One of the most fun elements of comics are events and crossovers. These are the summer blockbuster, AAA tentpole stories that serve to drive the events of entire franchises for months and years to come. Plot twists, widescreen action, romance, drama, intrigue! But in all of comics, no one quite does crossovers and events like the great superhero soap opera that is the X-Men.
Over the last 4 years, I read every X-Men story ever, and so I got to read every X-Men event as well. Some are not great, and some are sublime. Here, I’ll be ranking them worst to best. This includes every major franchise-wide crossover and event as officially considered by Marvel. So this means that stories like “Mojo Worldwide” which is a crossover, but not a line-wide one, won’t be considered. Hopefully, you’ll be interested to read these stories yourself once you’re done!
22. Phalanx Covenant (Uncanny X-Men #316–317, X-Men Vol 2 #36–37, X-Factor #106, X-Force #38, Excalibur #82, Wolverine #85, Cable #16) September-October 1994
1994’s Phalanx Covenant has a unique structure among the X-Events: It’s three separate X-Men missions all taking place simultaneously across the titles. Here, the X-Men are introduced to a brand new threat: The Phalanx, who are essentially just The Borg, aka robot-like beings who want to assimilate all of humanity. Much, MUCH later, Jonathan Hickman would reconceive the Phalanx into something more, but here, they’re just a powerful threat for the X-Men to face.
The Phalanx have managed to capture most of the X-Men, and it’s up to teen member Jubilee, Banshee, and houseguests Emma Frost and Sabretooth to stop the Phalanx from kidnapping some newly discovered mutant children and save the day. The second mission of the story sees Professor X rallying the ancillary X-Teams of Excalibur, X-Factor, and X-Force to fight the source of the Phalanx threat and defeat it. Finally, Wolverine and Cable team up with Cyclops and Jean Grey, fresh off their honeymoon, to rescue the X-Men captured by the Phalanx.
This story, while fun on it’s own, is equally remembered for what it brought to the larger X-Franchise. The main story sets up Emma Frost to officially join the extended X-Family, reopening her Massachusetts academy to teach the next generation of mutants. The new kids would join Jubilee to become Generation X. Generation X would go on to be one of the most fondly remembered series of the era, with characters like Monet and Chamber remaining fan favorites to this day. And of course, the Phalanx would go on to become the primary antagonists of Jonathan Hickman’s current era of X-Men.
Classic X-Men writers such as Larry Hama, Scott Lobdell, and Fabian Niciezia get to take the helm of writing duties, with superstar artists Joe Madureira, Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, and Tony Daniel all getting to showcase their abilities at the height of their careers. Each page is a treat, especially the Kubert’s portrayal of the Phalanx Hive. Phalanx Covenant took a big risk in sidelining the main X-Men teams in order to let the side teams and secondary characters their moments to shine. If you’re a fan of Emma Frost, Banshee, Jubilee, Wolfsbane, Forge, or Cable, this is a can’t miss story. For everyone else, this is another great action caper.
21: Extermination (Extermination #1–5, X-Men: The Exterminated #1) October 2018-February 2019
The swan song of the O5 saga, Extermination is the X-Men equivalent of Mad Max: Fury Road, in that it’s a masterclass in action storytelling.
The story is simple enough: It’s time for the Original X-Men to finally return to the past, and mutant hunter and concentration camp enthusiast Ahab hopes to murder the children before they can. It’s up to the X-Men to set things right and get the Original X-Men back where they belong. There’s a few twists in there, but that’s the gist of the entire plot, as the bulk of the story is spent on non-stop, high octane action.
Ed Brisson pens a surprisingly moving story, but the real star of this series, and the main reason to read this story, is Superstar artist Pepe Larraz. Larraz helms his first major X-Men story here, and you can see exactly why he’d become arguably the biggest artist in comics. With colorist Marte Gracia as his partner in crime, Larraz puts in a masterclass in keeping a reader interested in people punching and blasting each other for 5 issues straight without getting bored. This is largely thanks to his impeccable choices in his composition and layouts. Every panel and spread is smartly used, moves the story forward, or informs about character.
