Posted: Nov 14 2014
by: Neal Haworth

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Origins and History of The X-Men

Created by writer Stan Lee and design artist Jack Kirby in the mid-to-late 1960s, the X-Men are a group of a fictional mutant superheroes who've appeared in a countless number of comic books, TV shows, movies, video games, and other media. Each member of the X-Men team has their own superpower, ranging from regeneration and shapeshifting to telepathy and weather control. While most people are familiar with the general story of X-Men, few know the franchise's origins and history.

The Early Days of X-Men

The concept of a mutant team with superpowers was created by Stan Lee in 1963, shortly after some of the first Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the Fantastic Four comic books were published. The commercial success of superhero comics prompted Lee to create a new franchise -- only this one would revolve around a group of superheroes rather than a single character. When Lee initially approached Marvel Comics with the idea, however, he was turned down. The company said the proposed name “The Mutants,” was too confusing, so Lee came up with a different name for his group of rag-tag superheros, “X-Men.”

Contrary to what some Marvel fans believe, Professor Xavier didn't name his school of mutants after him. The name “X-Men” is a reference to the “X-Gene,” which is responsible for causing the mutant evolution in humans. Humans who carry this gene develop mutant powers. Professor Xavier provides an explanation in the comics, saying mutants “possess an extra power... one which ordinary humans do not!! That is why I call my students... X-Men, for EX-tra power!

Some of the first issues of X-Men included the mutant superheroes Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, Angel, Magneto, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Toad. Lee focused the story on a traditional “good vs evil,” although it later evolved to include themes of prejudice/racism. Humans often rejected mutants as being a part of society, leading to resentment and anger. This fueled the fire for some mutants to revolt against the humans, which is main concept in many of the X-Men films.


Due to lackluster sales, Marvel hired several new faces to help rejuvenate the X-Men franchise. Roy Thomas was added as a writer, and Neal Adams was added as a design artist. Len Wein and Dave Crockum also joined the team. This proved to be a smart move for Marvel, as it brought new life to the struggling X-Men franchise.

With a new team at the helm, Marvel released Giant-Size X-Men in 1975. The X-Men characters were “rebooted” so to speak, with writers giving them more background and diversity than the original comic books. Each mutant member of the new X-Men group was from a different country, and they were knowledgeable in the use of their superhero – a trait that was lacking in previous X-Men comic books.

Several new mutants were introduced in Giant-Size X-Men, including Colossus (born in the Soviet Union), Nightcrawler (born in Germany), Storm (born in Kenya), and Thunderbird (Native American). The series also brought back some familiar faces, such as Banshee (born in Ireland), Sunfire (born in Japan), and Wolverine (born in Canada). Giant-Size X-Men is largely regarded as one of the most successful comic book series in the X-Men franchise.

Dark Phoenix Saga

Marvel introduced a new storyline in the X-Men universe: the Dark Phoenix Saga. The evil illusionist Mastermind took control of Phoenix, transforming this otherwise noble character into a villain who's hell-bent on destruction.

Other key story arcs occurred in the X-Men series around this time as well, such as the saga of Deathbird and the Brood, the invasion of the Fire Wraiths, The Trial of Magneto, and more. Many of these stories were used in future films like Days of Future Past and X2: X-Men United.

The Golden Years...

Although it initially experienced some hiccups, X-Men slowly but surely grew in popularity. By the mid 1980s, it was Marvel's best-selling comic, which is pretty impressive considering the numerous other titles it had released. Due to its popularity, several spinoff series were created, rightfully dubbed “X-Books.” Some of these spinoffs included The New Mutants, Alpha Flight, X-Fight, Excalibur, and the first self-titled Wolverine.

Fans of the X-Men series were also introduced to several new mutants during this era. Marvel's writers and illustrators added Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat, Dazzler, Longshot, Forge, Rogue, Summers/Phoenix, and Jubilee. And in a strange turn of events, Professor X went into the outer space, while Magneto took his place as the director of the mutants. Fans were rightfully sad to see Professor X go, but this wasn't the end for the telekinetic mutant, as he reappears later on.

