Top 10 X-Men Stories: The Early Years

The latest X-Men film, X-Men: First Class (not to be confused with the comic of the same name) hits theaters this weekend, and takes the audience back to the swinging ’60s, before the X-Men as we know them were formed. Focusing on Charles Xavier and Magnus/Erik Lehnsherr/Max Eisenhardt/Magneto when they were young men, the film also introduces a passel of young mutants who will form the “first” X-Men team. In keeping with the film’s look back at the X-Men’s origins, we’re giving you a Top 10 list of X-Men stories that focus on the characters’ early years, before they became the icons we know and love. Or hate and fear. It’s up to you.


#10 – X-Men Unlimited #4

Yes, the makers of X-Men: First Class have chosen to incorporate The Draco into their film, but X-Men Unlimited #4 is my preferred origin story for Nightcrawler. It’s also a darn good Mystique tale. For years, fans had wondered at a possible connection between Mystique and Nightcrawler, so it’s perhaps a bit surprising that it took until 1994 to make it explicit, but there you have it. This issue is one big family reunion, also featuring Mystique’s stepdaughter Rogue, and the product of her affair with Sabretooth, the mutant-hating Graydon Creed.


 #9 – The Further Adventures Of Cyclops And Phoenix

The title’s a bit misleading here, as this miniseries is more about the X-Men foe known as Mister Sinister than either Scott Summers or Jean Grey. Scott and Jean are sent back in time to the 19th cenury to thwart the plans of the immortal mutant Apocalypse, and in the process the backstory of Sinister (who himself played an important role in Scott and Jean’s history) is revealed. Peter Milligan and John Paul Leon pair to bring us an intriguing Victorian tale of mutantkind in its infancy, and any X-Men story that has Charles Darwin as a supporting character has got something going for it.


#8 – Amazing Adventures #11

The X-Men had already been an active team for a while by the time 1972’s Amazing Adventures #11 was published, but their book had become a reprint series due to low sales, and Marvel’s creators were trying to figure out what to do with the characters. Amazing Adventures #11 can therefore be considered a rebirth of sorts for The Beast, who up until that point had simply been an athletic guy with unusually large hands and feet. This story transformed him into a true beast, and although his fur was initially gray, he quickly settled into the blue and furry iconic look that he became famous for. Grant Morrison made some further physical adjustments during his New X-Men run, but this is the story that really made The Beast stand out as a character.

#7 – Emma Frost

Among the spate of new series Marvel launched in the first half of the last decade, one of the more surprising choices was Emma Frost. True, she’d received a strong reception as part of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, but a reformed X-Men villainness was hardly the obvious choice for a solo series. The series ran 18 issues, but the first arc was strongest, exploring Emma’s character in-depth and revealing a more sympathetic side to the cold, calculating White Queen we’d really never seen before. A great tale, especially for non-traditional comic readers.


 #6 – Origin

Whether you love or hate its revelations about Wolverine’s background, there’s no denying that Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert’s Origin has had a huge impact on the character. From the Wolverine: Origins series to the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film, Origin has become a definitive part of Wolverine’s story. Richard Isanove’s gorgeous color work doesn’t hurt the overall package either. And although the movie answers it definitively, the question remains in the comics; is there any connection between the “Dog” of Logan’s youth and the infamous killer known as Sabretooth?

#5 – X-Men #102

The X-Men were all-new and all-different, and in 1976, superheroes didn’t come more different than Storm, the mutant mistress of weather, hailing from the continent of Africa. As told in X-Men #102 by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, Storm’s roots were unveiled to us in a moment of crisis, when an attack by the Juggernaut leaves her in a claustrophobic panic. We learn in flashback just why she suffers from this affliction, and her backstory is definitely among the more unusual, even for a team of mutant superheroes.


 #4 – X-Men #12

Boy, Cain Marko was a prince even as a kid, huh? Just look at him picking on his little stepbrother, Charley Xavier. In X-Men #12, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby give us the origin of the unstoppable Juggernaut, and a glimpse of Professor X as a weird little kid to boot. Marko has had a mad-on for Xavier ever since childhood, and when he bonds with the mystical Crimson Gem of Cyttorak, what we get is a classic super-villain and a classic origin story.


