Marvel’s merry band of mutants have been the topic of much discussion lately, with the X-Men appearing in Fox’s upcoming Dark Phoenix franchise finale and the characters playing a big role in the Fox acquisition by Disney. 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. So let’s take a look at best and the most important X-Men comics of all time to get ready for the new cinematic era that sits on the horizon.
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10 Season One / First Class
It obviously makes sense to start at the beginning when discussing important issues, but the original run of X-Men can, unfortunately, be a bit of a tough read to get through. There is a reason the series was canceled before it was rebooted to massive popularity. Thankfully there have been a few modern retellings 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 McKelvie’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 Krakoa.
9 Giant-Size X-Men
After the cancelation of the original X-Men due to low sales in 1970, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum rebooted the team in 1975 with Giant-Size X-Men #1. The supersized issue introduced a new global team of mutants who were gathered by Professor X to help Cyclops rescue the original X-Men from the mutant island of Krakoa. 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 Brubaker and Trevor Hairsine’s X-Men: Deadly Genesis offers a bit more depth to the team’s origins and the Krakoa mission.
8 God Loves, Man Kills
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. The graphic novel touched on some serious issues that add to its importance, and it also served as the inspiration for the film X2: X-Men United.
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 X-Treme 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. Unfortunately, the first run of the new adjectiveless X-Men also brought about the departure of Claremont, who had been writing the X-Men for over 15 years.
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.
6 Fatal Attractions
Every X-comic was brought together for the “Fatal Attractions” event, which showcased one of the most epic showdowns between Magneto and the X-Men. Loyalties were tested as Earth was threatened by Magneto and his Acolytes and Xavier and the X-Men were forced to face off against their old enemy once again. This series featured a number of iconic moments like the violent removal of adamantium from Wolverine by Magneto and Xavier’s fateful moment of retribution that would lead to the creation of Onslaught.
“Fatal Attractions” was just one of many classic crossovers seen in the 90s that would leave the X-world a little convoluted and without direction, leading to a much-needed retooling of the series.
5 New X-Men
It’s hard to pick out a single run from Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, especially considered he was paired with amazing artists like Frank Quitely, Leinil Francis Yu, Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, Marc Silvestri, and many more. Morrison and Co. revamped the X-Men, bringing the team into a new era while introducing a number of lasting changes to the mythology, including secondary mutations, the addition of Emma Frost to the team, and the longest-lasting death of Jean Grey.
The opening storyline “E is for Extinction” is a showcase of what you can expect from New X-Men, with “Here Comes Tomorrow” serving as one of the most imaginative finales to a series seen in the history of the X-Men.
4 Days of Future Past
“Days of Future Past” is largely considered to be the most popular X-Men story ever written, and for good reason. Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s post-apocalyptic look at the X-Men highlighted an ugly end for the X-Men, in a future torn apart by the war between humans and mutants. While the actual storyline only lasted two issues, it left a lasting impression with fans and became a possible dark future that has haunted the team ever since.
There have been a few comic sequels to the original “Days of Future Past” storyline, which served as the inspiration for 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past film.
3 Mutant Massacre
Chris Claremont put the X-Men through some difficult times over the years, but for a time there was the hope that the X-Men would always prevail. However, during one of the first big X-Men crossover events, Claremont and John Romita, Jr. would unite for the “Mutant Massacre,” which saw the Marauders set out to exterminate the Morlocks 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 storyline also marked the first matchup between Wolverine and Sabretooth, before their history was expanded on later.
Joss Whedon and John Cassaday had the difficult task of taking the X-Men in a new direction after Morrison’s New X-Men, but managed to blend the classic feel of the X-Men with Morrison’s bleaker run to produce the Astonishing X-Men. The new series kicked off a new superheroic 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.
“Gifted” is the first arc of the series and features some of the best moments from Whedon and Cassaday’s run, though there were many more to follow as the series re-examined the characters in new and exciting ways that kicked off another wave of popular titles and events.
1 Dark Phoenix Saga
It’s truly no surprise that the “Dark Phoenix Saga” would be counted among the best and most important X-Men comics of all time. After all, the legendary storyline now has two cinematic adaptations, not to mention the highly regarded version seen on X-Men: The Animated Series. 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.
The corruption and eventual sacrifice of Jean Grey severely affected the X-Men and remains one of the most impactful moments in the history of the X-Men. With Dark Phoenix hitting theaters on June 7, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” is essential reading for any X-Men fan.
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