Is it really worth trying to become an X-Man?
In most comics time is seemingly an unmoving thing. With the X-Men, it actually flows. If not irregularly. They age, their uniforms alter, characters earn degrees, and their children grow into adults. The latter has been most evident over the years. Since 1982 there has always been a Jr. Squad of X-Men; The New Mutants, Generation-X, New X-Men, and yet another unnamed class of students that came about sometime following Avengers Vs. X-Men. Individually, we’ve seen one or two from each class come into their own, but many of them sadly become wallpaper, end up depowered, get physically mutilated, and in some instances… they die. Are these grim possibilities what aspiring X-Men must look forward to?
The New Mutants
Many would think that the 1975 additions to the X-Men in Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Thunderbird, were the 2nd wave of “students” at the Xavier Institute. In a way that’s true, but for the most part, they were all the same age as the Original 5. They were less of a new class and more similar to transfer students. The first real underclassmen were the New Mutants: Cannonball, Magik, Moonstar, Cypher, Karma, Sunspot, Warlock, Magma, and Wolfsbane (there were several others, and other iterations but these were the mains of the original run).
The X-Men, as a franchise, seem to work best when they are approaching 12 published books per month (I miss the early to mid-90s…). However, in a post 00’ world, that’s just not sustainable. The X-Men, and basically every other franchise, had to tighten their belt and streamline their content to fit the smaller market. With this came sacrifices. There just isn’t enough panel time to go around and typically the first characters to get pushed aside are the ones without large followings. The New Mutant run of the 80s was, by all means, epic, visceral, and a great example of what it could be like for teens trying to live in an adult world where supernatural $##@ goes down.
Because of the strength of the stories that came from Chris Claremont’s run, the team didn’t simply dissolve into the ether. At the end of the decade, most of them were absorbed into Cable’s X-Force. Cannonball and a couple of his teammates, plus some new additions, thrived there until the end of the decade. Out of this, Magik and Cannonball became full-fledged X-Men. For the rest of the group… it’s a little more intricate. Moonstar, after her stint in X-Force, was a victim of M-Day and lost her powers. For years, she’d pop in and out of the foreground. Unfortunately, she had little to no real influence in the X-Men outside of mentoring the young mutant Elixir (we’ll get into him later). However, still depowered, she was made a part of the latest iteration of the Defenders.
Sunspot became an X-Man, and in a way, a leader. He was made the head of an international branch of X-Corporation and later, alongside Cannonball, became an Avenger. Wolfsbane bounced from one team to another and back again a few times over the years. After New Mutants she was a member of Excalibur, X-Force, and a couple versions of X-Factor. Luckily, she has been involved in, and at the center of many great stories.
From this point on, things get kind of dicey. Karma basically went unseen for close to a decade before resurfacing after M-Day as a denizen of the mutant island Utopia (formerly Asteroid-M). She lost her left leg during a battle in the story arc, Second Coming. Her only claim to fame after that was a stint in the short-lived Astonishing X-Men run.
Magma has a different issue than her counterparts. While, no, she’s never had a big following, but in my opinion, that’s because she’s too difficult to use in a story. As a hero, her powers are way too destructive to utilize in any setting other than locations without infrastructure. She pulls lava from the ground. She’s powerful. Too powerful. It’s probably why she’s been used as a foil on more than one occasion. Magma disappears into narrative-limbo for years at a time. I don’t think writers know what to do with her. There’s only so many battles that occur in deserts or rock quarries.
Cypher and Warlock are largely one and the same. Cypher died during the New Mutant series, taking a bullet for Wolfsbane. He is resurrected in part by Warlock who merged with his remains. The two become a being known as Douglock (Doug is Cypher’s real name) for a time. Cypher is eventually fully resurrected by Selene during Necrosha. Afterward, he became a support member of the X-Men and eventually joined All-New X-Factor. That lasted just 17 issues. Not much after that for him, though.
Spun out of the chaos that was created by the Phalanx Covenant, Generation-X was the first class to follow the New Mutants and the only group of young X-Men to function away from the main school grounds. Led and taught by Emma Frost and Sean Cassidy, the Banshee, the group originally consisted of Jubilee, Chamber, Synch, Monet, Skin, Mondo, Husk, and Penance. All brand-new characters, with the exception of Jubilee. They each got a fair amount of development during the book’s run, which was from 1994 to 2001.
