The X-Men aren't known for small stories. They're arguably Marvel's biggest comic book franchise, and as such have been an integral part of some of the company's biggest tales. While other heroes rise and fall in prominence, the X-Men have consistently led the pack. In terms of storyline, they've seen it all. They've been broken down, betrayed and even killed, but they always keep coming back. They've fought the future, saved the past and even traveled through alternate realities. They've fought monsters, terrorists and, on more than occasion, actual demons from hell (or, at the very least, a hell-like dimension).
Of course, that can seem daunting to new readers. Unlike other characters, who just have a few key stories, the X-Men have piles upon piles of important comics. There are also a ton of different series to sift through. There are multiple X-Men teams, along with other side groups like X-Factor and X-Force. A story that starts in one comic often runs through several others before finally concluding. During the '90s, the X-Men books started churning out event after event. Some were great, others not so much. Some were simply excuses for big, epic fight scenes, while others changed the course of the books for years to come.
While this story ended up having huge ramifications on the entire Marvel Universe, the Onslaught Saga (1996) started off as an X-Men storyline. After Professor X used his powers to shut down Magneto's mind, a small piece of the villain's psyche infected Xavier's own. The resulting entity fed off of the professor's negative emotions, and eventually began acting on its own. Eventually, Onslaught emerged and revealed himself to be the mysterious betrayer that Bishop had travelled back in time to stop. It then kidnapped Franklin Richards and attempted to use his powers to take over the world. The X-Men teamed up with the Avengers (and most of Marvel's NYC based heroes). During the final battle, the majority of the non-mutant heroes present sacrificed themselves to stop Onslaught.
As far as crossovers go, this one definitely had the largest impact.
When the Avengers "died," they were actually reborn in a pocket dimension. Behind the scenes, their books were cancelled and outsourced to outside comic book studios. Onslaught might have been epic in scope, but the story itself is a bit of a mess. Also, the Heroes Reborn titles were very hit or miss in terms of quality. Basically, this event wasn't all that great on its own, and led to one of Marvel's worst creative periods.
19 HOUSE OF M/DECIMATION
Wanda Maximoff went crazy and used her powers to destroy her teammates in Avengers Disassembled (2004) by Brian Bendis and David Finch. At the end of that story, she is taken by Magneto, who hopes to heal her. While he and Professor X debate how to deal with her, the Avengers and X-Men decide that she may need to be put down. This led to House of M (2005) by Brian Bendis and Olivier Coipel, where Wanda uses her powers to create an alternate universe where mutants rule the Earth. At the end of that story, Wanda uses her powers again to get rid of mutants. Only 198 remained, while the rest of the mutants lost their powers.
This story was one of Brian Bendis' first major Marvel works. After "disassembling" the Avengers, Bendis went on to get rid of almost all of the mutant characters. Once again, this is a story that had a huge impact, but doesn't stand so well on its own. As far as alternate realities go, House of M isn't all that crazy. Also, the premise itself is flawed, as there are countless ways to deactivate mutant powers without killing them. That's the biggest problem with this story: it ignores continuity way too often. Still, it helped shaped the landscape for the X-Men comics for years to come, and deserves to be remembered.
18 DEADLY GENESIS
This story might be one of the most controversial retcons of all time. In Giant Size X-Men #1 (1975) by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, Professor X recruits a new team of mutants to rescue the original X-Men, who had been captured by the sentient island of Krakoa. In Deadly Genesis (2006) by Ed Brubaker, it's revealed that this wasn't Xavier's first rescue attempt. The first rescue team he sent in, however, were all seemingly killed off. Xavier erased Cyclops' memory of this team, and kept their fate a secret for decades. However, one of the missing team members, Vulcan, survived the ordeal and eventually returns for revenge.
This story drastically changed the entire story of the X-Men.
