X-Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants’ evolution

Sept. 04, 2013 | 12:00 p.m.
xmen collage b X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

The X-Men are celebrating their 50th anniversary. Click through the gallery for a look at 50 memorable moments in the Marvel mutants' evolution. (Gallery by Blake Hennon. Images above by Fox; Marvel; 20th Century Fox)

1 1963 xmen1 X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

1. “X-Men” No. 1 (1963) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduce “The Strangest Heroes of All” -- and their archnemesis, Magneto. The first mutant power readers saw? Professor Charles Xavier telepathically calling his teenage students to class. They were: the optic-blasting Cyclops (Scott Summers, introduced here as “Slim”); superstrong and agile Beast (Hank McCoy); frost-wielding Iceman (Bobby Drake); flying Angel (Warren Worthington III); and, a few pages later, the telekinetic Jean Grey, a new arrival the professor declares will be called Marvel Girl (it wouldn’t stick). The “X” in X-Men is for “Ex-tra power,” Xavier says (that too would change). Before the Magneto threat arises, Jean must first deal with the attentions of her new classmates. Their first mission finds them fighting the master of magnetism off a military base – and when they succeed, a general exclaims “Uncanny!” No one could have guessed how rich and complex these heroes’ and this villain’s relationships would become. (Jack Kirby / Marvel)

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2. “X-Men” No. 4 (1964) Magneto is back – and this time he’s brought company, the non-too-subtly dubbed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. His team includes the leaping Toad; telepathic illusionist Mastermind; and a pair of siblings: the super-speedster Quicksilver (Pietro Maximoff) and the hex-powered Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff). The X-Men defeat them, and Quicksilver shows he’s not all bad (he and his sister would soon go heroic and join the Avengers). So much in mutant history has its beginnings here: Magneto would be revealed to be Pietro and Wanda’s father; the Scarlet Witch’s power would be taken to terrifying extremes; Toad would become a janitor. But for now, there’s a one-year anniversary class party at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, and Cyclops cuts Marvel Girl a piece of cake using his optic blast. Aww. (Jack Kirby / Marvel)

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3. “X-Men” No. 10 (1965) A news report of a saber-toothed tiger and a primitive man spotted in Antarctica leads to the team’s discovery of the Savage Land, a prehistoric jungle hidden in the ice (“Boy!” Iceman says before the trip, “The South Pole is one place I’ll feel right at home!”). It’s since been the setting for many stories starring the X-Men and other Marvel characters, including a recent eventful field trip in “Wolverine and the X-Men.” (Jack Kirby / Marvel, left; Ramon Perez / Marvel, right)

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4. “X-Men” No. 14 (1965) Dr. Bolivar Trask declares that the greatest menace to humanity is not “cold wars, hot wars, atom bombs and the like,” but mutants. His solution? Sentinels, robots designed to defeat them. So begins four issues (and now decades) of conflict between X-Men and mechanical giants. This is the last Stan Lee and Jack Kirby story on this list – each would leave the series before it reached No. 20. (Jack Kirby / Marvel)

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5. “The Marvel Super-Heroes” (Nov. 25, 1966) The X-Men make their television debut, albeit under the name Allies for Peace, in a Namor the Sub-Mariner cartoon adventure. It would be a quarter-century before they got their own show. (Grantray-Lawrence Animation / Marvel)

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6. “X-Men” No. 42 (1968) Professor X dies in conflict with Grotesk the Sub-Human but saves the world in this story from writer Roy Thomas and artist Don Heck. This first major death in the mutant franchise lasted about two years, until No. 65, when a story from writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams has Cyclops’ brother Havok (Alex Summers) reveal a still-living Charles Xavier. The professor says he was secreted away planning a counter to an alien invasion, and his collaborator Changeling, who’d taken his form, was the one who died. (Where was he hiding? Oh, in a subbasement of the mansion.) (John Buscema / Marvel)

7 1970 xmen66 X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

7. “X-Men” No. 66 (1970) This story by writer Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema was the last original X-Men adventure in the series, which had never been a significant sales success, before years of issues reprinting past tales (though X-characters did appear sporadically in other Marvel titles in 1971-1974). Professor X, drained from using his mental powers to stop the Z’nox invasion in No. 65, is restored from his comatose state on the final page (after the X-Men have battled the Hulk during an interruption of their bedside vigil). (Sal Buscema / Marvel)

