Writer: Grant Morrison
Quality: 4.2 out of 5 stars
Importance: 5 out of 5 stars
Recommended reading for: Any fans of the X-Men looking to explore their adventures this millennium.
I’ve said in my mission statement here on Odin’s Thunderbolts (don’t look for it; it may or may not actually exist) that my goal is to answer the question, “Where should I start?”, for new Marvel comics readers. I figured that since I have been, and still am struggling to discover the perfect order for reading big Marvel events, I might as well lay out a suggested reading guide as I go. I couldn’t find a real good guide for those of us who would rather consume large, graphic novel collections in single sittings, so I decided to create one for myself (this is the part of the post where you all applaud wildly and maybe offer me free massages and stuff). What I am finding, though, is that in my efforts to answer that first question, I’m stumbling onto another: “How far back do I go?”
Fortunately, in the case of the X-Men, one of Marvel’s most popular, successful, and interesting groups, the answer is made a little more simple…You see, with just about every Marvel creation, the obvious and useless answer to “Where should I start?” is the Marvel Essentials. If you’re unfamiliar, I don’t just mean some obscure and subjective list rating certain Marvel comics essential. Instead, I mean the actual giant collections of the original comics, in the order they were published, such as The Essential Uncanny X-Men vol. 1, etc. These essentials are fantastic for interested readers, but telling you to go back and read all of those collections before you can progress to the likes of House of M or any other current events, is an affront to your intellect and borderline impossible.
Don’t get me wrong; I am a completist. That’s why I started OTB. But there is no need to unpack multiple decades worth of X-Men comics before you can begin to fathom their involvement in Siege. As a matter of fact, a good deal of the late nineties comics will only make issues of continuity more confusing. I’ll touch on my view of how to use The Essentials in another post, but for now, just know that I will likely be picking a very specific starting point for each Marvel character or group, and those starting points will be as recent as reasonably possible. As I was beginning to say a couple paragraphs ago, for the X-Men the starting point begins at the turn of the century with writer Grant Morrison’s New X-Men.
Quality and Importance:
This New X-Men series has been an imaginative and complex reawakening of everyone’s favorite X-Men characters and Vol 1: E is for Extinction is, naturally, where it all begins. E is for Extinction lays out the New X-Men lineup (Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Professor X and Beast) and immediately throws them into one of the most tragic and explosive situations mutants have ever faced.
The events of E is for Extinction lay the framework for everything that will happen to mutants and the X-Men in Marvel comics this decade. If that sounds like a storyline you want to follow (and if not, trust me, you are missing out on some fabulous comic book writing), you absolutely have to pick this one up. With New X-Men, Morrison really gets back in touch with the personalities and dynamics of the characters so many enjoyed in the first place. Perhaps more importantly, Morrison also adds new, organic developments that really provide a mature edge to the X-Men.
For example, Cyclops is no longer just the stoic fearless leader; he’s a man struggling through his marriage and resenting the fact that he’s never allowed himself to be anything less than the perfect hero. On the other hand, Beast is experiencing a continued evolution and experiencing the same feelings of adolescent change the plague all humans – except with the keen wit of a humorous doctor and the very real threat of a harmful mutation in his future.
Now, having strongly recommended New X-Men: E is for Extinction, I have to point out that this is a great starting place for reading the X-Men… if you already have a good, basic feel for the central characters. This is really key. Morrison writes great, complex story arches, but in doing so, he transitions between mega ideas and developments with a speed and frenetic energy that can be daunting if you’re still trying to wrap your head around Wolverine’s skeleton being made out of adamantium. You’re going to want to know these characters a bit before you start reading.
There are several ways to accomplish this, some as simple as watching the X-Men Animated Cartoon that aired in the early nineties. If you grew up on this, you’re probably in pretty good shape as far as the characters go. That’s really the kind of entry-level knowledge I’m talking about.
Another great option is picking up The Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 & 2. I know I spent time saying you don’t need to read every X-Men in history to get a feel for the new storylines, but these volumes are great entry points. You can read my full review of the books when they hit, but for now, I’ll just say that I read these well before I hit the New X-Men and I’m very glad I did.