Our “Where to Start” articles act as a guide, giving you our best suggestions on where to start on a certain character or creators work. Every article lists several books, each in the character’s or creator’s chronological order despite it’s publication date (so the first choice is at the beginning of a characters career, the last is the furthest along). While in order each book was specifically picked as a good individual starting point; so feel free to start at the beginning, in the middle, or towards the end if you want to get caught up quickly. And if you have any more suggestions or questions just leave a comment.
Where To Start Reading: X-Men
X-Men Masterworks Vol. 1 1963
This is the beginning. Our first exposure to mutants and the world that fears and hates them. The roots of the X-Men. Professor X and the fab five versus Magneto. The message of coexistence through understanding versus coexistence through force. The open palm versus the closed fist. The core ideal of the X-Men which has lasted to this day. Also showcasing the first appearance of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, including Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Written by Stan “the man” Lee and drawn by Jack “King” Kirby, we are shown the world through the eyes of innocent outcast teenagers. Their struggles to fit in not only in the world around them, but with each other. As a bonus, we get the first ever meeting between the X-Men and the Avengers. This book sets the stage for the future of one of Marvel’s most successful franchises.
What to read next | X-Men Visionaries: Neal Adams
Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 1975
After the cancellation of the regular series, and being reduced to reprints, a new direction was needed for the X-Men. Where our first selection told the tale of a bunch of teenage mutants from a mostly similar background trying to survive in a world what fears and hates them while forming bonds among themselves, these new members were the polar opposite. This team consisted of members from all over the world. None of them were children. These were grown adults brought together for a common interest. They were not malleable like children. Their views on life were already firmly in existence. They fought and raged amongst themselves as much as against their enemies. With Chris Claremont doing the writing, as he would for the next 15 years, this was the birth of the greatest X-Men stories ever told. With demons, Sentinels, the return of old members to the fold, and a death of a teammate in just the first few issues, no one knew what would happen next. All of these issues culminated in the rise of the most tragic character in the history of Marvel comics, the Phoenix.
What to read next | Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 2
X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga 1980
Speaking of tragedy. The rise and fall of Phoenix is considered by many to be the greatest comic book story ever told. Co-Written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, and drawn by John Byrne, (in my opinion, the best comic book artist to EVER draw the X-Men) this comic really shows what absolute power can do to even the most noblest of souls. The saga also introduces two new mutants including one of the fan’s favorite characters of all time, Kitty Pryde. Not to mention one of their greatest and most persistent group of enemies, the Hellfire Club, including the maniacal Sebastian Shaw, and the lovely and devious Emma Frost. Spanning from the planet earth, to the far reaches of space, to the world of the Shi’ar empire, the X-Men not only fight for their own survival, but for the life of one of their own. Still, as in the case of most tragedies, we don’t always get a happy ending.
What to read next | Phoenix: The Untold Story #1
X-Men: Days of Future Past 1981
Where the Dark Phoenix Saga showed the fall of one of the X-Men’s most beloved characters, Days of Future Past showed the death of them ALL. The culmination of the six year collaboration between Claremont and Byrne, Days of Future past set the bar for alternate timeline stories that has not been matched, in my opinion, to this day. In only two issues, Claremont and Byrne show us a dark, deadly future where the machines win and everyone dies. Everyone! No resistance, no remorse, no escape. In a last ditch effort to prevent this future, one X-Man must travel to the past into her former self in order to set things right, with her teammates sacrificing their lives as a diversion to let this occur. Predating Terminator, predating Crisis, this type of story has been copied numerous times, with Flashpoint being the most recent, but has never been done better than in these two classic issues.
What to read next | X-Men: Days of Future Present
X-Men: God Loves Man Kills 1982
This graphic novel showed the X-Men’s greatest enemies in all of their racial glory. That enemy being the human beings who hate and fear them because they are different. Racial bigotry has always been the undertone running through X-Men comics since day one and this book took it to an extreme level. With the kidnapping of Professor X, a reverend plans to stir up enough racial prejudice in humanity to have them rise up and eradicate the X-Men and all mutants everywhere. Teaming with their long time nemesis Magneto, in a show of mutant solidarity, the X-Men must fight against the growing hatred of humanity while saving the lives of their captured teammates. The story was so memorable and powerful, that 20 years later, it was used as the basis of the movie X2: X-Men united. A tremendous stand alone tale.
What to read next | Nothing. Go watch X2: X-Men United and compare.
X-Men: Mutant Massacre 1986
For the next five years after Days, it was business as usual. Great stories about our favorite mutants fighting and surviving. Then, in 1986, that fight was taken to a drastic level. A bunch of mutants, calling themselves the Marauders, start killing mutants. The X-Men go to try and stop them with some disastrous results. This story has the first ever meeting between Sabretooth and Wolverine in a comic book. In addition, it’s the reunion of the current X-Men and the original five X-Men who make up X-Factor. There is action and emotion aplenty with a special guest appearance by Thor. Mutants fight and mutants fall, setting the stage for future tales. This story would mark the beginning of an annual crossover event in the three mutant titles that were being published at the time.
