The Internet has brought with it the possibility of previously near-impossible completion, and with it, the overwhelming implicit weight of years of continuity and the necessity of “catching up” before you dive in. But for readers who want a more modern take on the early days of the team, Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKenzie’s graphic novel provides a great self-contained introduction to the original five X-Men, distilling down the first half dozen issues of the often-overwrought Silver Age.
While his run technically starts a few issues after this, Giant-Size X-Men #1 lays the foundation for a decade and a half of intricate long-form storytelling, interwoven plot lines, and the kind of slow-burn soap opera for which the X-Men are famous. Excalibur has plenty of X-Men -style soap opera, but the long-game storytelling here veers further into the realm of the weird; and Davis’s run deftly weaves Claremont’s spiraling plot threads into surprisingly poignant tapestry.
Ask any fan to pinpoint the classic, iconic X-Men story, and most will send you straight to Uncanny X-Men #129-138: the issues that chronicle the corruption and fall of the cosmically empowered Jean Grey. All of that is because The Dark Phoenix Saga is the X-Men at their best : fighting as and for their found family and the fate of the world, backs to the wall, in the face of impossible odds.
(And once you’ve read the original, you can join me in my annoyance that Fox made a comic centered around two women into a story that managed to be about the same three men twice.) Next, try The dystopian timeline of Earth-811 plays a cameo role in Days of Future Past, but one of its residents would go on to become a refugee in the main Marvel Universe.
Rachel Summers, the daughter of Earth-811’s Cyclops and Jean Grey, served first on the X-Men, and then on the British superhero team Excalibur. If you want to read a book that examines just about all the main themes of X-Men, you’re not going to find a more on-brand option than God Loves, Man Kills.
Published in 1982 as the fifth installment of Marvel’s fledgling graphic novel line, God Loves, Man Kills takes on anti-mutant sentiment through the lens of bigotry in an evangelical megachurch, juxtaposing the “monstrous” mutant X-Men with the inhumane doctrine of a man perceived as a moral force. Over the more than half a century he’s been appearing in comics, Magneto has gone from a one-dimensional super villain to a strikingly nuanced and sympathetic figure who more than once has put aside ideological differences to aid X-Men in need.
After the comparative chaos of the mid-to-late 1990s, Morrison swept in and established a brave and world-shaking new status quo, setting the stage for pretty much every X-Men story of the 21st Century. There have been a lot of reality-hopping X-books over the years, but few so substantial and deft as this series, which spun off from writer Greg PAK’s single arc on Astonishing X-Men.
By right of quality, it should have been an instant classic; instead, it’s frequently forgotten, rarely (if ever) collected, and a royal pain to find in hard copy. Husband-and-wife writer team Walter and Louise Simon son’s surreal, noir-tinged story of Cold War paranoia, and artists Jon J. Much and Kent Williams’s lush painted art, combine into a strange, elegant, and intricately built series that spotlights both one of the more rarely explored dynamics between X-Men team members and the breathtaking potential of comics as a narrative medium.
Kent Williams returned to the X-line with Wolverine: Killing, a one-shot comic that’s even harder to track down than Meltdown : it’s never been collected, and it’s not available digitally. Williams and writer John Na Racer craft a work that falls somewhere between traditional comic and visual tone poem, and a lyrical exploration of some quieter parts of Wolverine’s story.
With appealing art by Gurihiru, the Power Pack crossover series are generally great kid-friendly introductions to Marvel’s adult superheroes. It’s silly and fun enough to hold the attention of even fairly young kids; and seeded with enough layered humor and continuity gags to keep adults engaged at the same time.
Their shared conundrum of feeling ostracized for the very thing that makes them special is the engine that powers the most compelling family of books in Marvel's cannon. The books follow intricate, layered story lines that are essential reading for any superhero enthusiast.
It could be argued that even though Spider-Man may have introduced the art of lengthy and powerful story lines, X-Men books perfected it with some of the best arcs in comic history. If you don't have the time to read literally infinite comic books, here are the most essential X-Men story lines to get you caught up.
