In general, we ignored solo and character-specific books, as well as spinoff franchises like Alpha Flight, in favor of projects that showcase the X-Men as a whole. Chris Claremont's New Mutants run received an unexpected shakeup when Bill Sienkiewicz became the regular artist on the series.
The series grew darker with Sienkiewicz on board as Chris Claremont introduced new characters like Charles Xavier's crazed son, Legion. At times the two creators seemed to struggle to find a unified voice, with Claremont's verbose writing style clashing against Sienkiewicz's evocative imagery.
But if never perfectly united, the duo delivered some memorable adventures starring a younger generation of mutant heroes. Anyone complaining that the X-Men never interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe got their wish with House of M. One of the first major event books of the modern era, this crossover teamed the X-Men and the Avengers as they struggled to deal with an out-of-control Scarlet Witch and her less than helpful family members.
Their efforts led to an alternate reality where mutants were the dominant race and Magneto's family reigned supreme. But just as quickly as it began, this world started to crumble, and the end result was one of the most devastating days in the history of the mutant race.
House of M also deserves credit for elevating Olivier Compel's name and paving the way for his work on Thor and Siege. Scott Lob dell was one of the writers tasked with the thankless role of steering the X-Men franchise after the departure of Chris Claremont.
Shortly after their marriage in X-Men #30, Cyclops and Jean Grey were whisked away to the future by Mother Assani in order to raise baby Nathan Day spring (better known to most X-fans as Cable). This mini-series also features some all too rare superhero art by Gene Ha, which alone makes it worth the price of admission.
Mutant Massacre is one of the more violent X-Men tales, with plenty of innocents falling victim to Sinister's Warlocks and even an X-Men being maimed in battle. Mike Carey placed Xavier at the forefront of the book as the former head of the X-Men sought to rebuild his shattered memories and atone for the many questionable deeds he committed.
The series also made excellent use of X-Men history, providing numerous flashbacks rendered by a variety of top artists. They were created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, and first appeared in The X-Men #1 (September 1963).
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.
Claremont introduced the depth and complexity of a soap opera, believable romances and fragile interpersonal dynamics to the spandex filled punch-fest that had previously passed for story telling in the comic medium. 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.
If you like long, intricate stories, try In the fast-moving world of shared-universe superhero comics, Chris Claremont has spent a staggering 17 years shaping the X-Men. 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. If you’ve watched the eponymous 2014 feature film or the 1993 arc from the animated series, you’ll recognize a lot of the motifs in X-Men #141-142, which have been adapted almost as often as The Dark Phoenix Saga.
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. Cullen Burn, Gabriel Hernandez Malta, and Jodie Bella ire’s 2014 serial adds even more depth to Magneto’s complex legacy as a Holocaust survivor, mutant activist, and first and closest friend of X-Men founder Charles Xavier.
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. Instead of shifting the main status quo, PAK and a series of spectacular artists reimagine the X-Men’s corner of the Marvel universe over and over, building a fascinating and unlikely cast of heroes in the process.
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. Yesterday's X-Men, the first volume of Brian Michael Bends and Stuart Immune's All New X-Men, is the starting point for the current status quo of the monthly X-Men comics.
The story, in which the X-Men team up with Magneto to confront a religious crusade against mutants, isn't particularly subtle but is very effective in focusing on the series' core theme of fighting bigotry and oppression. Uncanny X-Force is collected in many forms, including a giant omnibus featuring the entire 35-issue epic, but make sure you start at the beginning with the “Apocalypse Solution” storyline.
Marvel Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKenzie's self-contained graphic novel X-Men : Season One puts a modern spin on the early days of the original X-Men from the 1960s. Marvel Schism, a miniseries written by Jason Aaron, set up the current dynamic of the X-Men comics, in which Wolverine and Cyclops lead rival factions of X-Men with very different goals.
Aaron's story, which is set up as an easy jumping-on point for new readers, shows us how this philosophical rift happens, and more importantly, features a lot of pages of Wolverine and Cyclops beating each other up. Marvel Cullen Burn and Gabriel Hernandez Malta's new Magneto ongoing series only recently began and won't be collected until the fall, but it's really the best thing you could pick up if you're fascinated by Michael Fassbinder's version of the character from the X-Men : First Class movie.