As a kid born in the mid-90s who grew up in the early 2000s, my favorite childhood comic book adaptations were Teen Titans, the original X-Men trilogy, and, of course, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. The latter were unquestionably the kings of live-action superhero films before Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight arrived to reinvent the genre.
Both Teen Titans and X-Men featured a unique live-in superhero team situation. The much-loved original Titans series was definitely more of a “mixed bag of colorful college roommates” than a typical family dynamic, but the domestic feel of the series and the team still left a big impression.
The Titans did laundry together, took turns washing dishes, and squabbled like a truly haphazard family should. When they weren’t saving the world, this household of supers was as domestic as they come. This gave the fanbase a much more intimate look at the team and is probably why the series is such a significant source of nostalgia for others in my part of the generation.
Besides the memorable Teen Titans, the biggest superhero obsession of my elementary school days was definitely X-Men. These are some of the earliest DVDs I remember coveting as “my own movies” and forcing my friends to watch at every sleepover. There are so many aspects of these original X-Men films that made the trilogy so iconic, but the powerful presence of its superwomen and the themes of inequality were particularly lasting for me.
One of the best aspects of X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand — and of the comics — are that the team all live and teach together at the X-Mansion, more formally known as the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. Located in Westchester, New York, this operations base slash private school for young mutants was basically the superhero-Hogwarts of my dreams.
There’s a wonderful domestic quality to having a vast, secure yet picturesque building serve as the home base of a superhero team. Add in the too-pure-for-this-world young mutants, many whose powers remain unknown to their own non-mutant families, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a definite family dynamic. Professor Xavier is the benevolent yet formidable grandfather figure, Storm is the fun, but mysterious mom and Logan (Wolverine) is the grumpy yet unintentionally lovable uncle (twice-removed).
It helps that the mansion is, well, a mansion. The idyllic hideaway includes horse stables, expansive grounds, and large well-lit rooms with secret doorways. Underneath it all lies the base of the X-Men, where the X-Jet and Cerebro are well-hidden. Besides thinking of it as their base of operations, members of the X-Men regularly emphasize the school as being a refuge for mutants — a place where all are accepted.
“Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.”
Logan wakes up here in 2000’s X-Men, confused and ready for a fight. He’s met instead with Professor X, who introduces us to his school for the gifted for the first time in the series. He explains that “anonymity is a mutant’s first chance against the world’s hostility,” hence the seclusion, and that the senior members of the team were some of his very first students.
They were taught to control their powers, and now teach others like them to do the same. Storm, Cyclops, and Jean Grey have taken bands of runaway teens and preteens, confused and alienated by their gifts, and given them a home. Though the classes seem to vary wildly in pertinency (Cyclops is seen showing students how to tune up his motorcycle while Professor X and Storm teach physics and classical history), it’s clear the X-Men exist more as mentors than lecturers.
Even the ever cynical Logan has to admit that the Professor seems to genuinely want to help, a rarity for people like them. Of course, he also calls them “geeks” in the same breath, but at least he’s trying.
Their home base is emphasized as a bubble of security and acceptance, virtually untouchable — making Colonel Stryker’s raid of the building in X2 all the more distressing. The lead up to the unexpected action does all it can to underline the cozy setting of the X-Mansion. Logan has been left on “babysitting duty” while the other members of the team are on their respective missions.
The hushed feeling of a household after dark is familiar as he creeps into the living room, where one of the kids sits changing channels telepathically. Logan goes into the kitchen, where Iceman sits eating ice cream (ha), and they chat broodingly as the rest of the house sleeps.
The invulnerable appearance of the scene and of the mansion itself is burst by the sudden presence of Stryker’s troops, shooting knockout darts at children and violently waking up the entire school. Colonel Stryker, an anti-mutant militant behind the Weapon X project, is operating under the guise of an “investigation” approved by the President himself.
Older students like Colossus (in a considerably more practical and comic book based depiction of the hero) help the more fortunate kids escape, much like a dutiful older sibling. Seeing the house band together, while their telepathic protector is miles away, definitely strikes a sentimental chord.
Logan, the reluctant caretaker, also leaps into action to occupy the invaders while the kids escape. His going full berserker mode in the halls of the mansion is one of the best scenes in the sequel, however brief. In the end, it’s the remaining older students — Iceman, Pyro, and Rogue — who come to his aid and separate him from Stryker.
The attack on the X-Mansion is so unforgettable because it’s a disruption of their one refuge. That’s what makes the domesticity of the X-Men so important — their home doesn’t just represent a place to learn or to feature scenes of late night snacking. Their secluded, private lifestyle represents their means of staying safe in a world that doesn’t want anything to do with them. Their adopted family, so to speak, is their means of safety.
Watching this dynamic play out on screen planted the idea that a live-in superhero team was the way to go. It could honestly explain the sheer number of “domestic AU (alternate universe)” fanfiction that has been written over the years. More recent superhero teams like the Avengers are a popular group to get the “supportive blended family” treatment, with fanfic plots centering around housemate hijinks and pranks.
Except for the intensely awkward Vision-Scarlet Witch-Cooking-Show scenes from Captain America: Civil War, fans were always clamoring for glimpses of the team at Stark Tower. The party in Age of Ultron and even the group’s trip to the shawarma place at the end of the first Avengers film were both fan favorites. The appeal of casual gatherings of supers is unprecedented, and — it’s my suspicion — founded in these earlier comic book films and shows.
The mounting action of these early X-Men films of course centered around the mutants achieving a place in the world: one side striving to do so through acceptance and the other by force. Ultimately, their makeshift family of outcasts wants to be seen by the outside world and to celebrate their identity publicly. The ostracization from their biological, human families sits at the heart of this desire.
These themes run deep throughout the X-Men franchise, and it all starts with the idea of the lone mutant in need of a community. How they achieve this (the X-Mansion, or Magneto’s “Brotherhood” of so-called radicals) makes up the core of the X-Men stories. Therefore, the protagonists’ domesticity becomes an invaluable aspect of the films.
The profound impression left on those who grew up with these movies is proof of the power this trilogy has, and how well it represented the true nature of the X-Men comics themselves. From the moment we saw Magneto ripped from his parents at Auschwitz in X-Men, or Professor X with his students, we were hooked on X-Men’s belief in family.