The X-Men franchise has had a few animated series, and is on their way to a sixth live action movie. But how would you put together a ten season live action show with continuity and including the best stories from the various X-books over the years?
Personally, I’m skipping all the silver age comics. No offense to silver age fans. The silver age X-Men books are fun but the book didn’t really hit its stride until the 70s, where we’ll start off Season 1. In place of episodes, I’m calling each book a serial, like old school Doctor Who storylines because you shouldn’t try and cram a Chris Claremont story into forty-five minutes.
The Uncanny X-Men
art by Dave Cockrum
Season 1: Uncanny
(showrunner: Chris Claremont)
Serial 1: Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men Vol 01
(written by Chris Claremont, art by Dave Cockrum)
Chris Claremont isn’t The Father of The X-Men (Stan Lee and John Byrne are the My Two Dads for our mutant heroes) but he’s the mentor who raised them into what they’ve become.
The “Uncanny” part is pretty important, as the Marvel Masterworks X-Men run is the aforementioned silver age stuff, which we’ll imagine as off-screen backstory.
We start off with Professor X recruiting a team of mutants to rescue his previous team of mutants (the original X-Men) who went on a mission to Krakoa and, apart from team leader, Cyclops, did not return. This is a very 1970s shot at diversity. There’s an eastern European demon-looking guy, a Russian who seems to be made of metal, an African storm goddess, a Japanese flamethrower, a Canadian with adamantium claws, a Scottish guy with a debilitating scream, and a super strong Apache. By 2015 standards, their characters and origins are hugely problematic, but this team was incredibly progressive for 1975. In this volume, the team comes together, suffers a tragedy, integrates with the original X-Men and hits all the tropes from the original run of X-Men in a slightly more modern manner.
We’ll call this serial Krakoa. 2 episodes
Serial 2: Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men Vol 02
(written by Chris Claremont, art by Dave Cockrum, Bob Brown, Tony Dezuniga, and John Byrne)
Continuing with the Claremont run, we’re introduced to The Phoenix, the Sh’iar, we spend some time learning about Professor X’s backstory via Juggernaut and Black Tom put in some time, as well as some other crucial X-Men villains. A lot of what will become important X-history is laid down here by Claremont, Cockrum, and Byrne, and though its over-exposition is dated, the actual story is worth the read.
This serial is called Juggernauts. 2 episodes
Serial 3: X-Men Proteus
(written by Chris Claremont, art by John Byrne)
This serial presents us with the first Claremont-conceived villain. Moira Mactaggert discovers something bad is going down on Muir Island, and it isn’t long before the X-Men show up to help some of their beleaguered comrades. The hardcover collection also contains some issues of Classic X-Men that delve deeper into the Proteus story, and have some fun artistic takes on what happens to mutants when you bend reality. Polaris and Havoc show up in this volume, and we also get to meet Madrox.
Proteus. 2 episodes.
Serial 4: X-Men The Dark Phoenix Saga
(written by Chris Claremont, art by John Byrne)
This is pretty much the ultimate X-story. Every time the X-Men have crossed into another media, the writers tell some version of this space saga. Phoenix (formerly Marvel Girl/Jean Grey) is manipulated by members of The Hellfire Club. In this volume you meet Kitty Pride, Emma Frost, Dazzler, and more (but who needs more than them?), you get to see Wolverine be all Wolveriney for the first time, and the Sh’iar show up to put a stop to a villain who threatens their very existence. There are also some cameos by Oatu The Watcher and Dr. Strange.
The Dark Phoenix Saga can not be containted. 4 episodes
Serial 4: X-Men Days Of Future Past
(written by Chris Claremont, art by John Byrne)
This is not quite like the movie of the same name. We start at a funeral (omg, did someone die in the last storyline? I wonder if it’s forever), then we spend some time with Alpha Flight, and then we get into the storyline that the movie is based on. Sentinels. Mystique. Destiny. The future. And how to keep all the X-Men from being massacred by a corrupt government. The series closes off with a Christmas story where Kitty Pride battles an alien that is in no way at all inspired by the xenomorphs in Alien.
Days Of Future Past. 4 episodes
Serial 5: God Loves, Man Kills
(written by Chris Claremont, art by Brent Anderson)
We take a break from Byrne (but not Claremont) for what was originally a graphic novel with art by Brent Anderson. We see how religion and politics are at odds with the science based mutant X-Men. This graphic novel was the basis for the second X-Men movie, with the main difference being that the villain (Stryker) is a minister, not a military guy. Also we get to see Magneto be more of a good guy, as his aim doesn’t seem to be “kill all non-mutants”.
