X-Men: Where do I Start?

Brianna asks:

So, I want to get more involved in comic books.

I know that is a BROAD blanket so let me help you out. I think I’d really like X-men, to start, but I’m really overwhelmed. You’d think from working in a comic shop for 2 years I’d know where to start, but I truly don’t.

So, if I were to get into X-men specifically, where would be a good place to start?

Answering this question is the great Shoshana Kessock! She’s a LARPer, game designer, writer and scholar. Learn more about her on her website!

wolverineGetting into a comic book after years and years is sometimes an overwhelming prospect- especially withs something as long-standing as X-Men! I have a few suggestions about how to get into the series, and you can try it whatever way feels best for you.

1) Start From The Beginning: Sounds terrifying? It’s not that bad. Marvel has collected the beginnings of a lot of their comics and X-Men is no different – you can find the first adventures of the X-Men in a graphic novel called X-Men Vol. 1. Now, that’s delving into some old (and sometimes dated) issues, but I would suggest with X-Men at least reading the very first one of these to get the idea of the X-Men’s first adventures. They’re still quite good and gets you in the mindset of what the X-Men are all about. If you are already familiar with their whole ‘Children of the Atom, fighting against a world that hates and fears them’ thing and want to skip over? Head down to…

2) Chris Claremont’s X-Men: When Chris Claremont came aboard the X-Men, he created and introduced a number of characters that are now considered staples of the X-Men world, like Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Storm. Their first storyline started in Giant Sized X-Men #1 from 1975 and can be a great place to get into some of the most iconic story lines of the X-Men. The upcoming movie Days of Future Past? That was a Claremont storyline from this time period. Giant Sized X-Men #1 is part of the graphic novel called Second Genesis and is a great place to start. From there, you can go on to…

3) The Greatest Graphic Novels: As I said, Claremont’s run started a period of amazing story lines in the X-Men universe, many of which are influences over the movies that are coming out right now and the awesome cartoon that went on in the 90’s as well. There is an extensive list here but the story lines I would say to read would be:

  • Days of Future Past
  • The Dark Phoenix Saga
  • From The Ashes
  • Asgardian Wars
  • Mutant Massacre
  • Fall of the Mutants
  • Inferno

These are the basic story lines that I consider the pre-90’s awesome story lines to be read. If you want to skip over all these, however? Check out the Wikipedia entries on these story lines and then skip right to-

4) The Awesome 90’s: X-Men hit a time period of fantastic stories in the 90’s. This was the time when there were so many cool X-Men characters that they actually split down to having two teams of X-Men and spawned the age of the millions of different X-Men books that started making things so complicated for us. This time period started with the relaunch of X-Men as a title with X-Men #1 by Jim Lee. Those stories are collected in X-Men Visionaries: Jim Lee and is worth the read. From this time period, the graphic novels to check out would be:

  • X-Men Visionaries: Jim Lee
  • Days of Future PResent
  • X-Tinction Agenda
  • Mutant Genesis
  • X-Cutioner’s Song
  • Fatal Attraction

There’s also story lines that come after this, like Onslaught and such, but this is where it becomes very hard to keep track of what’s going on with multiple books. X-Men split in this time period into Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur and New Mutants, and there’s lots of great story lines in each. Lots of X-Men fans have favorite side books (I’m a fan of Excalibur myself) but going into the extensive side stories can be confusing.

In fact, even a list this long can be difficult. I’m even skipping over everything from the late 90’s into 2011, where there are years of great plots and writers.

But for a great, quick, and much easier entry point, I’d say there is a great place to get into X-Men that skips ALL of this if you’d like.

5) Just Skip To The Present Day: That’s right, I know that’s almost sacrilege to a lot of X-Men fans. However, the recent relaunch and streamlining of the X-titles have made them extremely accessible to entry right now. I point specifically to the titles Wolverine and the X-Men and All-New X-Men and the original title X-Men as three great titles to get in right now. They don’t have that many issues since their relaunch and each has a particularly strong story to their teams. Wolverine and the X-Men tells the story of the newly revamped mutant school with Wolverine as the headmaster, while All-New X-Men has the original five X-Men transported into the future (sounds wacky but it’s great reading), and X-Men being an exploration of an all-women team of X-Men under the direction of Storm. If you have the basics of some of the stories above to know more about the characters you’re interested in, you’ll be able to hop into these titles quickly. They might reference things that have happened in the past, but don’t be afraid to just Wikipedia or Google something if you don’t know what it is. (Like “When did Storm start wearing her hair in a mohawk?” or “Why is Wolverine headmaster? Where is Professor Xavier?”)

With the basics of those past graphic novels and a handy-dandy internet search as a glossary of ‘what are they talking about’ you can become X-Men savvy pretty quick.

Bonus: If you want to really get into some great X-Men stuff and learn more, check out the X-Men Cartoon from the 1990’s. That cartoon went out of it’s way to be as close to the comic books as possible in their story lines and made them super simple to digest. It was so popular that it introduced characters like Jubilee and Morph into the comic book world! It’s well written, though it has aged a little badly, but it’ll give you the short version of story arches like the rise of the Sentinals and the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Another Bonus: The X-Men are known for spawning multiple alternate realities. Why? Because they time travel and wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey, that’s why. They’re known for having story lines that are all about ‘what if’ and some of them are amazing, complex, and heart-breaking for our favorite mutants. I would suggest realities like Age of Apocalypse for reading, as well as House of M for a look at what the world would be like if the villain Apocalypse had taken over, or a world in which mutants ruled the world.