Xavier had previously been depicted as having a bit of a dark side, but this took things to a whole new level. Fan reaction to the retcon was mixed, but leaned on the negative side. Vulcan, however, proved to be a popular character and played a major role in several later stories, like War of Kings (2009). Despite the controversial retcon, Brubaker does a good job with the story and characters. This story helped bring the X-Men to the modern era of comics. It's just a shame that it had to rewrite history in order to do so.
17 THE X-MEN VS THE AVENGERS (1987)
When two of its biggest franchises went head to head, the Marvel Universe was shaken to its core. At least, that's what happened one of the times it happened. Back in 1987, there was the original The X-Men vs the Avengers by Roger Stern and Marc Silvestri for the first three issues. When pieces of Asteroid M begin falling to Earth, the Avengers and X-Men both head to the crash site. The Avengers want to bring Magneto in for his crimes, while the X-Men want to protect him (he was a good guy at the time). Magneto, meanwhile, wants to use technology on the asteroid to psychically erase mankind's hatred of mutants.
The first three issues are a fairly standard, and well done, face-off between the teams. The final issue, however, is where things fall apart. Stern was replaced by Tom Defalco, who ends the series by having Magneto turn himself in and stand trial. While Defalco is a great writer, it seems like he was brought on to write a different ending than originally intended. The story quickly changes gears, and it's incredibly jarring. This is a solid X-Men story though, and it's definitely worth a read. It just didn't quite nail the landing.
16 APOCALYPSE: THE TWELVE
For years, the X-Men had dealt with a vague prophecy that predicted that 12 mutants would play a key role in either bringing about, or preventing, a future ruled by Apocalypse. Running through the various X-Men books during the year 2000, Apocalypse: The Twelve revealed the twelve mutants (most of whom were X-Men). Apocalypse planned on using their powers to evolve into his most powerful form yet. Also, he kidnapped Wolverine and turned him into the horseman Death. Apocalypse nearly succeeds, but Cyclops sacrifices himself to prevent the villain from taking over Nate Grey's body. The story ends with Apocalypse briefly recreating reality in the Ages of Apocalypse, before disappearing with Scott Summers' body.
This event was the culmination of over a decade's worth of storylines.
Apocalypse was one of the X-Men's deadliest foes, and the threat of him always loomed over the team. This story should've placed higher on this list, but it isn't as epic as it could have been. The biggest problem is that the story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, with Cyclops/Apocalypse still merged and on the run. That storyline wouldn't be concluded until the following year's The Search For Cyclops miniseries, during which Apocalypse's spirit is killed and Summers is freed. It's a solid storyline, but for the X-Men's biggest threat, Apocalypse, goes out with a bit of a whimper.
15 OPERATION: ZERO TOLERANCE
After the events of Onslaught (1996), public distrust of mutants was at an all time high. As far as most people were aware, the X-Men had participated in the destruction of the Avengers and Fantastic Four. Bastion, a mysterious and powerful villain, rises to power in the government, launching OPERATION: Zero Tolerance. Running through the various X-Men titles of 1997, Bastion is able to capture several key X-Men (including Jubilee and Cyclops), while planning on wiping out as many mutants as possible. He also activated his army of Prime Sentinels, who were regular people outfitted with nanotech that turned them into mutant hunting robots.
The remaining X-Men are able to save their comrades and defeat Bastion, who is taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. This crossover happened immediately after Marvel "killed off" most of their other heroes, and was meant to have the X-Men take center stage. It's got a classic set up, and Bastion is a compelling villain. The major downside of this event was its sheer volume. The X-Men franchise was massive at the time, and fans were forced to buy a ton of issues across several titles just to get the whole story. Aside from that, this was a good story to help move the mutants past the traumatic and world shattering events of Onslaught.
