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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Panel Vision - 10 X-Men Mutants Who Should Appear Next

Edited by Robert Beach

As I write this, the world is still sort of in the midsts of X-Men fever.  I say "sort of" because of this: despite the success of X-Men: Apocalypse, it’s not really dominating the popular conversations or the pop atmosphere the same way Jurassic World did last year or even Batman v. Superman did early this year. That’s not terribly surprising given the nature of the X-Men films. Add on that this entry was of middling value, it also lacked the stand-out characters that tend to act as focal points for online interest like The Force Awakens quartet of breakout characters or Black Panther and Spider-Man in Civil War.  

Regardless, people are still buzzing about X-Men: Apocalypse and what comes next for the franchise, so I’m keen to join in. Over the next 4 years, we’re expecting to see another Deadpool film, another X-Men movie, a New Mutants film, a Gambit movie, and an X-Force movie. That’s in addition to the two live-action X-Men TV shows coming next year. With all that in mind, I’ve combed the depths of the X-franchise to compile my list of 10 mutants who should appear in the X-Men quasi-universe and are not already confirmed. Let’s list them. 

The weird thing about the X-Men franchise is that there are tons of characters in it, but there's only a handful are worth adapting.  Even if I wasn’t only a casual X-Men fan, folks like Dust or Beak may be cool, but they aren’t really rich enough characters to make into the world of cinema. To that end, my picks are going to be on the more well-known side if not necessarily huge, which leads us to Sunfire. He's one of the founding members of the 1975 X-Men revival, a part-time Avenger and founding member of the comic book version of the Big Hero 6. 

Even though Sunfire has never been A-list X-Men, he’s one of the cooler team members, sporting one of the coolest costume designs the franchise has ever boasted. What’s more, his flame powers are visually amazing. If there’s one thing that makes the X-Men worthwhile, it’s the visual flair of their unique powers in action. Additionally, Sunfire could give the team a much-needed stroke of diversity (a trend that’s going to spread through this entire list) as so far the only Asian mutant to show up in the X-Films is Jubilee, and she was barely in X-Men: Apocalypse. 

9. X-23
Here’s an entry that probably won’t stay unconfirmed for very long.  X-23 is a genetically altered duplicate of Wolverine.  Essentially, she was genetically engineered to be Wolverine, but a woman with only 2 claws instead of 3 for no reason. Since her initial inception as “sexy Wolverine” (seriously, she has no personality in many of her early appearances), she’s "clawed" her way into the hearts and minds of X-fans everywhere and developed into one of the real breakout characters of the X-franchise in the 21st century.

Most recently, X-23 became the new Wolverine, dawning her own version of the classic blue and yellow costume. With all the talk of replacing Hugh Jackman in the role swirling around the franchise, bringing in a character like X-23 to inherit the mantel would be a good way to ease that process.  The truth of the matter is Jackman’s been the only live-action Wolverine for decades, so it’s going to be hard for people to accept anyone else in the role. Side-stepping the problems of recasting for an in-universe replacement could be a real smart move. 

I’m sure all of this has already occurred to the X-Men producers, especially Bryan Singer’s statement that Wolverine should be a woman next and the confirmation of Mr. Sinister’s involvement in upcoming projects.  While I’m not totally convinced X-23 will replace Wolverine (he has a son in the comics too who could easily end up the new Wolverine), I wouldn’t be surprised if she popped up in next year’s The Wolverine 2 or maybe in Deadpool 2 or X-Force. 

Polaris is such an obvious “get out of contract free” card I’m shocked the puppet masters at Fox haven’t already thrust her into the X-films. As a lot of folks know, Marvel and Fox are trapped in a weird shared custody agreement over the rights to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, the children of Magneto. The current deal seems to be that Fox gets Quicksilver while Marvel gets Scarlet Witch with a few other caveats.  Polaris could provide a tricky way around that problem as she’s (sort of) Magneto’s 3rd child. 

Polaris is another mutant with the power to control metal, and, as such, she’s most often regarded as Magneto’s daughter. The comics have gone back and forth over whether or not Polaris really IS Magneto’s kid with no real consistency or direction. At this point, she might as well be. Bringing her into the X-Men universe alongside Quicksilver, whose proven himself a real breakout character of this new trilogy, would be a great way to give Magneto both his kids without getting into any unhealthy pencil measuring contests with Marvel. 

