The release of the X-Men arcade game for X-Box Live Arcade and PS3 this week gave us the perfect excuse to do a comic featuring some of my favorite comic book characters of all time. In 1992, the X-Men arcade game devoured a good deal of my money at the local arcade. At the time, it was revolutionary; certain models of the cabinet (the one my arcade had) featured two screens side by side and the potential for six players to fight Magneto cooperatively.
By today’s standards, X-Men is a very simple beat’em up side scrolling game, but it’s the best of that genre. The game features the all-gravy classic Chris Claremont/John Byrne team: Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Storm. Oh, and Dazzler’s in there for some reason, too. Everything about the game is set in what is, in my mind, the best era of the X-Men. Sadly, my continuous run of Uncanny X-Men is from issues 297-343, long after that point in time, but I caught up on many of the classic stories through reprints and trade paperbacks.
The X-Men franchise seems to polarize comic fans unlike any other series. People either love them or hate them, and one of the reasons cited is the long, convoluted history and continuity heavy stories riddled with retcons like swiss cheese has holes. Also, from time to time, truly abominable creators have taken the reins; I’m sure that doesn’t help anything. Even Claremont, the legend, wasn’t perfect. For anyone who has never read an X-Men comic before and would like to give the comics a shot, these are some of the storylines that will do you no wrong. Most of these are pretty easy to find collections of.
The Dark Phoenix Saga (Uncanny X-Men #129-138): Skip X-Men: The Last Stand and pick up a copy of the trade paperback the movie was based on. This is a cliche story to have on a list of X-Men classics, but that’s because it’s so good.
Days of Future Past (Uncanny X-Men #141, 142): Before dystopian futures were available at Sam’s Club, Claremont and Byrne created a future of the human race enslaved by the robot Sentinels with only a few X-Men remaining alive to fight back. The story of their final adventure is still great decades later.
God Loves, Man Kills (Marvel Graphic Novel #5): This story is one of the greatest ones to use mutants as a metaphor for racial relations and bigotry. Instead of a powerful super villain, the X-Men and Magneto team up to stop Reverend Stryker from killing all mutants in the name of misguided religion.
E Is For Extinction (New X-Men #114-116): In 2001, Grant Morrison completely revamped the X-Men. The story focused on a much smaller cast of characters, and was more accessible to people who hadn’t read X-Men at all in their 40 years of existence.
Riot At Xavier’s (New X-Men #135-138): Another excellent Grant Morrison X-Men story, possibly his best. One of the students at the Xavier Institute rejects the X-Men’s goal of peaceful human and mutant coexistence and goes on a rampage attempting to kill human guests visiting the Institute. Not everything Morrison did was good, but E Is For Extinction and Riot At Xavier’s are both great X-Men stories.
Gifted (Astonishing X-Men #1-6): Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, wrote his first X-Men story. I quit reading comics after the mid 90′s Onslaught storyline, and this is the story that brought me back.
Torn (Astonishing X-Men #13-18): Another great Whedon story focusing on Cyclops and Emma Frost. Before this, it was rare to see Cyclops as an interesting, well developed character. This is a story that makes the first X-Man likable.
Before signing off, I should probably mention that I think today’s comic is some of Marc’s finest art on Smash to date. Excelsior!