For the past 55 years, the X-Men have been mixing super heroics with social issues, to entertain, inform and engage with readers of all ages. But with so many stories, over so many years, where do you start if you want to read the best tales that the X-Men have to offer?
Good question – and that’s where today’s edition of The Great Stampede comes to your rescue.
Below I’ve highlighted six stories, taken from the X-Men’s back catalogue. The stories featured include fan-favourites, Marvel milestones and a modern classic.
God Loves, Man Kills (1982)
Written by fan-favourite scribe, Chris Claremont, God Loves, Man Kills is a dark tale which throws the spotlight on the prejudices that exist not just in the Marvel Universe, but also the real world. The story – released as a standalone graphic novel, rather than as part of the regular run of X-Men comics – centres around Reverend William Stryker; an uncompromising ‘holy man’ who believes the only good mutant is a dead one.
Amassing a worrying following, thanks to his televised hate-filled speeches, Stryker plans to eradicate all mutant life – with no exceptions. This agenda places him in the direct path of the X-Men, where Marvel’s mighty mutants must do what they can to stop him from achieving his end goal.
The Phoenix Saga (1976 – 1980)
The Phoenix Saga is a two-part epic which appeared throughout the pages of Uncanny X-Men. The story originally ran in issues #101-#108 (The Phoenix Saga) and #129-#138 (The Dark Phoenix Saga) and charted the rise and fall of The Phoenix – a powerful entity which takes on the persona of Jean Grey.
During the early stories, The Phoenix is a force for good, but eventually The Phoenix develops into a dark, malevolent force and one that needs to be stopped for the sake of the universe. Written by Chris Claremont and featuring art by Dave Cockrum and John Byrne, The Phoenix Saga is a story about power, corruption and sacrifice and it is one of the most iconic storylines in comic book history.
E is for Extinction (2001)
Written by Grant Morrison, E is for Extinction is a must-read X-Men story from the modern(ish) era of the book. The story focuses on three key aspects: The introduction of new villain, Cassandra Nova; the public outing of Professor Charles Xavier as a mutant; and the decimation of 16 million mutants via the destruction of the island haven of Genosha.
Utilising a cold, calculating villain in Cassandra Nova, Morrison demonstrates just how easy it is for an unhinged person to commit mass genocide. No matter how far we’ve come, everything can all be wiped out in an instant and that is truly terrifying.
“Welcome to Genosha” (1988)
Another tale revolving around Genosha, this time taken from a four issue run of the Uncanny X-Men – “Welcome to Genosha” (issues #235 – #238) introduces the island nation and sees the X-Men involved in a story about segregation and slavery. With the mutant residents of Genosha used as a slave force by the non-mutant government, the story raises questions about a person’s worth within society, while touching upon real-life issues of apartheid.
Such was the success of the “Welcome to Genosha” the storyline was later picked up in the 1990 crossover, X-Tinction Agenda. Taking place a short while after the events of “Welcome to Genosha”, X-Tinction Agenda focuses on similar themes but is a worthy follow-up.
Days of Future Past (1981)
Set in a dystopian future, Days of Future Past is a captivating, shocking and thought-provoking tale which blends sci-fi tropes (killer robots and time travel) with an end of the world scenario – whereby one man’s death becomes the catalyst for Armageddon. Written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, and printed in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #141 & #142, Days of Future Past is a story about death and destruction, as well as the determination of the human spirit.
More than 35 years after it was printed, Days of Future Past retains its position as not only one of the best X-Men stories ever produced, but also one of the best Marvel stories. If you’ve not read Days of Future Past, now is the time to check it out.
Age of Apocalypse (1995-1996)
And finally, another apocalyptic tale – and a cautionary one too. Age of Apocalypse is a deeply harrowing story, which demonstrates the way in which life can turn on a dime and is easily one of the most engaging X-Men stories of the 1990s.
Running across multiple X-Men books (and starting in the four-part ‘Legion Quest’ storyline), Age of Apocalypse is a huge crossover event which sees the X-Universe temporarily re-imagined. In this new universe, the mutant Apocalypse rules with an iron fist and the X-Men (led by Magneto) are the Earth’s last line of defence.
And if you want to dive even further into the world of the X-Men, then take a look at the following stories:
- Gifted (Astonishing X-Men #1-#6)
- X-Men: Deadly Genesis (#1-#6)
- Mutant Genesis (X-Men #1-#3)
- X-Cutioner’s Song (Uncanny X-Men #294-#297, X-Factor #84-#86, X-Force #16-#18 and X-Men #14-#16)