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Greatest X-Men Stories

Recently, I've been getting back in touch with the superhero team that really informed my childhood: The X-Men. Like most young nerds in the 90's, I anxiously awaited every episode of their Saturday morning cartoon show, I collected the trading cards, I had action figures of obscure characters I had never even seen in the comics (at that point), and I dreamed of growing up to be a badass like Wolverine. I did not grow up to be Logan (thankfully) and the X-Men have definitely seen better days, but I still have a place in my heart for those lovable muties... Here are the stories where I think they are at their best.

List items

  • If you know me, you saw this coming so I don't want to hear about it. Grant saved the X-Men from the fallout of the late 90's by reminding us why the X-Men are so great. Xavier's is a school and has always been fueled by its youth like the New Mutants or Generation X. Morrison gave us new students like Beak, Angel Salvadore, Quentin Quire, the Stepford Cuckoos, and many more mutant misfits who didn't quite fit the young, beautiful image of previous Xavier graduates. You got an amazing Weapon X story with genetically engineered superhumans and a proposed team of Super-Fascists that sounded suspiciously like the Justice League. You even got to look at worn concepts like the Shi'ar Empire in new and exciting ways. Magneto was the ultimate villain, Jean Grey sacrificed herself once more, and Morrsion finished the entire run with an old fashioned Post-Apocalyptic future. Some people claim that Grant ruined the X-Men with this run, but they are wrong. He celebrated the team by bringing back all the concepts that made them great and putting a new spin on them. I have yet to read a better X-Men story and I've read quite a few...

  • Not to confuse anyone, I do mean Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's run on this book. It was meant to be a follow up on Morrison's New X-Men and it reads that way, but Whedon makes it his own. He also gives you some memorable new students like Armor and Wing (poor Wing). The Mutant Cure was a bombshell dropped on the Marvel Universe (until House of M completely undercut it). Joss successfully brought his personal favorite, Kitty Pryde, back into the fold along with her roller coaster romance with the resurrected Colossus. The dialogue is witty, the stories are well-paced, and Cassaday's artwork brings the characters to life. It makes you wonder what went so wrong for the X-Books after this...

  • I was trying really hard to NOT put this at #3 because I do think this story gets really over-hyped, but, in the end, it is so influential that I had no choice (which tells you something, I guess). Chris Claremont and John Byrne were well into their stride when they wrote what would be the centerpiece of their long run. At heart, this story is about the darkness in the human heart and it's ability to corrupt. The Phoenix, a godlike entity of immeasurable power, gets seduced by the lurid temptations of being mortal. This causes a nightmare scenario of having to deal with a cosmic entity bent on selfish destruction. It's only the purity of Jean Grey's true spirit and her willingness to sacrifice herself for the greater good that win the day. It tends to come on strong and waxes poetic like a mofo, but you've got to love the X-Men's throwdown with the Shi'ar Imperial guard (who are basically the Legion of Superheroes). Personally, I also love the fact that Wolverine takes the same trip through The Watcher's hidden base that the Red Ghost took way back in Fantastic Four #13. That was a nice nod to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

  • The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past are really the one-two punch of the Claremont/Byrne run. This was the original X-Men post-apocalyptic future and it has been revisited and copied many times since. The Sentinel controlled future of Days of Future Past is truly bleak and reminiscent of the Holocaust. It is traumatizing watching some of your favorite X-Men get slaughtered in this possible future. You're anxious to see the X-Men succeed in stopping the event that sparks this catastrophe and shudder knowing what will happen if they fail. It's also cool seeing all the Fantastic Four references in the story especially knowing that John Byrne was soon to take over Marvel's first family. I'm not surprised that this is the source material for the next X-Men movie.

  • This is the first in what would be a long line of X-Men crossovers that told a single story across all of the active X-Books. Fortunately, it's also the best. The Marauders, a group of deadly mutants, hit the Morlock tunnels with the intention of committing genocide and the X-Men attempt to intervene. It's memorable largely because the X-Men fail and it takes its toll. Many of the X-Men are gravely injured, Angel loses his wings, and a majority of the Morlocks are killed. This is what happens when you leave Magneto in charge... This story also contains the first of many epic battles between Wolverine and Sabretooth.

