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!
Dishonorable Mention: #33. Ultimatum (Ultimatum #1–5) January-July 2009
Jeph Loeb and David Finch are two incredibly talented storytellers who have told some of the most popular and impactful stories in all of superhero comics and superhero television. I’ve been moved to tears by more than one of their stories.
It’s important you know that I hold both in high esteem when I say, in a spirit of charity, that Ultimatum is an unholy abomination of a story, and one of the worst comics to have ever come out of Marvel Publishing. This is a dishonorable mention since this is an Ultimate Marvel event and therefore not canon, but Ultimatum easily takes the bottom spot on our list, and it’s not even close.
Ultimatum is meant to be read as a biblical disaster: Magneto has stolen the hammer of Thor, and uses it to exact his vengeance upon humanity, killing millions. The heroes do their best to handle the natural disasters and attacks by Magneto’s cronies, and one after another die horrid, cruel, pointless deaths. Dr. Strange gets his head popped open by Dormammu. The Blob eats The Wasp alive, commenting she “tastes like Chicken.” Thor is sent to Valhalla. Most of the X-Men die in a flood. Dr. Doom gets his head crushed in by The Thing. It’s a thoroughly unpleasant and upsetting read, wiping the slate of Ultimate Marvel by disposing of many of Marvel’s most famous characters, including Dr. Doom, Wolverine, Professor X, Thor, Cyclops, Dr. Strange, The Wasp, Magneto, and Daredevil.
Ultimate Marvel has been defunct for years now. Do yourself a favor, and if you revisit it, stick to the good stuff like Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man. Avoid Ultimatum like the biblical plague it is.
31. Inhumans vs X-Men (Inhumans vs X-Men #0–6, Uncanny X-Men Vol 4 #16–18, Extraordinary X-Men #17–19, Uncanny Inhumans #17–20, All-New X-Men Vol 2 #17–18, Deadpool and the Mercs For Money Vol 2 #7–8) January-May 2017
Ultimatum is the worst X-Men event ever, but Inhumans vs X-Men is easily the worst in-canon X-Men event.
The story of Inhumans vs X-Men cannot be told without detailing the larger story of corporate warfare between Disney and Fox at the time. From 2008 to 2019, Disney was actively trying to buy out Fox in order to reacquire some of their licensed properties, most importantly the X-Men. As part of this corporate warfare, Marvel was not allowed to create any new X-Men characters, and Disney CEO Bob Iger actively tried to make an Inhumans movie to serve as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s mutant replacement. This was accompanied by a comic blitz that saw a plethora of Inhumans books at the cost of cutting the X-Men line. As a result of this, many fans felt the X-Men were being actively marginalized at the behest of Disney, and replaced by the Inhumans.
With this context, Marvel decided after their 2015 event, Secret Wars, to turn fans’ paranoia and anxiety into textual conflict. The entire year of Inhumans and X-Men stories were spent creating mounting tension surrounding the Terrigen Mists. The Terrigen Mists, which give Inhumans their powers and had recently been released into Earth’s atmosphere, were retconned to be both poisonous and sterilizing to mutants, making the Earth literally uninhabitable for mutantkind.
It was cruel of Marvel to turn fan anxieties into a years worth of story arcs, but it could have been excused if the story was compelling or interesting. Instead, the story is literally “Mutants will go extinct and be gassed to death if we don’t get rid of the Terrigen Mists NOW”. The X-Men then launch a preemptive attack on the Inhuman capitol, and then six issues are spent watching the Inhumans slowly escape the X-Men’s traps until it’s revealed that the whole conflict was orchestrated by Emma Frost, driven mad with grief over the death of her true love, Cyclops, thus returning to her villainous roots and undoing 20 years worth of character growth. Worse, the resolution of the Terrigen Mists situation was Medusa inquiring “why didn’t you tell us?” and fixing the problem. This blatantly contradicted an entire year worth of stories where she knew the problem, actively said on panel she understood the problem, and refused to fix it. Hell, she says as much in the first issue of IvX! And then five issues later claimed she didn’t know.
Inhumans vs X-Men is mean spirited, cruel to fans, nonsensical plot-wise, and actively harms the characters involved. The one bright spot is Lenil Yu and Javier Garron’s stellar art, which makes the story at least pretty to look at. Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire fail as writers here, which is a shame as both are very talented storytellers. Only completionists should read this.