8 1975 giantxmen1 X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

8. “Giant-Size X-Men” No. 1 (1975) Professor X recruits new members in this deluxe issue by writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum that restarted and reinvigorated X-Men comics. Some are all-new characters – the blue-skinned teleporter Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner, from Germany), weather-controlling Storm (Ororo, from Kenya), metallic-skin-transforming Colossus (Peter Rasputin, from Russia) and superhumanly athletic Thunderbird (John Proudstar, from an Apache reservation). Others had previously appeared in Marvel Comics – the clawed Wolverine (Logan, from Canada), plasma-blasting Sunfire (Shiro Yoshida, from Japan) and screaming Banshee (Sean Cassidy, from Ireland). Cyclops leads them to rescue his teammates Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel, Havok and Polaris (Lorna Dane) from Krakoa, the living island. Angel asks, “What are we going to do with 13 X-Men?” Oh, Angel – only 13? Just you wait. (Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum / Marvel)

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9. “X-Men” No. 94 & 95 (1975) The Chris Claremont era begins in these Dave Cockrum-illustrated issues that immediately followed “Giant-Size” No. 1. He scripted these two from Len Wein’s plot before taking over full writing duties in No. 96, and didn’t pause for 17 years. Team lineup upheaval continues: Sunfire splits, as do original members Jean Grey (who kisses Scott and exchanges “I love you’s” on her way out), Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington, plus Alex Summers and Lorna Dane. As the new team starts to come together, it loses one of its own – Thunderbird dies in battle in No. 95. (Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum / Marvel)

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10. “X-Men” No. 101 (1976) Jean Grey emerges as the Phoenix. But let’s back up a second. Yes, Jean left in No. 95 – that’s how Len Wein plotted it. But Chris Claremont, who has written that he’d been “smitten” with the character since 1969, was determined to bring her back. She was there in No. 97, and in 100 had sacrificed herself, piloting a space shuttle through a solar storm, to save the others. In this issue, after the shuttle crash-lands into water, Jean rises (in a new costume) and declares, “No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever – I am Phoenix!” before collapsing. What her words meant would turn out to be shocking. (Dave Cockrum / Marvel)

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11. “X-Men” No. 107 (1977) Transported off Earth in a flash, the X-Men meet (and almost immediately fight) the Imperial Guard of the Shi’ar Empire. They also meet (and get help from) the Starjammers, whose American-accented leader, Corsair (just below the “E” of the logo on this cover), is Cyclops’ and Havok’s long-missing father, as Jean Grey learns from a mindscan (though she doesn’t reveal it until No. 108). Claremont and Cockrum had been building up to the X-Men-Shi’ar encounter, giving Professor X dreams of an alien princess, Lilandra (or, as the prof himself had put it upon meeting her in No. 105, “the figure from my nightmares!” – some way to talk about your future wife). The Shi’ar and Starjammers have figured into many X-stories since. (Dave Cockrum / Marvel)

12 1980 xmen137 X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

12. “X-Men” No. 137 (1980) “The Dark Phoenix Saga” from writer Chris Claremont and co-plotter / artist John Byrne reaches its climax. The Phoenix that Jean Grey emerged as back in No. 101 is now responsible for 5 billion deaths in a distant star system, and the Shi’ar have decided she must be destroyed. The X-Men fight to save her, but in the end Jean sacrifices herself. “Jean Grey could have lived to become a god,” the Watcher says. “But it was more important to her that she die … a human.” The classic story line also introduced the Hellfire Club . Cyclops subsequently leaves the team, and Storm becomes its first female leader. (John Byrne / Marvel)

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13. “The Uncanny X-Men” No. 141-142 (1981) Readers knew something was up when they saw “Kate Pryde” instead of “Kitty Pryde.” The phasing-through-solid-matter 13-year-old mutant girl they knew was now older, with a face that had lived through things, walking past the graves of Charles Xavier and many more. It’s 2013, and the Mutant Control Act and Sentinels have led to millions of mutant deaths. Conspiring with fellow survivors, Kate is sent back to 1980 – and into her teenage self – to prevent this future. The two-part “Days of Future Past” from the legendary team of Claremont and Byrne is enduringly popular. (Note: “The Uncanny,” which had sometimes appeared over “X-Men” on the cover, sticks from No. 139 forward, and the series’ previous issues have been retroactively called “The Uncanny X-Men.”) (John Byrne / Marvel)

