My recent taunting of the Hellfire Club made me think. In their two times as relevant enemies of the X-Men, the Hellfire Club demolished their foes, only losing the ultimate fight because of overconfidence and unforseen circumstances. And the second time, they pulled it off with two fewer members than the first (lacking Mastermind and Donald Pierce). While the X-Men made it out relatively unscathed both times (Dark Phoenix and the Broccoli People notwithstanding), they certainly could not hold their heads up after such an embarrasing beating.
So I went looking for other times the X-Men fought and took a savage beating, and I came up with these five instances.
5) vs. the Acolytes (X-Men #2)
The new era of the X-Men launched with the new “adjectiveless” X-Men title starring Cyclops’ blue team (or as it was more importantly known as: “The One with Wolverine”) battling Magneto for the first time in years. But Magneto was not alone this time, as a group of mutants had sought him out and signed on as his Acolytes. Unlike the second coming of the group, the initial group was actually effective. How effective, you ask? Well in their first go, they slaughtered the X-Men.
Actually, the X-Men were doing fine in issue #1, but in the second issue everything fell apart. Wolverine and Cyclops were beaten and captured off-panel, then all of the X-Men were transformed to living statues by a guy named Chrome and taken to Asteroid M where they were genetically altered to favor Magneto’s side. Seriously, that’s what happened. But also after the Blue team gets captured, Magneto takes the time to go snatch Professor X and Moira MacTaggert right from the grounds of the X-Mansion. And to make matters even worse, Storm’s Gold team runs Danger Room simulations of a possible fight against Cyclops’s team and continuously get slaughtered.
Certainly a great way to kick off the new era.
4) vs. the Reavers (Uncanny X-Men #251)
The end of the Australian-era X-Men team was nigh. Rogue was MIA, Longshot had quit and Storm was presumed dead. A team of just four, now lead by a distraught and borderline alcoholic Havok, went on a rescue mission to save Polaris from the Savage Land and were returning home uncertain of their future. But while they had been gone, the Reavers retook their old headquarters and were laying in wait to ambush the X-Men. Rather than even trying to fight them, Psylocke instead mentally persuaded the team to disband and cast themselves through the Siege Perilous portal which would grant them new lives. The X-Men didn’t even fight – they simply turned tail and ran.
But no one told Wolverine about this decision, as he had been on leave from the team dealing with personal issues. He returned home blissfully unaware of what had happened and was massacred. The Reavers beat him to the point where his healing factor was overtaxed to deal with the damage and crucified him onto an X, leaving him to die of exposure in the Australian Outback. The only saving grace for him was Jubilee who had been hiding in the X-Men’s base for some time and freed him to help keep her safe.
And so Wolverine too escaped the scene, but the Reavers had not only defeated the team (by default) but caused the disbanding of the team. That’s one hell of a notch in the belt.
3) vs. the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (Uncanny X-Men #137)
The classic conclusion to the Dark Phoenix Saga, despite being one of the best comics ever (certainly involving the X-Men), was not a bright point in the history of the team. Despite being cured of the Dark Phoenix persona, Jean Grey was still being held responsible for that little matter of consuming a star and killing a planet full of Broccoli People by the Shi’ar. When conventional arguments failed, Professor X did the only sensible thing – he issued a challenge between the X-Men and the Imperial Guard for the life of Jean Grey. I wish they used that kind of thing in our judicial system.
The X-Men were facing an uphill battle from the start. Even with the added might of Beast, Angel and Jean herself (with Marvel Girl-level powers), the X-Men were grossly outnumbered. But they were fighting for the very life of their beloved teammate – surely the X-Men would pull out all the stops and claim victory, right?
Well, no. Actually they got slaughtered.
One by one each of the X-Men fell before the Guard’s might without even causing a casualty on the opposing side. Even Charles Xavier, watching the battle, was taken aback at how poorly the X-Men fared. The last two left standing were Cyclops and Marvel Girl, whose last stand caused the reemergence of the Phoenix power and ultimately Jean’s sacrifice to save the universe. But that’s okay – it wasn’t really her anyway. The X-Men got back up and never spoke of their savage beating again.
2) vs. Freedom Force (Uncanny X-Men #206)
While this loss isn’t as bad as some of the others, it ranks higher on the list because of who they were beaten by. Freedom Force (Blob, Pyro, Avalanche, Spiral) was a group the X-Men had defeated several times before, but not so much this time. Hanging in San Francisco after a battle against the Beyonder, the X-Men are settling in well when Freedom Force suddenly attacks, seeking to arrest the X-Men (who had been labelled outlaws after a series of unfortunate events). The team was lacking Nightcrawler and Wolverine, yet with the likes of Phoenix, Rogue and Colossus, there should have been little trouble in beating their enemies once again, especially since the villains lacked their leader Mystique as well as the precog Destiny who usually gave them the edge in battle.
Yet this time, the X-Men faired rather terribly against their opponents and were ultimately defeated. The only thing saving them from complete defeat and federal arrest was the intervention of a local cop who Storm had befriended at the beginning of the issue. The cop demanded to see Freedom Force’s warrant for the X-Men’s arrest, which the group had neglected to procure thinking that simply claiming themselves to be feds would be good enough. The cop disagreed and thus Freedom Force left to go get one while the X-Men fled the city to avoid arrest.
And thus, not only did the X-Men lose to Freedom Force (minus their leaders), but they had to be bailed out by a technicality and take off to avoid getting arrested. It certainly was not a bright point for the group.
1) vs. Magneto (Uncanny X-Men #104)
Following the disaster that had brought forward Phoenix, Professor X decided to send the X-Men on a mandatory vacation, though Cyclops refused to leave Jean’s side. So the other five X-Men (Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Banshee, Colossus) were shipped off to Ireland and got stuck in a fight against Black Tom Cassidy and Juggernaut before setting up a reandezvous on Muir Island with Moira MacTaggert. But there was an unforseen problem awaiting them on Muir Isle – Magneto.
In the goofiness of the Silver Age, Magneto and the other members of his Brotherhood of EEEEEEEVIIILLLLL Mutants had been regressed to infancy by the almighty Mutant Alpha. While the other members of the team showed back up without explanation, Magneto was left as a baby until this issue, when Shi’ar agent Erik the Red used a device to restore him to adulthood to serve as a diversion for the X-Men.
But since forsight was not a strength of the X-Men, neither Professor X nor Cyclops thought that the restoration of Magneto was a remote possibility, so they never bothered training the new team on how to combat their greatest foe. So when the X-Men were brought before him and began the fight, they got beaten horribly. Neither Wolverine nor Colossus thought that perhaps their metal-based forms would be ill-suited against a villain like Magneto, and Colossus even spends the entire fight in his armored form. Banshee and Storm get quickly dropped, with a reminder that Storm is indeed claustrophobic. Finally, Cyclops gets to the scene and basically tells the team to get the hell out. They turn tail and run and Magneto, for the first time ever, is able to claim a decisive victory over the X-Men.
This fight was about as much of a disaster as the X-Men have ever had. Even their first mission against Count Nefaria that left Thunderbird dead went better than this one. Magneto – a villain who had been thwarted countless times by the teenage original X-Men whose training involved jumping through hoops – easily took down a far more powerful team. The central point was to cement home that the team was using much in the way of teamwork and thus couldn’t stand the challenge, but even so they got beaten like rank amateurs.