X-Men Revised

The X-Men received a makeover in the early 1990s, when Marvel revised all of the X-Books while simultaneously launching a new series under the X-Men title. This new series brought Professor X back, while also splitting the two strike forces into a Blue and Gold team. The Blue team was controlled by Cyclops, and the Gold team was controlled by Storm.

To put the popularity of this new X-men revised series into perspective, retailers reported over 8.1 million copies of issue #1 pre-ordered. This translated into nearly $7 million in sales, and that's only the first issue. X-Men (1991) issue #1 went down in the record books as being the best-selling comic to date, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Fans of the franchise were rewarded with several new X-Books throughout the 1990s, some of which included The X-Tinction Agenda, The Muir Island Saga, Fatal Attractions, Onslaught, and Operation: Zero Tolerance. The X-Books spinoff remains a hit among new and old fans alike, which is apparent from the sheer number of issues Marvel has released over the years.

Avengers vs X-Men

More recently, Marvel created a crossover event titled Avengers vs X-Men. As the name suggests, this event was a limited series in several tie-in books that pitted the Avengers against the X-Men. The storyline was created by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, and Matt Friction.

Although it was without doubt a commercial success, Avengers vs X-Men received mixed reviews from critics. Some critics complained that Marvel was trying to fit too many elements into its series, whereas others praised its bold approach and wild superhero-on-superhero action.

X-Men Films

There have been over half a dozen films released based on the X-Men franchise. The first, X-Men, was released in 2000 and generated just over a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide. A sequel, X2, was released three years later in 2003. X-Men: The Last Stand was released in 2006. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released in 2009. X-Men: First Class was released in 2011. The Wolverine was released in 2013. And X-Men: Days of Future Past was released in 2014.

But there's still more films to come in the X-Men franchise. Marvel and 20th Century Fox are reportedly working on another solo film for Wolverine (currently untitled). Details are sparse regarding this flick, but it's safe to assume that Hugh Jackman will return as the hack 'em, slash 'em mutant with superhuman regeneration. There's still no word yet on a release date for The Wolverine 2; however, sources close to the project say it will likely be released in 2016.

A story broke earlier this year that Marvel is planning to release a Gambit film. Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street) will take the role as the card-throwing mutant. Gambit is also expected to appear in the upcoming X-Men Apocalypse (see below).

Not surprisingly, there's a film in production centered around the spin-off series X-Force. Unfortunately, we know very little about this film, other than the fact that Jeff Wadlow is writing the script and Lauren Donner is producing it. According to Mark Millar, however, X-Force will center around five protagonist.

X-Men Apocalypse

20th Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment hit the nail on the head with X-Men First :Class. This fifth installment in the franchise took a step back in time, exploring the background of key characters like Professor X (Charles Xavier, Magneto (Erik lehnsherr), Mystique (Raven Darkhölme), and several others. The success of First Class prompted the studio to make another film centering around the same characters, Days of Future Past, which also rocked the box office while pulling in over $745 million worldwide.

Marvel released the following synopsis for the upcoming X-Men Apocalypse film:

Apocalypse takes place a decade after Days Of Future Past and is a seamless next step in the story. The altering of time has unleashed a new and uniquely powerful enemy. Charles (James McAvoy), Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) are joined by young Cyclops, Storm, Jean and others as the X-Men must fight their most formidable foe yet – an ancient unrelenting force determined to cause an apocalypse unlike any in human history.

X-Men Film Franchise Cast:

  • Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
  • James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart as Professor X
  • Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen as Magneto
  • James Marsden as Cyclops
  • Famke Janssen as Phoenix
  • Halle Berry as Storm
  • Aanna Paquin as Rogue
  • Shawn Ashmore as Iceman
  • Jennifer Lawrence and
  • Rebecca Romijin as Mystique
  • Ellen Page and Katie Stuart as Kitty Pryde
  • Aaron Stanford as Pyro
  • Kea Wong as Jubilee
  • Nicholas Hoult and Kelsey Grammer as Beast
  • Daniel Cudmore as Colossus
  • Brian Cox as William Stryker


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