Did you hear? There is a new X-men movie that just came out and from the reviews and my personal experience, it is fantastic. Perhaps after seeing it, or perhaps even before seeing it, you’d like to read some of the source material? The X-men are like one long and complicated soap opera. You need some pretty complicated charts to understand who has hooked up with whom and who is related to whom. No, really. I’m not kidding.
The best advice I can give you, is to go to a local comic shop, jump right in and see if you like something. It could be the art, it could be a specific character you see, you could flip through a comic and see something interesting happening, or you could find someone who reads comics and ask what they thing. In addition to that, I will add that you could do far worse than to grab anything Matt Fraction is writing right now. In case you’re looking for something more solid in the way of a place to start, here are a few storylines you can consider as jumping on points.
X-men: First Class – This started as an eight issue mini-series published in 2006 and 2007 and then got picked up for a regular series, collected in a number of graphic novels. First Class – Tomorrow’s Brightest, the first graphic novel, centers mostly around the original five X-men (Angel, Beast, Mavel Girl, Cyclops and Iceman) and their adventures. Most of the stories are done in smaller arcs and some solo issue stories. While it isn’t the same team as in the movie (not even close) it is where the title came from, certainly. The reactions on this one tend to be extreme, either way, so you might want to look through it before buying.
New X-men Volume 1 – Grant Morrison’s run is polarizing, as his writing tends to be what ever questions he undertakes. Spanning over 3 years, it turned the X-men on their heads, starting out strong but ending up on some very odd notes, which fans either loved or hated. These three years introduced a lot of interesting concepts and thinking about mutants and what it would mean to be a third or fourth generation mutant, to have enough people to start having your own culture and customs. He also introduced the concept of secondary mutations and turned Xavier’s more into a school than it ever had been in the comics previously. This has been collected in a few place, including the New X-Men Omnibus.
Days of Future Past – For only being a two issue story, this is certainly one of the more popular moments in X-men history. (The first of the two issues was voted the 25th greatest Marvel comic by fans in 2001.) The story handles with a dystopian alternate future in which mutants are incarcerated in internment camps. This horrible future is caused by the X-men’s inability to prevent the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly, a name that might seem familiar from the first X-men movie. This has been collected in a graphic novel also called Days of Future Past as well as in Essential X-men Volume 2, which is a black and white reprint. The Essential volumes ususally collect 15 to 20 issues and are a good way to pick up back Marvel issues.
God Loves, Man Kills – Published only as a graphic novel (in 1982, that was rather exceptional) this is story by Chris Claremont, one of the most prolific X-men writers ever. The Reverend William Stryker (a name that might well sound familiar from the movies), stirring up religious anti-mutant fervor. In fact, there are a lot of plot points between this graphic novel and X2 that are similar. This is excellent storytelling and one of the best examples of why X-men stories work. This was recently re-released, likely due to the new movie, and you can likely easily find a copy to pick up.
The Dark Phoenix Saga - This is likely the iconic X-men story. Ultimately, this story can be broken out into two pieces. The first piece, where Jean Grey becomes the Phoenix, gaining impossible cosmic power in the mean time, was originally in X-men 101 – 108. She saves the X-men when they are returning from a mission in space, before deciding to voluntarily restrain her powers in order to keep them under control. The second half of the story (collected in X-men 129 – 138) has Jean being seduced by Jason Wyngarde and joining The Hellfire Club to indulge in dark decadence. During a confrontation between the X-men and The Hellfire Club, the restraints Jean had placed on herself shatter and she fully embraces the power and the darkness. I won’t spoil what happens next but it doesn’t go well for anyone. The story is powerful, with ramifications that are still felt through the X-men to this day. This is also collected in Essential X-men Volume 2, as well as several Dark Phoenix titled collections.
Ultimate X-men – Normally, I wouldn’t recommend much of anything in the Marvel Ultimate Universe but for someone who doesn’t know much about comics and is looking for an easy way to pick up some knowledge, this is a good way to do it. The Ultimate universe was supposed to be a way to tell different stories with the same characters. What it turned into was a way to tell the same stories with the parts that weren’t so popular trimmed out and a few events and people changed around. While that is frustrating for me, having read the X-men for over 20 years, that is excellent for someone starting out and wanting to see if this is something they might enjoy. I would especially recommend any of the graphic novels collecting the arcs by Brian K. Vaughn or Robert Kirkman.