X-Men: Dark Phoenix might be the swansong for the Fox era of X-Men on the big screen, trying once again to adapt one of the most popular X-Men stories. Whilst the X-Men films have been a very popular series they’ve often avoided some of the bigger stories from the comics, with the exception of X-Men: Days of Future Past. With it potentially being a long while until we have more X-Men in a live action film, here’s a list with some of the best X-Men books to go check out.
As already mentioned, this story was the basis for the popular film of the same name, and tells the story of a future world where the mechanical Sentinels have taken over, killing thousands of mutants and herding others into internment camps. The few surviving members of the X-Men, which include Wolverine and Shadowcat, form a plan to send the mind of Kitty Pryde back into her younger body in order to stop a mutant from assassinating a US Senator, thereby preventing the rise of the Sentinels.
Though a short story, originally published across just two issues, Days of Future Past is widely considered one of the all time classics, and has been adapted across many different incarnations including the live action film, the 90’s animated series, Wolverine and the X-Men, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and Ultimate Spider-Man. Differing a lot from the film version, even those who are familiar with the story will find new and interesting things in the original version.
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Written by Joss Whedon, Astonishing X-Men was an ongoing series that told a number of important stories. It dealt with the fallout of the death of Jean Grey (which would remain in place for many years), the blossoming romance between Cyclops and Emma Frost, and the return of Colossus after his death years. The series slimmed down the number of ‘core’ characters, focusing on a small team so that it could tell more personal stories. Despite this, Whedon also crafted an unfolding narrative that put the fate of the entire earth on the line.
The Whedon run introduced a number of characters that would go on to remain a part of the X-Men universe, such as Blindfold, Danger, Armour, and Dr Kavita Rao. The first story arc, dealing with a potential cure for mutants, not only won the 2006 Will Eisner Award, but was also part of the basis of X-Men: The Last Stand cure subplot.
Second Coming is the culmination of years of storytelling that began with the near extinction of mutantkind. Forced to band together, less than 200 mutants came to live and fight against the outside world under the leadership of Cyclops. Even former villains such as Namor and Magneto would go on to follow Cyclops, serving as trusted advisors. Second Coming tells the story of Hope Summers, the only new mutant since the events of House of M, and her adoptive father Cable, returning from the future.
Hope’s return brings a number of villains out of hiding, including Bastion, the Purifiers, William Stryker, and Bolivar Trask to name but a few, all intent on killing her to prevent the return of the mutant race. Every mutant must come together and fight to the death in order to secure their future in this event that involved every X-book. Villains fight alongside heroes, long time fan favourite characters die, and the very future of the mutant race is put on the line in the dramatic conclusion to one of the darkest and most dynamic eras in the X-Men history.
Written by Grant Morrison, New X-Men ran for a number of years and encompassed several story arcs, where it shifted the focus away from the X-Men as a superhero group, instead taking a look at the running of the Xaviers School. The series would introduce a number of characters that would remain part of the X-Men series for years, including Cassandra Nova, Beak, Quentin Quire, and Fantomex.
The series dealt with a number of important storylines, including the outing of Professor Xavier as a mutant, the destruction of Genosha, Emma Frost joining the team, and the return of Magneto. The series also took a different look in art style, taking the team out of their iconic costumes and adopting a look that was similar to their movie counterparts.
The X-Men would become used to death and disaster over the course of their run, probably more than any other Marvel book. Mutant Massacre is a prime example of a story where even when the heroes stop the villains, they don’t really win.
When the villainous Marauders attack the mutant community of the Morlocks, the X-Men and X-Factor teams rush to their aid. Whilst they manage to stop the Marauders many Morlocks are killed, and a number of heroes severely wounded as a result. Colossus is left as a quadriplegic thanks to injuries sustained to his metal form; Kitty Pryde is trapped in her phased form which almost kills her; Nightcralwer is put into a coma; and Angel is literally crucified, which eventually leads to him losing his wings and becoming the villain Archangel.
A sobering look at the X-Men universe, and one that would play into a lot of future stories, this darker tone would become something of a staple for the X-Men books during several of their big events, and many X-Men have ended up severely wounded or killed over the years, probably more so than any other superhero team.