30. Onslaught (Onslaught: X-Men #1, Uncanny X-Men #334–336, X-Men Vol 2. #53–56, X-Men Unlimited #12 Onslaught: Marvel Universe #1, Avengers #401–402, Fantastic Four #415–416, Cable #34–35, Incredible Hulk #444–445, Wolverine #103–105, X-Factor #124–126, X-Force #57–58, X-Man #18–19, Iron Man #332, Amazing Spider-Man #415, Spider-Man #72, Green Goblin #12, Punisher #11) June-September 1996
Onslaught’s greatest sin is it’s bloat. This is a 33 issue story that has maybe 8 or so issues of plot. As a result, the pacing of the series is a jarring starting and stopping and spinning of wheels until things accelerate far too fast.
The real shame of it is that Onslaught has a great premise for a story. Professor X’s dark side takes over Charles’ body and decides to take over the world, targeting the other most powerful mutants on the planet, X-Man and Franklin Richards, to bolster his power. The X-Men’s founder and guiding light has become their worst nightmare, and it’s going to take the entire Marvel Universe to stop what Onslaught has unleashed. It’s the recipe for a wonder 90’s action blockbuster of an event, full of cool character moments, team ups, and crazy sci-fi shenanigans.
But as stated earlier, most of the issues of Onslaught are superfluous, and it’s not until the final two issues that things really get moving. At that point you’ve sat through dozens of issues of filler, you likely have reader fatigue, and you just want the story to end. It’s just not a fun time when it should be.
Onslaught is a great concept for a villain, and while it hasn’t happened yet, I’m still convinced there’s a truly great Onslaught story to be told. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.
29. The Twelve/Ages of Apocalypse (Uncanny X-Men #376–378, X-Men Vol 2 #96–98, Cable #75–77, X-Man #59–60, Wolverine #146–148, X-Men Unlimited #26) January-March 2000
To this day, I don’t think there’s a story that has had as much build up and anticipation only to anticlimax as The Twelve/Ages of Apocalypse. These stories are listed together because even though they were billed as separate stories, they are in fact very much the same story.
For literally over a decade, the concept of “The Twelve” had been teased in X-Men stories. It was a plot thread carefully tended to by Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson. It was the culmination of their original Apocalypse stories, as well as intrinsically tied to the Cable/Apocalypse rivalry that had been built up through the entirety of Cable’s existence as a character. Ostensibly, every plot thread seeded throughout the 90’s heyday of the X-Men was about to be resolved in what was billed as the biggest story yet, as Apocalypse’s top secret plan he had been building towards was revealed.
This top secret, centuries old plan is…teaming up with the Skrulls and people dressed up as Ancient Egyptians? Building a big power circuit so you can get a new body? Huh?
You see, The Twelve was not some ancient prophecy about those who would fight for leadership of mutantkind, or some ultimate master scheme for Apocalypse to take over the world. No, he just wanted to capture 12 mutants to power up a machine so he could body swap with someone. What you end up reading is some X-Men being captured by Apocalypse, and the rest of the X-Men fighting Skrulls and Wolverine, brainwashed to be his Horseman of Death, in order to save the captured X-Men.
Even worse, the story ends incredibly abruptly, as Cyclops is possessed by Apocalypse. We’re left with this tremendous double page spread by Alan Davis, and it looks like all hope is lost, and we’re set for a final showdown. But the showdown never arrives. That double page spread is in fact the last page of the story, and then Ages of Apocalypse begins. Ages of Apocalypse is literally a series of one shot “it’s all in your head” potential future scenarios that are in fact distractions the X-Men experience while Cyclopsalypse runs away. We don’t even see him run away; we just know that the issue after, the X-Men are sitting around lamenting they couldn’t save Scott and don’t know where he is. This was eventually resolved in the silly Search for Cyclops a few months later.
The issue, of course, is that an event comic, and any story really, shouldn’t have its resolution in a completely separate story. You don’t leave a story on a cliffhanger, pivot to a secondary story, and then sweep what was supposed to be the BIGGEST X-MEN STORY EVER under the rug. It’s still bitterly disappointing 20 years later, and only helped by the fact that the very next year Mark Millar began his run on Ultimate X-Men and Grant Morrison would pen one of the all-time great comic runs in New X-Men.
28. The Black Vortex (Guardians of the Galaxy and The X-Men: The Black Vortex: Alpha,Omega, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 #24–25, Legendary Star Lord #9–11, All-New X-Men #38–39, Guardians Team Up #3, Nova vol 3 #28, Cyclops Vol 3 #12, Captain Marvel #14) April-June 2015
Good news! We’ve made it through all the truly bad X-Men events! Everything from here on is at least worth one read through.