Additionally, Polaris is usually portrayed in a relationship with established X-Men Havok.  Together, the two are major members of the Starjammers, a team of intergalactic swashbuckling rogues who were essentially the Guardians of the Galaxy before the Guardians ever existed. Bringing in Polaris could be the first step in launching Fox’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy’s monster success with a Starjammers movie of their own. What’s more, given the next X-Men film is allegedly going to be a redo of the Phoenix saga, it’s not like the X-franchise will be staying away from outer space. 

Forge is one of my favorite X-Men of all time for literally no reason. Seriously, I couldn’t tell you why Forge is such a favorite; he just kind of is. Maybe it’s the kitchen sink approach to his character. His mutant power is he’s able to invent anything. They gloss up his power with a bunch of technobabble explanations, but what it really boils down to is that he has the mutant power of invention and construction like some kind of science wizard. As such, he always carries around all kinds of crazy super powerful guns he invented himself. 

Oh, he also has a Cyborg leg. Lastly, because Forge was a Native American character in the ‘90s, he has shaman magic. If you’re counting, he’s a magic Native American Cyborg mutant. Seriously if this guy was also a ninja, he’d have all the bases covered. 

Aside from just how many things Forge can do, the other big reason he’s always been a favorite for me is that he’s one of the few first nations superheroes. Diversity in comics has always sucked, but it’s especially bad out there for Native American and first nations characters. So the few that actually do break through always stand out. Granted, it's little undercutted by Forge also just being a Shaman because that’s how dumb white people thought native Americans worked in the ‘90s. He's still a cool character that could easily be reworked around that. 

Of all the folks on this list, Longshot is the one whose absence from the films makes the most sense to me. He’s part of the massive world of alternate timelines, parallel dimensions, dinosaurs, alien invasions, and cosmic space shenanigans that informs so much of the X-Men canon that the films forever turn their backs on for no real reason.  

Anyway, Longshot is a mutant from a parallel dimension. In his home dimension, he was essentially a gladiator ( in the more Running Man sense rather than Spartacus).  His world is a freakish nightmare game show universe run by an insane evil super fat dude on spider legs called Mojo. With the help of the X-Men, Longshot escaped and made it to Earth.

That’s a weird origin, though one that could honestly stand up as a movie in its own right if they wanted to. If the films wanted to just introduce Longshot as a new mutant joining the team, it’s not like his alternate dimensional history comes up that often aside from some pretty basic “fish out of water” stuff.  

His power is a weird one too, boiling down to essentially super luck. They say it’s “passive control of probability,” but it’s really just the power of plot convenience. That sounds a little contrived, though given the hoops the X-Men films usually go through to set-up their plots, having a walking excuse to contrive stuff as part of the team might be a good call. 

Dazzler is one of the most fundamentally special and compelling parts of the entire X-Men franchise. It’s downright criminal she hasn’t made it into the movies yet. Firstly, she has the unique distinction of being an X-Men with really sucky powers, specifically the ability to turn sound into light.  

That alone is worth note for how often the X-Men films tend to forget the whole point of their premise is most mutants have terrible or useless powers; thusly, they need a force like the X-Men to protect them because they can’t protect themselves. If all mutants were as powerful as the X-Men, the world governments would have every right to be afraid of them.

What’s even better that Dazzler’s lame power is what she does with it. Rather than throwing on the blue and yellow and failing to be useful as the newest X-Men, she says “screw that” and goes off to use her powers to be an incredibly successful pop star. That twist is one of the most interesting things to be done with superheroes, asking the question of “what happens when we use powers for something other than fighting?”  Additionally, it builds on the mythos of mutants as a people affording them the beginnings of actual culture to draw from. 

While X-Fans love to talk up the whole sci-fi allegory nature of the X-Men, there’s actually very little in the series to make the allegory work beyond superficial trappings.  Digging into a mutant subculture and cross-cultural appeal of mutant identity would actually do something with all the trappings of oppression that always clothe the X-Men.

This is a bit of a weird one. Most folks probably know Morph, if they know him at all, from the 1992 X-Men animated series. There, he was noteworthy for dying in the first episode and coming back to haunt Wolverine in the 2nd season. Morph was briefly in the comics as part of an adaptation of the show before suffering death by Sentinel yet again and going on the big pile of dead X-Men. However, a few years later in 1995, Morph got resurrected as part of the Age of Apocalypse event acting as one of the few good things to come out of that story alongside Blink. Together, the two managed to escape that alternate timeline and have since bopped around the Marvel universe in multiple capacities. 

What made Morph such a standout part of the Age of Apocalypse was he wasn’t oppressively grim, cynical, or just plain awful. He was aware of the situation. For the most part, he tried to be funny and upbeat.  Granted, Morph’s antics rank him as a D-list Plastic Man. He's been avoided because nobody else is looking to adapt the “funny shape-shifting guy.”  