God Loves Man Kills. 2 episodes
Serial 6: From The Ashes
(written by Chris Claremont, art by Paul Smith, Walter Simonson, and John Romita Jr)
“Professor X is a jerk!” is one of the most iconic Kitty Pride moments. In this serial, we spend more time with The Hellfire Club, Mystique and Destiny. Rogue joins the X-Men, Wolverine goes to Japan, the X-Men meet The Morlocks, Storm gets a mohawk, and Cyclops meets Madeline Pryor who looks just a teensy bit like his ex. There is a metric ton of story packed into this volume, and not just because of Claremont’s exposition. This is a good closing spot for season one, not just because many of the characters are at rest points in their stories, but because there is a vast amount of X-Men books after this that haven’t been collected anywhere.
From The Ashes. 4 episodes
This puts Season 1 at 20 episodes.
BUT WAIT. One of the recent traditions in Doctor Who is to have an Interseason (usually Christmas) special. I’ll be using this device as a setup for a coming season.
Interseason Special: Fantastic Four By John Byrne Vol 07.
(written by John Byrne, Roger Stern, and Bob Layton, art by John Byrne, John Buscema, and Jackson Guice)
It’s possible that I’ll do an FF chronology someday, but for now, you don’t need to know anything to pick up this book. It opens with the Fantastic Four (Reed Richards, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch, and She-Hulk) calling in The Avengers to fight a bunch of Skrulls. Once that crossover is finished, The Beyonder shows up and then the FF and The Avengers find a cocoon in the ocean. Inside the cocoon? An X-Men believed to be dead. Yeup, Phoenix is back and she joins up with the original X-Men team (Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, and Angel) to form a new superhero group: X-Factor. Yeup, Cyclops leaves his wife and baby boy (born between seasons) behind to bro out with his high school friends and his ex-girlfriend. Scott Summers has always been an egocentric piece of shit.
I've never been a fan of Superman stories. There's something about the silver age goofiness that no one notices it's just Clark Kent with his glasses off that never sits well with me. He's also too powerful. And, I'm still baffled by how the most powerful superhero in the DC universe was killed in a seven issue fistfight with a villain who, at the time, had no back story. One of the few times Superman interests me is when he's shown in the context of other heroes, particularly Batman.
If there is a modern era retelling of the first meeting of Batman and Superman collected in trades, I haven't read it yet. But Trinity by Matt Wagner (not to be confused with the Kurt Busiek weekly series from 2009) not only gives us a great Superman and Batman interaction, it also serves as an introduction to Wonder Woman, another character who I only enjoy amongst other heroes. Her inclusion in this story gives us an outsider's view to the odd relationship between Batman and Superman.
In the Golden and Silver Ages, DC continuity had established their two main heroes as best buddies who played sports together and never had more than the occasional mild dispute. In 1986, Frank Miller changed all that with The Dark Knight Returns (which, for this chronological project, is considered an Elseworld tale), and John Byrne made it canon with The Man Of Steel.
This story presents us with bumbling Clark Kent missing his train to work. When the conductor of the train he missed is shot by a sharpshooter, Clark goes all Superman and rescues the train, but doesn't have time to go after the men who caused this act of terror. Luckily for him, Bruce Wayne was in town, and Batman hogtied the criminals for the police.
The terrorist group is called Purge, and is run by Ra's Al Ghul. Ra's is an immortal eco-terrorist whose schemes usually involve purging the Earth of humanity. This time he frees Bizarro, a Superman clone with severe mental limitations, and uses him to obtain a cache of nuclear missiles from a Russian Submarine. He also hires an Amazonian assassin named Diana to train members of The Purge.
During Bizarro's mission, he accidentally releases one of the non-nuclear missiles near the island of Themyscira, home to a sect of Amazon warriors. The sect believes Superman to be responsible, and sends Wonder Woman to Metropolis to investigate.
Wagner fills this book with a bunch of plot misdirects. The young Amazon punk named Diana turns out to not be Wonder Woman, and then he sets up an obvious battle between Wonder Woman and Superman over identity confusion, only to have Wonder Woman act very sensibly and work everything out on her own.
It's Batman who causes friction by roughly interrogating a member of The Purge, despite Wonder Woman aiding him with her Lasso Of Truth. The relationships between the three characters for the rest of the book is fantastic. Wagner plays them off each other flawlessly, giving them a depth I haven't seen in any other book. We get to see all three of them exceed the call of duty in their own way. Each of them adheres to their morals, and apart from their first meeting, and after an unfortunate dip in a Lazarus Pit for Wonder Woman, the three do so without bickering.
As with Batman And The Monster Men, and Batman And The Mad Monk, Wagner pulls double duty as writer and artist. And with the exception of one oddly sketch-faced panel of Ra's Al Ghul, the book is gorgeous. Wagner is really up there with Tim Sale as one of my favorite Batman artists.
The story also features a few little cameos, including Dick Grayson as Robin, and this chronology's debut of Aquaman. We really get to see the DC Universe starting to take shape outside of Gotham, without having to go too in-depth to the other characters.
JLA Year One by Mark Waid comes right after this on my bookshelf. There's not a lot of Batman in it, so I won't be including it on this website, but this story is in some ways a precursor to it. And it's a decent read.
As for Wagner's Trinity, it should be no surprise that I give it
Story 5/5, Art 5/5