The Black Vortex is ably written, mostly by Sam Humphries and Brian Michael Bendis, but the real star here is the murderer’s row of great artists, including the likes of Ed McGuinness, Paco Medina, Kris Anka, Javier Garrón, Valerio Schiti, Andrea Sorrentino, Mike Mayhew, David Lopez, and David Baldeón. As a result, every issue is a treat to view, with plenty of incredible cosmic visuals to feast your eyes upon.
Story wise, The Black Vortex is the definition of cotton candy fun. Star-Lord and his girlfriend, the X-Men’s Shadowcat, have stolen a very powerful cosmic artifact known as the Black Vortex from some bad guys, and now everyone wants it. The Guardians of the Galaxy and the X-Men team up to protect it, along with some friends like Captain Marvel and Nova, and pretty soon everyone from the Kree to the Spartax are caught up in the fight for the Black Vortex.
The greatest problem The Black Vortex faces is that the well paced and engaging first half of the story is much stronger than the second half, which very much feels like it’s spinning wheels most of the time. This is a 13 issue story where Chapters 8 through 11 feel incredibly superfluous. The good news, though, is that even the most superfluous chapters are fun to look at, and allow characters like Cyclops and Captain Marvel moments to shine they might not have gotten in the main story. In the main story, there’s plenty of great moments for Beast, Shadowcat, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket Racoon, and more.
If you have a younger sibling in the 9–14 range who’s interested in the Guardians of the Galaxy or X-Men and likes a good fun action romp with one-liners, great art, character team ups, and space action, this is the story for them. This is the definition of a casual afternoon read.
27. X-Men and Avengers: AXIS (Axis #1–9, Magneto Vol 3 #9–12, Uncanny Avengers #24–25, All-New X-Factor #15–17, Deadpool Vol 3 #36–39, Axis: Revolutions #1–4, Amazing X-Men #14, Wolverine and The X-Men Vol 2 #12, Avengers World #15–16) November 2014- February 2015
AXIS is a great idea with middling execution due to editorial interference. This is an example of a story that was meant to be a normal story arc, but was promoted to a line-wide event, perhaps to its detriment.
You see, AXIS’ first three issues are actually the climax of Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers saga. The Red Skull, who had stolen the brain and powers of the deceased Professor X, has transformed himself into Onslaught, who makes his second appearance on this list. The final issue of Uncanny Avengers ends with The Red Skull’s transformation, and this event quite literally opens with the climactic final battle against Onslaught. It’s an appropriately high stakes affair that sees Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and more join together to try and stop him. Things get so drastic, in fact, that Magneto recruits the supervillains of the Marvel Universe to rout this threat.
The heart of Axis is, in fact, these very supervillains. In order to save the day, magic shenanigans ensue that inverts the moral compasses of everybody involved, turning the Avengers and X-Men into villains and the villains into heroes. The villains then have to find a way to restore the hearts of The X-Men and Avengers and save the day. As such, it reads very much as Marvel’s response to its’ 2013 contemporary at DC, Forever Evil.
The latter six issues very much feel like a second story entirely that was mashed together with the first in order for Marvel to have its’ 2014 event. The good news is, that this separate story has lots to offer. Evil versions of The Hulk, Iron Man, Cyclops, and Falcon are a delight, and good versions of Carnage, Sabretooth, Hobgoblin, and Mystique are compelling to watch. Central to this story as well are the inverted wildcards of Evan Sabahnur, now reborn as Apocalypse, and Deadpool, who has finally found inner peace. Our point of view to all these twisted takes on our favorite characters are the few unaffected heroes such as Spider-Man, Nova, and Captain America.
Lenil Yu, Jim Cheung, and Terry Dodson do incredible work bringing this story to life, but it can’t help but feeling like two separate stories smashed into one. Still, if you want to see wonderful bits of comedy, awesome action, and some of your favorite characters play opposite sides, this is the story for you. (Also: the title is definitely also read as SIXIS instead of AXIS)
26. Schism (X-Men: Schism #1–5 ) September-December 2011
If you ask X-Fans around the world, perhaps no story elicits as many mixed reactions as Schism. People either love it or hate it, and there’s very little middle ground. It’s a story that at the time of publication felt both inevitable and somewhat contrived. Following House of M, basically all of the disparate mutant factions and evil teams had been defeated, made defunct, or assimilated into the X-Men. Mutantkind has been united and defeated their foes. At some point, the X-Men would have to fracture to reintroduce conflict. Good things can’t last.
