The X-Men is my favorite comic book superhero team, favorite Marvel project, and second overall favorite comic property. I have been an X-Men fan since I was kid. My first X-Men comic that I remember reading was a reprint of Uncanny X-Men #160 written by Chris Claremont and penciled by Brent Anderson.
The story follows Count Belasco kidnapping Colossus’ little sister Illyana. The team search for her through a time rift where we find a couple characters dead, Nightcrawler as a servant, and a magic powered Storm. Its a pretty creepy story and for me, at a young age, Storm was one of the first female superheroes I fell in love with. There’s a shower scene with her and a tiny rain shower. The issue is still a personal fave.
The X-Men were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby about people born with extraordinary powers, called mutants, who live in a world that hates them. The X-Men, taught and lead by Professor Charles Xavier, work towards gaining acceptance. Showing that they might be different, but they are still people. Magneto, their main adversary, and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants sought domination. Mutants as rulers, as the supreme race. The essential element of X-Men is mutants as a metaphor for being different. Being treated badly because of your differences and fighting for equality and acceptance.
The book was not a big seller for Marvel comics and also drew comparisons to the weirder DC property Doom Patrol (DP premiered before X-Men, featured a leader in a wheelchair and a bad guy group called the Brotherhood of Evil). Lee and Kirby didn’t stick on the title too long, so other creators came in. Including Doom Patrol co-creator Arnold Drake and acclaimed artist Jim Steranko briefly, the two created Polaris. Legendary Roy Thomas took a turn at writing and had one of the great comic artists Neal Adams on board for their brief stint before the book moved into reprints.
In 1975 Len Wein and Dave Cockrum launched Giant Sized X-Men #1. The story focused on Xavier putting together a new X-Men team to help Cyclops save the others from a mutant island. Wein reintroduced his Wolverine character and the two creators gave us Colossus, Storm, and Nightcrawler plus reappearances of a few other mutants who had popped up in the X-Men books most notable Banshee. X-Men #94 was the beginning of a new run with Chris Claremont co-scripting and then taking full rein the issue after. Claremont is the definitive X-men creator. He wrote the book for years and with his collaborators made X-Men the biggest book in Marvels line up for years. Renamed Uncanny in 78, Claremont’s epic stories would become some of Marvels most beloved. Specifically his work with artist (and co-plotter John Byrne) which included the Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of the Future Past and the Proteus Saga.
The X-Men franchises exploded and expanded with many other x-books, big x-crossovers, and many creators coming in and leaving. The series has maintain its top status due in part to how it retains the basic premise of mutants struggle as well as the diverse line up of characters, especially the women of the property. The series has spun movies, cartoons, games and more. But really you know most of this already. Lets get to my favorites.
#4. Ultimate X-Men #1-33 w/Ultimate War #1-4
Written by Mark Millar, Art by Various
What It Is: In early 2000s Marvel started the Ultimate line, modern versions of their decades old characters. Writer Mark Millar with artists Adam and Andy Kubert kicked off the second book in the Ultimate line. Set in the modern day with Bush as President and signing off on the sentinel program which eradicates mutants as a response to the terrorists acts of Magneto and his Brotherhood. Xavier is just putting together his X-Men team with a goal of both stopping magneto and also finding a way to convince the US that mutants are not the enemy. From there the series progresses with more conflicts with Magneto, an update of the famed Proteus Saga, Ultimate War where the Ultimates (Avengers) are trying to capture the X-Men and much more.
