The X-Men took the slow road to comic book dominance. During the magical start of what became known as the Marvel Age of Comics, legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created “The Strangest Teens of All.” “X-Men” #1 (1963) in introduced five new heroes (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, Ice Man) who attended a school to learn how to use their fantastic powers from their teacher Professor X. Lee has said when he was looking for a reason for the heroes to have powers he said he went the easy route and said they were born with them.
Despite the excellent pedigree of the original creators, the X-Men never set the sales charts on fire. Despite some upticks in sales, most notably when Neal Adams became the series regular artist, the “X-Men” were effectively cancelled with “X-Men” #66 (March 1970). The Adams induced uptick in the later issues of the series allowed Marvel Comics to turn the book into a reprint series reprinting the early adventures for the team while they figured out what to do with the X-Men. This continued until “X-Men” #93 (April 1975).
Marvel was not done with the mutants. Instead they wanted to try to reinvigorate the X-Men with a more international feel. Writer Len Wein with artist Dave Cockrum took the challenge to introduce an All-New All-Different X-Men in the pages of “Giant Sized X-Men” #1 (1975). These X-Men came from all over the map: Banshee from Ireland, Sunfire from Japan, Storm from Kenya, Nightcrawler from Germany, Colossus from Russia, and Wolverine from Canada.
This new team took over the numbering from the previous series with “X-Men” #94 with Chris Claremont replacing Wein as writer with artist Cockrum. The series was not a hot seller just yet but it was building a following.
By “X-Men” #108 (December 1977), the series was deemed successful enough to become a monthly book instead of the six issues per year schedule it was previously on. Now artist John Byrne took over the series from Cockrum and he and Claremont became one of the most beloved creative teams in comic book history.
Now the series added the adjective “Uncanny” to its title and became a cult favorite. Sales were steadily climbing. Shocking stories such as the “Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past” captured the imaginations of the readers and word of mouth was spreading.
Creative differences split the team of Claremont and Byrne following “Uncanny X-Men” #143 (March 1981). Cockrum returned to the series as the buzz continued to build. When Cockrum passed the art baton to Paul Smith with “Uncanny X-Men” #165 (January 1983) the X-Men exploded to become the number one book in comics. The X-Men were everywhere and Marvel knew it. Spin-off titles emerged introducing more mutants and bringing back others who had left.
As Claremont neared the end of his 17 year stint as the writer of the Mutants Marvel created a second “X-Men” series. Claremont with superstar artist Jim Lee created an all-new “X-Men” #1 (October 1991) that sold more than nine million copies dominating the sales charts like no other book before.
Since the time of that pinnacle the X-Men have gone through many new creative directions, spinning off numerous comic titles. While they have ceded some of their sales dominance to the “Avengers” the “X-Men” line of comics are still Marvel’s go to books.
With a more than five decade old history there are quite a lot of comics to sift through. What are some of the stories that put the X-Men on top and kept them there? What are the ten best storylines as chosen by the Hollywood Comic Books Examiner? Click on the photos to find out.
The island nation of Genosha is a virtual utopia. Located off the coast of Africa the government has created paradise built upon the backs of mutant slaves.
The X-Men have gotten in the way of the Genoshan government before. It won't happen again.
Genosha takes revenge against the X-Men leading to the unification of all of the X-Men past and present to combat a rogue government seeking the extinction of all mutants.
This nine-part "X-Tinction Agenda" story took place in "Uncanny X-Men" 270-272, "New Mutants" 95-97, and "X-Factor" 60-62 written by Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson with art by Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and Jon Bogdanove.
The story can be found int he following collections:
Age of X
The United States has outlawed being a mutant. Armies have been formed to hunt down and exterminate the individuals born as mutants. What few remain are forced to defend their home, Fortress X. It is an eternal fight that starts again everyday.
The "Age of X" story written by Mike Carey features artwork by Steve Kurth and Clay Mann and gives a new spin on the alternate reality stories of the X-Men.
Carey created a mystery within the walls of Fortress X one that sets hero against hero as they try to figure out what went wrong with this world.
The horrors of this reality stuck with many of the X-Men following the event that appeared in "X-Men Legacy" #245-247 and "New Mutants" 22-24.
"Age of X" was collected in:
The story starts off with an assassination attempt on Professor X. But it is the assassin, Cable leader of the mutant strike team X-Force, that sparks a massive conflict within the ranks of the mutant heroes.
It is a story that puts mutant against mutant as the terrorist Stryfe puts a master plan into place to get revenge on the mutants that have ruined his life, Cyclops and Jean Grey.
The story spanned 14 issues and involved all of the X-Men of the time. Old rivalries were renewed and X-Men battled everyone under the Sun to find Professor X's would be killer.
"The X-Cutioner's Song" was the first X-Men crossover in the post Chris Claremont era of the X-Men and creators Fabian Nicieza, Scott Lobdell, Peter David, Greg Capullo, Andy Kubert, Brandon Peterson, and Jae Lee put out and epic to rival some of the best X-Stories ever.
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Feeling that mutants are losing ground in their fight for equality, Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, wants to take the group of mutant heroes in a militarized direction preparing all for fighting.
Wolverine seeing what violence does to children disagrees with Cyclops' new direction. He wants the children to be children and not worry about fighting an endless war.
The two ideologies clash in a major way. Ripping the X-Men apart. Those that agree with Cyclops' aggressive stance join him as they prepare for war. Those that want peace join Wolverine in reopening the school that originally taught the X-Men.
