Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics
Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics

All You Need To Know To Get Caught Up On X-Men Comics

Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics
Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics

So, you want to start reading X-Men comics again but it's been years and you're feeling overwhelmed at the thought of everything you might have missed. That's understandable—X-Men consists of multiple ongoing series, a constantly expanding cast of characters, and decades of convoluted (and sometimes contradictory) continuity. Don't fret, here's all you need to know to get caught up.

Mutants became an endangered species.

First there was the Sentinel attack that wiped out 16 million mutants by destroying the island of Genosha in New X-Men #115. Then, in the mini-series House of M, Magneto's daughter, Scarlet Witch, decimated the mutant population with a simple three word spell: "No more mutants." This de-powered all but a few hundred of the mutants in the Marvel Universe, but don't worry, most of the A-list mutants were left untouched.

A few years later, in the three-part series of Messiah Complex, Messiah War and Second Coming, the first post-Decimation mutant was born and is aptly named Hope. After being brought to the far future to grow into an adult under the protection of the mutant Cable, a grown-up Hope is returned to present day and she happens to look very much like another red-headed mutant of great importance: Jean Grey.

Jean Grey died. Again.

Jean Grey and her symbiotic relationship with the Phoenix Force is one of the most epic ongoing plot threads in X-Men history. At the end of the "Planet X" storyline in New X-Men #150, Jean once again taps into the powers of the Phoenix only to be killed by an insane Magneto (who may not really have been Magneto, depending on whether you believe writer Grant Morrison's intentions or the subsequent writers who later contradicted him).

Before her death, Jean and her husband Scott (Cyclops) Summers found themselves growing apart. Scott began a telepathic affair with former villain-turned-X-Man Emma Frost, and with Jean gone, Scott and Emma became a couple.

Professor X died, too. Again.

The Phoenix Force returned to earth in the 2012 mini-series Avengers vs. X-Men, threatening all of existence. The assumption was that it was coming back to inhabit the so-called "Mutant Messiah" and Jean Grey look-alike Hope Summers. But everyone was wrong.

Instead, the Phoenix merged with five separate mutants: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Piotr (Colossus) Rasputin, his sister Illyana (Magik) Rasputin, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner. The "Phoenix 5" used their nearly omnipotent power to try to remake the world into a better place until its corruptive nature turned them on each other. In the end, Cyclops takes in the power of the entire Phoenix Force himself and, when confronted by Charles Xavier, lashes out and kills him.

New mutants are popping up everywhere.

Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers manage to wrest the Phoenix from Cyclops and, before casting it away, Hope uses its power to restore the mutant population, reversing the damage the Scarlet Witch had previously done. Now, people all over the world are suddenly manifesting mutant powers and the X-Men are divided in how they aim to help these new mutants.

Cyclops is the most wanted mutant in the world.

Cyclops has always been a bit of a boring character, but over the past 10 years he's gone through some dramatic changes. After killing Professor X, he has become Public Enemy No. 1 and hated by many of his fellow X-Men. He is also the poster boy for a more militant wing of mutantdom. Like a mutant Che Guevara, he sets up headquarters in the old, abandoned Weapon X facility and leads a new team of X-Men with Emma Frost and Magik.

Cyclops' radicalization had been building for a long time and manifested itself originally in a clash of ideals with Wolverine. Cyclops now stands for the idea that mutants need to militarize while Wolverine has taken up Xavier's mantle of peaceful coexistence and the need to protect and educate younger mutants.

Wolverine is the headmaster of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.

The idea of Xavier's school being an actual school full of actual students only became the status quo around the time of the first X-Men movie in 2000 and Grant Morrison's New X-Men series around the same time. With Xavier dead and the school destroyed by Magneto, Logan has built a new one called The Jean Grey School of Higher Learning and brought in Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Storm, and the Beast to teach the students.

(Edit: A reader in the comments below pointed out that the Xavier school was actually destroyed by Sentinels which happened during the Messiah Complex storyline).

The original X-Men have time-travelled to the present

(And Jean Grey is back)

The threat of a dark, dystopian future has been at the heart of many X-Men stories since Chris Claremont and John Byrne's classic 1981 "Days of Future Past" (the inspiration for the upcoming new film). In Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen's new series All New X-Men, they have brilliantly turned this idea on its head by making our present the dystopian future that needs to be avoided at all costs.

In a desperate plan to prevent Scott Summers from becoming the Professor X-killing mutant terrorist he is today, Hank (Beast) McCoy travels back in time to the early days of the X-Men and brings the original teenage versions of himself, Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, and Jean Grey to the future to show them how messed up things have gotten. Even though their very presence endangers the timeline, they decide to stick around, figuring Professor X will just wipe their memories when they go back (or something).

So, not only do we have Jean Grey back, but suddenly there are brand new relationship dynamics to be explored. The original X-Men now look up to Kitty Pryde as a mentor. Jean, Scott and Angel have to deal with the terror their future lives have become (did I mention that Angel died during Uncanny X-Force's "Dark Angel Saga" but came back with amnesia?). Even the love triangles have become more complicated (Do Jean and Scott really love each other? How do older Scott and Logan rectify their feelings for Jean with this teenage girl that's now before them? Does Jean have feelings for Hank? And what does Rachel Grey, Scott and Jean's grown daughter from the future, think of all this?).

There are a LOT of different X-Men books now

At some point in the 1990s, the X-Men became way too big to be contained by just one book. Here is a brief rundown of the major books and what they're ostensibly all about:

All New X-Men: This is a new title that began last year. Its main focus is on the introduction of the original young X-Men into the present day timeline, but it operates pretty close to the center of the X-Men universe and involves a large cast of characters including Wolverine, Kitty, Iceman, and Beast (in addition to the time-displaced young X-Men).

Uncanny X-Men: The original flagship title has gotten smaller in scope since its relaunch. It follows Cyclops and his renegade team of Magik and Emma Frost as they build a new school of students that have just manifested mutant abilities. It crosses over a bit with All New X-Men, especially in the beginning.

X-Men. This is sometimes referred to as "X-Women" since it follows a loose-knit team of female X-Men including Storm, Rogue, Psylocke, and Jubilee, among others. It aims to be a high-octane, non-stop action comic for fans of 1990's era X-Men.

Wolverine & The X-Men: This book focuses on the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning and its cast of students. This is the fun, light-hearted X-Men comic, mixing high school melodrama with ridiculous sci-fi concepts. There is a quirky mix of students, and part of the fun is seeing characters like Logan and Kitty stepping up into their new roles as teachers.

Amazing X-Men: This comic is only a couple of issues in and aims to be the one for fans of 1980s era X-Men. The plot (so far) involves the return of long-dead fan favorite Nightcrawler.

There are also a lot of books featuring related X-teams like Uncanny X-Force, Cable and X-Force, All New X-Factor and Uncanny Avengers (a hybrid team of X-Men and Avengers).

Where you should start

The biggest story being told right now is happening in All New X-Men and it's really the most enjoyable of the books at a time when, overall, the X-Men comics are the most interesting they've been in years. It's written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Stuart Immonen. Start with #1 or the first collected volume titled "Yesterday's X-Men."

Buy the first volume on Amazon.com or ask your local comic book store retailer. You can also buy the collected volume or individual issues digitally on Comixology.

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Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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