The Comics Should Be Good blog over at Comic Book Resources has finished their countdown 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 over with now, but I figured I’d post the list I made of my Top 10. Last week, I posted 10-6. Now, my Top 5.
5. God Loves, Man Kills: Written by Chris Claremont, with art by Brent Anderson, this graphic novel was a powerful exploration of hate. The story is about an influential preacher, Reverend William Stryker, leading a crusade against mutantkind. Stryker is charismatic and popular, with a large following. He’s also secretly using his organization, the Purifiers (making their first appearance), to develop a plan to kill all mutants, by hooking Xavier himself into a modified Cerebro-type machine which will focus his power in a killing stroke. (This plot, of course, was modified for the film X-Men 2.) The X-Men are forced to team up with Magneto to stop Stryker. The climax of the story is not a big action piece. It is, instead, a debate between Stryker and the X-Men, with Kitty making an impassioned defence of Nightcrawler’s humanity, and with Stryker being defeated, not by the X-Men, but by a human police officer who refused to let Stryker shoot an unarmed teenage girl. The story is well-told, with excellent art from Anderson. Claremont’s verbosity works especially well here, heightening the drama. This is a fine story, one of the best. I would argue this belongs on any list of the all-time greatest graphic novels, though it often seems left off. It absolutely, and undeniably, belong on any list of the greatest X-Men stories. (It was #4 on the CBR list.)
4. Motions (Uncanny X-Men #303): Scott Lobdell had a rough job. Chris Claremont left Uncanny X-Men with #279. The next few issues had a number of writers, and Lobdell became a co-writer with #286, and the sole writer with #289. Being the replacement for Chris Claremont was tough enough on its own. But to make it worse, he had to take the book from one crossover to the next, seldom getting more than two or three issues in a row to tell his own stories without them tying in with other books. So he became adept at the done-in-one story. Which brings us to Motions. This issue was incredible. That blurb on the cover is actually deserved. It was totally heart-wrenching. The issue is about the death of Illyana Rasputin from the Legacy Virus. But the story focuses on how Jubilee reacts to it, which was a stroke of genius. The obvious thing to do would’ve been to focus on Peter and Kitty, the people closest to Illyana. But their pain would’ve been too raw. By focusing on Jubilee, who barely even knew Illyana, it made the story something readers could better relate to. Most readers wouldn’t have lost a sibling, and even losing a parent wouldn’t have been common. But most readers would’ve dealt with the death of someone else, even if it was someone they weren’t really familiar with. So Jubilee’s confused grief rings much truer than the anguish Peter would’ve felt. It’s an amazing bit of writing, and I would actually say that in terms of the sheer emotional power, it far surpasses anything Claremont ever did. That’s not a bash against Claremont – Lobdell just did that good a job with it. The fact that it didn’t even rank on the CBR list is a travesty.
3. Demon (Uncanny X-Men #143): This was #23 on CBR’s list. It was the last issue of the Claremont/Byrne collaboration, and what a way to end it. With everyone else out of the mansion, Kitty is left alone on Christmas Eve, and comes under attack from an N’Garai demon. I did a review of the issue here, and in the interest of laziness, I’m going to repeat some of what I said there: “It’s tense and exciting, and Kitty gets to show off her brains and her determination. Byrne made the demon genuinely frightening, and did a good job depicting Kitty’s fear.” This was the last hurrah of one of the all-time great comic book collaborations, and they went out with a bang, with a single-issue story that was tense and unpredictable. This was the first Kitty-focused issue since she joined the team (though her adult form of Kate Pryde obviously got to play a major role in Days of Future Past), and it was outstanding. It really does a lot to show us who Kitty Pryde is, and how badass she can be.
2. Kitty’s Fairy Tale (Uncanny X-Men #153): From one Kitty story to another. This wasn’t tense, or scary. This was just an amazingly fun story by Claremont and Dave Cockrum, about Kitty telling Illyana a bedtime story, which ended up being vaguely based on the Dark Phoenix Saga. I reviewed this issue here, and once again, I’ll quote myself: “It’s just a ridiculous, silly, and irresistibly fun story. You can’t not enjoy it – it’s too cute, too delightful.” One of the smartest things about it was basing Kitty’s story on the Dark Phoenix Saga. It let laughter replace sadness. The happy ending Kitty gives her story is particularly sweet and heart-warming – at least somewhere, Scott and Jean got to have their happy ending. Amazingly, this was another story that didn’t even rank on CBR’s list – I would have thought it would’ve been more popular. If nothing else, there’s Bamfs. The fairy tale versions of all the characters are a pure delight, but the Bamfs and the Fiend are particularly memorable. Even Wolverine liked the Fiend.
1. The Dark Phoenix Saga: Obviously. This was #1 on CBR’s countdown, as well. CBR counts it as beginning with #129, and I would agree. It had been building all through the Claremont/Byrne run. #129 starts the Hellfire Club arc, which leads directly into the Dark Phoenix. It’s a rather remarkable series of issues, building the tension more an more, with hope spots leading to even more tension and drama, and climaxing, of course, with Jean’s death. I don’t know what can be said about the Dark Phoenix Saga that hasn’t been said before – it’s just a phenomenal story, and it continues to define the X-Men to this day. There’s an intimacy to the writing that makes it even more powerful, and Byrne’s art is powerful. While Jean’s death wasn’t originally planned, it worked out for the best, making the story that much more powerful and long-lasting. There’s a reason everyone still talks about it, over 30 years later. It’s the best and most important story that’s ever been told, and ever could be told. This is the pinnacle of the X-Men. Claremont and Byrne could’ve left the book after this story, just dropped the mic and walked off the stage, and they still would’ve gone down as having written the definitive X-Men story. They took a familiar character, someone we’d known and loved, someone we’d grown with, and turned her into something unfamiliar, hateful and evil. it was tense, even frightening. Her friends were helpless to help her, and in the end, she had no choice but to sacrifice herself, preferring to die a human than live as a god. Just a brilliant story, and one that deserves to be #1.
So there it is. My Top 10 X-Men stories. What are yours?