14 1981 spidermanandhisamazingfriends X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

14. “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” (1981) Ice Man becomes the first recurring X-Man on TV as a series regular, as he and college pals / housemates Spidey and Firestar fight crime in the NBC series. Additional X-Men also appear in some episodes. (Marvel)

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15. X-Men vs. the Brood (1982 onward) Shi’ar leader Lilandra’s evil sister Deathbird tells the hideous, bug-looking, fanged, stinging Brood that the X-Men would be good hosts for their eggs. The X-Men forcefully disagree. First appearing in “Uncanny X-Men” No. 155, the alien creatures are seen above left in Paul Smith’s cover for No. 166. Marc Silvestri’s cover for No. 234 shows a Brood-infected Wolverine (his healing factor prevails). Logan later has a Broodling, the studious, well-mannered, glasses-wearing Broo, as a pupil at the Jean Grey School. (Marvel)

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16. “Wolverine” (1982) “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice,” Logan narrates as this limited series by Chris Claremont and artist Frank Miller begins. If he wasn’t a breakout star already, this adventure in Japan (which inspired the 2013 film “The Wolverine”) sealed the deal. Since, in addition to seemingly countless team book appearances, Wolverine has starred in more than 300 issues of his solo comic series. Miller, who’d already made an impression on “Daredevil,” went on to write the classic Batman stories “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One” and create “Sin City” and “300,” both of which were adapted into films. (Frank Miller / Marvel)

17 1982 xmengodlovesmankills X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

17. “X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills” (1982) It begins with two children murdered on a playground, their corpses labeled “MUTIES.” Magneto, who discovers their bodies, later laments, “Once more, genocide in the name of God. A story as old as the race.” The man trying to rid the world of mutants is the Rev. William Stryker, who believes they are creations of the devil. The original graphic novel by Chris Claremont and artist Brent Anderson (“Astro City”) finds Magneto joining forces with the X-Men after Stryker abducts Professor X, Cyclops and Storm. Cyclops’ greatest power here turns out to be public speaking. Elements from this acclaimed contemplative adventure story were used for the 2003 film “X2: X-Men United,” and Claremont wrote a follow-up that year in an arc of “X-treme X-Men.”

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18. “The New Mutants” No. 1 (1983) The Xavier School gets some new students as Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod introduce the first of many, many, many X-Men spinoff titles. The class, which first appeared in the “New Mutants” original graphic novel in 1982, includes Psyche (Danielle Moonstar), left, Cannonball (Sam Guthrie), Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair), Sunspot (Roberto da Costa) and Karma (Xi’an Coy Manh). (Later, when Kitty Pryde is reassigned from the X-Men to the New Mutants, she shouts the classic line, “Professor Xavier is a jerk!”) The second X-spinoff, “Alpha Flight,” started later in 1983, with the decade also bringing along “X-Factor,” “Excalibur” and “Wolverine.” (Bob McLeod / Marvel)

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19. “Uncanny X-Men” No. 172 & 173 (1983) In the two-part “To Have and Have Not,” Wolverine is to wed Mariko Yashida. You might guess from the blade in the invitation through Logan’s heart on Paul Smith’s cover for No. 172 that things don’t go well. There’s trouble from Viper and Silver Samurai, and Mariko calls off the wedding as it’s about to begin. Poor Logan. Also, the team meets Cyclops’ new girlfriend, Madelyne Pryor, a dead ringer for Jean Grey. (Talk about a complicated relationship: That pair gets married soon after, in No. 175; he’s away when she gives birth to their son, Nathan; Scott abandons them when Jean reemerges; Madelyne is revealed to be a Mr. Sinister-created clone of Jean and becomes Goblin Queen …) (Marvel)

