The world of mutants and mayhem is rife with some of the best stories among Marvel properties. Professor Charles Xavier and his band of merry misfits often quell the threat against lives both human and mutant despite often being looked upon as different by the general public. Though, Marvel is a world wholly populated with the weird and fantastical, so they shouldn’t feel entirely alone.
Still, X-Men characters such as Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast, Colossus, Magneto, Mystique, and countless others are often at the center of some of the most fascinating dramas in the Marvel universe. And it’s high time that the X-Men make a splash in the MCU. Whether in the pages of comic books or on screens large and small, there are countless X-Men stories to eat up any fan’s time. But we’re here to look at the best of the best.
Fans of cinema may recognize the name of this story arc from the film that loosely adapted its premise, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). If you’ve seen the film but not read the classic 1981 comic book story that is its foundation, then you might be familiar with the overall storyline but not the primary character that is central to the bridge between timelines. In the comic book, it is Kitty Pryde whose mind is transported to the past, not Wolverine’s. But, of course, the studio was banking on Hugh Jackman’s established star power with this one.
Ultimately, the story is told from the present day, but it’s Kitty Pryde’s future self that serves as the omen of a dark future ahead for all mutant kind. It’s an apocalypse of epic proportions as the mutant kind are hunted and slaughtered by Sentinels. The story ultimately focuses on the prejudice of ordinary humans toward their mutant brothers and sisters. Brace yourself. This story sees the future deaths of some of the biggest X-Men characters, including Wolverine.
This 1975 issue written by Wolverine co-creator Len Wein, bridged the old and new worlds of the X-Men – at the time. The storyline sees Professor X establish a new team that includes Wolverine, a mutant whose first appearance actually occurred in The Incredible Hulk #181 just one year prior. Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus among others also form the new mutant hero team.
The task is for the new mutants to locate the original X-Men team which included Cyclops and Angel. This is a fun issue to read as it’s a notable event in the history of the X-Men. And, it doesn’t take very long to get through!
Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass), the film X-Men: First Class offered fans of the films something of a soft reboot. Since the cinematic X-Men universe under 20th Century Fox actually began with those who are actually considered the newer line-up in comic books (Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, etc.), this cinematic refresh takes us back to what is considered the original X-Men team – at least in film. So, there’s a bit of a reversal at play when compared to the comic book progression of things.
Still, this film brilliantly realized Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) origins as an Auschwitz survivor portraying a man tormented by his trauma and his past while seeking to quell that pain with a sense of righteous anger. James McAvoy’s take on Charles Xavier introduced audiences to a more youthful humanitarian and proponent for mutants in need of a home and a bit of coaching. Indeed, the young mutants that are central to this film experience a coming-of-age story in a contentious world on the brink. There’s plenty to love about First Class making it a well-regarded narrative in the X-Men pantheon.
Just about every ’90s kid who loved superheroes has fond memories of X-Men: The Animated Series, which aired from 1992-1997. The show introduced young neophytes to some of the best comic book storylines from Uncanny X-Men and its many spinoffs. Despite having the source material handy, however, the show took plenty of liberties in bringing the mutants to televisions across the country.
Night of the Sentinels is a two-part affair that highlights the terror of the mutant-killing Sentinels. Ultimately, the core theme of the episode is widespread bias and bigotry – a heavy but important subject for youngsters to learn. Jubilee is central to the story as it chronicles her entrance into the ranks of the X-Men after her foster parents turn her over for mutant registration. Luckily, a few mutants save her from an early grave. As the X-Men investigate the program, they learn that the sole focus is to round up mutants and kill them. The Sentinels, nearly unstoppable robotic weapons, hunt the mutants with extreme prejudice. It’s a story that highlights the terror of being in the crosshairs of another person’s hatred.
Comic book fans are likely quite familiar with the work of powerhouse writer Grant Morrison. Over the past few decades, he’s written some of the most defining stories in both Marvel and DC lore. He’s also the mastermind behind this 2001 X-Men storyline, E is for Extinction. This story features a look at a world still dabbling in the fruits of Bolivar Trask – the creator of the Sentinel program. Now, however, a sinister woman bent on mutant eradication, Cassandra Nova, prepares to unleash the Sentinels on Genosha – a mutant nation.