  • For awhile, I thought that maybe #6 would be too high on the list for this relatively new, currently ongoing series, but, no, this book is great. I had left the X-Men for dead after not enjoying most of what came after Whedon's Astonishing run. Jason Aaron brought me back and he did it the way it should be done. Once again, we see new students like Broo, Kid Gladiator, Eye Boy, and Shark-Girl along with old favorites like Quentin Quire. Aaron plays around with old concepts like the Dethlok cyborgs and the Brood and puts a new spin on them. The book is hilarious with off-beat issues like the one that follows Doop through his week. Wolverine & the X-Men does what every good X-Book must do: Celebrate the history and material without being locked down by it.

  • This is a sentimental favorite of mine, for sure, but I think it still holds up. It was really jarring as a kid picking up Age of Apocalypse: Alpha and seeing how different the universe and the characters I know were in this new world created without Xavier. I wondered if I'd ever see the old universe again and worried that I wouldn't (of course I would, but, hey, I was a kid). It's hard to argue against how cool this was. The costumes were colorful and different and the art popped off the page like an anime. Jean Grey and Wolverine were together as I always knew they should be, and Sabretooth was an X-Man??? Yeah, not all the books were great and some of the writing falls flat, but this was a bold move on Marvel's part by letting an alternate universe story take over as the status quo. This shock value only goes so far, though, which is why I wasn't quite as into House of M or Age of X.

  • This is the second big crossover told throughout all the X-Books, and it's only a crossover in the loosest sense of the word. The only thing that really connects the stories told in Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, and the New Mutants is the Mutant Registration Act looming in the background. Otherwise the titles are following their own paths and dealing with their own threats which makes the story unfocused and the crossover label a bit of a gimmick, but that's Marvel for you. Luckily, the three separate stories are all memorable. The X-Men sacrifice themselves for the human race on national television and are resurrected leading to the fresh X-Men in Australia take. Poor Cypher is killed and not resurrected (at least not immediately) and his death becomes an influencing factor for years to come. In X-Factor, we got our first major Apocalypse story and the birth of the Archangel. It's unfocused for sure, but Fall of the Mutants is still a milestone.

  • I think this makes my list because of just how effective the writing is when it comes to making you hate the villain. Cameron Hodge and Genosha kidnap some of the X-Men and then use the international community's fear of mutants to play the victim as a struggling island nation being invaded by foreign terrorists. The X-Men refuse to blink and are ready to create an international incident to save their own. Storm gets de-aged and Wolfsbane is tortured and reverts to her wolf form permanently. You watch as these characters you like are hurt and degraded. The entire time Genoshans are defending their Mutant enslavement policies by whining about how bad things were for them before like that makes it all right. You just can't wait until the heroes bring Genosha crashing down around their heads.

  • Fatal Attractions makes my top ten for two scenes in particular. The first is when Colossus leaves the X-Men to join Magneto at his sister's funeral being fully disillusioned with Xavier's dream after Illyana's death. It was the first time I'd seen a loyal X-Man turn his back on the team like that. The second, of course, is the infamous scene where Magneto rips the adamantium skeleton from Wolverine's body which would leave Logan without the indestructible metal for much of the 90's (but I guess Chris Claremont was going to kill Wolverine if he stayed writer of the book so there are worse fates). It was certainly a game changer and the concept of Magneto using his powers to screw with the Earth's electro-magnetic fields has been revisited a few times since. Plus, you've got to love those hologram, trading card covers... right... RIGHT?

  • I once heard someone refer to this crossover as "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Clearly it isn't but when you're eight it definitely leaves an impression. Xavier is seemingly shot in the head by Cable (and survives???) and the X-Force become renegades while everyone tries to piece together what really happened and why. I still remember the issue where the X-Men and X-Factor bring in the members of X-Force. It was tragic to watch friends and lovers fight each other over a misunderstanding. This story really sets the pace for the X-Men in the 90's (for better or worse), and gives you a strong introduction to Stryfe and all the drama that would follow between him and Cable.