Thankfully, Cyclops’ incredibly compelling and dynamic character arc since The Twelve provided plenty of fodder to light the fuse of a schism within the X-Men. As Mutantkind has been moved more and more to the brink of extinction, Cyclops has been forced to make more desperate and ethically dubious choices to ensure survival, including the use of black ops killing squads, the embracing of supervillains into the ranks of the X-Men, and the use of teens in life or death fighting scenarios. As of now, the X-Men are soldiers, not superheroes.
It’s the use of children in fatal combat that finally divides the X-Men. Cyclops believes the circumstances don’t allow for children to be on the sidelines, as every fight is literally life and death for the 200 remaining members of the species. Wolverine takes a decisive stand against it after Quentin Quire uses his telepathy to cause an international incident resulting in the recommissioning of Hellfire Club-built sentinels, and subsequently Oya is forced to kill some Hellfire club goons in order to save civilians.
What makes this story work is that the legendary rivalry of Cyclops and Wolverine had spent most of the last decade on the backburner, as they shouldered the burden of mutantkind’s survival with Cyclops as the undisputed leader, and Wolverine as his most trusted lieutenant. Wolverine’s actions and position in the story, while seemingly at odds with his ruthless persona, are actually quite consistent with his character. Wolverine has a long and storied history as a mentor and paternal figure to teenage characters such as Jubilee and Shadowcat.This stance against children being forced into life and death situations had been particularly enhanced by Jason Aaron’s work in the Wolverine solo title, where Wolverine had been seriously traumatized after being tricked into murdering many of his own children. But that being said, readers shouldn’t be expected to have all of this knowledge going into the story.
Thankfully, the story on its own still presents a compelling reason for the fracture among the X-Men. While some don’t like the new Hellfire Club, I really enjoy them. Oya provides a wonderful point of view for the children’s perspective. Most importantly, the breakup battle between Scott and Logan is appropriately brutal and personal, and the schism in the X-Men feels earned and not easily reconcilable. In fact, this divide will be the status quo of the X-Men for the next five years. It’s never capitalized on as much as you’d want, but the inciting incident still feels raw and personal.
Carlos Pacheo, Frank Cho, Alan Davis, Daniel Acuña, and Adam Kubert each draw a single issue. While this doesn’t provide the story with much visual consistency, they do make every chapter feel like an event unto itself, and are all a treat to view. As a result, Schism remains a seminal story in X-Men history. This is a must read for any X-Fan looking to make sense of the 2010’s era of X-Men.
25. Battle of The Atom (X-Men: Battle of The Atom #1–2, X-Men Vol 4 #5–6, Wolverine and The X-Men #36–37, All-New X-Men #16–17, Uncanny X-Men Vol 3 #12–13) November-December 2013
Battle of the Atom was constructed as a 50th Anniversary celebration for the X-Men. As such, it was built upon all the tropes that have come to define Marvel’s mutants over the years. X-Men vs Brotherhood. X-Man vs X-Man. Time Travel. More Time Travel. Sentinels and soap opera. It’s deliberately attempting to remix the greatest hits of the X-Men into a worthwhile story that celebrates the disparate eras of the franchise.
To that end, Battle of the Atom is maybe a bit TOO focused on time travel shenanigans. We have the present day X-Men broken into two factions. We have the Past X-Men broken into factions. We have the Future X-Men broken into multiple factions. The main thrust of the story is the present-day X-Men want to send the past X-Men back to the past after receiving warnings from the future X-Men. Instead of returning where they belong, Teen Scott and Jean go on the run, and all the other teams of X-Men chase after them, with plenty of twists and turns upon the way.
This event also has another set of incredible artists, including Esad Ribic, Chris Bachalo, Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, David Lopez, and Giuseppe Camuncoli. Bachalo and Immonen especially shine, as they convey big moment after big moment. It’s remarkable stuff to look at.
The biggest critique I have of Battle of the Atom regards its epilogues. The last page heel turn of Kitty Pryde is incongruous and comes out of nowhere, and it VERY MUCH FEELS like Bendis wanted his waifu and wrote an excuse to get her into his books. It’s tacked on and sent Shadowcat on a few years of bad decisions until she would be saved by Marauders.
