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.
11. Second Coming (Uncanny X-Men #523–525, New Mutants Vol 3 #12–24, X-Force Vol 3 #26–28, X-Men: Legacy # 235–237, X-Factor #203–206, X-Men# Second Coming #1–2, Second Coming: Prepare, Second Coming Revelations: Blind Science #1, Second Coming: Hellbound #1–3) April-September 2010
The climax of the Messiah Trilogy is one of the most high intensity stories in the X-Men’s history. Second Coming sees Cable and a grown up Hope Summers finally return to the present, and it’s all hands on deck as the united forces of mutantkind face an onslaught by Bastion and a who’s who of mutant-hating humans, all allied to wipe out the few hundred mutants left alive. In the process of getting Cable and Hope home, secrets are revealed, heroes are killed, and mutantkind is put through the ringer as wave after wave of Purifiers, Sentinels, Reavers, and all manner of danger is brought to the doorstep of Utopia. Characters such as Cypher, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, and Wolverine get great moments to show off their place in the larger army of mutantkind.
Second Coming, in many ways, is the ultimate test of Cyclops’ abilities as a leader, and as the figurehead of mutantkind as a species. Everyone from Magneto to Professor X is looking to Scott for leadership, and the choices he’s been forced to make to ensure mutantkind’s survival finally bear their fruit, for both better and worse. Just as compelling, however, is the story of Hope’s return to the present after spending her childhood in the most nightmarish of conditions. Dealing with the expectations of the X-Men, her relationship to her father, Cable, and the conditions of the 21st century give Second Coming a beating heart, and one that makes the final moments of the story all the more intense.
In terms of art, this is one of the weaker lineups, which dings it a little. David Finch, Mike Choi, Terry Dodson, Greg Land, and Ibraim Roberson share duties. Each on their own is adequate, but none of the art styles necessarily go too well together. Choi and Roberson in my opinion turn in the strongest work, with the textless battle on the Golden Gate Bridge being a particular highlight on the action front. That being said, the writer lineup on Second Coming is exceptionally strong, with Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Matt Fraction, Mike Carey, and Zeb Wells all turning in exceptional issues. Nightcrawler’s Funeral in particular is incredibly poignant.
Second Coming is a fittingly epic conclusion to the Messiah Trilogy, a wonderful story about the relationship of Cable to his father and daughter, and a showcase for the X-Men as a united army of mutants under Cyclops’ leadership.
10. X-Cutioner’s Song (Uncanny X-Men #294–297, X-Men Vol 2 #14–16, X-Factor #84–86, X-Force #16–19, Stryfe’s Strike File #1) November 1992-February 1993
Ah, X-Cutioner’s Song. This is the Peak 90’s X-Men event. It’s goofy, full of insane continuity and retcons, nonsense action, and pouches galore. This is the X-Men at their most fun, in my opinion.
At a mutants right rally, Professor X is shot, by none other than X-Force Leader Cable! X-Men and X-Factor join forces to capture Cable and his renegade X-Force, but all is not as it seems, as Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, and Stryfe are also unleashing their own devious plots on the X-Men and each other. The X-Men must solve the mysteries and save Professor X in order to save the world!
X-Cutioner’s Song is a classic 12-parter. Tons of fights based on misunderstandings. Cool, unique never before seen character pairings. Villains vs villains and heroes vs heroes. And of course, lots and lots of Summers family drama delivered in soliloquy. Brandon Peterson, Jae Lee, Greg Capullo, and Andy Kubert take charge of art duties, as Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, and Scott Lobdell take charge of writing. Greg Capullo and Andy Kubert’s chapters are especially worth mentioning, as they deliver some of the best action showcases of the era.
As the first major crossover of the post-Claremont era, X-Cutioner’s Song had the mandate of showing off the new, reinvigorated era of X-Men, and it certainly accomplishes that. Of all the stories in the list, this is the definition of a summer blockbuster story. It’s always entertaining to reread. If you want to know the X-Men that took over Blockbuster, Fox Kids, and Pizza Hut, and enchanted a generation of kids in the process, this is the X-Men story for you.
