The X-Men are a superhero team in the Marvel Comics Universe. They were created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, and first appeared in The X-Men #1 (September 1963). The basic concept of the X-Men is that under a cloud of increasing anti-mutant sentiment, Professor Xavier created a haven at his Westchester mansion to train young mutants to use their powers for the benefit of humanity, and to prove mutants can be heroes. Xavier recruited Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast and Marvel Girl, calling them "X-Men" because they possess special powers due to their possession of the "X-Gene," a gene which normal humans lack and which gives Mutants their abilities. Early on, however, the "X" in X-Men stood for "extra" power which normal humans lacked. It was also alluded to that mutations occurred as a result of radiation exposure.
The first issue also introduced the team's archenemy, Magneto, who would continue to battle the X-Men for decades throughout the comic's history, both on his own and with his Brotherhood of Mutants (introduced in issue #4). The X-Men universe also includes such notable heroes as Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Rogue. Besides the Brotherhood of Mutants, other villains that the X-Men have fought include the Sentinels, Apocalypse, Mister Sinister, the Hellfire Club, and Weapon X.
The X-Men comics have been adapted into other media, including animated television series, video games, and a commercially successful series of films.
Creator Stan Lee devised the series title after Marvel publisher Martin Goodman turned down the initial name, "The Mutants," stating that readers wouldn't know what a "mutant" was. Within the Marvel Universe, the X-Men are widely regarded to have been named after Professor Xavier himself. Xavier however claims that the name "X-Men" was never chosen to be a self-tribute. The name is also linked to the "X Gene," an unknown gene that causes the mutant evolution.
The X-Men exist in the Marvel Universe with other characters portrayed in Marvel Comics series. As such, it is unsurprising that they often meet characters from other series, and the global nature of the mutant concept means the scale of stories can be highly varied.
The X-Men fight everything ranging from mutant thieves to galactic threats. The X-Men base themselves in the Xavier Institute, Westchester County, NY, and are often depicted as a family. The X-Mansion is often depicted with three floors and two underground levels. To the outside world, it had acted as a higher learning institute until the 2000s, when Xavier was publicly exposed as a mutant at which point it became a full mutant boarding school. Xavier funds a corporation aimed at reaching mutants worldwide, though it ceased to exist following the "Decimation."
The X-Men benefit greatly from state-of-the-art technology. For example, Xavier is depicted tracking down mutants with a device called Cerebro which amplifies his powers; the X-Men train within the Danger Room, first depicted as a room full of weapons and booby traps, now as generating holographic simulations; and the X-Men travel in their widely recognized and iconic Blackbird jet.
Reflecting social issues
The conflict between mutants and normal humans is often compared to conflicts experienced by minority groups in America such as African Americans, Jews, Communists, LGBT characters, etc. Also on an individual level, a number of X-Men serve a metaphorical function as their powers illustrate points about the nature of the outsider.
- Racism: Professor X has come to be compared to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Magneto to the more militant Malcolm X. The X-Men’s purpose is sometimes referred to as achieving "Xavier’s dream," perhaps a reference to King’s historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Magneto, in the first film, quotes Malcolm X with the line "By any means necessary." X-Men comic books have often portrayed mutants as victims of mob violence, evoking images of the lynching of African Americans in the age before the American civil rights movement. Sentinels and anti-mutant hate groups such as Friends of Humanity, Humanity's Last Stand, the Church of Humanity and Stryker's Purifiers are thought to often represent oppressive forces like the KKK giving a form to denial of civil rights and amendments. In the 1980s, the comic featured a plot involving the fictional island nation of Genosha, where mutants were segregated and enslaved by an apartheid state. This is widely interpreted as having been a reference to the situation in South Africa at the time.
- Anti-Semitism: Explicitly referenced in recent decades is the comparison between anti-mutant sentiment and anti-Semitism. Magneto, a Holocaust survivor, sees the situation of mutants as similar to those of Jews in Nazi Germany. At one point he even utters the words "never again" in a 1992 episode of the X-Men animated series. The mutant slave labor camps on the island of Genosha, in which numbers were burned into mutant's foreheads, show much in common with Nazi concentration camps, as do the internment camps of the classic "Days of Future Past" storyline. Another notable reference is in the third X-Men film, when asked by Callisto: "If you're so proud of being a mutant, then where's your mark?" Magneto shows his concentration camp tattoo, while mentioning that he will never let another needle touch his skin.
