A big thing you’ll have to wrap your head around if you want to read comics put out by one of the big publishers is that a lot of things that happen are determined by editorial driven Event Comics. These are large crossover books that are focused on a thing happening that is often described as something that “Will change everything!” Civil War, The Death of Superman, Knightfall, Age of Apocalypse; these are all event comics even though they come in different shapes and sizes. These books are built around something big happening that forces the involvement of as many characters as possible. They happen with such regularity that they can be exhausting, and if you don’t care about the event it could derail whatever story was going on in a book you are reading.
I actually like comic book events (when they’re done well) because they leverage the strengths of having a large connected universe of characters. Event comics provide context to other books, and I like stories that exist in context. So, there are event comics that I don’t like as stories in and of themselves, whether I think they’re bad on paper or simply in execution, but in some cases I do like the context they created.
Let’s talk about the X-Men, specifically the context problem the X-Men present in the Marvel universe. The X-Men, and all the assorted X-Books, for most of their history have existed both as a part of the greater Marvel Universe and outside of it. This goes back to Chris Claremont’s original run, when nobody care about the X-Men and he had basically full autonomy. Ingrained in the DNA of the X-Men are very complicated soap opera stories that reach through time and space, and it’s kinda weird that they barely ever run into the Avengers. Particularly when there are giant robots built by the government going around trying to murder people. It makes a lot of sense for “Marvel,” and “X-Men” to be two separate movie franchises.
It all feels separate, but I like those big stories that bring it all together. That’s the whole fun of comic book universes: seeing characters who were designed for completely separate stories thrown together, hopefully in a way that makes sense and allows for new exciting stories; stories could couldn’t form from whole cloth.
This is one of my (many many many) problems the comic book Civil War; this is a story where you can’t overlook the fact that Mutants also exist in the Marvel Universe and yet the story still kinda does. They at least never become as central as they should be. Tony Stark is immediately the bad guy, not because keeping track of people with devastating supernatural power is necessarily a bad thing to do, but because you can’t get around the fact that he lives in a world where the US government has built murder robots to murder people with superpowers before. There is a world where you could at least attempt to justify Tony’s plan, or at least paint him as just misguided, but he’s instantly a super villain in a world where Sentinels exist.
But the event I really want to start with is House of M.
House of M is another event comic that I’m not too fond of. I don’t like the early years of Bendis’s run on the Avengers because I think there are too many characters where his voice for them doesn’t feel authentic. I think the way he wrote the Scarlet Witch is goddam terrible; fucking awful. Avengers Disassembled, a story that sets this one up, is a comic I actually hate. But House of M is mostly just boring and occasionally doesn’t ring true to the characters for me. (I’ll also say that there are plenty of Bendis comics I love and I do think he got much better at writing the Avengers over the course of the longest tenure anyonehas had on the title.)
But the world changing event of House of M, where Scarlet Which simply says “No more mutants” and the world changed; I fucking love that moment. They way it ended up working (Mostly just based upon editorial discretion) still makes no sense, but the powerful simplicity of that moment shines through.
That moment was a great one to build stories off of and I think it’s the best place to jump on to modern X-Men comics. Even as years have past and most of the storylines I’m going to talk about have been forgotten, that idea of “No more mutants” is still driving the X-Books, even if the circumstances and reasons have changed.
The X-Men have encountered many different future timeliness over the years, but the main constant was that they were almost always bad. Modern X-Men comics have in large part just been making the present the X-Men exist in the dark future we always saw awaited them.
I’m gonna work forward chronologically through the X-Books that carried through to just past Avengers vs X-Men, after which these story threads start to be dropped for new ones. So each page will be spoiler proof from some big thing that happens on the next page, but later books are going to use some spoilers from previous ones as launching points of their premise so it’s be hard not to talk about. So if you find something you want to read and are afraid of spoilers moving forward then you’ve found your jumping on point. A lot of these books are ones that I’d want to recommend just on their own, but there’s such a powerful through line here that is what I think makes these books so powerful and impenetrable, so I think this is the best way to present my recommendations. You are now informed about how this is constructed, consume it as you wish.
However if you just want a simple mostly stand alone X-Men story to get started with Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s run on Astonishing X-Men (2004) [1-24, Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1], which is one of those series that everyone recommends to people and is very good. It’s also pretty standalone and mostly just reverent to old X-Men comics. It doesn’t really cut a trail forward for new stories so it’s easy to recommend, which again I do, but it’s also kind of a dead end for reading more and getting into comics. Although, there are some follow up comics within this run (In the pages of Uncanny X-Men) so it’s also kind of relevant. It’s an important run and it’s clearly very influential on Kieron Gillen’s X-Men comics in particular.
The other reason I’m doing it this way is because every comic I’ll mention here is available on Marvel’s digital monthly subscription service (Netflix for Marvel comics) but the sheer breadth of material, and the way it’s presented, can be incredibly intimidating so I wanted to provide a road map.