Suggested X-Reading List
Below is our suggested Marvel X-Men reading list with links to Amazon. The Amazon links are mostly for convenience, but it is one of the cheapest places to buy books on the web. Feel free to use another resource (Ebay, Abebooks, instocktrades.com), but if you do end up going with Amazon, please use our links as we do get a little web site supporting money that way.
For those trying to read along with the podcast, the current issue is roughly around Uncanny X-Men #136, depending on the last time we updated this page. You can find that issue in Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men, Vol. 5 or in the Essential X-Men, Vol. 2.
Marvel Masterworks Editions
Silver Age X-Men (1963-1974)
Bronze Age X-Men (1975-1981)
The Marvel Masterworks Editions are Marvel’s premium all color, bound editions collecting 10-15 issues of their earlier comic books. Definitely the best way to read these stories for less than several hundred dollars — heck, with the superior paper they are probably even better than the original mint issues, although a purist may grumble about how these comics were meant to be read on terrible paper with lousy color separation. The Masterworks are wonderful, but suffer from two significant issues.
The main issue with the Masterworks is that they go in and out of print all the time and which ones are presently available changes. The out-of-print volumes are available to lesser and greater degree, depending on the size of the original print run and how long since it was available. While the in-print paperbacks are quite reasonable ($15-20), the out of print hardback stuff can run $30-120 or even more for the rarest variants. Also, with every reissue they give the volume a new cover treatment, which can get fairly irritating for those trying to assemble a nice matched set for their bookshelves.
The second problem is that in the past the books were not well organized or numbered, making it hard to figure out what books to read in what order. Fortunately the present system is nice and logical: the original 1960s silver age X-men can be found in Marvel Masterworks X-Men Volumes 1-8, while the later 1970s bronze age X-men are in the Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men Volumes 1-7. However, since not all these volumes will be in print at the same time, a collector may be forced to get one of the older Masterworks collections, where the naming systems get sketchy. The original volumes were all Marvel characters mixed together, so Volume 1 was Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 2 was Fantastic Four, and Volume 3 was X-Men, etc.
For the X-Men in particular, the original (mildly insane) order went: Volume 3 (#1-10), Volume 7 (#11-21), Volume 11 (Giant-Size X-Men #1, #94-100), Volume 12 (#101-110), Volume 24, (#111-120), Volume 31 (#22-31), Volume 35 (#32-42), Volume 37 (#122-131, Annual#3), Volume 40 (#132-140, Annual #4), Volume 48 (#43-53, Avengers 53, Ka-Zar 2&3, Marvel Tales 30), Volume 61 (#54-66), and Volume 90 (#141-150). And then there are two additional volumes of silver age/pre-modern X-men, Volumes 105 & 134, collecting all the X-Men stories from the time period where they didn’t have their own books.
Marvel Essential Editions
Silver Age X-Men (1963-1973)
Bronze Age X-Men (1975-1982)
For those looking for cheaper options, you need look no further than the Marvel Essentials. Printed on cheaper paper, they reprint the black and white line art only: There is no color. While the lack of color does change the reading experience a bit, the original colors and color separations were not exactly the artistic strong point of those early issues. In some ways the Essentials better showcase the original pencil and ink art. Most importantly, they are able to pack together 25-30 issues for $10-20, allowing one to read the entire silver age X-Men run for under $50.
The 1960s silver age X-Men are packaged as Essential Classic X-Men to distinguish them from the 1970s/1980s bronze age X-Men, which are labeled simply Essential X-Men. Yes, this is a bit confusing, but it used to be worse, as the Essential Classic X-Men Volume 1 was originally labeled Essential Uncanny X-Men Volume 1, a naming scheme exactly opposite to that they set up for the Marvel Masterworks. Oh, Marvel.
We do our best to mix bits and pieces of comic book history into the podcast. Our crack research squad works overtime gathering these tidbits, mainly from the far corners of the internet, but occasionally some particularly useful tomes fall into our hands. Here we present some suggestions for further reading if you would also like to know more about the history of this much maligned medium.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a comprehensive history of Marvel Comics, that alternatively inspires wonderment and horror. Any comic book fan won’t be able to put it down once they pick it up. Similarly, we can not recommend Kirby: King of Comics highly enough. Not only do you get a summary of Kirby’s career from one of those closest to him (Mark Evanier), but they really outdid themselves on the design of this book. It is gorgeous and worth every penny of ~$30 Amazon charges. For the tale of Marvel told more from Stan the Man’s point of view, we also recommend Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book.
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America is a fascinating account of the comic book hysteria of the 50s and the eventual rise of the tyrannical Comic Book Code. Secret Identity tells the tale of the rise and fall of the Superman creator Joe Shuster. What separates this title from the herd of similar comic book history books is that it focuses in an infamous series of fetish art books that Shuster did to make ends meet, a series of books that found itself unexpectedly in the eye of the anti-comic book tornado of the 1950s. It features a lot of erotic art, so buyer beware (or be encouraged). Comic Book Makers is about the life and times of Joe Simon, creator of Captain America. There from the dawn of comic books, Joe Simon’s career wanders through most of the major companies, people, and events of the first 50 years of comic creation. It is jam-packed with art, so you really see what Joe and all his compatriots were up to.
Comix: The Underground Revolution is a solid introduction to the alternative, underground comic book scene. While far from comprehensive, it is filled front to back with glossy art reproductions and a good who’s who of the Comix scene, from R. Crumb to Denis Kitchen to Gilbert Shelton. If you are looking for a engrossing history of comic books done in comic book form, look no further than the Comic Book History of Comics, which is alternatively illuminating and hilarious.
