The X-Men have been around for 48 years, but in the comic books, they’ve been saving the world for approximately 16 years. In that time, there’s been so much crushing tragedy in their lives that it’s downright comical.
Unlike Superman or Spider-Man, the X-Men have never had their entire history rebooted, so deaths, magical resurrections, marriages, and divorces just keep piling on like automobiles on some sadistic freeway that ends with a brick wall. And if we’re to compress their entire history into 16 years, their story becomes a non-stop carnival of characters dying every other month. Xavier’s isn’t a school — it’s a damn grief crisis center.
First off, some of you may be wondering where I got the “16-year existence” figure. According to TV Tropes, Stan Lee introduced this ratio in the 1960s, and Marvel’s more or less stuck with it:
In a “Stan’s Soapbox” in the mid-1960s, Stan Lee stated that, as a general rule of thumb, they were trying to keep the then-new Marvel Universe on a one-to-three timeline – every three years that passed in the real world would be a year of Comic Book Time. Deliberately or otherwise, Marvel actually managed to stick pretty close to that right up until the early 1990s when, during one of the X-Men’s 30th Anniversary comics, Professor Xavier mused about the things he’d been doing for the past 10 years – starting with the founding of the X-Men.
By and large, the 1-comic-book-year-to-3-real-years ratio works for the X-Men. The first issue of Uncanny X-Men — which had a teenaged cast — came out in 1963. It’s now plausible that the founding X-Men (like Cyclops and Beast) are in their early 30s. Similarly, Kitty Pryde was 13 when she first appeared in 1980 — 30 years later, she’s in her early 20s.
So when we convert the X-Men’s 48-year publication history to a 16-year timescale, the result is unintentionally hilarious. The X-Mansion’s constantly blowing up, characters who die on Christmas resurrect by Labor Day, and Charles Xavier’s perpetually jumping in and out of his wheelchair. Can you imagine living in this reality? The X-Men must have their neighborhood funeral home on speed dial.
To get a temporal sense of how screwed-up the X-Men’s lives are, let’s assume that Charles Xavier began the team 16 years ago in early 1995. I didn’t include every single X-Men tragedy because I’m not writing a graduate dissertation in Wolvernomics. So indeed, strap yourself in for a nonstop barrage of unlucky superheroes getting tossed into the narrative meat grinder.
Winter 1995: Professor Charles Xavier, a psychic Daddy Warbucks, rounds up a bunch of precocious teenagers and forms the X-Men. (Uncanny X-Men 1, 1963)
Summer 1996: Aliens murder the secret X-Man Changeling. Changeling is the first team member to kick the bucket, but he’s in the form of Professor X at the time. Ergo, nobody mourns Changeling. (Uncanny X-Men42, 1968)
Winter 1999: Due to low sales, the X-Men were cancelled for five years. When the X-Men were resurrected, X-Man/Native American stereotype Thunderbird dies in a plane explosion…after appearing for all of two issues. (Uncanny X-Men 95, 1975)
Summer 2000: Jean Grey becomes possessed by a primordial cosmic force known as Dark Phoenix. To nourish herself, she consumes a distant star, which supernovas and kills billions of confused aliens. Another alien race known as the Shi’ar condemns Jean to death in a trial by combat. Jean commits suicide to prevent herself from destroying the universe. Everyone cries.(The Dark Phoenix Saga, 1980)
Spring 2001: Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is wrecked by an alien race known as the Sidri. (Uncanny X-Men 154, 1982)
Summer 2001: After malevolent extraterrestrial parasites known as the Brood transform Professor X into the giant insect, he transfers his consciousness to a cloned body and can walk again. See? There’s an upside to a cosmic tapeworm infection. (Uncanny X-Men 167). Wolverine’s fiancee Mariko Yashida is mind-controlled, stands him up at the altar. Wolverine weeps. (Uncanny X-Men 172) Cyclops turns right around and marries Madelyne Pryor, a clone of his dead girlfriend. He is unaware of this at the time. (Uncanny X-Men175, 1983)
Summer 2002:The Mutant Massacre — the Morlocks, a group of homeless mutants who live in the sewers of New York, are systematically eradicated by Sabretooth and the villainous Mr. Sinister. The winged X-Men Angel is crucified and his wings are amputated.
