It’s a good time to be a second-string X-Men character. Former mutant messiah Hope finally returned to prominence in the latest issue of Cable, a bevy of New Mutants and X-Factor favorites are fighting zombies in New Mutants: Dead Souls, Dazzler is booked for an upcoming one-shot and Jean Grey has assembled an eclectic cast for X-Men Red, the most promising of the color-coded X-books currently filling out the line. Part of the appeal of the merry mutants, however, is just how many of them dash, fly, teleport and hop across the Marvel Universe, rising and falling in popularity with the whims of each new creator. While too many end up as cannon fodder—especially X-teens—dozens are currently sitting on the sidelines, waiting for a chance to remind readers what made them X-cellent in the first place. The 15 mutants below (plus one dishonorable mention) may not steal the spotlight in Red, Gold, Blue or any other hued X-book at the moment, but they’re brimming with untapped potential and should be on any upcoming X-scribe’s radar. And since X-Men fandom is notoriously passionate, be sure to sound off on Twitter with any in-X-cusable omissions.
Anole Art by Nick Bradshaw
A recurring theme throughout this list is that creators love to make their mark on the X-Men franchise by introducing new young mutants, few of whom ever get the chance to graduate to full-fledged team status. The unluckiest end up six feet under when new writers need to establish a villain—R.I.P. Skin, most of the original Hellions and a huge swath of the Academy X cast—but many simply become background filler, as is typically the case for Anole. Anole was actually slated to commit suicide after coming out to teach his straight teammates a lesson about tolerance, but that woefully misconceived plot (thankfully) never happened, and Anole is typically portrayed as a well-adjusted gay teen with strong friendships among peers like Rockslide and fellow queer mutant Graymalkin. Despite his reptilian look, sneaky camouflage and powerful regeneration abilities, Anole rarely gets more than a few lines in crowd scenes. With Iceman coming to an end, now would be a great time to revisit a gay mutant with a different relationship to his sexuality—one uncomplicated by time travel.
Cecilia Reyes Art by Leinil Francis Yu
Dr. Cecilia Reyes has always occupied an unusual spot in the franchise, initially resisting the offer to join the X-Men and never actually getting around to choosing a codename or costume beyond the standard blue-and-gold. For Dr. Reyes, her mutant ability to generate force fields is less important than her calling as a trauma surgeon, and her irregular stints in X-books have often relied on her medical expertise, not her combat abilities. Dr. Reyes is slated to appear in the upcoming horror-inspired New Mutants film (potentially in an antagonist role, since she works for the medical facility housing the New Mutants), which makes 2018 the perfect time to reconsider her place in the mutant world. With the X-Men all but assuming that the end goal for young mutants is to join a paramilitary strike force, the perspective of a successful adult who doesn’t reject her gifts—but still finds a calling outside of battle—would nicely complement the billion other mutants who spend their off hours training to smash Sentinels.
Chamber Art by Stuart Immomen
Christina Strain, Amilcar Pinna and a host of guest artists carefully resuscitated the old-school Gen X cast while assembling a new offbeat teen mutant crew in the recently concluded Generation X series, and Jonothan Starsmore, better known as Chamber, quietly got one of the best arcs in the book. The original Generation X series positioned the moody British mutant for greatness, saddling him with a mutation that destroyed his upper chest and lower jaw in a way that echoed original team leader Cyclops’ own struggle, only dialed up to 11. Like too many teen mutants, Chamber never managed to “graduate” to a main team, although he has become a school mainstay, helping students who struggle with traumatic powers. In Strain’s Generation X run, Chamber is confident and authoritative (with strong dad appeal, given his burgeoning relationship with adoptive mother Jubilee), hinting at the untapped potential should he ever land a spot on a major X-squad.
Cypher Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico
Poor Douglas Ramsey has been perpetually mocked since his debut in 1984, largely thanks to his non-offensive mutant ability to understand any written or spoken language. Clever writers have used this to great effect, especially as Cypher became more involved with Marvel’s robust robot community, but fandom at large seems to relegate Cypher to the C-list unless he’s merged with his alien buddy Warlock. In his last major appearance, Cypher ended up physically involved with the sentient manifestation of the X-Men’s Danger Room, making them a contender for strangest X-Men romantic entanglement (a tough category, considering the franchise). While commanding the weather or phasing through walls is great, we’d love to see creators try harder to utilize Doug’s adaptable power set.
Darwin Art by Trevor Hairsine
Darwin has had a rough go of it. First introduced in X-Men: Deadly Genesis as part of a controversial, retroactive second team of X-Men, Darwin has the power of “adaptive evolution,” meaning that his body responds to danger to protect him: drop him in water, he’ll grow gills, throw him in a fire, his skin will harden, and so on. So it was a massive head-scratcher when he appeared in the 2011 film X-Men: First Class, explained his nigh-invulnerability…and was immediately killed by Kevin Bacon. Comic Darwin managed a well-liked second act in the pages of Peter David’s X-Factor, but the infinitely flexible mutant has rarely been seen since that series’ 2012 conclusion. It’s hard to do worse by Darwin than what happened in First Class, but letting this complex mutant sit on the bench is an ongoing crime.