14 AVENGERS VS X-MEN
After the relatively small scale events of The X-Men vs The Avengers (1987), Marvel brought its two major franchises to war in Avengers vs X-Men (2012). Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker and Jonathan Hickman, and drawn by Adam Kubert, John Romita Jr and Oliver Coipel, the event took over most of Marvel's lineup. When the Avengers learn that the Phoenix force is coming to Earth, they come to blows with X-Men over how to protect Hope Summers, the assumed host. Eventually, the Phoenix possesses Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik. The five begin to force their will upon the world, culminating in a final showdown that left Professor X dead and Cyclops' heroic reputation forever tarnished.
he series had a huge impact on the X-books for years to come.
The event also saw the return of the depowered mutants from House of M (2005). The series had a huge impact on the X-books for years to come. Mainly, Cyclops became a villain, leaving the X-Men's leadership in flux. If it wasn't obvious, this event was written by a ton of writers, which is the main problem. It doesn't have a cohesive voice, and considering how sprawling it is, that's a bit of a problem. Still, for fans of superhero slugfests, Avengers vs X-Men definitely delivers on that end.
Usually, mutants fighting other mutants is exciting enough. In 1989, however, Marvel upped the stakes by having the X-Men take on a horde of invading demons. S'ym and N'astirh, two monsters from hell, plan an invasion of New York City. They also team up with Madelyne Pryor, Cyclops' ex-wife and clone of Jean Grey. NYC is transformed into a hellish landscape, forcing the majority of Marvel's heroes to fight off the demonic horde. Also, Mr Sinister is running around, because he created Madelyne Pryor. Eventually, the demons are defeated and banished, New York is returned to normal, and Jean Grey takes down Pryor.
This storyline is the culmination of Madelyne Pryor's storyline, along with several other major plot lines running through the X-Men books over the course of the '80s. There's plenty of action, and many of the tie-ins gave great excuses for artists to go nuts drawing the demonic invasion. Of course, this is another example of an X-event sprawling across a massive pile of comics. Reading this is a true commitment. Still, the story is unique and watching the X-Men fight demons is a nice diversion from fighting evil mutants or mutant-hating humans. If anything, it's worth reading to watch an elevator eat a family in the Empire State Building.
12 PHOENIX ENDSONG/WARSONG
After Jean Grey was killed off during Xorn/Magneto's attack on New York in Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men, the Shi'Ar resurrect the Phoenix force. Their hope is that without a host, they can finally destroy the entity. Unfortunately, it flees to Earth and resurrects Jean during the events of Phoenix: Endsong (2005) by Greg Pak and Greg Land. She rejects it, however, forcing it to try to find another host. It briefly possesses Emma Frost, before Jean reconnects with it. The X-Men help give her the strength to finally put the Phoenix to rest, and Jean returns to "the White Hot Room" (aka death).
While the stories are well done, it feels like these stories were simply written to say "Jean Grey is dead."
Due to Jean Grey's history of dying and being resurrected, many fans assumed that her death in New X-Men wouldn't be permanent. While she was eventually revived, Endsong helped cement her status as deceased for over a decade. Greg Pak followed this story up with Phoenix: Warsong (2007), which showed the Phoenix Force attempting to possess the Stepford Cuckoos. It ultimately reveals the existence of thousands of clones of them, who were all partially developed using Emma Frost's DNA. While the stories are well done, it feels like these stories were simply written to say "Jean Grey is dead." Since she was later returned to life, much of this event's impact has been lost.
11 X-TINCTION AGENDA
The X-Men have faced a lot of discrimination, but none worse than what they experienced on Genosha. During X-Tinction Agenda (1990), it's discovered that Cameron Hodge has turned the island into a mutant slave camp. At the time, the X-Men were disbanded, but X-Factor and the New Mutants were still active. After the X-Mansion is attacked and several mutants are kidnapped, the different teams head to Genosha to free their friends. When Hodge eventually betrays the Genoshans, the government is forced to team up with the X-Men to take the madman down. The story ends with the X-Men officially reuniting for the first time in nearly 20 issues.