As someone who initially wasn’t a fan of the 05 saga and was patiently waiting for them to go when this was initially released, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed Extermination. Returning to read it with some time for retrospection, it’s a fitting end to the Original X-Men’s time in the present, and reinforced that the time spent here was not in vain, and had meaning. Every reader owes it to themselves to give this a read, if only to see Larraz let loose to do what he does best: draw really, REALLY pretty pictures.
20. House of M (House of M #1–8) August-December 2005
“No More Mutants”. With three words, Wanda Maximoff forever altered the trajectory of the X-Men franchise.
House of M functions as the first major event of both the Astonishing X-Men era and the New Avengers Era, both of which would last from 2004 to 2012, and would see both franchises go through radical changes. Here, the X-Men and the Avengers meet at a summit to decide the fate of a mentally unstable Scarlet Witch, who has been responsible for several mass casualty events, and whose reality warping powers are growing out of control.
Fans of Wandavision got to experience a massively scaled down version of the havoc wreaked by The Scarlet Witch as she seemingly makes the choice to rewrite reality, creating a world where mutants are the majority, ruled by Magneto and his family, and humans are the minority. As the newest member of the Avengers and the most popular X-Man, Wolverine takes center stage here as the main character of the story. Surprisingly, despite his popularity, Logan is rarely THE main character of an X-Men event. But here, due to his fractured mind, Wolverine is the only superhero to remember life before Wanda altered the world. It’s up to him to find the Avengers, X-Men, and the various heroes scattered throughout the House of M, in order to defeat Magneto and his family, and find a way to restore the world.
Very few stories have ever shaped the Marvel Universe the way House of M did. Mutantkind would go from a population of millions to an endangered species of 198. Mutantkind would not recover from this decimation until the current era written by Jonathan Hickman. The next 14–15 years of X-Men stories would be singularly driven by this event. In addition, Wolverine, the most famous amnesiac in pop culture, finally regained his centuries of lost memories, setting off years of plotlines. The Avengers’ response to Wanda’s illness would cause a significant wedge between the Avengers and X-Men which still hasn’t been fully reconciled to this day. Professor X and Magneto would move off center stage to the sidelines for the next decade, only returning to their leadership position in the mutant community following House of X/Powers of X.
A comic book event isn’t just its consequences, however. Thankfully, Brian Bendis and legendary artist Oliver Coipel are both at their absolute best here, and there’s much to recommend in the journey taken in House of M. Coipel’s work in the climatic siege of Magneto’s Castle in particular remains one of the most spectacular action setpieces ever put to page at Marvel. The biggest critique I have of House of M is that it suffers from a second act that drags more than it should, which is a common issue with Bendis’s event comics.
Many comics claim nothing will ever be the same after, but House of M is the rare example where that isn’t mere hyperbole. Any Avengers or X-Men fan owes it to themselves to read this landmark in Marvel history.
19. Utopia (Uncanny X-Men/Dark Avengers: Utopia/Exodus, Uncanny X-Men #513–514, X-Men Legacy #226–227, Dark Avengers #7–8, Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1–3, Dark X-Men: The Confession) August-November 2009
In many ways, Utopia is the crowning achievement of Matt Fraction’s tenure on Uncanny X-Men. It’s another event that plays out differently than your standard action blockbuster. Instead, we get a political drama, with San Francisco caught in the middle.
Here, we see Norman Osborn (The Green Goblin), recently appointed to Nick Fury’s position in national security, turn his attention to “the mutant problem”. Bigoted politicians have started another anti-mutant bill, and protests by famously progressive San Fransicans and mutants eventually erupt into a night of full blown riots.
