Chris Sims is passionate about comics. As a writer, he had the pleasure of writing a Deadpool book with Rob Liefeld, Deadpool: Bad Blood, being featured as a Batman expert, and has written X-Men ’92, a comic that is an ode to X-Men fans. However, when I tasked him with giving me, someone who really has read little to no X-Men books, a starting point, his advice was more or less: there isn’t one.
X-Men is a very unique comic franchise and one that has stood the test of time. According to Sims, unlike a lot of comic properties, the X-Men is interwoven mostly due to the fact from their debut in September 1963 up until 1992, Chris Claremont was writing a majority of the issues and was fairly possessive of the series thus giving the comic its Days of the Our Lives meets superheroes feel. The drama and ongoing events of his long-running series continue to have an effect on the events of the story even today. That isn’t necessarily something you see in other big name properties other than Spider-Man.
In Sims example, most Batman writers, other than Scott Snyder or most recently Tom King, wrote Batman for about 12 issues. In comparison, Snyder was on the book for nine volumes. But even with Snyder, he is telling one complete interwoven story, like X-Men has been doing since its inception. Snyder is debatably still is through Dark Knight: Metal which in a way started in the “Black Mirror” arc of his Batman run and continues in his The Batman Who Laughs mini-series that is currently running.
The interwoven nature of these stories is what makes it very hard to recommend stand-alone X-Men stories since even after Claremont that signature style remains and is what makes X-Men stories feel like X-Men stories.
Sims knows how daunting that sounds too new readers and recognizes his generation read comics in a different way. Trade issues were not common and reader picked up in the middle of stories, being lost was part of the appeal. That being said, he did offer a few suggestions:
Essential X-Men Volume 1 by Chris Claremont and
Essential X-Men Volume 1 collects Giant Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94-119. The book is an easy way to catch on the early history on the team without getting bogged down in hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of single issues. There are nine essential titles in total but number one is the best place to start.
Uncanny X-Men – Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne
One of the biggest moments in X-Men history, “the Dark Phoenix Saga” focuses on Jean Grey and her assumption of the Phoenix power. This run was adapted in the X-Men animated series, alluded to in the movie X2: X-Men United, the entire plot of X-Men: The Last Stand, and will also be the plot of the upcoming movie, Dark Phoenix also from the Fox.
The Uncanny X-Men – Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Another famous X-Men run that has been turned into a movie by Hollywood, “Days of Future Past,” follows Kitty Pryde when she transfers her mind into her younger self into order to stop the dystopian future her present-day self is in where mutants are incarcerated in internment camps. Her goal is to prevent a fatal moment in history that triggered anti-mutant hysteria. The famous cover and run have been referenced, whether on variant covers or jokingly among characters, multiple times not only in Marvel’s universe but also within DC and in indie comics.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson
While speaking with Sims, he mentioned, there is always a group of people for who me the X-Men will be a metaphor for; which is why this story arc is so important. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills follows as Magneto investigates the murder of two mutant children who were killed by henchmen of the Reverend William Stryker. Stryker is an extremist who murdered his wife and newborn son after his son, a deformed mutant child, was born. His goal is to see the extermination of mutantkind in the name of God.
New X-Men by Grant Morrison
Morrison’s run on X-Men felt like a return to Claremont’s style in that all eight arcs were uniquely interwoven. The full run tells a long-form narrative starting with the destruction of Genosha as Emma Frost returns to the team. Morrison’s work in the DC Universe, particularly on books like Justice League, made him a prime candidate to take on the challenge of Marvel’s own premiere team.
Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Whedon’s take on the X-Men took them out of their uniforms and back into their superhero duds and while new fans might not understand the significance of how cool Cyclopes putting on his jacket is, Sims and Jeremy Whitley (writer of The Unstoppable Wasp and Rainbow Brite) both agreed how great of a starting point this book is for new readers. The book follows directly after Morrison’s run and introduces some new characters to the team.
Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo, and Nick Bradshaw
The book follows Wolverine as he takes on being headmaster of Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. While trying to juggle professors and new students, Wolverine must face the Hellfire Club, a group of homicidal genius children, led by Kade Kilgore.
X-MEN ’92 by Chris Sims and Chad Bowers
Originally started as a tie-in miniseries for Marvel’s Secret Wars event, the series was later given an additional 10 issues, though less than originally planned. Sims said in an NC COMICON panel the plan was to create a few interwoven stories that would act as if the 90s X-Men days had never ended, Apocolypse has been defeated, the events with Magneto are still fresh and the classic characters are exactly as fans remember them, only slightly tweaked for a more modern audience. It only seemed fitting to add this addition to the list since Sims is such an X-Men fan and carried his love of the franchise into this book.
Overall, the X-Men have a universal appeal. They were Marvel’s most popular comic for 30 years and continue to sell books for a reason. As I Sims stated during the interview and why he mentioned the X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills story, there is always a group of people for who me the X-Men will be a metaphor for. Even if readers hold confusions about locations, overarching plot points or just the basic comic jargon they can understand the characters and the meaning behind their creation. The X-Men matter to so many readers.
While I was speaking to Sims, a man with his daughters was speaking to him about his experience reading comics as a child and lamented how they, specifically X-Men books, helped him get through a rough childhood and how even something as silly as comics do matter.
It is amazing to see how much creators care about the properties and franchises they take over writing but it is even more amazing to hear that despite the vast history behind these characters, it’s ok to just jump in and start reading no matter where the story is.
Did Chris Sims or I miss any essential X-Men runs new readers have to pick up? Do you think new readers can just jump in and figure out the rest later? Let us know in the comments below.