The X-Men have always been pretty good at saving the world when called upon, and it’s important to have the appropriate attire. Over the years, what began as five teenaged mutants and their telepathic benefactor has split off and branched into one of the most complex networks of characters in modern literature. Sometimes it can be enough to make your head spin just trying to track down which character was on which team.
So to help set them all apart, each new iteration or splinter team of the X-Men had to bring its own sense of style and self to its story, and the easiest way to visually accomplish that is the uniform. You wouldn’t look at X-Men 2099 and expect them to be a stealth wetworks team; you wouldn’t look at X-Statix and expect them to be a European mutant police task force. A team uniform also has to be able to instil some kind of pride, some reaction from a fan or a reader, so it has to be visually pleasing, both in form and color. Sometimes the X-Men manage to hit that mark, sometimes they miss it by a mile. Let’s take a look at some of the best (and worst) X-costumes over the years!
16. X-MEN 2099
We here at CBR still have a soft spot for the 2099 universe — it’s such a specific time capsule of its era, especially in terms of production design, with each #1 issue an ode to the cardstock, extra glossy, foil-lettered and embossed characters. X-Men 2099 #1 is no different, introducing the world to new favorite mutants like Skullfire, Meanstreak and the Desert Ghost. The X-Men of 2099 were brought together by a mutant with astonishing, godlike powers, and whose name had the letter X prominently featured (Xi’an Chi Xan); that old song and dance.
Unfortunately, the uniforms for the team were less than stellar. Their only unifying design feature seems to be gold gauntlets (cuffs, maybe?), gold armbands, and a gold belt. All of these also have storage compartments, which are just 2099 versions of pouches.
When X-Force debuted in the pages of New Mutants #100, the costume directive seems to have been to throw on as much leather as possible (preferably in as many pouches as one could fit around one’s bicep or quad), and the more metallic and unnatural looking the material, the better. When Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld took over the title, they decided to take a team that used to specialize in swashbuckling adventures and make them into a strikeforce. Gone were the restrained black and yellow, replaced by a bikini on a wolfwoman, impossible shoulder pads and the biggest weapons possible.
We’re not here to pile on Rob Liefeld, but even glossing over anatomical issues, the costumes make the characters look like action figures. They’re shiny, and they look poseable, but they sacrifice unity of design for interestingly empty flourishes. Points to Boom Boom for always rocking dope shades, though.
14. X-FACTOR (’90S VERSION)
Marvel took the opportunity to relaunch X-Factor after 70 issues to follow a more Youngblood-esque direction, making the team into a government salaried mutant squad led by Havok. The new series, written by Peter David and illustrated by Larry Stroman, cycled through several team line-ups, including a period of time where Forge was the leader. The series ends with a time machine explosion that sent Havok hurtling into his own miniseries, which did not do well enough to bring X-Factor back for several years.
The uniforms in this era are a hot mess. It was the peak era for hyper-kinetic art in the style of Liefeld, and the book’s decision to focus on individual character’s arcs is reflecting in the individualist nature of the uniform, i.e. there is no uniform, really.
13. ULTIMATE X-MEN
The Ultimate Marvel Universe was an imperfect, unwieldy extra piece of continuity, but there were plenty of things to love about it. Many of the creators tasked with creating an Ultimate book took the idea of an updated Marvel Universe and ran with it, bringing the Ultimate Universe to the point where it felt like it was branching into the future.
Released within months of Morrison and Quitely’s New X-Men, Ultimate X-Men was written by Mark Millar, at that time just on the cusp of becoming the superstar he is today, and Adam Kubert, who was already a star (in the world of X-Men comics, in particular). The design tries to capitalize on the leather bodysuits of Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie, which resulted in a weird hybrid of the Jim Lee X-Men costumes, the black leather look and short sleeves. It doesn’t look flattering on anyone.
12. X-TREME X-MEN
X-Treme X-Men was Chris Claremont’s core X-Men title for the duration of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, featuring Storm as the leader of the team. The book started off its run with a worldwide hunt for Destiny’s diaries, and ended with Storm briefly offering the team’s services to the government to expose mutant slave trading rings. It also explains the backstory of how Beast’s new cat-like stage of his mutation, introduced in New X-Men.