Osborn, smelling blood in the water, institutes martial law and begins a PR blitz in order to sideline the X-Men from his larger machinations. What follows is an incredibly fun story about Cyclops and the Green Goblin waging political campaigns against each other, trying to win the battle of public opinion. Osborn creates his own team of X-Men, led by Cyclops’ partner, Emma Frost, and Professor X, seemingly returning from sabbatical. Cyclops sends out mutants such as Dazzler and Northstar to earn goodwill. Younger mutants continue to protest and somehow Sentinels are in this again. It all culminates in a knockout fight between the dozens of X-Men and the evil Avengers and X-Men, led by Norman Osborn.
In an era where The Avengers, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and more failed to stop Norman’s ascent or topple his regime, it’s the X-Men who hand Norman his first significant defeat, and sets off the chain of events that leads to the swift unraveling of his empire. It’s rare that the X-Men get such a complete and utter victory, and watching Cyclops unfold his long con is incredibly fun to watch. It also introduced the island of Utopia, which would remain the X-Men’s home all the way through Avengers vs X-Men.
Mike Deodato, Luke Ross and Terry Dodson lead the art on this story, while Matt Fraction pens the whole thing, wrestling Dark Avengers away from Brian Bendis for a few issues. This is the X-Men being explicitly political, with themes of police brutality, marginalization, and self determination for the oppressed. It’s a great time.
18. Necrosha (X-Necrosha #1, X-Necrosha: The Gathering #1, X-Force Vol 3 #21–25, New Mutants Vol 3 #5–8, X-Men: Legacy #231–234) December 2009-May 2010
Necrosha was part of the zombie craze of the late 2000’s, along with things like the Walking Dead and Blackest Night. You might be forgiven for thinking you’re just getting a ton of issues of zombie hordes. There IS a lot of that. Thankfully, that doesn’t stop Necrosha from being a wild ride.
Like Phalanx Covenant and Fall of the Mutants before it, Necrosha tells three separate stories all taking place simultaneously. The main story serves as the climax of the Craig/Yost run of X-Force, as immortal vampire goth Selene makes her play for godhood. In order to make this happen, she unleashes an army of dead mutants, including many of the X-Men’s closest friends and foes. Secondly, the New Mutants have to face off with their dead teammates, as well as their deceased rivals, the Hellions. Finally, Rogue and Nightcrawler head to Muir Island to stop the reality warper Proteus from unleashing hell upon the world.
Necrosha wouldn’t work nearly as well if Clayton Crain’s dark, inky, scratchy art didn’t absolutely showstop. Shadows and nocturnes pervade every page of this story, and it feels like a true night of the living dead. That being said, watching the entire island of Utopia marshall its forces to push back an oncoming army is always a blast. This doesn’t even mention how Clay Mann makes his superstar turn in his portion of the epic, or Diogenes Neves’ great character work watching the New Mutants come face to face with all their fellow students who died in the line of action.
Necrosha is at its strongest when letting the decimated, endangered species of mutants deal viscerally with those they’ve lost over the years. Warpath in particular gets to shine here in ways he rarely gets to, as do Wolfsbane and Rogue. Even if this run of X-Force is overshadowed by Remender’s Uncanny X-Force immediately following it, Necrosha is a strong case for why no X-Fan should ignore the Kyle/Yost run either.
17. The Muir Island Saga (Uncanny X-Men #278–280, X-Factor #69–70) July-September 1991
In many ways, the Muir Island Saga is the true climax of Chris Claremont’s legendary 17 year run on the X-Men. Following this story comes the first three issues of X-Men Volume 2, to this day the best selling comic of all time. During the writing of that story and this one, Claremont was unceremoniously fired after turning X-Men into the biggest comic in the world. As a result, the rest of the Muir Island Saga was finished by the greatest workman in comics history, Fabian Nicieza, along with Peter David. Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, and Whilce Portacio cover art duties.
At a relatively breezy five issues, this is one of the shortest events on this list. That being said, dozens of issues of Uncanny X-Men had been spent building up to this story. In fact, the original version of this story was meant to be the capstone to every dangling plot thread lingering in Uncanny X-Men since 1980’s Dark Phoenix Saga. Early on in the Claremont run, our villain, the Shadow King, had been set up as the dark mirror of Charles Xavier, and now, we finally get to see him tip his hand.