Similar to their predecessors, not everyone from their class graduated into the big leagues. I will say, for the most part, they are more visible, if not more dead… After the book’s cancellation, Jubilee fell into limbo. Which is strange for the most recognizable character from the well-liked series. Upon her return, she’d lost her powers on M-Day. The next time we saw her, she’d been crucified on the front lawn of the Xavier Institute with fellow Gen-Xer, Skin.
Jubilee was revived by way of a blood transfusion from Angel, but Skin didn’t survive. Later, she was turned into a vampire and adopted a child. I’m happy to announce she was de-vamped, had her mutant powers restored, and is currently back in the X-Men books. Chamber became something of a support character and later took on the role of an instructor at the institute. However, he’s typically relegated to the background but offers a snarky quip here and there.
Penance… Ok, stay with me on this one. She turned out to actually be Monet (or simply, ‘M’). She was magically forced into that form by her brother, Emplate. M’s younger sisters (twins), not wanting to upset their family by the sudden loss of the highly favored Monet, used their mutant abilities to merge together. They took on M’s form and impersonated her for months (years in our time) on end until it was discovered and righted. The twins switched bodies with Monet restoring her real body and took on the Penance form. They eventually separate, but the Penance body gained sentience and is now known as ‘Hollow.’ Still here? Great.
Outside of the very strange story surrounding Monet, she and Husk are the most successful out of the class, both eventually becoming X-Men. Unlike the deceased Skin, fan-favorite character Synch doesn’t survive the end of the book. He was tragically killed in an explosion towards the end of the run. Mondo… well, the Mondo on the team wasn’t the ‘real’ Mondo. He was a clone created and controlled by Banshee’s cousin, Black Tom. He was killed by Bastion while attempting to do much of the same to Jubilee. The real Mondo turned out to be very much a villain and has been seen as recently as this year in X-Men Blue.
This group refers to the squad of teenaged students who survived M-Day and its resulting effects. Around the onset of the New X-Men book, the worldwide population and student body of the Xavier Institute was booming. Most full-time and part-time X-Men became instructors and served as ‘Squad Leaders.’ From there the students were broken up into 3 to 6-man teams. Sadly, after the effects of M-Day, with less than 300 mutants remaining on Earth, most of the students at Xavier’s school reverted back to becoming humans. While being sent home to live normal lives, the mansion was attacked and many of those former students were killed in the fray.
The New X-Men group from that point on consisted of X-23, Hellion, Rockslide, Pixie, Mercury, Surge, Anole, Dust, Elixir, Armor, and Bling among others in a couple of configurations. I added in “among others” because there were indeed other students that survived M-Day and the subsequent slaughter(s), but they are/were inconsequential and/or died in later stories (such as Onyx and Wither). Compared to earlier classes, this group didn’t get a fair shake. Fan reaction to their character designs and individual stories was positive, but unlike the New Mutants and Generation-X, they existed in a time where the market was far less forgiving.
Before any of them could really get their footing, the entire narrative surrounding the X-Men changed. Marvel chose to push a specific group over the rest (the X-Men that were part of the movie franchise) and by the time they moved away from that, Disney purchased the company. At that time the X-Men had only a handful of books and little to no real development was being pushed. Without having to say, this new crop of X-Men was not the priority. Heck, the only real development amongst them was Elixir’s affair with Wolfsbane, getting murdered and then being brought back. Hellion lost his hands and later got exposed to the Terrigen Mist cloud. Not exactly bright futures.
X-23 found her stride and became an X-Man due to her relationship with Wolverine, but outside of a couple cameos and very small parts for Armor and Rockslide, there isn’t much to be said for the rest. There was a time these new X-Men could have made a return to the forefront following Messiah Complex/ Second Coming, but they were again pushed aside for a completely new crop of Jr. X-Men. And if I must say myself, with cutesy-character names like Eye-boy, Nature Girl, and Shark-girl, it’s not like they were all that interesting or dynamic. The Generation-X title was recently resurrected, but it focused more on these very odd, off the wall characters than past ones. It didn’t last long.
There have been several instances throughout the years where the X-Men writers could have used any number of past Jr. X-Men to push the narrative but instead chose to utilize characters like Beak, Dupe, Stacey-X, and Xorn. I couldn’t tell you why characters that have had years of development, and fan followings are ignored for allegory-ridden pet projects. Perhaps it’s time to address this issue within the narrative? What is the real outlook for a mutant that wishes to become an X-Man? From what I can tell, its an uphill battle froth with pain, misery, and death. It’s worth asking: why bother?