Dust Art by Clayton Henry
First introduced in the pages of Grant Morrison’s landmark run on New X-Men, Sooraya Qadir is a young Afghani Muslim with the ability to turn into a cloud of swirling sand. Although she shared a decent amount of the spotlight in the teen-focused New X-Men: Academy X title, Dust, like so many fellow young X-Men, has mostly appeared in the background over the last decade. As a traditional Muslim who chooses to wear an abaya and niqab, Dust has the potential to flesh out a population rarely represented in comics—and to do so while utilizing a visually spectacular mutant ability.
Firestar Art by Ed McGuinness
It’s not uncommon for X-Men to transition to other superhero teams: Beast, Sunspot, Cannonball and Wolverine are all established Avengers; Angel and Iceman ran with the Defenders; and young Scott Summers brought his stick-in-the-mud shtick to the teen Champions. It’s much rarer for a hero to shift in the other direction, and Angelica “Firestar” Jones spent time as a Hellion, a New Warrior, an Avenger, a Young Allie and one of Spider-Man’s Amazing Friends before Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness recruited the microwave-powered mutant for their too-short run on Amazing X-Men. Firestar is notable not just as a seasoned hero, but as a cancer survivor and graduate student, proving yet again that mutant characters can have full lives outside of time-travel shenanigans. Firestar recently, briefly appeared in X-Men Blue, but with that many team memberships under her belt, Angelica Jones deserves a longer shot at establishing herself among Marvel’s mutant heroes.
Frenzy Art by Mark Brooks
Frenzy might be one of the only mutants who benefited from the period of time leading up to Inhumans vs. X-Men. First introduced as a mutant mercenary and then as an Acolyte of Magneto, Joanna Cargill is superhumanly strong and durable—and she takes absolutely zero shit. Her abusive childhood and hard-knock path toward becoming an X-Man makes her a dedicated mutant defender, but one uninterested in diplomatic niceties or saving face. When the Terrigen clouds blanketed the planet, poisoning many mutants, Frenzy allied herself with the Inhuman hero Crystal, forgoing the burgeoning Inhuman/mutant divide to save lives in need. Frenzy also operates in the shadow of her alternate-reality “Age of X” period, where she woke up married to Scott Summers with the full respect of her colleagues. While most X-Men chose to receive a voluntary mindwipe after that experience, Cargill kept her memories as an ongoing inspiration to rise above her checkered past.
Marrow Art by Jorge Molina
Marrow hails from one of the least-popular periods of X-Men history, after the early-‘90s boom but before the Morrison revival, and her most recent years have seen some dramatic ups and downs. Marrow, whose real name has only ever been revealed as Sarah, is among the countless mutants who lost their abilities during M-Day, but the 2014 X-Force run returned her bone-growing, bone-throwing abilities with the help of a mad geneticist. Marrow displays a fractured persona throughout the run, which is eventually revealed to be a result of losing her pregnancy in return for regaining some semblance of her powers. That’s a heavy twist for any character, and unfortunately the book never really justified that plotline. Marrow has since appeared as a background character in X-Men Blue and a Secret Empire tie-in, but the long-suffering character needs a run that finally gives her the focus and character development she’s been lacking since her creation.
Northstar Art by Dustin Weaver
While the biggest trend on this list is “Abandoned Teen,” “Abandoned Queer” is a close second. Northstar will forever hold a place of importance in comics for his dramatic, groundbreaking coming out in 1992, but despite the surge of mainstream press surrounding that event and Northstar’s eventual marriage in 2012, Jean-Paul Beaubier has only intermittently served on the X-Men proper. Beyond his importance as a gay trailblazer, Northstar is one of the Marvel Universe’s few speedsters—and a total lovable jerk, which is a large part of his appeal. Northstar deserves more than a publicity-hungry appearance every few years, and we hope to see him regain mutant prominence before Marvel starts hyping up the first gay divorce in mainstream comics. (Or at least throw him back into Alpha Flight alongside his sister Aurora—gays don’t magically retire when they get hitched, Marvel.)