The planned slaughter at the behest of an international terrorist coupled with members of the X-Men confronting their own trauma and mental health is a somewhat progressive and modern view of the group of heroes as they enter the new millennium. Let’s not forget the killer artwork to boot by Frank Quitely who redesigned the X-Men outfits for this new look at Professor X and his team.
This mid-90s storyline is epic and is covered through several different series and crossover issues. Of course, if you want to see what issues to read and the best order to read them, just refer to the recommended reading list straight from the publisher. This storyline is wild. However, the most fascinating element is the death of Professor X – in the past. That’s right. He is killed during a time-traveling incident that alters the future and sees Apocalypse running things.
Bishop is the only mutant who even has knowledge that a more prosperous timeline with Charles Xavier alive and well once existed. It’s up to him and the rest of the X-Men to fight to make that timeline a reality once again. This is one time-altering saga that is even darker than Days of Future Past.
The decade of the ’80s was a transformative period for comic books. Gone were the days of the colorful, fun, and whimsical. The ’80s ushered in an era of adult-oriented storylines with bleak underpinnings. Essentially, our beloved heroes suddenly became far more relatable with human essence injected into their unfolding dramas. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is a product of that era. This standalone graphic novel ultimately became the basis for the best film in the original X-Men film trilogy, X2: X-Men United.
It’s also one of the most prominent sympathetic perspectives given to the villainous Magneto in X-Men history. It’s here that Magneto’s convictions to stand against mutant persecution become fully realized. William Stryker, a famous human antagonist in X-Men lore, spreads a hate campaign under the guise of faith and religion. For many in the real world, that very theme might hit home, or close to it. But of course, it’s up to Charles Xavier and his team to find a way to quell the violence and stop genocidal intent on both sides of the human/mutant coin.
Despite being one of the more recent X-Men storylines, author Jonathan Hickman revitalized the X-Men in a big, bold way. It’s really been since the changing of the old guard to the new (Giant-Size X-Men), that drastic changes have been made to the X-Men establishment. This storyline details a new home base for the X-Men as well as another peak into the future. This time, however, the war between humans and mutants has sparked and has become devastating.
Perhaps, one of the most fascinating alterations in this book is a retcon of Moira MacTaggert’s character. No longer is she simply a human geneticist and pro-mutant protagonist. She’s now also a mutant with an interesting ability. When she dies, she begins life anew as an infant. However, she still retains a memory of her past lives. At this stage, she is actually in the middle of her 10th life. There are plenty of juicy nuggets to digest in House of X/Powers of X making this one of the best modern X-Men comic books you can buy.
In the realm of X-Men comic books, The Dark Phoenix Saga stands squarely at the front as the most engrossing narrative told about the mutant world. Not to be confused with the awful live-action film adaptation that is loosely based on this storyline, The Dark Phoenix Saga chronicles the unshackling of Jean Grey’s raw power. Having been a standout member of the X-Men team for years, her telepathy and telekinesis become unhinged after she becomes exposed to the radiation of a solar flare.
The Phoenix, the moniker given to her new alter-ego, becomes largely uncaring. At one point, she consumes enough energy from a planet to wipe it out killing untold numbers of living beings. The X-Men must contend with the idea that they have to end their genocidal colleague before more damage is done. But what happens is the stuff of pure X-Men legend.
The James Mangold-directed epic Logan has become semi-legendary both in the cinematic and pop culture circuits. While most consider it an extremely loose adaptation of Old Man Logan, it largely stands all on its own. Logan is a story of trauma, failure, redemption, age, life, death, and broken individuals putting the pieces of their lives back together again. Despite focusing on mutant-kind, it’s the most human story you’ll find in the entire X-Men catalog. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is nearing the end of his days as the very metal that coats his skeleton and gives him an element of indestructibility is slowly poisoning him ultimately causing aging in an otherwise seemingly immortal man. Having seen too much loss, he drinks his days away.
However, fate throws him a curve ball and gives him a reason to live, at least a little while longer. Mutant children who’ve lived their lives at the end of a needle have escaped their experimental confines and one particular mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen), is put in his care. Watch Logan painfully reclaim himself and commit to the future of another while bawling your eyes out when the dust settles. There’s nothing quite like it in superhero cinema, and it currently stands as the X-Men story, in any medium, that has ever been told.