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The 15 Best X-Men Comics Of The ’90s

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The 15 Best X-Men Comics Of The ’90s

The ’90s were a wild time for comics. Variants, new #1 issues and major events drew in a new generation of readers (as well as plenty of spectators). Some dismiss the decade because of this excess, when comics sold by the millions based almost entirely on cool covers, cool creators, cool gimmicks or some combo of the three. While there’s some truth to that sentiment, there are a lot of diamonds in the radical rough.

RELATED: 15 Forgotten Marvel Comics Gems From The ’90s You Need To Read

The X-Men definitely dove into the ’90s headfirst, with new #1s, inventive variants and annual events designed to grab attention. But if you excise the excess, there are plenty of great issues that stand the test of time and are worth revisiting. Here, then, are the 15 best X-Men comics of the ’90s.

15. X-MEN #25

X-Men 25

  • “Dreams Fade” (October 1993)
  • Writer: Fabian Nicieza
  • Penciler: Andy Kubert
  • Inker: Matt Ryan
  • Colorist: Joe Rosas
  • Letterer: Bill Oakley
  • Editor: Bob Harras

To celebrate the line’s 30th anniversary, the X-books all crossed over in an event called “Fatal Attractions,” which saw the team’s first villain — Magneto, the Master of Magnetism — return with a vengeance. He secured his own hunk of land just outside Earth’s atmosphere, crashing a kid’s funeral and nearly killing X-Force’s leader Cable in the process, and opened it up to any mutant who might be seeking sanctuary.

Led by Professor X, a strike team designed to take on Magneto head to head infiltrate the villain’s space station. However, things don’t end so well for either side. This action-packed issue, fraught with drama as the X-Men try to decide on the right course of action, ends with two momentous events that would play out for years to come: Magneto rips the adamantium right off of Wolverine’s bones, and Xavier retaliates by wiping clean Magneto’s mind. A good chunk of the decade would be defined by these two actions.

14. X-MEN: ALPHA #1

X-Men Alpha 1

  • “Beginnings…” (February 1995)
  • Writer: Scott Lobdell and Mark Waid
  • Penciler: Roger Cruz and Steve Epting
  • Inker: Tim Townsend and Dan Panosian
  • Colorist: Steve Buccellato
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Bob Harras

As the best-selling comic of the decade, the X-Men line knew it could take unheard of risks. That’s just what the X-Books did for their 1995 event, “Age of Apocalypse.” The entire line was seemingly canceled, replaced by new series set in a new timeline defined by the fact that Professor X was murdered decades before he could form the X-Men. Without the X-Men to protect the world and the events of Xavier’s death alerting the world to the existence of mutants ahead of schedule, Apocalypse awoke earlier than anticipated and easily conquered humanity.

Without the Internet, not much was known about this new status quo prior to the arrival of “X-Men Alpha” #1 and X-fans had no reason to think this wasn’t the new reality. This double-sized issue acts as an overture for the massive, four-month-long event, introducing readers to an even more powerful Apocalypse and Magneto’s darkly heroic team of X-Men. As far as opening issues go, “X-Men: Alpha” is an ambitious start to the decade’s most ambitious event.

13. UNCANNY X-MEN #334

Uncanny X-Men 334

  • “Dark Horizon” (July 1996)
  • Writer: Scott Lobdell
  • Penciler: Joe Madureira
  • Inker: Tim Townsend
  • Colorist: Steve Buccellato
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Bob Harras

Following the departure of Chris Claremont and Jim Lee a few years earlier, the partnership of Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira became a new high water mark for the franchise. Lobdell’s character-driven stories paired well with Madureira’s energetic, manga-influenced artwork. Both of those qualities combined for this issue, a prelude to the “Onslaught” event.

Possessing the secret of Onslaught’s identity in his head, the Juggernaut arrives at the X-Men seeking aide. However, Gambit and Bishop attack him, since they only see one of the X-Men’s most powerful villains striding towards their home. The rest of the issue unfolds in Lobdell’s often-used vignette structure, as Cannonball has a tense conversation with a dismissive Xavier and Jean relays a terrifying encounter with the mysterious Onslaught to Cyclops. Madureira’s art is topnotch here, as he moves deftly from kinetic action to moody atmosphere. A wave of dread washes over the X-Men, culminating in Jean Grey agreeing to assist Juggernaut, just before things get really dark.