Oya Art by Cory Smith
The problem with Wolverine’s teen sidekicks is that every writer wants to assign a new one, hence the hand-off from Kitty Pryde to Jubilee, Jubilee to Pixie and Armor, and finally Pixie and Armor to Oya, commonly just referred to by her real name, Idie Okonkwo. Idie, like a character later on in this list, was introduced as a member of the “Five Lights,” the first new mutant manifestations after the Scarlet Witch wiped out most of the world’s X-gene. Discovered in Nigeria, Idie initially serves as a cracked-mirror Storm: a young African girl with powers over the elements who is shamed, not worshipped, for her might. Thanks to her time with Wolverine and his Jean Grey School, Idie grew into a much more confident young mutant, even rejecting the advances of infamous X-brat Quentin Quire. Unfortunately, following her road trip with the time-displaced original X-Men, Idie has joined Pixie and countless mutants before her as background filler in books like Generation X. With that title concluded, hopefully Marvel has plans for another school-set title on the horizon—one with room for well-developed youths like Idie.
Prodigy Art by Jamie McKelvie
Prodigy has actually gotten around quite a bit since losing his mutant abilities during M-Day, appearing in Young Avengers, Ant-Man and, most recently, New Mutants: Dead Souls as an employee of Karma’s corporation. It was in the pages of Young Avengers that Prodigy, real name David Alleyne, came out as bisexual, making him one of the only bisexual men in mainstream comics, but that title sadly wrapped up without fully exploring his subplot. Along with Danielle Moonstar, Prodigy is one of the most prominent and popular former mutants still associated with the X-Men, and that dynamic begs to be further explored.
Siryn Art by Ryan Sook
For all that Peter David’s epic run on X-Factor helped boost mutants like M, Shatterstar, Rictor, Wolfsbane, Madrox and others, its conclusion left Theresa “Siryn” Cassidy in a weird spot. With the exception of Danielle Moonstar’s role as a Norse Valkyrie, mutants and magic rarely mix, and Siryn’s transformation into a Celtic goddess known as the Morrigan was so unwieldy and unwelcome that no one has really approached the character in the six years since. Siryn’s father Banshee has been similarly sidelined since returning as a Horseman of Death, leaving a sonically powered gap in Marvel’s merry mutant franchise. While we’d love to see Banshee shake off his blue skin and desire for Armageddon, his daughter Siryn edges him out in deserving a comeback from her current weird goth phase.
Sunfire Art by Daniel Acuña
Shiro Yoshida is perhaps the original underrated, underused X-Man, briefly appearing on the team in its early days before being relegated to a guest role any time a Marvel hero traveled to Japan. A visually interesting makeover in the Age of Apocalypse timeline earned him a small fandom, but the last 20 years have rarely been kind to Sunfire. He briefly seemed to come into his own as leader of Japan’s Big Hero 6, but the delightful Disney movie adaptation exists outside of Marvel continuity, and has resulted in the comic version of the team quietly disappearing. He then lost his legs and briefly fell under the sway of Apocalypse before writer Rick Remender brought him back in the high-profile Uncanny Avengers—but only after characterizing him as a drunken, disheveled failure in his home country. Shiro became a key part of that X-Men/Avengers crossover title, heroically sacrificing his body to become pure energy (which just happened to look exactly like his fan-favorite AoA look), but he unfortunately didn’t continue with the team after Remender’s departure from Marvel Comics, and has become another dedicated crowd member in titles like Extraordinary X-Men. Along with Banshee (and Thunderbird, whose legacy lives on through Warpath), Sunfire is one of the most under-utilized early X-Men characters, and is still waiting for his chance to truly shine.
Velocidad Art by Salvador Espin
A member of the Five Lights alongside Idie Okonkwo, Velocidad is admittedly one of the least-developed characters of this list, which makes him even more emblematic of “pet characters” who fade into obscurity when their initial creators move on from the X-Men titles. Fellow Lights Transonic and Primal are similarly overlooked, but Velocidad had the most narrative potential. Beyond his crushes on popular mutants Hope and Pixie, this Mexican mutant has a degenerative power: every time he uses his localized time manipulation, Velocidad effectively possesses super-speed, but he ages much more rapidly than those around him. This kind of tragic catch-22 power is a favored trope of the X-Men books, which makes it all the more disappointing that Velocidad is all but forgotten eight years after being introduced at one of mutantkind’s best new hopes. See also: Tempus, a time-manipulator with similar power kickbacks introduced during Brian Michael Bendis’ tenure and forgotten ever since.
Maggott Art by Joe Madureira
Like Cecilia Reyes and Marrow, Maggott originated during the largely forgotten late-‘90s era of the X-Men titles, with a power set so bizarre that he became a fan joke pretty much from day one. Instead of a normal digestive system, Maggott possesses two semi-sentient slugs that crawl out of his stomach, consume almost any substance, re-enter his abdomen, and transfer massive strength and durability to their host—along with blue skin and red eyes, for some reason. Had Maggott been created just a few years later by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, he might be loved as a weird fan-favorite, but unfortunately he qualifies only as a dishonorable mention on this list since he has so few stories justifying his character in the first place. Consider Maggott less of an underrated, underused X-Man and more of a challenge for a creative team seeking a particularly difficult revamp.