When asked about the best X-Men stories ever written, most fans will point out the same ones: Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, God Loves, Man Kills. And for good reason – they are three fantastic stories. Younger readers might make an argument for Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men tenure or perhaps the likes of the Age of Apocalypse (though more X-Calibre, less Generation Next).
But here are some of the best X-Men stories I’ve read that you may not be familiar with…though you should be.
The Sentinels Live! ((Uncanny) X-Men #57 -59)
It’s always been strange to me that for all the X-Fans who clamour on about the Claremont/Byrne era and the tenures of Marc Silverstri, Jim Lee and Joe Madureira, that are surprisingly few that have grown familiar with the run of Roy Thomas and Neal Adams at the close of the 1960s. By that point, the X-Men had become a stagnant pool of mediocre stories and abandoned plot directions (anyone remember the FBI forcing the team to disband?) until Thomas returned to the book with the now-legendary Neal Adams to create a run that yanked the X-Men out of their Silver Age roots and did some amazing work. Unfortunately, it was not enough to keep the book from being cancelled, but it did breathe enough life into the franchise to warrant a reboot five years later that changed comics forever.
In the story that originally introduced the Sentinels upon an unsuspecting mutant population, inventor Bolivar Trask ultimately sacrificed his life to prevent the unforseen lengths his Master Mold would go to destroy mutantkind (enslaving humanity, anyone?). But the problem with noble sacrifices in such situations is that no one is around to see them, and that part of the legacy can easily be left out of anyone’s pledge to avenge their death. Such was the task when Bolivar’s son Larry swore to carry on his father’s mission, introducing the Mark II Sentinels upon mutantkind. And they were efficient at what they did. Within two issues, the mutant-hunting robots had captured nearly every mutant introduced in the Marvel U (including Angel, Iceman, Lorna Dane, Havok, the Living Monolith, Banshee, Unus, the Blob, Quicksilver, Mastermind, Scarlet Witch, Toad, Vanisher and Mesmero). In fact, the only two mutants not captured, besides the three X-Men that would eventually save the day, were Magneto and the Changeling, both of whom had very good reasons for not showing up as would be explained in upcoming stories.
As all stories involving giant robots tend to do, the plan backfired when Larry himself was revealed to be a mutant, leaving the Sentinels to control themselves. Cyclops eventually used the creatures’ own sense of logic against them by convincing them that the Sun was the source of genetic mutation, and thus the Sentinels flew off to destroy it, with predictable results. But after the three issues, Thomas and Adams had kicked off their run with an incredible tale that gave new life to the sagging title and set the stage for more excellent tales and allowed the X-Men to become the massive franchise they did. This is a must-read story for any fan.