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Tragic backstories of your favorite X-Men

So often as consumers of media, we find ourselves drawn to the extremes of drama, tragedy, and fear. Whether this is because those circumstances reflect our reality or because they inject a little excitement into our mundane lives, the effect is the same — we're into it. No group of characters embodies this entrancing intensity quite like the X-Men. Though they hail from all walks of life, as mutants, they are all marked as "other" by a suspicious and fearful society. They might fight for what's right, but it's only because they've experienced the worst the world has to offer.

Whether in a comic from decades past or a recent X-Men movie adaptation, Marvel's maligned mutants carry the burdens of history. Every member of the X-Men claims their own unique origin story, tailored to suit the era they emerged from — yet the vast majority of them skew tragic. Whether they were born into a wealthy family or raised on the streets, the X-Men reflect the darkest complexities of humanity. Join us as we plumbs the depths of their origin stories — just be sure to have a tissue ready.

Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X

In a sea of suffering mutants, it is best to start at the beginning, with the man who founded the X-Men. Born into privilege as the son of renowned nuclear scientist Brian Xavier, Charles Xavier's life took an unexpected turn when Brian died in an accident. Brian's work partner, Kurt Marko, married Charles's mother Sharon, bringing his son, Cain, into the family alongside him. This seemed innocuous at first, but Charles's psychic abilities made him aware of Marko's ulterior motives — namely, that he married Sharon for her money. Step-daddy dearest began slipping into alcoholism, abusing both Charles and Cain, though Cain remained embittered toward his new step-brother. Charles attempted to learn more about Cain through telepathy, but ultimately ended up furthering the chasm between them. Cain eventually became Juggernaut, his antagonism acting as a constant reminder to Charles that he could not help heal his stepbrother's trauma. 

After serving in the Korean War and having his heart broken by his fiance, Moira MacTaggert, Charles decided to travel around the world. In the Himalayas, he disrupted the plans of an alien calling himself Lucifer, who was intent on colonizing the earth. As punishment, Lucifer dropped a stone onto Charles's legs, resulting in Charles using his signature wheelchair. Regardless of these traumas, Charles knows that his relative privilege allows him to help make the world a better place for mutants.

Scott Summers/Cyclops

Scott Summers has typically been Professor Xavier's right-hand man, eventually succeeding the telepathic founder as the headmaster of the School for Gifted Youngsters. But aside from his angst over how difficult his laser-eyed mutant ability is to control, Scott has a past — and a present — full of conflict. 

Scott's childhood was torn apart by a deadly plane crash. His parents sacrificed themselves for their sons' safety, equipping Scott and his brother Alexander with parachutes and tossing them out of the aircraft. Though both boys lived, their lives were indelibly marked by the event. Both became wards of the state, but Scott ran away after his powers began to manifest. After years of mistreatment, he was taken in by Professor Xavier. The fickle nature of Scott's mutant ability is, in some narratives, blamed on brain damage he sustained in the fall from the plane, while other stories chalk it up to a mental block created by the trauma of the ordeal. Couple this with his complicated on-again-off-again relationship with Jean Grey (not to mention her own deaths and resurrections), and Scott has been toting around a whole lot of baggage his entire life.

Alexander Summers/Havok

Though Scott ran away from the orphanage after his powers manifested, Alexander Summers, his younger brother, was adopted fairly quickly from it. The Blandings family took Alex in, in an effort to replace their son Todd, who was tragically killed in an accident. Alex did his best to live up to his new parents' expectations of him, trying to become a carbon copy of Todd to help alleviate the pain of their loss. 

The trauma of Todd's death grew even deeper, however, when Alex and his foster sister Haley were kidnapped by the same boy responsible for Todd's death. This event spurred Alex's mutant powers — powerful energy blasts known as "plasma discharges" — into manifestation. To protect himself and Haley, Alex ended up losing control, incinerating their kidnapper. Heavy stuff, for sure, but the evil geneticist Mister Sinister "helped" Alex out by blocking that memory for him — an interesting parallel to his brother Scott's supposed mental block.

Jean Grey

A powerful psychic, Jean Grey's abilities were honed with specialized help from Professor X himself. Jean's romance with Scott Summers, and her multiple deaths and reawakening as the Phoenix (and sometimes Dark Phoenix) give her plenty of dramatic allure. To some, her telepathy may not seem all that exciting in comparison, especially against mutant powers like weather control or creating explosions. But it is, in fact, a uniquely powerful talent — with uniquely intense costs. Jean might not be able to summon a blizzard, but, empowered by the Phoenix Force, she can incinerate entire planets.