Finally, for in depth analysis of the sequential art form there are two books we would rcommend. Will Eisner was both a master of sequential art and one of the first to eloquently break down what makes comics comics. His book Comics and Sequential Art is a historical milestone and a classic of the field. However, if you are only going to read one book on sequential art, make it Understanding Comics: The Invisble Art by Scott McCloud. A masterful combination of the history and art, all told using the medium itself.
All right. You love us regaling you with silver age wackiness, but sitting down and reading comic book stories from 50 years ago is just not your thing. They were written for kids and you are not one any more. Well good news for you. Comic books have grown up a lot in the past five decades. Here are some modern X-Men classics, at least according to me.
Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday is probably the best and most accessible modern X-Men story. It was written mostly out of continuity, making it as new reader friendly as possible. It combines Whedon’s driving narratives, dead-on characterization, and sharp humor with some really beautiful art. If the Omnibus is too imposing, there are also smaller collections available to wet your appetite.
If you think you are up for a bit more work, then you should give Grant Morrison’s New X-Men a try. If we are being entirely honest, the X-Men franchise was really sputtering as it entered a new millenium, rehashing a lot of the same ideas over and over again. Morrison changed all that, adding a thousand new ideas and turning the X-Universe upside down in the process. Unlike Whedon, Morrison is far from being the most accessible of writers, so prepare yourself to be confused more than a couple of times. It will probably all make sense at the end. There is also some fantastic art in that run, with a who’s who of modern greats, including Ethan van Sciver, Leinil Francis Yu, Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, and the almost criminally awesome Frank Quitely, who seems to share a brain with Grant Morrison when they work together.
Crossovers have become an X-staple, despite the fact that most fail to deliver. X-Men: Messiah Complex is the rare exception, an effective crossover that manages to blend multiple voices into a single compelling story. The writers includes Ed Brubaker, Mike Carey, Peter David, Craig Kyle, and Chris Yost. Taking place during the time of “No More Mutants”, a mutant is born and a race is on to save/master/kill or control it.
Here’s a curve ball: Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force, also later known as X-Statix. Previous to this creative team, X-Force was more known as an example of much of the excesses of 1990s comics, with splashy but sloppy art, and weak, repetitive storytelling. In 2001 when Milligan took over he made the unprecedented move of completely removing the entire cast, which in some ways stretched all the way back to 1982’s New Mutants premiere. Instead, he introduced an entirely a new team… and killed almost all of them that first issue. You see, this new X-Force team was in fact a satirical, mocking take on the original X-Force, Marvel mutant comics in general, and all the tropes of the medium. He included such ongoing characters as the Anarchist a self-proclaimed “token” Black Canadian, Phat, an (eventually) openly gay suburban white who speaks like an urban black, and U-Go Girl, a blue-skinned, redhead, narcoleptic teleporter. This series is probably best suited for someone who has read a bit of X-men comics already, particularly a bunch from the 90s, to be sure you really get all the jokes, but thanks to Mike Allred’s fantastic pop art style, which is some serious eye candy all on its own, this series is all kind of awesome fun no matter what your X-IQ. Altogether they made about 40 issues, which you can get in a single omnibus or space out over six trade paperbacks, X-Force Volumes 1+2 and X-Statix Volumes 1-4.
If you want something from the most recent X-men, we recommend All-New X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron. In All-New X-Men, the original X-Men are stolen from the past and confronted with their present day selves. This time travel gimmick story has had surprising legs and combined with Bendis’ gift for dialogue and a lot of fantastic art by Stuart Immonen, it has become one of the best X-Men storylines in years. Recognizing that the mutant school is at the heart of the X-Men, Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men returns to that fertile ground. Drawn by Chris Bachalo it takes a very whimsical approach, emphasizing fun over straight narrative logic. While the Wolverine and the X-Men series loses a bit of steam by the time it gets beyond number 20, the first run of issues is a definite must buy.
Finally, there are not a lot of good 1990s X-Men comics, but the big exception is the Age of Apocalypse. What would the world look like if Xavier had died before forming the X-men? The answer is an ambitious temporary reboot of the entire X-men line, telling the story of a world run by Apocalypse and what the X-men have to do to get the world back as we know it. Not only great fun by itself, this popular storyline was highly influential with characters and storylines repeating up to the present day.
While we old folks with our walkers and tapioca pudding still insist on reading these bizarre tree pulp-based items called books, it is becoming increasingly clear that the digital comic book wave is coming and coming fast. If you are happy with pixels over paper, I see two options, but there may be others.
The first is to purchase one of Marvel’s digital comic collections. You can get nearly 500 issues of X-Men with the purchase of 40 Years of X-Men: The Complete Collection DVD-ROM. The advantage here is that with one purchase, you own the whole shebang and can read them at your pace or until your 5-year old scratches the damn thing. The main negative of this collection is that it is just the Uncanny X-Men issues, so once you get to the crossover heavy late 80s/early 90s you will be hurting. It is also a bit pricey ($190-$250).
The second option is to purchase a subscription to Marvel Unlimited. I have no personal experience with this service, but if you read a lot of non-current comics I think it gives a lot of bang for its buck. For $10 a month or $100 a year you can access to a large portion of the Marvel library, including the Uncanny X-Men issues our podcast is covering now. The negative, of course, is that you don’t own a bit (double meaning) of it. If they change the price, alter the terms of service, cut down the available issues, or just cancel the whole thing as a bad idea, you just have to roll with it.
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