9. X-Tinction Agenda (Uncanny X-Men #270–272, X-Factor #60–62, New Mutants #95–97) November 1990-January 1991
The X-Men have functioned as an allegory for the marginalized for decades, but X-Tinction Agenda remains perhaps the story that most directly deals with legalized, systemic injustices perpetrated against minorities. The X-Men battle the magistrates of Genosha, a literal mutant caste and slave society. Genosha was a not so thinly veiled analogue for Apartheid South Africa, and the brutal injustices inflicted upon the black community there. It’s brutal and intense in a way not many X-Men stories are, but given the subject matter it feels like appropriate gravitas.
Unlike the previous X-Men crossovers, there aren’t multiple storylines for the disparate X-Teams. Instead, this is a showcase for the combined might of the X-Family at the time, including newest member Cable. Warlock. Wolfsbane, Havok, Storm, and plenty of others get great moments to shine as well. These character moments are juxtaposed with the systemic enslavement and legal system of Genosha, whose cruelty and inhumanity are chilling to witness, even 30 years later.
X-Tinction Agenda is an event largely driven by the art of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee. Here, you can see exactly how both would become industry-shaping superstars as they showcase the horror of the Magistrates and Cameron Hodge. Moreover, the barbaric treatment the X-Men receive is appropriately upsetting to look at.
If you’ve been upset by recent events in American politics and want to see some superheroes blow up the system, X-tinction Agenda is a great bit of catharsis. And it’s a reminder of why the X-Men are so necessary in the Marvel Universe. The tragedy of Genosha would continue through Bloodties to Magneto War to Eve of Destruction, all the way to Morrison’s New X-Men. No X-Men fan should miss this story.
8. Fatal Attractions (X-Factor #92, X-Force #25, X-Men Unlimited #2, Uncanny X-Men #304, X-Men Vol 2 #25, Wolverine #75, Excalibur #71) September 1993
Magneto has long been the X-Men’s greatest foe, and one of the great characters in comics. Despite being THE X-Men villain, he spends so much time in morally grey areas that he rarely spends significant time in full-on villain territory. Fortunately for those who want to see a full-on X-Men/Magneto battle, Fatal Attractions is here to serve as THE “Magneto as supervillain” story.
Central to this story is Colossus, who has just been through the emotional ringer. In swift succession he has lost his brother, sister, and parents in the crossfire of the X-Men’s battles, and watching him struggle with near incomprehensible grief serves as the heart of this story. Magento, due to these events, decides the time for Mutant supremacy has arrived. Unleashing the full extent of his powers and those of his Acolytes, the world has been brought to its knees. It’s up to the X-Men to stop Magneto before he conquers the world.
This is a real “on hands on deck” situation as the Acolytes attack X-Factor, Excalibur, and X-Force, leaving only a ragtag army of X-Men to storm Magento in his new asteroid base of Avalon. Professor X himself elects to lead the X-Men in battle, allowing him to actually take part in the climactic battle. Wolverine’s confrontation of Magneto in particular remains one of the most memorable moments in the X-Men canon, as Magneto unleashes the full extent of his rage on Logan.
This was the first story that Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell got to plot on their own, and they did incredible work. As with many 90’s events though, the artists are the real stars, as Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, future Batman superstar Greg Capullo, Future Marvel EIC Joe Quesada, Ken Lahsley, and John Romita Jr. all turn in career-best work here. Kubert and Romita’s work in particular in the creation of Avalon is worth noting. This is peak 90’s in a good way.
Fatal Attractions remains THE showcase for Magneto as a supervillain instead of an anti-hero. It’s the X-Men at their most operatic. Any X-Men fan should take the time to track this story down.