Despite that ending, Battle of The Atom is a story that revels in the excesses of the X-Men’s unique brand of soap opera. Xorn is Jean from the future, who is actually Jean from the Past. The grandson of Xavier secretly leads a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Past Iceman and Present Iceman both meet Future Icemen who are Hulks or ice wizards. Mind control, romance, and giant robots trying to kill everyone, oh my!
What keeps things from getting completely out of control is the very grounded and real stakes for the past X-men, who are desperate to stay in the present and try to do some good here for their present counterparts. Between the set piece battles, the constantly shifting allegiances and factions, and last minute revelations, there are tons of lovely character moments that remind you why the X-Men are so enjoyable in the first place. Battle of the Atom is serialized comics at their most fun and chaotic
24. Age of X-Man (Age of X-Man: Alpha #1, Age of X-Man: Omega #1, Age of X-Man: The Marvelous X-Men #1–5, Age of X-Man: Nextgen #1–5, Age of X-Man: The Amazing Nightcrawler #1–5, Age of X-Man: Apocalypse and The X-Tracts #1–5, Age of X-Man: Prisoner X #1–5, Age of X-Man: The X-Tremists #1–5) March-September 2019
Age of X-Man sits in a very peculiar place in X-Men History. This was the saga that closed out the era of X-Men that from 2001 and Morrison’s New X-Men to 2019’s House of X/Powers of X relaunch. Editorial knew that House of X/Powers of X was being created, and had about a year’s worth of stories to pad out. What the X-Office came up with was a mega-story in the vein of Age of Apocalypse, where an entirely new universe would be explored in order to find out what truly makes the X-Men.
This time around, X-Man, the alternate reality clone of Cable, functions as the primary antagonist, and Apocalypse is the hippie savior of this reality, crusading as a literal free love guru. X-Man, who had been inactive for years as a member of the team, is dying and feels a sense of urgency to “save the world” before he goes. As a child of the late 90’s new age movement, his classic shaman new agey-Buddhism-lite argument is that human relationships cause suffering, and therefore the way to create lasting peace is radical individualism, stripping away all familial, sexual, and political relationships from the face of the Earth.
What happens when the X-Men, the superhero group most dependent on relationships, are stripped of those connections. What happens when marginalized bodies are forced to police other marginalized groups? What happens when familial ties are severed completely in favor of radical individuality? How can you live in a world without love or desire? These are the questions Age of X-Man asks, and the answers may surprise you.
Many of Marvel’s best writers got chances to shine in the individual miniseries that make up this story, including Seanan McGuire, Leah Williams, Ed Brisson, Tim Seeley, Vita Ayala, Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler. Marcus To and Marco Failla’s art is also especially worth noting. The biggest knock against Age of X-Man is that in order to fully get the scope of the story you must read 30 issues spread out over six series. Unlike previous stories of similar length like Onslaught, however, each one of these issues is pivotal and makes Age of X-Man a surprisingly contemplative epic worth your time.
23. Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey (Phoenix Resurrection #1–5) February-March 2018
Phoenix Resurrection is perhaps the most unique X-Men story to be featured on this list, and that’s a very good thing.
After being gone for the better part of 15 years, Jean Grey is returning, but not of her own choice. Rather, the Phoenix Force wants Jean back, and is willing to bend the laws of reality, and of life and death itself, to get its’ other half. The X-Men, Jean’s extended family, have to find her before the Phoenix does. But what does Jean want for herself? This is the question that centers the story.
At its heart, Phoenix Resurrection is a breakup story. It’s about moving on from a toxic relationship, and finding purpose and love in the other people who care for you. It’s about knowing when something has run its course, and the journey of rediscovering yourself when you’ve been singularly defined by one thing for so long.
On art duties are Lenil Yu, Carlos Pacheo, Joe Bennet, and Ramon Rosanas. Each of them choose to move from the kineticism and bombast that’s so associated with superhero comics, and instead choose to give this story a gentle, contemplative, introspective feeling. This is helped by writer Matthew Rosenburg’s Twin Peaks inspired narrative choices, as well as his own tenderness for the characters he’s writing. Phoenix Resurrection is a welcome respite from nonstop action blockbuster events, and instead showcases the heart that makes the X-Men so utterly compelling.
We’ve made it through the bottom third! Feel free to leave your comments, feedback, critiques, or scathing hate in the comments! What’s your favorite X-Men Story? We’ll see you tomorrow for the next part!
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