- Diversity: Characters within the X-Men mythos hail from a wide variety of nationalities. These characters also reflect religious, ethnic or sexual minorities. Examples include Shadowcat, Sabra and Magneto who are Jewish, Dust who is a devout Muslim, Nightcrawler who is a devout Catholic, and Neal Shaara/Thunderbird who is Hindu. Storm (Ororo Munroe) represents two aspects of the African diaspora as her father was African American and her mother was Kenyan. Karma was portrayed as a devout Catholic from Vietnam, who regularly attended Mass and confession when she was introduced as a founding member of the New Mutants. This team also included Wolfsbane (a devout Scots Presbyterian), Danielle Moonstar (a Cheyenne Native American) and Cannonball, and was later joined by Magma (a devout Greco-Roman classical religionist). Different nationalities included Wolverine as a Canadian, Colossus from Russia, Banshee from Ireland, Gambit who is a Cajun, the original Thunderbird who was an Apache Native American, Psylocke from the U.K., Armor from Japan, Nightcrawler from Germany, etc.
- LGBT Themes: Another metaphor that has been applied by some to the X-Men is that of LGBT. Comparisons have been made by some between the mutants' situation, including concealment of their powers and the age they realize these powers, and homosexuality. Several scenes in the X-Men films, which included openly gay actor Ian McKellen and two of which were directed by openly gay director Bryan Singer, have been said to illustrate this theme. In the comics series, gay and bisexual characters include Anole, Destiny, Karma, Mystique, Northstar, Graymalkin, Rictor, Shatterstar and the Ultimate version of Colossus. Transgender issues also come up with shapechangers like Mystique who can change gender at will. It has been said that the comic books and the X-Men animated series delved into the AIDS epidemic with a long-running plot line about the Legacy Virus, a seemingly incurable disease thought at first to attack only mutants (similar to the AIDS virus which at first was spread through the gay community). Ironically, while some X-Men had the Legacy Virus, they are incapable of getting AIDS due to their genetic mutation being able to combat the disease.
- Red Scare: Occasionally, undercurrents of the "Red Scare" are present. Senator Robert Kelly's proposal of a Mutant Registration Act is similar to the efforts of United States Congress to try to ban Communism in the United States. In the 2000 X-Men film Kelly exclaims, 'We must know who these mutants are and what they can do,' even brandishing a "list" of known mutants (a reference to Senator Joseph McCarthy's list of Communist Party USA members who were working in the government).
- Religion: Religion is an integral part of several X-Men storylines. It is presented as both a positive and negative force, sometimes in the same story. The comics explore religious fundamentalism through the person of William Stryker and his Purifiers, an anti-mutant group that emerged in the 1982 graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills. The Purifiers believe that mutants are not human beings but children of the devil, and have attempted to exterminate them several times, most recently in the "Childhood's End" storyline. By contrast, religion is also central to the lives of several X-Men, such as Nightcrawler, a devout Catholic, and Dust, a devout Sunni Muslim who observes Islamic Hijab. This recalls the religious roots of social activists like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, as well as their opponents such as the Ku Klux Klan or Nathuram Godse (the Hindu radical who assassinated Gandhi).
- Subculture: In some cases, the mutants of the X-Men universe sought to create a subculture of the typical mutant society portrayed. The X-Men comics first introduced a band of mutants called the Morlocks. This group, though mutants like those attending Xavier's school, sought to hide away from society within the tunnels of New York. These Morlock tunnels served as the backdrop for several X-Men stories, most notably The Mutant Massacre crossover. This band of mutants illustrates another dimension to the comic, that of a group that further needs to isolate itself because society won't accept it. In Grant Morrison’s stories of the early 2000s, mutants are portrayed as a distinct subculture with “mutant bands,” mutant use of code-names as their primary form of self identity (rather than their given birth names), and a popular mutant fashion designer who created outfits tailored to mutant physiology. The series District X takes place in an area of New York City called "Mutant Town." These instances can also serve as analogies for the way that minority groups establish subcultures and neighborhoods of their own that distinguish them from the broader general culture. Director Bryan Singer has remarked that the X-Men franchise has served as a metaphor for acceptance of all people for their special and unique gifts. The mutant condition that is often kept secret from the world can be analogous to feelings of difference and fear usually developed in everyone during adolescence.