Originally, The Shadow King was going to be the main architect of the mutant wars, and the puppet master that had pitted the X-Men, Hellfire Club, Brotherhood, Morlocks, and other mutant factions against each other throughout the history of the X-Men. This story, however, was nixed by Marvel editorial, and Claremont had to pivot to an abbreviated version of his concept.
Even in this truncated form, Claremont and Nicieza do an incredible job positioning The Shadow King as an all-encompassing threat, and one very likely beyond the scope of the X-Men’s ability to defeat. Very few times has an X-Men villain ever felt so intimidating, and this is largely thanks to Andy Kubert’s stellar design. Also welcome is a focus on Professor X and his role as founder and figurehead of the X-Men. Professor X is rarely a major player in these events, and watching him take charge after being absent for most of Claremont’s tenure is a welcome change of page.
It’s not just Charles who gets welcome attention. Characters like Polaris, Forge, Banshee, Mystique, and Psylocke also get great moments to shine. Many long simmering relationships, rivalries, and character arcs get resolutions here. That being said, a reader’s enjoyment of the story is also heavily dependent on having read the preceding Claremont era of the X-Men, and that does take away from its standings on this list. The Muir Island Saga is a bittersweet bow on the Claremont run, and the key transition to the 90’s era of the X-Men.
16. Messiah War (X-Force/Cable #1, Cable Vol 2 #13–15, X-Force Vol 3 #14–16) June-August 2009
The middle chapter of the Messiah Trilogy, Messiah War is also the least. That doesn’t mean it’s bad though. Rather, Messiah War shows the lengths the X-Men will endure to protect Hope and Cable.
Sent to the future in the middle of a life or death mission, Wolverine’s black ops squad is tasked with locating Cable and the newborn mutant baby and returning them home to the present. While only a few months have passed for our X-Men, Cable and a preteen Hope have spent the better part of a decade trying to survive a nuclear wasteland, hunted at the hands of their former friend Bishop. And now, he’s teamed up with Stryfe, the ruler of earth thousands of years in the future, to kill Hope once and for all. It’s up to Cable and X-Force to protect Hope from the forces of Stryfe and Bishop.
Messiah War is a tightly paced, high intensity thrill ride of a story, in the vein of something like 1999’s The Matrix. What gives the series heart, however, is seeing how Hope, having grown up on stories of the X-Men, reacts to the most vicious and least aspirational of them. Her interactions with X-23 are especially touching, as she represents the only major female presence in her life since her mother’s death.
Artwise, this is Clayton Crain’s show, as his future is a cold, steel infused, techno organic wasteland. This is the stuff of Cable’s nightmares, and now his adoptive daughter is caught in his old war. Watching Cable negotiate his evolution from soldier to father is moving, leading to a high-intensity showdown with his clone. The fight against Stryfe at the climax is particularly brutal, and reminds us what Cable could be capable of when fully unleashing his power.
Messiah War shows the cost of mutantkind’s fight for survival, and the toll it takes on the most vulnerable. No reading of this era is complete without it.
15. Age of X (Age of X: Alpha #1, X-Men: Legacy #244–247, New Mutants Vol 3 #22–24, Age of X Universe #1–2, Age of X Historical Logs #1) March-June 2011
Age of X is one of the great alternate universe tales at Marvel, and a cornerstone of Mike Carey’s criminally underrated X-Men tenure. Here, we get a wonderful look into the psychology of the X-Men, and what the toll of being an endangered species has taken upon our favorite heroes.
In terms of plot, this story is relatively straightforward. The X-Men find themselves in an alternate reality where everyday, from morning until night, the X-Men are under siege from the military might of humanity. In the Age of X, Magneto leads the remnants of mutantkind in a never ending battle, with characters such as Cyclops, Cannonball, Frenzy, and Rogue in radically different positions and with different personalities.Of course, things are not as they seem, and watching Rogue puzzle her way into solving the mysteries of the Age of X is the true delight of this series.