What’s more, the X-Men movies are in desperate need of a judicious touch of levity. The only film in the series that’s really worth a damn is First Class and a big part of that was its sense of fun and adventure rather than dreary dourness. Everyone loved Quicksilver’s scene in Days of Future Past because it was actually fun and upbeat. Bringing in a character like Morph would be a great way to lighten things up and introduce a more hands-on X-Men to the roster. 

Now we move from heroes to villains with Sauron, lord of the Savage Land. What’s the Savage Land you ask?  Well, it’s a secret hidden continent under Antarctica full of dinosaurs, mutates (superhumans not born with powers), aliens, and cavemen that the X-Men routinely visit and have adventures in because their universe is so much richer and more interesting than simply defending those who hate and fear them. Sauron is the leader of the Savage Land mutates; he's a pterodactyl man with the power to hypnotize people with his gaze. 

Also, in case you were wondering, his name is literally taken from the Lord of the Rings villain. In canon, Sauron was a huge nerd in college,  so when he discovered his mutant powers (which also made him evil), he named himself after the villain from Lord of the Rings. 

There are a lot of reasons I want to see Sauron in the X-Men films, but the big one is just how weird and colorful his corner of the X-Men mythos is. He’s a dinosaur man leading a bizarre hodgepodge of cavemen mutants who also ride dinosaurs in a prehistoric lost continent. It’s all so uniquely comic book-y and out of left field. Yet, it’s also one of the most enduring and beloved parts of the X-Men universe. The whole thesis of the superhero universe in comics is that they’re able to blend together disparate genres like fantasy adventure and sci-fi allegory. There’s no better example of that than Sauron and the X-Men. 

Shadow King is a bizarre bad guy. He originally appeared as a one-off bad guy, a super powerful psychic Xavier took down in the past, but he proved to be popular in that first appearance and ended up coming back a number of times in the future. His initial appearance was modeled heavily after Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca with a dash of Kingpin (the Spider-Man/Daredevil villain) as he was a big fat Arabic guy in a white suit with a purple shirt and fez. That was just the outward design. His real appearance was that of a hideous shadow demon that stalked the astral plane of thought. 

Shadow King is a unique bad guy in the X-Men franchise, for he’s one of the only telepathic villains. Most of the time, if a villain has telepathic abilities, they end up dwarfed by Xavier almost immediately. Shadow King is one of the few villains to go toe-to-toe with Professor X and return for more appearances. I’m not sure he has the stuff to be a full-on main bad guy in one of the team movies. 

The telepathic fez'd one, more often than not, is relegated to henchmen position, but he’d be a useful mini-boss to fit into one of the movies.  Alternatively, if they wanted to use him as the villain for a solo spin-off flick, his base in Africa would make him a cool nemesis for Storm to throw down against like she did in the X-Men animated series. 

I mentioned Shadow King was one of the few telepathic bad guys to hold his own against Xavier. Well, now meet the only one to beat him. Introduced in Grant Morrison’s wonderfully bizarre and criminally under-appreciated All-New X-Men, Cassandra Nova was the secret evil twin sister of Professor Xavier. For a concept as basic as “evil twin,” Nova managed to be an incredibly threatening new foe that Morrison elevated to serious levels through her ruthlessness, efficiency, and inhumanity. 

Her psychic powers easily matched Xavier's. She single-handedly wiped out Genosha and then took over Xavier’s body long enough to completely derail the school, put Beast in a coma, and then nearly conquered the entire Shiar Empire to use as her personal weapon against the world. The X-Men only managed to beat her on a cocktail of luck, villain aid, and a last-minute appearance by the Phoenix entity. She’s about as big a big bad as you can get and makes Apocalypse look like kids’ stuff. 

More than all of her deadly power though, Cassandra Nova is creepy because of how much she embodies the inhuman inevitability of the mutants. I mentioned earlier that the X-Men franchise rarely does anything with its sci-fi allegory, often failing to even live up to the most basic demands of the parallels it wants to draw between mutants and marginalized peoples.  Cassandra Nova is the flip side of that allegorical coin, taking the concept of mutants to its logical and terrifying conclusion. 
The entire argument of the X-Men universe is mutants are the next step in human evolution (homo superior) that means that sooner or later the humans are just going to die out, and the mutants will inherit the Earth because they’re superior. That inevitable triumph and terrifying superiority is what Cassandra Nova perfectly embodies and what makes her such a terrifying villain. 
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