Does this describe you: You dig the X-Men – from the movies, cartoons, toys, or video games – but you’ve never read a comic book.
It’s not so unusual! In the nearly fifty years since their introduction in 1963 The X-Men have become a ubiquitous pop culture presence – making the word “mutant” synonymous with being a superhero.
While it’s easy to be an X-Fan without ever touching a comic book, if you’ve never read a comic you’re missing out! At their best, X-Men comics far outstrip their representations in any other medium.
However, it’s hard to know what’s “best” with almost 50 years of comics to choose from – over 3,500 individual issues of dozens of titles. Plus, those comics are collected in hundreds of “trade paperbacks” or “graphic novels,” making your entrance into comics even more confusing. I created a Definitive Guide to Collecting X-Men to help, but it’s still hard to know where to begin.
What to do? Try this – a budget path to becoming a quickly well-read X-Men comics fan.
- For under $25 each, every one of these books stands alone as an excellent story whose effect can be seen monthly in today’s comics.
- For under $125 for them all, they make a terrific condensed crash course through half-a-century of comics legacy.
Intro to X-Men for $125 or less
#1. Dark Phoenix Saga for <$20 (Amazon)
Collects Uncanny X-Men #129-137 from 1980.
Why? The 1980-81 Dark Phoenix Saga remains one of the pinnacles of the X-Men’s long history, as well as one of the most widely acclaimed stories in all of comics. It takes the team from the New York sewer to a distant galaxy, with displays of powers and pathos throughout. Writer Chris Claremont does a great job of introducing each character and explaining what they can do, which makes this a perfect starting place. (Watch out – there’s also a $75 hardcover with the same title and issues – it’s not worth it!)
#2. Mutant Genesis (hardcover) for <$20 (Amazon)
Collects X-Men (Vol. 2) #1-7 from 1991.
Why? Witness the end of Chris Claremont’s unparalleled era of solo scripting as well as the pinnacle of X-Men’s popularity with this multi-million selling introductory arc from 1991-92. This affordable hardcover pits the team against Magneto, Sabretooth, and brand new foe Omega Red. If you loved the 90s X-Men cartoon this version of the team will seem very familiar to you.
#3. New X-Men Ultimate Collection, Volume 1 for <$25 (Amazon)
(or pocket-sized New X-Men Book 1 (Amazon) & New X-Men Book 2 (Amazon) for <$25)
Collects New X-Men #114-126 & 2001 Annual from 2001.
Why? Notable comic author Grant Morrison was brought in to reboot the X-Men’s secondary title to be more palatable to fans of their hit movie debut. As long as he slimmed down the roster and slipped them into black leather he was allowed a slew of liberties, like killing millions of people and breaking up a marquee Marvel romance. While his fast-paced, sci-fi laced writing can sometimes be off-putting, there’s no denying he plotted one of the best introductory arcs the X-Men have ever seen.
#4. Astonishing X-Men: Gifted for <$15 (Amazon)
Collects Astonishing X-Men #1-6 from 2004.
Why? Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon took the reigns in the wake of Grant Morrison and started with a hugely entertaining blockbuster arc. He maintains Morrison’s brisk pace, but focuses more on finding the definitive voice of the characters – especially fan-favorite Kitty Pryde. This story sets the scene for the last few years of X-Men, with Cyclops and White Queen in charge of the mutant race.
#5. X-Men: Messiah Complex for <$25 (Amazon)
Collects Uncanny X-Men #492-494, X-Men #205-207, New X-Men #44-46, X-Factor #25-27, and X-Men: Messiah CompleX One-Shot and Mutant Files, from 2008.
Why? This one is advanced level reading! Messiah Complex represented a huge change in status quo for the X-titles as the teams scrambled to find the first mutant baby born since the species was decimated. The process is a cinematic adventure that pits friends against friends, features some brutal fights, and fractures several long-time bonds across the X-Men. It lives up to its “complex” title, so be prepared to not recognize much of the huge cast of X-Factor and Academy-X students.
#6. X-Men: Manifest Destiny for <$20 (Amazon)
Collects Uncanny X-Men #500-503, X-Men Free Comic Book Day, and material from X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1-5, from 2008.
Why? Enter the modern age of X-Men, with the entire mutant race pulling up stakes from New York to move to San Francisco. This book captures a brief arc that followed Messiah Complex as well as a collection of short stories that will help you get to know the newer characters. From here you should be ready to pick up any newer X-book. (Beware, there is a second title with the same name and a different cover).
This is the first post in what could become a new series, so your feedback is appreciated! Are you a longstanding fan with a different where-to-start suggestion? Are you a new fan who nabbed one of these books and came back confused? Or, are you already started, and need second-step suggestions? Let me know in the comments.
Love this post. We’ve of course traded ideas on Twitter of additional books to add, but I think this a great start for n00bs. Also noteworthy in X-news is the addition of the X-Men cartoon from the 90’s on Netflix Instant. While it certainly takes liberties with canon, its one of the few non comic adaptations that strives to stay true to the characters. I look forward to more X-posts.
I too heart this post. Great work, Peter.
Jonathan Davis says
I really want to start off with Claremont’s run. So my plan, is to collect back issues of “Classic X-men” http://mycomicshop.com/search?TID=97241 which are reprints of his original run. They’re about $1 each for the most part, can be found in clearance bins and they span over 100 issues which is more than even the trades or hardcovers have done.
Is this list updated? I’m fairly new to X-Men comics and loved that you made this list. But I noticed it was made 3 years ago and am wondering if anything has happened within those three years that I should also be reading.