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20. “The New Mutants” No. 35 (1986) The new headmaster of the Xavier School is … Magneto?! The same Magneto who had just stood trial for crimes against humanity?! Yes, the same. An ailing Charles Xavier, who left Earth with Lilandra and Corsair, had asked his old friend/foe to take over, which he does in this issue by Claremont and artist Mary Wilshire. The X-Men’s oldest adversary holds on to the gig for about 40 issues. (Mary Wilshire and Bill Sienkiewicz / Marvel)

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21. “Fantastic Four” No. 286 and “X-Factor” No. 1 (1986) Members of the Fantastic Four and Avengers find that the person in a metal cylinder found under water is Jean Grey. In the John Byrne-written and -drawn “FF” issue, Jean remembers that when she was piloting that space shuttle back in “X-Men No. 100,” she let the Phoenix take her identity to save her friends. So that wasn’t her whom readers saw die more than five years ago (mere months in the Marvel universe). In “X-Factor” No. 1, by Bob Layton and Jackson Guice, Jean and the other four original X-Men reform under a new name. The series, soon under Louise and Walter Simonson, introduces the major villain Apocalypse. (John Byrne / Marvel, left; Walter Simonson / Marvel, right)

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22. “Mutant Massacre” (1986) It’s the dawn of the mega X-crossover era as this 12-issue story spans six series, even pulling in “Thor” and “Daredevil.” The Marauders, including Sabretooth, who becomes a regular Wolverine antagonist, are slaughtering the subterranean mutants known as Morlocks. The X-Men, X-Factor, Power Pack and Thor all come to the Morlocks’ aid. Angel’s wings are so badly damaged in battle that they must be amputated. Sabretooth mentions the name of the Marauders’ shadowy leader, Mr. Sinister. He would make his first full appearance later and play a major role in the 1989 crossover “Inferno.” Creators included Chris Claremont, Louise and Walter Simonson, John Romita Jr., Ann Nocenti and Sal Buscema. (Terry Dodson / Marvel)

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23. “The Fall of the Mutants” (1988) It's the crossover that doesn’t exactly cross over. Under the “Fall” banner, the X-Men, who are defying the Mutant Registration Act, combat government operatives led by Mystique, and later, with Forge’s help, a demon, and all die before being quickly revived by a goddess; X-Factor battles Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen, who include their former teammate Angel, remade as Archangel; the New Mutants fight back against the anti-mutant group the Right, and Cypher is killed. (Marvel)

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24. “X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men” (1989) This pilot is the first attempt at an X-Men animated series, but the right formula wouldn’t be found until a few years later (and that formula does not include an Australian accent for Wolverine). “Pryde” aired in a syndicated Marvel animation block and got a home video release. The team seen here – Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Dazzler and Nightcrawler – would also be the one in the 1992 arcade game, which also had a plot involving Kitty Pryde. (Marvel Productions / Best Film & Video Corp.)

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25. “The New Mutants” No. 87 (1990) Cable is out to take down the terrorist Mutant Liberation Front and its leader, Stryfe (later the villain of the “X-cutioner’s Song” crossover). This issue by Louise Simonson and Rob Liefeld marks the first full appearance of one of the 1990s’ most popular comic characters. He would become the leader of New Mutants, soon renamed X-Force in a new Liefeld-written and -drawn series, and later be revealed as Scott Summers’ son Nathan, who had been taken to the future. (Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane / Marvel)

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26. “X-Men” No. 1 (1991) The pitch to readers (and speculators) was a doozy: a new “X-Men” No. 1 by iconic X-writer Chris Claremont and co-writer/ hot young artist Jim Lee, with five different covers. The Guinness Book of World Records indicates the pitch worked, as this issue is listed as the bestselling comic ever, with more than 8 million copies. The X-Men split into Blue and Gold teams, and take on Magneto. Claremont would be gone after No. 3, ending a remarkable 17-year run on X-books in which he turned an also-ran title into a franchise-spawning bestseller. (It would be years before he returned to mutantdom, most notably on “X-treme X-Men” from 2001-2004.) Lee would leave several issues later to co-found Image Comics (he’s now co-publisher at DC). (Jim Lee / Marvel)

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27. Toy Biz Series 1 of X-Men action figures (1991) The franchise’s first toy line launches with Nightcrawler, left, Storm and Juggernaut, plus Wolverine, Cyclops, Archangel, Colossus, Magneto and Apocalypse. It was the first of many waves featuring characters great and obscure (Kylun?!!). (Courtesy Kyle Happ / MarvelToys.net)

