A lot of X-Men have stepped up to the plate, but only a few have hit home runs.
The X-Men are many things. Freedom fighters. Revolutionists. Vigilantes. Sometimes, depending on who you ask, they’re terrorists. All of these may, in fact, be true but for all of Professor-X’s intentions what he created in the X-Men was a paramilitary force. The only way a militia group works is with a clear path of command between its leaders and its troops. That’s funny because it’s also the source of much of the drama within the X-Men. There’s a constant tug-of-war between how the team works opposed to how it’s supposed to work. Are they a family? Or a private army? That line blurs constantly, and it takes a special type of person (and a great writer) to make sure the ship stays right. No one’s perfect, and even the most experienced of them eventually get’s a Wolverine poking them in the chest. Today we’ll look at the best leaders amongst the X-Men. I think any die-hard fan will be able to guess who will round out the top 5 on this list. However, I think the most interesting entries on this list are the less obvious ones. So without further ado…
Though he wasn’t the first New Mutant to be recruited onto Professor-X’s second true class of students, despite Dani Moonstars strong personality and bravery, Sam was obviously being groomed to be Cyclops 2.0. As a New Mutant, that never quite happened. Leadership responsibilities would often bounce between himself and Dani without much resistance from either party. Matter of fact, they had so much in common that there was even a bit of admiration/romance between them.
It wasn’t until Cannonball joined the ranks of X-Force did he begin to show real signs that he’d be a strong candidate to lead a team. He quickly began to emulate his commander, Cable, in the way of demeanor and mental fortitude. He went from a good old boy to a capable field leader and overwatch for his team. Cannonball is responsible for keeping X-Force informed and safe even in Cable’s absence during the late ’90s in the Revolution era of the X-Men books. He took that iron with him when he became a full-time X-Man, and later an Avenger.
9. Kitty Pryde
With characters like Storm, Rogue, Havok, Wolverine and several other choices available, how does Kitty Pryde become the defacto leader of the X-Men? I’m still trying to understand that, but I can lay out the journey.
During Joss Whedon’s run of Astonishing X-Men, Kitty was front and center as a faculty lead. However, what really catapulted her into true adulthood was her sacrifice. Using her powers, Kitty phased a giant bullet meant to shatter the planet safely through it. Tragically, she was stuck within the bullet for months, hurling through space orbiting celestial bodies within our system. After being brought back to Earth through Magneto’s efforts, Kitty again rejoined the X-Men, but as the headmistress of the Jean Grey School, Wolverine’s recreation of the Xavier Institute following the Schism split.
In this role, she mentored not just the X-Men student body, but also the original 5 time-displaced X-Men. It wasn’t until she returned after her adventures with Star-Lord and the Guardians did Kitty become a true leader of the X-Men. Storm, seemingly exhausted from leading the X-Men throughout some their darkest times, handed over control to Kitty, which is technically where we are today. After she began calling the shots the X-Men started down a path to reclaim their “hero status.” She also solidified the mansion’s re-established location on earth, specifically, within Central Park. Before it blew up again, anyway. I guess, she’s doing ok?
On other lists, Wolverine may score higher simply due to his level of popularity. But that’s not what cuts it with me. Wolverine was never the best leader, but he has filled the role on one or two occasions, none more famously than during Schism. After he drew a line in the sand between him and Cyclops and split the X-Men in two, he basically took leading his half upon himself. Kind of the headmaster alongside Kitty, he was definitely calling the shots in the field, though he also shared those duties with Rogue.
Wolverine’s leadership ability stood out the most during his stint with X-Force. Before Schism, he ran X-Force less like Cable’s version and more like a black-ops team sanctioned by Cyclops in secret. For the most part, he kept a cold list of killers under control. However, he did manage to allow an adolescent version of Apocalypse to be murdered by his teammate, Fantomex. Then he lost complete control of Archangel and saw him go full dark side and try to end the world. So, he loses points on these.
7. Jamie Madrox
Better known as the Multiple Man, Jamie Madrox found initial fame as a member of X-Factor. At the time, the idea of him becoming a bonafide leader was about as likely as Iceman getting his own team. After surviving a brush with death thanks to the Legacy Virus, combined with journeying to Bishop’s dystopian future and having to deal with several of his dupes transferring lifetimes worth of traumatizing experiences to him, obviously matured the mutant trickster. Enough so that he reestablished X-Factor as X-Factor Investigations. There he led his team literally to hell and back and played pivotal roles in several crossovers that shaped the X-Men into the franchise it is today. He’s not much of a field leader, but his ability to relate to his peers allowed him to keep everyone in check, safe, and for the most part, alive.
If you look at the way Rogue started out, you’d never think that one day the X-Men would come to depend on her. For most of Rogue’s career with the X-Men, she was basically used as cavalry. Not typically part of any first wave of attack, she’d hang back and only engage as part of a plan laid out by either Storm, Cyclops, or even Professor X himself.
It wasn’t until the late ’90s when Xavier had taken a leave of absence and Cyclops had gone missing following his encounter with Apocalypse, was it necessary for Rogue to step up. After being vetted by Wolverine, she took control of roughly half of the X-Men while her on-again-off-again love interest (now husband), Gambit, led the remaining portion. Thankfully, Gambit’s reign was short-lived, but Rogue would go onto lead the X-Men for years to come (see X-Men, X-Treme X-Men, and X-Men Legacy vol. 1&2). While her leadership never hit the heights of more senior members, she was stable, strong, and confident. She’d also go on to lead a couple of Avengers squads. Not X-Men but still kind of impressive.