Jean's powers first manifested in childhood, when her best friend was killed in a car accident. Young Jean reached out mentally and linked with her friend, nearly dying in the process herself. She was awakened from her subsequent coma by Professor X, who sealed her abilities away until she was old enough to control them. Though Jean's home life was a happy one, her incredible mental powers, and the toll they take on her body and mind, set her apart from many of her fellow mutants.

Logan/James Howlett/Wolverine

Wolverine is easily the most popular member of the X-Men, especially following Hugh Jackman's stellar portrayal in the X-Men movies. But Logan, as he calls himself, is a more complicated character than you might guess, in just about every sense of the word. Born James Howlett in the 1880s, Logan has only scattered, vague memories of his past. What we know is that he was born into a wealthy Canadian farm family, but was purportedly fathered by the family's groundskeeper, Thomas Logan. Thomas wound up killing James' adoptive father, John Howlett, after being thrown off the farm for the deeds of his other son, Dog. It is at this juncture that James' mutant powers first manifested: Bone claws emerged from the backs of his hands, with which he swiftly killed Thomas.

Terrified, James fled and adopted his slain father's surname. Decades followed in which Logan worked in a mining colony, lived among wolves, and even traveled with a circus.  Eventually he was kidnapped by the Weapon X program, which fused adamantium to his bones. Empowered by his healing factor, Logan is blessed with an extra-long life — which he sometimes considers more of a curse, as he is eternally haunted by his long, sordid past. Tough luck, bub!

Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler

Some mutants are more obviously mutated than others. Jean Grey can walk down any street and not be gawked at — but it's hard not to stand out when you're blue, hairy, and have a pointed tail like Kurt Wagner. Abandoned as an infant, Kurt was found and raised by Margali Szardos, a sorceress working in a Bavarian circus. He enjoyed a happy childhood, as the circus members held no prejudices towards mutants and his acrobatic abilities were popular with audiences. Though he has always had his unique appearance, his powers of teleportation did not make themselves known until he was a teenager. Shortly after, his happy life in the circus was shattered. 

Kurt is, in fact, the son of the shapeshifter Mystique and the demonic warlord Azazel. His parents' less-than-savory reputations have marked him his whole life, despite his own devout Catholicism. After a stint in the freak show of an American circus, Kurt set out for Germany to find his foster brother, Stefan, who he learned had apparently murdered several innocent children. The townspeople, seeing Kurt's demonic appearance, assumed he was the murderer. Before they could enact vengeance, Professor X stepped in to save him. Despite the complications of his origins and the prejudice that his devilish form invokes, Kurt is frequently depicted as upbeat and friendly, proving that some people can push through their own darkness and emerge stronger for it.

Ororo Munroe/Storm

Is there a member of the X-Men cooler than Storm? Not only is her power over the weather enviable, her intelligence, battle savvy, and excellent hair make her one of the most beloved heroes of all time. But Ororo Munroe's past is a tumultuous one, marked by grief and conflict. Ororo is the daughter of a Kenyan tribal princess and an African-American photojournalist, born in New York City, but raised in Cairo, Egypt. As a small child, Ororo lost her parents when a fighter jet crashed into their home during the Suez Crisis, burying the young girl under the rubble. Being trapped like that saw Ororo plagued by claustrophobia for years, a terror that occasionally gets in the way of her work with the X-Men.

For a while, she was raised in an African village and worshiped as a goddess. At some point in her youth, she met Prince T'Challa, later known as the Black Panther and the king of Wakanda. The two enjoyed an adolescent romance that, much later, culminated in an on-again, off-again adult relationship. The adversity Ororo faced growing up might have been intense, but she's all the more impressive for having endured it.

Anna Marie/Rogue

Born Anna Marie (with no known surname other than her married one, LeBeau), Rogue was raised in a Mississippi hippie commune. The members of the commune attempted to use Native American mysticism to reach the "Far Banks," but their failure to do so properly resulted in her mother's disappearance. Rogue was then cared for by her Aunt Carrie, whose grief at the loss of her sister made her a strict disciplinarian. Though Rogue loved her aunt, she was a rebellious teenager, and ultimately ran away from home. 

Rogue grew close to a boy named Cody who, after impulsively kissing Rogue, was left in a permanent coma — the first victim of her life-draining powers. The guilt and the fear of what she had done weighed so heavily on Rogue that she adopted a completely body-covering outfit that fans readily recognize today. She was eventually adopted by Mystique and began her mutant exploits with Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants, eventually joining the X-Men after absorbing Ms. Marvel's psyche along with her Kree powers. Rogue's struggle with her superhuman abilities is a huge part of her character — though workarounds have been developed, she never quite gets to let her guard down entirely.