This event is famous for being one of the first major storylines to feature both Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Both artists would go on to redefine the franchise and make it one of Marvel's most successful line of books. Of course, using different artists for each chapter leads to several glaring continuity issues (like characters randomly switching outfits). Also, while the story is heavy on the action, it seems to do so at the expense of the plot. Cameron Hodge would return and continue to be one of the X-Men's strangest (and most frightening) foes, so this event is worth remembering just for his inclusion.
10 MUIR ISLAND SAGA
The '80s was a weird time for the X-Men. The original five students formed their own group, X-Factor, while the main X-Men moved to Australia and pretended to be dead, before briefly disbanding. When the two teams discover that Muir Island has been taken over by the Shadow King, they both head over to free their allies. The Shadow King eventually jumps into Legion's body, granting him an extraordinary amount of power. The heroes have to fight him off both in the physical world, as well as on the Astral Plane. Jean Grey is eventually able to pull the X-Men together to defeat the villain, although the battle leaves Legion temporarily brain dead.
The biggest change was that the original five X-Men returned to the actual X-Men.
This specific story had a huge impact on the X-Men books for years to come. The biggest change was that the original five X-Men returned to the actual X-Men. X-Factor became a government sponsored mutant team, while the X-Men were split into two different groups (blue and gold). Also, Professor Xavier re-injured his legs, and was forced back into a wheelchair. As far as events go, this one has a lot going for it. It features several classic X-Men writers and artists, including Chris Claremont, Andy Kubert and Fabian Nicieza. It starts off during an awkward time in the team's history, however, so it might be slightly confusing for newer readers.
9 FANTASTIC FOUR VS THE X-MEN
In 1987, Marvel pitted the mutants against their first family in Fantastic Four vs the X-Men by Chris Claremont and Jon Bogdanove. The series starts with the X-Men needing Reed Richard's help to cure Kitty Pryde, who was wounded during the Mutant Massacre (1986) storyline. The Fantastic Four, however, are reeling from the recent discovery of a journal that suggests Reed knew what would happen during their fateful flight. After the two teams fight, Doctor Doom steps in to heal Kitty. The X-Men, wary of owing a debt to Doom, reluctantly agree, except for Kitty, who would rather just fade away than put the X-Men in a bad position.
Eventually, Franklin Richards convinces Kitty to fight for life, and inspires Doom to work with Reed Richards to heal Kitty. It's also revealed that Doom faked the journal to screw with Reed (which isn't all that surprising). As far as stories go, this one is classic Marvel. Heroes fight other heroes all because of a misunderstanding. The only reason why it isn't ranked higher on this list is because it's more of a Fantastic Four story that guest stars the X-Men. The focus of the story is mostly on the Fantastic Four trying to figure out if they can really trust Reed, and finding out that they definitely can.
8 MESSIAH COMPLEX/WAR AND SECOND COMING
After the events of House of M (2005), the vast majority of Earth's mutants were depowered. Also, no new mutants were being born. That was, until a baby is born in Alaska with an active X-gene in Messiah Complex (2007). The baby becomes the target of multiple groups, several of which wish her harm. Eventually, Cable becomes her guardian, and he transports her to the future. Bishop chases him, believing that the newborn might cause his own horrific future to come into being. In Messiah War (2009), X-Force follows them, finding a world ruled by Cable's evil clone Stryfe.
This trilogy came during a period where the future of the franchise was incredibly uncertain.
Cable escapes with Hope back into the timestream, and the two eventually return to the present. There, they're attacked by a team of several of the X-Men's deadliest foes resurrected and led by Bastion. Second Coming (2010) closes out the trilogy, with Cable sacrificing himself, which causes Hope's mutant powers to activate (she can mimic other mutant powers). The story ends on an ominous note, as Emma Frost believes that Hope might be a future host for the Phoenix, along with the appearance of five new mutants across the globe. This trilogy came during a period where the future of the franchise was incredibly uncertain. It helped give direction to the overall story and show that there was a future for mutants at Marvel.
