see them as superheroes rather than as a threat. As part of this approach, he had Kitty Pryde re-join the team, as she is one of the most relatable mutants around. Whedon and Cassaday then brought Colossus back to life, which led to a re-formation of Kitty and Colossus’ romance from years earlier. This team made for a great public “face” of the X-Men. Whedon and Cassaday also worked in a new member of the team, with one of the students at Xavier’s, Armor, became a regular part of this squad.


As noted earlier, the original X-Men were amazingly consistent, as they held together for almost a decade. The only thing that ended up breaking the team up was the fact that the series was canceled (well, it kept being published, but only with reprints of earlier stories — it was canceled as a series releasing new stories). In 1975, Marvel decided to reboot the team using an international team, and the new characters (created by Len Wein and/or Dave Cockrum) consisted of some of the greatest characters Marvel has introduced in the past 50 years period, from Storm to Nightcrawler to Colossus to the not quite new but almost Wolverine.

Paired with the remaining member of the team (who stayed on to lead them), Cyclops, this squad of X-Men was also remarkably consistent once they formed a regular team in “X-Men” #94. They lost Thunderbird to death and Banshee to injury, but otherwise, these heroes remained together for years and it was excellent.


As excellent as the ANAD team was, John Byrne and Chris Claremont managed to somehow improve on them before Byrne left the series, which they did through the addition of Kitty Pryde (as we noted earlier, everything’s better with Kitty Pryde added to it). Besides being an interesting character in her own right, Kitty also served as a fascinating point of view character for the readers, as she was a teenager and we could see the coolness of the X-Men through her eyes. She was basically “one of us.”

As we noted earlier, this was also the first time that the series was without Cyclops on a regular basis, and Storm stepped up as the leader of the team in a big way. The only drawback of this version of the X-Men was that Angel seemed a bit out of place, but then even he realized this and quit the team in “X-Men” #148, just a year after rejoining the group.

What was your favorite X-Men lineup? Let us know in the comments section!

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