12. GENERATION NEXT #4

Generation Next 4

  • “Bye” (June 1995)
  • Writer: Scott Lobdell
  • Penciler: Chris Bachalo
  • Inker: Mark Buckingham
  • Colorist: Steve Buccellato
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Bob Harras

“Age of Apocalypse” used its dark setting to reimagine plenty of X-Men, including the usually optimistic Kitty Pryde and Colossus. “Generation Next” put them, now battle-hardened and morally gray freedom fighters, in charge of training the next generation of X-Men. The team was tasked with picking up a component necessary to resetting the timeline and defeating Apocalypse: Colossus’ sister Magik. Unfortunately for the teen squad, they had to dive right into the heart of an Apocalypse-controlled labor camp to liberate the teleporting mutant.

This issue, “Generation Next’s” finale, pulls zero punches. The alternate timeline gave Lobdell and Chris Bachalo a reason to go for broke and they did. The team manages to rescue Illyana just as their cover is blown, but they aren’t all fast enough to escape. The issue has the kind of gut-wrenching finality to it that you don’t see all that often. When you remember that these heroes are all teenagers ostensibly on their first mission, it hits you even harder.

11. X-FORCE #91

X-Force 91

  • “Fallout” (June 1999)
  • Writer: John Francis Moore
  • Penciler: Tommy Lee Edwards
  • Inker: Al Williamson
  • Colorist: Marie Javins
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Jason Liebig

While “X-Force” started out the ’90s as the slam-bang, take-no-prisoners, extreme action book, it matured as the decade went on and the creative teams changed rosters. By the time the team arrived at the end of the decade, in 1999, the team (and the series itself) had grown up immensely. This issue, which comes towards the end of John Francis Moore’s run and features early work by Tommy Lee Edwards, features no action at all. Instead, it focuses on Siryn, a sonic screamer who just lost her voice.

The issue, which unfolds via a goodbye letter written by Siryn to her best friends and teammates, follows the team’s mature-beyond-her-years field commander as she copes with the loss of her powers. The issue also touches on Siryn as a recovering alcoholic, showing her tempted once again to seek comfort in a bottle. The issue offers no easy answers and concludes with Siryn leaving behind the life she loved.

10. UNCANNY X-MEN #316

Uncanny X-Men 316

  • “Encounter” (September 1994)
  • Writer: Scott Lobdell
  • Penciler: Joe Madureira
  • Inker: Terry Austin and Dan Green
  • Colorist: Steve Buccellato
  • Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
  • Editor: Bob Harras

It may come as a surprise considering how funny Lobdell’s scripts can be and how bright Madureira’s artwork is, but this pair actually does tension and foreboding quite well. Just like the previous “Onslaught” prelude issue on this list, this one, which kicks off the 1994 event “Phalanx Covenant,” is another creepy installment in the Lobdell/Madureira partnership.

The issue starts out normally, as reserve X-Man Banshee goes about a seemingly normal day in the X-Mansion. But things aren’t normal and he slowly starts to notice that as he interacts with more and more X-Men. By the end of the issue, Banshee realizes that he’s surrounded with imposters, his only allies being the teenage Jubilee and two of the X-Men’s captives, Emma Frost and Sabretooth. The makeshift X-Men just barely escape the taken over X-Mansion with their lives, having uncovered a massive plot by the alien Phalanx to abduct and assimilate the next generation of mutants.

9. X-MEN #30

X-Men 30

  • “The Ties That Bind” (March 1994)
  • Writer: Fabian Nicieza
  • Penciler: Andy Kubert
  • Inker: Matt Ryan
  • Colorist: Joe Rosas
  • Letterer: Bill Oakley
  • Editor: Bob Harras

As dark as the X-Men got in the ’90s (see: “Generation Next” #4), the franchise also went towards the light as well. After a 30-year courtship, one with plenty of ups and downs, Cyclops and Jean Grey finally tied the knot in this event issue. Unlike other events, though, this one actually goes off without a hitch. No supervillains crash the party, no one dies and no one interjects during the vows. Cyclops and Jean Grey get married, and the X-Men are allowed to be happy for once.

The issue includes all of the traditional wedding stuff, from the groom not knowing how to tie a bowtie to the first kiss, the tossing of the bouquet and the first dance. Of course, it’s all done with the expected X-Men flair. If you’ve ever wanted to see Gambit blow up his fellow teammates in order to snatch up a garter belt, then this is the issue for you.

8. X-MEN #1

X-Men 1

  • “Rubicon” (October 1991)
  • Writer: Chris Claremont and Jim Lee
  • Penciler: Jim Lee
  • Inker: Scott Williams
  • Colorist: Joe Rosas
  • Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
  • Editor: Bob Harras and Suzanne Gaffney

While it may have arrived in the summer of 1991, “X-Men” #1 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee is unquestionably when the ’90s era really started for the X-Men. After years spent scattered across the planet, with various temporary iterations of the team popping up in different configurations, all the X-Men — all of them — finally came home to a rebuilt X-Mansion in this issue. Not only that, but this issue also saw the debut of Jim Lee’s iconic X-Men designs. For many generations of fans, when you think of the X-Men, this is what they look like.