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28. “X-Men” arcade game by Konami (1992) This was not the first X-Men video game – there were a few home console and computer releases before, but this was undoubtedly the biggest. There were six playable X-Men characters (Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Dazzler and Nightcrawler), and as many as six people could play simultaneously in the fight against Magneto, who attracted a lot of quarters. An IGN review of a 2010 re-creation for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade noted it was “ludicrously mindless” but “simply a blast to play with friends.” A slew of X-games for various formats have followed. There’s a pinball machine too. ( The International Arcade Museum )

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29. “X-Men” animated series (1992-1997) That’s not mall security, Jubilee, that’s a Sentinel. Luckily, Storm, Rogue and Gambit are there to save her in the first episode. Fun from the opening credits, this hit show ran for 76 episodes, all of which are available for streaming at Marvel.com. It showed the breadth and depth of the X-comics, featuring a vast array of guest characters and adapting stories including the Phoenix saga and “Days of Future Past.” (Fox)

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30. “X-Men” No. 25 (1993) Among the dizzying number of 1990s X-crossovers, often dizzying within themselves, perhaps no single moment stands out more than Magneto ripping the adamantium from Wolverine’s body in this issue by Fabian Nicieza and artist Andy Kubert, Part 4 of “Fatal Attractions.” Logan doesn’t scream, but Jean does. In retaliation, Professor X takes out Magneto’s mind, leaving him comatose. Wolverine would rock bone claws in the comics for several years afterward before adamantium was written back into him (and Magneto would be restored too). (Andy Kubert / Marvel)

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31. “X-Men” No. 30 (1994) Writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Andy Kubert cordially invite you to the nuptials of Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Jean has her mother and sort-of daughter with her (Rachel is the child of a Jean and Scott from an alternate reality). Scott has his brother Alex and original teammates Bobby, Hank and Warren with him. No supervillains attack the ceremony. Storm warms up the winter’s day for an ideal outdoor wedding. At the reception, Jean telekinetically lifts Xavier from his chair for a dance. (Andy Kubert and Matthew Ryan / Marvel)

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32. “The Age of Apocalypse” (1995) What would the world be like if Charles Xavier died before founding the X-Men? Bad. Very bad. When Xavier’s mentally ill son, Legion, travels decades into the past to kill Magneto, Charles instead dies saving his then-friend. Apocalypse then conquers much of the world. This popular crossover event encompassed eight miniseries that temporarily replaced the regular X-titles, plus two special issues, featured radically reconfigured teams in its alternate reality and involved talents including Scott Lobdell, Andy Kubert, Mark Waid, Adam Kubert, Warren Ellis, Chris Bachalo, Jeph Loeb and Steve Epting. (Marvel)

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33. “Generation X” (Feb. 20, 1996) This obscure TV movie marks the first live-action production out of the X-franchise. The teen-mutant-focused story, based somewhat on the Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo comic series of the same title, aired on Fox, then home to both “Beverly Hills 90210” and “The X-Files.” The cast included Finola Hughes (a Daytime Emmy winner for “General Hospital”), back right, as school co-leader Emma Frost and Matt Frewer (“Max Headroom”), back left, as the villain. (Alan Zenuk / Fox)

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34. “X-Men” (July 14, 2000) Director Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects,” “Apt Pupil”) brings the team to the big screen and a level of box-office success that jump-starts superhero cinema and launches a still-going film franchise. Professor X (Patrick Stewart, front) leads new recruit Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, back left) and a team that includes Cyclops (James Marsden), Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) against Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his allies in a plot that involves a Mutant Registration Act and a mutation-causing device. What’s cooler – the battle at the Statue of Liberty or that closing chess match between old friends Xavier and Magneto? (Attila Dory / 20th Century Fox)

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35. “Ultimate X-Men No. 1” (2001) Mutantkind gets its Ultimate universe makeover courtesy of writer Mark Millar and the Kubert brothers. Wolverine sports a ponytail and a no-stache goatee. Beast wonders what kind of principal designs black latex uniforms for teenage students. Jean and Storm show a lot of midriff. Later writers on the series include Brian Michael Bendis, Brian K. Vaughan and Robert Kirkman. (Adam Kubert / Marvel)