What makes this series work so far is two things. First, Clay Mann and Steve Kurth do an amazing job showcasing the different designs and siege-like wasteland the X-Men call home. Clay Mann is one of the biggest artists in the business right now, and Age of X is where he made his name. Secondly, seeing the mental toll living in a true neverending battle takes on X-Men such as Pixie, Cyclops, Cannonball, and Rogue. Watching as they try to deal with the trauma of constantly being on the verge of death highlights the importance of the X-Men’s mission in a way few stories get to.
Age of X takes 8 issues and crafts a gorgeous widescreen mystery that explores the psyche of the X-Men and those they protect. Anyone who wants to understand why Mike Carey is such a fan favorite writer, look no further.
14. Operation: Zero Tolerance (Uncanny X-Men #346, X-Men Vol 2 #65–69, X-Force #67–69, Generation X# 26–27, 29–31, Cable #45–47 Wolverine #115–118, X-Men Unlimited # 16) June-November 1997
Operation: Zero Tolerance, in many ways, is the swan song of the 90’s heyday of the X-Men. After this story, the franchise becomes largely directionless until 2001’s New X-Men. If this is the end of the Golden Age of the X-Men, then it ends with the X-Men directly confronting an existential threat from the systemic and cultural forces of America.
Operation: Zero Tolerance deals with the fallout of the assasination of an anti-mutant presidential candidate, and the government response of attempting to round up all the mutants in the country. Led by the mutant hunting Bastion, the X-Men are by and large captured and contained, and it’s up to Iceman to pick up a ragtag group of mutants and defeat Bastion. Meanwhile, Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men go on a mission to rescue the captured victims of Bastion. Finally, Cable leads X-Force on a mission to prevent Bastion from getting access to the X-Men’s data and Cerebro.
Here, we get to see the X-Men really confront in a real way the bigotry and prejudice of the world that hates and fears them. Iceman’s confrontation with Bastion is arguably his finest hour as an X-Man. The bad guy is the United States government itself, taking steps to make the persecution and marginalization of mutants official policy. To this day, mutants have rarely been so singularly targeted. Here, we see what the stakes of standing up for the existence of mutants can look like for our heroes and those they care about.
Carlos Pacheo is the main artist of this event, and he does wonderful work, especially in introducing characters such as Cecilia Reyes and Marrow, both of whom would become cult-favorite members of the X-Men. And as mentioned earlier, the confrontation between Iceman and Bastion might be Scott Lobdell’s best moment as steward of the X-Line.
If you want to see the X-Men very directly confront an attempt at systemic oppression and marginalization, this is the story for you.
13. Avengers vs X-Men (Avengers vs X-Men #0–12, Avengers vs X-Men: Infinite #1–3, AVX: Vs #1–6, Wolverine and the X-Men #9–18, Uncanny X-Men vol 2 #11–20, X-Men: Legacy #266–270, 274–275 Avengers Vol 4 #25–30, New Avengers vol 2 #24–30, Avengers Academy #29–33, Secret Avengers #26–28) May-December 2012
Avengers vs X-Men is one of the largest stories Marvel has ever told, rivalling the size of Civil War and Secret Wars. It’s a massive, blockbuster event, and reading all the tie-ins will get you at about 70 issues of story. And for the amount of story being told, all that space is needed.
The set up is simple enough: the Phoenix Force is returning to Earth, and it’s gunning for Hope Summers, the mutant messiah. The Avengers want to stop it before it reaches Earth, given the Phoenix’s habit of blowing up planets. The X-Men want to harness the power of the Phoenix to save mutantkind from extinction. When the Avengers show up to take Hope into custody, an all-out war breaks out, with just about every major Marvel character created at the time taking part in the conflict.
