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X Marks the Spot: Must Read X-Men Stories Part II

Posted in american studies, Cartoons, Comic Books with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

(This Post was originally featured at Eat Your Serial)

 

Feel like you’ve walked into the middle of a conversation? Check out the first part of X Marks the Spot!

Many people think that they know the X-Men from the movies and cartoons, but they really don’t. Any comic book fan I know gets supremely annoyed by people who have seen the X-Men movies (or any comic book movies really), and try to have a conversation with you as if they know as much from a few hours of poorly translated cinema as a lifetime fan would. But, getting that knowledge isn’t as daunting a task as one may think, nor does it take as much time as one might assume. The X-Men have one of the more intricate and complicated comic book histories, but their continuity can be accessed and understood fairly quickly at a novice level by reading a few landmark titles. Yesterday, in part one, we ran you from the late 70s up through the 1990s In part two of our X-Men hit list, we approach the must-read storylines of the early 21st Century.

New X-Men:

 

In Grant Morrison’s epic run on X-Men, many of the mainstay ideas surrounding the X-Men were dramatically altered or changed, and have mostly stuck since. This storyline hails the evolutionary leap mutants take toward becoming the dominant race on Earth, and introduces the concept of secondary mutations, such as Emma Frost’s diamond form and Beast’s cat-like appearance. It also saw the return of the Phoenix Force, the romantic relationship between Cyclops and White Queen, the first step toward Wolverine regaining his full memory, and, well…other things, but I’m trying to keep this relatively spoiler free. It also introduced fan favorite character Fantomex, and led to the revelation that the Weapon X program which gave Wolverine his unbreakable adamantium skeleton is actually pronounced “Weapon Ten.” Also in this story arc? Quentin Quire evolves into an idea, the “Magneto was Right” T-Shirt, Charles Xavier revealing to the world that he is a mutant, and Cassandra Nova (which doesn’t mean much to you now but will later). Honestly, there is a lot in this run that I haven’t mentioned, but that’s because I’m recommending Morrison’s entire run and not a particular storyarc because, as Morison fans know well, when he takes on a title he actually plans the whole thing from start to finish to be one massive storyline where the apple that fell from the tree in issue 1 has profound impact on the end of the story in issue 87. Also of note is the off-putting art of Frank Quietly and the truly awesome mod logo design that is the same right side up and upside down.

House of M (spoilers) and Decimation:

 

In another reality-bending storyline that emanated from the consequences of Avengers, Disassembled the Scarlet Witch changed the entire world in order to keep her children with the android Vision real. As it turned out, they weren’t. The Scarlet Witch, daughter of Magneto, simply granted everyone’s deepest desires on Earth. While this story was mainly an X-Men story, it touched the whole Marvel Universe, and we got to see great character aspects from across Marvel. Finding out that Spider-Man’s greatest wish was the Uncle Ben lived and he married Gwen Stacy while Harry married Mary Jane was a big one. Finding an over 100-year old Captain America painting in a Brooklyn Brownstone was another. Also, we get a Wolverine who has his full memory including being an Agent of Shield, and a Magneto who rules the Earth with his royal family in—you guessed it—The House of M. What’s so bad about that? Well, changing the course of history also keep people from being born, it stops the natural course of destiny, and most of all, heroes gotta stop Utopia. The most important impact of this story is that it reverses the effect from Morrison’s story with the Scarlet Witch uttering three words that have altered the course of X-Men comics for the better part of a decade: No. More. Mutants. Apparently, her reality-altering, magic, mutant powers can not only turn people in the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle as they disappear from existence, but they can also completely stop a race from being born. This left only 198 mutants left on Earth. Wanna know what happened next? Read it.

Messiah CompleX:

 

In this story arc, the first mutant baby since the decimation is born and the whole world is clamoring to get control over her. The X-Men, Mister Sinister, and umm…well…that’s actually a lot of people. Everyone wants to control this baby, especially since she comes with the prophecy that she will reignite the mutant race from the ashes, and also do a terrible, terrible thing. Through subterfuge, murder, espionage, conspiracy, and deception the child is set at the center of one of the most intense storylines in the X-Men mythos where character arcs are fulfilled in unexpected ways, and page after page pays off. It was accompanied with a backup feature that saw Beast traveling from scientist to scientist, friend and foe alike, in search for a way to jump-start the mutant genome in the face of certain extinction. How do they overcome it? What happens? Well, most of those questions are still being answered several years later. This is the one that’s going to bring you relatively up to speed on the mighty misadventures of Marvel’s Merry Mutants.