The baby brother of Scott Summers, Alex had leadership bred into him. Matter of fact, it seems to be part of their DNA. His father was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, and later became the captain of a crew of intergalactic space pirates. Scott, of course, is arguably the greatest X-Men leader of all-time (we’ll talk about that later) and his little brother Vulcan became the emperor of the whole Shi’Ar Empire. That’s a lot to live up to, but Havok has proven himself to be a capable leader over the years.
After leading the government-funded version of X-Factor for years, Havok would also come to take charge of his own true X-Men teams on more than one occasion. His potential was hampered by his need to step out of Cyclops’ shadow, but where Scott would hesitate, Havok would go with his gut and take the initiative. This doesn’t mean he was brash or impulsive, but he’d rarely be plagued by indecision. His ability to lead was also recognized by Captain America. Havok was put in charge of an Avengers team that included heavy hitters like Thor, Wolverine, Wonder Man, and even Cap himself. Not bad.
Nathaniel Dayspring Summers was born to be the leader of great men and women. From the time he debuted as an adult in the pages of New Mutants, Cable was a molder of heroes. Though more often than not detached from his emotions, Cable inspired those around him to strive for more. To be bigger, braver, and stronger than they ever thought possible. That is how he was able to take a bunch of wet behind the ear amateur X-Men, and turn them into a disciplined fighting force the likes of which had never been seen before.
X-Force was his vision and weapon against targets that were just a bit too much for the common X-Men team. With Cable in the lead, they took on Apocalypse, The Mutant Liberation Front, Stryfe, the Dark Riders, and many more lethal foes, all with a surprisingly low mortality rate (seriously, I think the only member he lost was Feral, and that might not have been under his watch). Even the most stubborn of mutants like Domino, Rictor, Boom Boom, Moonstar, and Warpath followed Cable with little to no argument.
If someone accused Storm of being the co-leader of the X-Men, I’d disagree, but understand where they were coming from. From the first time we saw Storm in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men, I think it was obvious where her character would ultimately end up. Thanks to spending most of her young-adult life being worshiped as a goddess, Storm developed a personality that, for a lack of better words, was larger than life. While she wasn’t as big of a pain in Cyclops’ side as Thunderbird or Wolverine, Storm was still a challenge. Not because she was problematic, per se, but her strong sense of morality combined with an iron-like will, led Storm to chase down what she thought was the right thing. She’d also make sure those under her command did the same.
Leadership didn’t come to Storm by chance. She challenged Cyclops for the honor, even without the aide of her powers. Throughout the years Storm would take breaks from leading the X-Men but taking orders from others never quite stuck. The only blemish on her record came during her most recent run when she led the X-Men following Secret Wars. While I can never ignore her contribution to the X-Men, it’s hard to overlook that she made the decision to stash the mansion and its student body in a hell dimension. That’s just bad writing.
2. Professor X
The founder and original guiding light of the X-Men, Professor Charles Francis Xavier personally assembled the X-Men in hopes to prove that mutants and humans can live together in harmony. Fortunately, he’s wasn’t so naive to think that something like that could just be proclaimed without proof. He trained the X-Men to do two things:
- Teach them to control and use their powers so as to not be a danger to those around them.
- Train them to protect those in need.
While he left the field command to his top student, Cyclops, the X-Men, while under Xavier’s direction, was always his vision made flesh.
With Professor-X at the helm the X-Men spread their influence from their corner of the Milky Way to beyond the reaches of even the Shi’Ar Empire. Like any man in his position, Charles is guilty of making mistakes along the way. He’s often found himself outmatched by the gravity of situations. During which times he’d make bad decisions such as… marrying Mystique or abuse his powers to manipulate his pupils as he did to cover up his first failed attempt at recruiting a new team of X-Men after most of the first batch were kidnapped by Krakoa (both of which were horrible retcons). Despite his many shortcomings, Xavier laid the foundation for the X-Men and they are approaching a new zenith because of the beliefs he installed within their spirits.
When Stan Lee created the X-Men in 1963 there was one character that stood out amongst the rest. I don’t mean, like Iceman. I mean how did he even see? No. The one I’m talking about is Cyclops, of course. Since the inception of the X-Men he’s been written as the epitome of what it meant to be a student of Xavier. He was by the book, compassionate, dedicated, and headstrong. Cyclops was naturally gifted with the ability to see into the reality of situations and layout plans of attack or defense that would accomplish the mission and at the same time keep his team safe.
By no means was he a perfect man. He’s lost teammates before, none more notoriously than his first, John “Thunderbird” Proudstar. Unlike when his brother Havok and Polaris joined the team in the years prior, Cyclops found himself in unfamiliar waters. With the additions of Thunderbird, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Wolverine, and Storm, Cyclops had to adjust to new a team, all with vastly different views and experiences.
Losing Thunderbird forced Cyclops to adjust his leadership style in ways that would go onto serving the X-Men better in the future. Even years later when he returned to lead the X-Men following the “rebirth” of Jean, Cyclops’ leadership was put to the test. Not just in the way of having to share the role with Storm, but having to cope with a new world of dangers and challenges.
His leadership was further tested after the events of House of M. The mutant race was left decimated, Professor-X deemed untrustworthy, and the dream he’d literally sacrificed his life for was circling the drain. Cyclops again readjusted his M.O. and took on an even more stern approach to leading the X-Men. Whether the steps he took were popular, or even right, Cyclops ultimately succeeded in making sure the X-Men and the mutant race survived tragedy after tragedy. In the end, it may have been his faults that made him a better leader and follower of Xavier.
What do you guys think? Who’s the best X-Men leader of all time? Let us know below!