7. Inferno (Uncanny X-Men #239–243, X-Factor #36–39-Annual #4, New Mutants #71–73, X-Terminators #1–4) December 1988-April 1989
The X-Men have always had a difficult relationship with magic, and never has that been more tested than in Inferno. Hell comes to earth, and the X-Men must confront their darkest demons in order to say the day.
The story is broken into three main parts. First, the X-Men and X-Factor interact for the first time in years, as they confront the dual threats of Madelyne Pryor, transformed into the Goblin Queen, and Mr. Sinister. Secondly, the New Mutants must save one of their own as Magik finally becomes the Darkchilde and unleashes the hordes of Limbo on Manhattan. Finally, a new group, the X-Terminators, must save some children from the demon hordes of Limbo. Excalibur also briefly ties in, but it’s not part of the main story.
Inferno represents the climax of a number of Claremont’s and Louise Simonson’s longest running plot threads. Madelyne Pryor’s marriage to Cyclops and her similarity to Jean Grey. Mr. Sinister’s reveal as leader of the Marauders and orchestrator of the Morlock Massacre. Magneto’s tenure at the Xavier School and the Hellfire Club. The X-Men and X-Factor’s confrontation of multiple lies told by both teams. Most poignant and beautiful, however, is the New Mutants section of the story, which is the climax of the Magik saga
Inferno works so well because it’s the payoff that long standing fans of the X-Men had been waiting for since the 80’s began. Moreover, it’s a showcase for the evolving character dynamics of the X-Men. Watching Wolverine and Storm reunite with Jean Grey is touching. Havok and Cyclops’ long simmering tensions come to a head. Magik and Dani Moonstar both come into their own as heroes. And of course, Mr. Sinister would go on to be one of the great X-Men foes. Watching the disparate parts of the X-Universe truly unite for the first time since the Mutant Massacre is a treat, one that pushes Claremont’s run into its final era. This makes Inferno one of the most memorable X-Men stories.
6. X of Swords (X of Swords: Creation #1, X of Swords: Stasis #1, X of Swords: Destruction #1, X-Men Vol 5 #12–15, Excalibur Vol 4 #13–15, Cable Vol 4 #5–6, New Mutants Vol 4 #13, Hellions #5–6, Marauders #13–15, X-Force Vol 6 #13–14, Wolverine Vol 7 #6–7, X-Factor Vol 4 #4) November 2020-January 2021
The newest X-Men crossover is also one of the longest at a mammoth 22 issues. Thankfully, it’s also one of the best X-Men stories of all time, serving as a climax of the Dawn of the Krakoa era of X-Men.
Here, the true plans of Apocalypse are finally revealed as the mutant nation of Krakoa comes into conflict with the lost mutant nation of Arakko. Arakko is the sister nation of Krakoa, forced into a hellish dimension thousands of years ago, and governed by the long-lost family of En Sabah Nur. Over the millenia, they have turned into a brutal society governed by conquest and the religion of Amenth, and they have decided to claim dominion over not just Krakoa, but of all of our dimension.
Caught in the middle of this war is the fae magical realm of Otherworld, the nexus of all realities. Otherworld, governed by Opal Luna Saturnyne, has been a fixture in X-Men lore since Excalibur debuted in the late 80’s, but never has it been so fleshed out here. In order to avoid an all-out war between Krakoa and Arrako, a contest of champions is called, each chosen by a specific sword of note. On the neutral ground of Otherworld, mutants new and ancient will clash swords, with the fate of the multiverse on the line.
X of Swords is an absolute blast to read, broken into two halves: The claiming of swords, and the Tournament in Otherworld. The claiming of swords allows individual characters such as Storm, Cypher, Wolverine, and Apocalypse to shine. Storm’s chapter is the best story she’s had in years. Wolverine’s descent into Hell is also a blast. The real heart of this story, however, is Apocalypse, finally turned into a fully fleshed out character decades after his debut. His quest to reconnect with his family is absolutely heartbreaking, and the lengths he goes to for the future of mutantkind will surprise even the most jaded reader.