 

And there you have it. I know this list started off yesterday as an example of how easy it is to get integrated into a complicated continuity, but this is a simple list. You have to remember that you can probably blow these story arcs, once collected, in a sitting or two for about the same price as a reasonably priced hardcover novel (between $12.95-$24.99). Stories like Days of Future Past can actually be read in about 20 minutes—just because it isn’t long doesn’t mean it didn’t have impact. Now, I’m sure some of you hardcore fans out there are steaming, stomping on your hats and screaming for X-tinction Agenda, Fall of the Mutants, Mutant Massacre, God Loves Man Kills, The Twelve, X-ecutioner’s Song,  Phalanx Covenant, the Onslaught Saga, Utopia, Deadly Genesis, Deadly Reunion, War of Kings, Phoenix Endsong, or Joss Wheadon’s run on Astonishing X-Men, among many others. But, remember I’m talking about stories that will catch a neophyte reader up to the present. This isn’t a hit list of the greatest X-Men stories ever, hell there’s not a single story here of the Mojoverse. This list functions as a crash course in X-Men to get the reader conversational in the mythos. There’s always going to be more work to do. After over 20 years of reading comics, I could still learn more, but this lists, spanning the late 70s until just about now (relatively speaking), are just an appetizer. It isn’t hard to get into it, and you could blow through all these titles in the course of a week, or two, while riding the train to work. And believe you me; it’ll be well worth it.

X-Marks the Spot: Must Read X-Men Stories Part I

Posted in Cartoons, Comic Books, Entertainment with tags , , , , , , , on February 17, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

(This post was originally featured at Eat Your Serial)

 

There’s a lot of talk in the media about comic books, and a lot of snark going around about continuity. Many of you non-comic book types might be wondering what the hell continuity is. It’s a pretty simple concept, it simply means that the stories in a comic book universe count towards a single coherent (as it were) history. It is the element that makes comic book universes work and allows for long lasting, and meaningful, character developments and story arcs. Long time fans, especially hardcore ones, are typically sticklers for continuity. Often times, they can quote writers, artists, years, and issue numbers for particular points of contention when making arguments. Continuity is serious business for fans. Unfortunately, a strict adherence to it can be a turn off to newer fans who often feel that comics are a vast an impenetrable mythology that can be very expensive to break into. This is largely untrue, occasionally there are points to hop on that require little background information and ease the reader into the larger history. Although, more often than not, many of the vast histories found within comics can be eschewed in lieu of finding a few key storylines that give enough information to allow the reader to move on unimpeded.

No continuous comic book storylines are denser, more involved, or more convoluted and confusing than that of the X-Men. Essentially, X-Men has been running without a major reboot since the 1960s. As such, there are over 40 years of story to condense into a time frame somewhere in the area of 15 years “comic book time.” When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby initially started the X-Men series, the original team of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman were approximately 15 to 16 years old. Cyclops, now essentially a leader of the mutant people, could reasonably be considered to be anywhere in his early to mid-thirties. As such, please take this short list of (mostly spoiler free) landmark X-Men storylines (all conveniently collected into trade books) as your guide to navigating the world of those who fight to protect the world that hates and fears them:

The Dark Phoenix Saga:

 

This is probably the first truly landmark story in the history of Marvel’s Merry Mutants. This story will familiarize you with a number of aspects and characters of the X-Men mythos that are invaluable in understanding any number of X-themed stories. Firstly, you’ll become familiar with the Sh’iar Empire and it’s host of characters, such as Majestrix Llandra, her brother the mad Emperor D’Ken, Guardian the leader of the Imperial Guard, and the M’Kraan Crystal. Additionally, you’ll find yourself getting a crash course in the Phoenix, the Phoenix force, Uatu the Watcher, the Blue Area of the Moon, The Hellfire Club (most notably the White Queen, Emma Frost) and a classic line up of X-Men. You’ll meet Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Beast, Storm, Dazzler, Shadowcat (then called Kitty Pryde and later Sprite). This story comes from a time when the team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne was king, and their stories could do no wrong. It’s not just a landmark X-Men story, but it’s a bona fide comic book landmark.