At the height of his powers, writer Chris Claremont cast long-time protagonist Jean Grey as the X-Men's greatest foe when the sheer burden of her powers and a nudge from Mastermind (a villainous mutant with the ability to cast illusions) push her to abandon morality and embrace the world-breaking telekinetic potential of the Phoenix Force. It's a cosmic opera in which Jean kills millions, faces a trial at the hands of the alien Shi'AR race, and ultimately sacrifices herself for the good of the galaxy.
The drama lies not only in Jean's struggle, but in the anguish of her friends and teammates as they watch her descent into madness. The Dark Phoenix Saga is not only one of the greatest X-Men tales, but it is also a frequent nominee for the best comic book storyline of all-time.
“Days of Future Past” is the first alternate timeline storyline in the X-Men books and a short, succinct, and airtight one at that. When the X-Men's lives are threatened by radiation on a trip home from outer space, Jean transforms from her mild-mannered Marvel Girl persona to become the Phoenix, an angry force of nature that manifests a fiery bird to do her telekinetic bidding and that has the potential to destroy planets.
They came back in 1975 with a Giant Size issue that introduced a diverse, multi-national team of new X-Men whose first mission was to save the original X-Men after Professor Xavier had failed them. The original team faded into the background as Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and especially Wolverine took center stage and became fan favorites.
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Dark Phoenix may signal the end of a cinematic era for the X-Men, but fans probably won't have to wait too long until the fan-favorite team is back on the big screen. Disney's ownership of the X-Men and Fantastic Four film rights guarantee a reboot for the X-franchise, which means another chance at seeing a few fan-favorite storylines adapted, this time with Marvel Studios in creative control.
Thankfully there have been a few modern retelling of the early years of the X-Men, which focus on the original five mutants assembled by Professor Xavier; Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Bobby Drake, Hank McCoy, and Warren Worthington the III. Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKenzie's X-Men : Season One retold the first year of the young X-Men's lives, while Jeff Parker and Roger Cruz's X-Men : First Class provides an alternate retelling of the team's origins and carries on until their fateful mission to Krakow.
The new team, which featured iconic members like Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine, would then head off on their own adventures in the relaunched X-Men title from legendary X-scribe Chris Claremont. Giant-Size X-Men #1 kicked off the increasing popularity of Marvel's mutants for years and remains a great introduction to the fan-favorite characters, but Ed Breaker and Trevor Hairline's X-Men : Deadly Genesis offers a bit more depth to the team's origins and the Krakow mission.
Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson released God Loves, Man Kills in 1982 as a part of Marvel's newest foray into publishing, graphic novels. The story featured the X-Men as they were attacked publicly by religious fanatic Reverend William Stryker, whose own son was born with an abnormal mutation that he considered an abomination against God.
While God Loves, Man Kills was originally considered non-canon, Claremont officially brought in to continuity with a sequel storyline that took place during his Extreme X-Men run and further launched the ongoing threat of Reverend Stryker. We can't talk about important issues of the X-Men without discussing Chris Claremont and Jim Lee's X-Men #1, which became the best -selling comic of the modern era after its launch in 1991.
The issue debuted an updated team with new costumes and characters that kicked off the series' highest levels of popularity and launched the X-Men into the mainstream. The characters and designs from X-Men #1 inspired the hit X-Men : The Animated Series and launched a number of spin-off titles that further expanded the huge line of X-Men -related comics during the industry's boom in the 90s.
However, during one of the first big X-Men crossover events, Claremont and John Romina, Jr. would unite for the “Mutant Massacre,” which saw the Marauders set out to exterminate the Warlocks living beneath the streets of Manhattan. Many lives were lost, and the X-Men suffered a number of injuries and personal losses that would shatter the team and set them on a dark path for many years.
The Mutant Massacre crossover also included other titles like Daredevil, Thor, and Power Pack and would continue to inspire new storylines for years to come. The new series kicked off a new super heroic era that saw the main Astonishing team lead the rest of the X-Men through other big events like Messiah Complex, Second Coming, and Avengers Vs. X-Men.
The classic storyline from Chris Claremont and John Byrne lasted for a few years and featured some of the best and saddest moments the X-Men have ever dealt with over their storied past.