Animosity and hatred was developed between the two longtime allies. Friendships were ended and the status quo was shaken to its foundations.
The five-part story written by Jason Aaron featured a different artist on each issue (Carlos Pacheco (issue #1), Frank Cho (issue #2), Daniel Acuña (issue #3), Alan Davis (issue #4) and Adam Kubert (issue #5)).
"X-Men: Schism" shows how different the X-Men had become from their original goal of fighting from Professor X's dream of peaceful coexistence.
The story has been collected in:
Dissolution and Rebirth
It was the end of an era for the X-Men. When the world had believed them dead, they kept their mission secret striking out at enemies in covert operations. But that was no longer working.
Chris Claremont with primary artists Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee began a systematic destruction of the X-Men. One by one heroes quit, were killed, or disappeared until there was nothing left of the band of mutant freedom fighters.
Who would carry on the mission of protecting Professor Xavier's dream of a peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants.
Just as the X-Men rode off into the Sunset, the team would be reborn to protect humanity and fight the never ending battle for equality.
X-Men returned forever changed. Some were put on death's doorstep, and others simply retired.
"Dissolution and Rebirth" captured the essence of who the X-Men were and how their dream of equality would never die.
The story began in "Uncanny X-Men" #244 and continued for two years culminating in "Uncanny X-Men" #269.
The story can be found in the following collections:
"X-Men: Gifted" is a collection of the first six issues of a 25 issue story by Joss "Marvel's the Avengers" Whedon and John "Captain America" Cassady.
The entire collaboration by the writer and artist on "Astonishing X-Men" is one of the most memorable takes on the X-Men in the new millennium.
"Gifted" took a back to basics approach to the X-Men. The team was pared down to a small number of core X-Men. Their mission was to show the world that mutants were heroes on par with heroes like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.
The plot deals with a seeming "cure" for the mutant gene. Something that intrigues those mutants whose power creates a look that does not allow them to fit in with the rest of society making them further outcasts.
"Gifted" can be read in a variety of collections:
- "Astonishing X-Men Volume 1: Gifted"
- "Astonishing X-Men Deluxe Edition Volume 1"
- "Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassady Ultimate Collection Book 1"
Days of Future Past
In the future the X-Men's fight to make the world a place of peaceful coexistence between human and mutants is over. The X-Men have lost.
In the seminal work of John Byrne and Chris Claremont, "Days of Future Past" published in "Uncanny X-Men" 141 and 142, the dream of the X-Men is dead. Instead, mutants are hunted and murdered. Those who survive are kept in concentration camps run by towering metal giants known as the Sentinels.
There is a chance to change history and the remaining X-Men will take it. Kitty Pryde is sent back in time to stop the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly the event that sent the world in a downward spiral of hunting mutants.
The story prominently showed why there must always be X-Men to stand up and fight for the dream of Professor Xavier.
Find this story in the following collections:
The Dark Phoenix Saga
The Phoenix is the most powerful entity in the universe with the ability to destroy Suns in the blink of an eye. It is more power than any human can possess.
When the Phoenix takes over the form of founding member of the X-Men Marvel Girl, it raises many questions about power and the corruption that power brings.
The X-Men are faced with the dilemma between protecting their friend who they love and protecting the world and universe that fears and hates them.
"The Dark Phoenix Saga" by Chris Claremont and John Byrne is one of the defining events in the X-Men history that looks what happens when a mutant becomes all powerful and how does that affect the X-Men's mission to find a peaceful coexistence between human and mutant.
You can read "The Dark Phoenix Saga" in these different collections:
Age of Apocalypse
The son of Professor Xavier travels back in time to eliminate the one man he feels has been in direct opposition to his father's dream of a peace, Magneto. Instead of murdering the Master of Magnetism, he kills Professor X sending the world into a downward spiral that leads to the dawn of the "Age of Apocalypse."
Without Professor X to guide them the mutants of Earth are forced into a war zone where the man known as Apocalypse rules with an iron-fist. Magneto tries to fill Xavier's shoes but comes up short. The United States is in a constant state of war. Can the world ever be saved?
The groundbreaking story saw the various X-Men titles cancelled and replaced with darker versions reflecting the world without Charles Xavier.
The story was large in scope and explored all aspects of the world carved in the likeness of Apocalypse. Each title gave a look at the X-Men through a fractured mirror, they were recognizable but much different. The creators were a veritable who's who of writers and artists in 1995-1996.
The "Age of Apocalypse" has been collected in the following books:
It became one of the darkest hours in the lives of the mutants. They were no longer just fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them. They were fighting for their lives.
The Marauders had entered into the tunnels that ran beneath New York City and through to the X-Men's mansion. They began a systematic extermination of the mutants who lived underground, the Morlocks.
When the X-Men got involved they were beat worse than they'd ever been before. Their heaviest hitter Colossus was sent out of action, Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde were nearly killed. All the X-Men could do was hope to slow the genocide long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
"Mutant Massacre" is the first time Wolverine faces his greatest enemy Sabretooth in comics. The fight is intense capturing all the savageness that makes Wolverine "the best there is at what he does."
Chris Claremont with John Romita Jr and Alan Davis tell the story in "Uncanny X-Men" 210-213. With Louise Simonson writing chapters in the concurrent issues of "X-Factor" and "New Mutants." It was the first crossover between all of the Mutant titles at Marvel and was one of the best executed with each title telling different parts of the story.
Here is where to find the "Mutant Massacre":