The varieties of mutation in the X-Men world

XOmega

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.
OK, time for me to own up; I’ve been itching to get this image into a blog, as it’s one of my favourites of our Southern Belle. Now that Rogue has control over her powers, she’s an Alpha.
  • 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.
Some artists only have her eyes go pearlescent when using her powers; others have them permanently clear. The former would be Alpha, the latter would be Beta.
  • 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).
It’s always seemed like the weirdest ‘power’ to me, though…
  • Epsilon – inhuman appearance with no associated ‘benefits’ such as superhuman strength and agility.
Pretty much the classic example.
  • Gamma – powerful but not strictly controllable, cannot pass as human without some form of disguise. Blink and Nightcrawler are good examples.
The classic image.
  • 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.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. herdthinner says:

    ” inhuman appearance with no associated ‘benefits’ such as superhuman strength and agility.” And yet they’ve got Beakboy up there in an “X” costume. Because of course.

    “You have the mutant ability to combine any edible substances into the greatest taste ever… tasted?? Put on this suit and join us in combat as ‘Seasoning!’ ”

    I know, I’m being harsh, but sometimes those X-books stretch their characters too far. The Legion of Superheroes has been known to do the same. Good analyses, though!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it lol! 🙂

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  2. B. Patterson says:

    Wow, a lot of good thoughts here. I have to admit I find it hard to believe Psylocke is Omega-level. But I guess that’s because most writers don’t do much with her besides use her in an auxiliary role.

    And yes, given the creative license Marvel let’s writer’s use when it comes to the powers of certain characters, I can see why characters often switch between classes.

    Great post.

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    1. loz says:

      I often thought that Psylocke’s Omega level status came from her brother Jamie’s meddling. That said, I love what they did with her during Uncanny X-Force. That seems to have taken a nose dive in the most current version. I much prefer what Wood is doing with her.

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      1. B. Patterson says:

        Ah, I forgot she’s in Uncanny X-Force. Sigh, another Marvel title I’ll need to catch up on.

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      2. It’s not seemed a great comic, tbh, so I’m personally ignoring it lol

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      3. loz says:

        I read the first three issues of the new Uncanny X-Force, that was more than enough to sate my curiosity and decide to leave well enough alone.
        And Tom, I must have missed the Jean assisted boost to her powers.

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      4. I seriously recommend the Dark Angel Saga, it’s superbly written imo 🙂

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      5. B. Patterson says:

        The first 3 issues was the arc about Apocalypse stuck in a kid’s body right? I thought it was a very entertaining arc. I think I moved around that time and the new comic store was complete unreliable about getting me issues for the books I subscribed to, so I got out of comics for a while.

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      6. loz says:

        Oh no, I loved the initial run of Uncanny X-Force. I’m talking about the newer Uncanny X-Force with Psylocke, Storm, Puck and Spiral.

        Remender’s Run was mostly a hit. We’ll have to do a couple of features on his X-Force run.

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      7. The Omega status is because, in the Dark Angel Saga, the Age of Apocalypse version of Jean Grey did a psychic ‘boost’ to Betsy’s mind, unlocking her powers in a way she’d never had before – all to make her equal to the task ahead of her. Dark Angel Saga was wonderfully done.

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  3. Monty Barnes says:

    I like what they did with Psylock in the Exiles run …

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