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36. “New X-Men” No. 114 (2001) Writer Grant Morrison (“Animal Man,” “The Invisibles,” “JLA”) arrives, with artist Frank Quitely (“Flex Mentallo”), arrives, and things immediately get weird. “Forget your dental practice,” new villain Cassandra Nova tells the nervous, frightened nephew of Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask. “Your future lies in genocide.” The opening story arc, “E Is for Extinction,” has Nova turning Sentinels on Genosha and killing 16 million mutants. Morrison’s bestselling run, ending with No. 154, would also feature art by Ethan Van Sciver, Marc Silvestri and more, and introduced new student characters including psionic troublemaker Quentin Quire, creepy young Emma Frost clones the Stepford Cuckoos and Glob Herman. (Frank Quitely / Marvel)

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37. “X-Force” No. 116 (2001) If you had an awesome mutant power, wouldn’t you want to be famous? Writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred introduce a paradigm-defying new X-Force team, one made for media attention. After No. 129, the spotlight-loving gang moves to a different series and gets a new name with “X-Statix” No. 1 (which begins with a bitter X-Force fan complaining about this new team). The subversive series with a higher-than-usual death rate also attracted contributions from Eisner Award-winning artists Darwyn Cooke and Paul Pope. Never a top seller, “X-Statix” doesn’t make it past No. 26. (Mike Allred / Marvel)

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38. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) Col. William Stryker (adapted from the reverend of 1982’s graphic novel “X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills”) wants to use Professor X and Cerebro to commit mutant genocide. To stop him, the likes of Magneto (Ian McKellen, left) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) join forces with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry) in director Bryan Singer’s second X-Men film, a box office and critical success. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) sacrifices herself and, in a closing tease that excited fans, a Phoenix shape appears over the lake where she died. Times film critic Kenneth Turan called Stryker actor Brian Cox the film’s “secret weapon” and wrote that the movie’s “concerns seem to be uncannily relevant today.” (Kerry Hayes / 20th Century Fox)

39 2004 newxmen150 X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

39. “New X-Men” No. 150 (2004) Remember how in 1986 (or, well, earlier in this gallery) it was revealed that the Phoenix was actually separate from Jean Grey and she didn’t actually die and so was revived in comics after a six-year absence? This time, under Grant Morrison and artist Phil Jimenez, she really has the Phoenix force, and she’s really dying. “Live, Scott,” she tells Cyclops as she draws her last breaths in his arms. “All I ever did was die on you.” (She was temporarily revived by the Phoenix in 2005’s “X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong” miniseries, but as of now is dead. Unless you count the time-traveled teenage Jean Grey in “All-New X-Men” …) (Phil Jimenez / Marvel)

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40. “Astonishing X-Men” No. 1 (2004) Writer Joss Whedon, at this point a genre hero for cult favorite TV shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” begins a bestselling, acclaimed 24-issue run with artist John Cassaday (“Planetary”). It would net an Eisner Award for continuing series in 2006 (the first and to date only such win for an X-title), and Cassaday would win the artist/penciler/inker prize for his work on it and other titles in 2005 and 2006. Whedon’s trademark team dynamics are in full effect. Colossus comes back from the dead. The Danger Room is sentient, mutating and angry. What more do you want? Later, “Astonishing’s” humble scribe takes another marquee Marvel superteam, the Avengers, to a billion-dollar box-office bonanza. (John Cassaday / Marvel)

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41. “X-Factor” No. 1 (2005) Following a “Madrox” miniseries, Eisner Award-winning writer Peter David (“The Incredible Hulk,” “Star Trek” comics and novels) relaunches the title with a noir spin, following Jamie Madrox, formerly known as Multiple Man, and his X-Factor Investigations crew. David’s eight-year run ends today with No. 262 (don’t ask about the numbering). He also had a run on an “X-Factor” title in the 1990s. The series, which has featured a romantic relationship between male characters Rictor and Shatterstar won a GLAAD Media Award in 2011. (Ryan Sook / Marvel)

