So many Marvel Comics characters have become international icons that it’s easy to overlook the fact that the X-Men universe alone comprises a significant percentage of the company’s most popular heroes and villains. United by the mutant gene that grants them any number of uncanny abilities, X-Men fast became one of Marvel’s signature titles upon its introduction in 1963, and ever since, the franchise — along with its many off-shoots and spin-offs — has become one of the most beloved comic book properties of all time. Here are five characters from the extensive Marvel mutant history that are among the very best, listed by their introduction in the comics.
1. Professor X
Without Charles Xavier, there would be no X-Men in the first place. So it stands to reason that this telepath — who is among the most powerful figures in the world of the X-Men — is an obvious selection for this list. In addition to the influence he wields as founder and de facto leader of the X-men, Xavier possesses unparalleled levels of mental energy. Over the years, he has demonstrated immense skill with telepathy, hypnosis, astral projection, empathy, mind-reading and memory alteration, among other abilities. If Professor X held ill will toward humanity, we wouldn’t stand much of a chance.
An ally-turned-enemy of Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr is the Malcom X to Xavier’s Martin Luther King, Jr. These two — who represent diametrically opposed philosophies toward the human race — have a deep history in the comics that continues to drive battles between the X-Men and Lensherr’s Brotherhood of Mutants. Humanized by a tragic past, Magneto — who has the ability to control metal with his mind — is often depicted as a Holocaust survivor who has seen the darkest side of humanity’s intolerance firsthand, making his perspective more valid and the character endlessly fascinating as a result.
In the decades-long history of the X-Men comics, perhaps no character is as recognized or as popular as the figure famously played by Hugh Jackman in eight films (so far). Born James Howlett, the Canadian mutant — known for his berserker rage — has a violent backstory as a soldier and assassin, which culminates in his involvement in the Weapon X program that gave him his adamantium claws. Over the years, the Wolverine — or Logan, as he commonly goes — has been reimagined a number of different ways (including Ultimate X-Men, which saw the mutant Cable turn out to be an older Wolverine), but his gruff yet likable persona has remained relatively untarnished.
Gifted with the abilities to manipulate the weather and take flight, Ororo Munroe is one of the most regal characters in the X-Men universe, a fitting quality considering that she is the daughter of a Kenyan princess. Since making her 1975 debut, Storm has developed into one of the most compelling leaders of the X-Men. In numerous incarnations, she has assumed command of the team and — despite never receiving enough focus in Fox’s film series — remains a formidable Marvel hero and a cunning warrior with an inextricable link to nature.
The most recent addition to Marvel Comics, Wade Wilson was initially so named as a sly reference to DC Comics’s Deathstroke a.k.a. Slade Wilson. However, the anti-hero fast became one of the most sardonic and gleefully violent characters to ever grace Marvel’s history in the time since his 1991 debut. Disfigured and mentally unstable, the “Merc with the Mouth” is known for his self-aware ability to break the fourth wall and directly address readers. He has become a fan favorite among cosplayers and finally received his long-awaited solo film in early 2016.
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