The issue itself is also a blast, a jolt of everything great about ’90s X-Men. The team practices in an elaborate Danger Room scenario before rushing off to fight Magneto in a battle that spans international locations. The issue even ends with a gallery of artwork by Lee, including the obligatory swimsuit special double-page spread. This one’s an essential ’90s issue.

7. UNCANNY X-MEN #340

Uncanny X-Men 340

  • “Relativity” (January 1997)
  • Writer: Scott Lobdell
  • Penciler: Joe Madureira
  • Inker: Tim Townsend
  • Colorist: Steve Buccellato
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Bob Harras

In-between the sprawling epics, Lobdell was known for doing character-focused “quiet” issues, ones lacking action. While “Relativity” is a comparatively quiet issue, it’s still action-packed — only with this one, all the action is internal. “Uncanny” #340 is centered around fathers, with the beating of Iceman’s father serving as the issue’s main storyline. The X-Men placed Iceman and Cannonball undercover in the bigoted politician Graydon Creed’s campaign, but things took an unexpected turn when Iceman’s dad had a dramatic change of heart and started speaking out on behalf of mutant rights. Creed discovered his relation to Bobby Drake and had him beaten.

The issue then focuses on other father/son pairings, with a still undercover Cannonball talking about his father’s sacrifices to Graydon Creed (who is himself the son of Sabretooth, a fact Cannonball alludes to much to Creed’s anger). The issue even has a poignant scene between Iceman’s dad and Gambit, of all people, with Madureira making every dramatic gesture pop.

6. X-MEN #70

X-Men 70

  • “Homecoming” (December 1997)
  • Writer: Joe Kelly
  • Penciler: Carlos Pacheco
  • Inker: Art Thibert and John Dell
  • Colorist: Liquid!
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Mark Powers

In the immediate aftermath of the “Operation: Zero Tolerance” crossover, the X-Men were left with nothing. The X-Mansion was scrubbed clean of all furniture and technology and the team was saddled with a trio of unlikely and unruly recruits (Marrow, Maggott and Dr. Reyes). Incoming series writer Joe Kelly took all of the X-Men’s frustration and made it the team’s new status quo. The X-Men weren’t as powerful or capable as they were in their early ’90s heyday, and they didn’t even much like each other.

In the midst of this new take, Kelly and artist Carlos Pacheco threw two curveballs at the team. First, Cyclops had a bomb implanted in his chest, one that the team would have to surgically remove with zero technology, surgical gear or even running water. Second, Juggernaut tries to knock the X-Men for a loop, except this time he does so while wearing a suit with a lawyer in tow. This odd era of “X-Men” was short-lived, but highly underrated.

5. GENERATION X #1

Generation X 1

  • “Third Genesis” (November 1994)
  • Writer: Scott Lobdell
  • Penciler: Chris Bachalo
  • Inker: Mark Buckingham
  • Colorist: Steve Buccellato
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Bob Harras

At this point in the franchise’s history, the X-Men line had only ever had one other teen book, “New Mutants,” and it had already evolved into “X-Force” years earlier. The time came for a new generation of X-Kids, one as ’90s as the name indicated. “Generation X” launched out of the “Phalanx Covenant” event, introducing a crop of new characters (M, Chamber, Penance, Skin, Synch) co-created by Lobdell and Bachalo.

This issue is notable for a number of reasons, including Bachalo’s fresh-from-Vertigo illustration style and the gothic bubblegum aesthetic the art team gave this book. Still, the hardest thing to do is sell readers on new characters, and Lobdell nails that task with ease. Jubilee’s dynamic with Husk and M in the first few pages is crisp and well-defined, and Lobdell plays co-headmasters Banshee and Emma Frost off each other like Han and Leia from “A New Hope.” The issue also features a run-in with the creepy Emplate, but that’s secondary compared to this book’s zingers and atmosphere. Characterization like this doesn’t go out of style.

