Alpha, Beta, Delta, Epsilon, Gamma, Omega. Aside from their being Greek letters, what do these six words have in common? Answer: they’re all terms variously used in X-Men comics to refer to types of mutations. But what does each description mean?
Well, the catch is that Marvel have never strictly defined these terms (although most of them were apparently thrown around in an internal conference in 2003), so the fans have more to contribute to this than canon in many ways – meaning this is widely open to debate, and you find a lot of mixed comments (especially for Zeta-level). I’d like to put a check on ‘Omega’ for a moment, while I look at the first five. I’ve encountered these described roughly as follows:
- Alpha – the mutant has a normal appearance and their mutation is powerful (note the subjective term), useful (note the subjective term) and can be controlled with training.
- Beta – similar class to Alpha, but with some sort of distinguishing ‘flaw’ – e.g. Cyclops needs to wear a visor to control his optic blasts. Curiously, Storm is actually a Beta if the artist in question is choosing to draw her eyes without pupils; some Marvel artists do, some don’t.
- Delta – normal appearance, mutant powers are ‘weaker’, or only narrowly applicable; not easy to assign combat roles for, such as Forge (intuitive invention), or Domino (manipulate probability).
- Epsilon – inhuman appearance with no associated ‘benefits’ such as superhuman strength and agility.
- Gamma – powerful but not strictly controllable, cannot pass as human without some form of disguise. Blink and Nightcrawler are good examples.
- Zeta – the X-gene remains ‘latent’, and can be triggered (e.g. Polaris). You don’t find many sources discussing this class.
There are two catches.
First of all, there’s nothing here to say whose power is the greatest. Imagine you had two telepaths – both Alpha-class; but that doesn’t mean anything in terms of power-level. And Wolverine, as a Beta, has battered down a number of Alphas in his time.
And here’s the other… How do you solidly classify a single mutant? Say, for instance, Cyclops – if we go with the idea that brain damage is what prevents him being able to control his optic blasts, then he’s actually an Alpha class mutant who’s suffered brain damage. Or take Rogue; back in the day she’d have been a Beta or Gamma level due to being unable to control her powers. As the years have gone on, she’s refined her skills and would now be classed as an Alpha level.
This may well explain why the usage of these terms is so confusing. A mutant’s classification can change, and it’s possible there’s a subjective aspect of the classification (who decided to classify Cyclops as Alpha or Beta, based on the limitations of their knowledge?) So we’d expect to see some heroes classified differently. And, of course, we do. This is where the Omega comes in.