Days Of Future Past:

 

In this tale of time travel, psychic energy, genocide, and politics, you will find yourself introduced to a number of important ideas and concepts in the X-Men mythos. Firstly, lay your eyes on the horrible, horrible future in which the mutant hunting, giant, killer robots known as The Sentinels run the United States, and keep mutants in concentration and labor camps. The future is bleak and most of the Marvel Universe’s heroes—mutant and non-mutant alike—have been killed in battle and buried in a trophy cemetery that all mutants must cross to get to their labor assignments. Left to fight the good fight? Colossus, Shadowcat, Storm, Wolverine, and a few X-Men yet-to-be-born. You’ll be introduced to time travel, Senator Kelly, and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (as Freedom Force). You’ll also become familiar with the concept of a dangerous future where the X-Men have lost. This story has essentially informed the importance of Xavier’s Dream in every subsequent X-Men story. Ever.

Inferno:

 

Another classic from the team that could do no wrong, Inferno is a great follow up to the Dark Phoenix Saga as it deals with Cyclops coping with the (apparent) death of Jean Grey, and falling in love with a woman named Madelyn Pryor who bears an…ahem…uncanny…resemblance to his dearly departed, loved, and omnipotent girlfriend. In this story, you’ll become familiar with the X-Men’s relationship with the metaphysical, the realm known as Limbo, and its master Belasco, the mutant shaman/technology specialist, Forge, the Goblin Queen, as well as X-Men mainstay Rogue. Not the least of which you’ll come to know with the arch villain Mister Sinister, and his modus operandi to manipulate the Grey and Summers bloodlines to create a child who might one day become…well…you’ll have to read more to find out won’t you?

Mutant Genesis:

 

In this story, the reader is reintroduced to the character of Magneto in what would be the start of Jim Lee’s designs for the X-Men that defined the 90s (and the Fox cartoon). Also seen here is the bow out of Chris Claremont after a writing run that encompassed the 80s and touched both the 90s and 70s as well. You’ll meet Nick Fury, the Acolytes, and Asteroid M. You’ll find the feel of the 90s in the art of Lee and the sudden moral ambiguity to all actions. The world of the X-Men starts to feel a little less black and white in this story—it becomes defined less as a good versus evil dynamic and more of a contradicting philosophy dilemma. Mutant Genesis sets up Magneto as more of an anti-hero than a villain, and really adds a level of complexity to the dynamic that, though present in older stories, really resonates as Magneto’s charisma as a political leader shines.

Age of Apocalypse:

 

In this reality-bending full-line crossover story written and illustrated by a literal who’s who of comics, we find a world in which Charles Xavier died in the 1960s (aka 30 years ago from the perspective of the story) in a mutant battle including time-hopping, amnesiac X-Men. The battle awakens the world’s first mutant, known as Apocalypse, from his planning to take over the world in a most Darwinian fashion several decades earlier. As this occurs before the dawn of modern heroes, there is little opposition to the megalomaniac and he conquers the North American continent with eyes on the rest of the world. In this world, this alternate timeline, Magneto founds the X-Men in memory of his fallen friend Charles, and everything you thought you knew about the X-Men is turned on its head. This is another one of those X-Men stories that is touched upon forevermore and introduces alternate versions of characters that have taken on life unto themselves. These characters include Sabretooth, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast and Nate Grey, who is an alternate version of Cable, as well as original characters (mostly) Nocturn, Morph, and Xorn. The elements of this story are so distinctly dark and popular that they often appear in the mainstream universe either by parallel coincidence or via reality-jumping stories.

 

Well, that does it for today but, of course, that isn’t all. There’s plenty more baddassery to go around as the X-Men break into the 21st century and into today. Make sure you come back to Eat Your Serial tomorrow and check out part two of X Marks the spot!