The X-Men … you might have heard of them. Although Superman, Batman and Spider-Man might be the more classically popular heroes, and the Avengers might be more popular currently due to the heavily hyped movie next year, the X-Men have proven themselves as a hit that other comics have been racing to keep up with since the late 70s. They’ve evolved from a tradition team of students-turned-superheroes into a family (and a race) of heroes and villains all their own.
In their 45-plus year history, the X-Men have popularized a host of characters from Wolverine and Cyclops to Magneto, Wolverine, Jean Grey / The Phoenix, Emma Frost and more. It was home to the blossoming of legendary comic creators from Chris Claremont to Grant Morrison, John Byrne to Jim Lee and beyond. But with over 500 issues of the core Uncanny X-Men series and comics’ most expansive series of spin-off titles ever, it can be an daunting task if you don’t know where to begin.
But we do, and soon you will too.
(Note: If you want a list of where to start with books more related to the chaacters in X-Men: First Class, click here.)
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted: Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s epic story centers on the idea of a “mutant cure” and what that revelation would do to mutantkind. Quantifying the idea that there is a “cure” for being a mutant in essence makes being a mutant a disease, an ideal reviled by some like Cyclops and Wolverine and surprisingly embraced by Beast and others. The story arc also reintroduces Kitty Pryde as a door for readers inside the X-Men team, and further serves to cement Cyclops’ role as leader of the X-Men after Xavier’s departure.
X-Men: Days Of Future Past: Although time travel stories and alternate future have been done before, it wasn’t until the seminal “Days Of Future Past” storyarc that it became a staple of the super-hero genre. An aged X-men from an apocalyptic future transports her mind back into the present-day to warn her teammates of the full-scale mutant/human war to come. One part Terminator and one part Mad Max, this storyline posits a dark future with memorable sights from a wizened Kitty Pryde and war-weary Wolverine to tombstones of countless heroes and the iconic cover image depicting a wanted poster with some of X-Men’s finest being listed as ‘slain, ‘apprehended’, or worse.
X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga: A founding X-men rotting from within from an evil outside force, and the Earthbound team being pulled into an inter-galactic conflict. After Jean Grey is overpowered and consumed by the deadly Phoenix Force and begins killing planets, the X-Men are pulled into a war with a race of space aliens who want their team-mate dead. Chris Claremont and John Byrne are at the top of their game in this story-arc, setting the blueprint for a space-spanning storyarc with a host of characters that doesn’t lose itself in the process.
New X-Men: E For Extinction: Without argue the most forward-thinking of all the stories highlighted here, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely take the core tenants the X-men series had been built upon for years and pushed them past the well-worn grooves and onto a new path. The Scottish duo put humanity at a dead end with mutants place just years down the road, with the idea of beinga mutant turning froma social stigma into a social movement with all that comes with it. Although Emma Frost had madea hero turn years earlier in Generation X, it wasn’t until New X-Men that she took center stage and edged her way into Cyclops’ heart. Even years since its release, Marvel is still trying to make sense of it and incorporating the trend-setting ideas into their world at-large.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills: Although Chris Claremont had been writing X-Men for some time, it wasn’t until the standalone graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills in 1982 that he began to fully embrace the real-world analogies in the persecution of mutants as a race in the Marvel U. Artist Brent Anderson gives an uncharacteristically realistic depiction for Marvel’s X-Men, giving Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and even Reverend William Stryker. Portions of this were lifted and included in the second X-Men film, but the movie is a pale shadow of what Claremont and Anderson did here.
The All-New, All-Different X-Men Masterworks Vol. 1: Although some might cry foul since this list doesn’t include the series’ first issues by creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the strength of the X-Men concept lay less in its inception but rather in its evolution; fitting, if you consider the mutant concept itself. The “Deadly Genesis” arc saw Len Wein and Dave Cockrum resessutate and revitalized a low-selling series bordering on cancellation by putting its original team in deathy peril and an “all-new, all different” team of worldly heroes assembled to save the day and kick off the next generation of the X-team. Much in the same way that Star Trek: The Next Generation broke the formula of that franchise but expanded it dynamically, this new expanded the horizons for every creator and reader to come onto the title since.