Feel like you’ve walked into the middle of a conversation? Check out the first part of X Marks the Spot!
Many people think that they know the X-Men from the movies and cartoons, but they really don’t. Any comic book fan I know gets supremely annoyed by people who have seen the X-Men movies (or any comic book movies really), and try to have a conversation with you as if they know as much from a few hours of poorly translated cinema as a lifetime fan would. But, getting that knowledge isn’t as daunting a task as one may think, nor does it take as much time as one might assume. The X-Men have one of the more intricate and complicated comic book histories, but their continuity can be accessed and understood fairly quickly at a novice level by reading a few landmark titles. Yesterday, in part one, we ran you from the late 70s up through the 1990s In part two of our X-Men hit list, we approach the must-read storylines of the early 21st Century.
In Grant Morrison’s epic run on X-Men, many of the mainstay ideas surrounding the X-Men were dramatically altered or changed, and have mostly stuck since. This storyline hails the evolutionary leap mutants take toward becoming the dominant race on Earth, and introduces the concept of secondary mutations, such as Emma Frost’s diamond form and Beast’s cat-like appearance. It also saw the return of the Phoenix Force, the romantic relationship between Cyclops and White Queen, the first step toward Wolverine regaining his full memory, and, well…other things, but I’m trying to keep this relatively spoiler free. It also introduced fan favorite character Fantomex, and led to the revelation that the Weapon X program which gave Wolverine his unbreakable adamantium skeleton is actually pronounced “Weapon Ten.” Also in this story arc? Quentin Quire evolves into an idea, the “Magneto was Right” T-Shirt, Charles Xavier revealing to the world that he is a mutant, and Cassandra Nova (which doesn’t mean much to you now but will later). Honestly, there is a lot in this run that I haven’t mentioned, but that’s because I’m recommending Morrison’s entire run and not a particular storyarc because, as Morison fans know well, when he takes on a title he actually plans the whole thing from start to finish to be one massive storyline where the apple that fell from the tree in issue 1 has profound impact on the end of the story in issue 87. Also of note is the off-putting art of Frank Quietly and the truly awesome mod logo design that is the same right side up and upside down.
House of M (spoilers) and Decimation:
In another reality-bending storyline that emanated from the consequences of Avengers, Disassembled the Scarlet Witch changed the entire world in order to keep her children with the android Vision real. As it turned out, they weren’t. The Scarlet Witch, daughter of Magneto, simply granted everyone’s deepest desires on Earth. While this story was mainly an X-Men story, it touched the whole Marvel Universe, and we got to see great character aspects from across Marvel. Finding out that Spider-Man’s greatest wish was the Uncle Ben lived and he married Gwen Stacy while Harry married Mary Jane was a big one. Finding an over 100-year old Captain America painting in a Brooklyn Brownstone was another. Also, we get a Wolverine who has his full memory including being an Agent of Shield, and a Magneto who rules the Earth with his royal family in—you guessed it—The House of M. What’s so bad about that? Well, changing the course of history also keep people from being born, it stops the natural course of destiny, and most of all, heroes gotta stop Utopia. The most important impact of this story is that it reverses the effect from Morrison’s story with the Scarlet Witch uttering three words that have altered the course of X-Men comics for the better part of a decade: No. More. Mutants. Apparently, her reality-altering, magic, mutant powers can not only turn people in the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle as they disappear from existence, but they can also completely stop a race from being born. This left only 198 mutants left on Earth. Wanna know what happened next? Read it.
In this story arc, the first mutant baby since the decimation is born and the whole world is clamoring to get control over her. The X-Men, Mister Sinister, and umm…well…that’s actually a lot of people. Everyone wants to control this baby, especially since she comes with the prophecy that she will reignite the mutant race from the ashes, and also do a terrible, terrible thing. Through subterfuge, murder, espionage, conspiracy, and deception the child is set at the center of one of the most intense storylines in the X-Men mythos where character arcs are fulfilled in unexpected ways, and page after page pays off. It was accompanied with a backup feature that saw Beast traveling from scientist to scientist, friend and foe alike, in search for a way to jump-start the mutant genome in the face of certain extinction. How do they overcome it? What happens? Well, most of those questions are still being answered several years later. This is the one that’s going to bring you relatively up to speed on the mighty misadventures of Marvel’s Merry Mutants.
And there you have it. I know this list started off yesterday as an example of how easy it is to get integrated into a complicated continuity, but this is a simple list. You have to remember that you can probably blow these story arcs, once collected, in a sitting or two for about the same price as a reasonably priced hardcover novel (between $12.95-$24.99). Stories like Days of Future Past can actually be read in about 20 minutes—just because it isn’t long doesn’t mean it didn’t have impact. Now, I’m sure some of you hardcore fans out there are steaming, stomping on your hats and screaming for X-tinction Agenda, Fall of the Mutants, Mutant Massacre, God Loves Man Kills, The Twelve, X-ecutioner’s Song, Phalanx Covenant, the Onslaught Saga, Utopia, Deadly Genesis, Deadly Reunion, War of Kings, Phoenix Endsong, or Joss Wheadon’s run on Astonishing X-Men, among many others. But, remember I’m talking about stories that will catch a neophyte reader up to the present. This isn’t a hit list of the greatest X-Men stories ever, hell there’s not a single story here of the Mojoverse. This list functions as a crash course in X-Men to get the reader conversational in the mythos. There’s always going to be more work to do. After over 20 years of reading comics, I could still learn more, but this lists, spanning the late 70s until just about now (relatively speaking), are just an appetizer. It isn’t hard to get into it, and you could blow through all these titles in the course of a week, or two, while riding the train to work. And believe you me; it’ll be well worth it.