#3 – X-Men: Deadly Genesis

Secrets can kill, as Ed Brubaker showed us in 2005’s X-Men: Deadly Genesis. This miniseries contains a ton of revelations about the X-Men’s past, including a “lost” class of X-Men who were sacrificed in an attempt to rescue the originals from Krakoa, The Living Island, before the classic “Second Generation” that we all know saved the day. Xavier was revealed to have done something very, very bad, and in the process we were introduced to a new villain; Vulcan, the long-lost third Summers brother. We also gained a new hero in the form of Darwin, the Evolving Boy, who appears in the X-Men: First Class film.


#2 – Uncanny X-Men #161

Uncanny X-Men #161 recounts the first meeting between Charles and Xavier and Magneto, and also introduces Gabrielle Haller, who will give birth to Legion, Charles Xavier’s son and the unwitting instigator of the Age of Apocalypse. This story is also poignant in its reminder of Magneto’s Holocaust background as his concentration camp tattoos are shown for the first time. Magneto is able to obtain some measure of retribution in this story, which has him and Xavier face off against the Nazi Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker; Magneto effortlessly uses his powers to crush Strucker’s vaunted “Satan Claw” gauntlet. Unfortunately, this brings Magneto no peace, and the philosophical differences he and Xavier demonstrate in this story will only grow over time.


#1 – Magneto: Testament

It’s not easy to declare a comic from just a few years ago as a masterpiece; usually these things have to wait a while to build that kind of rep. But that’s just what Greg Pak and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s Magneto: Testament is. Not only is it an excellent piece of storytelling in and of itself, but it takes on a very tough subject for superhero comics– the Holocaust– and deals with it sensitively and beautifully. So much so that its writer and editor were invited to the Simon Wiesenthal Center to discuss their work. That’s recognition.

E-mail Matt Adler with questions or comments.


  1. I love that even when Magneto & Xavier were ‘friends’ he was constantly calling him an “idealistic fool.” I should try that the next time my friends & I disagree.

  2. Make sure you say it with a Yul Brynner accent.

  3. I think I have Uncanny 161, reprinted in an issue of Classic X-Men with a Mike Mignola cover. Good issue.

  4. Early 90s I would buy X-Men books here and there while watching the animated series. The X-Cutioner’s Song, Fatal Attractions, Scott and Jean’s wedding.  I had a few trades, one of the first five issues by Stan and Jack; the other collecting Giant Size X-Men 1 and UXM 94-97. 

    The only single back issue I ended up picking up was completely random.  I was drawn to it solely based on the cover art of Xavier standing alongside Magneto fighting off some unseen enemy.  Uncanny X-Men 161.  Seeing those enemies as allies in a flashback was mindblowing.  I think I read that issue before I even read Dark Phoenix Saga or Days of Future Past.

  5. There it is, X-Men Classic #65.

  6. Great list. I love every story you’ve listed here. Surprised you didn’t add the Jeff Parker First Class mini to the list though.

  7. I really enjoyed the Storm mini series froma  few years back, although it’s really as much a Black panther tale as it is a Storm one. Still, it was really good stuff, much more mature tan X-Men comics usually are.

  8. I’d go so far to say that Magneto Testament is the best thign to come out of the X-Universe since Morrison’s X-run. It’s defintiely better than Whedon’s Astonishing. It should be essential reading for any comic fan. Don’t let the X-men turn you off, it really has nothing to do with mutants at all, there may be a brief hint at Erik’s magnetic powers but other than that, it’s a pure holocaust story.
    Truly a fantastic book, a MUST read

  9. Uncanny X-Men 268: The “Wolverine in WWII” issue.

  10. I think its also worth mentioning the Hidden Years series done by the great John Byrne in the late 90s which was supposed to take place in those reprint issue between Uncanny #66 and Giant Sized #1. It was very similar to Jeff Parker’s First Class (which is also worth reading if you haven’t and its easily attainable in trades), but I don’t think HY was released in trade so it would be hard to track down

  11. And there’s also Angek: Revelations mini which was released around the same time as Testament. While not great like Testament, it was definetely different than most X-Men stories and it was about Angels time at Catholic school at the time his powers were emerging and might also be worht  checking out since it is fairly new

  12. I really like Messiah Complex, Messiah War and Second coming as a trilogy with an emotional climatic ending, reading Cables entire solo run along side it added depth in a big way to it too as well did the X-Force run that ran through that trilogy. They could’ve skipped Necrosha as is just delayed Second Coming.