Remy LeBeau/Gambit

Everyone loves a bad boy, and Remy LeBeau has been breaking hearts ever since his comic book debut in 1990. Remy never had a chance at a "normal" life, having been kidnapped from the hospital where he was born and subsequently raised by the LeBeau Clan Thieves' Guild. He was rumored to be the prophesied child that would join the Thieves' and Assassins' Guilds, long at odds, together. 10-year-old Remy proved that his time in the Thieves' Guild was fruitful when he attempted to pick the pocket of the Guild's patriarch, Jean-Luc LeBeau, who then officially adopted him. The pint-sized criminal grew into a troubled teen, working for the fiendish Mister Sinister for a time.

Remy went on to marry Bella Donna Boudreaux, the granddaughter of the head assassin of the Assassins' Guild. This union of the two factions was short-lived, however, as Remy killed Bella Donna's brother Julien in a duel immediately following the wedding. Remy had to make a break for it, but his colorful past just won't leave him alone. Despite this, he remains a charming member of the X-Men as Gambit, slinging his charged cards at enemies with panache.

Warren Worthington III/Angel/Archangel

It's always been hard for Warren Worthington III to hide his mutant side, thanks to the feathered wings that grew from his back in adolescence. For a while, he felt like an outsider ... until he realized that his flying ability allows him to swoop in and rescue people like a very literal guardian angel. He borrowed a costume from the drama department of his school, the real-world Phillips Exeter Academy, to rescue his friends from a burning dormitory building, and a whole new passion was born. Warren worked as a solo vigilante until Charles Xavier recruited him for the X-Men.

Warren ended up dying while on a mission in the Savage Land, and was resurrected by "The Creator," AKA Magneto, sans recognizable costume. Magneto provided Warren with a new look, which contained a device that allowed Magneto to control Warren's mind. Amidst all of this upheaval, Warren discovered that his own uncle murdered both of Warren's parents in an attempt at stealing the Worthington fortune. Warren has done a lot of team-hopping over the years, shifting between the identities of Angel and Archangel. What never changes are his trademark wings — though they are sometimes made of "techno-organic" metal.

Jubilation Lee/Jubilee

Jubilation Lee had a promising start in life as the daughter of successful Chinese immigrants. She was well on her way to becoming an Olympic gymnast when her parents were murdered by Reno and Molokai, a pair of hitmen. Young Jubilee was sent to an orphanage, from which she promptly ran away in favor of hiding out at the Hollywood Mall and surviving off food court scraps. She was constantly at odds with mall security, eventually discovering her mutant ability to generate energy blasts while running from them. Security ended up hiring the M-Squad, professional mutant hunters, to track her down, but thankfully, she was rescued by members of the X-Men and quickly joined their ranks. 

Jubilee served for decades as an excellent newbie character, introducing a whole new generation of fans to the comics and the animated television series. Her Beverly Hills mall-rat persona belies a troubled past that keeps audiences interested in her journey, especially as she grows close to Wolverine and takes on new challenges . Some of them are pretty weird, like vampirism and motherhood, but fans will follow the grown-up teenybopper anywhere.

Emma Frost/White Queen

As we've already seen, some of the best heroes start out as villains. No one exemplifies that more than the icy Emma Frost. Born into a wealthy Boston family, Emma was emotionally neglected by her extensive family. Moreover, she was bullied at school — but when her psychic abilities manifested, she began a promising career as a teacher, tutoring her peers with the support of her own mentor, a man named Ian Kendall. Her father soundly rejected this pursuit, and was further angered by video footage of Emma kissing Ian after she discovered, telepathically, that he found her attractive. The footage, taken by Emma's sister, was intended to be used as evidence to get Ian fired, but Emma decided to blackmail her father instead. Surprisingly, her father was impressed with his daughter's strength of will, and offered her the family fortune. Emma refused, choosing to make her own way in the world, away from the bonds of her stifling home environment. 

Emma then entered a period of homelessness, which saw her become the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, positioning herself directly opposite Professor X and his Academy. Years later, she would become co-headmistress of Xavier's school alongside Cyclops. Emma might be catty, aloof, and judgmental, but her difficult upbringing instilled in her an ironclad respect for hard work and responsibility. She might not always be nice, but she's definitely become heroic.