What to read next | X-Men: Fall of the Mutants
X-Men: Inferno 1989
This is the last chapter in the story of Phoenix. Madelyne Pryor, the wife of Cyclops, becomes the Goblin Queen. Striking a deal with a demon from Limbo, Madelyne unleashes hell on earth. It’s up to the X-Men, X-Factor, and the New Mutants to combine forces and try to stop her. Things get complicated when Madelyne is revealed to be a clone of Jean Grey, AKA the Phoenix. With his family at stake, Cyclops must destroy the woman he loves in order to save the world. Filled from cover to cover with awesome images by the great Mark Silvestri, Walter Simonson, and Bret Blevins, this story was as much fun to look at as it was to read. With titanic demonic battles and a gigantic no holds barred final battle against the evil Mr. Sinister, the emotion in this story was incredibly high.
What to read next | X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda
X-Men: Age of Apocalypse 1995-96
In Days of Future Past, we saw a world where the Sentinels win. In Age of Apocalypse, we are shown a world where Apocalypse wins. After Xavier’s son Legion accidentally (or on purpose) kills him in the past, Magneto rises up to form the X-Men instead of Professor X. This allows the immortal Apocalypse to orchestrate a rise to power and take over the world. For a brief period of four months, all X-Men and mutant related comic books were canceled. In their place new four issue limited series’ came out. These books featured stories of our favorite mutants in new teams and costumes. Old friends and enemies were shown switching sides as the entire status quo was thrown into complete chaos. Only the time traveling Bishop had any memory of the real world and he used that knowledge to combine the various mutant teams into making a final stand against Apocalypse and his Horsemen. This was the first time we saw some of our favorite characters in roles completely opposite to what we had seen them before and set the stage for future stories for years to come.
What to read next | X-Men vs. Apocalypse Vol. 1: The Twelve, Vol. 2: Ages of Apocalypse
New X-Men: E is for Extinction 2001
In 2001, Grant Morrison was hired to give the X-Men a facelift. For the next four years, Morrison did just that. He introduced Cassandra Nova, Xavier’s “twin” sister. He caused the Genocide on Genosha. He introduced secondary mutations. He redesigned the team’s costumes and introduced a whole new group of mutants. He gave birth to the Weapon Plus program and new fan favorite Fantomex. He created the love triangle between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost. He rectified that triangle by permanently removing one of the participants. He showed us yet another possible X-Men future. All while keeping the characters interesting and emotionally accessible. With amazing artwork by Frank Quitely, this revitalized the X-Men franchise from the slump that was plaguing it for some recent years.
What to read next | New X-Men: Imperial
House of M 2005
In 2005, Brian Michael Bendis took a break from disassembling and reinventing the Avengers and decided to decimate the X-Men. Labeled as the “event” of 2005, Bendis tried his hand at the alternate universe storyline. When the Scarlet Witch decides to magically recreate her children, the X-Men are forced to try and make her see reality. Too bad she doesn’t want to and creates an alternate universe where mutants rule and the world is at peace. Everything is status quo until a little girl named Layla Miller uses her new-found mutant powers to restore the memories of a bunch of heroes. The heroes make a last ditch effort to stop the Scarlet Witch resulting in her uttering three little words that change the landscape of mutants to this day. (And no they weren’t “I love mutants”)
What to read next | X-Men: Messiah Complex
X-Men: Second Coming 2010
In 2010, Matt Fraction decided to throw another world ending disaster into the path of the X-Men. With no new mutants being born, Bastion, the hybrid combination between Nimrod and Master Mold, decides that now would be a perfect time to eradicate what few mutants there are left. Gathering all of the human enemy leaders of the X-Men who were reborn during Necrosha, Bastion orders them to kill Hope Summers, the first mutant to be born after M-Day, who was taken to the future by Cable during the Messiah Complex, and has just now returned to our time. (Get all that?) What follows is a desperate race between the X-Men and their enemies to see who can reach Hope first. With enemies coming at them from all sides, including the future, the X-Men are forced to make a last stand in order to survive. Filled with action and tension, this story arc reunited every mutant on the planet into one cohesive unit. With hope slowly dwindling, suffering multiple casualties, including the deaths of some long time teammates, the X-Men strive and sacrifice to overcome against all odds.
What to read next | X-Men: Schism
If you have any questions or suggestions leave a comment and we’ll try to help you out. Until then, happy reading!
For more visit acomicbookblog.com/tag/where-to-start-reading