The outfits, though. There’s a lot of padded leather, as well as black leather with red lining fabric. Storm has some random jewels, and Beast looks like he’s wearing gladiator armor. Some of the costumes look intentionally redesigned, while others just look like recolored versions of the originals; the uniform should be a uniform, and these only match in palette.
11. GENERATION X
For a while, mutant kids had a choice of schools to attend in the Northeast: They could attend Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters; or they could attend The Massachusetts Academy. The Massachusetts Academy was run by former X-Man Banshee, and former White Queen of the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost. The series was supposed to give a sort of Bizarro version of Xavier’s X-Men, teens who were more complex and more believable as actual teens than the members of the core teams. The book lasted for 75 issues before the team was disbanded, leading Banshee to form the X-Corps.
The uniforms all look a little bit like Banshee and Emma Frost outsourced the design of their school uniforms to Stark Industries — they’re red and gold, with a metallic sheen all over, and Mega Man-style boots. The color scheme distances them from the core X-teams, which makes them easy to overlook.
10. UNCANNY X-FORCE
Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña’s run of Uncanny X-Force is a true Marvel opus, but while it was taking several beloved X-characters in bold new directions, it was doing so in the blandest tactical suits on the planet. The Uncanny X-Force team was intended to be an unsanctioned wetworks team, heavy on stealth and assassination missions from the get-go.
So from a storytelling point of view, it certainly makes sense — if there’s going to be a stealth X-Men strike force, they certainly shouldn’t be running around in bright yellows and reds. But should Fantomex really be running around in a mostly-white trenchcoat, either? Ultimately, the suits just read as Wolverine, Deadpool, Archangel, et al’s regular costumes that got washed out in the printing process by accident.
9. GREAT LAKES X-MEN
When Dan Slott and Paul Pelletier’s four-issue run of G.L.A. came to a close, the Great Lakes Avengers found themselves in an identity crisis (as per usual). Many of their members had died, and they had just been served a cease-and-desist by the Avengers. However, with their roster recently depleted, they realized all their remaining members were mutants — and the Great Lakes X-Men were born!
The whole team’s outfit reads like an inversion of the costumes in New X-Men, but none of them have matching aesthetics. Big Bertha is in a bikini (and the only one in white), Doorman’s rocking a duster; Squirrel Girl, Mr. Immortal and Flatman all went for leather jackets, of all different cuts. Seems like this is why no one wanted to join the G.L.A. Fun fact: the Great Lakes X-Men’s original line-up included the debut of Tippy Toe, Squirrel Girl’s faithful girl squirrel sidekick.
8. THE X-MEN
At the time considered a mild success at best, and a failure at worst, for Marvel, The X-Men reads as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby being stretched a little too thin — The X-Men #1 was released at the same time as The Avengers, and didn’t have the benefit of a recognizable cast. The X-Men’s original costumes are almost true neutral. They’re nondescript enough that you can’t really hate them and you can’t really love them.
Jack Kirby was such a master of facial expression that the choice to put all the team in cowls is befuddling. It makes them more enigmatic, but it also makes them all kind of look like Racer X. Thematically, they make perfect sense; out of all the X-Men’s scattered abilities and disunity arises one team. But none of the uniforms look like they fit, especially Beast’s — he’s rocking 3/4 length pants.
7. ALL-NEW X-FACTOR
Peter David’s decade-long run on X-Factor/All-New X-Factor took the team on a return to form from the previous iteration. The second volume of the series featured an entirely new roster of team members as a government-salaried mutant squad; Peter David’s returned the team’s status quo to that of a scrappy underdog company of mutants-for-hire. In All-New X-Factor, they’ve achieved the dream and gotten a corporate sponsorship.
Of course, any corporate sponsorship means you’ve gotta wear the merchandise and flash the logo, and Carmine di Giandomenico’s designs of All-New X-Factor’s costumes take into account a sense of brand unity. The asymmetrical rectangle at the shoulders sets the team apart from the trend towards using an ostentatious X in a design scheme, and helps give the book its own sense of identity separate from the X-Men.
