There are many questions surrounding Disney’s now near-total monopoly of the pop culture business since their purchase of Fox last year. But we’re here to talk about one of the least worrisome: What will Marvel Studios do with the strangest superheroes of all, the X-Men?
Ever since Len Wein, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum revitalized the moribund property in 1975 — a rare case of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby lightning not striking a decade before — the X-Men have been emblematic of the House of Ideas’ approach to superhero stories. The ragtag team fought each other just as much as they fought bad guys. They anguished both about saving the world and their romantic entanglements. Spinoff series and dangling story threads wove in and out of each other for decades, creating probably the tightest Gordian Knot in the tangled web of superhero comics continuity.
With the Merry Band O’ Mutants set to roar into the MCU at some point, the question remains simple. Just how can they do it? Given Marvel Studios’ history of synthesizing decades of comics — and that they’ll probably want to distinguish their franchise from the Fox series, we have some ideas.
The Brood Saga
The X-Men go to space a lot, and not just when one of their founding members is possessed by a flaming bird of cosmic energy. And in The Brood Saga, Claremont and Cockrum introduced the titular aliens to the cosmic Marvel pantheon.
A toned-down but no less terrifying riff on the Xenomorph, these creepy bug monsters plant an egg in any lifeform they find, which then grows to gain control of the host, all the while feeding info to its queen through a shared hivemind. The “Brood Saga” saw Cyclops, Wolverine and the rest fight the monsters on their horrifying home planet, “Sleazeworld,” while Storm became friends with a space whale, Carol Danvers was experimented on to become the all-powerful Binary, and Kitty Pryde met her dragon pal, Lockheed.
How it could work in the MCU: It’s not too hard to imagine the Guardians of the Galaxy coming across the Brood on Sleazeworld or elsewhere — especially given that both GOTG movies make homages to the Alien franchise in minor aspects. It’s not hard to imagine Captain Marvel (who probably won’t be captured by bug monsters) recruiting Star-Lord and co., which now includes Thor, to go bug-huntin’ and find the X-Men there already as captives/hosts. You telling me you don’t wanna see Rocket Racoon and Wolverine mess up some aliens? Don’t lie to me.
House of M
The short version of this 2005 Brian Michael Bendis/Olivier Coipel event is that a mentally unbalanced Scarlet Witch rewrote reality to make mutants the dominant species of life on Earth. Every superhero got what they always wanted: Spider-Man was married to Gwen Stacy while basically being John Cena; Emma Frost was a psychic therapist married to Cyclops in Connecticut; Carol Danvers was the most beloved superhero alive.
The only one who knew something was up was Wolverine — because having his mind messed with is basically his whole deal. With the help of Layla Miller, a young mutant who could force others to remember the real world, Logan brought the rest of the heroes back and set the world aright. Except for the part where Scarlet Witch decimated the mutant population from millions to hundreds.
How it could work in the MCU: While it’s never really been clearly explained how Scarlet Witch’s powers work in the films, we saw her invade Iron Man’s mind and haunt him with his imagined failures in Age of Ultron. Who’s to say that, given proper amplification and pushed just far enough, she couldn’t do the same thing to the entire planet? And, in an inverse twist, what if, instead of reducing the number of mutants, there were now millions if not billions when things went back to normal?
X-Men: Deadly Genesis was the first big post-House of M event, by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Trevor Hairsine. And it revealed everything we thought we knew about the X-Men was wrong.
Specifically, the famous team of Wolverine, Banshee, Storm, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird, Sunfire and Colossus — the one that rescued the original X-Men from the mutant island of Krakoa in their first adventure — were not the first team to be sent on that mission. It turned out that Cyclops had led an earlier rescue mission that went horribly wrong, and Professor X had erased his memories of it. House of M woke up Vulcan, one of the presumed-dead members of that massacre, and he returned to avenge himself on the Professor.
How it could work in the MCU: Vulcan could still easily set off global alarm bells with his arrival. And the rest of the movie could see him being pursued by, say, Spider-Man, as he hunts the mutants down, revealing that they actually exist in the process. It not only has immediate stakes but also is a quick way to get introductions to characters we largely know out of the way.
The Fall of The Mutants
In 1987, a bunch of intersecting storylines from Uncanny X-Men, The New Mutants and X-Factor converged in a fight against a demon known as the Adversary, with the battle televised around the world. Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Longshot, Rogue, Dazzler, Psylocke, Havok and Cyclops’ then-wife Madeline Pryor sacrificed themselves to save humanity.
However, the goddess Roma, touched by their selflessness, restored them to life and made them invisible to all forms of surveillance outside of plain sight. With the entire world believing them to be dead, the X-Men decamped to Australia where, with the help of the mutant Gateway (whose power is what it sounds like), they could teleport anywhere to help mutants in need.
How it could work in the MCU: The “Australia era” of the X-Men also introduced cool teen incarnate Jubilee, who, having survived as a mall rat in southern California, followed the X-Men back to Australia after a mission and lived hidden in their base for a while before they found her out.
This is a perfect setup for a movie. Using Jubilee as the POV character, audiences could then get to know the new MCU X-Men the same way she does. Even if some details obviously need to be fudged (Madeline can be swapped out for Jean Grey, Gateway needs to have more agency and the whole business with The Adversary and Roma can be modified), it wouldn’t hurt to have a character that the previous regime of X-movies short shrifted get her starring role.
After House of M, the mutant population was drastically shrunk to a mere 198 people, with no new mutants were seemingly born. That is until Cerebro, the X-Men’s mutant-hunting computer, detected a birth in Alaska and exploded from all the mutant power it contained. This set off a huge battle for the baby girl between the X-Men, the xenophobic Purifiers, and the vicious Maruaders. It all ended with Cyclops giving the baby to Cable, who raised her in the future while being pursued by X-ally and fellow time-travel refugee, Bishop.
That baby, named Hope, later returned to the present as a teenager, and became the center of conflict in Avengers Vs. X-Men, with the two superteams warring over her as the Phoenix Force drew to Earth, seemingly to pursue her.
How it could work in the MCU: Regardless of whether or not the Scarlet Witch is responsible for bringing mutants around to the forefront, it’s easy to imagine this story serving as another entry point, like the Jubilee scenario above.
Having the mutant race come out in full force after some catastrophe — whether Wanda-induced or, say, a devastating plague — has drastically reduced their number gives the story immediate stakes. On top of that, this would be a chance to give the teen Hope some agency of her own and be more than just a sentient plot device, something she frequently fell victim to during the decade of X-Men storylines surrounding her.
Tom Speelman is a freelance writer for publications like Polygon and Comic Book Resources. He also adapts Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka by Makoto Fukami & Seigo Tokiya for Seven Seas Entertainment and yells about comics @tomtificate on Twitter. His favorite X-Men is Nightcrawler with Gambit as a close second.