7 X-CUTIONER'S SONG
In his early appearances, Cable was one of the most mysterious X-characters. Claiming to be from a dark future, he took a more militant approach than the X-Men were comfortable with. As the leader of X-Force, Cable was training young mutants to be soldiers. X-Cutioner's Song (1992) starts off with someone appearing to be Cable attempting to assassinate Professor X. He infects the professor with the techno-organic virus and then disappears. It's eventually revealed that the assassin was Stryfe, who is a clone of Cable (although Stryfe believes it to be the other way around). Cyclops and Jean Grey are kidnapped by Stryfe, who reveals they are his "parents," making Scott the true father of Cable.
For fans of '90s era X-Men, this is a must read. Aside from Stryfe, Apocalypse and Mr Sinister get involved in the action, giving the story several layers of action and intrigue. The major issue with this story is that it's not what was originally intended for Cable's origin. Therefore, it doesn't fit neatly into continuity. Still, the story itself is very good and is fairly easy to follow, despite being 12 issues (minus the epilogues) spread across four different series. This story is a must read, especially for fans of Cable and X-Force.
6 FALL OF THE MUTANTS
Fall of the Mutants (1988) is an unusual event. Despite spanning across the three X-titles at the time (Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants), each series tells its own story. The New Mutants head to a remote island to fight Ani-Mator. The X-Men, meanwhile, fight Freedom Force in Dallas while the time stream runs amok around them. The main reason this story is memorable, however, is the X-Factor section. The team is transported to Apocalypse's ship, where they've been deemed worthy of survival in Apocalypse's new world.
Angel's transformation into Archangel is one of the most traumatizing events to occur to an X-Man.
X-Factor obviously turns down the villain, causing a battle to break out. During the fight, Apocalypse's four horsemen appear, including his new rider, Death. Much to X-Factor's shock, Death is revealed to be a transformed Warren Worthington, who was believed to be dead at the time. The battle moves to New York City, where several of Marvel's other heroes get involved. Angel's transformation into Archangel is one of the most traumatizing events to occur to an X-Man, and still effects the character to this day. Also, this was only the beginning for Apocalypse and his Horsemen. Since then, many heroic X-Men have fallen prey to the monster and been transformed into one of his monsters.
5 DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
While most X-Men events are huge, sprawling stories, spread across multiple titles from an army of writers and artists, one of the most impactful "events" was much smaller in scale. Days of Future Past appeared in Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142 (1981) by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. It starts off in a dystopian future, where Sentinels have won. Mutants are hunted, and most of the X-Men are dead. An adult Kitty Pryde has her mind sent back to the past, where she possesses her younger body. She has to convince the X-Men to believe her and help stop the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly (who is fiercely anti-mutant).
The X-Men are successfully able to stop the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from killing Kelly, and Pryde returns to the future. The story ends without showing if the future has been changed or not, with the X-Men wondering if the dark dystopia is still waiting for them. The "dark future that awaits" trope has become a common story element with the X-Men books. This story likely helped to inspire the timelines where classic characters like Cable and Bishop came from. "Days of Future Past" has been adapted several times for various X-Men television shows, and was even the basis for the plot of a film in 2014.
4 FATAL ATTRACTIONS
The '90s were all about X-Men events. What makes Fatal Attractions (1993) most memorable is one very specific, very gruesome scene. During the funeral for Illyana Rasputin, Magneto returned to Earth and announced his intentions to kill all of humanity. He and his Acolytes have set up their base on an asteroid called Avalon, from which they plan to launch their attack. After Magneto unleashes a devastating electromagnetic pulse across the globe, Xavier leads a team of X-Men to Avalon, where they confront the villains. In one of the most brutal fights to ever occur in an X-Men book, Magneto rips the adamantium from Wolverine's skeleton. Horrified, Xavier does something he never promised to do and uses his powers to erase Magneto's mind.
Not only did it affect Wolverine's story for years to come, it laid the groundwork for events that would shake the entire Marvel universe.
