Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

The X-Men do not want for bad guys. That’s part of what’s given the comic such longevity over the years: they go up against so many weird and different kinds of villains. And frankly, there’s as many cool and interesting villains as there are heroes in the X-Men universe.

Of course, if you had to make a list of the toughest X-Men baddies it would be filled to the brim with near-omnipotent mutants like Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister. And in truth, I don’t play favorites much: I kind of love them all. But I'm a bit of the classicist. While comic book continuity is a nightmare I’d like to sort of imagine that if our heroes had an ongoing television show or something there’d be some bad guys that’d be likely to show up before others.

You know, these would be the villains the X-Men tangled with in season 1 or 2 or something.

What I present to you today is not the top five most outrageous, hardcore X-Men villains, but who I think are the top five most classic and iconic X-Men villains. The kind that come to mind when you think about the X-Men.

Without further ado:

5. Mystique’s Brotherhood

I don’t think the X-Men were ever as evenly matched as they were against these guys. A big step up from the original conflicted membership that Magneto formed at the beginning of the X-Men run, Mystique’s team were well trained mutant terrorists that could go toe-to-toe with the X-Men any day of the week. Essentially, they were kind of the anti-X-Men in that they had as many nasty tricks available as their heroic counterparts had gutsy moves.

The full line-up included:

Mystique: The ultimate espionage agent with shape-shifting abilities and a (debatably) heartless mercenary, Mystique was the perfect leader for a group of super-human terrorists looking to spread discord between mutants and humans.

Destiny: An oft forgotten about and totally intriguing character, Destiny’s pre-cognition helped the Brotherhood stay one step ahead of the law and made them very deadly in combat. It’s hard to fight a team when one of your opponents knows your next move a split second before you do.

Blob: Frank Dukes isn’t just a big fat guy; his actual mutant power has to do with his center of gravity. If he decides he doesn’t want to be moved, very few forced can actually push this guy. Add to that a disgusting personality and a ruthless criminal background and you’ve got the team’s tank.

Pyro: Just consider this. He doesn’t make fire. He CONTROLS it. Pyro actually has to sport a flamethrower into battle to be effective. But he can actually make fire whip through the air at you or even shape it into something nasty.

Avalanche: Earthquakes-talk about collateral damage. Teamed up with Pyro, these two formed the backbone of the Brotherhood’s offense. It’s not hard to see why: these two could level a small town pretty easily and leave the X-Men more concerned about saving civilians than nabbing the bad guys.

Rogue: Essentially the Brotherhood’s big gun, Mystique originally encouraged Rogue to use her power with reckless abandon. We’re used to seeing Rogue as something of a delicate flower who’s nervous and isolated, but imagine how really scary and powerful Rogue CAN be if she lets loose. Psi powers, a steel body, laser blasts…it doesn’t matter. All she has to do is TOUCH you to suck you dry and start using your powers herself. It’s a nasty trick.

4. The Shadow King

I really think this guy might go down in the history books as creepiest X-Men villain of all time. As a mutant, Shadow King gives Xavier a run for the money in terms of sheer psi-power. If the Brotherhood were the anti-X-Men, then the Shadow King was the anti-Xavier. Totally unscrupulous, he had not objection to mind controlling anyone and everything and playing with them like puppets.

But if that wasn’t bad enough, how do you fight something that doesn’t have a physical body? After Xavier whacked Amahl Farouk around in the Astral Plane, his body died leaving only a consciousness behind.

Now? He’s just a thought, slipping around from body to body and host to host. It’s hard for him to manifest in the physical world but he’s done it before. And if you think he’s tough here, on the Astral Plane he’s just short of God-like. He could be anyone or anything and you might not know it until it’s too late.

3. The Sentinels

They might look big and clunky, but these things are relentless. There’s no reasoning with a Sentinel or tricking a Sentinel. It’s just a hunk of machinery programmed to track down and incapacitate, if not terminate, mutants.

The disturbing future that the X-Men are trying to avert and which features all of humanity enslaved to Sentinels invokes imagery and themes from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Essentially, the Sentinels are synonymous with a second holocaust all in the name of protecting humankind. The fact that these things are soul-less and unthinking--yet orchestrate the enslavement of all of humanity--give them a kind of demonic quality. Like Skynet, the Sentinels aren’t above ensuring their own survival and dominance through the use of time travel either, leading to all sorts of creepy and strange time paradoxes.

2. The Juggernaut

Man, what can we say about this guy? We sort of LOVE Juggernaut. I don’t know why. He’s got all of the things that you’d need to hate him. I mean he’s big, mean and a total mercenary.

Maybe there’s just something cool about his powers? I mean, the guy is nigh impervious. Even the Hulk would have a tough time taking him on. It’s just sort of cool to see him in action, I think; the physics of how mutant powers stand up to a big red steamroller. Optic blasts that could cut through steel girders just bounce off and nothing can stop his forward motion if he doesn’t want it to. He isn’t just a big guy…he’s THE big guy. And we sort of love seeing the X-Men take on something that unstoppable.

I’ve always found Cain’s connection with Xavier strange but interesting. Actually, I’m a bit more fascinated by how Cain’s powers work. While he’s usually re-vamped as a mutant for movies and cartoon shows, Juggernaut actually got his powers after a run in with a mystic artifact. So his origin actually has loose connections to Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider and the like.

1. Magneto

It shouldn’t be any surprise that he’s at the top of the list. We love Magneto because he has such depth as a character. He isn’t necessarily evil; in fact, to some, he’s the equivalent of the savior of the mutant race. You don’t agree with what Magneto’s doing but you UNDERSTAND what he’s doing. In some of the best stories, Magneto is a tragic, relatable character, not a raving lunatic.

Of course, his mutant power makes him practically omnipotent. But it isn’t surprising that Xavier’s rival was originally conceived as having magnetic powers. See, he polarizes things; he takes the opposite stance from Xavier, supporting militant protection for mutants rather than peaceful cooperation with humans.

We love Magneto not because he can toss Wolverine and Colossus around like sacks of potatoes, but because he makes us THINK about the damage that prejudice and racism can unveil. Magneto wasn’t a guy who committed the holocaust; he was the guy who was emotionally scarred by it. And see, that’s the point: the victims of prejudice can be so hurt and damaged that they can turn into something just as bad as the thing that hurt them. And that’s why Xavier’s mission is so important.