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From the moment they set foot in the Marvel Universe, the X-Men have faced off against some of the most terrifying threats that their world has to offer. For years, these came in the form of largely existential and political enemies, though the X-Men always had their fair share of more literally monstrous menaces to deal with of both the mechanized and mutant variety.
While the X-Men's worst foes being the machinations of man was an indelible part of their mythos for decades, 1981's Uncanny X-Men #155 (by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Bob Wiacek, and Glynis Wein) introduced a whole new breed of terror into their world in the form of the Brood. These hulking, intelligent, insectile aliens have gone on to amass what might be the most overtly cruel reputation that the cosmos of the Marvel Universe has to offer. Unfortunately for the X-Men and countless others, that same reputation was built on the blood and bodies of those swept up by the swarm, and those who lost their lives to it were the lucky ones.
How The Brood Changed The X-Men's History Forever
In their first appearance, the Brood were seen manipulating events from the shadows alongside Cal'syee Neramani, better known as Deathbird, who sought to usurp her sister Lilandra's place as the Majestrix of the Shi'ar Empire. After Lilandra disappeared, the X-Men were called upon to investigate what had happened to the Majestrix and recover her safely. Instead, the heroes were set upon by a breed of villains they had no prior knowledge of, let alone any experience dealing with. Between the surprise nature of the Broods' first assault on the X-Men and the wider scope of events surrounding their introduction, the heroes were caught completely off guard in ways they hadn't concerned themselves with for years.
At the point in the X-Men's career that the Brood entered the picture, the team was already well-versed in all manner of superheroics. Having faced down every threat from Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to the Phoenix Force, the X-Men were more than accustomed to slow-burning situations that culminated in major cataclysms. Instead, the Brood offered the X-Men a calculated assault with elements tailor-made to not just fell the mutant heroes, but to do as much harm as possible in the process. Even if it wasn't clear in their introduction, how the Brood lust after the suffering of others quickly became another of the horrifying aspects of their species that makes them the last enemy anyone would want to make.
Why the Brood Are Such A Terrifying Threat
This drastically shifted the tone of Uncanny X-Men, yet the days following the Broods' debut also changed things for more than just Xavier's most capable recruits. Apart from the joy they derived in others' suffering, the Brood possess a level of intelligence that their overtly monstrous appearances belie entirely. The fact that no one saw the Broods' capture of the X-Men coming made them that much more terrifying, yet the gruesome experiments they conducted on the heroes and, more importantly, on Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, were both completely unexpected and gut-wrenching to read through.
This was made especially true when it became clear that the Brood were also using their prisoners as host bodies for new generations of Brood that would carry on at least some of the host's innate powers or abilities. Again, this was another mortifying development regarding the Brood that their first appearance never indicated in any way. As time went on, the Brood only got worse as fans learned further details about their hive-mind society and purposefully cruel practices. There have certainly been some positive developments in the realm of the Brood in the decades since their debut, but nothing could ever see their name invoke anything other than abject terror.
How The Brood Continue To Invoke Horror In Marvel Comics
That the Brood were introduced as a vague, ominous, highly capable threat in Uncanny X-Men #155 was scary enough, yet the fact that their atrocities surpass everything that introduction implied cemented the issue's place in comic book history. As recently as 2023's Captain Marvel #49 (by Kelly Thompson, Sergio Dávila, Sean Parsons, Roberto Poggi, and Ceci De La Cruz), the Brood have been seen returning to their old habits of kidnapping Carol Danvers and her mutant allies in the hopes of incorporating their victims' powers into the hive. Worse still, no amount of experience that Captain Marvel or the X-Men have gained in terms of dealing with the Brood could prevent the insectile aberrations from ending the life of one of the Marvel Universe's next great heroes. Just like the first time they crossed paths with Earth's heroes, the Brood had no trouble in launching a strike that none of their enemies saw coming, even when those same heroes expressly knew the Brood were what they were heading toward.
As much as they are known for their cruelty, it is this sense of uncertainty and the Broods' proclivity for sudden, swift, and unexpected strikes that have made them genuinely horrifying threats from the very start. Plenty of other villains have debuted as seemingly unstoppable, impossibly capable figures, but none have done so with the same level of intensity as the Brood. If anything, this is because no matter how much fans or anyone else thinks they know about them, the Brood always have another secret or layer to their schemes that is waiting to be unveiled. And, considering that has been an intrinsic part of their overall character from the moment they entered the realm of pop culture, their first appearance is one of the rare comics of its era that still holds up even when cast against the decades of developments that came after it.