What It Is To Me: I admit, first time out I hated it. Wolverine, a character I liked as a kid but grew out of really pissed me off. Ultimate Wolverine was a jackass. I was stunned by the relationship with him and jean in the beginning of story and even surprised by the idea of Cyke quitting to hook up with Magneto. I revisited it a few years later and was blown away. I originally couldn’t get out my X-Men mindset, once out I saw this is a fast paced story that went back to the roots of the struggle in a rather vicious way. The Weapon X arc with black ops SHIELD members kidnapping and forcing mutants into dangerous missions while also torturing them was pretty brutal. I enjoyed also the Cyclops and Jean stuff. Jean, for all she’s suppose to be, rarely comes off as interesting to me. Here she was. When they got together, it worked, and Wolverines anger toward Cyke and the way Millar went about pitting them against each other had me on edge. The art is good, though there are several different creators on and off. I enjoyed the Kuberts, Bachalo, and David Finch came in on the tale end. Looking back, the Kubert stuff might have been my favorite. The way they did these one panel flashbacks with a different colorist was an interesting artistic choice. Ultimate X-Men is just one of those runs that can piss you off as X-Fan but it hits the right notes throughout. Frustrating but rewarding in its conclusion.
#3. Astonishing X-Men #1-24 & Giant Sized Astonishing X-Men #1
Written by Joss Whedon, Art by John Cassaday
What It Is: Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and Avengers director Joss Whedon teamed with artist John Cassaday for a big time X-Men run picking up after Grant Morrisons popular run. Keeping part of the New X-Men team of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine and Beast but adding Whedon’s personal fave Kitty ryde as well as Colossus (a character Morrison was denied use of, he replaced him with Emma Frost). Whedon and Cassaday’s run show Cyclops and Emma taking over as the Headmasters of Xavier’s school and also the growth of their relationship. On top of that there is an alien race who want to kill mutants and the Danger Room can think for itself. The 25 issues long run is comprised of only 4 stories but this run was well put together and Cassaday’s art flourished through out. It’s become one of Marvels best selling runs in trade publication.
What It Is To Me: Astonishing X-Men combines nostalgia and an eye to the future. While Whedon does not necessarily rehash any old Clarmeont plots, the space adventure toward the end is a clear call back. In fact, some of the dialogue and even the sort of Logan/Scott brawl early on reminds me of the banter of the classic X-Titles. Whedon also, at the time, didn’t try to unravel some of Morrisons ideas like other X-Books which as a New x-Men fan was another reason I enjoyed it. Whedon and Cassaday’s run does not push new ground, or do anything drastically different its simply very feel good in its construction. Almost like a greatest hits. It feels fresh but familiar and hits all the right spots. Cassaday’s artwork is phenomenal and he does such a great Emma Frost. That cold expression across her face through the series. The book had that widescreen look people trumpet, while I’m normally not impressed with that look Cassaday’s work got betetr and better. especially in the second arc, Danger with Danger taking on Prof. X. I also enjoyed that Whedon “got” Cyclops. Gave him several cool moments through out. If I had to just pick an X-Book as a recommendation, I’d throw out this one because its short, sweet and has consistent art through out.
#2. New X-Men #114-154 w/New X-Men Annual 01
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Various
What It Is: In 2001, the X-Men books were drowned in continuity, hard for new readers to jump on and needed a slick new direction to create buzz for the franchise again. New Editor-In-Chief recruited DC star Grant Morrison and with a line up of artists (sometimes to the series detriment) they crafted one of the most controversial mainstream comics run and an X-Men book that changed the face of the X-Line Up. Morrison introduced Cassandra Nova, murdered millions of mutants on Genosha, and put Emma Frost on the team. That was the first three issues. From there Morrison played up mutants as counter-culture cool. Mutant music and fashion were a thing, people wanted to be mutants while there was still fear of them replacing human beings. Magneto was a slogan for the youth while Cyclops and Jean Greys relationship finally hit the rocks. One of Morrisons general messages with almost all his comics has been “the more things change, the more things stay the same” and there are both changes to the franchises and solid footings in what worked in the past.