42 2005 houseofm7 X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

42. “House of M” (2005) Just how powerful is the Scarlet Witch? Emma Frost explains: “One blink and she could erase us from existence and not even know she did it.” In the “House of M” limited series, written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Olivier Coipel, a mentally distressed Wanda Maximoff has altered reality: Now mutants rule over oppressed humans. Avengers and X-Men eventually remember how the world should be and move to stop her. With three words – “No more mutants” – she returns the world much to its previous state, but there are some changes. Chief among the ramifications: Millions of mutants have lost their powers; only a few hundred are unchanged. (Esad Ribic / Marvel)

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43. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) Brett Ratner takes over the director’s chair and delivers the film franchise’s most financially successful outing, to mixed critical reaction. A “cure” for the X-gene leads to rifts, and the story includes a version of the Dark Phoenix, with Jean returning to life only to have to be killed again. Above, Storm (Halle Berry) leads Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) into conflict. (Diyah Pera / 20th Century Fox)

44 2011 wolverine anime X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

44. “Wolverine” and “X-Men” anime series (2011) “Wolverine” and “X-Men” are each re-imagined for a Japanese audience in 12-episode series for Animax, with English versions shown on G4, under the guidance of visionary writer Warren Ellis (“Transmetropolitan,” “The Authority”). The Wolverine character, of course, has a history with Japan, and Mariko Yashida figures into his solo series. The X-Men take on the mutant-part-harvesting U-Men in theirs (which also features Wolverine). (Madhouse / Marvel Entertainment)

45 2011 xmenfirstclass X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

45. “X-Men: First Class” (2011) The first X-Men team film since “The Last Stand” is set in the early 1960s and finds Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones, left), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), government agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Havok (Lucas Till) coming together to take on the Hellfire Club. Director Matthew Vaughn’s film proved a hit with moviegoers, though not with Times critic Betsy Sharkey, and showed how Professor X and Magneto went from friends to foes (and how Charles became paralyzed). (20th Century Fox)

46 2012 astonishingxmen51northstarwedding X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

46. “Astonishing X-Men” No. 51 (2012) Astonishing, indeed – here is the first same-sex wedding in mainstream superhero comics. Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier) marries his partner, Kyle Jinadu, with Beast as officiant. After the “I do’s,” they kiss while floating in the air. Written by Marjorie Liu, with art by Mike Perkins. (Dustin Weaver / Marvel)

47 2012 avx 11 X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

47. “Avengers vs. X-Men” No. 11 (2012) Possessed by the Phoenix force, Cyclops kills Professor X, who has allied with the Avengers to try and stop him, in this issue by Brian Michael Bendis and artist Olivier Coipel. “I finally put the world the way it’s supposed to be,” the former student tells his mentor shortly before the climactic confrontation. “I did it. Me. And it kills you.” Cyclops no longer has the Phoenix power (and, in fact, his regular ability has been erratic), but he has started a rival school to Wolverine’s (which is named after Jean Grey) – and named it after Xavier (who has, so far, remained dead). (Jim Cheung / Marvel)

48 2013 xmen1 and variant X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

48. “X-Men” No. 1 (2013) The third “X-Men” No. 1 on this list introduced the franchise’s first all-female team: Storm, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Rachel Grey, Psylocke and Jubilee. The ongoing title from writer Brian Wood (“The Massive,” “DMZ,” “Star Wars”) and artist Olivier Coipel (“House of M,” “Thor”) launched with a first issue boasting the Coipel cover on the left and variants including the “no boys” one by Skottie Young (“Oz” adaptations) on the right. (Marvel)

49 2013 x men battleoftheatom 1 cover X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

49. “X-Men Battle of the Atom” (Sept. 4, 2013) Billed as an event 50 years in the making, this 10-part crossover involves X-Men of the future coming to the present to order the original teenage team – recently brought from the past to a future worse than they ever imagined – to return to the past. And, well, have you ever tried to tell a superpowered teenager what to do? It starts today with a special No. 1 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Frank Cho before running through “All-New X-Men,” “X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men” and “Wolverine & the X-Men” this month and next before wrapping up in “Battle of the Atom” No. 2 on Oct. 30, with a creative crew that also has writers Jason Aaron and Brian Wood and artists including David Lopez. (Arthur Adams / Marvel)

50 2014 x men days of future past movie X Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants evolution

50. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (May 23, 2014) OK, this hasn’t happened yet (though principal photography has wrapped). But what’s a little time travel when it comes to the X-Men? Director Bryan Singer is back. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are back. So are Hugh Jackman (for his seventh adventure as Wolverine), Halle Berry and Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde. The “First Class” kids return for a sophomore effort. Peter Dinklage is in. And it’s based on one of the best stories in mutant history/future. Unlike the future in the story, this is a day to look forward to. (Trask-industries.com / 20th Century Fox)

A correction has been added to this post. See below for details.