For a time in Uncanny X-Men, Banshee led the mutant police squad, X-Corps. His life was in shambles after the death of his ex-girlfriend and the shuttering of his school, so he decided to create a police force made up of mutants (including villains like Blob and Mystique) to be the first line of defense against other mutants. However, the team wrecked Paris on their first outing due to treason in the ranks, and they were shut down.
As unfortunate as the team’s fortunes were, they had nice threads and a unified look. Jubilee’s got bangs, and it is working for her, the leather jackets look good on everybody, and the red piping is a nice touch. Ultimately, the red is too dark, and they decided not to give Blob a singlet, which just makes you notice how pale he is. Not a good look.
Third time on the list is the charm, but it was the first time X-Factor was published that they nailed the team’s look. According to the cover of the first issue, we demanded that the original X-Men return, and since the main X-Men roster was full up by this point in the ’80s, Marvel launched a separate book for them. X-Factor gave us one of the X-Men’s most enduring villains in Apocalypse, and one of Angel’s best looks as Archangel.
Even pre-Archangel, the costume design of this book was wonderful. Cyclops, Jean Grey (newly resurrected in a staggering piece of Phoenix Force retconning) and Angel all sport bodysuits with hips-to-shoulders X’s, and Beast and Iceman get to be essentially naked. The colors all work and the designs make sense, but they do come off a little dated at this point.
4. ALL-NEW X-MEN
Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen’s twist on “All-New” when they launched All-New X-Men as part of Marvel NOW! in 2013 was that the All-New X-Men weren’t All-New at all. Beast was disillusioned with the direction the X-Men had taken under Cyclops’ increasingly jaded leadership during Avengers vs. X-Men, so he went back in time and snatched up the teenage versions of the X-Men to try and warn them, Ghost of Christmas Future-style.
For the first year or so of the title, the team wore the original X-Men uniforms, but eventually, Kitty Pryde and Magik decided to create new ones for them, to create their own identity as a team. They’re sleek, they’re technological without being overburdened or nonsenical, and they’re color-coded versions of the same suit, which is always a nice touch.
After a solid 10-year run, the hyper machismo of the X-Force brand was starting to wear a little thin on the everyday comics buying audience, so Marvel decided to kill off the whole team and bring in someone new, comics-wise and creator-wise. Peter Milligan, most well known for his run on Vertigo’s Shade the Changing Man, was brought aboard to write and Mike Allred, creator of gonzo superhero Madman, was hired to take the book in a radical new visual direction.
With first X-Force’s demise, gone were the hard lines and the desaturated colors, and in were Mike Allred’s smoother contours and Laura Allred’s brighter, flatter colors. The team’s outfits themselves are a little silly — the shoulders and chest look like they’re wearing bibs — but they work. Especially for a team with a knockoff superhero version of Princess Di, a floating interdimensional cypher named Doop, and everyone’s favorite teleporter, U-Go Girl.
2. NEW X-MEN
In 2001, the X-Men comics got their biggest shot of star power in a decade, with Marvel bringing Grant Morrison in to write the retitled New X-Men series, with Frank Quitely illustrating. The X-Men had just gotten a huge boost in visibility from the release of the first X-Men movie, so Marvel wanted to cash in on it in the comics.
You can see a lot of the influence of the movie in Quitely’s costume designs, with the team donning matching leather jackets. The bold yellow X’s are what really sell the look — it brings to mind Guice’s character design for X-Factor. In this case, the X is so big on the jackets as to almost be abstracted. The decision to turn Beast into a giant cat person was also particularly inspired, even if that’s not strictly a costume-related note.
1. NEW MUTANTS
That’s right, sports fans, the best costumes in all of mutandom belongs to those lovable young upstarts, the New Mutants. Originally created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod, the New Mutants were only supposed to use their powers to defend themselves, after Professor X suffered the loss of the main X-Men team to the Brood.
Their uniforms hearken back to the simplicity of Jack Kirby’s original X-Men costume designs, but they still feel modern where Kirby’s feel dated. In the 35 years that they’ve been around, the New Mutants have had personnel changes, but when they’re the New Mutants, they stick with the black and yellow. The costumes are classic, they adapt well to each member of the team, and they’re appropriate for all occasions. Whether the team is in literal Christian Hell trying to defeat Mephisto or traipsing around an Arthurian countryside filled with faeries, they always look fly.
Which X-unforms were your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
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