Vita Ayala, Leah Williams, Ed Brisson, Gerry Duggan, Tini Howard, Benjamin Percy, Zeb Wells, Jonathan Hickman, Lenil Francis Yu, Mahmud Asrar, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, Phil Noto, Marcus To, Rod Reis, Jose Baldeon, Victor Bogdanovic, Joshua Cassara, Carmen Carnero, Carlos Gomez, and Matteo Lolli all come together in a relay race of plotting and art that weaves the dozens of X-Books better than just about every story in X-History. This is one of the most beautiful stories ever drawn at Marvel.
X of Swords is the end of Act 1 of Jonathan Hickman’s X Saga, just like Infinity was to his Avengers Saga. Infinity would go on to be the inspiration for the massive hit Infinity War, and X of Swords is equally epic. This is a can’t miss X-Men story.
5. Mutant Massacre (Uncanny X-Men #210–213, X-Factor #9–11, New Mutants #46, Thor #373–374, Power Pack #27) October 1986-January 1987
The X-Men’s first major crossover remains one of their all-time best. 1986’s Mutant Massacre has endured longer than most X-Men stories period, with the events of the saga still influencing the X-Men to this very day. The X-Men really were never the same again. In many ways, this was the final loss of innocence for the X-Men.
The plot is right on the title, as the X-Men, X-Factor, and the New Mutants deal with the massacre of the Morlocks, a group of disenfranchised mutants that live in the sewers of New York. At the center of this genocide are a group of new villains, the Marauders, who would go one to become some of the X-Men’s most enduring foes. These villains are unlike anything the X-Men had faced at the time: a group of cold-blooded, murderous mercenaries who were unafraid to kill civilians or the X-Men. They didn’t waste time grandstanding: They were professionals.
The X-Men’s confrontation with the Marauders would have lasting impacts on the entire team. Nightcrawler, Rogue, Colossus, and Shadowcat would all be severely injured, with Nightcrawler and Shadowcat in particular being forced to take a leave of absence that would last over a decade. Angel would have his wings amputated, which would forever define the future of the character, ultimately leading to the birth of Archangel. Psylocke would also join the team in this story.
The biggest addition to the X-Men lore, however, has to be the beginning of the Sabretooth-Wolverine rivalry. That’s right, while the characters obviously have a much longer history that would be fleshed out later, their first on page interactions and fight would serve as the climax of this story. The fight remains one of the most vicious and brutal in X-Men history, gorgeously drawn by Alan Davis. The bulk of the series, however, is drawn by John Romita Jr, who is beginning to earn his status as one of the all-time greats.
Following the Mutant Massacre, things never got lighter again for the X-Men. Things would continue to get more intense, and the threats more bleak and dire. The X-Men’s era of lightness and innocence would never fully return. Mutant Massacre is a turning point in the comics industry and the X-Men, one that set the stage for every crossover to follow.
4. Age of Apocalypse (Uncanny X-Men #320–321, X-Men Vol 2 #40–41, X-Factor #109, Cable #20, X-Men: Alpha, Amazing X-Men #1–4, Astonishing X-Men #1–4 X-Men Chronicles #1–2, Factor X #1–4, Weapon X #1–4, X-Man #1–4, X-Calibre #1–4, Gambit and the X-Ternals #1–4, Generation Next #1–4, X-Universe #1–2, X-Men: Omega) March-June 1995
Nothing was the same after the Age of Apocalypse. Nothing as audacious and bold had ever been attempted by Marvel in terms of their publishing schedule. In the era before solicitations, internet rumors, or advance notices, Marvel suddenly cancelled EVERY X-BOOK IN THE LINE. Their cash cow property and the source of the majority of their income all of a sudden disappeared. In their place were strange, twisted, alternate versions of Marvel’s Mutants, living in a dystopian world where Apocalypse reigned supreme. Was this a shameless marketing gimmick? Absolutely. But by God, it worked.