Also, during the storyline, Colossus defects from the X-Men and joins the Acolytes. While he never becomes a true villain, he does decide to stay with them on Avalon after Magneto's defeat. The impact of this story was huge. Not only did it affect Wolverine's story for years to come (it would take Marvel seven years to give him his adamantium back), it laid the groundwork for events that would shake the entire Marvel universe. Xavier's mind-wipe ultimately led to the creation of Onslaught, who caused the "deaths" of both the Avengers and Fantastic Four.
3 THE PHALANX COVENANT
An oft overlooked classic, The Phalanx Covenant (1994) is one of the best events of the '90s. After a group of mutant-hating humans purposely infect themselves with the techno-organic virus, they are turned into the Phalanx. Made up entirely of techno-organic material, they can change shape and are seemingly indestructible. Not only that, but they have the ability to infect and possess other humans, although mutants are seemingly immune. When Banshee returns to the X-mansion, he notices the X-Men acting strangely. He discovers that they've been kidnapped and replaced by the Phalanx, who are attempting to use cerebro to locate the next generation of mutants.
Forced to team up with enemies Emma Frost and Sabertooth, Banshee must find the young mutants before the Phalanx does. Meanwhile, Cyclops and Jean Grey team up with Wolverine and Cable to rescue the X-Men from the hive's clutches. The Phalanx are a terrifying villain, and this story truly makes them seem unstoppable. "The Phalanx Covenant" would lead directly to the formation of Generation X. It's also a great story that focuses on characters that usually don't get the spotlight. Banshee is a great character, and this story gives him a chance to take center stage.
2 DARK PHOENIX SAGA
Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne created one of the most epic X-Men stories with The Dark Phoenix Saga. It spans several years, starting in 1976 and finally concluding in 1980. It begins with Jean Grey seemingly dying as the X-Men return from an adventure in space, only to re-emerge as the Phoenix, a being of pure thought. She would remain as Phoenix for some time, until becoming the target of Mastermind and the Hellfire Club. After they try to brainwash her, she becomes corrupted and started calling herself the Dark Phoenix.
Her power levels are off the chart, and Dark Phoenix destroys an entire solar system, killing billions.
The Shi'ar determine that Jean must be punished for her crimes, and force the X-Men into battle. Jean eventually regains control, and sacrifices herself to save the Earth from the Shi'ar's wrath. It would later be discovered that the Phoenix and Jean Grey were separate entities, and that the real Jean had been placed in stasis and was alive the whole time. As it was originally told, however, the ending was one of the most heartbreaking scenes in Marvel Comics' history. Despite the retcons to the story, it remains one of the most famous X-Men stories and has been adapted in various forms on television in film. It's impact is still felt to this day, with the Phoenix still having a deep connection with Jean Grey.
1 AGE OF APOCALYPSE
In 1995, Marvel launched one of its most daring storylines ever. Age of Apocalypse not only took over every X-Men title at the time, it actually replaced them. When Legion travels to the past to kill Magneto, he accidentally kills Xavier instead. Not only that, but the ensuing battle caught the attention of Apocalypse, causing him to put his plans of world domination into motion a decade earlier than he originally did. Without Xavier to lead the X-Men, Apocalypse successfully takes over North America and launches the Earth into a brutal world war. All of the X-Men titles were "cancelled" and replaced with new series that took place in the Age of Apocalypse.
For four months, this was the X-Men's status quo. Characters were radically changed, with Cyclops and Havok becoming villains, and Magneto taking a heroic turn as the leader of the X-Men. Eventually, a time displaced Bishop is able to travel back to the past again and prevent Legion from killing Xavier and waking Apocalypse, correcting the timestream. This was just in time, as a salvo of nukes was headed towards New York City in hopes of destroying Apocalypse's forces once and for all. Several characters escaped to the mainstream Marvel Universe, such as Nate Grey and the villains Dark Beast and Sugar Man.