Also — due to circumstances too convoluted to explain here — Jean Grey’s alive again when her body is found in a healing capsule at the bottom of Jamaica Bay. Turns out Dark Phoenix was never Jean — instant redemption! Cyclops has to awkwardly explain to his now alive girlfriend why he married a woman who looks exactly like her. (Fantastic Four286, 1986)
Spring 2003: Teenage mutant polymath Doug Ramsey is shot by anti-mutant mercenaries. (New Mutants 60). Also, thanks to the mutant supremacist Apocalypse, the feathery Angel becomes the metal-winged baddie Archangel. (X-Factor 24, 1988)
Summer 2003: Mister Sinister blows up the X-Mansion. (Uncanny X-Men 243, 1989) Madelyne Pryor realizes she’s a clone of Jean Grey, goes crazy, and then helps open a gate to Hell over New York. Demons pour into Manhattan and mailboxes eat people. Madelyne tries to kill the X-Men and Cyclop’s new girlfriend, Jean Grey. When that fails, Madelyne commits suicide. (X-Factor38)
Elsewhere, Magneto’s daughter, the Scarlet Witch, realizes her twin children are just magical figments of her imagination. Also, her fake kids’ poppa was a robot. It’s confusing. (Avengers: West Coast52, 1989)
Winter 2004: Apropos of nothing, Wolverine fights a sentient pile of alien cocaine. (Wolverine 23, 1990)
Spring 2004: Cyclops’ son Nathan — whom he conceived with his now-dead clone wife Madelyne— contracts a cybernetic virus and is sent to the future to be cured. Cyclops basically forgets about him because — if it isn’t abundantly apparent already — Cyclops is an insufferable prick. (X-Factor 68) An attack by a morbidly obese psychic known as the Shadow King puts Charles Xavier back in a wheelchair. (“Muir Island Saga,” 1991)
Summer 2004: After Mariko is poisoned with blowfish toxin, Wolverine mercy-kills her with his claws. (Wolverine57, 1992)
Winter 2005: Magneto rips out Wolverine’s Adamantium skeleton. Professor X lobotomizes Magneto in return. (X-Men 25) Colossus’ kid sister Illyana Rasputin dies of a mutant plague. (Uncanny X-Men #303, 1993)
Spring 2005: Four years (according to our timescale) after he married his clone wife, Cyclops finally marries Jean Grey. (X-Men 30, 1994)
Winter 2006: Professor Xavier becomes the all-powerful psychic bad guy Onslaught. Onslaught destroys the X-Mansion yet again (X-Men 54, 1996), and sends almost every single hero in the Marvel Universe to a moronic pocket dimension, which I refuse to explain. (Onslaught: Marvel Universe, 1996)
Spring 2007: The teenage mutant Synch dies in an explosion. (Generation X 70, 2000)
Summer 2007: Colossus dies after injecting himself with a pure handwavium cure to the mutant plague. (Uncanny X-Men 390) The X-Men’s human ally Moira MacTaggart is assassinated by Mystique. (X-Men 108) Psylocke dies for a reason too stupid to get into. (X-Treme X-Men 4) To cap all this death off, millions of mutants die when Sentinels destroy Magneto’s citadel on the island of Genosha. (New X-Men 115, 2001)
Winter 2008: Thanks to the mutant healer Xorn, Xavier can walk again. (New X-Men 126, 2002)
Spring 2008: Former main characters Skin and Maggott are unceremoniously crucified and sent to an anti-mutant death camp, respectively. (Uncanny X-Men 423, Weapon X 5). Xorn turned out be Magneto, who cripples Xavier (again). Magneto fires Wolverine and Jean Grey into the sun, Wolverine runs his claws through the woman he loves again. The X-Mansion is destroyed by Magneto. Jean Grey is reborn as Phoenix; Magneto kills her. Wolverine kills Magneto, but he’s not really Magneto. Comics are hard. (New X-Men 150, 2003)
Summer 2008: Colossus comes back from the dead. (Astonishing X-Men 4, 2004)
Winter 2009: Sentinels destroy the X-mansion almost immediately after they rebuild it. (Astonishing X-Men Wolverine is brainwashed and kills the X-Man Northstar, who is then resurrected evil. (Wolverine 25) Thanks to Scarlet Witch going bonkers over her fake children, she depowers most of Earth’s mutants — only 198 mutants keep their abilities. (House of M Psylocke comes back from the dead. (Uncanny X-Men 355, 2005)
Spring 2009: Anti-mutant activists blow up 42 depowered students using a bus bomb.(New X-Men 24, 2006) The X-Man Banshee gets hit by a plane. (X-Men: Deadly Genesis 3) Aliens murder (the now dead) Jean Grey’s whole damn family at a family reunion. (Uncanny X-Men466, 2006)
Summer 2009: Wolverine decapitates Sabretooth with a magical katana blade. (Wolverine55) Cyclops’ space pirate dad Corsair is murdered by his son, Vulcan. (Uncanny X-Men 486, 2007)
Winter 2010: Mr. Sinister destroys the X-Mansion for a second time. The X-Men say “Fuck it” and move to San Francisco. The X-Force member known as Caliban dies. (Messiah Complex, 2008) Former X-Man and mutant prostitute Stacy X dies in battle. (New Warriors 6, 2008)
Spring 2010: Doug Ramsey comes back from the dead. (X-Force 18) Political pressures force the X-Men to move to a floating asteroid in the middle of San Francisco Bay.(Utopia, 2009)
Summer 2010: Nightcrawler and Cable both die in circumstances that require too much exposition. (X-Force 26 & 28, 2010)
Present Day: The X-Men trundle onwards, silently praying that they’ll stop being popular so they can escape their endless, deathless cycle of tragedy. Seeing as how death means nothing to the X-Men, the most they can wish for is irrelevance.
In the white spaces between panels, our heroes build invisible chapels where Pastor Magneto leads his gutter congregation in entreating the editorial gods at Marvel, entreating them for a writer atrocious enough to kill the franchise. Nonexistence is not a nightmare when life is Hell. And Hell costs $3.99 a pop.