Here, we see just how necessary Charles Xavier and his dream are to the world. Following Legion Quest and Legion’s accidental murder of his father, The X-Men never form, and so there is no one to stop the rise of Apocalypse following his reawakening. It is only after En Sabah Nur has successfully conquered North America that Magneto takes it upon himself to form the X-Men. The only man who remembers the world as it was is a time displaced Bishop. Now, it’s up to him and the Amazing X-Men to right the wrongs of the past, and undo the Age of Apocalypse.
Age of Apocalypse is told over 8 titles, with four issues each, bookended by opening and closing chapters. It’s positively gargantuan in length, but this gives the story space to truly realize the world of AoA. Heroes and villains have radically different status quos, romances, and relationships. Seeing how our heroes stay the same or are entirely different is one of the great joys. There are many alternate universe and dystopian tales in the canon of comic books, but none are so well realized and well executed as the Age of Apocalypse. To this day it is the standard by which all alternate universe tales are judged.
In the end, few stories showcase the importance of a world with the X-Men as Age of Apocalypse does. It’s a story about hope in the face of the greatest adversities. It’s a huge investment of time, but one weekend of your life is worth a visit to The Age of Apocalypse.
3. Messiah Complex (Uncanny X-Men #492–494, X-Men Vol 2 #205–207, X-Factor Vol 3 #25–27, New X-Men #44–46, X-Men: Messiah Complex #1) January-March 2008
The first chapter of the Messiah Trilogy serves as both an opening salvo and a closing chapter on the Astonishing era of the X-Men. Since House of M and the Decimation, the X-Men were stuck in a place of creative stagnation. No creative team knew exactly how to handle this dire new world that the X-Men found themselves in. And then the first mutant born since the Scarlet Witch rewrote the rules appears, and an incredible free-for all chase begins.
After the child are multiple factions, all with their own agenda. The Purifiers and the Reavers form an alliance to kill the child. The Acolytes and the Marauders form an alliance with Mr. Sinister to capture the child. The X-Men and their extended family unite for the first time in years to protect the child. And multiple wildcards with their own agendas are also major players in the fray.
Messiah Complex thrives on being the kind of all-out brawl for the future of mutantkind stories like X-Cutioner’s Song and other 90’s stories were, but with the benefit of modernized storytelling techniques, and a decade to reflect on the excesses of such stories. The result is a giant 12-part tale that still feels sleek, honed, and filled with blockbuster moments that any X-Fan would salivate to witness.
On top of all that wonderful action though, are the culmination of several plot points that had been percolating, marking Messiah Complex as the transitory story between two eras of the X-Men. Following the fall from grace of Charles Xavier, Cyclops finally takes his place as the undisputed leader of mutantkind. In the face of extinction and the threat of genocide, X-Force is once again sanctioned for the first time in years, with a deadly new mandate. The machinations of Sinister, Mystique, and several others that had been playing in the background of the X-Men comics finally make themselves known. The New X-Men, children forced into situations more adult than any previous generation of students, take their place as true peers of the X-Men.
Once again, you are treated to an all-star lineup of great artists. Marc Silvestri, Billy Tan, and Scott Eaton all turn in wonderful pages. The true highlights, however, are Humberto Ramos and Chris Bachalo, both at the peak of their creative prowess, and showcasing some of the all-time great X-Men battles. The siege of the Marauder’s base and the final battle at Muir Island stand tall in the pantheon of great comic battles.
Following Messiah Complex, the X-Men leave Westchester for San Francisco, where they would remain until 2012’s Avengers vs X-Men. The Messiah Trilogy would be the dominant plotline through the next few years of X-Men stories, and characters such as Cyclops, Hope, Wolverine, and Cable would never be the same. This free-for all over the fate of Hope Summers has absolutely everything you want in an X-Men crossover, and Messiah Complex receives the highest recommendation from me.
