Since 2019, the X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe has centered on the new Mutant nation of Krakoa and the unique gifts and struggles that have come with the nation’s founding. But with the Fall of X coming, the days may be numbered for the would-be mutant utopia. If so, it will be one of the most devastating defeats in the X-Men’s history. But while it will be one of the biggest, it is far from the first time the group has been driven into a corner with their future and that of their species at risk. So let’s take a look at five other times the X-Men were nearly broken beyond repair.
1)The Mutant Massacre
The tunnels beneath New York once belonged to a group of mutants called The Morlocks. Incapable of passing for humans, the Morlocks were forced to live in the tunnels to avoid the hate of closed-minded humans. But while the Morlocks saught nothing but a peaceful existence, some could not leave them be. The carnage was instant and thorough when Sinister unleashed his Mauraders onto the unsuspecting community. Despite resistance from not only the X-Men and X-Factor but the likes of Thor as well, only a handful of mutants eventually escaped the slaughter, and the X-Men were left with more than a few scars of their own.
The aftermath of the Mutant Massacre would leave plenty of hurt on the X-Men, both physical and mental. Colossus would suffer both as his wounds would leave him temporarily paralyzed, but before that, the sight of the Mauraders’ work would cause him to snap a neck and scream for more blood. An attitude that is not normally in Piotr’s range of emotion. But of all the scars the X-Men would suffer during their failure in the tunnels, the worst belonged to Angel. It is here that the original X-Man loses his wings, setting him on the path to despair that would be manipulated by the ancient mutant known as Apocalypse till he is reborn as his Horseman Death.
2)Days of Future Past
One of the quintessential time travel stories in Marvel’s long publishing history, this classic two-part tale sees Kitty Pride travel back from the future to stop an assassination that will trigger a chain of events that leads the mutant race to the brink of extinction, with most of the few survivors imprisoned in concentration camps. One of the bleakest future scenarios comics have shown. As the present-day story unfolded, the future was visited repeatedly, showing how the few remaining mutants would fall. The imagery of this story arc is so ingrained in the franchise that the same future reappears as recently as our next entry, though over two-and-a-half decades separate the two.
After suffering a nervous breakdown, Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. The Scarlet Witch, reduced the mutant population of the earth to under 200 individuals with just three little words, “No more mutants.” After struggling to hold the species together upon the new mutant home island of Utopia, Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men believed that their future was given a second chance when the time-traveler Cable returned to the present bearing Hope Summers, the one many believed to be the Mutant Messiah, how would restart the species and save them from extinction. But their efforts to secure Hope and their future are tested by the malevolent entity, Bastion, and a who’s who of bigots and extremists set on finishing off the mutant race once and for all.
The storyline that probably should’ve ended the Decimation Era of the X-Men, this brutal crossover spanned almost every X-Book that was running at the time as it stretched not only the X-Men but X-Force and The New Mutants to the breaking point as well. With Bastion being his usual methodical self, the heroes see themselves cut off from every escape route to the point where their entire island home, and a sizable portion of San Fransico, is sealed in by an unbreakable barrier that not even the likes of Iron Man and Thor can put a dent in. And even though the team would eventually triumph over their returning adversary, it would be at a horrendous cost, with the likes of long-time characters Nightcrawler and Cable among those forced to pay the ultimate price so that their people may again have a tomorrow.
4)We Have Always Been
The final Uncanny X-Men storyline before the Krakoan Age began, this tale saw the mutant race in one of its darkest hours and without its staunchest protectors anywhere to be found. With all three current X-Teams having vanished during a pitched battle with a mad X-Man and his Horsemen, it is left to the recently resurrected Cyclops and Wolverine to attempt to rally whoever they can to make one final stand. With a vaccine being spread that suppresses the mutant gene in children, it looks like the mutant race may truly be no more.
In hindsight of the changes Krakoa would bring, specifically the mutant resurrection protocols, this story doesn’t seem nearly as crazy as it did when it first ran. Many characters are killed with little regard for their place in the book’s history or fan following. Some who hadn’t been seen in decades, like the de-aged clone of Magneto, Joseph, return for a handful of panels just to be summarily killed. It’s a tale that is brutal enough that Marvel would never print it without a convenient way planned to undo it all.
5)Operation: Zero Tolerance
In the aftermath of the Onslaught Crisis, when the world looked on as the X-Men allowed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to sacrifice themselves to the dreaded being of the same name, anti-mutant hysteria had never been higher. To ensure “peace and order” are maintained, the U.S. government turned to the mysterious man called Bastion and his enhanced Prime Sentinels to make the nation’s streets safe. Already holding Xavier in custody due to his unwitting part in unleashing Onslaught upon the world, the team was already without their primary leader. And Bastion would not waste time striking down the rest of the team.
They say if you cut off the head, the viper will die. Barring the rare mythological exception or terrorist group that shares a name with it, this is generally the case. Bastion proved how effective such tactics could be when he opened his campaign of terror against what remained of the X-Men’s leadership. In his opening salvo, he snatched up Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Cannonball before they even knew he was gunning for them. With their field commanders out of commission, the remaining members are swiftly overrun, and the mansion falls, along with the vast majority of its secrets.
This defeat would be felt in the pages of the various X-Books for years to come. Stripped of their advanced Shi’ar technology when Bastion seized their home, the X-Men would be reduced to far more limited means for a long time. They would also lose the leadership of Cyclops and Jean, as the duo would be forced to take an extended leave of absence from the team to recover from wounds suffered during the struggle. The years following would see the team slowly dwindle to it is left with little more than a handful of members before a homecoming of old friends can get the team back on track.
There you have it. Five times the X-Men was nearly put down by some of their greatest enemies. Will the upcoming Fall of X earn a place among these hard-fought battles as another time the mutants would narrowly escape death? Only time will tell.