The Comics Should Be Good blog over at Comic Book Resources is doing a countdown of the 50 Greatest X-Men Stories (in honour of the 50th anniversary of the X-Men). People submitted their own Top 10, and the votes were tallied to determine the 50 Greatest. CBR’s countdown is almost over with now, but I figured I’d post the list I made of my Top 10. I’ll split it into two posts. Today will be 10-6. Next week, my top 5.
10. This Strange Unpleasant Land (Uncanny X-Men Vol. 2 #15-17): Written by Kieron Gillen, with art by Daniel Acuna. This was part of the UXM tie-in to Avengers vs. X-Men. The story has the Phoenix Five – Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik, Namor – decide to bring an end to Mr. Sinister. They attack his base of operations, accompanied by Storm, Danger, Psylocke and Magneto. Sinister was expecting them, and threw all sorts of obstacles in their past to distract them from his real goal: To siphon the Phoenix Force from them, and put it into a group of Madelyne Pryor clones. Kieron Gillen writes the absolute best Sinister ever – he’s so charmingly messed up. And he comes up with the weirdest things to throw at the X-Men, which are wonderfully drawn by Acuna. Clones of Gambit, Cyclops and Cannonball, weaponized cows, a Krakoa clone – it is gloriously bizarre, and genuinely funny. Through it all, you have to genuinely admire Sinister’s plans. Of course, the X-Men – both those with and without the Phoenix Force – manage to stop him. Gillen’s run on Uncanny X-Men was stellar all around, and I knew I needed to include something from his run. I settled on this arc because it was just so crazy, but still tense and dramatic. But as I said, the whole run was excellent. Solid characterization, sharp dialogue, lots of humour, lots of drama – the only problem was too much Greg Land. This arc, though, had the talented Daniel Acuna, and he clearly had a blast with it all.
9. Phalanx Covenant: This was a major X-over in 1994, split into three main parts. First was Generation Next (which, I’ll admit, was the main part of the story I voted for), in Uncanny X-Men #316 and 317 (written by Scott Lobdell) and X-Men #36 and 37 (written by Fabian Nicieza). The second part was Life Signs, in X-Factor #106 (by Lobdell and Todd DeZago), X-Force #38 (by Nicieza) and Excalibur #82 (by Lobdell and DeZago). The third part was Final Sanction, in Wolverine #85 and Cable #16 (both by Larry Hama). Led by Stephen Lang and Cameron Hodge, the Phalanx are trying to wipe out mutantkind. Generation Next has Banshee visiting the Mansion and finding the X-Men behaving strangely. He soon discovers the X-Men have been replaced by the Phalanx, and along with Jubilee, Emma Frost and Sabretooth, he sets out to rescue some young mutants being targeted by the Phalanx. This story leads to the creation of Generation X, a wonderful series with great characters. Life Signs has the Phalanx attack Muir Island, forcing Excalibur to flee. They meet up with X-Factor and X-Force, and the three teams have to stop the Phalanx from sending a call out to the Technarchy, the aliens the Phalanx are based on. Final Sanction has Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine and Cable working together to find and rescue the missing X-Men, and stop Lang and Hodge. There seems to be a fair bit of dislike for this event, but I thought it was, for the most part, really good. Life Signs was only OK, but Generation Next was great. The plotting could’ve been better, but the characters were really good. The fact that it led to the excellent Generation X series also makes me see that arc a little more fondly, I think.
8. Messiah Complex: 2005’s House of M ended with the majority of Earth’s mutants depowered, and little hope for the long-term survival in the species. In 2007, a new mutant was born. The 13-part crossover included most of the X-titles of the time – Uncanny X-Men (written by Ed Brubaker), New X-Men (written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost), X-Men (written by Mike Carey) and X-Factor (written by Peter David) – as they battled against Sinister’s Marauders and the human Purifiers to get control of the new baby. Bishop wanted to kill the girl, and Cable wanted to protect her. Madrox sent a pair of dupes into the future (one of them accompanied by Layla Miller) to investigate realities resulting from the mutant’s birth, with Layla being stranded in Bishop’s future. The even was full of big fights and machinations, as all the various sides tried to outmaneuver each other. This was a very well-done X-over event, with some very impressive coordination being done. The characters weren’t being restricted to their own books, and crossed over to other books, but each writer did an excellent job handling each character. In addition to progressing the story of the event, the books also progressed their own stories. The event had a fairly notable impact on many of the books. X-Factor lost Layla Miller for a while. X-Men became X-Men Legacy. A new Cable series was launched, following Cable’s adventures through the future as he sought to raise the girl while avoiding Bishop. Messiah War, Second Coming and AvX all revolved around that same baby, but Messiah Complex was easily the best-written, most exciting of the lot, with the climactic battle being one of the better comic book fights in recent years.
7. Planet X: Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men started with Sentinels attacking the Magneto-ruled Genosha, slaughtering all but a handful of its 16 million mutants. Soon after, a new mutant was discovered in China, named Xorn. He wore a helmet because he had a star for a head, and he possessed the ability to heal. He was appointed the head of the Xavier School’s “Special Class” – basically a bunch of misfits who didn’t really fit in. In Planet X (with art by Phil Jimenez), we find out Magneto didn’t die on Genosha – he’s been posing as Xorn. When he reveals himself, he quickly and easily subdues most of the X-Men, and seals New York off so that other superheroes can’t oppose him. Magneto starts herding humans into incinerators, becoming very much the murderous tyrant who’d taken his family from him as a child. Eventually, Magneto is stopped, but he kills Jean Grey, and gets his own head chopped off by Wolverine. This arc is the climax of Morrison’s run (Here Comes Tomorrow serves as something of a post-script to it), and it is incredible. It’s dark, it’s brutal, and it’s brilliantly written. It was extremely controversial for its characterization of Magneto – rather than being the noble enemy most usually picture him as, he’s shown here as a petty, malicious, evil bastard, a tyrant doing the exact same thing that was done to his people. Morrison’s entire run was excellent, but Planet X was the payoff of everything he’d built up to. He’d been laying the seeds for it all along, and it’s just a powerful climax to it all. Morrison did a wonderful job with it.
6. Days of Future Past: It’s funny to think that this is just two issues. Chris Claremont and John Byrne wrote this right at the end of their outstanding collaboration; there was one issue after this story. In the future, Sentinels have taken over the US, and most mutants and other superhumans are dead, with only a few left alive in detention camps. The survivors – Kate Pryde, Colossus, Storm, Wolverine, Magneto, Franklin Richards and Rachel – hatch a two-part plan. The first part is to send Kate’s mind back in time to take over the body of her younger self to stop the event that led to the future. The second part, in that future, is a desperate attack on the Sentinels’ stronghold. Kate succeeds in stopping an assassination in the past, from the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who made their first appearance in this story. In the future, though, as the famous cover says, everyone dies. It’s quick, it’s brutal, it’s emotionally powerful stuff. This is the first “bad future” X-Men story, and it’s also the best. Even Morrison’s Here Comes Tomorrow can’t match DoFP. It’s full of iconic images, most notably the cover of #141, which has received a great many homages. Rachel, of course, would later become a major character in X-Men history, and Mystique – who’d previously been a Ms. Marvel villain – has become one of the biggest X-Men villains. Claremont and Byrne had an amazing run together, and this was a very strong part of it, and second only to the Dark Phoenix Saga in terms of long-lasting effects.
Check back in a week for the Top 5! And check back sooner for other good stuff on this blog from people who aren’t me.