Although Oscar Isaac’s eponymous villain in X-Men: Apocalypse is just the latest bad guy to face off against Charles Xavier’s students, he’s also the oldest threat they’ve ever faced. So old, in fact, that he’s the very first mutant who ever lived. Or, at least, he currently is. The comic book history of the X-Men has shown that to be a very uncertain position indeed.
The First First Mutant
When the X-Men first appeared, Professor Charles Xavier wasn’t just the patriarch, he was the original mutant. “I was born of parents who worked on the first A-Bomb project!” he helpfully explained in X-Men No. 1 (1963), offering a handy explanation for the entire mutant race — it’s all atomic radiation’s fault! — before suggesting that he is “possibly the first such mutant!” It’s an easy-to-understand rationale for the concept behind the series, which of course means that it couldn’t last; within a handful of years, the sun itself would be suggested as the reason for mutations. Although something didn’t add up in Xavier’s logic: If he was the son of parents who worked on the first atomic bomb, he would have been been only a few years older than the teenage X-Men at the time of the series’ launch. The first atomic bomb test, after all, had only taken place 18 years earlier …
It’s All Done With Magnets
Xavier’s claim to having been the first mutant was almost immediately contradicted by Magneto, who appeared in the same 1963 X-Men issue. Was he older or younger than the X-Men’s wheelchair-bound leader? That was a question left unanswered for years, but 1981’s Uncanny X-Men No. 150 offered a strange method to decide the question once and for all by establishing that Magneto had been held in Auschwitz as a child. With the sliding timeframe of the Marvel Universe, that would quickly establish Magneto as the older of the two characters — even moreso when the 2009 series Magneto: Testament established that he had actually been in his 20s when at the camp. Okay, so Magneto was the first mutant, it seemed.
The Oldest Mutant There Is
Everything got more complicated in 1990, with the publication of Uncanny X-Men No. 268, which took place in the “late summer of 1941” according to a caption, showing an adult Wolverine, with superpowers, in action alongside Captain America. (A later comic, 2001’s Origin, would declare that Wolverine — real name James Howlett — was actually born in 1885, meaning that he was a sprightly 56 years old at the time of the X-Men story. Comic book time is a weird thing, needless to say.) However old Magneto and/or Charles Xavier were, however, this seemed pretty definitive: Wolverine was almost certainly the first mutant. Probably.
The … Other First Mutant
What, then, to make of the 1990 launch of a comic book called Namor: The Sub-Mariner, a series that had as its tagline “Marvel’s first and mightiest mutant”? This was a claim made as much because of publishing reasons as in-story logic: one of the oldest Marvel characters — Namor debuted in Marvel Comics No. 1 in 1939 — the half-human, half-Atlantean anti-hero predated the entire X-Men mythology by decades. When it was declared that the character was actually a mutant, the character really did become the company’s first mutant, although whether or not he was actually older than Wolverine remained unclear.
With the publication of Rise of Apocalypse in 1996, the question of the original mutant was seemingly settled for good — although only “seemingly,” because it’s surely only a matter of time before someone writes a story with a mutant Cro-Magnon, a la DC’s comic book Vandal Savage. Apocalypse, who had appeared a decade earlier in X-Factor No. 6, was not originally intended to have been quite so long-lived, but his mysterious backstory became more involved the more various writers decided to add new pieces to the puzzle. As his origin was revealed, it became known that En Sabah Nur was born “thousands of years ago” in Egypt, and was believed to be the first person to possess the X-Gene. Almost certainly.
X-Men: Apocalypse is released May 27.