Like any team, the X-Men have had their tense moments over the years. Sometimes, it can result in overt conflict between heroes, like when Wolverine and Cyclops fell out in Schism and divided the team during a tumultuous period for the group.
But no mutant Civil War has been as bad as the one that played out in What If? — which showcased just how poorly an outright war between Cable, Xavier and Wolverine would be not just for the mutants, but for their entire world.
The X-Men have gone through some rough periods over the years — with some of their most dire straights being during a period when Xavier was absent after being captured by the Skrulls in space. However, in the reality introduced in 1993’s What If? #46 & #47 by Kurt Busiek, Tod Smith, Ian Akin, Janice Chiang, Evelyn Stein and Tom Vincent, when Xavier escaped early and returned to Earth. Although he was able to help prevent the more destructive events of “X-Tinction Agenda” and the “Muir Island Saga,” Xavier was furious to see the X-Men so low. Openly judging the mutant heroes, Xavier’s authority is ultimately challenged by Cable, who argues his “hysterical devotion to appeasement” does more damage to the mutant community than it does help mutant/human relations.
Furious, Xavier orders the X-Men to remove Cable from his influence over the New Mutants, which enrages the young team. A mutant civil war promptly breaks out, with Cable and New Mutants going on the run. Cable decides to attack Xavier before he can follow through on a psychic threat to destroy his mind — resulting in a bombing that kills Xavier, Cyclops and Jean Grey. The remaining X-Men and their allies split along ideological lines. Wolverine wants to hunt down Cable and kill him for his crimes, while Storm hopes to capture him alive. Storm convinces Beast, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Forge and Polaris to fight alongside her, while Wolverine gains Archangel, Havok, Iceman, Jubilee and Psylocke as major allies.
Storm’s X-Men become distracted with this conflict — losing Banshee and Meggan in battle while leaving Apocalypse to be dealt with by the Avengers. The Fenris Twins successfully attack the public, prompting brutal reprisals against the Morlocks. Public perception of mutants reaches an all-time low just as Wolverine hunts down Cable and kills him. Meanwhile, an alliance of the X-Men’s foes ambushes Storm’s group — killing Beast, Nightcrawler and Polaris while destroying the remains of the Xavier Mansion. Seeing the weakened hopes of the X-Men as an opportunity, Magneto makes a power move, killing Stryfe and taking command of the Mutant Liberation Front. Leading an assault on the White House, the Mutant Legion goes to war with the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the rest of the Marvel heroes.
Storm loses more and more of her allies, while Wolverine’s X-Men continue a lethal crusade against their enemies. Logan’s rage and bloodlust lead him down an increasingly dangerous road, resulting in Psylocke turning her back on his group to find Storm. Magneto’s assault on the United States is initially considered a victory — only for the President to unleash a full armada of Sentinels against him. It isn’t long before the Sentinels target all mutants and their allies. Meanwhile, Logan loses Archangel and Havok to an ambush by the Sentinels and is forced to go on the run himself. The surviving captured mutants are placed in Genetic Classification Areas.
Storm and Psylocke try to convince Magneto to lay down his arms, but a new Sentinel attack distracts him. Tragically, one of the robots is hiding a nuclear warhead. When it’s destroyed, the bomb goes off and kills everyone present, ensuring a Sentinel victory. This results in a timeline similar to the Days of Future Past — but even worse off, due to the sheer lack of remaining heroes. A rogue Wolverine finally rescues a small band of freedom fighters — Iceman, La Bandera, Sunder, Siryn and Amphibius — as a new roster of X-Men. It’s a truly grim world, where the only hope that remains rests with a small handful of survivors led by a Wolverine who has fully embraced his darker side. It’s a terrifying portent of what a full-scale X-Men inner war could entail and a reminder of how dangerous events like the upcoming Inferno can be.