What It Is To Me: I love the X-Men but for the longest time I was not in a position to follow comics. Maybe one or two if I was lucky but when I had money and access I wanted the X-Men books. Started reading collections and decided to try all the X-Men titles one month. I picked up Morrison and Marc Silvestris first part of Here Comes Tomorrow, the last arc in Morrisons run. It trumped the other x-titles and I had to find out where it started. New X-Men was intense, crazy, and sly. I was not yet a Morrison fan, this was really my first introduction to his work and I gobbled it down. Its amazing to think I use to not like Cyclops but between X-Men: Evolution, the classic X-Men books and this Cyclops became my favorite Marvel hero. Him and Emma, what a combination too. I knew Emma, I read books with her, but this Emma was the best. On the art side you had Frank Quitely producing good work, though not his best. He however shined during Riot at Xaviers and his interpretation of Quentin Quire is still my fave. I know people give him crap for his faces, I don’t. I liked how several characters look and think he’s still the only one who could draw the more feline Beast. Ethan Van Sciver, Phil Jimenez and John Paul Leon were three artists who also did work I appreciated, though Jimenez Cyclops was not my favorite he did so good with the ladies and his very regal looking Magento. Chris Bachalo, a personal fave, did a portion as well which was cool. Sure there was art problems and the series’ look is inconsistent in style through out the run which no doubt marks the quality down but for me, as an X-Fan, it was just cool. It was like industrial music to me. 90s style mixing the mechanical drums with guitars and synths, plus the female backing vocals behind an angry dude.
#1. Giant Sized X-Men #1, (Uncanny) X-Men #94-#175 w/X-Men Annual #3-6
Written by Chris Claremont, Art by Various
What It Is: It is my favorite length of the very much definitive X-Men run. You can chalk the X-Universe up as before Giant Sized X-Men #1 and after. When Crhis Calremont took the reins directly after Len Wein’s scripted relaunch he took the new cast and blasted forth. With master artist Dave Cockrum who co-created many of the X-Character they kick started the X-Mens rise to the top. When legend John Byrne came in to replace Cockrum, he became the co-plotter with Claremont and the two produced the two most famous X-Men stories in the Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of the Future Past. Byrne left and Cockrum returned, followed by the more animated stylings of Paul Smith. Many other artists contributed to Claremonts famed run in the 17 years he worked on the book. No other writer has done so much for the X-Titles. His artists collaborators became favorites of fans at the tiem and still to this day as new generations discover this work.
What It Is To Me: Its the one and only, the perfect run. My all time favorite length of comics. Giant Sized, I had read a novelization of as a child and having read it in comics its so much better. Straight forward, cut to the bone and right in your face. Cockrum is an artist I appreciate more and more as I get older. His Nightcrawler still the best. The way he paced and delivered on the scripts. The first stories of Claremonts you can see him trying to get into the groove and its Cockrum who makes the magic happen. The fights are big, the characters bigger. If anything looking back a bit it reminds me of the manga speedlines. Hows that for mid seventies superhero goodness? Claremont started clicking with the introduction of the Shi’Ar which is when John Byrne joined the series. The two came together in union and gave me so many excellent stories. The stuff with Magneto and the Savage Land early on. Byrne’s detail and pacing, he perfected Wolverine and Storms look. My favorite artist on point is Paul Smith. A more animated look, Smith came in briefly and did the wonderful Wolverine/Rogue in Japan story and crafetd my favorite Storm-pun rock. Yeah, Byrne improved on Cockrums design, Smith jokingly took her in a different direction to which has become one of the most popular designs for an iconic X-Man who may be the most popular black character and WOC. the reason I end on #175 is that it was to be the arc ending for Cyclops and he sent him out in a bang, showing the X-Mens former leader as the fearless soldier and master tactician Claremont had shown earlier in his work. Mastermind tricks the X-Men into believing Scott is Dark Phoenix returned so Scott has to outsmart the team as they chase him. This X-Men is the X-Men. Le and Kirby created it, others introduced ideas, but Claremont, Len Wein and some of the greatest artists ever made the X-Men the big deal.