2. House of X/Powers of X (House of X #1–6, Powers of X #1–6) September-December 2019
House of X/Powers of X is the most exciting and radical change to the X-Men since 2001’s New X-Men. For years, the metaphor of mutantkind had been in stagnation, spending decades endangered, sterilized, hunted, murdered, and things just never got better. Two decades of stagnation and dourness. No more. The X-Men had spent their time in the wilderness, and now it was time to deliver them to the promised land.
Moira Mactaggart, Charles Xavier, and Magneto decided it was time to change all the rules. What follows over the next 12 issues is the story of the radical reinvention of Charles Xavier’s Dream. Jonathan Hickman has a vision for mutantkind, and it’s exciting, bold, and visionary. The 12 issues are broken up into past, present, and future segments, as more and more of the puzzle is put into place, and the full scope of their ambitions is revealed. To delve any further into specifics would be to deprive readers of some of the all-time great twists in comics history. By the end though, Mutantkind is in a brave new world, never more united, more excited, or more hopeful. It’s a joyous celebration of a community finally realizing it’s potential.
Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva, in collaboration with colorist extraordinaire Marte Gracia, deliver what is arguably the most visually stunning story in the entire canon of Marvel, and certainly in X-Men history. This is work that is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Jack Kirby, Osamu Tezuka, Herge, and all the other titans of the medium. Seeing the near-incomprehensible cityscapes of the future, to the ancient past of mutantkind, or the space station siege that serves as the climax of the story are utterly extraordinary, as are the quieter moments. The work surrounding Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Emma Frost is especially noteworthy.
Given time, this story can easily take the number 1 spot on the list, but it feels just a bit too soon to let House of X/Powers of X take the crown as THE X-Men story. There’s still one story that holds the title. That being said, this is a must read not just of any X-Men fan, but of any Marvel fan. House of X/Powers of X is the here and now, and it’s the best of what Marvel currently has to offer.
- The Dark Phoenix Saga (Uncanny X-Men #129–137) January-September 1980
The seminal X-Men story is also one of the landmark moments in all of comics, period. However, somewhat lost to time is the fact that The Dark Phoenix Saga, while a wonderful story even standing alone, is really best read as the Avengers: Endgame of Claremont’s X-Men run up to this point. Every story beat, every character arc, every story had been building up to this moment for over 40 issues and about 4 and a half years.
Claremont had spent his entire tenure on Uncanny X-Men turning the ragtag international team of misfits and loners into a group that is second to none in all of fiction. He had spent the last 40ish issues putting them through their paces, getting beaten by villain after villain, slowly molding them into a superhero team to be proud of. Over the course of these experiences, friendships and romances formed, and strangers came to love each other as found family. Now they have to deal with the worst possible scenario, as one of their own, a person all of them would die for, loses control and becomes the biggest threat they’ve ever faced.
In the process of The Dark Phoenix Saga, we get introduced to enduring characters such as Dazzler, the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost, and Jean Grey. Wolverine transitions from secondary loose cannon to the badass that came to be one of Marvel’s most popular and enduring characters. The Phoenix reveals the extent of its capabilities as it eats a star, destroying a planet of billions in the process. As the X-Men desperately try to help, every character from Nightcrawler to Professor X gets a moment to shine, culminating in the X-Men’s legendary showdown with the Imperial Guard on the surface of the moon for the life of Jean Grey.
More than anything, the Dark Phoenix Saga is focused on the love of Cyclops and Phoenix, who for the last 140 issues of X-Men have been the main characters of the series and whose romance has been the beating heart of the team. In the end, Scott stands against the entire universe for the sake of the woman he loves, and Jean chooses to sacrifice herself rather than lose herself to the power of the Phoenix and the possibilities of Godhood.
Ultimately, this is a story that every comic fan should read at least once in their life. It’s Claremont and Byrne at the height of their capabilities, and absolutely stands the test of time. However, I highly recommend taking the journey from Giant Size X-Men all the way to here, as the story was meant to be experienced as a climax, rather than a standalone story.
And that’s our list! I hope that you’ll give these stories a try. The X-Men are a wonderful group of characters, and you’ll absolutely find something to love in them.
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