4. DEADPOOL #11

Deadpool 11

  • “With Great Power Comes Great Coincidence” (December 1997)
  • Writer: Joe Kelly
  • Penciler: Pete Woods
  • Inker: Nathan Massengill
  • Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Matt Idelson

Okay, while “Deadpool” may or may not be considered an X-book nowadays, his role in the line was much more firm back in the ’90s. After all, the only reason Deadpool got an ongoing back then was because of his strong connection to the rest of the X-Books. He debuted in “New Mutants,” appeared in “X-Force,” fought Black Tom and Juggernaut and tried to romance Siryn, all of whom are X-characters. DP’s first ongoing, launched in 1997, also gave him holdovers from the original “Wolverine” series, in the form of Landau, Luckman and Lake.

“Deadpool” #11, on the other hand, has close ties to Spider-Man, in that it’s literally a Silver Age issue of Spider-Man with a time-traveling Deadpool pasted into the original art. The issue’s gimmick alone is enough to recommend it, but the wild ride the issue takes you on is what makes it great. Deadpool snarking on the Osborn boys’ weird hair and Blind Al getting annoyed by Mary Jane’s relentless peppiness are just two of the rich comedic set-ups used in this giant-sized issue.

3. X-FORCE #19

X-Force 19

  • “The Open Hand, The Closed Fist” (February 1993)
  • Writer: Fabian Nicieza
  • Penciler: Greg Capullo
  • Inker: Harry Candelario
  • Colorist: Steve Buccellato
  • Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
  • Editor: Bob Harras

In the aftermath of the 1992 crossover “X-Cutioner’s Song,” X-Force had to atone for their crimes. While acting as Cable’s personal militia, the team had severed ties with the X-Men and gotten on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s bad side. It didn’t help that for the majority of the previous crossover, the X-Men thought Cable had tried to assassinate Professor X (turns out, it was Cable’s evil clone Stryfe who pulled the trigger).

“X-Force” #19 takes into account not only the previous 18 issues of the excessively ’90s “X-Force,” but also the 100 issues of “New Mutants” that came before it. Cannonball, an original New Mutant, confronts Xavier over his team’s right to operate on their own, independent of Cable and Xavier. After all, they have grown up, even if they’ve grown in a way that Xavier didn’t expect. The issue sets up X-Force’s reason for existing without Cable, forcing Cannonball to step up and mature in the process. This also serves as Greg Capullo’s defining issue on the book, as he gives the team individualized uniforms that, while very ’90s, still look bodacious today.

2. X-FACTOR #84

X-Factor 84

  • “Tough Love” (November 1992)
  • Writer: Peter David
  • Penciler: Jae Lee
  • Inker: Al Milgrom
  • Colorist: Brad Vancata
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Kelly Corvese

On the flip-side of “X-Force” #19 is “X-Factor” #84, an issue from just a few month’s prior that was set at the start of the big “X-Cutioner’s Song” crossover. This issue is a masterclass in how to handle a crossover, as it squares up the premise of “X-Factor” (government-sponsored superhero team) with “X-Force” (proactive superhero team that plays fast and loose with the law) and lets them have at it.

But the issue isn’t just a slugfest, it’s a tour de force of character work from Peter David as he bounces longtime X-players off of each other in interesting ways that harken back to their history while also remaining firmly planted in the present. Feral fights Wolfsbane, Havok’s team embarrasses him in front of his old X-Men teammates, Strong Guy makes fun of Shatterstar and Rictor gets jealous of Havok’s bond with Rahne. The issue is a Rubik’s Cube of character dynamics, with each twist more entertaining than the last.

1. X-FACTOR #87

X-Factor 87

  • “X-Aminations” (February 1993)
  • Writer: Peter David
  • Penciler: Joe Quesada
  • Inker: Al Milgrom
  • Colorist: Marie Javins
  • Letterer: Richard Starkings
  • Editor: Kelly Corvese

Really, the entirety of Peter David’s “X-Factor” run with Larry Stroman, Jae Lee and Joe Quesada deserves to be at the top spot of this list. Kicking off with the team’s relaunch in “X-Factor” #71, David took a group of B and C-list characters (Havok, Polaris, Quicksilver, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy and Multiple Man) and made them a madcap unit of misfits that bickered and agonized like real people. Under David, the book became the most politically aware comic in X-Men history, as it juggled sharp satire and pop culture references in a totally irreverent, yet powerful, way.

“X-Factor” #87 is the culmination of a lot of David’s work on the book, as his band of misfits undergo therapy sessions following the harrowing events of “X-Cutioner’s Song.” The issue may be filled with talking heads, but David’s way of getting into the unexplored psyches of these characters makes every page stand out. Rahne’s TV-based delusions, Polaris’ self-image issues, Quicksilver’s constant crankiness, etc, are all addressed, and many of the points made in this issue still resonate with the characters today.

Which X-Men comic from the ’90s is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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