The X-Men’s 50th anniversary arrives in the inimitable style of Marvel’s uncanny mutants, with a comics crossover event, “Battle of the Atom,” that involves team members from past, present and future.

As “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” No. 1 lands today, Hero Complex takes a look back at the first 50 years of the mutant franchise’s evolution, with 50 images and detailed captions (which you can turn on and off) in the gallery above. There are major moments here across multiple media — classic story lines, key introductions, hit movies — but also a few notable false starts.

It’s a journey that begins with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “X-Men” No. 1, dated September 1963, and follows the “Strangest Super-Heroes of All” from their important but low-selling early years to effective cancellation in 1970 to mid-’70s revival to ’80s expansion to ’90s mega-sales and merchandising to 21st century blockbuster films and the X-comics’ current creative renaissance in the Marvel Now initiative.

What a vibrant species Homo superior has turned out to be: There have been more than 2,500 X-comic issues, six feature films (including this summer’s “The Wolverine,” with another coming in next year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past”), several animated series, dozens of video games, phalanxes of action figures and, yes, even a breakfast cereal (with caramel toffee flavor!). (So not everything or everyone made the list — apologies to the Bishop faithful and others.)

The stories have been complex, to say the least. Just look at the number of characters who have seemingly died in the comics only to reappear. They include — but are certainly not limited to — Jean Grey, Professor X, Colossus, Apocalypse, Angel/Archangel, Cyclops, Magneto and, soon, Nightcrawler.

Fantastical powers, time travel, alternative realities, clones, aliens and more have figured into the adventures, but so have romantic rivalries, family drama and politics.

All that has sprung from the X-gene comes back to one thing: People can relate. Mutants undergo a transformation they don’t control and have been misunderstood and often persecuted for it. What teenager hasn’t felt the same?

The X-gene is seen across genders and ethnic groups and sexual orientations, and the X-teams have been among the most diverse casts in comics and other media.

It all started simply enough 50 years ago with five teenagers and their bald, wheelchair-using, telepathic mentor.

As Stan Lee’s writing exclaimed, “Never, within the memory of man, was there a ‘class’ such as this! Never was there a ‘teacher’ such as Professor X! And never were there ‘students’ such as … the X-Men!”

[For the record, 11:05 a.m. Sept. 6: A previous version of this post misidentified a character in a photograph of “X-Men: The Last Stand” as Rogue, played by Anna Paquin. The character is Kitty Pryde, played by Ellen Page.]

— Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex


A variant cover for "X-Men" No. 6, out in October.  (Marvel)

Comic-Con: X-Men enter “Battle of the Atom”; Nightcrawler returns

Comic-Con: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” cast greets Hall H

PERSPECTIVE: Chris Claremont’s X-Men tales set an uncanny agenda

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” director Bryan Singer tweets pictures from production

“The Wolverine”: Hugh Jackman on the “eternally surprising” Logan [Video interview]

“X-Men”: An uncanny action figure tribute to the animated series


4 Responses to X-Men 50th anniversary: 50 images from the Marvel mutants’ evolution

  1. daveswb says:

    Speaking of art from Marvel, I just did a podcast with Jeff Suter Sr. Art Director at Marvel and he had some cool stuff to say about going ons at Marvel. Check out the podcast here: http://superherospeak.com/wp/20-jeff-suter/

  2. Detailguy says:

    Slide 43 incorrectly labels Kitty Pryde as Rogue. In the movie, Rogue had gone to get her powers removed during this scene on Alcatraz.

    • blakehennon says:

      Thanks for spotting the error! Kitty Pryde / Ellen Page is now correctly labeled in the photo caption, and a correction has been added to the post detailing the change.

    • blakehennon says:

      Thanks for flagging the error. It has been corrected in the photo caption, and a correction detailing the change has been added to the post.

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