Avengers vs X-Men serves at the climax of an entire era of Marvel, which I will refer to as the “New/Astonishing Era”. This era runs simultaneously in the X-Men and Avengers titles, beginning with 2004’s Astonishing X-Men and 2005’s New Avengers, and running through House of M, Civil War, Secret Invasion, Messiah Complex, Second Coming, and Fear Itself. After this story, Marvel begins the “Marvel Now!” era that would run throughout the 2010’s. As such, it has to serve as the culmination of Bendis’s Avengers saga and the X-Men’s post-Morrison struggles and transformation from school into army under the leadership of Cyclops.
Due to what’s asked of this story, there are two ways to evaluate this story. One is just by judging the main 12-issue miniseries, which serves as the ultimate blockbuster tale, drawn by Adam Kubert, Olivier Coipel, and John Romita Jr., and written by Ed Brubaker, Brian Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron, and Jonathan Hickman. This version is full of crazy, big moments, but is very light on characterizations, which can make actions feel odd and out of character.
This issue is helped immensely by the tie in issues, especially Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men. Here, you can see the thoughts, actions, and motivations of all the major players, especially those of Cyclops and Wolverine, who along with Hope, Captain America, and Iron Man make up the core leads. Cyclops and Wolverine both reach the culmination of their decade-long development from brothers in arms to bitter rivals, the successors to Magneto and Xavier respectively. Cyclops final battle to secure mutantkind’s survival made many lifelong fans or bitter haters of Scott.
Avengers vs X-Men is a great story to hand to your teenager who just wants to see his favorite superheroes fighting each other. Of course, you couldn’t quite help but shake the feeling that the X-Men are written a bit worse than usual because the Avengers had to look good to coincide with the release of the 2012 movie. But this is THE defining X-Men story of the 2010’s, which would dictate the direction of the franchise for the next decade. If you can take the time to include the tie ins, especially those of Kieron Gillen, you’ll be rewarded with the biggest war in Marvel’s history.
12. Fall of The Mutants (Uncanny X-Men #225–227, X-Factor #24–26, New Mutants #59–61) January-March 1987
Fall of the Mutants is one of the more unique events in X-Men history. Instead of being one overarching story, this is a thematic crossover, with each separate narrative following a “Fall” of some kind for our mutants, whether it be symbolic or literal.
First, the X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants confront the magical threat of the Adversary in Downtown Dallas, and are forced to make significant sacrifices in the name of protecting a world that hates and fears them. Secondly, the New Mutants fight a villain named the Ani-Mator and are forced to grow up fast as they experience losing one of their own. Finally, X-Factor has their first major confrontation with Apocalypse, and see the fall of two of their own to the forces of Apocalypse.
Mark Silvestri and Claremont do incredible work on the X-Men side, as does Bret Blevins and Louise Simonson on New Mutants. That being said, the standout segment of this tale is easily the husband and wife duo of Louise and Walt Simonson on X-Factor, chronicling the rise of Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen. Watching X-Factor’s dread at realizing how they’ve been played by Apocalypse, and the loss of Caliban and Angel to his sway. It’s one of the best tales in the X-Men canon all on its’ own, and it’s still linked to the X-Men and New Mutants tales
Fall of The Mutants represents a metaphorical and real fall for the X-Men that they wouldn’t fully recover from until 1992’s X-Men Vol 2 #1, which closed the Claremont era and opened up the 90’s era. In many ways, it feels as the last of the halcyon days of the X-Men. X-Factor leaves the comfort of their hidden agenda. The X-Men move from the Mansion to Australia, and wouldn’t return for half a decade. The New Mutants leave the tutelage of Magneto, and strike out on their own, basically directionless until they’re taken in by Cable and transformed into X-Force. That transition begins here.
We’ve made it through the middle chunk of our rankings, and only the best of the best are left! Feel free to leave your comments, feedback, critiques, or scathing hate in the comments. What’s your favorite X-Men Story? Any memorable moments for you as a reader? We’ll see you tomorrow for the final part of this installment!
Christian Thrailkill is a graduate of Southern Methodist University, Graduate Student at University of North Texas, musician, and columnist. He lives in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @Wolvie616